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PETER'S BOOTS. .
'Wash me, mother, an' let me go,' I says sudden-like. “Lads is as good as wenches when they're washed,' and mother she says not likely, and she wouldn't trust me to behave myself at no Christmas tea-parties not if she knew it, an' she ’adn't forgot, yet, the way I let myself go at my Aunt Eliza's, last Christmas. “'Ome was the best place for me,' says she, with the larder locked.' And besides, if I did go, she knew I should eat just as much as if I'd been invited, and if I didn't run out and fetch a shovel of coal before she had to ask me again, she'd know the reason why.
I didn't want to be let know no reasons, and I could see with half an eye that she'd a broomstick ready to her hand, and so I shut my mouth, and run for them coals, but when I come back, I says soft-like :
Mother, wash me and let me go. I'll say nothin' to nobody,
“ an' never put my fingers in nothin', till I'm axed. Wash me, mother, an' let me go.'
Mother fetched a deep sigh, and looked me up an' down as if she'd never seen nothin' like me before, nor didn't want to again, and then she burst out sharp :
*Take that coat and weskit off then, and let's see what colour you are, you young tinker !' And she pulled me into the back kitchin, and got my head under her arm, and there were a pin stuck in her apron, and she didn't take no notice when I told her about it, an' she give me a norrid scrubbin' with a hard brush, and rubbed yaller soap in my eyes and mouth, and let the water trickle down my back, and put me a clean collar on, an' my Sunday clothes, and my red tie, and brushed my hair, an' give me a push an' said : Now then.' I could do with mother brushin' my hair a deal better if she'd give over hittin' me with the wrong side of the brush when I moved a bit.
I'd wanted to dodge our William, but he come in just as I was startin' and fetched me a clout, and said : ‘By gum! Peter's washed hisself for once, and not before it was wanted neither.' Mother said was it likely, and the young tinker had bin botherin’ to go to teacher's tea-party at the school, because Rachel Mary from
Clegg's farm had been in, telling about the 'am sangwidges and buttered bun-loaf they were havin' for tea, an' nothin' would satisfy Peter but that ’e must go too if you please.
* Nobody never axes me to no tea-parties,' I said sad-like.
Mother said she only hoped to goodness Peter wouldn't be tiresome, and get fightin' with the little girls, and William laughed and said I'd be feart to death among all the wenches, and was I goin' in them boots ?
‘Drat the boy !' mother says. “He's got no others. His Sunday ones has gone to be patched. You'd best take your jacket off again, Peter, and stay at ’ome after all. An' all that washin' wasted, too.
I looked at mother, an' then I looked at our William and I seed as he'd left the door open, and I said nothin', but dodged under his arm, and run off acrost the yard, an' down the lane as hard as I could fetch. I wasn't goin' to stop at home when them ’am sangwidges was all cut an' ready; and besides, what was wrong with my boots ?
My Sunday ones had accidental got burnt through stampin' out a fire I'd happened to light, with a box of Feyther's matches, up on the top pasture. There's a lot of dry grass up there, as badly wants burnin'off, whatever our William says, an' it had happened to get goin' a bit too well last Sunday, and I'd burnt my boots, and laces too, puttin' it out. Feyther give me such a good hidin' for it when I got home that I wished I'd bin burnt to cinders, I did. P'raps him and our William would a bin sorry then, for the way they was always hittin' me.)
I run down the hill to the schoolroom, and it was all dark outside, and the lights shone lovely through the winders, an' I could smell them ’am sangwidges the minute I got to the door. There was two teachers standin' by the door, and I shoved past ’em, an’ went into the room, and all the walls was hung wth pink paper flowers, and all the maps, and texes, an' digrams, was ornimented with holly an' miseltoe an' what not.
Miss Bult, she caught hold of my coat collar, an' says : ‘Come out o' that, Peter Gregg. It's the girls' tea-party to-night.
We don't want any boys here upsetting them and making them cry. Pushing past a lady like that!
“Mother washed me, I says, quiet like. 'I can taste the soap in my mouth yet. Please, teacher, can't I stay and play me now I'm washed ?'
The other teacher, Miss Penny_'infants,' she was--turned round sudden-like, and laughed, an' 'er eyes all twinkled up, an' she says to the young feller she was talkin' to--the new curick 'e seemed to be, she says:
“Let the poor little man stay. He can help to amuse the babies. I know he'll be a good boy.'
An' the curick rubbed me 'air up all wrong, an' said : “Why not? Why not? He is a brave man, isn't he, to face such tremendous odds ? Let him stay, Miss Bult, to keep me in countenance.'
I didn't know what 'e was jawin' about, and I didn't care neither, but Miss Penny smiled at me an' I noticed she'd got a new white dress body on, an'a shiny thing in ’er ’air, an' so I says right out before 'em all :
* I've got my Sunday clothes on, too, and they laughed, an' let me go past into the schoolroom.
I went in slow, tryin' to walk soft on the wooden floor, and not let my boots be noticed, an' then I stood still an' stared, and I felt my face gettin' redder and redder and hotter and hotter, an' I couldn't say nothin' at all, but stand starin' there, struck all of an 'eap, like a stuck pig.
All round that dratted room there was school benches, and all sittin' on them benches was girls with their Sunday frocks on, an' ribbons in their hair, gigglin' and laughin' and starin' at me, as if I was somethin' funny in a tent what you paid twopence to go in and see. I hadn't known afore what it felt like to be let loose amongst a lot of little wenches in their Sunday best. I'd oply bin thinking of them 'am sangwidges. Sittin' there laughin'
’ at me!
I stood there, an' first I shifted one foot, an' then I shifted the other foot, and then I looked into the corners to see if there wasn't no empty seat away from all them silly girls, an' there wasn't none, an' then I wished I'd never heard of that dratted tea-party, and then I turned round an' see the door I'd come in at, and run. I couldn't see no one—I was that hot. My eyes was all wet, an' I give a shout, an' butted right into the new curick, an' shoved
'Why, Peter,' Miss Penny says, “you're not frightened of those nice little girls ? '
* I'm goin' ’ome,' I says.
a liar,' and I runs off up the lane again, an' when I gets to the stile into the big medder, I sat me down an' rubbed my eyes with a clean red ’ankercher mother 'ad lent me of our William's afore 'e come in, an' I tried to stop blubbin', an' I remembered them 'am sangwidges, and thought what a soft I was to be feart of a lot of girls
a no bigger than me.
‘’E wouldn't say I was feart o' fire if 'e'd knowd the reason why I wasn't wearin' my Sunday boots,' I said, that mad with ’im. Feyther's bin cloutin' me ever sin' I can remember for settin' fire to the grass an' heather up in the top an' all along them lanes. Mother never lets me go to school of a mornin' without turnin' my pockets out to see if I'd been priggin' matches again.
I must 'a' sat on that there stile a long time, an' it was all black an' dark around me, an' the fields down the hill was all dark too, three on 'em, and right down at the bottom of 'em the village was shinin' all along with lights, an' I could hear 'em ringin' the bells in the Church upon the hill opposite for Christmas Eve, an' there was music playin' too in the Court House at the other end. That's where the Doctor, and the Squire, and the Rector gives their parties—in the Court 'Ouse. Just theirselves, an' none of our sort invited.
'I shouldn't wonder if there's 'am sangwidges there too,' I says to myself sorrowful-like. “Nor mince pies neither. Mother's keepin' ours locked till to-morrer. My Aunt Marther an' Uncle
Jabez is comin' to dinner, and mother's got but an 'eavy ’and with ’er paste my Aunt Eliza says-besides only one ever bein' give to me.'
An' I looked an' looked, an' I dursent go home because of what our William would say, an' mother vexed too at having to wash me for nothing when she'd be bound to do it all over again, to-morrer bein' Christmas, and I looked at the Court House all shinin' with light against the dark hill, and the music playing too, so merry-like, an' then I jumped down off that stile, an' I set off an' run down the fields to the village. And I run and run, an' scrambled through a nedge at the bottom an' I come out into the road just above the Court 'Ouse, an' high up so as I could see in at the winders. An' I stopped again, to listen at the music. Sounded so nice it did. They was playin' 'Put me amongst the girls, I know because our William sings it of a Saturday afternoon, and I thought how true, and I saw through the window that the walls (they're all dark an' shiny, not white
like at our school) they was all covered with red and white roses an' holly an' ivy an' little lights among 'em so pretty, and the boys and girls was shoutin' an' laughing an' playin' 'em, an' I couldn't bear to look no longer , they seemed so happy, an’ was makin' such a deal of nise, an' no teachers there messin' about an sayin' 'Ush!
I crep'round to the side door, and there wasn't no one there to stop me, same as there was at the school, and I crep' along a passage, and through a nopen door I seed 'em. Heaps an' heaps of ’am sangwidges and mince pies, and red jellies and yeller jellies, an'orangers an' apples an' crackers too. I never had no crackers give me but onst, when Miss Primrose sent me some what was over from a party at the Rect'ry on account of me 'avin' the mumps.
By gum!' I says, and I crep' along to the other door, and there was servants in white aprons, and caps with white tails 'angin', watchin' all them children enjoy themselves. No one hadn't never thought of me needin' no enjoyment on Christmas Eve. No one never does. Quite accidental, I nudged one of them young women, and she turned sharp and saw who it was, and it was Jane from the Rect'ry that I 'ad used to clean boots for, an' knives, and she boxed me sharp and sent me back down the passage, quick, with me ears all singin'.
* You be off, Peter,' she said, 'before anyone sees you, an' I'd like to know what you're up to here. I do hope you haven't had your fingers in nothin' in that there supper room !
An' I said I'd never so much as glanced at the supper room, an' might I just look for a minute at the dancin', Jane. "I'm not doin' no 'arm,' I says. “You can watch me if you
like.' Jane said she'd take good care she did too.
I never see such a lot-pretty looking they was too, with white frocks, and white shoes and stockings, and frizzy 'air like fairies at the panklemine, an' all them lads had white fronts, and funny little short coats, and long trousies an' shiny slippers on, with rum little bows. There wasn't none of 'em with boots like mine. There they was, dancin' up the middle of the room, and back again, in two long rows, and crossin' and bendin' and slitherin' about ever so soft. I did hate them lads. I'd like to 'ave copped one of 'em down our medder by hisself, an' give 'im a thunderin' good hidin', for all his white front and them bows on his shoes. Now then. I can lick any lad in our school. I can so.
An' then Miss Primrose from the Rect'ry came up all smilin' an' a light blue dress on, same as 'er eyes, an'a wreath of forget