Polly's Pride

Polly's Pride by Freda Lightfoot Page B

Book: Polly's Pride by Freda Lightfoot Read Free Book Online
Authors: Freda Lightfoot
always went in behind the electricity works, because the water was warm there from the waste they pumped in; much better than Philips Park open air baths which were always freezing.
    Aw, but he did want to work on the railways! He’d consulted his friends, Liam, Joe and Don. They were eleven and already in the gang. They’d told him to get hold of sixpence, or better still ninepence for the flicks, and then the rest would agree to let him in.
    ‘Did yet get it?’ Liam asked now as Benny came back out into the street. Mournfully, he shook his head.
    ‘What’re you going to do?’
    ‘I don’t know.’ The four boys began to walk dejectedly up the street. ‘We could sneak you in with us?’ they suggested, but Benny shook his head.
    ‘Too risky. That Mr Spaghetti, or whatever his name is, would catch me and give me a walloping. How’ll I ever get in the gang if I never have any money?’
    They turned a corner and walked almost smack bang into Georgie East - wood. He seemed bigger than ever at such close quarters. and had his pack of loyal henchmen close behind.
    ‘No money, eh? Well, well. There’s ways and means round that one. You have to use your wits - if you have any. Let’s see. . .’ And snatching the blue peaked cap from Benny ’ s head, he tossed it to one of his mates who immediately threw it to another member of the gang. They played catch with it, high above his head. Red in the face, Benny ran from one to the other in helpless rage, desperate to rescue the cap before they flung it in the canal.
    ‘Give it ‘ere! That’s mine.’ His mam would kill him if he lost it.
    Georgie grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and pushed him up against the brick wall of the ginnel, leaning so close Benny had to suffer his stinking breath. ‘Go on then, what’ll you do if I don’t?’ He gave Benny a push, sending him spinning, only for him to be caught by one of the other lads and tossed back again, like a top being whipped just fast enough to keep it moving. It went on for so long, back and forth, Benny began to feel dizzy and sick. The gang were all laughing at him, as if it were a great joke.
    ‘Have you got them sweets we asked for?’ Miserably, he shook his head.
    He tried to run then, but Georgie grasped hold of his braces so all that happened was that he ran on the spot, like one of those daft cartoons he’d seen at the pictures.  
    ‘Then it’s time you did - if you know what’s good for yer.’ A final push sent him into a puddle where Benny fell to his knees, right next to his cap. ‘When you’re man enough, you can join a proper gang. Not this miserable shower,’ Georgie said, indicating the three boys huddled together some distance away. Then hitching up his trousers with the wide leather belt, he went on his way, whistling.
    ‘Thanks a lot,’ said Benny, rubbing mud off his knees and wringing water out of his cap. ‘Lot of use you were.’
    The three exchanged glances ripe with guilt. ‘Forget him, he’s not important. We were going to the flicks, remember,’ said Liam.
    ‘You mean, you were going,’ Benny dolefully reminded him. The four boys stood looking at each other for a long miserable moment, each embarrassed by the incident and not quite knowing how to save face.  
    ‘I’ve an idea,’ said Joe. ‘Follow me.’ He winked, then started knocking at doors. Each time a woman appeared, he’d ask, ‘Any jam jars, missus? We’re collecting for the poor.’
    ‘Get off with you,’ was the usual response. Or, ‘Get to your own end o’ t’street, you little heathens.’
    ‘But we’re not,’ Benny protested. ‘Not what?’
    ‘Collecting for the poor.’
    ‘Aye, we are. You’re poor, aren’t you?’  
    Benny nodded.
    ‘There you are then.’
    He still looked doubtful but then they reached the house of Daft Betty. Everyone knew Daft Betty wasn’t all there. Harmless enough, and always good for a laugh, but soft in the head. She lived with her sister Nellie, who

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