Sample text for Ivy / Julie Hearn.


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Chapter One

In Which Ivy Is Treated Rather Badly by Philanthropists in Ridiculous Dresses

Mrs. Hortense Merryfield and Mrs. Christiana Larrington of the Ragged Children's Welfare Association (South London branch) chose a bitterly cold spring morning upon which to patronize the deserving poor of Lambeth.

Picking their way along filthy streets, the hems of their crinolines blotting up slush and the beads on their bon-nets tinkling like ice, they were so obviously out of their element that by the time they reached the corner of New Cut, a sizable crowd of ragged children was on their tail, hopping and flapping and begging for coppers.

"Jus' a ha'penny, missus. Jus' enough for a hot tater."

"It's for me bruvver, missus. Me little bruvver wot's sick."

"Shoo!" cried Mrs. Merryfield. "Scram!" And she waved her umbrella and stood her ground until all but one of the little imps had given up the clamor and scattered. Mrs. Larrington, who was younger than her companion, drew a mohair shawl tighter 'round her shoulders and tried not to seem afraid. This was her first time out among the deserving poor and she was beginning to wish she had stayed in Norwood, among snowdrops and servants and the undeserving rich. Where had they come from, all those ragamuffins? So pale, so dirty, and so clearly half-frozen that they might have sprung fully formed from the slush. Yet they'd had the strength, all of them, to run like bunnikins from the point of Mrs. Merryfield's umbrella. Even the girls had scarpered.

It was the sight of those scarpering girls, Mrs. Larrington realized, that had disturbed her the most. For she herself had never run anywhere. Not even as a child. It wasn't ladylike; it wasn't natural for the female of the species to move so fast.

She was about to say as much to dear Mrs. Merryfield when she felt a tugging at her sleeve. "Ugh!" She shuddered, shrinking away. "Don't touch me, you...you insolent creature."

"I live ‚??'ere, if you please," piped a voice at her elbow. "Only, your dress is blockin' the way."

Looking down over the slope of her crinoline, Mrs. Larrington found her gaze being met by a little scrap of indeterminate age. This, readers, was Ivy, the heroine of our story, but all Mrs. Larrington saw was a small girl with huge hazel eyes and a veritable halo of tangled hair. It was a cross between a nest and a cloud, that hair, and such an extraordinary color that Mrs. Larrington's gloved hand moved instinctively to stroke it.

"Stop! My dear Mrs. Larrington. What can you be thinking of? There will be more lice on this child than you'll find crumbs in a biscuit barrel. First rule of home visits‚?? -- ‚??keep your distance."

And with a prod and a twist, the redoubtable Mrs. Merryfield hooked the crook of her umbrella under the ragged girl's collar and yanked her up and away.

"Oh my," declared Mrs. Larrington as the child rose into the air, flailing like a raggedy fish. "Oh my goodness me."

But the child said not a word, only struggled and gulped while her face turned very pink beneath several layers of dirt and her extraordinary hair whipped around her head in a flurry of tangles and tendrils.

Now, had Mrs. Merryfield's umbrella been a dainty contraption of ruched silk and spindled ivory, it would have snapped for sure. But this umbrella was like its owner‚?? -- ‚??sturdy. Its point had seen off pickpockets, bull terriers, and many a drunken sailor. And its hard wooden handle, carved to resemble a bird with its beak open, was more than equal to bearing‚?? -- ‚??temporarily, anyway‚?? -- ‚??the weight of a skinny, underfed little girl.

"Oh my," Mrs. Larrington repeated as her companion swung the child expertly across the cobbles and landed her with a barely audible thwunk into a puddle of muck and melting snow. "Oh my goodness me."

"There!" Mrs. Merryfield unhooked the umbrella. "That's more like it." And from somewhere about her person she whipped a rag, one of the many squares of calico she carried for the specific purpose of wiping whichever bit of her umbrella had been used to prod, poke, or occasionally lift the undeserving poor to a distance where neither their lice nor their thieving fingers could threaten her own person.

The little girl seemed too stunned to move. Her bottom would have been turning as wet and cold as a polar bear's, yet she remained in the muddy puddle, staring up in hurt astonishment at the one who had dumped her there.

Mrs. Larrington dithered.

Mrs. Merryfield carried on wiping. All around the handle she went, pressing the rag into every dip and dent of the carved bird and taking particular care with the open beak in case it contained a microscopic helping of lice.

"Oi! What's goin' on? Git up offer them wet cobbles. And oo said you could wear me jacket? Me snazziest jacket wot I bartered me ticker an' chain for down Petticoat Lane and ain't worn meself no more than once, an' that only to check the fit of it."

Mrs. Larrington gave such a start that she almost snapped something in her corset. Mrs. Merryfield (who never bothered with corsets, preferring ease of movement, particularly in Lambeth) turned and raised her umbrella.

"Young man," she scolded, "I must ask you to mind your manners. Such bellowing and agitation is exceedingly rude and quite‚?? -- ‚??"

"Git up, I said. And if me jacket's spoiled, you'll get an ‚??'iding you won't forget in a month of Sundays, strike me if you won't."

And before Mrs. Larrington could unflutter her nerves or Mrs. Merryfield do any more bashing, prodding, or hooking, a ragged boy darted across the cobbles, grabbed the child in the puddle, and whisked her back onto her feet.

"Give it ‚??'ere."

The jacket in question was a soiled but still gaudy blue with brass buttons the size of jam lids down the front. On the child it looked more like an oversized coat. Miserably she shrugged it off and handed it over. Underneath she wore a cotton dress with a pattern of roses faded to smudges. It was tissue-thin, that dress, and she shivered silently in it and swayed a little, her feet still planted in the puddle.

The boy was holding the jacket aloft, inspecting it carefully. He himself wore dark cord trousers, goodish boots, and a plush velvet cap. His waistcoat had two mother-of-pearl buttons left on it, and he had arranged a scarlet neckerchief to cover the place where the topmost buttons were missing. Skinny and grubby though he was, he was clearly a bit of a dandy.

"A rip!" he hollered. "A big rip under me collar! Right‚?? -- ‚??now you're for it."Mrs. Larrington and Mrs. Merryfield exchanged quick glances. A rip, big or small, was not something they were going to be blamed for, or taken to task over, by a grubby little urchin.

Lifting one hand Jared made a lunge for the child. Quick as a cat she ran all the way 'round Mrs. Larrington's crinoline and disappeared down an alleyway.

The boy tried to follow.

Thwack!

"Not so fast, young man."

Mrs. Merryfield's right arm and the length of her furled umbrella blocked the entrance to the alleyway as effectively as any three-barred gate.

"What's your name?" she demanded.

The boy gaped at the umbrella and then up at Mrs.Merryfield as if he couldn't quite believe they were in his way. Mrs. Merryfield regarded him ferociously until he backed down and averted his own scowl. A charity monger. That's what she was. Uglier than a butcher's dog and with a snarl to match, but a do-gooder nonetheless.

He had no time for do-gooders. No time at all. But they could be soft touches, if you played your cards right‚?? -- ‚??he knew that much.

"Your name!?" Mrs. Merryfield demanded again.

The boy appeared to hesitate.

Then: "Jared," he replied, doffing his cap and flashing her a sudden grin. "Jared Roderick Montague Jackson at your service, ma'am."

Mrs. Merryfield's expression remained flinty.

"Ma'am," he repeated, swiveling to bow to the other lady, who, he noticed at once, looked like a much softer touch.

Mrs. Larrington risked a nervous smile. What a long name, she thought, for a pauper.

"Well then, Jared Roderick Montague Jackson," said Mrs. Merryfield, lowering her umbrella. "And you are what‚?? -- ‚??nine, ten years of age?"

The boy puffed out his chest in its partially buttoned waistcoat.

"I turned twelve on Christmas Day, ma'am," he said. "Not that there was much rejoicin' of it. No, nor of our dear Savior's birth, neither. Not with my dear mama an invalid and my papa so sorely reduced in circumstances that there ain't a moment goes by when we ain't all workin' and contrivin' as best we can to pay the rent an' put bread on the table."

Mrs. Larrington's mouth twitched. The boy had pronounced the word "in-val-id" as in "completely without merit" when he had surely meant "in-vuh-lid" as in "a person suffering from chronic ill health." How on earth, she wondered, had he arrived at such an error?

Jared didn't notice, or chose to ignore, her amusement. "Not that we ‚??'as a table no more, ma'am," he continued. "For it went for firewood a fortnight since when it were freezin' so bad the little uns turned blue an' we ‚??'ad no money for coal."

Then he gave a huge sigh and held his jacket to his cheek.

"An' now me jacket's torn," he moaned. "Me best jacket wot I'd intended on sellin' to pay for a bit o' fuel. Me brand-new jacket wot I'd sooner barter to keep the little ‚??'uns warm than wear on me back for so much as a minute. All torn under the collar it is now, an' good for nothin' but the ragman."

With a sorrowful shake of the head he folded the jacket beneath his armpit and patted it once, twice, three times as if it had hurt feelings or a pain in its sleeves. Then he scowled toward the alleyway and shook his fist. "An' there's one oo's still to cop a good thrashin' for rippin' it. So excuse me, ladies...."

"Oh dear," said Mrs. Larrington. "I rather think...there might have been..."

"Halt!" Mrs. Merryfield slapped her umbrella back across the entrance to the alleyway. Her other hand she held up at Mrs. Larrington for silence.

"...some mistake," Mrs. Larrington finished weakly.

Jared paused obediently.

"Young man," said Mrs. Merryfield, "it sounds to me as if your family might‚?? -- ‚??and I stress the word 'might'‚?? -- ‚??benefit from an assessment of its current situation."

"It would benny-fit from the price of a sheep's ‚??'ead or a bit o' bacon for the pot," the boy declared solemnly. "And from summat a bit warmer than tater sacks to wrap the babby in."

"Well then," said Mrs. Merryfield, her smile only a little sweeter than vinegar, "perhaps Mrs. Larrington and I should acquaint ourselves with your entire clan. I suggest you lead the way."Copyright © 2008 by Julie Hearn


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Assertiveness (Psychology) -- Fiction.
Artists -- Fiction.
Pre-Raphaelites -- Fiction.
Drug abuse -- Fiction.
Criminals -- Fiction.
London (England) -- History -- 19th century -- Fiction.
Great Britain -- History -- Victoria, 1837-1901 -- Fiction.