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Now that the preliminaries are in order and the groundwork has been laid, Chapter 3 ("Trailing Clouds of Glory") launches into Alf's own story, beginning with his dad "going for a soldier" when he found out his old lady had a bun in the oven. Given the choice between getting his head blown off in some far flung colonial outpost with the British Army or raising a kid, he took his chances with the service. You know, the safe option.

His recollections of childhood are, as is natural, scrappy; here a blank, there a vivid patch of remembrance. But in the course of various talks he has supplied enough scattered memories to give a fair notion of his earliest outlook upon life. The flagstones of Irish Court, and the proximity of Patrick Hooligan, these are the impressions that remain with him. Cabbage stalks, potato peelings, even derelict shoes that will no longer go up the spout are to be found on the flagstones of Irish Court; and with these the untrammelled infant can do marvellous things. Young Alf cannot remember ever possessing a toy; but he never felt the want of one. He dealt from infancy in realities.

He retains, too, the impression of a single room, with a bed in the corner. In another corner was a heap of clothes--at night. In the day-time, his mother earned her living by selling second-hand clothes from a hand-barrow in the Walk. To young Alf, Lambeth Walk was the great world, full of possibilities of pleasure and profit. Marvellous finds could be made in the mysterious region under the rows of barrows in the Walk. Expeditions in search of hidden treasure were organized, and brought to successful issue, more particularly in the direction of the sweetstuff barrow, where brandy-balls might be expected to drop, as it were, from heaven. There was no lack of companionship, for children of all ages are plentiful in the Walk, and all are friends or enemies. Now and then, if he was in luck, he could see Patrick Hooligan come down the court and go into his kip, as a king enters his palace. (pp. 33-4)
It may be obvious by now, but it's always about "kips" with this one, just a place to lie down at night. So far, he's never called any place a "home". Read into that what you will. And remember, kids: garbage can be fun. Ask Fat Albert if you don't believe me.

Anyway, Alf's was a poor but happy existence, until the School Board officer got his hooks into the boy and plugged Alf into the compulsory part of his public education, which he was done with (for good) by age 12. And that's when he started groping for his life's calling, going straight for the options his neighborhood presented.
'No, I didn't go to no reg'lar work when I'd done my schooling,' said young Alf. 'You see, I was well in the thick of where the lads carry on the biz; nor I didn't see no great catch in any sort of job that I was likely to get 'old of. It come much more easy and natural to take on the light- fingered game, an' there was more to be made at it. See? An' when I'd got meself mixed up wiv the young part of the gang, it wasn't much good me goin' lookin' for work wiv a crac'ter that wasn't long enough to light a pipe wiv. Sims to me what you start on you've got to go froo wiv. First fing ever I nicked was pigeons - an' rabbits. Down Irish Court stewed pigeons an' rabbits is a bit of awright. There wasn't anyfink that my muvver liked better. Dogs, too-'

'But you didn't eat dogs?' I said.

'No, we didn't eat 'em. But if you can pick up a stray dog, there's generally a bit of a reward 'anging to it.'

I suggested that there were scarcely enough stray dogs about to bring in an appreciable income.

'Oh, they'll stray awright,' said young Alf, 'even if you 'ave to pull their bleed'n 'eads 'arf off.' (pp. 38-9)
Drawing the line at eating dogs, are we? Why do you think they call 'em chow chows? Don't look it'll only spoil the moment.

From Irish Court, Alf and his mom took a room over what appeared to be a watchmaker's shop that turned out to be a front for a fencing operation, sharing a room with a clown and an acrobat who performed at small halls. We never get to meet the clown--I picture him as a Stephen King-style Pennywise nightmare--but the acrobat was more than happy to help further Alf's education. With violence!
'Well, one evenin' 'e was sittin' on the bed, mendin' his shoes, an' I was over by the windy. Presently 'e says to me: "Look 'ere, young Alf, you see if you can walk across to me quiet as you can."

'So I started, walkin' as quiet as I knew how, but I couldn't 'elp makin' the floor creak, 'cause the board was all loose.

'The accerabat jumps up and catches me a clip over the jaw.

'"Now then," 'e says, "you start again. An' every time you make a board creak, I'll clip yer." See?

'I went on practisin' that game for some time, and the accerabat showed me 'ow to nip across a floor wivout making a sound. An' it wasn't long, neither, 'fore I could step so as you couldn't 'ear nuffink. That's the first fing you have to learn, an' it ain't so bloomin' easy, neither. Taught me a lot of fings, the accerabat did. There was a old tin trunk standin' over side of the bed; and when I'd learnt to get across the floor awright, 'e took me on to openin' the tin trunk wivout makin' any noise. That's abart the most difficult job you 'ave to work - if you're in a strange 'ouse, I mean, and don't want to wake anybody up. If you can open a tin trunk quite quiet you can do almost anyfink in that line.'

'Did the acrobat go in for burglary, then?' I asked, as young Alf relapsed into a meditative silence. (pp. 39-41)
Of course the acrobat went in for burglary. What kind of a gyp story would this be if he didn't?

Once he was far enough along in his training, young Alf was recruited into a three act with the acrobat and an accomplice. For this "performance", Alf, dressed to the nines so as not to arouse suspicion, would slip in through the fanlight window above the door of closed shops and wait for the signal to unlock the door bolts for a touch of burglarly. For awhile, that became his "trade" from 10 'til midnight.

As much as he enjoyed being shoved through shop windows, Alf wanted to get in on some gang action, and that meant pulling a caper with "class"--something hard for the other delinquents to top. The acrobat unwittingly provided him with that opportunity, too.
'Well, there was a Institute down off the Old Kent Road, where there was a entertainment one night - sort of 'sault-of-arms mostly, an' the accerabat was givin' a performance there. So 'e says, "Come along wiv me and look after the props." So course I went, an' got behind the stage. Well, there was a lot of gents takin' part, an' they'd took off their togs and 'ung 'em all round the dressing-room. Now's my time, I finks. An' soon as the accerabat'd got into 'is props, an was on the stage for his performance, I slips froo to the dressing-room and goes froo all the pockets what I could finger. What wiv one fing an' anuvver, I managed to nick a matter of ten pounds or so. Then I nipped off and planted the stuff where it couldn't come to no 'arm, and couldn't 'urt nobody, an' fore the second part of the performance was started, there was me, 'anging about premiskus at the back of the 'all. I got back jest in time to hear the chairman give out that there was thieves about, an' advisin' the audience to look after their pockets. When the gents had gone to take off their athaletic dress, they'd found that someone 'ad been looking after their prop'ty more careful than what they had. Course I wasn't suspected, me 'anging about all the time where everybody could see me. See? An' wivout a penny in me pocket. See?

So when the performance was over, an' we were goin' along to our lap, I told the accerabat 'ow I'd done a bit of biz on me own, cause I couldn't keep it to meself. An' 'e says: "Got the stuff on yer, ye young devil?" 'e says. "What d' you fink?" I says. "I planted it." Then the accerabat wanted to know where I'd planted it, an' I says it's likely I'd tell him, bein' me own stuff. See? An' wiv that he was comin' for me frottle; but I ducked under 'is arm an' scooted, nor I didn't go 'ome that night, nor yet for two nights arter. Two days I laid low, and then I went an' lifted the stuff where I'd planted it. Finks 'e was goin' to 'andle the stuff that b'longed to me. Likely!' Young Alf shot the remainder of the ginger-beer down his throat. (pp. 46-8)
Well, you can't keep a stunt like that a secret for long, even if you wanted to (and especially if you spent part of the proceeds on a showy new suit of clothes), and soon a reputation-building whispering campaign was underway, drawing the attention of "leader of men" Billy the Snide.
The interview was short, the details are few and simple, but pregnant with fate.

Billy the Snide did not kick young Alf off the pavement, as was his custom, and that in itself was significant.

''Old 'on,' said Billy, as young Alf was about to pass him respectfully.

Young Alf halted.

It was as though the Lord Chancellor should stop a rising junior in the Strand, and ask him if he had a moment to spare.

'Bit slippy wiv yer 'ooks, I'm given to unnerstand,' remarked Billy the Snide, looking critically over young Alf.

'They're me own 'ooks, so far's I'm told,' retorted young Alf, almost blushing at the compliment. 'Feel like it.'

Billy the Snide spat reflectively at a passing hansom, and, satisfied that he had hit the mark, turned again to young Alf.

'Like to work long 'er me?' said Billy the Snide, being a man of few words, and those words to the point.

Like to work along of him! Who wouldn't? Would a briefless barrister like to devil for an Attorney-General? Who wouldn't chuck fanlight-jumping, and pigeon-nicking, and aimless scrapping in the side streets off the Walk, in order to work with Billy the Snide?

Young Alf's cigar was extinguished in his joy, but Billy the Snide gave him another; and that evening he walked home to his kip through the stars. (pp. 52-3)
So Alf, twelve years old and puffing on a big ol' cigar, embarked on the most adventuresome week of his life.

We're told at the start of Chapter 4 ("Billy the Snide") that Billy the Snide was born Bill Day...not that anybody called him that, but he was long dead by the time Alf told his story (from high living, not "misadventure"), so it wasn't like he was giving up privileged information. "The owner of a pony and a barrow, as well as a missus," when asked Billy the Snide gave his trade as a "general dealer", and when he pulled Alf aside that day, he was generally dealing in funny money.
Henceforth, for a few days of crowded life, it was the office of young Alf to throw bad money after good. He still lived with his mother and the acrobat, but every morning he went round to Karl Alley to arrange the work for the day; and there was a lot of jealousy among the boys who had never got beyond tea-leafing, which is creditable, but not class. He looks back upon this period of his life with considerable pride, for promotion went by merit alone in the circle of which Billy the Snide was the centre, and no boy would have been taken on to work with him unless he had given evidence of capacity. Young Alf was not yet thirteen, and very young to occupy so responsible a position of trust.

So young Alf was a proud boy when he turned into Karl Alley on the first morning of his engagement, and sought out the dwelling of his chief. (pp. 57-8)
After a solo test run to build the boy's confidence, Alf, Billy the Snide, and Mrs. The Snide hit the streets as "a pleasant family party" to pass some snide coin at pubs and the occasional small shop. (Notice they didn't hit any major establishments. As someone who worked at a store where one morning somebody passed the most obvious of photocopied $5 bills because the clerk on the register was a overworked moron (and unlike me, even looked like one), I can attest that choosing your mark and your moment well is nine-tenths of that type of operation. But I digress...)

They were a slick team...not that they didn't hit a snag once in awhile.
It was past noon when they reached Wandsworth Common, and Billy the Snide pulled up the pony at a house he had decided to work. Young Alf and the missus entered together, while Billy the Snide remained without by the pony-barrow so as to be ready in case of a scoot.

'What are you takin', missus?' asked young Alf.

The missus said that her call was for the usual--half-a-quartern of gin and two out. Young Alf slashed down a bull's-eye for the drink, and the can, being suspicious, picked it up and put his lamps over it. Young Alf, being about to gargle, set down his glass.

'Missus, we're rumbled,' he said.

For the can (barkeep--E) had walked up to the bung (the landlord--E again) with the coin, and the bung was walking with the coin to the tester. The tester was consulted, and for answer split the bull's-eye into halves.

The bung slid up to young Alf and the missus. 'That's a bad un,' said the bung, holding out the two halves of the detected coin. 'D'you know that?'

'Bad!' exclaimed young Alf.

'Good Gawd! To think of that!' said the missus, looking struck all of a heap.

'Well, guv'nor,' said young Alf, 'I'm in for a bit of a loss out of my 'ard week's graft froo that coin gettin' in wiv the uvvers; an' if I've got any more I shall look what ho!'

Young Alf pulled from his waistcoat pocket the half thick 'un which was his share of the profits.

'D'you mind puttin' one of these in the fake?' said young Alf.

The coin was put through the tester and came out intact. Whereupon the hung reckoned it was a shame that young Alf should have been taken in with the five-shilling piece.

'It's very kind of you to symperfise wiv us, boss,' said young Alf, finishing his ginger-beer.

'Now you 'ave one with me,' said the bung, looking at the empty glasses.

The missus said she would have another of the same. But young Alf, noting the sudden absence of the can, concluded that he had gone for a cop. It was clear that the bung was having some of his old swank.

'Step short, missus,' said young Alf. And wishing the bung 'good-afternoon', they scooted.

'It didn't take us 'arf a mo to shift soon as joinin' Billy,' said young Alf in concluding his narrative of the day's adventures. 'An' sharper'n any cop ever put down 'is daisy roots, we was round the corner an' out of sight.'

Altogether it was a day of pleasure and of profit. (pp. 59-62)
So it went through the week, but the success of the fifth day sowed the seeds of the team's downfall on the sixth. Alf not only got caught by the old lady at the counter, but somebody passed one earlier that day. When she called out a man from the back room, he even claimed Alf was the kid from earlier, and while he left to call for a policeman, Alf made a break for it. With violence!
'In 'arf a mo I was over the counter an' slashin' at the ole woman. Caught 'er one under the chib, an' she give a scream, an' dropped on to the floor like a wet sack. There wasn't no one else in the 'ouse, so I got to work quick, and went froo the till. It wasn't much of a 'aul - nuffink to talk about. I don't fink there was more'n free twoers worf to be nicked. But it was worf more'n bein' pinched, eh? Well, I was out of the shop in a tick, an' there was Billy an' the missus on the pony-barrer, carm and peaceful, jest up by the corner where the road turns off. Course I give Billy the wheeze quick as I could, an' 'e whips up the pony jest as I 'opped up be'ind. An' jest as we drove off there was old ruby boko about a 'undred yards away, running as fast as the cop could keep time to wiv 'is plates o' meat. See?' (p. 65)
The problem Billy's operation hit was twofold: the first, of course, was that he got greedy, passing too much too soon. The second was that he placed some of his snide coin with a pal, and that guy was...well, kind of an idiot, since between the two of them they were hitting some of the same places twice. The only surprise was that they didn't get collared sooner.
He was coming round as usual to Billy's residence to organize the day's graft, flushed with the pride of success, and carrying in his pocket a quantity of base metal which would have represented about the value of a sovereign had it been honest money. As he was about to turn into Karl Alley he was suddenly aware of a split hanging about. To give Billy the wheeze was to give himself away. Young Alf had decided to go home again and wait upon events, when he found himself rushed before he could turn round. A copper took him off to the police station.

The situation looked desperate, for a pound's worth of snide coin is difficult to explain away; and young Alf felt pretty certain that the game was up.

But his luck did not desert him. When they reached the police station the inspector happened to have stepped out for a few moments, so young Alf was dabbed into a cell to await his return.

This was his opportunity, and he did not neglect it. No sooner was the door closed than he cleared the snide coin out of his pockets, and pitched it into the most obvious receptacle. (pp 66-7)
With the evidence (ach-HEM) down the tubes, Alf got off clean, but getting off scot free wasn't enough for Alf, even at twelve. He had to do a bit of knife-twisting, too.
'The inspector told me I could ook it,' said young Alf. 'But d'you fink I was going like that? Not me. Not wivout giving 'em somefink thick in the way of slanging. "What d'yer mean?" I says. "What d'yer mean by interferin' wiv a 'ard-working boy in the performance of 'is employment? I can tell you," I says, "I got my livin' to look after; and now I lost me morning's work jest because a silly swine of a cop don't know a honest boy from a thief. An' I can tell you straight," I says, "I don't get rabbit-pie fair chucked at me, neither."'

That was enough. They bundled him out of the police station by main force. For if you want to make a copper very angry indeed, you have only to mention to him the name of rabbit-pie. It has the same effect on a policeman as an allusion to puppy-pie has on a Thames bargeman. This is one of the many things that young Alf knows.

I inquired the reason of this strange aversion.

'Gives a cop the indigestion,' explained young Alf, 'even if you only talk to 'im about it. But I don't believe anyone that know'd a p'liceman personally would ever think of foolin' 'im wiv such a snack. Rabbit-pie might do for fillin' up odd corners, but if you 'arst 'im to make a banquet off it, why, 'e wouldn't be takin' any.'

I think there must be some better explanation than that. (pp. 68-9)
So our boy Alf managed to keep it together, but while he was at the station, Billy and the missus were being busted by London's finest. Billy the Snide got eight years, Mrs. The Snide stood for a twelve month stint, but Alf's fate was the most ignoble of them all. Since he never learned to actually make the funny money, he was forced to get a job (yipe!) as a newsboy at Waterloo Station. It was only a temporary setback, though...he was biding his time for the next big thing.

Next: Jimmy. Whoever that is. Coming up in arf a mo'. WITH VIOLENCE!


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