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 3
by Sandy Kay Slawson
Tommy left home after his chunk of bread and cup of milk. This his second week as a laborer, he’d be smarter. Those boys at the market had stolen from him and hurt him for the last time.
After last week’s disappointments, because of those rotten thieves, he’d convinced his mum to let him bring the bread home before he went out again to work.
“As long as ye don’t dawdle, mind ye,” she’d said.
That admonition spurred Tommy into a sprint to meet the baker. No sooner had he reached the spot they’d met each time, then he spotted the man with his cart full of bread turning the corner onto his street.
“Good morrow, sir,” Tommy said as he took the handles of the cart.
“For you, perhaps, but my joints ache like the dickens. We’ll see rain soon. Push hard as ye can, before me bread gets ruined,” said the baker.
Tommy glanced at the sky, and saw naught but blue. Still, he pushed harder. Each day, the weight became easier to bear, his muscles grew stronger, and the trip took less time.
“Slow down, boy. I can’t keep step with ye anymore.”
“Yes, sir.” Tommy took the last couple hundred yards at the baker’s pace. When they reached the market, Tommy chose his loaf, thanked the Baker, and spun to return the way they’d come.
"Wait, lad," the baker said.
"This job is yours until the Spring when my wife and I move to the American colonies to be with our son."
"Across the ocean... never thee mind. We decided last week after our son invited us for the third time. Thought it fair to warn ye."
Tommy's heart sank. He had to find another position soon or starve. Spring came next. How long might that take? After a brief acknowledgement of the terrible news, he raced home with the valuable loaf.
The door opened after two knocks. “Here’s the bread, Mum.”
Mum’s countenance brightened. “O, it smells tasty, and ‘tis still fresh and warm. You’ve done a fine job ye have. Take a piece for later.”
Tommy’s mouth watered as his mother tore off a hunk and gave it to him. “Thanks.” Tommy stuffed the bread in his vest pocket and decided not to ruin his mother's mood with the baker's ill tidings. “I’ll see ye at eventide.”
“After dark and not before.” Mum yelled out the door as he turned the corner.
Tommy waved, then headed towards the market once more. Halfway, he stopped. There had to be another place to earn money. He deplored the need to be on constant guard for those hateful ne'er-do-wells.
At the next side-street, Tommy veered off from his usual path. It took a few minutes, but he came upon a street with several stores. Mayhap one of them required help.
Twenty minutes later, the proprietors had shooed him out of each one. After the last store, Tommy sank onto the boardwalk, removed his cap, and scratched his head. What ought he do?
An elderly man exited the last store. Tommy rose from his seat and replaced his cap.
“You, lad.” The man, a vicar, strode towards Tommy. “I overheard you ask for work.”
“You’re quite young. Where are your parents?”
“My mum is at home and I don’t have a father,” Tommy said. The man’s expression and tone softened.
“There’s an inn nearby that placed an advertisement for a stable boy. I read it in a broadsheet this morn. Have you ever worked with horses?”
“No, sir, but I’m a fast learner and I’m strong for my age,” Tommy said with new hope.
“Come with me, lad. The innkeeper there is one of my parishioners. I’ll see if I might obtain a job for you that will keep you off the streets. 'Tis not safe for one your size,” the vicar said.
Tommy didn’t have any experience with church, and he’d never spoken with a vicar. His mum had naught good to say about any of it, but this wizened man of God made Tommy question whether her opinions were in error.
“Well? Do you want to go see about the position?”
“Yes, sir. Your kindness is—appreciated.” Tommy couldn’t say more. His gratitude threatened to drip from his lashes and embarrass him. Therefore, he grabbed the vicar’s hand for a vigorous shake while he regained self-control.
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," the vicar said as he tousled Tommy's fiery locks.
Tommy didn’t understand what the vicar meant, but no matter. As the man moved to go, he followed close behind.
The work at the stables became easier with each day. Tommy mucked stalls, gave the horses water and hay, went on errands, carried luggage, and brushed the horses legs while the hostler brushed the rest of their massive bodies. One day, the hostler might even let him lead the horses for the lodgers at the inn.
Three weeks after he began his work at the stable. Tommy trudged home in the dark through snow, ice, and sludge. Tired and ready for a meal, he opened the door without knocking. In the middle of the room, a stranger held his mother. Her eyes were closed, and she moaned as if hurt.
Tommy grabbed the first thing he saw, the poker, by the hearth and slammed it into the back of the man’s knees. “Let go of my mother,” Tommy yelled over the man’s howls.
The man released his mum, and she stumbled backwards before she caught the bedstead and stood upright. The man spun around, grabbed Tommy by his coat lapels, threw him against the wall, grabbed him again, then backhanded him. Tommy laid on the floor, stunned for a few seconds, before he jumped to his feet again and retrieved the poker from where it had fallen.
“Stop.” Mum staggered to Tommy and jerked the poker out of his grip. “Ralph, leave. I'll owe ye.”
Ralph pointed at Tommy with a fat sausage finger. “Right so, ya shall. Keep the brat far from me. Ya hear?”
“Course I will. He’s young. He’ll know better next time,” Mum said as she pushed Ralph out the door.
After the door closed behind him, mum spun on Tommy. Her bloodshot orbs glared as she staggered closer, Tommy smelled the parsnip wine on her breath and skin. He retreated until the wall hindered any more progress.
“Haven’t I told ye not to come home before dark?” Slap.
Tommy covered his twice hit cheek. “‘Tis dark, Mum." He tried to dart around her, but mum snagged an arm and held him in place. “The sun sets earlier than when I started.”
“Then you ought to have enough sense to wait until later or at the least knock.”
“But—” Another slap halted Tommy’s next excuse... he’d been too cold and hungry to think.
“Go to bed without supper. You lost me a right fine custo— friend this night.”
Tommy pushed past his mother.
“Wait.” Mum clutched Tommy's sleeve. “Give me your coins.”
Tommy didn't want to part with his hard earned money, especially since she’d wasted it on wine when they’d eaten little besides his bread. Still, he gave her the coin pouch and watched as she hid the contents in a butter crock that never held butter.
When she returned the empty pouch, she also gave Tommy a rag. “Wipe your nose… ‘tis bleeding.”
Tommy stalked to his mat with the dirty rag pressed to his nose. He plopped onto the thin mat, turned with his backside towards his mother, then yanked the blanket until it covered body and head. Why did his mother allow those horrible men to come into their home? To sell her parsnip wine? Tommy despised the wine and the men. It made mum mean, and her friends meaner.
It took Tommy a great while to fall asleep between his tummy’s growls, and his mum’s parsnip snores. The whole tenement reeked of it. One day I’m going to earn enough to take care of us, and mum can drink chocolate like the ladies at the inn. She'll wear fine dresses and capes, and those men won't be welcome here ever again.
One day, we'll have a better life. One day.
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
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