I stumbled to my feet and said hurriedly, “Yes ma’am. Sorry ma’am. Never again ma’am.”
One time I had tried to thank her and she had quickly put her finger to her lips and then said loudly, “I don’ know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout!”
I had never mentioned it again. And every morning she’d pretend she didn’t recognize me. And I’d do the same. It kept her reputation safe.
Although it was nice to be warm at night instead of frozen, I knew it wasn’t love, like most little boys and girls have in the mornings.
I hurried onto the street, straightening my brown cap. My stomach growled in hunger but I knew I would get no food until I sold at least five newspapers. I hurried to the alley where all the other newspaper children were gathering.
Max, the oldest boy of 15 or so, had the stack ready and allowed us all to take our lot. Sometimes it seemed like he almost actually cared about us. He never let anyone take more than their share, so that there was enough for us all. I had no idea that most newspaper children had to buy their own papers each morning.
I took my stack, “Thanks Max.”
He grunted and didn’t meet my eye. That was the way of most of the street people. He had learned it from those who were older than him. I didn’t blame him, but somehow, it still hurt.
I shoved the newspapers into my thin messenger bag as Clay hurried up. “I’ll race you with sales again, Samy. Wanna?” he tried to shake his long brown hair from his eyes, but gave up.
“Sure. Loser still gives one pense to the other?”
“Yep,” he answered, “See you at dinner then!”
I turned and set off for my morning street. I’d catch the people who wanted to read the news while they ate their breakfast and had tea in the little shops.
The sound of my tattered boots on the cobblestones was my only company in the mornings. The strangers passing by, were just strangers. They never seemed to notice, much less think of me. If only I could read the newspapers too. I thought for the one trillionth time. That would help ease the lonely feeling. I couldn’t read anything but my name; SAM.
“A morning newspaper, mister?” I asked a passerby. He shook his head and continued on.
“A morning newspaper, mister?” I tried again.
“Not now,” and another continued on.
This was the norm. I usually got only about four morning customers per day, never more. I stomped to keep warm.
“A morning newspaper, mister? Only three pence.”
“No child. Not today.”
I wouldn’t admit it but constant rejection was wearing on me.
By noon I had sold only two papers.
I headed back to meet with Clay anyway. I didn’t have enough to even get myself a good meal but figured maybe I’d earn it on the way.
The gray sky began to rain a bit and I grew slightly desperate. Being hungry is one thing. Being hungry and wet, is a whole new level of torture.
“A newspaper, mister? Only three pence!” I managed smile that didn’t look too hungry.
“Give me one that isn’t so wrinkled! And keep your grubby hands off the print.”
I quickly wiped my hands on my coat but realized that only made it worse. “Yes mister. I’ll do my best.”
I took the coin as if it was pure gold. The man stomped off with his paper. I shivered and quickened my pace through the hazy rain.
By the time I reached my meeting place with Clay, I still was one sale short of a good meal. I sat down under the light post beside him.
I gathered my coins in one hand and he did the same. He counted to three before we quickly switched piles. We raced to count out the others morning wages.
At the same moment we both looked up at each other, laughing. We had tied.
The moment passed and we realized there was still not enough money for two good meals. On days like today we bought just one and split it.
“I’m cold Samy! Let’s go!”
Hurrying to the small shop, we slipped in and waited in the warmth until there were no other customers waiting in line.
The ritual was that Clay would order and I would pay. He handed me his coins and told the lady behind the counter that he wanted a roll and a big bowl of soup. She nodded and soon brought out what he’d asked for. “That would be ten pence for the soup and one pence for the roll.”
I handed her our earnings and Clay picked up the bowl to take to a corner.
“Oh, here little one,” the young lady said, reaching towards me, “You gave me one too many. This one’s still yours.”
As I took it I thanked her with all my might. How kind of her to fix our mistake!
Clay was ecstatic, “Samy! Now we can buy another roll!” I hurried back and purchased one. Now we both had bread and only had to share the soup.
The meal did wonders, as a hot meal always does on an empty stomach. The rain had slowed down and we returned to the street to try to sell a few more papers.
Before long we meet up with Gus, another newspaper child. We knew we couldn’t stay together because we’d get less sales. So we only spoke for a moment before getting ready to split up again.
That’s when it happened. I wasn’t even trying to sell papers right then. A tall man in a neat gray suit walked up to our little circle and said, “Excuse me child, I’d like to buy a paper.”
He was looking straight at me. Clay shoved my elbow and I was snapped out of my stupor. This man was bending down to my level and I could hardly bear the positive attention.
“I must hurry, I have to catch a train.” he told me.
I pulled out my best paper and quickly handed it to him. “Th-thank you mister!” I choked out.
“Thank you,” he said, placing a coin in my hand and tipping his hat to me, before walking off towards the train station.
“Did you see that, Clay? He tipped his hat to me!”
“Boy I’ll say!” Clay exclaimed. “What’d he give ya?”
I looked down into my hand and gasped. The man must have fumbled in his haste to grab a coin for he had given me a shilling! A whole shilling!
“It’s your lucky day, Samy!” Clay exclaimed, throwing his cap into the air.
For a moment it felt like heaven on earth, but my joy was cut short and I said bravely, “I can’t keep it.”
Clay and Gus stared at me like I’d said I was the mayor.
“What'd you mean?” Clay asked quickly.
My mind flashed back to the young woman in the shop. “He couldn’t have done it on purpose. I must give it back.”
“Get over it, Sam!” Gus scoffed, looking down his nose at me.
I didn’t know what to think.
“If you get lucky, you get lucky!” Gus announced. “I’ll take it if you really don’t want it!”
“Yeah Samy, think how many more he’s got at home!”
Still I struggled. I thought of all the wonderful foods a shilling could buy. And of the many days I’d gone without food, for want of money. I don’t know what made me do it, but finally I closed my hand tightly around the so desired coin and took off for the train station.
The two other children stared after me in surprise.
I’ll remember that kind man’s face till my dying day. I told myself as I searched the crowd.
I quickly tried to remember his clothes so I could guess what class he’d be in. It was easily second class, maybe even first. I hurried down to the waiting area. There weren't that many people around. There he was! Reading the paper he’d bought. I hurried up to him and touched his elbow.
“Here mister,” I said, when he looked up at me, “You paid me far too much for jes’ a paper.”
He quickly set the paper down and looked at me thoughtfully.
I grew nervous as I held out the large coin. He continued to sit with his eyebrows drawn together. Finally he spoke, “I will admit, I was not expecting you to return it.”
“Y-You knew about it?”
He was quiet again, thinking.
I nodded my encouragement.
“Well,” he began very slowly, “I have been looking for an honest child to deliver messages for me from my office.”
My eyes widened in disbelief as I realized what he was implying.
“I have used this old trick many, many times over the last six months and you are the first to return my coin. Where do you live?”
I could barely think, let alone answer his question. Finally I croaked out, “I- I don’ mister. But I sleep in the Shapfield Inn. We could go there?”
The man glanced at his watch, “We’ll have to make it quick. By the way, I’m Mr. Abell.” He shook my dirty hand, and I nearly teared up.
I hurried through the streets with Mr. Abell just behind me. We made it to the Inn and found the large hard faced owner.
“Hello Madam, do you know this child?” my shilling man asked kindly.
She narrowed her eyes at me and blushed deeply, “You! Comin’ ta get me in trouble when all I’d done is help you out!”
“No, kind lady, you're in no trouble. I’ve just wanted to hire the child as my messenger and wanted to know if you could vouch for the character of….I’m sorry, what was your name?” he asked, turning back to me.
“I’m Samy.” I answered humbly.
“If you could vouch for the good character of Samy?”
Here the stiff old lady actually ran her hand across her eyes.
“I’m so glad! I am! I’m so glad somebody’s doin’ somethin’ for the poor bird! I am glad!”
I was so startled by this outburst that I didn’t know what in the world to say. I had no need to however, for the woman clasped me tightly in what might be called a hug.
I squeezed her back and was finally able to thank her for the bits of food she often left for me. Then I was following Mr. Abell back to the train station.
My new home was every bit of that wonderful word. -Home. I loved my new job and my dear master and mistress very much. I slept in a warm house in the clean servants quarters and had good meals everyday.
After only one year, the undreamable happened and my employers adopted me. I had a family. I was loved. My joy was uncontainable.
Despite my new and full life I still promised myself every night as I looked up at the stars, that I would never forget the street children I'd known, and even those I didn't know.
Ten years later, I was headed down the street not far from my house on my way to visit a family who needed medicine for their sick mother. As I tightened my coat around me, I heard a voice at my elbow, “A morning paper? Only three pence!”
I looked down into the eyes of a little newspaper child. I thought of all the little boys and girls I'd helped find good homes for, when they returned the money I purposefully overpaid them. With a smile I said, “I'd love one. Thank you so very much.” And in her dirty hand, I placed a shilling.