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London Sparrows by Charles Dickens


HOW extremely plain—not to say ugly—street-children often are! Their hard life and the characters of their parents, cause it. This child, who is now staring in at the window upon a print of Sir Robert Peel, and flattening his nose against the glass, has a forehead "villainous low," with dark eyes, and short dark hair, and his diminutive face, both in features and expression, is uncommonly like one end of a cocoa-nut. What a sad lot for these children to be left thus—perhaps even turned adrift by their parents, to wander about the streets, and pick up, here and there, a precarious crumb! And now, as I turn round, I see three others, apparently in the same wretched outcast condition—two boys and a girl. The elder boy seems not to care much about it; he has, no doubt, become more accustomed to his lot. He is between twelve and thirteen. His voice is hoarse, cracked, and discordant; perhaps by some street-cry. He has a large projecting nose, red pulpy lips, a long chin, and a long throat, uncovered. No collar—indeed, now, I look again, no shirt! and he wears a greasy jacket and trowsers, both much too small for him; so that his large red hands and wrists swollen with chilblains hang listlessly far below the end of his sleeves; and his long, thin ankles, and large unshapely feet are so far below the end of his trowsers, as to give the appearance of the legs and feet of a bird. He is whistling a sort of jig tune, and beating time with one of his heels. Poor boy!—I dare say he would be very glad to work if he had an opportunity. A girl, of about twelve, stands on one side of him. She is so scantily clad as to be scarcely decent. Her shoulder-blades stick up, she is so meagre, and she shivers with the cold. But I do not like the expression of her face; for, though I pity her eager, hungry look, and evidently bad state of health, I can not help seeing that she has very much the look of a sickly rat. On the other side of the elder boy, stands a younger one—of some ten years of age. He is very pale, and has fair hair, a rueful mouth, rather dropping at the corners, large sad eyes, with very long lashes, and an expression at once timid yet indifferent—innocent and guilty. Guilty?—of what can such a child be guilty? They slowly walk away, all three—perhaps in consequence of my observing them so attentively. They quicken their pace as they turn the corner. Why was I so tardy to relieve them? It would have become me, as a Christian, to have thought of relieving their necessities, even for the night, far better than to have speculated upon their physiognomies as a philosopher. But it is time for me to return home. Sad addition to my experience. My wife waiting tea for—bless my so—where? it can't be? yes, it can—my watch is gone! Slipt down through my pocket—no doubt—there's a hole in it—no—or it fell out while I was stooping to fasten my gaiter button in Pall Mall. Most vexatious. A family watch! Gold chain and seals, too! Well—it can't be helped. In these cases a pinch of snuff often—often—pshaw!—often relieves—relieves one—hillo! have I been relieved of that, also! Perhaps it's in my side pocket, with my purse—purse! why, my purse is gone; I really begin to think I must have been robbed!