The girl holding a basket on the street.
Filled with neatly rolled newspapers, plain white rags, and red apples without so much as a speck of yellow or green on them, the woven container is in almost perfect condition, as if someone has worked hard every night to repair its every scuff and scratch. All strange things, considering the fact that she is obviously homeless and extremely poor. There are many other girls much the same as her in looks, except of course for their patched-up baskets filled with newspapers, green apples, or white rags with remains of old stains showing through, but never more than one of these options lies in their contraptions. These children are scattered around quite a lot, almost hiding this strange girl if it were not for the calls advertising her goods. It is also evident that she is better-dressed than all of these forlorn-looking creatures, who are letting their last morsels of hope shine through small cracks in iron barred windows, hoping that the bits of golden warmth will be enough to attract customers on the crisp day. It is not. But she, just this one girl alone, with the blue-gray rag around her head and the simple sweater and skirt that must have once have been red, does not seem to be having any trouble attracting the busy passerby crossing the narrow street to her small walled in corner, surrounded on two sides by solid brick, drenched in a stench of rotten fish and murky fog from the old days. Yet the girl always seems to be standing on, or perhaps next to, a clean sheet something like a welcome mat that she invites her customers to wipe their feet on, perhaps to increase her chances of customers. But is this really the cause of the steady stream of pedestrians hurrying over from the street, not a rushing river, not any real type of river, but a forest stream, a stream just the same? I think not. Perhaps it has something to do with the extra coins dropped at her feet with a quiet whisper, “For your master, dear, blessings to him for all he’s done for our world.” the girl’s quick nod is a gesture of thanks, almost a “The same to you, for all your generosity.” Perhaps this has something to do with the words embroidered, neatly enough, on one of her sweaters:
Alexander Winkharp’s Cellar Peddlers
It was quite a while ago when the first of what came to be the cellar peddlers sprung up, scattered through the narrowest streets of London, of which there remain many. It was the revolutionary idea of the great Alexander Percy Lawrence Peter Henry Winkharp, though few knew of his middle names. As one of the most generous of his time, Alexander had felt compelled to help those whom he saw every day standing in rags on the street. For a while, he did what one would expect from someone with these motivations: daily he would go out, delivering food and blankets to the poor. But Alexander did not feel satisfied. He wondered, rightly, why, if he happened to spill a bottle of shoe polish at the shoe polish factory where he worked, and had to pay for it out of his salary, and if he couldn’t afford extra food for the day, why should someone else suffer? For days and nights, Alexander wracked his brain for a solution. What he came up with was what would grow to become the Cellar Peddlers.
Alexander saved up enough to buy a few small cots at a junkyard sale. After fixing them up quite a lot, he sold them off again, making a reasonably sized profit; then again, these were cots. This simple process of buying, fixing, and selling once more to make a profit has been titled over our many years of existence as “Flipping,” and is indeed considered a distinguished profession in its own right. Alexander, though he would die before sinking to the level of his day’s low down “Flippers,” discovered that the art came quite naturally to him and made a mental note of doing it some more, secretly, of course, in the future. Now, enough on the subject of flipping, as this is not a matter that should venture to the center of your attention.
With a fraction of his small wages and the profit from the cots, Alexander did the most surprising thing you could imagine: he bought another four tiny, dirt-strewn cots that reeked with a vigorous stench of garbage. Alexander hurried to clean them up as fast as he could, for winter was approaching, and the extreme generosity of this person who challenges that of any other could not possibly permit his less fortunate friends to be forced to bear the harsh conditions of the winter, entirely out of doors and in the snow and slush – especially, with his plan in the workings, they might possibly, for perhaps just a couple of days, have a warm place to sleep and food for a day or two.
This done, on the very next Saturday when Alexander left his respectable shelter for his usual route – on which he often brought food to and dropped coins around the small community of beggar families where that rumor of his kindness had assembled – he stood atop the low rickety stoop of his building, scrutinizing the dusty, rat-ridden landscape beside the Thames, searching for just the right subjects on whom to test out his new plan, namely any groups containing children. He took a deep breath before taking a single step, remembering the long hours he had been up the night before, and thinking of the perfect way to do this. An announcement would not work. The ragamuffin families were not acquainted with him enough, and speaking to them as if he were their king would no doubt be dangerous. Nor would flyers, he knew, as many of the destitute population could not write their own names.
At last, though, in the darkest hours of night, Alexander knew that what he must do was speak to the groups he chose individually, to decipher the slang that made up their distinct tongue, and to convince them that he could indeed brighten their family’s’ futures. That he, though he lived in a tenement, lived throughout the entirety of its three low-ceilinged floors as its owner and was more than willing to share, if it were for the better.
So out and onto the roughly paved streets went he, out went the man with a heart as soft as silk and as big as an elephant. Out as a hero he would go when he was set to save the world, a feat which there is little doubt that Alexander achieved throughout his life. Out with long strides toward the first group he had set his sights on, whilst laying out the usual things he laid out on these trips: piles of food wrapped in thin blankets, dumpster clothes fixed up good as new, rusted trays nobody wanted except those who were sensible enough to know how to fix such a simple thing. But oh, save the sensible, for by the time any one of those poor souls who live in a world that seems so cold and far away from them got ahold of one of those trays, the once fine and shining metal under the rust was scratched and scored, and the crevices that lined the surface were filled with dirt. It was in this sort of moment that Alexander wished dearly that he had prepared much more. Through his head that seemed to be turning on and off repeatedly, he searched for the words he had planned so carefully in the night that seemed to have disappeared, calling to them and begging them to stay.
In vain Alexander tried to delay each placement of a gift, in vain he tried to ignore the ever-nearing lamp post, under which lay a few ratty blankets and tin cans, a home not fit for a hog, nor any living being. But a home it was, for a poor threesome of the human race itself: a man, a woman, and one small girl who had barely a scrap of cloth in her possession. They had lived in the shadow of the same post since before Alexander moved into the neighborhood, and the two groups were something close to friendly neighbors, but never daring to admit it and make the friendship official. However, it was truly because of them that any of the new arrivals had any trust for Alexander whatsoever, and they, of all people, he thought, as the lamp post grew nearer, would help him with his plan even if no one else did. Slowly, Alexander walked closer, comforting himself with the fact that he often stopped to talk with little Nellie and her family, and they would most definitely not be curious if he did so once more.
So Alexander took one last package from the sack he was carrying, and he knelt down to place it down. He recalled wrapping a thick shawl around a stack of warm cakes, then enclosing the package in old rags. Knelt in the same way as all those around him, the most generous man in the entire city lowered his head to exchange a few murmurs with the lamp post family. Nellie tugged at her mother’s dress and the two engaged in even quieter conversation before Mrs. Ledwell raised her head.
“It is true. You do seem to have something on your mind.” Then little Nellie raised her eyes and whispered in her own small voice, light as a feather.
“Relieve us of our curiosity, oh, if you could!” Nellie’s voice had always been subdued, her face always lowered, causing many to believe that her time of dreams and fantasies were over. But day by day, Alexander saw a glint in her eye, and knowing that the flame would hurt its master if extinguished, he liked to replenish it by slipping her a package of her own – a coin wrapped in a rag – which she would slip into the small brown box that the first coin had come in. Alexander often wondered how much she had saved up, for that was the only way a poor child knew how to use money. He believed she must be fit to be rich now, with all the little copper pieces filling her box. Then Alexander saw the faces of Nellie and her mother, and remembered their question. He recalled his thoughts and the plans he had made, just for this moment.
And Alexander spoke.