William The Chimney Sweep’s Boy
4th November, 1864
I’m William and I reluctantly work as a chimney sweep. I only get paid two shillings weekly, which is all the money we have due to father dying in a tragic shipwreck, and Mama being seriously ill. Life is tough. I work six days a week to get enough food for Mama. Consequently, most days I go without food.
Each day, when I walk to work, I see two miserable-looking girls selling nosegays to the locals. One has plaited fiery-red hair and the other has tasselled, jet-clack, curly hair. I feel sorry for them. They are probably orphans with no-one to love them. At least I have a loving mother, even though she can hardly speak now.
Today I sat down on the grubby cobbled street and thought about Mama. She had taken a turn for the worse. Her temperature was extremely high and she started hallucinating. I was up all through the night, reassuring her that the walls were not caving in and there wasn’t a gruesome monster staring at her. I could feel my eyes drooping because I had only a few hours of sleep. Before I knew it I was fast asleep, slumped against a lamppost.
‘WILLIAM! Wake up, you lazy boy and come and sweep my chimney!’
I woke up with a start and saw my plump, red-faced master peering down at me.
‘Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.’
I scrambled into his expensive house and into the fireplace. I climbed up the chimney and coughed when a cloud of soot fell over my head. I could hardly breathe. I was only a few inches off the ground and I was already out of breath. I squealed when I lost my balance and fell onto the floor.
‘SHUT UP YOU STUPID BOY! QUIT PLAYING THE FOOL AND SWEEP MY CHIMNEY!’ yelled my master.
‘Yes, sir!’ I replied, obediently.
By the time I was finished I felt I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I was aching all over. I felt as if I would fall into thousands of tiny little pieces.
When I was trudging home I saw the two girls again. Suddenly a thought crossed my mind – I’ll buy Mama a nosegay! I thought to myself. I approached the girls and asked, ‘Umm, hi… umm.. can I get a nosegay for my mother as she is really sick and…umm… maybe a nosegay will cheer her up.’
‘That will be one shilling,’ said the girl with the plaits. ‘Nice to meet you! I’m Hetty and that’s Clover.’
‘Nice to meet you, too! I’m William.’
‘Hi, William! I hope your mother gets better. This nosegay is sure to cheer her up,’ replied Hetty.
My eyes filled with tears. The doctor had said that Mama was most likely not going to make it. I started crying. Hot tears trickled down my face, washing away the soot and leaving white streaks over my cheeks.
‘What’s wrong, William?’ asked Hetty.
I felt really embarrassed. I was crying in public!
‘The doctor says she will not make it and then I will end up in the workhouse and I will get whipped because I’m too lazy and I will get gruel for dinner and it will be abhorrent!’ I sobbed.
Hetty and Clover were really kind and generous. They walked me home and gave me the nosegay for free. I walked into my house. I placed the nosegay on Mama’s table. She was asleep. I kissed her cheek and hoped she would get better.