Tommy: Brave/Part 2
Learn more about some of my favorite secondary characters from Hope for Charity, my upcoming novel set in 18th century England, in this series, The Backstory.
Tommy: Brave/Part 2
by Sandy Kay Slawson
Tommy stared at the door after his mother closed it until he heard the lock click into place. And then he stared at the handle. When his mum didn’t change her mind and pull him inside again, Tommy’s insides flipped and twisted with fear. With great reluctance, he began his first real foray from home.
Dawn broke a short time before, but the cloudy day offered sparse light and shadows as Tommy left the tenement behind. At the street, he looked back once and found the door still shut. He turned again to the road, looked left and then right, and tried to remember which way led to the marketplace, the one place he went with his mum with any regularity.
A wagon loaded with crates of vegetables passed and drove along the street toward Tommy’s right. He followed but soon lost sight of the conveyance. Another wave of anxiety caused Tommy to spin around. What if he couldn’t find his way home? Already the path traveled seemed unfamiliar. His belly roiled, and he thought he might be sick.
“You, boy,” a man yelled nearby.
Tommy startled at the gruff sound. An elderly man with a pushcart filled with bread baskets stood nearby.
Tommy answered above the growl of his tummy. “Yes, sir?”
“My worn out back is ‘bout to break. Are ye strong enough to push my cart without letting it tip over?”
“Are ye going to market, good sir?”
“Course I am. Can ye push the cart or not?” The man let go of the handles, and the cart rested on its legs and wheels.
“If I can, what will ye pay me?” Tommy hated to ask, but he had to start somewhere. Mum needed his help, and he’d do anything for her.
“If you can push the cart to the market, I’ll pay ye a loaf o’ bread,” the man said.
“Then I’ll try my best.” Tommy rubbed his palms on his breeches, then grabbed the thick handles in his small hands. With every ounce of determination, he managed to lift the heavy cart off the ground enough to push it forward. Once Tommy started, he did not stop until the market came into view.
Tommy set the cart on the ground and held it steady amid the chaos of people and animals. “Where shall I take it, sir?”
“I’ll push it through this crowd. You did a fine job for such a puny lad. If you meet me every morn, where we met today, you'll have a job. I wager you'll grow stronger with the work, and the bread will do you good.”
Tommy’s elated nod and gleeful countenance gave the man his answer.
“Remember, on the morrow, meet me where we met this day. Don’t be late.” The man chose a loaf of bread from the pile and passed it to Tommy.
“Yes, sir. Thank ye, sir.” Tommy grasped the loaf. The man lifted his cart with a groan and pushed through the crowd.
“Where’d you get the bread?”
“I bet ‘e stole it.”
“Thieves don’t deserve to keep their ill-gotten gains.”
Three older boys surrounded Tommy after the man disappeared from sight. He held the bread tight against his chest. They circled him, and Tommy grew dizzy as he watched them go ‘round and ‘round. “I didn’t steal it.”
“How can we trust such a grungy waif as you?”
“No doubt he stole it. How else could the beggar get that prize?”
“I earned it. Ask the baker himself,” Tommy said louder.
“Ask the baker himself,” one boy mocked.
“I don’t see a baker. We better punish this street urchin ourselves, huh fellas?”
“I’m no street urchin,” Tommy said, offended by the insult.
One boy grabbed at the loaf. Tommy jerked the bread out of reach, but another boy grabbed his shoulders. The third boy grabbed the loaf and yanked, but it broke. The top third tore off. Tommy grimaced and held on to the remainder tighter, but they took the bottom third, too.
The biggest boy pried Tommy’s arms loose, and he lost hold of the last hunk. The boys, each with a third of his loaf, laughed and raced off into the crowd. Tommy glanced around to see if anyone might help him, but no one paid a bit of attention.
The reality of what happened pushed through the shock, and he wanted to cry. All that work… for nothing. The images of a proud and happy mum that had strengthened him as he pushed the cart shattered. No reason to even mention the bread because she’d be naught but disappointed. On the morrow, he’d find a way to hide it from view, and if he saw those boys again, he’d run the other way.
“I can’t go home empty-handed.” Tommy brushed the crumbs from his shirt and headed into the melee.
A man swept the stone walk outside of his storefront. “I’ll sweep for a penny,” said Tommy.
“A half-penny,” the man said in return.
“Alright, a half-penny.” The man gave Tommy the broom. It took a minute or two, but Tommy got the hang of it and finished the job. When he entered the establishment, the man came towards him.
“Let’s see how you did.”
Tommy followed the man back outside.
“'Tis a middling job for a lad your size. Here.” The man removed the promised half-penny from his apron pocket and gave it to Tommy.
“God bless ye, sir.” Tommy stuck the coin in the pouch tied around his neck for that purpose. His first coin. Tommy scanned the area, afraid those boys might steal it, too, but he didn’t see them.
Tommy wandered around the market and watched for other opportunities. An old woman needed help with her purchases, but when Tommy reached her home he placed the packages inside and left. He hadn't asked for any payment. How could he? The poor woman probably didn’t have an extra farthing to her name.
As the day wore on, Tommy grew hungry and tired. In his pouch were three farthings, two half-pennies, and one penny. He’d learned to offer assistance to the well-dressed shoppers. They had money to spare. A lady in fine clothes perused a table of various laces. In one arm, she held several packages. Tommy went to her, hat in hand.
“Milady, may I help ye carry your wares while ye shop?” Tommy said.
At first, the young woman’s nose scrunched in distaste, but then she passed the wrapped items to Tommy. “If you try to steal them—”
“O, no, milady. I’m no thief. I'll stay right by your side.”
“Very well, but be careful with my purchases.”
Tommy followed the woman for an hour. The number of packages doubled, and Tommy fretted his arms might break under the weight. To his relief, she left the market and led him to a carriage parked on a side street. The driver jumped from his perch and helped the lady into the carriage, then relieved Tommy of his load.
Another older woman arrived, and the driver helped her alight.
“Where were you, Agnes? I lost sight of you long ago,” the lady said to the more common woman.
“I did not lose sight of you, milady. You gave me leave to shop, too, if you remember,” the woman said.
“Yes, I suppose I did. Pay the lad for me, and let us be off. I’m exhausted.” The lady leaned her head against the seat cushion and closed her eyes.
“You worked hard, boy. I saw you struggle under the burden,” the woman said, then placed sixpence in his palm.
Tommy’s mouth fell open. He’d never held so much money before. The woman’s kind expression and half-grin made the effort even more worth it. “Thank ye, miss. Thank ye, and God bless.”
After a quick bow, Tommy raced out of sight and placed the coin in his pouch. He made sure it hid beneath his clothes and then found his way to the market again. The day’s work and hunger made Tommy decide to find his way home before dark set in, but as he exited the market on the other side, the three thieves from that morn appeared out of nowhere and accosted him once more.
“What are you still doing here, waif?”
Tommy tried to push around them, but one grabbed his jacket and made him stay.
“This is our market,” another boy said.
“Your market?” Tommy said with a confused frown.
“We work this market. Have been for two years. You’ll not come here with your little poor boy tale o’ woe and steal our business.”
The tallest boy moved forward. With a hard push, he sent Tommy in a sprawl onto the ground. “You come here again to work, and I’ll make you regret it. Understand?”
Tommy stared up at the three. After a brief hesitation, he nodded his acquiescence. With a sneer, the oldest boy spit by Tommy’s feet, then they left him there in the dirt. The sound of their chortles stayed with Tommy on the whole trek home.
To be continued….
Stay tuned for the next episode of Tommy: Brave/Part 3 next month. I hope you each have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! As always, I am so thankful for you and pray that the Lord will bless you and your families with Faith, Hope, and Love. In Jesus' Name.