Climbing Boy 14: Drunkard
December 24, 1843
His foot, slipping off the rail, slapped onto the sawdust covered
The head of flowing white hair dropping from the palm
of his hand, rested on his shoulder a moment, then rolled,
his chin coming to rest on his chest.
Bleary eyes flickered open, closed, and opened again.
Straightening his body, pushing the small of his back
inward and his shoulders outward, looking about a moment,
“Barkeep!” Spotting who he was looking for, “Barkeep!” he
called down the length of the bar.
“Ah, my good man,” he called, “another gin and bitters
for myself and…” glancing to the right, where another man
stood with his foot on the brass rail and his head in his
hands, poking the man in the ribs with his elbow, “one more
for my friend here.”
“Eh, whazzat?” Jostled by the elbow, lifting his head,
trying to focus his eyes, “Whazzat?” he repeated.
“Matthew, my good friend!” Urpp! belching loudly, “Me
thinks you might be getting thirsty, standing here, doing all
that hard labor.”
“Aye, I am that, Eric, I am that!” shaking his head, trying
to clear some of the cobwebs. “Tis hard work holding this
bar down.” Making a fluttering motion with his hands. “To
keep it from just floooating away.”
The bartender poured a generous amount of the clear
liquor into a short, heavy glass, added a dash of bitters and,
“Aye, Sir!” he called as he sent the glass slithering down the
length of the highly polished, oak bar.
At the far end of the bar, plucking the glass from the slick
surface, Garibaldi brought it to his mouth in one
Taking flight, the second glass was caught as neatly as
the first by Matthew Flizzer, whom, looking at the bartender,
nodding his head, held two fingers upward.
“So, Eric,” downing his drink, “you been following the
articles in the Chronicle by that new chap? Uh, what’s it
called? Oh, yes! ‘Sketches by Boz.’”
Catching the flying drink, Garibaldi took a swallow, then,
turning his head, looked at his longtime friend and drinking
companion Matthew Flizzer of “Flizzer & Flizzer, Jugglers
Extraordinary,” “Yes, Matt, I been reading them.”
Slapping the empty glass on the bar, “A flash in the pan,”
he held his hand up, two fingers extended.
“‘Flash in the pan’? What’s ‘A flash in the pan’?”
“That new writer chap. What’s his name?”
Contemplating, Garibaldi looked at the ceiling, while at the
same time catching the flying drink. “Ah, yes! Dickens!
“I don’t know…” Matthew said.
A few moments passed.
Puzzled, putting his glass down, Garibaldi looked at his
friend, who was sipping his drink. “What don’t you know,
Turning his head, putting his glass on the bar, signaling
for two more, “I don’t know, uh…” Flizzer giggled, “what I
don’t know, Eric.” Looking at him vaguely, “What were we
“Damned if I know.” Garibaldi began to laugh, stopped,
thought, then, “Oh, yes! That new writer on the Chronicle,
“Dickens? Who the dickens Dickens?” Garibaldi
snickered into his hand.
“Yeah!” replied Flizzer. “I say to dickens with Dickens!”
“Yeah!” Garibaldi began to laugh again, “The dickens with
Flizzer joined in, and the two drunken comrades put
their arms about each other’s shoulders and, as drunks often
do, laughed hysterically, if for no other reason then to laugh.
They stood, the magician and juggler, drunkenly leaning
into each other in front of the highly polished bar of the
Boar’s Tooth Pub directly across the street from the theater.
Feeling a gentle tug on his sleeve, Garibaldi turned.
Standing closely by his side, dressed in the rough clothing
of a laborer, was a tall, gangling, friendly-faced youth of
Jerking his sleeve from the young man’s fingers, “Yes?”
Garibaldi asked harshly
Smiling at Garibaldi, the man glanced over his right
shoulder, to some people sitting at a nearby table, then,
looking back at Garibaldi, “Ya b-be G-G-G… the m-mmagician
from the th-th-th-theatre?” he stuttered.
“Yes,” Garibaldi looked at him, at Flizzer, and back at
the young man. “I be G-G-G the m-m-magician,” mimicking
Becoming red with embarrassment, the young man’s face
contorted with the effort to speak. “Me an’ m-me f-f-friends,”
motioning over his shoulder with his head, “saw your shsh-
Turning from the man, Garibaldi looked at a table about
ten feet from the bar, where, all poorly dressed, a man and
two women sat watching them.
Seeing Garibaldi look at them, smiling, one of the women
raised her glass in friendly acknowledgment.
Garibaldi lifted his glass, too, and with a false, frozen
smile, making an exaggerated motion, waved back, then,
“S-s-so, w-w-what can I d-d-do for y-y-you?” he asked the
They had enjoyed the magician’s act and, trying to
impress his friends, and most especially his girlfriend, the
young man had summoned all of his courage and made—
what was to him—a supreme effort by getting up and going
forward to speak to Garibaldi. But now, realizing that the
magician was making fun of him, his friendly smile fading,
becoming angry, leaning belligerently towards the older
man: “M-m-me ‘n m-m-me f-friends thinks ya b-be n-n-nothin’
b-but a f-f-f-fake!”
Momentarily taken back by the young man’s change from
friendly to antagonistic, the older man moved back a step
but, immediately recovering his drunken composure, “What
is your name?” Garibaldi demanded.
His head jutting forward, “L-Lewis!” he answered.
“Well, L-Lewis, would you believe…” looking away,
Garibaldi motioned for the bartender to send another round
of drinks for himself and Flizzer, then, turning around,
looking at Lewis’ friends and speaking loud enough for all
in the bar to hear, “that I don’t give a rat’s ass w-w-what yy-
y-you or y-y-y-your f-f-f-friends think!”
Dismissing him, turning back to the bar, Garibaldi placed
his cupped hand on the surface in front of him just in time
to catch another gin and bitters as it came sailing toward
him. This time, though, the trip from the bar to his mouth
was interrupted by another, harder, tug on his sleeve causing
the liquor to slosh over the rim of the glass. Putting the glass
down, he glanced at the barkeep—who reached under the
bar for a club—then, all pretense of friendliness gone, the
magician turned back to Lewis.
His eyes narrowed to angry slits, turning from Garibaldi,
looking at his friends, forcing a smile, bringing his attention
back to the magician, “‘ow’d’ya d-d-do it?” Lewis’ anger
causing his stutter to become even more pronounced,
“‘ow’d’ya g-g-g-get a b-b-bloody C-C-Christmas tree into thth-
The magician’s top hat had been sitting on the bar, at his
elbow. Now, grabbing it, Lewis put it on his head, then, for
the benefit of his friends, made a deep, exaggerated bow.
Angrily snatching it off the young man’s head, Garibaldi
put the hat back onto the bar.
Reaching over the bar, grabbing Lewis by the sleeve of
his jacket, “Here! You!” jerking him around, the barkeep
held the club in plain sight.
Holding his hand up, “How’d I do the trick?” motioning
the barkeep to stop. Loudly, sarcastically, answering Lewis’
question. “How’d I do the trick? L-L-Lewis, my b-b-b-boy,
that’s the m-m-magician’s worry, to keep the likes of y-y-yyou,
and your f-f-f-f-friends…” scornfully emphasizing the
words “you and your friends,” “from knowing how m-m-mmagic
All eyes on Lewis and the magician, the entire pub had
Smiling at Garibaldi, pulling his sleeve from the
bartender’s grip, “Ya ol’ f-f-fake! Ain’t n-n-n-nothin’ m-mm-
magic ‘b-b-b-bout’j’ya!”? Reaching forward, taking the
magician’s hat from the bar, turning it in his hands, studying
it, “N-n-no-sir! No m-m-m-magic!” Lewis stuttered. “W-WWhat’j’ya
‘ave on t-t-t-t-the s-s-stage, a ‘ole in the f-f-floor? Ya ol’ f-f-fake!”
Glaring at the younger man, standing away from the bar,
“All right, Lewis,” his voice dropping, taking the same
strange, sinister tone it had on the stage, “if it’s magic
Looking from Lewis to the barkeep, turning, slowly, his
black eyes slowly touching each person in the pub, lingered
longer on the three at the table, who begin to squirm under
“…It’s magic you’ll get.”
“Lewis,” the magician’s black eyes boring into those of
the younger man, holding his right hand forward, “give me
Slack jawed, his smile gone, unblinking, Lewis stood
staring wide-eyed at Garibaldi.
“The hat, Lewis,” though whispered, the word…
Now! Feeling, somehow actually feeling the one word
command, compelled, The hat, Lewis, now! Holding the hat
in both hands, Lewis obediently handed it to the magician.
Setting the hat, brim up, on the bar, “Lewis,” Garibaldi
asked, “are you sure that you want to see my magic?”
The young man neither spoke nor motioned.
Smiling malignantly, taking a handkerchief from his
breast pocket, Garibaldi ran it through the “O” made by his
thumb and forefinger, dramatically snapped it in the air,
then laid it over the hat. “Lewis, if you would,” speaking
in his soft, yet commanding tone, “put your hand into the
hat and tell us what you feel.”
Lifting a corner of the handkerchief, “Come, my boy. You
don’t want your friends…” glancing over his shoulder, to
the trio sitting at the table behind him, “…to think you a
coward. After all, ‘It ain’t m-m-magic! I’m nothin’ but an ol’
Lifting his arm slowly, moving his hand slowly, hesitating,
his arm hanging in midair, he stopped.
“Lewis,” a malevolent look came to the magician’s devilish
face. “‘It’s only a t-t-trick’!”
Staring at the triangle of black space beneath the
handkerchief, moving his hand, Lewis hesitated, again.
“Yes,” cajoling, “that’s it, my boy. Just put your
Haltingly, Lewis’ hand went into the dark triangle.
His fingers touching the silky lining, he felt the round
hardness of the hat’s inner crown. Shaking his head as if
coming out of a trance, his glazed eyes focused and…
knock—knock, he rapped his knuckles on the hard surface
of the hat and the bar beneath. Smiling, he looked up into
the magician’s face and his eyes. “Yeah! Ya b-b-be’s nothin’
b-b-but a ol’ f-f…”
The young man’s smile disappeared as suddenly the crown
of the hat and the bar beneath fell away, and his arm sunk to