Christmas Eve, 1843
Streaky and distorted, the glass was heavily frosted near the bottom and coated with beads of moisture nearer the top and, although the wavy window was misty at eye level, Zachariah was able to see trays; at this time most were empty, but not all.
Not long before closing on this, the evening before Christmas, not much was left in the bakery, but what did remain was enough to make the hungry boy’s mouth water.
There were cakes and cookies of many shapes and sizes; some tarts with delicious looking red and yellow toppings; a few large, crusty napoleons; scones with rich, oozing cream and gingerbread men.
With his nose pressed against the wet, cold glass, Zachariah watched as the baker, wearing a soiled apron, reached from tray to tray, taking the last of the napoleons and three cherry tarts.
Who could ‘ave so much money, the boy thought, to buy so many’a them wonderful things? And to Mousy, “Should I go in ‘ere and buy me one’a them cream things?” Turning from the window, starting through the door, No! Don’t ya spend ya coin so fast, thinking what was ahead, Ya still got a way to go. And knowing he would be sorry if he spent the lady’s coin now, “An’ ya know’s what ya really be wantin’!” he said aloud. “Just ya wait till we gets to the confectioner’s shop!”
His deceived stomach grumbled in protest, but sighing and wishing he had enough for a pastry, too, Zachariah began to walk again.
“A merry Christmas to ya, lad!” A smiling man with a young boy in tow rubbed his shoulder.
“Thank ya, Sir!”
Another man, touching the sleeve of his long-coat, “May the Lord Jesus, keep ya, boy!”
“I Thanks, ya, Sir!”
Zachariah turned, looking.
“Aye, boy!” Waving, an elderly woman accompanied by two younger women purposely crossed the road to come to him, and each in turn touched Zachariah, wishing him, “A good Christmas.”
“You, too, Mum.” Warmed by the friendly touches of the three women, “And a good Christmas to ya, too, Mum!”
The women were rewarded and delighted with the boy’s heart-warming smile. “God bless you, lad!”
“Thank ya, Mum.” Looking from one lady to the other. “An’ ya, too, Mum. Thank ya!”
They parted, the boy going in his direction and the women theirs, but each of the four went away from their accidental meeting feeling somehow rewarded.
Going on, one road crossing another.
Looking... Watching... The boy continued on until, suddenly, he stopped walking and, turning in a tight circle, his head laid back, his nose in the air, he sniffed deeply...
His nose twitching, sniffing the air like an hungry animal, “There!” It’s coming from there!
His stomach rumbling loudly, his mouth watered so badly that he actually had to swallow and wipe the saliva from his chin.
Crossing the road, still sniffing, he stood before the door of a rather melancholy appearing tavern when, the door opening abruptly, the boy had to move backward out of the way as a cheaply dressed man and woman came from the tavern.
Seeing the little chimney sweep, the lady smiled and lightly, with her forefinger only – not wanting to get her somewhat dirty glove dirtier – touched his shoulder as the man went to the road to hail a passing cab.
Zachariah watched as, “Whoa!” the driver pulled the plodding horse to a halt, climbed down from his seat and ran around the rear of the small carriage. Opening the door with a slight bow, “Mum, Sir! An’ where might I be takin’ ya?”
Holding the man’s offered elbow for support, the lady stepped onto the runner and into the cab.
Telling the driver their destination, , the man followed the woman.
Tipping his cap, “Aye, Sir!” Slamming the door shut, the driver ran to the front of the carriage where he pulled himself up onto the seat and, the reins slapping the horse’s rump, “Giddy’ap!” they were off.
Hesitating a moment, Zachariah came closer to the tavern door... And within seconds had to back away as it swung open once again.
The man coming out noticed the boy, “Ah, for luck my little friend.” he said as he vigorously rubbed his left hand across the boy’s shoulder, then, walking away, he picked his teeth with a toothpick with one hand while wiping his other hand on the back of his own shabby coat.
Drawn back, holding the door open a bit, inhaling deeply through his nostrils, smelling, the combined odors of roasting pork, beef and mutton made the suddenly ravenous boy giddy and, his stomach grumbling, he took another deep breath, as though by merely breathing he’d be able to taste what he smelled, and so satisfy his hunger.
Grabbed from behind, held by the collar of his coat, Zachariah was lifted off his feet.
“What do you want here?”
Frightened, the tips of his toes barely touching the ground, turning his head, the boy looked into the face of a thin, elderly man with deep-set dark brown eyes, scraggly eyebrows, a beaked nose and wildly flowing white hair.
An obvious look of contempt showing on the man’s face, “Don’t you have anyplace else to be?” Shaking the boy, “Why’s your kind always hanging about?” Bringing his head closer, breathing his fetid breath in Zachariah’s face, “Everyplace I go it’s you beggars and filth!” Bending forward, coming even closer, the man’s long nose but an inch from the boy’s, “Why can’t you stay with your own kind? Why must you people always be hanging about?”
“But, Sir,” squirming, Zachariah tried to speak, “I ain’t...”
Tightening his grip on the boy’s collar, the man shook him into silence. “Why must your kind” – annoyed at being interrupted, he repeated – “always be bothering and harassing honest, hard working people?” Taking his unknown anger out on the unfortunate boy who just happened to be here, in his way.
“I ain’t a beggar, Sir. An’ I works, too...”
Shaking him even harder, Quiet!"
Bouncing back and forth, slipping off the bump on Zachariah’s forehead and his ears, the magician’s dented top hat covered his eyes for a moment, then jiggled off his head and fell onto the ground where it rolled to the man’s feet.
The man looked at the little boy’s freightened, pathetic face then down at the hat where, seemingly lost in thought, the man stared at it for a long moment then, “Bah!” he said and released Zachariah.
Loosing his balance, almost falling, the boy slumped to his feet.
Straightening his back, dismissing the boy, the man turned away, grabbed the doorknob and angrily pulled the door open letting it slam against the opposite wall where it remained open and, “Bah!” muttering, entered the tavern.
The confrontation with the dreadful man having left Zachariah cold again, bending, he lifted the hat, fitted it over the three points that held it onto his head and, as before, by covering his head, a sensation of warmth came to the boy.
Everyone he’d met this night – except this man – seemed to, or at least gave the appearance of liking him. Confused, “Why’s ‘e ‘ate me so?” he said to the creature in his pocket. “ ‘e don’t even know me.”
The door to the tavern remaining open, the boy watched as the man walked to a table and sat.
Noticing the man, “Evenin’, Sir!” a barman went to his table.
The man did not answer.
“Ya be wantin’ the mutton tonight, Sir?”
Still irritated by his encounter with the ragamuffin, his voice harsh, “Yes!”
Knowing this patron well, knowing that making a stab at friendliness on this night would probably mean no more than the times in the past that he had made an attempt at being friendly. “Will ya be spendin’ this night afore Christmas with your family, Sir?”
“No, George!” the man answered harshly. “If it is any of your business, I will be spending ‘this night before Christmas’ at my home, in bed, as all men should.”
“ ‘owever, Sir, I do wish ya a good Christmas.”
“Save your ‘good Christmas’ for some other gullible fool.”
Expecting none other than this rebuke, “Aye, Sir.” George said.
“One thing more...”
“None of your indigestable potatoes tonight, George!”
“Aye, Sir. As ya wish Mister Scrooge.”
Outside, catching the door, a gust of wind slammed it shut.
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