chimney sweep - quotes and descriptions to inspire creative writing
The chimney sweep's mind was more wretched than his scarred body. Tuberculosis had taken his father, hacking, coughing to his grave. His mother had kept the baby, selling him to the master sweep. That day the colour had left his world. There was no more yellow sun or green grass, no more singing birds or spring blooms. He lived in monochrome where the only colour was painted by his pain. Nights were huddled with the other boys under sack-cloths blacker than the night, the same sacks he hauled in the daytime full of soot for his master to sell.
Should he survive the next seven years he could be a journeyman chimney sweep and choose a new master. But something in that sweet child died the day he was sold - no more cuddles or kisses, simply working every day the Lord sent. Mean portions of thin stew, the ever present threat of punishment and the never ending cold gnawed at him. He could toughen up like the skin on his limbs or wither and perish. Then the day came that he refused to get up, to walk, to eat and the master fetched a wooden cane.
In the barely lit room a sooty sack moves against the wall. Tom shouts a warning and out comes a boy - a chimney sweep. His face is one of perfect misery, whatever joy this child had ever experienced has been burnt up in the flues he services. He sways on bare feet, shins pink with burns. Upon his blackened face are the tracks of dried tears. Tom takes a step back, surprised by the sunken nature of his eyes, the "old man" quality of his beleaguered gaze. Then all at once the boy falls to the dusty boards, eyes still open but unseeing...
Before the hot fire, the flames that jump, stands the new apprentice, his shins and arms raw, black soot ground into the wounds. The other boys inwardly wince, though their faces show no sign of empathy. They know what is to come. A new chimney sweep must be toughened up or else have his skin removed over and over. The master takes his brush and strong brine, scrubbing just the same as he did his boots before appearing on the doorsteps of the Victorian gentry. The boy screams, the masters eyes remain distant, icy, but his hand comes to his throat to give a meaningful squeeze.
The master hadn't wanted this whelp but he was reminded of his duty to the Parish and how could he say he didn't have room for one more. The next dangerous flue belonged to the whelp. Should he make it he was part of the crew with slightly better rations, fail and they had the bother of digging a very small grave. In that instant the child learnt to cry without noise. The scrubbing continued hard and strong...
When the chimney sweep apprentice slid down the master took the covering sheet and wrapped so that the mistress would not see. The chimney had been on fire and the boy's skin was quite gone. The sun would set on one more pauper grave and the morning would see the Parish send him a new boy from the workhouse. He was paid to teach them his trade, paid to take them off the hands of the parish. The master sweep carried the body past his troop of boys, blood already seeping through to his hands. The biggest concern on his mind was cleaning the blood from the cloth, his wife would have a long night ahead of her over the washing board.
The chimney sweep's eyes roam the parlour. There is wood that shines and fabrics so delicate and clean. His fingers twitch involuntarily. On the table is fine left over cake, something he's seen but never tried. Saliva pools in his mouth but at the bark of his master it dries. The cloth covers the fireplace already and its time to remove his shoes and most clothing. The boy drags the soot-blackened cloth cap over his face and holds the black-bristle brush over his head. His feet have barely touched the ashes when he lets out a yelp to the guffaws of his master, the fire must have been extinguished only moments before. Wedged between the hot walls, he climbs. Soot rains down, falling past him to the grate. Months ago such a chimney would have taken his skin clean off, now there is pain but the thickened skin of the scars holds out. Lips pursed, his breathing labours under the cap, eyes streaming from heat and smoke. That pretty parlour could be a world away, a place for the gentry to dine with fine tea, but it's just meters away with the left over cake. Should he slip and fall he might be a nameless footnote in their gossip, but more likely forgotten before the sun is set.
The chimney sweeps line up in the frost bitten yard. Mistress has filled a tub and one by one they sink into the cold water to be scrubbed. An older boy realizes the date, December twenty fourth. Tomorrow the master will have to take them to church and their blackened skin does not look well. The parish demands little of him, to train as many boys as he can, to take them to church. The boys and one girl do as they are told. Though their goose-bumped limbs shake, they endure the ill-tempered cleaning. Mistress attacks their faces, hair and hands most of all - all this after she has cleaned their clothes for Christmas. To her "raw" is better than "dirty" and as the brush moves he scowl deepens. She digs her hands into the hair of each sweep to turn their head with violent motions she leaves a few with whiplash pains.
The chimney sweep sits upon the rooftop, his tiny limbs splayed on the red clay tile. His blood quickly gives up his body heat to the cool London air. Though he shivers his resolve not to return to his master his strong. In his head the voice of his little brother echoes, stuck, scared, dying. It has been several hours since he last heard his voice from the brick column. From time to time he calls down, hoping for a sign, a miracle. Guilt eats at his guts. He could have done it, should have done it. The master had shaken his head, insisting the smallest should go and earn his keep. Hot tears streamed down his sooty face and he let his brush tumble down the steep pitched roof to the gutter, the black bristles catching until a gust of wind took it over the edge and down to the neat Victorian garden below.
Inside the flue the creosote lay thick like the scales of a midnight snake. The old Victorian lady had left the chimney cleaning overdue, only calling after the master sweep the morning smoke particles had billowed out during morning tea with the vicar. The room below was now airy and cold, the mullioned windows wide open to the early winter morn. The fabrics still gave a tincture of smoke to the fine parlour and the lady of the house paced, nose twitching.
When the apprentice boy had entered she had averted her gaze from his dirty clothes and skin. What a trial it was to have such a wretch in her house! At the hearth the boy had stripped to his skivvies and ducked behind the cloth, brush raised, a cap protecting his pinched face. The boy had shimmied up, his sixth chimney that day, one more than the master had ever asked him to do. At least the flue was cold; so many times the owners extinguished the flames and wanted the job done right away. His legs shook and his skin bore a nasty scrape and a burn from earlier that day.
At a bend in the flue his body tumbled down but his heels caught, wedging him legs to torso. The young sweep's heart hammered in his pigeon chest, his eyes grew wide and he screamed as best he could until his cries gave way to tears. Never once had he heard of a chimney sweep being rescued. After a time the corpse fell to the ashes in the grate, one more for a pauper's grave.
The flue still radiated back the heat from the fire. After the fire has been burning all day and night for weeks it burns to touch. The gap is barely big enough for the child, the apprentice, who glances upwards into the blackness. His lip buckles, but he cried his heart out in the workhouse for the mother who never returned. The master sweep had made it clear what would happen if he refused. With a shove from behind he was inside, his bare arms and legs scorching, the roughness grating the skin from his limbs. Silent tears fall, sobs only suck in more soot making him choke all the more. His only thought is for his mama, he wants mama. No light comes to his eyes and now heat radiates from below. The fire is lit...
I can't see nought. I can't breathe. My legs, God, my legs. Pain. Pain. Everything hurts. It's dark, dark like hell. I'm scared. I'm sorry, mother, I want to come home. Give the sweep master his money back, take me home. The heat, dear Lord, the heat. I can't go up. So dark. The chimney is narrowing, twisting. Suffocating. Throat scorching, dry, thirsty. Pain. I want to come down. Down. More pain! Pain like needles in my feet, needles in my legs. They've sent Thomas to stab me. Up. Must go up. Scraping, hot, burning. Lungs dry, soot, breathing soot. Lord, come for this lamb. Where are you, Good Shepard? Pain...
"You despise me Mr Granger, no fact could be truer or plainer. In your eyes burns the light of an idealist; I pity you. I've made you tough, but the church sermons have softened you. In the trade to which I trained you, you will be the devil in top hat and tails. No child will climb a chimney if they feel for one moment that you will take pity and protect them. The master sweep must be more scary than a blazing chimney and in that respect you have a long way to go. By all means go and find another sweep master to finish your training, but whatever road you take, you'll end up right here - a younger reflection of me. Fair ye well and bless thee, I bare no ill will."
All about the chimney sweep was blackness; without his sight every other sense became all the sharper and none of them soothed him. The flue was hot and rough, all he could smell was acrid burning wood. His ears heard the howl of the wind above and the air that passed him blew so cold by his exposed skin. His mouth tasted of soot - a black powdery breakfast. No food would pass his lips until his tasks were done. The brush scraped above his face and through the thin cloth of his hat he could feel the carbon scales tumble and bounce on their journey to the grate below.