December 24, 1843
Having no idea where Johnson had gone, Zachariah had
no idea from what direction he’d return, so, as walking
helped to keep him warm, he walked to the corner again,
then back, past the lady’s staircase to the far corner, then
As the sky grew darker, the air became colder, and on
the boy walked, from one corner to the other.
So tempted to invite him in again, but unwilling to put
Zachariah or herself through the emotion of another
goodbye, or what she might say to Johnson when… whenever
he returned, “Where is that stupid, drunken man?” the lady
said aloud from her observation point behind the drapes of
the second floor bedroom window where she’d been
watching Zachariah as he’d waited for Johnson, first sitting
patiently on the front steps, then impatiently pacing to the
corner and back.
A carriage turned the corner onto Broad Street.
The passengers, a man and woman dressed in garishly
expensive clothing, were sitting huddled closely together.
The man, his face under the woman’s chin, was nibbling on
her neck. His left hand, on her chest, was fondling the weight
of an overly stuffed bodice, while in his right hand he held
an all but empty flask of brandy.
Giggling, “Aye, Elmo, that tickles.” The woman belched
into the man’s hairy ear. “Stop now, ya bad boy.” Looking
past his head, out of the window, “Eiii! Driver!”
Disentangling one of her arms, banging on the carriage roof,
Turning on the spring seat, looking at the frantic woman
through the carriage’s small, oval shaped window, “Whoa!”
the driver jerked sharply on the reins. “Whoa!”
In an effort to comply with the driver’s sudden command,
the two well-trained horses pulled to the side of the
cobblestone road even as they struggled against the forward
“Stop, driver! Stop!”
Pulling back on the breaking lever, sparks flew from under
all four iron-shod wheels and eight iron-hoofed legs.
Within the carriage, the suddenly halted forward
momentum caused the man and woman to slide off the seat,
onto the floor into a tanglement of arms, legs and
“What the bloody ‘ell!” the man shouted. “Else, why the
‘ell’d ya do that?”
On the start of a return trip to the corner, Zachariah had
hardly noticed the carriage as it rounded the corner. Now,
stopping dead in his tracks, he watched as the carriage
careened towards him, grated against the gutter and—its
wheels spewing a shower of sparks on the cobblestone
street—slid to an abrupt halt fifteen feet in front of
Else pulled herself from beneath the man atop her and,
with her hat askew, shoving the door open, vaulted out of
the carriage onto the street.
…The carriage door sprung open as a disheveled woman
wearing a vividly colored, wide hooped, silken dress and a
cockeyed, albeit matching, hat hurdled herself onto the street
and barreled towards him, and…
His mouth dropping open, “Lordy!” he said. “What’d I
do?” as, panicking, glancing over his shoulder he hoped that,
maybe, it wasn’t him but someone behind him she was
after… but it wasn’t!
Bounding into him, almost knocking the boy off his feet,
grabbing him, Zachariah winced as the woman, “Elmo!”
shouted into his ear, “Elmo! I got me one!” The boy tried to
break from her grasp, but, hanging onto him, “I got me one!”
“Yeah, Else, I sees.” Stepping from the carriage, onto the
street, tottering, Elmo saw his friend hanging onto a boy.
“What the bloody ‘ell’s gotten into ya? What the ‘ell ya
shoutin’ ‘bout? Who the ‘ell’s this?”
“A sweep, ya bloody id’jut!” Holding Zachariah at arm’s
length, showing him, “Can’t ya see?” And, as though the boy
were a toy doll, lifting him off his feet, Elsa turned him
towards Elmo. “I tol’j’ya I be wantin’ to be touchin’ a sweep
afore the New Year! Ya know’s, Elmo, for good luck an’ such.”
Almost taking the wind from him, hugging him, she squeezed
the boy against her chest.
“Else!” Trying, unsuccessfully, to separate the two by
pulling their bodies apart, Elmo looked at the boy, then his
hand. “Leave the lad be for Christ’s sake!” he said as, taking
a handkerchief from his pocket, Elmo wiped soot from both
hands. “Else, you’ll be stranglin’ the lad! An’ I ‘ears it ain’t
no good luck a’tall to be killin’ a sweep.”
Standing behind her, much to Zachariah’s relief, Elmo
was able to pry Else’s fingers from around his back.
“Aye, ain’t ‘e a pretty one I found Elmo? Just look’a them
eyes!” Twisting out of Elmo’s hands, hugging Zachariah
again, she kissed him full on the mouth.
Thinking she smelled like Johnson after he’d been
drinking, though he’d never been quite this close to Johnson
after he’d been drinking, unable to hold back, “Yaght!”
Shrugging his shoulders, going back to the carriage,
standing on the rung, “Else,” Elmo said, “best get your arse
back ‘ere. We ain’t got all day, ya know!”
“Be with ya in a flash, Elmo. ‘old ya water!” Reaching
into the bag hanging from the crook of her arm, rummaging
a moment, “‘ere ya be, lad,” pressing a coin into his hand.
“I just know’s ya be bringing’ me some bit’a good luck. Good
Christmas to ya, boy!”
“Uh… thank ya, Mum.” Zachariah replied. “Ya be ‘avin’
a good Christmas, too.”
Winking at him, her dangling hat held onto one fallen
curl by a hatpin, Else rushed back to the carriage.
“Aye, Driver!” Elmo pounded on the roof.
“Giddyap!” With a slapping of the reins, the carriage
pulled away from the curb.
“Well, Else, ain’t ya the sight!”
“Me, Elmo? Sure, me ‘at’s a bit off, an’ me ‘air’s a bit
messed, but I’ll ‘ave ‘er fixed in a jiffy.” Looking in the mirror
affixed to the front partition, “Yeek!” Elsa shrieked because
her forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, and her scarf, dress,
and jacket were coated with soot. “Lord’a’mighty!” Taking
a handkerchief from her bag, moistening a corner with the
tip of her tongue, she absolutely ineffectively dabbed at
“Else, I don’t think that’s gonna to be a ‘elp to ya. Yeah,
Else, this sure be ya lucky day!”
Watching the carriage until it was out of sight, Zachariah
then looked at the coin that had been forced into his hand:
the same as the coins given to him by the lady in the house
for the sweep.
Wanting to be sure this coin went into the proper pocket,
putting his hand under the long-coat, feeling the bulk of the
large silver coin, hearing the “clink” of the coins, he dropped
it into his right side pocket. A thought occurring to him,
stretching his index finger into the breast pocket of the coat,
relieved it hadn’t been crushed in Else’s grip, scratching its
head, “Mousy, ya sure brought me a bit’a luck today,” he
said out loud, then again looked about to be sure that no
one had heard him.
“Zachariah! Aye, Zachariah!” Having rounded the corner,
weaving drunkenly towards him, “Com’on boy!” Looking at
him sternly, slapping him on the back of his head as though
the boy were the reason for his tardiness, “We ain’t got all
day, ya know!” Johnson said. “We’s got one more job to do,
ya know! Ol’ ‘obbins, ya know!” Coughing, spitting bloody
phlegm onto the street, holding his hand forward, “Ya gots
me money?” Johnson demanded.
Reaching into his left pocket, “The lady, she paid a bit
more’n necessary,” the boy said as he fished within its depth
a moment, found, removed, and dropped the three coins
into Johnson’s waiting hand.
Glancing at the coins, somehow taking the overpayment
as his due, Johnson dropped the three coins into his
Turning, going back to the steps, Zachariah hoisted the
unequal bulk of the equipment around his shoulders and
into his arms.
From the window above, watching until the man and
boy were out of sight, sighing, “May the Lord Jesus be with
you, my boy.” The lady pressed her palms together, “May
the good Lord be with you!”
The drapes in the window of the second floor bedroom
fell into place.