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Tomís Early Life
LET us skip a number of years.
London was fifteen hundred years old, and was a great town-for that day. It
had a hundred thousand inhabitants-some think double as many. The streets
were very narrow, and crooked, and dirty, especially in the part where Tom
Canty lived, which was not far from London Bridge. The houses were of wood,
with the second story projecting over the first, and the third sticking its elbows
out beyond the second. The higher the houses grew, the broader they grew.
They were skeletons of strong crisscross beams, with solid material between,
coated with plaster.
The beams were painted red or blue or black, according to the ownerís taste, and
this gave the houses a very picturesque look. The windows were small, glazed
with little diamond-shaped panes, and they opened outward, on hinges, like
The house which Tomís father lived in was up a foul little pocket called Offal
Court, out of Pudding Lane. It was small, decayed, and rickety, but it was
packed full of wretchedly poor families. Cantyís tribe occupied a room on the
The mother and father had a sort of bedstead in the corner; but Tom, his
grandmother, and his two sisters, Bet and Nan, were not restricted-they had all
the floor to themselves, and might sleep where they chose. There were the
remains of a blanket or two, and some bundles of ancient and dirty straw, but
these could not rightly be called beds, for they were not organized; they were
kicked into a general pile mornings, and selections made from the mass at night,
Bet and Nan were fifteen years old-twins. They were good-hearted girls,
unclean, clothed in rags, and profoundly ignorant. Their mother was like them.
But the father and the grandmother were a couple of fiends. They got drunk
whenever they could; then they fought each other or anybody else who came in
the way; they cursed and swore always, drunk or sober; John Canty was a thief,
and his mother a beggar. They made beggars of the children, but failed to make
thieves of them. Among, but not of, the dreadful rabble that inhabited the house,
was a good old priest whom the king had turned out of house and home with a
pension of a few farthings, and he used to get the children aside and teach them
right ways secretly. Father Andrew also taught Tom a little Latin, and how to
read and write; and would have done the same for the girls, but they were afraid
of the jeers of their friends, who could not have endured such a queer
accomplishment in them.
All Offal Court was just such another hive as Cantyís house. Drunkenness, riot,
and brawling were the order there, every night and nearly all night long. Broken
heads were as common as hunger in that place. Yet little Tom was not unhappy.