Sighing, Zachariah stood a moment looking in the
direction of the front door, then, going to the tool box, taking
the lantern, lighting it, he turned back to the fireplace, parted
the screen, crawled inside on his knees and, first tightening
the scarf over his mouth and nose, started into scraping the
upper portion of the rear wall with the scrapping tool, until…
Reaching the bottom, What? feeling a tug on his trouser
leg, stopping, pulling the scarf from his face, turning he…
Squatting in front of the fireplace…
…poked his head through the two overlapping drop
cloths, and, Lordy!
Climbing Boy 8: St. Nicholas
December 24, 1843
… My Lord! The lady was so startled by Zachariah’s
appearance that, jerking backward, losing her balance she
sat flat onto her derrière.
The boy’s forehead, eyebrows and the bridge of his nose
were coated with loose soot and, looking as though he was
wearing a black mask, if possible, Zachariah’s face was
blacker now than before.
Lordy! Momentarily unable to comprehend what he saw, the sight of this beautiful, properly dressed lady sitting flat on her rear directly in front of the fireplace so startled him
that, his eyes bulging, his mouth dropping open, not knowing
what to say, “Mum?” he questioned and, looking at his filthy
hand, not knowing if she’d accept his help if he offered it,
“Mum,” he repeated, and…
Sitting flat on the floor, the lady saw the look on his face
and Zachariah’s look of amazement was so complete it was
actually a look of stupefaction. Thinking of the situation,
My Lord, in her mind picturing how she must look to the boy, giggling, “My, Lord!” she said aloud, then laughed, and as she began to laugh so did Zachariah.
Their laughter growing louder, harder, the lady attempted
to stand but, weak from laughing, “My, Lord!” she only
succeeded in falling again.
Catching his breath, rising from his knees, soot and ash
dropping from his clothing, “Mum,” forcing himself to stop
laughing, “le’me ‘elp ya.” Offering his hand, Zachariah came
out of the fireplace.
The boy looked so pitiful, but yet the situation was so
funny that the lady could not stop herself and began to laugh
“Mum,” reaching forward.
Hesitating, the lady looked at the boy’s filthy hand… then
clasped it tightly, and as their hands touched the
“Mum?” Helping the lady to her feet, he held her hand a
moment longer then necessary, then reluctantly let go.
She looked at her hand, which now was coated with soot,
then looked into the boy’s face, and the two pair of blue
eyes stared at each other until, after what in reality was no
more than an extended second or two…
“Zachariah,” she said, forcing her eyes from his, “would
you like something to eat? That man, your, uh, ‘owner,’ was
kind enough to allow me permission to give you something
“Me owner?” If there is a distinction between the two,
Zachariah did not know it. “Master Johnson’s not me owner,
‘e’s me master, an’ yes, Mum, I’d surely like somethin’ to eat!”
“‘Master’! That man shouldn’t be master to a dog! He
doesn’t have sense enough to…” Seeing a look of confusion
on the boy’s face, stopping, she changed the subject.
“Zachariah, if you’d like to stop working, I would truly like
to give you something to eat.”
“Mum, I’m awful ‘ungry an’ I thanks ya, but me work’s
almost done an’ soon’s I finish this…” parting the
overlapping cloths he stood aside to show her that the fire
wall, the back wall, was finished and all that remained were
the two smaller and considerably cleaner side walls. “The
rest is easy, an’ I’d just as soon finish so’s I might rest up
‘fore Master Johnson comes back, an’, if it’s all the same to
you, might I eat then?”
“I understand. Whenever you’re ready, come to the
kitchen.” Her maternal instinct still at play, without thinking, the lady rubbed the top of the boy’s bristly head, turned, and as she walked through the door into the kitchen, wiped her hand over the front of her apron leaving a wide black
streak on the starched, white material.
Other than a push, a slap, or worse from Johnson, rarely
touched by another human, the heat of the lady’s hand
warming the boy from his head to his toes, Zachariah
watched as the lady left the room, then, sighing once again,
went back into the fireplace and, wanting to finish quickly,
increased his effort. Soon both sidewalls were brushed clean
and all that remained was to sweep up the debris that was
lying on the floor and cart it to the compost bin. Feeling his
stomach growl, Do this later, the boy thought, his stomach growling again, after I eat.
Coming out of the fireplace, Zachariah removed the cloth
screens, folded them and, carefully folding it from the outer
edges inward so as not to spill soot onto the floor, folded the
large cloth that lay directly in front of the fireplace. Going
to the front door, stepping outside, shutting the door behind
him, he shook all three, refolded them, and placed them
alongside the door.
While outside, the boy removed his scarf and coat, shook
both and, using the scarf, rubbed his hands, face and head
in an attempt to remove as much loose dirt as possible.
Back in the house, “Mum,” in the parlor, “Oh, Mum, I’ve
finished!” he called.
Opening the door to the kitchen, standing within the open
doorway, “Zachariah, come in here, why don’t you.”
“Oh, no, Mum! I wouldn’t want to get your things an’
nice floors all dirty,” he said sincerely. “Please, Mum,” he
asked, pointing to the fireplace, “mightn’t I eat ‘ere?”
Coming a step or two closer, the lady looked at the boy.
Standing before the fireplace, his coat and scarf were
lying at his feet and, out of the long-coat, seeing the tattered,
threadbare appearance of his trousers, his shirt, Zachariah
appeared to be even smaller, even younger, and even, if at
all possible, more pathetic then she’d originally thought.
Not wanting to cause the boy any discomfort, “All right,
sit down and rest. I’ll be in shortly.” She did want to speak
to him and would rather he came into the kitchen, but was
able to understand why he’d feel more comfortable here.
Sitting on the raised hearth, looking about the well
appointed room, the boy’s eyes stopped at the large,
sheet draped, cone-like thing standing in the corner.
Noticing something glittering at the top, standing, he
crossed the room. It’s a star. A five-pointed star!
Curious, “Mum!” Still, being a child, curiosity getting
the better of him, “Oh, Mum!” he called.
“Yes, Zachariah?” Coming through the door, she saw him
looking at the star.
“What is this thing, Mum?”
What is this thing? Thinking, How could he not know? Going to the cone, she carefully removed the sheets.
His eyes widening, “Oh… It’s beautiful! It’s the most
beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” thinking, Other than you… “Oh, Mum, what is it?”
“Zachariah, you’ve never seen a Christmas tree? What
does that man do at Christmas? What do you do at
Staring raptly at the tree, “Master Johnson, ‘e don’t ‘old
with Christmas,” Zachariah answered, “so mostly we do
nothin’.” Correcting himself, “I don’t do nothin’. Master
Johnson, ‘e gets drunk. ‘e say’s that rich fools likes to buy
the likes of ‘im drinks on the day afore Christmas.”
“Oh, yes,” suspecting as much, “that’s the ‘important
appointment’ he wasn’t able to miss! I’ll surely be giving
your Master Johnson a bit of my mind when he returns!”
“Oh, Mum, no!”
Fear showing on his face, “Please! ‘e told me not to be sayin’
nothin’ to ya ‘bout where ‘e’s gone off too. Please don’t tell
‘im I told ya!”
Seeing the fear on his face, in his eyes, “Zachariah, no! I
would never say a word that would make trouble for you.
No! I’ll not mention a word. Rest now till I come back. I’ll
finish getting your food.”
Relaxing, “Thank ya, Mum.”
Going back to the hearth, sitting, staring across the room
at the Christmas tree, putting his elbows on his knees, he
held his head by cupping his chin between the palms of his
hands. Leaning forward, putting the weight of his body onto
his arms and knees… Zachariah’s eyelids drooped…
closed… fluttered open, then closed again. He forced his
eyes open… then they closed.
His mind goes to his comfortable place… to his
He is younger, no more than three years old.
Straddling her waist with his legs, his head resting on
her shoulder, his arms about her neck, he is sitting on his
mother’s lap. He cannot see mama’s face because the mama
of Zachariah’s dreams, as in his memory, always has her
face hidden in deep shadow.
“Ah, Zachariah,” her voice sweet music to the ear of his
mind, “my little Zachariah,” she coos, winding a finger into
one of the tight curls over his ear, and…
Now, for the first time in his memory, in his dream, in
Putting both sweet-smelling hands onto her baby’s cheeks
mama holds his face and…
Mama’s face came out of the darkness and…
Zachariah is able to see her face, for mama’s face is the
face of the lady and he looks at her closely, wanting, needing,
to etch mama’s face into the eye of his memory. To never
To never allow the face of mama to be unseen… to never
be hidden in shadows.
“Zachariah,” softly, “my little Zachariah.”
Zachariah feels her warm, soft lips on his forehead.
Mama. Mama’s hands, Mama’s lips feel so warm,
Softly, “I’ve brought you your meal… Zachariah.”
The boy’s legs relaxed, his elbows spread and, his head
slipped from between his hands falling onto his chest and,
his eyes opening, Zachariah’s head snapped up, and…
Above him it was the face of his dream, and for a moment
he thought it was mama and, “Mama!” he said happily. Then,
his eyes focusing, looking to his right, looking to his left,
The lady saw his joy, then the sorrow. “Zachariah, I’m
sorry to wake you, but I’ve brought your food.” Kneeling
before the boy, she placed the tray onto the floor in front
Standing at her side there was a small child whom, by
the look of him, had just awoken from a nap and now
bashfully hid his face in his mother’s skirt.
Seeing the child, Zachariah smiled.
“Albert,” prying her son’s face from her skirt. “Albert, this
Albert looked at Zachariah. Seeing his dirt-encrusted face
the child bounded back in fear and, grabbing his mother’s
skirt again, twisted behind her back and began to cry.
Vanishing, Zachariah’s smile was replaced by a look of
extreme pain as he realized that it was his appearance that
had caused such fear in Albert. He, too, began to cry.
Pulling the little boy from behind and beneath her skirt,
lifting him into her arms, stroking the back of his head,
“Shhh,” the lady whispered in the child’s ear. “Don’t cry,
my little Albert. This is Zachariah, and he’s just a little boy,
too. He won’t hurt you… Shhh.” Making a half turn she
looked at Zachariah and, seeing his tears, a lump came to
her throat and, her eyes becoming moist, also, This won’t do! she thought. This just will not do! The three of us here bawling. “Albert!” she said sternly, attempting to force her own tears down. “Albert, stop crying! This is Zachariah and he will not hurt you!” Thinking a moment, she added, “Zachariah’s here to clean our chimney so when St. Nicholas comes with all your presents he won’t get himself dirty sliding down the chimney.”
At this both boys stopped crying.
“Yes, Albert, so he won’t get his nice, red suit all dirty
when he comes down the chimney.”
His fear of Zachariah momentarily forgotten, “St.
“Yes, tonight, Albert. St. Nicholas is coming to visit
tonight, and Zachariah,” looking at him, “is cleaning our
chimney so he won’t get dirty.”
Wiggling from his mother’s arms, standing in front of
her, looking at Zachariah, smiling, “St. Nicholas come
tonight!” Albert said.
“Eh, Mum,” looking from Albert to the lady, “who’s going
to, eh, slide down the chimney?” he asked.
“Why, Zachariah, I’m surprised at you!” Surely, she
thought, he must be jesting. But then again, He had no idea of the tree, the lady further thought. And for the sake of Albert, “Don’t you know that on Christmas Eve St. Nicholas comes to the houses of all good children?” she asked.
“No, Mum. Why’s ‘e come?” he asked sincerely.
Once again amazed at Zachariah’s lack of spiritual
knowledge, the lady hesitated because it was beyond her
comprehension that there was a child anywhere who did
not know of St. Nicholas. But he doesn’t know, she thought. The poor child does not know! How sad. Once again, for the sake of Albert, “He comes to bring presents.”
“Presents? Who’s, eh, who’s ‘e bring presents to?”
“Children… The good children.”
“‘e brings presents to the ‘good children’! All over
London?” he asked incredulously, thinking, I’m good. Why ain’t ‘e never brought me a present?
Sighing, she glanced at her son. “No, Zachariah, St.
Nicholas brings presents to good children…” hesitating
because she knew how ridiculous it would sound to the boy,
“…all over the world.”
And it does. “The world?” The size of the world and the
amount of people occupying it far beyond his understanding,
but knowing the world is big and that it is occupied by a lot
of people, “The world! ‘e, this, uh…?”