By Matthew Bastani
Archy pranced around the litter hoping he could find something to sit on. The trash on the streets of Norwood, London hadn’t been cleaned the night before. It always made his day easier when he could beg on something besides the cobblestone floor.
After strolling on Elder Road for a bit the orphan boy halted on the corner of Eylewood. Archy’s cherry eyebrows ripened upwards. A single cardboard box was surrounded by newspapers and wastes. With a skip and a hop Archy floated his light seven-year-old body into the middle of the pile. The cardboard crumbled cushioning the fall, and the scraps supported the boy’s skinny limbs He settled in for a minute absorbing the clutter’s comfort. This was something unfamiliar to him ever since he left the grim Inglewood Boys’ Home.
His hand took off the tattered cloth cap on his head revealing a mess of oily red hair. He then set the hat down in front of his cardboard throne.
The opportune spot for the day was right outside the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers Guild and Red Apron Butcher. Archy knew that the renowned clock guild would be busy with generous wealth.
The city’s rapid growth in the 1860’s had filtered in conservative capital that was now flourishing 1897. Bourgeoisie commodities came to be particularly prevalent in Norwood. These associations had had enough time to establish a sufficient customer base. Customers that would often provide Archy deluxe donations.
The morning went on with only a small income of a few pence. Unfortunately for Archy, the butcher had much more business that day than the clockmaker. A lack of enthusiastic pleading from Archy’s part also hindered his bounty. The youngster’s mind was occupied with thoughts of his mother.
Her soft demeanor was something he had memories about, or at least he imagined as much. At this point the admiring visions could have just been fabrications of his imagination. Regardless, the image of her rolling red hair against a petite plaid dress helped him get through the gloomy grey days.
Archy contemplated if the other boys in his gang of homeless orphans remembered their parents. He was grateful to Ralph for the calming memory of Ralph’s commanding yet compassionate father. This was especially effective when the hunger of their old orphanage inevitably tormented the pair. Nostalgic conversations of recollections helped the two boys get through the unforgiving days at Inglewood Boys Home. Archy will never forget how daring and unsurprising it was of Ralph to propose escape. He would forever appreciate Ralph for the opportunity to find their new home.
The new lodging of the liberated delinquents consisted of about a dozen orphans who lived off of the streets. The band of boys took refuge in an abandoned archaic two-story cottage at the corner of Norwood Park. Despite their dreary appearance, Archy’s new company and housing was much improved. Previously living with fifty others who would compete for attention, clothes, food, bedding, and even water was nightmarish for the fragile timid youth.
Archy smiled at the memory of his first Daily Bounty at Norwood Cottage. It was astounding how the crew would combine their everyday earnings and then choose from the sum a proportion that was equal to what each had offered. The stunning feeling of acquiring his first real possession was unforgettable. He was able to exchange some bread for a battered fleece blanket.
Daydreaming, Archy awoke when a carriage door was shut and the recognizable clang of metal hit the floor. The horses attached to the carriage sped off with an unbothered nobleman inside.
Immediately the beggar boy hurried to the source of the sound. He collected it up quickly, and with a mental gasp took off leaving his hat and the few coins in it.
Archy’s autopilot took him to his favorite tree in Norwood park. He gazed at the item in his puny pale hands. The shine dilated his eyes and veins. Angling his hands so as to not be blinded by the intense glimmer, Archy set the contemporary wristwatch softly on the grass.
The straps were made of a blood brown leather boasting class and style. Gold lined the circumference and shined exuberantly as if asking for attention. A simple white dial with gold hands added to the polished the watch’s sophisticated demeanor. Archy recognized his dreams of fortune inside the precious shine. His worry of getting the watch dirty from his unwashed hands quickly evaporated the longer he marveled. Hesitantly, he touched the gilded circle that the crimson strips stemmed from. Aware of what was before him, the hypnotized child stared deeper. The numbers on the face were substituted by alternating red and green stones like the ones in the Queen’s crown. The thought of holding an object similar to a Queen’s possession paralyzed the glowing youth.
“I’ve got to show the lads,” Archy whispered aloud.
His mind hesitated knowing the older boys would take it from him. They had the right to the first picks of the Daily Bounty and more often than not they took the best items. Fueled by greedy survival Archy pondered how he could keep this a secret from the others.
Maybe his oversized jacket would be able to hide the innovative timepiece. An attempt to fasten it on his right arm revealed it was two times too large for his malnourished wrist.
He tried the watch on his left leg where his pants weren’t torn. The watch barely moved as Archy jumped with joy when it fit perfectly on his upper thigh. A soothing calm came over his body. Relieved he could successfully hide his alluring article from the desiring, Archy fell back in the grass with the watch clasped snug on his leg.
A vision of his smiling mother came to him. He smiled toward the London clouds. For the first time in his life Archy felt like he could buy something.
When he returned to Norwood Cottage, Archy went straight to his corner by the stairs in the living room. Keeping the watch in the back of his mind, like a mother would of her child, he concealed himself in his wilted blanket.
Archy knew his lack of contribution to the Daily Bounty disqualified him from gaining anything. He didn’t care. His secret was worth more than what the boys would ever get in a lifetime of Daily Bounties.
“Oi! What happened to your hat?” Ralph drifted over to Archy and sat next to him waiting for the ceremony to begin. He took a quick look at the bundled Archy before laying back with his arms behind his head. “And why you got nothing?”
Archy softly stated, “It was a rubbish day.” The blanket covered his mouth so Ralph could only make out a familiar defeated tone coming from the bundle. He made nothing of it and left the sulking boy when everyone began to hurry upstairs to begin the ritual.
In his corner of dreams the ruddy redhead resumed his wondering thought. Instead of his mother or the soft feeling of a bed, Archy imagined himself next to the Queen.
She smiled at Archy and playfully let the peasant boy wear her crown in exchange for the wristwatch. Archy’s head could barely hold the heavy headpiece as he smiled. The Queen jokingly checked the time on her borrowed accessory. The crown fell onto his lap as they laughed together.
He giggled aloud in the empty downstairs of Norwood Cottage and reached for his left leg. His fortune was there.
A sickening realization grounded the buoyant boy. Worries bombarded his optimism.
How was he to turn this into money? Who would buy such a valuable object from a child? Who could he even sell it to? Would he get the full worth if he did sell it? How does someone even use that much money without an adult? How would he even carry so much money?!
Overwhelmed by his doubts, Archy buried them with his face in the blanket. He returned to dreaming of what it would be like to be with the Queen.
The divine monarch of England was having tea with the groomed orphan. Queen Victoria inquired if Archy wanted sugar or honey. Archy had never had honey before so he respectfully vocalized that would be his preference. As Archy attempted to pour the dreamt about viscous liquid he accidentally got some onto his, now perfectly fitting, watch. With a questioning look at Her Majesty followed by her approving nod, Archy licked the treasured sweet gold off of the face of his gold-plated wristwatch.
With a deep breath and his forthcoming fortune clasped around his leg, Archy walked into Wilson’s Pawnbroker on Wolfington Road.
He was greeted promptly with a, “Get the hell out! Out you bloody rascal!”
Archy opened his mouth to plead his innocence but the pawnbroker had had too many incidents of thieving to hear him out. A quick reach for a broomstick by the pawnbroker was Archy’s cue to make a hasty exit.
“Well that went swimmingly,” Archy muttered dejectedly. He walked on.
Determined to make his fortune he sought for another pawnbroker. There were many to choose from in South London. There was a current boom of the working-class to support the demand of the gentry. In the suburban areas, such as Norwood, many pawn shops had prospered heavily off of the inevitable thieving that would occur due to the seasonal and brief nature of employment for the nobility.
After similar rejecting episodes at The House of Lombard Pawn, Charlemagne Pawnbroker, and The Pawnbroker of Eylewood, Archy gave up hope. He knew the belief of a homeless seven-year-old selling such a treasure was farfetched.
Archy’s faith in the future of fortune was heavily wounded by the fact that none of the stores would even let him take more than two steps inside. He grappled with his ideas. Maybe he could dress up in older peoples’ clothing so it would seem like he wasn’t a child. But how would he get the clothes? Even if he did they wouldn’t fit. If an adult heard his voice they would know he was just a lad. Maybe he could ask an adult to sell it for him. But how was he to trust them? He gloomily remembered all the adult faces that would look down at him sorely. If they wouldn’t even give him a few coins how could he count on them to sell his watch for him? His young mind was unable to find a solution. Naturally, he returned to his imagination as he trudged on home.
Archy was in a carriage with the Queen. He was dressed in soft satin and the Queen’s scepter was bobbing heavily on his lap. He liked the idea of how heavy it was. Heavy things were always expensive. Even though Archy had never been inside a real carriage he could feel the rhythmic throbbing of the carriage on the stone streets.
“My, my, Archy,” she said, “your watch is simply exquisite. I must have it!”
“Thank you your majesty,” Archy humbly replied.
“I’ll give you all of London for it!” she offered.
“It would be a bit dodgy if the Queen gave the capital of England to an orphan. How about I just have Norwood?” he countered.
“You would give it to me at such a good price?” the Queen asked amused.
Archy gleefully stated, “For the Queen, absobloodylootely!”
The fantasist found himself back home in the forested corner that isolated Norwood Cottage. The dismal doorway, filled with the top half of a decayed door, received Archy’s defeated self. Inside the melancholy, the crushed child sat on his blanket not knowing what else to do.
“Ralph?” he called hoping he’d be home.
“He’s out,” came a response from upstairs.
Archy sulked stricken and alone. Touching his left leg brought him comfort. He knew he’d be okay as long as he could feel the watch’s sensation.
Visions of his mother and the Queen danced in his mind as he lulled to sleep wrapped around his thin blanket. His red hair was the only color in the desolate downstairs.
“Archy, knock up! The Daily Bounty is about to begin.” Ralph shook awake the sleeping boy on the floor. “You get anything good today?”
“No, another rubbish day,” Archy responded drearily still wrapped up on the floor.
“What? Not even a coin? Blimey you been fannying around here all day have you?”
“Nah. Just got nothin.”
“Blast, that don’t seem possible. You ain’t seen anything on the ground even?”
Archy realized he had no legitimate reason for not having at least some change. Worried that the other boys would catch on to him and investigate why he was missing out on the Daily Bounty he contemplated letting Ralph in on his reason.
“Ay Ralph, you ever sell anything?”
Ralph laughed at the random inquiry, seemed ironic for their lot to be selling things. The older boy thought seriously about the matter, “Er, I don’t believe so.”
Archy whispered, “Bollocks,” and retreated further into his blanket.
“Why mate? You got something to sell?”
Archy stiffened. “Uh, not exactly, but ya.” Curiosity drove Archy to ask, “You think you’d be able to walk into a pawnshop without getting the piss kicked out of ya?”
“I reckon so. Done it before over at that place on Wolfington. Why, what ya got?”
A glimmer of hope stirred Archy off of the floor. He stared penetratingly at Ralph’s brown eyes. Ralph was four years older than Archy and this made Archy convinced that he could get away with selling the jeweled timepiece. Ralph’s larger frame and inherently positive demeanor gave off a feeling of wisdom and accomplishment that Archy was attracted to.
“Why you looking at me like that for?”
Archy wrapped Ralph’s head in the blanket so they were both covered by the cloth. The redhead pulled up his left pant leg to reveal the covert clock to bigger brown haired boy. Ralph remained fixed underneath the blanket. He stared at the brilliant gems with the boy he left Inglewood Boy’s Home with.
“Blinding,” whispered Ralph.
“You fancy you can sell it?” Archy asked wide-eyed.
“I reckon. But why haven’t you told the lads about this posh watch!?” Ralph was looking at Archy underneath the blanket confused. “We could use this and fix up the Cottage or even buy a house in town. Hell! It would be peanuts for us to even set up our own Boys home.”
Archy looked down ashamed. He knew the right thing to do would have been to come forth from the beginning. Yet somewhere in his mind he knew that sharing this fortune with the rest of the crew wouldn’t have turned out well for him.
“I dunno Ralph. It’s just I wouldn’t get my full monty.”
Ralph looked scolding the younger boy. He knew Archy tended to keep to himself but to hide such a treasure seemed so unlike his oldest friend. “So this is why you haven’t added to the Bounty huh?”
An apologetic nod illustrated Archy’s regret.
Ralph empathetically asked, “How about we ask the lads what we should do with it when we go upstairs, ya?”
Archy’s eyes widened fearfully. “No Ralph come on now. We get rid of it tomorrow, split the profit, and live like kings.” He hoped Ralph would see this as the most plausible and effective route. Ralph was Archy’s key to offloading the watch just like when they escaped the orphanage.
“C’mon Archy! These lads gave us a home. They gave us a second chance. We can’t go keeping all this money from them.”
Archy pleaded, “You know them older ones will keep most of it, ya? Just don’t say nothing today and we can figure this beast out tomorrow, right?”
A blonde teenager from the gang came up to the bickering boys under the blanket. “You lot coming upstairs?” Boys were already running up the stairs to begin.
Ralph gave Archy a nod and stood up taking off the covering. Archy held onto the blanket enveloping his body in it.
Ralph responed, “Ya c’mon Frank, Archy is gonna stay behind today.”
“Again? Well let’s leg it Ralph, I don’t want to be the last to pick,” Frank bolted upstairs without a second thought about Ralph and Archy.
“It’s about that time,” Ralph stated. He looked down at the red top of Archy’s head. “Wish you had told me mate,” and went upstairs to begin the Daily Bounty.
Archy felt sick. He had kept a huge secret from his best friend. Ironically, telling Ralph about the watch didn’t make him feel better. A dreadful sense of unknowing came over Archy similar to the period when he and Ralph ran away and were struggling to find shelter from the snow. He thought of the Queen.
Archy was sitting in the Queen’s box with Her Majesty at The Oval Pavilion watching a football match. He was surrounded by the Queen’s Guard and other nobility taking in the spectacle. Queen Victoria and her most esteemed seven-year-old guest, sitting directly next to her, were surveying the pitch and enjoying a lively game. Archy’s newly bought Norwood F.C. were up 2-0 to the Queens favored Aston Villa.
“Do tell your team to be sportsman Earl Archy,” the Queen begged. “It would be quite a drag if my team were to be beaten five to nil.”
“Don’t you worry, your majesty,” Archy reassured, “I made sure to tell my players before the game to play an entertaining match. It would be quite barmy to overbeat the Queen’s club.”
Archy gazed down at the players on the grass. A fulfillment overcame him as he realized the winning team was under his sponsorship. He saw that there were ten minutes left in the game and felt the creeping awareness of victory. To beat the Queen’s team was quite an accomplishment. Even more so by his newly acquired hometown club. Archy marveled at his newfound wealth and the new friendship he had formed with the most powerful monarch in the world.
“You should reward your players justly Earl Archy. It is no easy task to beat the Royal Family’s club.” The Queen looked at her newly bought wristwatch hoping the match would end faster.
Archy decided he would give each man their own cottage right on Elder Road. If all the players were to live on the same street it would build extraordinary team chemistry. He smiled at his genius. “Yes, your majesty. I will award them smashingly.”
Footsteps stampeded down the stairs of Norwood Cottage. Archy sprang up in his corner with the blanket still wrapped around him. The Daily Bounty had ended and all the boys had gathered downstairs instead of going their separate ways to admire what they had gotten.
“Oi Archy, Ralph told us you got something to show us,” one of the older boys said.
“Ya, something that can help us all out or something,” said another.
Archy was speechless. Ralph was nowhere to be seen in the cornering crowd.
“Well c’mon now we ain’t got all day.”
“Ya we wanna know what ya got.”
“Ralph said it’s something that we can use for a cracking amount of pence.”
The crowd beckoned, coaxed, and probed the petrified child. Archy knew that a single glimpse of what lay underneath his leg would cause the mob to overpower him and snatch his valuable.
“Don’t just stand there pissing, tell us what ya got!”
“Chivvy along lad!”
The cornered boy didn’t know what to do. He instinctively reached for his left leg to comfort himself. Quickly he caught himself before he could reveal exactly what lay underneath his pants.
“C’mon now show us the bloody thing!”
The crowd’s patience was wearing thin with the frightened youth. One of the older boys approached Archy and made an attempt to grab him by the collar of his oversized jacket. Archy squirmed out of it.
“What the hell mate?”
The terrified Archy threw his blanket at a teenager who made an attempt to corral him. He bolted for the door narrowly escaping stretched out hands. Diving through the open bottom of the doorway he sped off into the forest of Norwood Park.
Once again his subconscious took him to the tree where he first gazed at his presumed prosperity. The boys at Norwood cottage weren’t able to follow the quick youngster and were never aware of Archy’s tendency towards his favored spot. However, the frightened boy’s adrenaline didn’t let him assume he was safe within the boundaries of the park. He continued his drifting escape into the city.
Archy’s red hair contrasted radiantly against the thick rain of London. With his eyes darting around him the boy ran through the cobbled streets. Rats scurried out of the child’s way as he dove into the familiar feeling of a rubbish pile. Finally, the feeling of safety came to him in his concealment among the clutter.
The realization of his own deceitfulness, homelessness, and loneliness overwhelmed Archy. Coupled with the thought of Ralph’s betrayal, his strength was crippled. Archy began to cry in his trash sanctuary as it rained. Still sobbing Archy picked himself up knowing full well that lying in rubbish piles during the rain was never pleasant. The smell would intensify with the moisture in the air, and rats would come pouring in looking for dry food.
The beaten boy’s tears mixed with the rain on his face as he meandered onto Eylewood. His chilled body strayed through the empty streets. Uncontrolled shivering signaled his brain to long for the jacket that was ripped from his back. Archy wasn’t aware of the companionship still on his left leg. He was only conscious of intense solitude and Ralph’s unexpected treachery.
“Oi lad! Get in here out of the misery,” a voice called out. Archy, who was now sitting at a curb, turned hopelessly behind him and saw an old man with glasses beckoning for him to come inside. Still numb, Archy entered the man’s domicile unaware it was the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers Guild.
“Where are your parents at my boy?”
“I ain’t got none,” replied Archy with his head down. The brooding boy, with droplets of water dripping from his drooping head, was unaware of his surroundings. It was not until the sympathetic man offered a cup of tea did the Archy take a look at his immediate environment.
The warm wood of the inside glowed with metal timepieces. Pocket watches glistened inside the glass counters. Grandfather clocks pillared every corner of room. The ceiling and walls were adorned with crowds of clocks. Bronze, brass, silver, and golden components littered the floors. Constant random ticking resonated the atmosphere.
The dumbfounded boy felt like he was daydreaming. He touched his left leg assuring the watch was still there. The life he felt in the warm buzzing of the guidlmaster’s home reverberated from his left leg. Somehow, whether it be destiny, fortune, or blind luck, Archy had brought the timepiece back to its birthplace.
“Would you like sugar or honey lad?” asked the timeworn clockmaker. He was pouring tea from a kettle into two cups behind the counter. A soft smile was on his lips. The vision of the redheaded orphan, amazed at his home and the art of time, humbled the greying man and reminded him of the first time he stepped foot into the very same shop.
The orphan stared wide-eyed with mouth agape at the master horologist. When asked his preference again, Archy’s shivering astonishment could barely mutter out, “H-h-honey sir.”