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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 267, 12 February 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
MBS. BRIGGS’ CLERK. He was a tall, thin, starved looking boy, with a little jacket, the sleeves of which crept half way up to his arms, and a hat that was nothing but a brim, and when she saw him he was eating a crust out of the gutter. She was only a poor old woman who kept a little shop for candy and trimmings, and poor enough itself, heaven knew ; but, said she, he looked a little like what her Tom might be if he had grown up and been neglected, and she couldn’t stand it. She called to him : “ Come here, sonny,” she said ; and the boy came. Before she could speak again he said : “ I didn’t do it. I’ll take my oath on anything I didn't do it. I ain’t so mean.” “ Didn’t do what ?” said the pleasant old woman. “ Break your winder,” said the boy, nodding his head toward a shattered pane. “ Why, I broke that myself, with my shutter last night,’ said the old woman. “ Im not strong enough to lift’em, that’s the fact. I’m getting old.” “ If I’m round here when you shut up, I’ll do it for you,” said the boy. “ I’d just as soon. What was that you wanted me for?”
“ I want to know what you was eating that dry crust out of the gutter for?” was the reply. “ Hungry,” said he, “ I’ve tried to get a job all day. I’m going to sleep in an area over there after it gets too dark for a policeman to see, and you can’t have a good night’s sleep without some supper, if it is a little dirty.” “ I’ll give you some that’s cleaner,” said the old woman. “ That will be begging,” said he. “ No,” said she, “you can sweep the shop and the pavement, and put up the shutters for it.” “Very well,” said he. “Thankee then. If I sweep up first I’ll feel better.” Accordingly she brought him a broom, and lie did the work well. Afterward he ate his supper with a relish. •That night he slept, not in the area, but under the old woman’s counter. He had told her his story. His name was Dick ; he was twelve years’ old, and his father, whom he had never seen sober, was in prison for life. The antecedents were not elevating, but the boy seemed good. The next morning the old woman,engaged a clerk for a small establishment. The terms were simple—his “ living and a bed under the counter.”
When the neighbors heard of it they were shocked. A street boy, whom no one knew. Did Mrs. Briggs really wish to be murdered in her bed ? But Mrs. Briggs felt quite safe. She had so much time now that she was going to take in sewing. Dick attended to the shop altogether. He kept it in fine order, and increased the business by introducing candles and chewing gum. Pennies came in as they never came in before, since he had painted signs in red and blue ink to the effect that the real old molasses candy was to be got there, and that this was the place for peanuts.
And in the evening, after the shop was shut up, she began to take him into her confidence.
Her great dream was to buy herself into a home for the aged. It would cost her ioo dols. She was saving for it. She had saved three years, and had 15 dols. of it. But it cost so much to live, with tea. 'twenty-five cents a quarter, and loaves so small, and she had been sick, and there was the doctor and Mrs. Jones’ Maria Jane to be paid for minding her and the shop. After this Dick took the greatest interest in the savings, and the winter months increased them as though he had brought a blessing. One night in spring she took the bag from under the pillow, and counted what it held. It was 30 dols. “ And I’ll begin to make kites tomorrow, Mrs. Briggs,” said the boy, “ and you’ll see the custom that it will bring. If a little shaver sees the kites, he’ll spend all he has for ’em, and then he’ll coax his mother for more to buy the stick dates and chewing gum. I know boys.” “ You’re a clever boy yourself,” said the old woman, and patted his hand. It was a plumper hand than it had been when it picked the crusts from the gutter, and he wore clean, whole garments, though they were very coarse. “ How wrong the neighbors were, she said. “ That boy is the comfort of my life.”
So she went to bed with the treasure under her pillow and slept. Far on in the night she awakened. The room was utterly dark, there was not a ray of light—but she heard a step on the floor. “ What is that ?” she cried. There was no answer, but she felt that someone was leaning over her bed, then a hand clasped her throat and held her down, and dragged out the bag of money, and she was released. Half suffocated, she for a moment found herself motionless and bewildered, conscious only of a draught of air from the open door, and some confused noises. Then she sprang to the door and hurried into the shop. “ Dick ! Dick ” she cried ; “ Dick Dick ! help ! wake up ! I’m robbed!” But there was no answer; the door into the street was wide open, and by the moonlight that poured through it she saw as she peered under the counter that Dick’s bed was empty. The boy was gone. . Gone ! gone I Oh I that was worse to Granny Briggs than even the loss of the money; for she had trusted him and he had deceived her. She had loved him and he had abused her love. The neighbors were right; she was a fool to trust a strange street boy, and had been served rightly when he robbed her. When the dawn had broke the wise neighbors came into Granny’s shop to find her crying and rocking to and fro ; and they told her they had told her so, and she only shook her head. Life had lost its interest for her. Her “ occupation was gone,” but not with her savings. Money was but money, after all; he had come to be the only thing she loved, and Dick had robbed her. It was 10 o’clock. Granny satmbaning by the kitchen hearth. Good-
natured Mrs. Jones from the stairs was “ seeing to things” and trying to cheer her, when suddenly there came a rap on the door and a policeman looked in. -
“ Mrs. Briggs?” he said. “ Here she is,” said Mrs. Jones. “ Yes, I’m that wretched critter,” said Mrs. Briggs.
“ Some one wants to see you at headquarters,” said the officer. “ There’s a boy there, and some money.” “ Dick !” cried Mrs Briggs. “ Oh, I can’t bear to look at him.”
But Mrs. Jones had already tied on her bonnet and wrapped her in a shawl, and taken her on her arm. “ The wretch !” she said. “ I’m so glad he’s caught; you’ll get your money back.”
And she led Mrs. Briggs along — poor Mrs. Briggs, who cried all the way, and cared nothing for the money. And soon they were at their destination. Then, not before, the policeman turned to the two women.
“ It’s pretty bad,” he said. “ They’ll take him to the hospital in an hour. I suppose you are prepared for that. He’s nearly beaten to death you know.” “ Did you beat him, you cruel wretch ?” said Mrs. Briggs. “ I wouldn’t have had it done for half the money. Let him go with it if it’s any comfort to him.”
“ I beat him !” said the man. “ Well, women have the stupidest heads. AVhy,' if I hadn’t got up when I did, he’d have been dead. Ile held the bag of money tight, and the thief was pummelling him with a loaded stick ; and the pluck he had for a little shaver —I tell you I never saw the like.” “ * You shan’t take Granny’s mon«L from her,’ says he, and fought like© little tiger. If it’s your money,lqjg* lady, he’s given his life for it, for Ill^J “ Oh, Dick ! Dick ! I knew vojywradt good. I must have beenjcrafer to doubt jou.” And then hands and cried q. “ Oh, Diclfe Hr%fst a paltry bit of And so beside the still, pale face upol tie pjffipw,|tad y^»it, And Dick, lie«r suspicions of him,%rn^9ered “ I was so afilld he’d get\ff with it if he killed me, Gran/yVipl you high hopes last nignt.H** He did not know wnat was meant by begging him to forgive her. - |p IBS®”!' have killed him if he had, »or IpPwas very near to deajhf But DioK dpi not die! He got "'Sell at last* 1M came back to thelVyfl shop; though Granny she never went to j&e for long before of the most prosrawus the city, and his hers, and she was very happynn it.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 267, 12 February 1881
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