It had not been the most successful of mornings. Dejected, Harold gave Hercules his oats then sat on the seat and unwrapped his sandwiches.
"Not cheese again." He complained when he opened them. "Just for once I would love some ham, or tongue, or a nice bit of roast beef." He bit into the sandwich and immediately spit it out. "The bread is mouldy!" He exclaimed. "What else is going to go wrong today?" He climbed down from the cart and threw the sandwiches into the nearest bin then checked the money in his pockets. "Seventeen and a half pence. I bet I can get a sausage roll with that, even a pie."
As he approached the cart with a paper bag containing 2 hot sausage rolls he saw a young women stroking Hercules. He hurried over.
"Hello Miss, can I help you?" She smiled at him.
"If you are the owner of this cart and this lovely horse then you most certainly can."
"This is my cart Miss, I am Harold Steptoe, and this is my horse, Hercules."
"Wonderful name for a horse. My name is Janet Lowe and I am a teacher at Boothen School. My class are doing a project about jobs and professions that are disappearing and we have had people who practise these professions come in and give us a talk. So far we have had a chimney sweep, a thatcher, and a very old gentleman who used to light the old gas lamps. The children have been very interested to hear what these gentlemen have had to say and have had lots of questions. I wonder if you would be interested in coming in and telling my class all about your life as a rag and bone man. If you are not too busy of course." Harold was stunned; this was the last thing he would have expected.
"Miss Lowe, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to come and talk to your class." She smiled again.
"I am so pleased to hear that Mr Steptoe, my class will be very excited to meet you and Hercules. You will bring your cart won't you?"
"Of course, if that is no trouble."
"Not at all. I will inform the caretaker, Mr Willis; he will open the gates for you and show you where to come."
"Just tell me when you want me there."
"We have our History lesson Tuesday afternoons at 2.30. If the weather is fine we have it in the yard, so if it is not raining the children will see you come in and will be able to see Hercules and the cart."
"I will be there Miss Lowe."
"Thank you so much Mr Steptoe, I can't wait to tell my class."
"Thank you Miss Lowe."
"I won't keep you, I am sure you are busy. I will see you and Hercules next Tuesday."
"Goodbye Miss." She walked away and he took one of the sausage rolls out of the bag. "Looks like today is not going to be so bad after all."
He said nothing to his father about his meeting with the young teacher or the invitation to visit the school. He knew the old man would scoff and ridicule and he wanted to keep this to himself.
Tuesday morning he was up early and gave Hercules an extra brushing.
"You are going to meet some children today and I want you to look your best." Harold himself was wearing a combination of work clothes and some of his smarter clothes, not wanting to look too scruffy to the children.
At 2.20 he pulled up outside the gates of Boothen School. A man was waiting.
"You must be Mr Steptoe, Miss Lowe is expecting you."
"Thank you Mr Willis." The gate was opened and he clicked his tongue, Hercules trotted obediently through.
"Turn right there and you will see the benches the children use." Said Mr Willis. "Plenty of room for you to manoeuvre."
"Very much appreciated Mr Willis." As the cart moved through the yard he could see children's faces watching through windows, and then he saw the benches. He brought Hercules to a stop and jumped down from the cart just as the door opened and what seemed like dozens of children came running out. He was surprised to see them all sit on the benches and wait quietly. Then Miss Lowe came out.
"Mr Steptoe, how lovely to see you. Thank you so much for agreeing to take time out of your busy day to come and talk to the class."
"It is my pleasure Miss Lowe, children. I have prepared a little talk, telling a little of the history of totting, as we call it, and how I came to be a totter. Then I thought perhaps the children could ask questions."
"That is perfect Mr Steptoe." Said Miss Lowe. "The children were so excited when I told them you were coming, more so when they heard Hercules would be here."
"Well if you like, before I leave you can come and say hello to Hercules. He likes children."