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The Garret and the Garden; Or, Low Life High Up

The Garret and the Garden; Or, Low Life High Up

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


In the midst of the great wilderness--we might almost say the wilds--of that comparatively unknown region which lies on the Surrey side of the Thames, just above London Bridge, there sauntered one fine day a big bronzed seaman of middle age....
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  In the midst of the great wilderness--we might almost say the wilds--ofthat comparatively unknown region which lies on the Surrey side of theThames, just above London Bridge, there sauntered one fine day a bigbronzed seaman of middle age. He turned into an alley, down which,nautically speaking, he rolled into a shabby little court. There hestood still for a few seconds and looked around him as if in quest ofsomething.

  It was a miserable poverty-stricken court, with nothing to commend it tothe visitor save a certain air of partial-cleanliness andsemi-respectability, which did not form a feature of the courts in itsneighbourhood.

  "I say, Capting," remarked a juvenile voice close at hand, "you've binan sailed into the wrong port."

  The sailor glanced in all directions, but was unable to see the owner ofthe voice until a slight cough--if not a suppressed laugh--caused him tolook up, when he perceived the sharp, knowing, and dirty face of a smallboy, who calmly contemplated him from a window not more than a footabove his head. Fun, mischief, intelligence, precocity sat enthroned onthe countenance of that small boy, and suffering wrinkled his youngbrow.

  "How d'ee know I'm in the wrong port--monkey?" demanded the sailor.

  "'Cause there ain't no grog-shop in it--gorilla!" retorted the boy.

  There is a mysterious but well-known power of attraction between kindredspirits which induces them to unite, like globules of quicksilver, atthe first moment of contact. Brief as was this interchange ofpolitenesses, it sufficed to knit together the souls of the seaman andthe small boy. A mutual smile, nod, and wink sealed, as it were, thesudden friendship.

  "Come now, younker," said the sailor, thrusting his hands into hiscoat-pockets, and leaning a little forward with legs well apart, as ifin readiness to counteract the rolling of the court in a heavy sea,"there's no occasion for you an' me to go beatin' about--off an' on.Let's come to close quarters at once. I haven't putt in here to lookfor no grog-shop--"

  "W'ich I didn't say you 'ad," interrupted the boy.

  "No more you did, youngster. Well, what I dropped in here for was tolook arter an old woman."

  "If you'd said a young 'un, now, I might 'ave b'lieved you," returnedthe pert urchin.

  "You _may_ believe me, then, for I wants a young 'un too."

  "Well, old salt," rejoined the boy, resting his ragged arms on thewindow-sill, and looking down on the weather-beaten man with anexpression of patronising interest, "you've come to the right shop,anyhow, for that keemodity. In Lun'on we've got old women by thethousand, an' young uns by the million, to say nuffin o' middle-aged unsan' chicks. Have 'ee got a partikler pattern in yer eye, now, or d'eeon'y want samples?"

  "What's your name, lad?" asked the sailor.

  "That depends, old man. If a beak axes me, I've got a wariety o' names,an' gives 'im the first as comes to 'and. W'en a gen'leman axes me, I'mmore partikler--I makes a s'lection."

  "Bein' neither a beak nor a gentleman, lad, what would you say your namewas to _me_?"

  "Tommy Splint," replied the boy promptly. "Splint, 'cause w'en I waspicked up, a small babby, at the work'us door, my left leg was broke,an' they 'ad to putt it up in splints; Tommy, 'cause they said I waslike a he-cat; w'ich was a lie!"

  "Is your father alive, Tommy?"

  "'Ow should _I_ know? I've got no father nor mother--never had none asI knows on; an' what's more, I don't want any. I'm a horphing, _I_ am,an' I prefers it. Fathers an' mothers is often wery aggrawatin';they're uncommon hard to manage w'en they're bad, an' a cause o' muchwexation an' worry to child'n w'en they're good; so, on the whole, Ithink we're better without 'em. Chimleypot Liz is parent enough forme."

  "And who may chimney-pot Liz be?" asked the sailor with sudden interest.

  "H'm!" returned the boy with equally sudden caution and hesitancy. "Ididn't say _chimney-pot_ but _chimley-pot_ Liz. W'at is she? W'y,she's the ugliest old ooman in this great meetropilis, an' she's got thejolliest old 'art in Lun'on. Her skin is wrinkled equal to thery-nossris at the Zoo--I seed that beast once at a Sunday-school treat--an' her nose has been tryin' for some years past to kiss her chin, w'ichit would 'ave managed long ago, too, but for a tooth she's got in theupper jaw. She's on'y got one; but, my, that _is_ a fang! so loose thatyou'd expect it to be blowed out every time she coughs. It's a reg'largrinder an' cutter an' stabber all in one; an' the way it works--sometimes in the mouth, sometimes outside the lip, now an' then straightout like a ship's bowsprit--is most amazin'; an' she drives it aboutlike a nigger slave. Gives it no rest. I do declare I wouldn't be thatthere fang for ten thousand a year. She's got two black eyes, too, hasold Liz, clear an' bright as beads--fit to bore holes through you w'enshe ain't pleased; and er nose is ooked--. But, I say, before I tellyou more about 'er, I wants to know wot you've got to do with 'er? An'w'at's your name? I've gave you mine. Fair exchange, you know."

  "True, Tommy, that's only right an' fair. But I ain't used to lookin'up when discoorsin'. Couldn't you come down here an' lay alongside?"

  "No, old salt, I couldn't; but you may come up here if you like. You'llbe the better of a rise in the world, won't you? The gangway lays justround the corner; but mind your sky-scraper for the port's low. There'sa seat in the winder here. Go ahead; starboard your helm, straight up,then 'ard-a-port, steady, mind your jib-boom, splice the main-brace,heave the main-deck overboard, and cast anchor 'longside o' me!"

  Following these brief directions as far as was practicable, the sailorsoon found himself on the landing of the stair, where Tommy was seatedon a rickety packing-case awaiting him.

  "Now, lad," said the man, seating himself beside his new friend, "fromwhat you tells me, I think that chimney-pot--"

  "Chimley," remarked the boy, correcting.

  "Well, then, chimley-pot Liz, from your account of her, must be the verywoman I wants. I've sought for her far an' wide, alow and aloft, an'bin directed here an' there an' everywhere, except the right where,'till now. But I'll explain." The man paused a moment as if toconsider, and it became evident to the boy that his friend was labouringunder some degree of excitement, which he erroneously put down to drink.

  "My name," continued the sailor, "is Sam Blake--second mate o' the_Seacow_, not long in from China. I didn't ship as mate. Bein' ashipwrecked seaman, you see--"

  "Shipwrecked!" exclaimed the boy, with much interest expressed in hissharp countenance.

  "Ay, lad, shipwrecked; an' not the first time neither, but I was keen toget home, havin' bin kep' a prisoner for an awful long spell bypirates--"

  "Pints!" interrupted the boy again, as he gazed in admiration at hisstalwart friend; "but," he added, "I don't believe you. It's all barn.There ain't no pints now; an' you think you've got hold of a green un."

  "Tommy!" said the sailor in a remonstrative tone, "did I ever deceiveyou?"

  "Never," replied the boy fervently; "leastwise not since we 'comeacquaint 'arf an hour back."

  "Look here," said Sam Blake, baring his brawny left arm to the elbow anddisplaying sundry deep scars which once must have been painful wounds."An' look at this," he added, opening his shirt-front and exposing amighty chest that was seamed with similar scars in all directions."That's what the pirates did to me an' my mates--torturin' of us aforekillin' us."

  "Oh, I say!" exclaimed the urchin, in a tone in which sympathy wasmingled with admiration; "tell us all about it, Sam."

  "Not now, my lad; business first--pleasure arterwards."

  "I prefers pleasure first an' business arter, Sam. 'Owever, 'ave it yerown way."

  "Well, you see," continued the sailor, turning down his, "w'en I went tosea _that_ time, I left a wife an' a babby behind me; but soon arter Igot out to China I got a letter tellin' me that my Susan was dead, andthat the babby had bin took charge of by a old nurse in the family whereSusan had been a housemaid. You may be sure my heart was well-nighbroke by the news, but I comforted myself wi' the thought o' gittin'home again an' takin' care o' the dear babby--a gal, it was, calledSusan arter its mother. It was at that time I was took by the piratesin the Malay Seas--now fifteen long years gone by."

  "W'at! an' you ain't bin 'ome or seed yer babby for fifteen years?"exclaimed Tommy Splint.

  "Not for fifteen long year," replied his friend. "You see, Tommy, thepirates made a slave o' me, an' took me up country into the interior ofone o' their biggest islands, where I hadn't a chance of escapin'. ButI did manage to escape at last, through God's blessin', an' got toHong-Kong in a small coaster; found a ship--the _Seacow_-about startin'for England short-handed, an' got a berth on board of her. On thevoyage the second mate was washed overboard in a gale, so, as I was ahandy chap, the cap'en he promoted me, an' now I'm huntin' about for mydear little one all over London. But it's a big place is London."

  "Yes; an' I suspect that you'll find your little un raither a big un tooby this time."

  "No doubt," returned the seaman with an absent air; then, looking withsudden earnestness into his little companion's face, he added, "Well,Tommy Splint, as I said just now, I've cruised about far an' near afterthis old woman as took charge o' my babby without overhaulin' of her,for she seems to have changed her quarters pretty often; but I keep upmy hopes, for I do feel as if I'd run her down at last--her name wasLizbeth Morley--"

  "Oho!" exclaimed Tommy Splint with a look of sharp intelligence; "so youthink that chimleypot Liz may be your Lizbeth and our Susy your babby!"

  "I'm more than half inclined to think that, my boy," returned thesailor, growing more excited.

  "_Is_ the old woman's name Morley?"

  "Dun know. Never heard nobody call her nothin' but Liz."

  "And how about Susan?"

  "That's the babby?" said the boy with a grin.

  "Yes--yes," said Sam anxiously.

  "Well, that babby's about five fut four now, without 'er boots. You see'uman creeturs are apt to grow considerable in fifteen years--ain'tthey?"

  "But is her name Blake?" demanded the seaman. "Not as I knows of.Susy's wot we all calls 'er--so chimley-pot Liz calls 'er, an' so shecalls 'erself, an' there ain't another Susy like her for five milesround. But come up, Sam, an' I'll introduce ee--they're both over'ead."

  So saying the lively urchin grasped his new friend by the hand and ledhim by a rickety staircase to the "rookeries" above.