XXX. REFLECTIONS ON BATTERED BREECHES.- A NEWSPAPER BOY.
HE is a "business man," without doubt. While the
heads of his customers were as yet pressing their several pillows; while the
horrible shrieks of the London and North-Western mail-train whistle was
startling the babyhood of day, while the omnibuses, now so prim and bright,
still reposed in " the yard," spattered and grimy with yesterday's
mire, this small radical was up and doing. He was whistling over Blackfriars
Bridge while St. Paul's was chiming four; and before six o'clock he had borne
the brunt of four battles in as many newspaper-publishing offices, coming off in
each case with flying colours. True, you may find the result of one of his
skirmishes recorded in a crimson smudge over the latest American war news; but,
don't be alarmed, it was only his nose, and you should have seen the other
chap's eye! "Well, and served him right. What call had he got to push and
shove people about, and call them 'young feller,' because he wore a
four-and-nine and had a pencil stuck behind his ear, just as though he was
wholesale-' Nine quires, if you please, sir' (just fancy calling the chap behind
the counter 'sir'), as stuck up as though he wanted the whole lot for his
private reading. 'And, please, sir, rop 'em up in wilit tissue for the genelman,
cos he's left his kid gloves at home on the peana,' says I. 'Let me have none of
your impertinence, young feller,' says he. 'Well, you don't stand in want of it,
havin' a jolly good stock of your own,' says I 'howsomever, p'raps you'll be so
perlite as not to scrouge, and to take your hoofs off my toes, or else somethin'
might happen to that hat.'" That was the way the row began; in the short
space of seven minutes it was all over-the stuck-up one defeated, the quire of
Stars secured, the wounded nasal organ bathed at the pump, and Battered Breeches
is enlivening dosy Fleet Street with "Sally come up the middle" as he
makes his way to the office where a supply of " grafts " (B.B.'s
playful abbreviation of Daily Telegraphs) may be obtained.
And did the publisher of that eminently peaceful newspaper the Star permit this pugilistic encounter on his premises? Did he not instantly take measures for the protection of the stuck-up one and the expulsion of Battered Breeches ? Did the porter take B.B. by his baggy part and the nape of his neck, and, thrusting him out, warn him never to show his face in Dorset Street again? He did not. The obligations he and his employers are under to B. B. forbade any such unceremonious proceeding. For, be it known, Battered Breeches is one of the chief pillars of the cheap press. Had it not been for B. B. and his numerous friends, that mighty engine the penny paper would have stood still long ago; the requisite " mint sauce " (as that horribly vulgar and slangy B. B. terms money), so necessary for lubricative purposes, would have been wanting; and creaking, and rust, and decay would speedily have ensued. But B. B., like the shrewd fellow he always shows himself, took the matter into his consideration. He was hawking hearthstone at the time at a profit of about sixpence a day, and one morning, just as he was beginning his rounds, he happened to call at a house at the moment when the newspaper boy was delivering a Times.
"I wish I had your billet, young 'un, and you had mine," said B. B., ruefully contrasting the light bundle under the boy's arm with his own heavy bag. " How much profit might there be on that there lot now?" And the newspaper boy, having leisure and not too much pride to converse with a hearthstone boy, obligingly sat down and made a calculation. "There's one and tup pence on this lot," said he; "that's a quarter profit, don't you see, and a little over."
"Is it a quarter profit on the penny 'uns?" asked B. B.
"It's always a quarter profit," he was answered.
"And can you get as many as you like ?"
"The more the merrier."
So the newspaper boy went his way, and for more than an hour B. B. sat in the sun on his hearthstone bag, in the very brownest of studies. Little did the despairing father of the first-born "penny daily," as he that morning contemplated his month-old bantling, starving and pining to death under his anxious eyes, dream that at that very moment good luck was hatching for him. He would not have believed it if he had seen the hatcher; for, truly, B. B., who at that time had neither cap nor boots, was not " a likely-looking bird;" and if he and a gentleman with £500 to lend had simultaneously made their appearance at the office of the Lightning Conductor, and each offered his services, there can be little doubt as to which the proprietor would have chosen. Nevertheless, had he accepted the five hundred, and for ever lost humble B. B., he would have done a very foolish thing.
And yet B. B. had but sevenpence in the world. But after an hour's cogitation he rose up a boy with a purpose; and had his life depended on the sale of his hearthstone he could not have hawked it more earnestly. He begged, he implored, with tears in his eyes, as neatly he piled the tempting pen'orth against the area railings, and added another lump, and another, and yet still one more, and cried, "Do, please marm!" in such a way that it was impossible, unless one had a heart ten times harder than he vowed his hearthstone was, to deny him. By evening, although he had dined out of his bag, and afforded himself half a pint of beer at the time, his sevenpence had increased to eighteenpence.
Six o'clock next morning saw him at the office of the Lightning Conductor. Eight o'clock saw him at the railway station, astonishing cads and policemen and alarming nervous omnibus-riders by his tremendous activity and the power of his lungs. "Penny daily, sir ! penny daily! War with Roosher and horrible murder in Pentonwill! Penny daily, sir! Latest edition!" If he had had long practice as a waiter in an up-stairs dining-room, or any number of months' experience at the Model Prison, he could not have skipped on and off the kerb and up and down the omnibus-steps with greater agility. By half-past eight he had sold his twenty-five " dailys," and bagged ninepence clear. What was the result ? Twenty pairs of admiring, envious eyes had observed his success. The crossing-sweep pondered the matter over his fruitless broom; the boys who simply "hung about" held council together. The morning following, when B. B. went for his quire and a half, he found to his dismay four other young gentlemen of his own stamp, and on the same errand. Nevertheless, despite his great fear that the market would be glutted and the scheme ruined, he sold out, and the other four adventurers sold out, and the news spread through the town like wildfire (whatever that may be). Day by day the B. B. brigade grew stronger and stronger until it became a thousand strong, and so the penny daily newspaper became a national institution. I wonder how a man would be received if he were to wait on the nabobs of the Star, and the Standard, and the "Graft," and suggest the propriety of a banquet to Battered Breeches!