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Rated: E · Short Story · History · #1486566
Sometimes human nature doesn't provide happy endings.
WC: 684

The wind whistled down the crooked street. It bounced off the houses that loomed up on either side and crowded the road as they leered drunkenly at the boy.

The boy, known locally as Jock the Pox, or simply Pox, shivered in his thin jacket. The ragged legs of his breeches flapped wetly around his bare calves. Stinking, sticky mud oozed into his cheaply-made shoes through the gaping holes at the sides. The winter of 1699 promised to be a hard one.

Pox's face grimaced as a particularly brisk breeze tickled his reddened ears. His sunken cheeks, raw and wind-burned, were scarred with the tell-tale markings that had given Pox his nickname—his only name, truth be told, as Pox was orphaned long before he could receive a proper Christian name. Chapped and reddened hands were thrust underneath his armpits, desperately seeking a meager bit of warmth.

Sunk in his own misery, Pox nearly walked past it. There, in the middle of the dung-strewn street, was a woman's pocket, as out of place as a rosebush in a midden heap. Pox rubbed his eyes to dispel this hallucination, yet, after blinking furiously, there the pocket remained. He reached out a tentative hand to touch the pocket and found it was soft, softer than anything Pox could imagine. He stroked the fabric, velvet the color of emeralds of the finest water and delicately embroidered with a design of leaves and vines. He tried to rub away the mud and succeeded only in smearing the noxious fluid over more of the luxurious fabric.

He glance around furtively, sharp eyes on the lookout for anyone who might steal this treasure away. Only a few lone souls walked about tonight, each huddled into themselves as they battled the elements. Most of the townspeople were wisely battened down in their own snug homes, away from the gray clouds and biting winds. More importantly, though, no one looked Pox's way.

He snatched up his treasure and stuck it under his jacket. Scurrying for the nearest alley, he took shelter next to the daubed wall of a local tavern. Gently, he teased the drawstring of the pocket open and tipped its contents onto his palm: a lady's handkerchief, a single farthing, and a stale roll.

Pox smiled to himself. The roll was a welcome sight, as he hadn't eaten in… well he wasn't sure how long it'd been, and the farthing would buy even more food. The handkerchief wasn't a loss either, as it was made of the finest Chinese silk and would fetch a pretty penny from the rag-man.

Pox startled as a voice pierced the gloom. “Kind sir, spare a penny for a crippled child.”

He looked out of the alley mouth and saw a crumpled shape crouched on the street opposite. The child's feeble whine—no louder than the mewling of a day-old kitten—emerged from the filthy and tattered hood around her head. Pox recognized the girl. He knew she'd been thrown out of her house several months ago and suffered from consumption. He also knew she was dying, though she stoutly denied it even as she coughed up gouts of her life's blood.

Pox looked again at the items in his hand. Any of them would bring the girl comfort. He heard her call out, even as the wind tore her voice away. The few travelers on the street ignored her pleas and stepped away from her as she began to cough convulsively. She spit a gob of blood to the side and resumed her begging.

Pox stepped out of the alley and walked over to the girl. She raised her cowled head to reveal a pale, sore-spotted face. “Pox, is that you?”

“Aye, Milly, 'tis I.”

She held up her hand. “Do you have anything to spare, my lad?”

Pox felt the roll, softened now from the heat of his palm. The farthing and the handkerchief rested securely in his other hand.

“No, Milly, nothing today. Sorry.”

As he walked away, he gnawed on the roll. The echo of her whimpering voice trailed behind him.

Author's Note: A pocket was literally a pocket of fabric, once worn outside of the clothing and attached to the belt. The strings holding it in place were easily cut by thieves, or "cutpurses," so to curb this practice, the belt and pocket moved to the inside of the clothing, where it was accessed by a slit in the side of the trousers or, for women, a slit at the sides of a gown. Modern men's trouser pockets emerged around 1670, but women continued to wear pockets inside their skirts. It wasn't until after the French Revolution and the delicate styles of ladies' fashion made pockets impractical that the handbag, known then as a reticule, came into use.
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