Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

17 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



tALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] AMBITION'S LADDER. By the Author of" Atherstone Grange," A Life for a Love," tfc. CHAPTER I. BRED IN THE STREETS. X narrow pass there is. with houses low, r Where ever and anon the stream is eyed, And many a boat soft gliding to and fro Thi ie oft are heard the sounds of infant woe, The short, t icktob, loud scream, and shriller squall. LESS than a score years back the south bank of the Thames between the ancient archiepiscop tl palace of Iambeth on the one hand and Westminster- bridge upon the other, was a neighbourhood to be avoided by prudent passengers—as much because of the evil smells and miry footways that there abounded, as on account of its deni ens, who, though for the main part a hardworking, indus- trious and comparatively honest community of hawkers, costermongers, and others, whose daily avocations were pursued in the open streets, yet numbered a fair proportion of inhabitants of a pre- datory class women of dirty, slatternly, unkempt appearance, loud tongued and voluble men slouching in their gait and generally reserved of speech, but ready on the slightest provocation to pour forth a string of foul-mouthed, horrible blasphemies-men who walked with their heads bent down, their sharp, ferret-like eyes incessantly upon the wat h for plunder as they went-their shoulders rubbing the walls of the dirty, dilapidated houses that lined the narrow, evil-odoured streets of Stangate Bank. Then, where now stands the stately, palatial building known as St. 'I honias's Hospital, facing the equally handsome pile wherein the wisdom, valour, and genius of England assembles to pass laws and make enactments for its better govern- ance, thousands of the masses for whose well- being and amelioration their rulers strive honestly, if not always wisely, lived huddled together in such Squalid misery as only great cities can show. It had long borne an evil reputation, but at no time worse than that more immediately preceding iis demolition to male room for the well-paved court-yards and terraces, the lofty corridors and airy wards, where pain and suii'ering arising either from accident or such ills as flesh is heir to," are now, as far as possible, alleviated by skilful treatment, kind nursing, an 1 unstinted nourishment. But at th6 period spoken of such radical changes were yet to come. Ill-looking, evi smelling, and of un- healthy associat ons, net even he er ction on the opposite bank of England's stately Senate House, ror the proximity of the noble bridge which there sp ns the hroad, swift-flowing river, could do away «v th the hideous appearance of the slimy foreshore, lined as it was v ith damp, dark tenements built for the most part of wood, foul, rotten wharves and dirty boat-houses. Here, some twenty yews ago, hidden from obser- vation by a couple of coal barges left half-buried in the soft, black n.ul by the receding tide, was gathered together a group of men and boys upon a small patch of comparatively dry ground. There were but two or three who could, in years at least, be classed as adults, the majority being composed of youths from sixteen to twenty some tall, well-built lads in costermonger's garb of corduroy, with fur caps having broad fa s tied up with tapes or rib- bons, closely cropped hair in most instances betray- Ing a recent acquaintance with the prison shears. Others were mere toys, some almost children, but all bore the same stamp of (ountenance, a precocity of intelligence fostered by an intimate acquaintance from the cradle if such luxuries ever found their way to Stangate-with craft, cunning and vicious habits. One, in the bright intelligence of his really hand- some, well-cut features, his frank, open, and some- what daring expression, seemed out of place among such companions. ] ut the stranger who had judged Alick "Wool Ly these O'.itw. r.1 signs, and placed trust in him because of them, or believed the clear, uncloude 1 eyes of dark grey to be an index to h's mind, would probably have had cause to repent his confidence aud confess ruefully that appearances are not always to be implicitly relied upon. Scarcely fourteen as yet, > nd not looking older than his years, Ali; k Wool was in experience of crooked ways and knowledge of all things evil an adept, but with le-s excuses than could be made for the majority of those he chose as his associates. Of bright J parts and no common aptitude, he had speedily learned as much as could be taught him at the day school to which he had boen sent by his father, an ignorant, untaught, but honest man, somewhat given to o er indulgence in liquor, but industrious and reputable, and quite unconscious that the boy of whom he was so proud was the daily associate of thieves and pickpockets. Perhaps, indeed, under pu'er conditions Alick might have developed other traits of c haracter, but hIs surroundings were against him. His home, the house in which his falher was born before him, ^nd carried on his business—that of a small retail dealer in provisions of all sorts was situated in the }^ry centre of the s ualid district just described. His only playground the streets, his sole companions those whom he met there, it is after all little wonder that the contaminating influences to which he was exposed should do their work and debase him to the common level. Still, up to the time which introduces him to the reader, Alick Woo;! had kopt aloof from actual crime, such as might have brought him within the reach of the law. It was not any conscientious scruples that made him refrain from the theft, indeed, but simply caution, and the further fact that his lather's inordinate fondness f r him made it always to obtain such bmall sums as for the present bounded his desires and enabled him. to indulge in the one amusement which above all others delighted him, a A isit to the theatre. Unfortunately, those most easily accessible pre- sented pieces to their patrons far from elevating in tendency, and though Alick Wood had read most of the works of our gieat dramatic poet, and even knew by heart and was fond of spouting some of the p rts to his admiring parent, his vitiated taste revelled more in the" blood and thunder school of drama as pourtrayed at his favourite resort. Claude Duval," < Sixteen-String Jack," and others of that ilk were the heroes he delighted to applaud, whose feats of rascality roused all his admiration, and to behold whom in" their bravery he alternately cajoled and bullied his doting parents for the means of entrance to the theatres at which their deeds were represented. But Alick Wood senior had his obstinate moods, When it was impossible for the boy to wheedle the Necessary coins from him, and one of these occasions happened at a time when more than ordinary attrac- tion offered in the revival. For one night only as the bills of the Transpontine playhouse advertised yitb all the adventitious aid of immense type and flaring posters of the celebrated drama Jack Shep- pard." "I don't care, I will go,'l doggedly muttered the J°y, as he flung out of the low roofed little shop, from 1 ehind tlie counter of which his usually indul- gent father had ,ust obstinately resisted the demand Upon. his purse, "I know the trick of opening the till well enough, and if the old hunks only gives me balf a chance I'll c.o it. Half a bull won't satisfy J:ne then, I'll collar half a sov, and do it to rights." But Mr. Wood was not unused to his son's Method of obtaining what he required, and kept so rigid a watch the v. hole.of that day that Alick found it impossible to carry out his design, and as the afternoon wore away his spirits sank to a very low ebb indeed at the prospect of being debarred the treat he had anticipated. 0 There was one chance left to him, though a poor one, and he regarded the two copper pieces which formed his sole riches with doubt as to whether he should risk the loss of them. Armed with that bUm, small as it was, he might hang about the gallery door till some one, not quite so enthusiastic a play-goer as himself, should come out and con- sent to barter his ret rn check for the money. But that, after all, would only enable him to witness a portion of the performance, and Alick hungered for a complete feast, not a mere taste. I know how to twist 'em proper," he reflected, spinning the coins deftlv in the air. I'll chance it." With which he quickened his pace, and passing through several crooked lanes and bye streets, even more villainously foul than that he had left, he emerged upon the shore, and joined the group made mention of already. Hallo here's Curly," was the greeting with which he was received. Come to try your luck, °td pal? There's room for a little 'un like you. Shove in/' The ]ad nodded his head, an I pushed his way through the circle of spectators till he stood in the foremost rank. i '• I've only got owt-yenep ('twopence), he said, so it's no use my tossing but I'll back Carrots to win the best two pitches out of three." "Done," quickly exclaimed one of the bystanders, and then the players proceedel with their game, which was simply that s e ies of gambling known to the initiated as pitch and-toss." It was not difficult to guess that the player whom Alick had elected to bacx was losing, for his fa'-e was very pale, an I the corners of his lips, though he kept them firmly compressed, twitched ne, vously eveiy now and then as he anxiously watched the coins sent spinning into the air by his antagonist. Tails it is i" he cried e till ngly, as ihey fell to the ground. "1 hat's the fiistone to me for the last half-hour. You've changed my luck, Curly, and I'll go you halves in the next three spins if it keeps good." The result of which promise was that a few moments afterwards Alick found himself in sion of coppers amounting to ne;irlv a shilling, ;.nd here, bad he followel his first impulse of caution, he would have rested content v ith his easily gotten gains and retired from the scene of the content. But besides that a certain code of honour which exists even amongst such as these men forbade the step, with the usual infatuation that follows a first success in games of chance the lad determined to have another trial, entering the lists himself, win- ning at first, till he held qu'te a considerable sum in silver and coppers, which dwindled, however, still more rapidly; and at last he left the ring without I even the small capital upon which his gambling operations had been based. "(leaned out. Just my luck," he grumbled, walking sulkily away, his hands buried deep in his trousers pockets, his heal sunk dejectedly on hi3 chest as he cu-sed his ill fortune with as much re- sentment of th, fickle goddess's caprice as though he had made a bal book on the Derby, and his losses could have been counted in thousands of pounds instead of a mere handful of inferior coins. Why didn't I leave off when I was to the good ? There'Jl be no gaff for me to-night that's certain, unless I can get round the old man. Perhaps he' J be in a better humour now." Alas! his hopes in that respect were soon blasted. Mr. Wood, irate in the morning, was not improved in temper by his afternoon potations, and proved obdurate to the boy's coaxing. One solace remaine 1 to him. He could at least go to the outside of the 1 aradise from which he was shut out by want of means. There he could feast his eyes upon the gorgeous posters, the chaste wood- cuts that depicted the thrilling incidents of the drama, the "hairbreadth 'scapes" and daring deeds of its hero, and read the synopsis of he plot, dis- played upon the bills with all the varied attractions that belong to bold type-setting, interspersed with dashes and plentifully besprinkled with notes of admiration. These joys at least might be his, poor as he was; and who could say but that some good Samaritan might tire of the play, and coming out bestow his check for readmission upon him. Such things did happen sometimes. Nay, -had happened more than once to Alick himself, and why not now ? He could but make the attempt, at any rate, in the hope that, fortune might favour him and he made his way as night closed in to the goal of his des're. This was a tall, bare-looking edifice, with a square portico in front giving entrance to the boxes and pit. It was situated at the corner of a wide thoroughfare, trodden by thousands of hurrying feet, lighted up by brilliant gas-jets in the windows of handsome gin-palaces and the flickering flame of numberless lamps that illuminated the street stalls of the humble traders in every variety of commodity which lined the midway. i It was not unlike a fair in its characteristics. There were hundreds of stalls, each with its one or two lights. Here was to be seen a man showing off his wares by the red, smoky flame of the old-fashionod grease lamp; there another has fashioned an extem- pore candlestick out of a large turnip. Farther on a seedy-looking man, with a long row of dilapidated boots and shoes before him, carries on his business with the aid of a tallow dip wrapped round with coarse brown paper, that flares away with the candle. Some of the stalls He crimson with the red glow of charcoal shining through the bars of the baked- chestnut stove, others have handsome, lamps; while, again, on the inner side of the pavement, butchers' flaming jets of gas stream and flutter in the wind like banners of fire, the whole pouring forth such a flood of light that at a distance the sky overhead presents as lurid an appearance as though some fire was raging. ,,Ing. Such was the neighbourhood and its attractions to which, just about the hour that Alick Wood was gazing with longing eyes upon the portals through which his poverty prevented him from passing, a gentleman of aristocratic appearance, and attired in faultlessly cut garments, found his way, attracting mora attention from the ragged urchins who swarmed here, there, and everywhere than he seemed quite to relish. What a confounded idiot I must have been to trust myself in spch a terra inrognitahe muttered, as with some little difficulty he extricated himself from a mob of by no means sweet-odoured youths and frowsy women cru-hing towards the pit-door of the theatre he was passing. What on earth could have induced her to appoint a meeting here! I hope I haven't hurt you, my lad." Alick Wood-for it was he with whom the gen- tleman, in pushing his way through the crowd, had come rather violently into collision—looked up in bis face with a mischievous smile. No bones broke, sir," he replied, with an impu- dent ease that produced a res onsive smile on the gentleman's features; "I ain't killed this time, though you did come down rather heavy on my toes. But I don't bear you no ill will. Tip us a tanner, and I won't give you in charge for assault." The gentleman laughed at the boy's impudence, and tossed a shilling towards him. Buy a plaster with that," he said, and turned away. "Won'i I, just!" delightedly exclaimed Alick, catching the coin with no small dexterity, and trans- ferring it to his own pocket after spitting on it for luck," and then, without stopping to thank the donor, he darted off with his pri e. Not far, though, for instead of following his first impulse and rushing into the theatre, he turned to look after the gentleman once more. It was a sore struggle, but he was a sharp lad, and it suddenly stru-k him as strange that a "regu- lar West End swell,' (he was quite well enough ac- quainted wi h the genus by sight to feel sure that the stranger was no pretender-, should be prowling about a neighbourhood so remote from his natural haunts. It might be worth his while, Alick thought, with the precocity bred of his street training, to find out more about the stranger and his object in visiting the slums of Lambeth and, after a slight hesitation on this point, he renounced "Jack Sheppard," and followed cautiously in the wake of the quarry he had marked for his own. (To be continued.)


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-—-in.—i1HLw GOSSIP ON DBESS.…










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