Just about everything was collected, the treats, the vegetables, the cold meats, the tree, and even, one supposes, the sauerkraut. The cheese had come from the cellar with the cold cuts, though there was also some vole stilton, which had started out as cheddar until the mould had got to it. The voles had also supplied the milk and cream, certainly an under=rated creature, in Tepic’s opinion.
There was just one problem, the pudding. Puddings were difficult, they took an age to make, and even longer to steam. There was also never a surplice pudding, no one made an extra. So how were the urchins to acquire this essential item for a proper Christmas celebration?
It was a problem that had exercised the thought processes of the young street dwellers for several weeks, then, as he was passing the Laundry, Old Mary beckoned the fox tailed lad over.
“Hist, young un! I’s reckonin ye’ll all be needin a puddin this year?”
“Yep, Old Mary,” he replied, with respect, for Old Mary had been running the Laundry for as long as anyone could remember, or if not running it, she had been a fixture, no one could quite remember which. Certainly, the Manageress never finalised a decision until Old Mary had given her the nod…
“Wells, don’t yer worries yer heads none, just comes round late Christmas morn, and we’ll see what we sees!”
With that, she cackled almost to herself and stepped back inside the steamy room, closing the door behind her. Tepic felt a weight had been lifted, and although he did not know how it might be arranged, he gave the pudding no more concern.
Christmas Morning arrived, and Tepic approached the back door of the Laundry in confidence, though his two companions seemed a little more wary.
“She’s really ancient,” moaned Billy No-Toes, “could be a witch an she’ll drag us in an cook us fer her Christmas dinner!”
“Yeah,” sniffed Snotty Charlie, “or have poisoned a pudding so we all dies orribly!”
“Naw,” scoffed their leader, “whoever heard of a witch livin in a Laundry, they’s too clean an hard work fer witches, an no one never said nuffin bad bout Old Mary neither, yer muffins!”
With that, he rapped on the door to announce their presence.
The door creaked open, sending a shiver of terror through the hearts of the two doubters, but Old Mary poked her head out, saw the three companions, and broke out into a huge smile. This was not the reassurance they needed, as the smile of an old hag can hold more terrors than a scowl, but she threw the door wide and ushered them inside. All the coppers had fires beneath them, and a team of Laundry Girls were stoking, lifting lids and drawing forth what looked like well tied bundles of laundry. The old lady gawruffed at the boy’s astonishment at all this activity.
“We’s steamin the puddins fer all the nobs an nobbesses, an all the folks round here as don’t have a copper at home, we does it every year, they takes up ter five hours, dependin on size.”
A chorus of wows and cors issued from the lads at the sight of all theses cooking puddings.
“Heard it were a bit difficult fer you youn uns this year, so we’s made a bargain with them as brought their puddins. Them each made a handful extra, brought along separate like, an we’s put all together, wrapped em up tight, an done yer’s a puddin special like.”
With that, she motioned to two girls stationed by the largest copper the children had ever seen, perfectly capable of making soup of them whole! The lasses lifted the lid, and with great care, raised up the largest cloth wrapped pudding in the place. Reveredly they placed it on a massive stone ware platter.
“Now of yer goes with yer, an careful too, I’s wants that plate back whole, or there will be trouble! Leaves it wrapped up till yer goin ter eat it, then pour some brandy over it an light it up – don’t yer tell me yer ain’t got some brandy about, wes ain’t gonna believe that!”
She swept the lads out, their burden being carried joyfully between them, and smiled to herself as the turned the corner. It was as if it was only yesterday when she had been that age, cold and alone on the streets of the cruel City at Christmas. It was then that a gang of urchins had found her, brought her into the warmth of their hideout, and shared their meagre fare. Didn’t matter how long ago, once an urchin, always an urchin, and urchins look after each other……