The Crossing Sweeper

The Crossing Sweeper

A Story by Les

It took me some years to really appreciate the work of Charles Dickens but, once I did, I read just about everything he ever wrote. Including him in one of my stories was irresistible.


It had been a slow day, the bitter January weather keeping most people inside. Standing at the kerb with his broom at the ready, the boy shivered in his thin, tattered, clothing that was no protection against the biting wind. He cursed the quietness of his patch. Why couldn’t he have a busier thoroughfare, with more footfall, like the nearby Strand, instead of the smaller Wellington Street.

Oh, there was trade enough sometimes. The carts trundling to Covent Garden Vegetable Market, just around the corner, made a mess of the roadway, the wheels making deep ruts, not to mention the horse droppings or strewn cabbage leaves which added to the quagmire nature of the street. But, on a day like today, no pedestrians equalled no money. All the boy could do was stand and wait.

His daydreaming was disturbed by the approach of four gentleman on the other side of the street. This was his chance. He dashed over to their side, the mire sucking at his bare feet as he crossed.

“’elp you ter cross Guvnors? ‘Orrible day, innit?

The first man in the group went to wave the boy away but his hand was stayed by his colleague immediately behind. Well-dressed like his fellows, this gentleman was noticeable by his mane of dark, curly hair, darting blue eyes and animated manner. He addressed the boy.

“So, what is your name young man?”

Unused to being drawn into conversation by his customers, the boy stammered his reply:

“It’s GerGerGerGeorge Sir, George Ruby.”

The Gentleman looked the boy up and down, was silent for a moment, and then asked:

“How old are you George? And how long have you been doing this job.”

More confidently now, George replied:

“Ten, Sir. And I fink I’ve bin doing this job forever, Can’t remember ever doing anyfing


There was a momentary expression of pain in the man’s eyes and then the question:

“Have you never been to school George?”

George hesitated as he tried to remember what a school was. It came to him.

“No sir. Me mum ses that school ain’t fer the likes of me. Alls I need to do is to bring money

‘ome to ‘er so that we can eat. I’ve no farver, you see Sir.”

There was that look of pain again and then the Gentleman fumbled in his pockets and extracted a half-sovereign, more money than George had ever seen. His eyes were wide as the Gentleman passed him the coin.

“Here you are George. Take this home to your Mother. I’ve known what it is to labour for

not much money. And God bless you. “

The Gentleman and his colleagues passed on, leaving George to shout after them:

“And God bless you too, Sir!”

Years later, Charles Dickens remembered his encounter with George Ruby and based his tragic crossing sweeper character, Joe, on him. The royalties made on “Bleak House” far surpassed his half-sovereign “investment.” For a time, the Author went back regularly to the Wellington Street crossing to seek George out, but never saw him again.

© 2022 Les

Author's Note

Some of the dialogue is written in a Cockney Idiom which some may find difficult to comprehend. Please stick with it.

My Review

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You certainly presented this story in an awesome way. I could feel how the George felt. I can do this because I remember stories that my daddy told me of his younger days. Unlike George he did at least have a third grade education. He would talk about the long walk to school and the sorry a*s shoes he had to wear. He said that they just barely stayed on his feet. His daddy raised tomatoes and there was a Tomato Shed in the one horse town. Let me correct that, it was a half of a horse town. He would walk five miles to the Shed with a tow sack filled with tomatoes to sell. He had his good days and bad. We just don't realize how lucky we are to live in the times we are in now. Thanks to you, you bring it alive.

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


2 Weeks Ago

Thank you Linda. Your reference to your Daddy resonated. Mine grew up in one of the poorer parts of .. read more
Linda Wells

2 Weeks Ago

I am glad you liked my review. I trust you have had a nice day. Hope your night is even better.

2 Weeks Ago

Thanks Linda. And you likewise.
This is such a touching story. It’s sad that children were used for labor, couldn’t attend school, or a have normal childhood. The Charles Dickenses of the world can change a person’s whole life with their simple acts of kindness. Also, the use of the Cockney Idiom really helps bring the story to life. Great work:)

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 Month Ago

Thank you Adelina. We sometimes talk glibly about the good old days, but, in lots of ways, they real.. read more

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2 Reviews
Added on May 20, 2022
Last Updated on May 20, 2022



St Albans District, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Have always enjoyed writing. Just looking to see if I have any creativity left in me to write some fiction. more..

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