Do you know who I am,
Who looks like a jest? —
Along with the best.
In the skin of a churl,
The guise of a waif,
Is the soul of a god,
And I carry it safe.
Mary E. Fullerton, “Urchin,” 1921
We are lucky, at Croesor, to be on the telephone. Not everywhere so out of the way has the privilege. We owe our luck to the Croesor Quarry company, which needed to talk to its wharf in Porthmadog if not to its customers in London or Dublin or Hamburg. Donkey’s years ago it had a line put in, and some homes in the village took advantage and were connected too. Croesor Quarry as such is long since closed, but in the war the government requisitioned its vast underground chambers for storing high explosives. Because the inquisitive are — how best to put it? — strongly discouraged, I have never seen inside. But our telephone line remains.
One evening, only a week after our meeting, Clough rang up. He had already heard from his contact in the Guards. Bob Vaughan was still serving in Germany, but Charlie Smith had been demobbed and lived in south London. He gave the address, which was in New Cross. By a strange coincidence New Cross was familiar to me, at least in the sense that I had passed it on the bus to and from Blackheath. I wrote, saying that I was Madog’s brother, explaining the situation, asking the question I had outlined to Clough, and enclosing a stamped addressed envelope to encourage a reply. It came a week later, brief, misspelled and not very literate, but friendly enough.
Yes, Charlie said, he could answer the question. He didn’t want to put anything in writing, but if I was ever in London he was willing to talk face to face, off the record. That was both intriguing and promising. I told Mam the gist of what this was about, and we agreed to make another visit to London in June. That was when demands at home were relatively light. It was not until the beginning of July that I had to gather for washing and shearing. And we would kill three birds with one stone.
One was to see Walter for the first time in seven months. Once again we would stay with the Grosvenors for two nights.
Then on the first morning, while Mam remained at Blackheath, I would go to the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Tad had kept diaries of his wartime service which, unlike his letters, were of military rather than family interest. It was a waste to let them moulder unseen; much better to give them to a public archive. The librarian at the museum had already agreed to accept them, and it only awaited a visit to London to deliver them, along with a few military memorabilia.
Thirdly, on the same day, I would beard Charlie Smith to discover why he was so cagey about that party.
All three of those appointments I arranged by post. Because he knew from Madog that I was still a youngster, Charlie said we had better not meet at his usual pub, the Marquis of Granby. Instead he suggested Sid’s Cafe almost opposite it, near New Cross Gate station, at five, which was well before the pub opened. I would recognise him by the Daily Worker in his hand. A cafe suited me. The Brondanw Arms was one thing. A London pub — and I had the impression that New Cross was a rather rough area — was quite another. But the Daily Worker — the Communist Party newspaper — slightly scared me.
Early in June, when the whole flock had been turned back onto the mountain, we set off on our expedition. I took a novel to read on the train. Not for me the artificially polite and brittle world of Jane Austen, but the gritty realism of Dickens. I chose Oliver Twist, which saw me happily — or unhappily — to Paddington and a fog-free London. Then, as before, we took the Bakerloo Line and the 53A bus to Blackheath, from whose window I located Sid’s Cafe in New Cross Road. The Grosvenor household was much as it had been, although Walter at fifteen months was now crawling and burbling and our suspicions were stronger than ever.
Next day was the decisive one. The Imperial War Museum is a quarter of a mile or so beyond the Elephant in the Westminster direction, so I stayed on the bus for one stop further than last time. There I got off, clutching my bundle of Tad’s diaries, and stood taking the place in. Set well back from the road in quite a large area of parkland was a substantial building with a classical white portico surmounted by a tall green dome. It had suffered, I had heard, from serious bomb damage, and only now was it beginning to reopen with small temporary exhibitions.
“Wotcher!” said a breathless voice behind me.
It was the boy from the fog at the Elephant seven months ago. This time he was bareheaded and I could see him properly. His hair was blond and curly, his eyes blue, his face pallid and his cheeks hollow, and his voice had now broken, quite recently by the sound of it. He was wearing not that ridiculous coat but scruffy grey trousers and a startlingly white shirt, again much too large for him, which looked incongruously like silk. And he was panting.
“Saw yer on the bus,” he wheezed, grinning at me, “and ran arter yer.”
“Dunno.” He looked away. “Must’ve liked yer, mun’t I?”
“And how did you know I was getting off here?”
He coughed deeply, and spat. “Din’t. Jest hoped.”
Very strange. As strange as seven months ago when he had materialised out of the fog and instantly latched on to me, to the tune of giving me those presumably black-market nylons.
He changed the subject. “Wotcher doing here?”
“Bringing my father’s diaries.” I hefted my bundle. “About the war. To hand over to the librarian. I’m giving them to the museum.”
“Yer Dad dead, then?”
“Yes.” It still hurt. “Four years ago. North Africa.”
“Ar. Me Dad died when I wuz a titch. Hit the aristotle …”
“Aristotle,” he said patiently. “Bottle. Get it?”
“Oh … yes.” I had heard of rhyming slang, but never heard it. “You mean he took to drink?”
“Yus. And got seriosis of the liver.” It seemed to amuse him. But he changed the subject again by nodding at the museum. “What’s in there?”
“Not much. It hasn’t really reopened yet. Only an exhibition of …” I looked at the poster by the gate “photos of the blitz.”
“Cor! Like ter see them! D’yer have ter pay?”
I looked at the poster again. “No, it’s free.”
“Can I come wiv yer?” He was evidently chary of venturing alone into so august a place.
“Of course. Not to see the librarian. But to look at the photos.”
We walked in together. The exhibition was obvious.
“Have a look. I won’t be long. I’ll see you here.”
I made myself known to an attendant, and soon the librarian came to me. It did not take long: only the time needed to give a few details of Tad’s service and to accept thanks and a receipt. I returned to the exhibition.
The boy was at the far end. The photos, as I worked my way slowly towards him, made my hair stand on end. Night skies pierced by searchlights and tracer fire, with blimps above. Underground station platforms packed with stoical hordes of Londoners sitting out the air raids. A doodlebug about to descend and spread destruction. Blazing buildings with battling fire brigades. Desolate ruins with men desperately searching the jumble of bricks and timber. Medics and stretchers and ambulances … In Eryri we had missed all this. Apart from a few strays, no bombs much closer than Liverpool. Thank God.
The boy, when I came up to him, was standing in front of a much-enlarged picture of a street with a huge crater in it, stumps of tramlines projecting, broken mains gushing water, shattered buildings which had lost their front walls. In the crater was the wreck of a No 88 bus, almost wholly below road level. It takes a big crater to hide a double-decker bus. And on the boy’s cheeks were tears.
“Balham chube station,” he said simply. “Direct hit. Killed sixty-six poor sods what wuz sheltering down below. Then that bus druv inter the hole. Din’t know it wuz there. Blackout, see. And me Mum wuz on the bus.”
“And …?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“Killed too. I wuz ten.”
Oh God. As bad as me losing Tad. Worse, in a way. She had not been a combatant. The boy’s own Dad was no more. And I had been twelve, not ten. I did the only thing I could think of and put an arm round his bony shoulder, noticing that his shirt felt like real silk. He gave me a startled but grateful look, and did not pull away.
“Had enough,” he said after a while. “Let’s get out.”
As we left he paused in front of a bust of some long-forgotten general which stood on a pedestal in the lobby, and inspected it from different angles.
“Nah,” he said. “Dead. Blind.”
I thought I saw what he meant. Because the eyeballs were smooth marble without any markings, it was staring blankly. It takes eyes — complete with pupils and irises — to give life to a face. But it was an unexpected observation from a boy like him, and I looked at him in surprise.
“I likes mugs, yer see,” he explained. “Special ones. Like yours. C’mon.”
We went out and found a bench in the park. I asked him about himself, and he answered freely. His name was Stan and he was less than a year younger than me, not two or three as I had imagined. His birthday was in May, mine in June. Since his Mum died he had lived at the Elephant with his much older brother Ernie, Ernie’s wife Rosie, and their young brood of children. He had been at South Borough Secondary School for Boys and had left the year before, at the earliest moment he legally could. Did he have a job? But on that he was uncommunicative. Sort of, he said, doing this and that for Ernie. Then he changed the subject once more by asking about me.
His eyes never left my face as I told him I was nearly sixteen and had left school two years before to run the farm. He had no idea whatever of what country life meant, let alone Welsh country life. It would be cruel to call him naive, for had not Mam and I been equally naive about London? But it was hilarious. At the first mention of sheep he became quite romantic.
“Ooo, I seen pitchers of them lambs. Ever so sweet. Being fed wiv an aristotle.”
Aristotle? Oh yes, of course. “We have to do that sometimes, if they’re poorly or their mothers don’t have milk.”
“Lord no. It takes time. There are far too many to bottle-feed more than a few.”
“How many sheep yer got, then?”
“Ewes, you mean?” He looked puzzled, so I explained. “Ewes are female sheep. About a thousand breeding ewes. About two thousand sheep all told while the lambs are still with us.”
“Two fahsand? Garn, yer pulling me leg! How big’s yer farm?”
Acres would probably not mean much to him. “The best part of three miles long, maybe a mile wide.”
“No kidding? How many people live on it?”
“Just me and my Mam.”
“So it’s all fields?”
“Far from it. A few little fields near the house. But mostly mountain and rock.”
“Mountain? Yer mean big hill? Like Blackheath Hill?”
I had to laugh. That was probably the only hill within his experience. “Bigger than that. Maybe twenty times higher, and much steeper.”
“Blimey! Like ter see it! Can I?”
“If you can get yourself there, of course you can.” Not for a moment did I think he would. But if he did, his face would be worth seeing. “The fare’s quite expensive, though.”
“Howjer get there?”
“By train from Paddington. But you have to change.”
“Train ter where?”
I found a scrap of paper and wrote it all down: Dino Evans, Garth Llwynog, Croesor, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merioneth. He frowned at the strange names.
“Garth Llwynog’s our farm,” I explained. “It means ‘Fox Hill’. Croesor’s the village. Penrhyndeudraeth is the nearest town — well, large village. That’s where the station is. Merioneth is the county.”
“Ar.” He tucked the paper away and returned to the subject. “Wotcher do all the time, then?”
I summarised the farming calendar. All the time keeping an eye on the three dairy cows and the two pigs and the hens whose number was variable, depending on the foxes. Then, with the sheep and other activities, the highlights from this time of year onwards — washing and shearing, hay-making, dipping for scab, selling, dipping again for ticks, setting the rams to tup … but he did not know that word.
“Tup? It means to serve the ewes,” I explained.
“Serve? Oh yus.” He giggled. “Zig and zag!”
I was puzzled in turn. “Zig and zag?”
“Shag.” And he giggled again. I suspected he was using his rhyming slang just to tease me.
And the following spring, I went on, there was lambing and marking and castrating the ram lambs. He did know that word, and was horrified.
“I get about five hundred ram lambs a year. I sell most of them when they’re about six months old, for fattening up for meat, and they fatten much better if they’re wethers. That means castrated.”
“Yer cut their cobblers off?”
“Cobblers? Does that mean balls?”
“Yus. Cobblers’ awls.”
“Oh. Well, we used to. But now I use an instrument that just cuts the cords inside without opening the, um, bag. No blood.”
“But five hundred! How long does it take ter do them all?”
“With ten people at it, a very full day. We only keep about twenty rams to serve the ewes.”
“But yer said yer had a fahsand ewes.”
“That’s right. Each ram serves about fifty. Some of them more than once. All in a month.”
“Ruddy hell! Bet they’re knackered!”
I could guess what that meant. “Yes. They are.”
It was very pleasant sitting in the sun, letting the tiredness soak out. And if Stan was an artless boy, he was intelligently curious, and it was fun bridging the gaps in language. Before long he asked what I was doing for the rest of the day. I was planning to fill in the time before Charlie and New Cross by finding a bite to eat somewhere and doing a few of the sights. We had had no more than fleeting glimpses from the bus of Trafalgar Square and Westminster.
“Let’s go, then,” he said when I spelled this out. “I’ll show yer. Westminster’s only a step. And there’s a good nosh-house on the way.”
For some reason I could not fathom he seemed to have attached himself to me, but I found I did not mind at all.
“But aren’t you doing anything?”
“Nah. Taking day off. Did nicely yesterday.” He jingled coins in his pocket.
So we strolled down Westminster Bridge Road. On the first corner was a telephone box. Stan darted inside and came out with two pennies in his hand and a broad grin on his face.
“Last bloke din’t press Button B,” he explained. “Lots of them don’t, yer’d be surprised. Once got two bob in a day. And didjer know yer can make a free call by wiggling a lolly stick in the slot?”
I did not.
As we drew nearer to Westminster Bridge the buildings were becoming more imposing, with better-class shops and even offices, but with plenty of bombed-out gaps where willow-herb grew in profusion. Ahead was another telephone box and, as we approached, a well-dressed man came out of it and hurried off.
“Yer turn!” said Stan.
So in I went and pressed Button B, and to my amazement two shillings clattered out. The man must have been attempting a long-distance call. I dashed out after him calling “Excuse me! You left this in the box!” He paused, which allowed me to catch up, and I handed over the money.
“That’s very honest of you, son. Thanks. Here, keep this as your tip.” He handed a shilling back, and went.
“Wotcher do that for?” demanded Stan, evidently worried by the loss of a shilling.
“It was his money. If I’d kept it, it would’ve been stealing. All right, you kept the tuppence back there. But there was no way of telling whose it was, and it was only tuppence. Anyway, this is yours.” I held out the shilling.
He hesitated, gazing at me and frowning. “Nah,” he said at last. “You keep it. But ta.”
Then there was another diversion. Stan glanced down the road towards the bridge, and instantly disappeared.
“Don’t want him ter see me,” came his voice from behind a stump of wall on a bomb site. “Stay there till he’s gawn.”
Ahead was a man walking towards us and currently waving at someone on the opposite pavement. Trying to look casual, I leant against the wall. He drew closer and passed me without a second glance. His clothes, to my provincial eye, seemed outlandish, although he would no doubt see Clough’s as equally outlandish. He was in the uniform of what I understand is called a spiv, much like Stan’s at the Elephant: a light-coloured suit, a wide and gaudy tie, a broad-brimmed hat, winkle-pickers, a pencil moustache and sideburns. He carried a small suitcase.
“He’s gone,” I called when he was well past, and Stan emerged. “Who was that?”
“Me bruvver Ernie. On his way home. But this is me pitch here, see. Elephant ter the bridge. I’m sposed ter be at work, and obviously I ain’t.”
He seemed unwilling to say more, and a few yards further on we came to his ‘good nosh-house,” a restaurant offering a three-course meal for a shilling. That seemed incredibly cheap. At home we never ate out, but from what I had seen I would expect to pay twice that.
“Yours is on me, then,” I said. “With that shilling you gave back.”
I ate well enough, not large portions and hardly haute cuisine, but very good value.
“How do they do it so cheap?” I marvelled. “Do they get stuff on the black market?”
But Stan shushed me. “Not in here,” he insisted.
I watched him as he picked at his food, which he did not finish. No wonder he was thin. But from the clues I had, I was beginning to understand him. A wide boy, I thought the term was. Certainly an opportunist. Probably involved in the black market too. I had no idea how that worked, but I did know that it was widespread, and had a strong suspicion that morally it was highly dubious. Something of an Artful Dodger, this boy.
Once outside I tried again, but again he shushed me.
He led me down some steps to the riverside embankment in front of an imposing building (“County Hall,” he said, “where the Council hangs out”) and we leant on the wall overlooking the Thames. A tug chugged past, towing a string of lighters, but there was nobody to overhear us.
“Houses of Parlyment. Big Ben,” he pointed out, pretending to do his duty as guide. “Scotland Yard, where the rozzers hang out. Charing Cross. Jest see Cleopatra’s Needle.”
But my interest was elsewhere, and I interrupted him.
“Stan, before we get onto that, I’m still trying to understand. Those nylons — which Mam was very grateful for, by the way, though she was a bit doubtful about where they’d come from. This shirt of yours.” I felt it, and it really was silk. “Your brother. What you called your pitch. You sell things on the black market, don’t you?”
“And if I did, would it bovver yer?”
“Well, I don’t know anything about it. But I’m not sure I like the idea.”
Alarm flared in his eyes. “Garn! Yer a goody-goody then?”
Nobody, surely, likes to be labelled a goody-goody. Being no exception, I had to protest. “Don’t worry, I break the law too. I drive without a licence. And under-age.”
“Ar,” he said approvingly. I had evidently gone up in his estimation again. “Yer knows all about it then.”
He seemed to assume that Croesor is a mafia-style hotbed of criminals, which is not exactly the case. And Sergeant Pritchard, after all, far from being one of the rozzers against whom he pitted his wits, is my friend.
“So yer ain’t going ter turn me in?” He nodded at Scotland Yard.
I was getting better at understanding his language. “Of course not. I just want to know what’s going on. What you do, and how it works.”
He hesitated again, staring at me, working out if he could trust me. And suddenly it came pouring out, gabbled, repetitive, in no order. What it boiled down to was that he and Ernie and a number of cousins and friends sold black market nylons and silk shirts and cigarettes. They sold from their suitcases, on the pavements, to passers-by, keeping a wary eye open for the rozzers, always ready to snap the suitcase shut and sidle unobtrusively away. Ernie worked the best pitch in the West End — Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly. Stan’s pitch was much lower down the scale of profitability. His takings went to Ernie, but he got a small commission.
“But where do you get it all from — the nylons and whatever?”
There was another long pause, interrupted by a fit of coughing, before he made up his mind. “Dino,” he said anxiously at last. “Yer will keep this under yer titfer, won’tcher? Ernie’d skin me if he knew I’d split.”
“Yes, I’ll keep it under my hat,” I promised, proud that I had worked out ‘titfer’ for myself.
I had expected some complex system of smuggling from abroad, but it was ludicrously simple. There was a black market ring centred on the enormous railway goods depot at the Bricklayers’ Arms near the Elephant. The job of the forwarding office there was to sort the packages coming in by rail into batches for vans to deliver to the various areas of south London. A few of the clerks were in the ring. By long experience they could recognise from the sender’s label or the package’s shape or weight that this one contained nylons, that one whisky, another one cigarettes or canned meat or whatever it might be. Onto these the clerks slapped fake address and ‘Carriage Paid’ labels, and they were delivered by the innocent vanmen to the false addresses — alcohol to a wine merchant, foodstuffs to a restaurant like the one where we had just eaten, nylons and silk shirts and fags to street sellers such as Ernie & Co. From these middlemen the ringmasters collected payment.
Shocked, I pursed my lips. But for my promise to keep it under my titfer I might have gone straight across the river to Scotland Yard.
“But,” I pointed out, “that’s blatant crime!”
“Well, yer breaks the law too. Yer said so.”
“Yes, but all I do is ignore inconvenient little laws. I don’t do any harm to anyone. But your black market’s plain and simple stealing, isn’t it? Would you like someone stealing from you?”
“Nah. I woun’t. But,” he added defensively, “if somefink’s sent ter yer and it don’t arrive, yer claims from the railway, don’tcher?”
He seemed to think railway companies were fairer game than individuals.
“But it’s still stealing.”
Stan sighed heavily. “Spose … Yus, it is. I knows it is, really, and I doesn’t like it … I can be honest when I wants ter … But Dino, I’m stuck. How the heck do I get out of it?”
That was the point. It was a family affair and he had probably been involved for years. I bit my lip. There was no easy answer.
“I don’t know. Move away from London? Get another job? One where you’re actually doing something useful. Like me. I’m not suggesting you become a sheep farmer. But I produce meat to feed people and wool to make clothes for them. I don’t hurt them, I benefit them. And it’s a personal challenge too, to make it work. It seems to me all you’ve got to do is steer clear of the, um, rozzers. Wouldn’t you rather do something where you have to use your brains or your muscles, or both?”
“Ain’t got no muscles,” he said pitifully. “Not much brains eiver.”
“That’s just not true. You’ve got plenty of brains. Look at what you said about that portrait in the museum. That took brains.”
He gaped at me unbelievingly.
“But whatever you do, Stan, you must get out of the black market. The rozzers are bound to catch you sooner or later, and you don’t want to end up in Borstal or prison, do you?”
“Nah. Nah … Awright, I’ll fink about it. And mebbe ask Rosie — she’s Ernie’s missis. She don’t like it eiver.”
All this talk had taken time, and when Big Ben tolled four I decided it was time to move on to New Cross. I told Stan, regretfully, that I had to go.
“That’s awright,” he said. “Woun’t mind being home for Dick Barton.”
“Ar, come on! Light Programme, yus? Dick Barton Special Agent, wiv his sidekicks Jock and Snowy? Smashing! Almost evry day yer gets ‘Wiv one bound Dick was free!’ A scream, innit?” Stan gave me a meaning look. “Or don’tcha listen ter wireless?”
I failed to understand the look. But, come to think of it, I had heard of Dick Barton as a show highly popular with boys of all ages.
“A bit. The news. Sometimes Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, if I’m in. But not Dick Barton.”
So, abandoning plans to do the sights close-up, we returned to the street and headed for the nearest bus stop in the direction of the Elephant.
Then there was a final and spectacular diversion. Looking back, it was surreal. Mam and I occasionally took a winter evening off to go to the Coliseum in Porthmadog. Six months before we had seen a thriller whose title escapes me, and I was reminded of a scene in it as our own little drama unfolded full in front of our eyes. A boy of much the same age as us was lolling against a wall. A man, every inch a businessman with bowler and brolly, stepped out of an office doorway. The boy walked towards him, eyes on the opposite pavement, and as if inadvertently collided with him head-on.
“Look out! Mind where you’re going!”
“Oops! Sorry sir, I’m sure!”
They disentangled themselves and went their separate ways. Then the man stopped dead, clutched at his breast pocket, swung round and shouted “Stop! Stop!” at the top of his voice. But, as we had seen but he had not, the boy had vanished into an alleyway. As the man looked frantically around for a policeman, Stan darted off in pursuit.
“Stay there, mister!” he called. “I’ll get it back fer yer!”
He disappeared down the alleyway, leaving me to try to calm the man who was almost out of his mind with worry. From his gabbled explanation I gathered that he was on his way to Victoria to catch the bus to London Airport for the daily flight to New York. His business was of great urgency, but he had now lost his tickets, with no hope of replacing them in time. There was still no sign of a policeman, as if one could have helped. As I was fumbling for words of comfort, Stan reappeared, brandishing an envelope.
“Here yer go, mister,” he panted. “Yer best check it.”
The man looked inside and breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Thank God! And thank you! Here!”
He dug into his back pocket, took out a wallet, and handed Stan a folded piece of white paper.
“You’ve earned this, son. Every bit of it. You’ve saved my bacon.” And with a wave of his hand he was off.
“What …” I began.
But Stan was not listening. He was bent double, coughing hard and painfully.
“Woogh!” he muttered, straightening up and spitting. “Sorry.”
To my mind, while spitting on the grass or heather of the mountain is one thing, in the street it is not so nice. But being worried for Stan I looked at the great gob of phlegm on the pavement more closely than I otherwise would, and to my horror it was flecked with red.
“Stan! There’s blood in it!”
Still recovering, he nodded. Then “Yus,” he managed. “I knows.”
“Have you been to the doctor?”
“Then you must! At once. I don’t know what’s wrong. Only that it’s not right. Will you?”
He nodded again. “Awright.”
He contrived a smile. “Jest fer you, Dino, I will. Cross me heart. And what’s this here?”
Stan was still clutching the paper. He unfolded it, looked, and turned to me. His face was a sight.
“A fiver!” he wheezed. “Ruddy heck! Much as I make in a munf! Never had one in me hand before!”
“But well earned,” I pointed out piously. “You can be honest, and honesty does pay. Even so, don’t give it to Ernie … But Stan, what happened back there …”
“Hang on! Here’s the bus.”
We got on, and I bought tickets to the Elephant and to New Cross. But the Elephant was not far at all.
“What happened back there?” I repeated urgently.
“That wuz Jack. I knows him well. Too well. He made a beeline for a bomb site where there’s hidey-holes ter stash stuff away. Used it meself. But I knows a short cut and got there first. And got that envelope off him.”
“Told him he could have me bottle. He’s been arter it fer ages.”
Bottle? Aristotle? I was lost. And we were already passing the museum.
“Bottle and glass.” He grinned at me. “Get it?”
“For him ter shove his Hampton in.” I was still fumbling, and he sighed as if I were a halfwit. “Hampton Wick, see?”
The penny finally dropped … arse, dick … and it left me flabbergasted.
“But … good God … are you going to?”
“Not on yer nelly. No one’s had it yet. And I’ll only give it ter someone I likes.”
The bus was slowing down for the Elephant.
“Fanks, Dino. I’ll fink like yer told me ter. Look arter yerself. I likes yer.”
He got up, looked surreptitiously around, and to my astonishment gave me a quick peck on the cheek.
By the time I had recovered enough wits he was already on the platform and I almost had to shout, “Go to the doctor!” Then he was off.
The bus pulled out and crossed the junction into the New Kent Road. So much had happened so fast that my mind was in a whirl. First and foremost, something had happened which this time had not struck me dumb with terror. The unmentionable had again been mentioned. More than mentioned — almost offered to me, by someone who seemed to be similarly-minded … by someone who had a name and a face … by someone who for some reason liked me … by someone with whom I already sympathised.
Stan might be a scamp, but he was not the Artful Dodger. I had been wrong about that. It was the pickpocket Jack who was the Artful Dodger. Stan was more like Oliver Twist, within reach of redemption. I hoped that whatever was wrong with him was not too serious. I must write. Then it hit me, deep in the belly, and it winded me. He had my address, but I did not have his. I did not even know his surname. He might write to me. Or he might not, in which case I would probably never see him again.
But in this too I was proved entirely wrong.