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Mark M Lichterman

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The ClimbingBoy 17: Lewis
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Mark M Lichterman
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“Christmas?” Hobbins looked at his wife. “‘It’s near Christmas!’” he said in a mimicking, whiny voice, then,
pointing to Zachariah, his voice high pitched with rage, “You expect me to pay you because…” in the same mimicking
voice, “‘it’s near Christmas’?”


The Climbing Boy can now be purchased as a Kindle eBook @ $3.00

___________________________________________________

The force of the shove sent the boy sliding across the

slippery porch and, his arms flailing the air, he tried to regain

his balance but couldn’t, and falling down the four wooden

steps, landed in a muddy puddle.

 

Sitting in the mud, looking up, “Mister ‘obbins, Mizz’s

‘obbins…” the boy tried one last appeal, “It’s near Christmas!

Please! Please!”

____________________________________________________

 

Climbing Boy 17: Lewis

London, England

December 24, 1843

                             Christmas Eve

The light from behind casting long, thin shadows onto

the porch, the undertaker and his wife stood within

the doorway.

 

“Christmas?” Hobbins looked at his wife. “‘It’s near

Christmas!’” he said in a mimicking, whiny voice, then,

pointing to Zachariah, his voice high pitched with rage, “You

expect me to pay you because…” in the same mimicking

voice, “‘it’s near Christmas’?” Thinking a moment, “All right!”

Remembering, “All right, I’ll give you your payment!”

 

Lifting himself from the mud, standing, hardly daring to

believe the undertaker’s words, but still, breathing a sigh of

relief, Zachariah attempted to brush the clinging mud from

his trousers.

 

Turning into the foyer, rushing to the condolence parlor,

going to the fireplace, Hobbins grabbed the item atop the

pile alongside the hearth. Stepping outside again, speaking

in a patronizing tone, “You’re right, boy,” he said. “It is near

Christmas, and because it is near Christmas and because

Mrs. Hobbins and myself are kindly people and good

Christians, we will pay you.”

 

“Hubert!” Surprised, Mrs. Hobbins turned to

her husband.

 

His left hand hidden behind his back, “No, no, my dear,”

holding his right hand up, stopping her, “the boy is right.

He and his master do deserve payment, especially tonight.”

Smiling benignly at Zachariah, “It is Christmas Eve,

after all!”

 

Zachariah expectantly stepped forward.

 

“Here, boy. Here’s something I never gave you, but I see

you have it anyway. So here, I do give it to you as a gift,

now.” Hobbins’ smile faded. The tone of his voice changed.

“As payment for poorly done work, here’s your payment!”

Bringing his arm back, he threw Zachariah’s long-coat

toward the shivering boy. Falling short—as he had planed—

the coat fell in the mud at his feet. “And a good Christmas to

you,” Hobbins screamed, “and your drunken sot of a

master!” Becoming hysterical once again, “And you tell him

not to bother coming back! You tell him I do not want him!

You tell him I’ll be finding another sweep!”

 

“Hubert!” Recognizing her husband’s near uncontrollable

hysteria, having felt the back of his hand on many more

than one occasion while this hysterical, Mrs. Hobbins went

to him.

 

Catching his breath, grabbing his wife’s arm, pulling her

into the foyer, Hobbins slammed the door shut behind them.

 

As soon as the door slammed shut, “Mousy!” Knowing

the mouse may have been crushed when the coat had been

balled and thrown, picking his coat out of the mud, the boy

quickly looked into the pocket but, in apparent good health,

Mousy twitched his nose at him.

 

Sighing, Zachariah put the coat on. Absently rubbing the

bump on his forehead, “Lordy!” He suddenly thought of the

folded pile of drop cloths, the brush, scraper, and his scarf,

all sitting alongside the fireplace in the condolence parlor.

Flinging himself up the stairs and across the porch,

looking through the door window, the boy was just in time

to see a hand pulling the basement door closed.

 

“Mister ‘obbins!” he yelled, banging on the door. “Mister

‘obbins, Sir! Me cloths! Please! Please give me back the

‘quipment!” The cold wind at his back pushed against his

coat pasting the damp shirt and wet trousers against his

body, shivering, “I’m cold!” shivering, “I’m so cold,” he cried

in near tears, kicking the door, “Me scarf! Please!”

 

But the basement door did not open, and Zachariah knew

that were he to stand here all night banging on the door

Hobbins would still ignore him. “You ol’ bastard!” he

shouted, kicking the door again, this time hard enough to

rattle the window. “You tightwad, bastard, skinflint!”

 

Dejectedly turning away, the boy walked down the four

steps. Taking a few steps, stopping, he looked back at the

square of dull light showing through the doorway window,

You ol’ bastard! he thought and, afraid to go home, not

knowing what to do, Cold! Lordy, so cold! Holding one hand

on his head in an unsuccessful attempt to keep his head

warm and one hand over his breast pocket, trying, somewhat

successfully, to keep his one friend—the small creature inside

his pocket—warm, the boy walked to the road.

 

Mud and snow soaking his clothing, sleet pelting his bare,

short cropped head, shivering, suddenly confused, suddenly

unsure of the way home, now crying, the not-quite-nine year-

old boy sat on a curbstone under the dull yellow glow

of a gas lit street lamp.

 

“What’ll I do?” Zachariah said aloud, to himself, to the

mouse in his breast pocket and to whatever God there was

that looked over as insignificant and wretched a creature

as a climbing boy. “Lordy, what’ll I do?” His body quaking

due to the cold, and, in fear of Johnson. “What’ll ‘e do to me

when I get ‘ome?” Answering his own question, “I knows

‘im! ‘e’ll be drunk an’ I ain’t got ‘is money, an’ I ain’t got ‘is

‘quipment, an’… ‘obbins—you ol’ bastard…!” he again

shouted into the darkness, “told me to tell ‘im to not never

come back! I know’s ‘im! ‘e’ll say t’wer cause’a me we ain’t

got no payment nor ‘quipment, an’ we lost ol’ ‘obbin’s work!”

 

So intent was Zachariah on his misery that he was

unaware of a group of people that had come upon him.

 

“What’s this?” Speaking in an inebriated but kindly voice,

“What is this?” one of the men asked again.

 

Startled, standing quickly, Zachariah looked at the four

commonly dressed people.

 

“Looks to me to be a cryin’ lad,” another inebriated,

feminine voice answered.

 

“Aye, a dirty, cryin’ lad,” a second lady said.

 

“Ya be a climbing boy, ain’t ya lad?” the first man asked.

 

Momentarily startled, but put at ease by the friendly tone

of these people, “Aye, Sir.”

 

“Boy, why ya be sittin’ all by ya’self in the snow ‘ere, talkin’

to ya’self? Ya be lost?” The man wearing a dented, bent top

hat asked.

 

Unsure of the way, but, “No, Sir, I ain’t lost.” Zachariah

looked from face to face. “Me master an’ me, we was in that

place there,” pointing to the funeral parlor, “doin’ our work,

an’ then me master, ‘e went off to… uh, ‘e ‘ad another

‘pointment, an’ ‘e left me to finish the work ‘ere by me-self.

An’ now ol’ ‘obbins—‘e’s the man what owns the funeral

‘ome ‘er—‘e won’t pay me, an’ ‘e won’t gi’me me ‘quipment

neither, and me master…” the boy looked from face to face,

“‘e’ll be beatin’ me good when I get ‘ome.”

 

Jerking his thumb over his shoulder, pointing to the all

but darkened house. “Ya mean to say,” Lewis asked

incredulously, “that ya did ya work ‘ere, an’ ‘e won’t pay ya

ya due?”

 

“Aye, Sir.”

 

“Why?” the second man asked.

 

“Ol’ ‘obbins said I got a smudge’a dirt onto one’a ‘is

settees. But I din’t! I weren’t no place near it—‘ceptin’ to

pull off me drop cloth, an’ then I was bein’ extra special

careful an’ I know I didn’t get it smudged. I think ol’ ‘obbins

did it ‘isself to keep from givin’ me me payment.”

 

To a workingman such as Lewis the thought of being

cheated of his rightful due was incomprehensible. “An’ the

bloody bastard won’t pay ya?” he said angrily.

 

“Aye, Sir. No, Sir, ‘e won’t.”

 

“An’ this bein’ the night afore the birth of the baby Jesus

an’ all!” The homely, long-faced lady said, “We got to be

doin’ somethin’ to be ‘elpin’ the poor lad ‘ere!”

 

“Aye, Silbie, that we do!” Screwing his courage up for

the second time that evening, setting the top hat squarely

atop his head, taking long, purposeful strides, Lewis tramped

across the grass-bare yard and up the four wooden steps.

 

“You in there!” the pane of glass vibrating within its frame,

“Open up ‘ere!” Banging on the door, “Open up ‘ere!”

 

Within moments…

 

“Open up ‘ere!”

 

The basement door finally opened.

 

Hobbins, accompanied by his wife, came to the parlor

door, but upon seeing the quality of Lewis’ clothing, “We’re

closed!” Not opening the door, “Get away!” he yelled from

within the door.

 

“It ain’t your services—thank the Lord—I be wantin’!”

 

“Then what is you ‘be wantin’ at this hour?”

 

“The lad,” jerking his thumb over his shoulder, “says ya

be cheatin’ ‘im outta ‘is due,” Lewis said. “an’ I’m ‘ere to be

‘elpin’ him to be gettin’ it!”

 

“Money?” Mrs. Hobbins screeched from her side of the

door. “No money! The scum filthied my settee!”

 

“The lad says ‘e ain’t! The lad says ya ol’ man maybe did

it ‘isself, to keep from payin’ ‘im!”

 

“No, sir! He surely did it and I won’t be paying him!”

 

Reaching into his trouser pocket, removing a whistle, “Best

you be gone,” the undertaker yelled through the door, “‘afore

I whistle for a copper!”

 

Lewis looked from the face of the undertaker to the

whistle in his hand and not wanting to spend Christmas

Eve—or for that matter any eve—in jail, his resolve

crumbling, “Sir, it bein’ the night afore the birth of our Lord

an’ such,” he asked meekly, “why don’t ya pay the lad an’

give ‘im his ‘quipment, an’ let ‘im be on ‘is way ‘ome?”

 

Knowing he’d won, looking contemptuously at Lewis,

without another word Hobbins, followed by his wife, turned

from the door, went to the basement door and, slamming it

behind them, returned to the work of embalming the body

of Garibaldi.

 

Lewis stood looking through the door a moment, then,

turning from the door, he returned to his friends and the

boy. “Sorry, lad, but the ol’ geezer there,” cocking his head

backward, “‘e said t’were your fault, an’ ‘e ain’t payin’ you,

an’ that’s that.”

 

The five people stood beneath the glow of a street lamp

amidst the failing sleet and snow till, shrugging his shoulders

and pulling his collar higher about his throat, the other man

said, “Best be on our way, then.”

 

“Yeah, sorry, boy,” the woman called Silbie said. “We best

be on our way, then.”

 

“Yeah, an’ you, too, boy. Ain’t gonna be doin’ ya no good

to be standin’ out ‘ere till ya catches ya death,” the other

woman added.

 

The other man rubbed his hand over the boy’s cold, wet

head as a sign of affection—and also, by touching Zachariah

he hoped to bring some good luck to himself. “Did what we

could for ya, lad.”

 

Lewis patted Zachariah’s head also, but strictly as a sign

of affection. “Sorry ‘t’wern’t more we could do for ya boy.”

Turning, he began to follow his friends, whom, anxious to

be out of the weather and home, had begun up the street.

 

“A good Christmas to ya, boy!” one of the women called

over her shoulder.

 

“Yeah!” said the other man.

 

“God be with ya, boy!” the other woman said.

 

Zachariah watched the backs of the four people for a

moment, then, dejectedly, with shoulders sagging, began his

journey in the opposite direction, to home—to Johnson.

 

“‘ey, boy!”

 

Stopping, turning about, Zachariah waited as the man

in the top hat ran to him.

 

“‘ere, lad. A gift for ya. Ya be needin’ it more’n me.” Taking

the hat from his head, the young man put it onto the head of

the boy, but, too big, it dropped over his eyes. Lifting the

hat, “‘ere, boy, b-b-bend ya ears.” Stuttering now, Lewis put it

back onto Zachariah’s head. “An’a g-g-good C-C-Christmas

to ya.”

 

Watching Lewis as he chased after his friends, two things

became evident to Zachariah: the sleety snow had stopped

falling, and the dented hat that rested on the three points of

the tops of his bent ears and the bump on his forehead

somehow seemed to warm him.

 

Stretching upward, Mousy stuck his head through the

slit of the pocket.

 

Becoming aware of the mouse again, smiling…

 

Smiling?

 

Looking down, the boy rubbed the rodent’s head with

the tip of his finger. “Yeah, Mousy, if ’n I ‘ad a safe pocket to

‘ide into I would, too.” Giving the pocket a gentle pat,

Zachariah began on his way home.

 

 

 

 

 


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For Better or Worse

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The Climbing Boy

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