By Neil Beynon
Spare a drink for a lady? Ah you got me there, I’m no lady. So about that drink…
Yeah, I know lots of stories, if that’s all you want. I’m ever so thirsty…
Ah well. A story…let me sit down a moment while I think.
Hmmm. There was a man, a moocher, who lived in the woods near the village where I used to live. No one knew his name or where he came from or who his parents were or how he came to be there. He was neither young or old or fat or thin but he never lived in a house the whole time I knew him. He slept in the ditches and fields but mainly in Lesnes Woods. On a good day he just smelt of earth, on a bad day he just smelt…stank actually.
Old Bill claimed he was the son of mad Jinney of Camden but my Nana never said anything about Jinney having any children to speak of. And she knew more than most having been a girl in Camden when Jinney went proper mad and they did her in. The children would call him names like Mandrake, Shivering Jenny and Moocher and worse besides. The adults were worse and talked of having him sent to the workhouse but then Jonas would speak up.
Jonas, the butcher, was the reason the man stayed around. He fed the moocher scraps when he thought no one was looking. But Jonas wasn’t a good man, and he didn’t do this out of any sense of kindness. It was his daughter made him do it.
Mary was a sweet girl and the most generous soul you ever met and she never called the moocher anything but John Smith on account of him not having a name. And she never teased him, or tried to get rid of him or threw things at him or crossed the street to avoid him. And she made her dad do what he could but he weren’t a nice man.
It was him what caused it to happen.
Jonas liked to gamble and he liked to wench though he had money for neither. Well, he fell to borrowing from men he shouldn’t have pissed on if they were ablaze and of course he couldn’t cope. Borrowed too much, made excuses and generally took liberties.
That’s what the punishers came after him. Terrible it was. They beat him so bad his leather apron got all torn and his own daughter wouldn’t have recognised him if she’d seen him. She didn’t on account of still being in the shop when they got there but it was no mercy her being in the shop. Oh no.
The punishers took what they were owed from her and then they fired the house to cover their tracks but they were still there when the moocher arrived. The flames were licking the sky and the setting sun made it look like the heavens had actually caught and were burning down. He never said anything. He just walked right into the building and pulled her out. His rags were smouldering when he came back out, carrying her body in his arms, and he was forced to tear some of them from him.
I remember it started to rain as the village spilled onto the square to see what was happening. Soaking the punishers as they drew their pistols realising escape was less likely but none of the village was watching them. They were all looking at the moocher as he went to Jonas’s body and picked up the butcher’s fallen knife.
No one stopped the moocher, no one helped him and afterwards the rain smothered the smell of gunpowder from the air and washed much of the blood away. A few people followed him down to the river, near where the swans nested, and watched as he cleaned the knife of gore. And after that they didn’t call him names.
Let’s have that drink now.
You cheeky bugger, that’s a true story.
They didn’t call him names because he had after he did what he did he had a name. You aren’t going to give me that drink, are you?
Don’t matter. I can earn more out there than you can drink, the streets of East London are paved with gold for a lady with looks.
His name? His name was Jack.