The young clerk drained his cup of coffee, pulled his muffler more tightly round his neck and set the cup down on the counter of the kiosk.
"Till tomorrow, Carlo."
"A domani, signore a domani", said Carlo putting the big can of
coffee back on the brazier. Then he dipped the dirty cup into a pail of icy
water beneath the counter and returned it beside the others.
Carlo shivered. It was cold today. He could not remember anything like it before in London. It was almost as cold as the Valley. He blew on his fingers. Not much longer now. lt was past eight o'clock and most of his customers had been and gone. The last of the crowd hurrying to work across Blackfriars Bridge would be too late to stop for coffee, let alone a waffle. Pity really, for he still had a little of the batter left.
There was the sound of a street organ and round the corner came a man pushing the organ, with a frail little boy accompanying him. The boy had a cap in his hand, ready to collect pennies from passers-by at the next pitch. Carlo knew most of the street musicians, the flute players, violinists and organ grinders with their monkeys, for many of them were Italian-speaking like himself and they would often call out a friendly greeting. But this man he did not know. There was something amiss about him. He seemed dark and angry.
As he set down the organ at the pitch, he shouted at the boy. The little lad turned, frightened, stumbled and fell, spilling the few pennies he had in the cap. The man began to shout and abuse the boy and then to Carlo's horror to strike him with a stick as he lay on the ground.
Thwack, thwack. The sound of the stick on the boy's back rooted Carlo to the spot. He could almost feel the blows on his own body. And in an instant the whole dreadful memory of the beating he had received from his old schoolmaster flooded over him. It was a beating he could never forget - a beating which had driven him from his valley home, across the high mountains all the way on foot to Paris and eventually here to London.
"Morning Carlo. Am I too late for coffee?" It was Mr. Smith, the railway engineer. Carlo shook his head and shook away the old memory.
"Niente, niente, signore. For you there is always coffee?"
"And one of your waffles?"
"At once, signore," said Carlo, picking up his waffle irons. But whilst he cooked the waffle and poured the coffee, his face was sad.
"What's wrong, Carlo?" asked Mr. Smith. "It's not like you to be so solemn."
"It was a little boy, just now, signore. So cruelly beaten and by one of my own countrymen. It makes my heart ache."
"Poor little beggars. They don't have much of a chance, out in
the streets in all weathers. It's a rough life." Mr. Smith licked his fingers
and drank up his coffee. "Got to go. Late already. See you tomorrow,
Seeing there were no more customers, Carlo put up the shutters on the kiosk, loaded the big coffee cans on his handcart and set off through the City back to Coppice Row.
Crossing Fleet Street into Farringdon Street, he found himself pushed into the gutter by a heavy brewer's dray, the big horses jostling, their harness jingling as they slid on the cobbles. Looking down he saw a pile of rags blocking his way. He stopped, bent to remove the pile and saw it move!
It was a ragged boy, a cap clutched in his hand. Turning him over, Carlo recognised the organ grinder's assistant. For a moment the boy's eyelids fluttered, then closed. The face was thin, drawn and hungry.
Poor little fellow. Once again Carlo's warm heart was touched. Scarcely more than six or seven he supposed, for when he picked the boy up, he was light as a feather. Well he could not leave him there. Best put him in the barrow. The child slumped forward, so cold as it was, Carlo stripped off his jacket, removed his waistcoat and folded it under the boy's head. Then regaining his jacket he made his way slowly to Coppice Row.