Be Still Little Lamb
The floor boards creaked and the rats scurried. A coughing in the next room woke him up. Sunlight was already streaming in through the filthy windows, their soot stained edges not totally blocking out the light, as the street outside woke or finally went to bed. He turned over and shut his eyes, the pounding between his temples wouldn’t abate. The hilt of his knife dug into his hip and he grunted accordingly. He was having trouble collecting his wayward thoughts back together after the effects of last night, it felt like he’d drunk a barrel or more of gin.
Somewhere in the near distance a cock crowed with the rising of the sun. Probably up to its arse in muck and passed out drunks, trying to find a worm in some poor bastard’s yard he thought. St. Giles was ever growing, from Great Russell Street up to Seven Dials, the alleys and courtyards filled up with all sorts. Why even the other day he had walked past an eight bedroom house that was bursting at the seams, must’ve been a hundred or more living there. Cramp and squalid the neighbourhood was becoming, not that it wasn’t before, and the inhabitants had thought it couldn’t get any worse, much to their bewilderment.
He should really get up he pondered, but he was lazy and had a dry mouth that still stunk of gin. He could sense Peter shuffling around the room, mumbling inaudible thoughts to himself. His friend had managed to acquire a top hat from somewhere and it instantly made him feel more respected, even if it was only imaginary. Gary chuckled quietly to himself and watched his old mate.
Peter, thoroughly absorbed in his top hat fantasy was walking pompously around the room, giving mock bows to unseen greeters, a smarmy grin plastered on his face. With a hatful of how do you dos and rolls of the hand, he walked through furniture covered in manky sheets, piles of candle holders, ancient cobwebs and half the jewellery of the city under the floor boards. He stepped right on the deck of cards left from the night before, its game only half way through before being abandoned.
His hungover friend watched him from his dirty mattress in the corner, he was beginning to enjoy being the witness of such a personal moment, oblivious as our day dreaming performer was. Gary was fully awake now, his amusement had banished his ill feelings, for that morning at least. He sat up and cried
‘Hark now tis the Duke of St Albans hisself in my abode, how the day’s break has brought me good fortune!’
Peter stopped in his tracks, his grinning face frozen in shock.
‘I thought you was still asleep Gary, it weren’t my intention to wake ye so’
‘Well I didn’t suppose I would be having guests so early on a Tuesday, I ran out of me eggs yesterday so I did’ confessed the hungover man, keeping on with the joke.
Peter’s performance, however, crumbled and a steam of mumbled apologies filled the dusty room.
‘I shan’t be having no eggs for my breakfast sir, I wasn’t meaning to cause such a disturbance, I was merely passing the time till you got up, you see, mate,’ Peter’s greens eye implored his friends grey ones.
Gary couldn’t contain himself any longer and threw back his head and laughed and hooted until the voice of an angry Slack Jack could be heard from the next room.
‘Oi you bastards, keep it down, have ye no respect for those asleep, I’ll come in there and bash your heads together, so I will’ threatened the sleepy Irishman.
‘Be quiet, Paddy, you’re still drunk, keep those eyes of yours closed and dreamin’ o’ teats’ Gary replied.
‘Ha if only I could dream of teats, all I get in my dreams are big black dogs.’ Shouted Jack.
‘Well ain’t that telling you something’ Gary rose from his straw mattress in the corner.
‘Enough of this talk, what is it you got up too last night after our unfinished card game and I’d like to know where in the hell is it you managed to lay your hands on a very expensive looking bust of Napoleon The First!?’
‘Well that is a particularly hazy memory so to speak, funny as it weren’t so long ago I got my hands around Boney’s noggin’ admitted the huge man, still clutching the highly identifiable bust in his arms. He had sloshed his way home in the wee hours, just as Gary was making his way to bed, who hadn’t thought twice of the bust until now, as if he was only just registering it.
‘Jesus Christ Almighty Jack, don’t you be getting smart with me, all I am concerned with is who is going to be looking for this and what kind of lead they have’ Gary shook his head at Pete and put two fingers up to the wall, of which Slack Jack was the other side.
‘Would ye please calm yourself down man, you know me, I always is safe and make sure no one can follow the trail of my feet.’
The giant man now appeared in the room’s doorway, looking groggy and ready to defend himself, verbally rather than physically, there weren’t many men that would take on a man as big as the Irishman. Plus they were friends and weren’t prone to throwing fists at once another.
A pretty whistle could be heard outside as the two continued to argue inside, the silently forlorn figure of Peter stood awkwardly between them, top hat still in hand. The sing song notes of the whistle got louder and suddenly stopped, followed by a smart rap of knuckles on the door. Their voices ceased and Gary raised an eyebrow at his companions, fearing that someone who shouldn’t be had come a calling.
‘Pete go to the attic, take the bust and anything else that’s worth hiding away, now!’ The gang’s leader hissed.
Peter scuttled off up the rickety stairs with his arms full. He looked over at Jack, who was readying himself for a confrontation, hiding daggers in belts and putting on heavy boots. Another knock at the door and both men tensed.
Gary went through to the front room, its curtains still closed and Slack Jacks belongings strewn across the floor. The smell of stale tobacco smoke filled his nostrils as he took a steadying breath and found his hand on the door handle, which he pulled open, trying to make his face as innocent as possible.
‘Oh for god sakes Tom, for one minute could you stop with your larking about, you had us all sheets to the wind in there!’ Gary grabbed the handsome lad Tom by his collar and pulled him through the door.
‘What, I was only joking, I knew you lot would be shitting your britches, all I had to do was knock posh, like!’ Tom’s mouth split in a smile to reveal soft dimples and eyes full of mirth.
‘Aye, you’re right Tom, you had us scared in there, should’ve seen the way Pete scampered up to the attic and Jack hid his blades!’ Smiled Gary
‘Pa-ha, until next time then lads, maybe I will get to finally fight ol’Slacky Jacky and finish the brute off fer good,’ the young man jested.
The big man scoffed and whacked Tom’s head, tenderly. The two older men had a soft spot for their younger comrade, feeling protective of him but also knowing that Tom was no mug.
‘Come on lads I am hungry, get to the yard Jack, and get a few eggs for us, I still has some bread from yesterday, I will boil us up a treat.’ He clapped his hands together and rubbed them.
Tom went to the back room and bent down and lifted up the loose board by the fireplace and stashed what takings he had from this morning under the floor. He took off his great coat, found a chair, and started prodding round the fireplace trying to get the old thing roaring again.
The room was cold and full of random bits and bobs, more so than a pawn shop. Gary had gone upstairs to get Peter and Tom was alone with the room. Just then the front door banged open with a mighty crash which shook half the house. He was on his feet at once as Jack ran in the room, hands full of eggs.
The pounding of feet sounded from above as the other two made their way downstairs, ready for a brawl. As one the four men converged on the front room, with door wide open. They all sighed collectively as one for what they say made them laugh.
Mary Mullins stood in the doorway, laughter all over her pink face at the sight of the four men, confused and humoured. By her side she held a lamb upside down, occasionally bleating nervously.
‘Well that was fun and make no mistake, I don’t think I will ever forget the four faces I just saw as long as I live, you lot are meant to be murderous thieves and bandits, not frightened mice!’ Her laughter filled the room.
‘Oh it’s you, we should’ve known, why the bleeding hell do you have a lamb?’ Asked Jack
‘Ungrateful so and so’s, I brought this lamb for us and all you can do is ask why,’ mocked a shocked Mary.
Everyone laughed at the exchange and the door was shut, the new member of the gang was introduced to everyone and passed around in greeting, Tom even shook the little fellas hoof.
‘So how’s about some lamb stew for dinner,’ thought Peter out loud.
‘You must be joking, Pete, I am going to fatten this one up till he can’t walk no more and we can have a Christmas feast worthy of the nobility!’ mused the lamb catcher.
‘So where did you come by this lamb of ours, Mary?’ questioned Jack.
‘Wouldn’t you like to know Galway Bhalla man, I, however am taking this little man outside to make him a home so he can get fat and plump and juicy juicy for us all!’
As if sensing her, the lamb wriggled and tussled at her grip with all its little might.
‘Be still little lamb, for you have nothing to fear, yet……’ Mullins cackled.
Carrying the lamb into the back yard she began singing old Gaelic songs as the rest of the gang gathered by the fire place to talk of the recent tidings. Tom stoked the fire, Peter fumbled with eggs and Gary was pleading with Jack to tell them how he had managed to procure Napoleon’s bust without so much as a whisper of a memory. The lambs bleats could still be heard coming from the backyard.
© Jack Nugent