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Scamp and I: A Story of City By-Ways

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Scamp and IA Story of City By-WaysBy L.T. MeadePublished by John F. Shaw and Co, 40 Paternoster Row, London EC.This edition dated 1891.

  Scamp and I, by L.T. Meade.


  ________________________________________________________________________SCAMP AND I, BY L.T. MEADE.



  The time was the height of the London season for 1875; the height ofthat gay time when the parks, and streets, and shops are full, whenpleasure-promoters are busy keeping up a fresh supply of every form ofentertainment, when pleasure-seekers are flocking to the garden parties,and strawberry parties, the operas, and theatres, and all otheramusements provided for them; when the world--the world at least ofRegent Street, and Piccadilly, of Eaton Square, and all Belgravia--looksso rich and prosperous, so full of life and all that makes lifeenjoyable.

  It was that gay time when no one thinks of gloom, when ambitious mendream of fame, and vain women of vanity, when the thoughtless think lessthan any other time, and when money seems to be the one god that rulesin every breast.

  This was the time in the merry month of May, when one afternoon, at thehour when Regent Street is brightest and fullest, a little ragged urchinof about ten pushed his way boldly through the crowd of carriages andpeople surrounding Swan and Edgar's, and began staring eagerly andfearlessly in at the windows.

  He was the only ragged child, the only representative of poverty, withinsight, and he looked singularly out of place, quite a little shadow inthe midst of the splendid carriages, and brilliant and prosperous menand women.

  The few who noticed him wondered languidly what brought him there, whyhe intruded his disreputable little person in the midst of scenes andpeople with which he never had, and never could have, anything incommon.

  The little fellow seemed to guess the thoughts which a few in the crowdfavoured him with, and in his own way to resent them. In and out amongthe rich and fashionable people his small head kept bobbing, his agilebody kept pushing.

  He avoided the police, he escaped unhurt from under the impatienthorses' legs, he was never stationary, and yet he was always there. Hepressed his dirty little form against more than one fine lady's dress,and received more than one sharp reprimand, and sharper tap on the head,from the powdered and liveried footmen.

  Still he held his ground and remained faithful to Swan and Edgar's. Hewas a dirty, troublesome little imp, but on his worn and prematurely oldface might have been seen a curious, bright expression. Those wholooked at him might have pronounced him hungry, certainly poor, but, forthe time being, not at all unhappy.

  Round and round the splendid establishment he dodged rather than walked,examining with a critical eye the mantles and costumes on view in thewindows; then he carefully looked over and reckoned the carriages, gazedup with a full, bright, impudent stare into the face of more than oneproud and titled dame, and at last, apparently satisfied, turned hisback on the gay shop and gay crowd, and set off down Regent Street at aswinging pace. Presently, by means of a series of short cuts, he foundhimself in Old Compton Street, from thence he proceeded through SevenDials into a street which we will call Duncan Street.

  He had come this distance very quickly, and had withstood severaltemptations to linger on his road. A band of musical niggers, whodanced, and sang, and played the bones, had waylaid him in vain; his ownparticular chum, Jenks, had met him, and called to him to stop, but hehad not obeyed; the shrimp man, who always gave him a handful, had comedirectly in his path. He had paused for nothing, and now dashingheadlong, not into a house, but through a hole in the pavement, down aslippery ladder, into a cellar, he called out "Flo."

  From the bright sunshine outside, the gloom of this Place, lit by theflickering flame of one tallow candle, was profound. Its roof was on alevel with the road, its floor several feet below the gas-pipes andsewage; it had no window, and its only means of light and ventilationwas through the narrow opening in the pavement, against which a ladderwas placed.

  The ragged boy, rushing down these steps, made his way to a cobbler'sstool, in the middle of the room, on which was seated a little girlbusily repairing an old boot, while a heap of boots and shoes,apparently in the last stage of decay, were scattered round her. Thischild, a year or so younger than the boy, had the utterly colourlessappearance of a flower shut away from the sunshine.

  "Flo," said her companion eagerly.

  A little voice, very thin, but just as eager, responded with,--

  "Yes, Dick dear."

  "Is you up to a bit o' 'joyment this 'ere blessed minit, Flo?"

  "Oh, Dick! _is_ it the shops, and the picters, and the fine ladies?_Is_ it, Dick?"

  "Yes; queens, and ladies, and lords goin' about in golden carriages, andshops full up to bustin', and we a standin' and a lookin' on. Better'nwittles, eh?"

  "Oh yes, Dick!"

  She threw aside the old boot, held out her dirty little hand to Dick,and together the children scampered up the broken, rickety ladder intothe air and light of day.

  "Now, Flo, you 'as got to put your best foot forrard, 'cos we 'as agoodish bit o' a way to tramp it. Then I'll plant you front o' me, Flo;and when we gets there, you never mind the perleece, but look yer fill.Oh, my heyes! them is hosses!"

  Flo, seen by daylight, had brown eyes, very large and soft; curling,golden brown hair, and a sweet gentle little face. Had she been a ladyshe would have been pronounced a lovely child, and in all probabilitywould have been a lovely child, but her cellar-life had produced sharpshoulders, a complexion of greyish-white, and a certain look ofpremature age and wisdom, which all children so brought up possess. Sheraised her hand now to shade her face, as though the daylight painedher, looked round eagerly, then tightened her clasp of Dick.

  "Is there blue, and yaller, and red, and majinta dresses in them 'erewinders, Dick? and is there lace on 'em? and is there welwet and silkdresses, Dick?" Dick winked, and looked mysterious.

  "Silk gownds, and satin gownds, and welwet gownds," he replied, "andgownds--some trimmed with wot looks like paper cut into 'oles, andgownds made o' little round 'oles hall over. And the bonnets in themshops! My heyes, Flo! them bonnets 'ave got about hevery bird in SaintMartin's Lane killed and stuffed, and stuck in 'em. But come," headded, hastily bringing his vivid description to a close, "the lords andladies will be gone."

  He held the slight little fingers placed in his, with a firm hold, andtogether they trotted swiftly from their dark Saint Giles's cellar, tothe bright fairy-land of Regent Street.

  There were plenty of people, and carriages, and grand ladies andgentlemen still there; and the dresses were so fine, and the feathers sogay, that Flo, when she found herself really in their midst, wasspeechless, and almost stunned. She had dreamed of this day formonths--this day, when Dick was to show her the other side of Londonlife, and she had meant when the time came to enter into it all, torealise it if possible.

  She and Dick were to carry out quite a pretty play; they were to suppose_themselves_ a grand lady and gentleman; Flo was to single out thenicest looking and most beautifully dressed lady present, and imagine_herself_ that lady; those clothes were _her_ clothes, those silkendresses, those elegant boots and gloves, that perfect little bonnet,were all Flo's; the carriage with its spirited horses was hers, and thefine gentleman with the splendid moustache seated by her side, was noneother than Dick.

  They had arranged the whole programme; the carriage was to drive offrapidly--where?

  Well, _first_ Dick said they would stop at a restaurant, and instead of,as
the real Flo and Dick did, standing a sniffin' and a sniffin'outside, they would walk boldly in, and order--well, beef, and potatoes,and plum-pudding were vulgar certainly, but once in a way they _would_order these for dinner. Then back in the carriage to Swan and Edgar's,where Flo would have the creamiest of silk dresses, and a new bonnetwith a pink tip, and Dick, who was supposed to be in perfect attire asit was, would talk loudly of "my tailor," and buy the most beautifulflower, from the first flower-girl he met, to put in his button-hole.Then at night they would have a box at the theatre.

  Their whole plan was very brilliantly constructed, and Dick, having gotFlo into a capital position, just opposite a row of lovely dresses, withcarriages close up to the footway, and grand ladies sweeping against hertattered gown each moment, was very anxious for her to begin to carryout their play.

  "Come, Flo,"