Thursday, May 02, 2013

Smith by Leon Garfield (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1967)

He was called Smith and was twelve years old. Which, in itself, was a marvel; for it seemed as if the smallpox, the consumption, brain-fever, jail-fever and even the hangman's rope had given him a wide berth for fear of catching something. Or else they weren't quick enough.

Smith had a turn of speed that was remarkable, and a neatness in nipping down an alley or vanishing in a court that had to be seen to be believed. Not that it was often seen, for Smith was rather a sooty spirit of the violent and ramshackle Town, and inhabited the tumbledown mazes about fat St. Paul's like the subtle air itself. A rat was like a snail beside Smith, and the most his thousand victims ever got of him was the powerful whiff of his passing and a cold draft in their dexterously emptied pockets.

Only the sanctimonious birds that perched on the church's dome ever saw Smith's progress entire, and as their beady eyes followed him, they chatted savagely, "Pick-pocket! Pick-pocket! Jug him! Jug-jug-jug him!" as if they'd been appointed by the Town to save it from such as Smith.

His favourite spot was Ludgate Hill, where the world's coaches, chairs and curricles were met and locked, from morning to night, in a horrible, blasphemous confusion. And here, in one or other of the ancient doorways, he leaned and grinned while the shouting and cursing and scraping and raging went endlessly, hopelessly on - till, sooner or later, something prosperous would come his way.

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