The Tarnished Ring – a short story

There once was a street urchin who played in the streets of London. Those were the days of horses and carts with the gutters filled with dung and sewage. The streets were a dirty filthy place to pass his day.

“Ow” cried the boy as a merchant bopped him on the head. “Get you away from my apples!” cried the merchant. The boy, whose nickname was Lam ran off a couple of dozen yards. The streets were full of passers by and it was well out of sight of the merchant.

He’d have to pick another one for lunch. He snuck in behind a lady’s bustle and snatched a hot pasty from a shelf while the woman running the counter had her back turned and ran off with his booty. Running along a glint in the gutter caught his eye, a small silver ring. He didn’t think much, but maybe he could sell it for a few shillings, a fortune to him. He put it in his pocket and continued on his way.

Travelling along he found the alley he called home. He shared it with another two dozen boys, all between five and fifteen. They grouped together for safety, the children of women of ill repute and men of no virtue left at an early age to scavenge along the edges of society. There to become like their parents.

“Hey, watcha got ya there” asked Hayden, Lam’s friend. “A pasty, all mine”. “Hey, if you give me half a pasty I’ll give you an apple” said Hayden.

“Deal” said Lam. They were always bartering in the alley. The boys collected a few pence of spare change, but barter was how goods were traded.

“What’s the news” asked Lam, “Nothing in the hour you’ve been gone ya dumbass” replied Hayden, who took a bite out of his piece of pasty and made an appreciative sound.

“How about you” asked Hayden, “Nothing, old man Fatface is still quick as ever with his big hands though. I think I’ll give up on his cart”, “Hey”, said Hayden, “that’s where I got my apples, you just have to be quick” and he made a face at Lam and ran off.

Early the next day, after the boys had gone out scavenging, Lam found a quiet, private corner to look at his booty. It had writing on it and the face of some man. There was writing inside the band as well. Lam knew it was writing but he couldn’t read it. He could recognize his name, but that was about all.

He went off for his day, but he started wondering about the ring. Maybe it was valuable to the person who lost it. Maybe they would pay a reward for it!

But it took bravery to get someone to read the ring to him. He was afraid of being robbed and afraid someone would think he stole it. A little too close to the mark, but he was finally standing in Mr Farthing’s Three Aces Pawn Shop. He went up to the counter and ask the man, “Good sir, could you tell me what it says inside and  outside of the ring? I found it in the street and I want to return it to the owner”.

The man looked at the ten year old in front of him, a filthy street urchin with worn sleeves and had to suppress a grin. “Well, on the front it say ‘St. Andrews school’ and on the inside it says ‘Rose Parker'”. He handed the ring back to the boy. “I suggest that the Royal Post may be able to tell you the addresses of people with the last name of Parker, but it would be difficult, however, St. Andrews is just off of Old Street on Golden Lane.

Lam went back home for the day and asked the other boys if they knew where Lam street was.”

One said “Just by Fleet street I hear”, another “It’s about thirty or forty blocks north”, another disagreed completely. In fact, the only thing the boys agreed on was that Old Street wasn’t nearby. It seems that none of them had traveled more than about ten blocks.

Bright and early the next morning Lam got up and walked to the Royal Post. He was able to get directions from passers by although most looked away and gave him dirty looks.

The post was a big building with a horse stable and large doors. He walked in and was immediately stopped by a man in a vest. “Off with you urchin. You have no business here”

“Pardon me sir, but if I could but trouble you for a moment I’m trying to find Old Street”
“Old Street you say, and why is that” asked the clerk
“To return a piece of property I found”
“Very well then” and the clerk proceeded to draw Lam a simple map to Old street. Lam knew how to match up the letters and the signs even if he couldn’t read them.
“Thank you kind sir”

Off Lam trotted, taking turn after turn. Arriving it last on Old street he asked people if they new where Golden lane or St Andrews is. Before long he was standing before a modest church with a large attached building that was the school. Lam didn’t know where to go so he walked into the church.

It was dark in the church. There was light from clerestory windows, stained glass and candles.  The pews were of dark wood and the carpeting red. Up ahead the altar had fine woolen cloth draped across it with the mark of the cross upon it in maroon.

“Young man” came a voice “have you eaten today?”

He turned and saw a young woman dressed in a habit standing there.

“No sister, I have not”

“Well let’s get you cleaned up and in clean clothing and fed, how does that sound?” said the sister

“You would do that for me? I haven’t any money.”

“The first principal of my order is charity, do you know what that means?”

“No, I don’t”

“It means helping others without expecting them to do something for you in return. Now come with me. My name is Sister Anne. What is yours?”

“Mine’s Lam”

She brought him to a room with soap, towels and a bathtub. She motioned for him to stay while she ducked out and brought back a large kettle of hot water to warm the bath.

She said “I’ll come back for your clothes in a minute, in the meanwhile get in the tub and start washing up.”

When she came back she had a shirt, underwear, shirt, socks and shoes for him. She gathered up his things. “If we can save any of your clothing we will, but it doesn’t look likely.” Lam was so happy to be getting clean he forgot about the ring!

He finished up, dried with a towel that was there and put on the clothing that Sister Anne gave him and exited the room. Up the hallway came Anne and another nun.

“Lam, we found this ring while going through your pockets. How did you come by the ring?”

“I found it. I was bringing it here to return it. I was hoping for a reward.”

“Well, at the least you shall be well fed and clothed for your trouble, but we’re curious. Do you know what your full given name was? Was it Lam or something longer?”

“That’s hard to say. I’ve been just Lam for so long. The other boys used to tease me so when I first showed up. I think maybe my name was Lambert.”

“Well Lambert, would you like to stay with us for awhile? Clean clothes, three meals a day and a bed to sleep in? All you have to do is take school classes. How does that sound?”

Like music to his ears. Little did he know of the suspicions the sisters had of who he actually was. Rose Parker was the name of a kidnapped girl from five years back when she was seven and he brother was five. The girl was found, the poor thing had been strangled by the kidnapper, of the boy there was no sign.

They sent a note:

Dear Mr and Mrs Parker,

We don’t wish to raise false hope but a young man of the right age to be Rose’s brother came by with her ring. Now it doesn’t mean much that he found the ring, but his name is Lam, and wasn’t her brother’s name Lambert? I know you said he was never found. Perhaps it would be worth travelling into London to see him.

Respectfully,

Sister Marcy, Principal of St Andrews school

In the meantime Sister Anne taught him the basics. Lam made good progress. He was ignorant but intelligent. After a month or so he could sound out basic words and had his tables memorized for addition and multiplication. He could also print the letters of the alphabet with the letters in front of him.

One day a couple met him in the room he and Sister Anne used as a classroom.

“What’s your name young man” asked the gentleman.

“My name is Lam”

“My name is Charles and she is Vivian. Did you tell the sisters you thought you used to be called Lambert?”

“Yes sir”

“He could be Lambert, he has your eyes.”

“He has your chin and nose.”

“Son, do we seem familiar”

“Sir, I don’t know, it has been a long time since I saw my parents”

“Viv, look behind his ears”

“Yes, the birthmark is there”

“Lam, I’m your Dad, and I’m sorry that we stopped looking for you. We thought you were gone.”

“Lam,” said Viv, “I know this is all very sudden. But you’ll have lots of time to settle in your new home”

“Can we help  Hayden” asked Lam? “He’s been my friend forever. He’s like a brother. “OK” said Charles, “Let’s go find Hayden and we’ll help him”

And they lived happily ever after

 

 

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