Lost Victorian novels 5

The coal skipper.

The sleet slanted sideways upon the upturned visage, begrimed as was its wont, of the hapless coal skip, peering up from the pile of coal in the cellar and skipping for all he was worth, which was, truth to tell, not more than a farthing a week in the season and a good deal less in the summer.

‘Oh master,’ warbled the feeble voice, drowning among the avalanche of coal, ‘have we done yet?’

‘No!’ barked Enoch Hardnut, shouldering another sack, ‘Dance over, there’s another half ton of nutty slack to go down this ‘un and a half hundredweight two doors up.’  He leaned his not inconsiderable frame into the task.  Tumbling upon each other the nuts showered upon the coal skip, who kicked them into the corners as fast as his boots would go.  ‘And after two doors up,’ he enquired, ‘can I have some bread and scrape?’ By way of answer he received a shower of coal.


Late that night curled up on his coal sacks, the coal skip prayed the prayers of the desperate, taught to him by the mother he scarcely remembered.  She had gone to a better place when he was only four and three quarters, though he still recalled with fondness the way she smoked a clay pipe and how cleverly she spat on the ceiling. ‘Gentle Jesus,’ she would sing, ‘I need a Tombola win, make me rich with huge bosoms, let us move to bigger rooms.  Amen’

A tear cleaned a pale track down the cheek of the skipper.  ‘Amen,’ he sang, flat.  Sucking a rag he fell asleep.


At the pit head Enoch bargains with swagger, his arm resting on the harness of Jericho the one legged donkey.

‘I will give thee no more than threepence halfpenny a ton, paid week after next with the half hundredweight this week and the other half next, and that’s flat!’

‘Oh ey oop, Hurdnut, tha might a thowt at boot no there be it novel buyer, January Whangdiddle, ant she et offer fourpence a hundredweight paid oopfront!’


‘I’ve got a new coal merchant offering more.’

‘Why didn’t you say so?’

‘Local colour.’

‘Oh well, I can’t match that, did you say it was a woman, or did I mishear?’

‘Appen ere she cooms now, bewither.’


‘Made it oop, for verisimilitude.  Yonder she be!’

Tip tapping down the hill there comes the biggest, bosomiest, brightest female coal merchant there could ever be, leading a huge yellow cart with two massive dray horses to pull it and six muscular shovellers, in uniform atop.  Three heads swivel to look.  Jericho the one legged donkey joins in and falls over.

A smile splits the begrimed face of the coal skipper, ‘Mother!’ he cries, ‘I thought you were with Jesus!’

The bosomy woman scoops him up, dries his tears and says, brightly, ‘No, I told you I’d gone to a better place.  I’ve established a thriving business in Harrow, where there’s a lot more money and I can charge extortionate rates and get away with it.  You needn’t work anymore, you’ll be five next week and you can start school.’

‘But Mother, what about my career?’

‘I wouldn’t worry about that, you’ve probably got lung rot and cellar foot anyway.  I’ve booked you into this great school called Dootheboys Hall, it’ll be a blast.’

‘Oh hurrah I’m going to school, will there be country dancing and toasted buns in the dorm?’

‘Almost certainly.’


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