"There is a feeling of eternity in youth, which makes us amends for everything. To be young is to be as one of the immortal gods,"-William Hazlitt
Peter sat in the darkness with a heavy heart; the painful memories of the past day weighing heavily on him. In less than a day he had gone from London to a strange and dangerous place that was seemingly beyond imagination. In less than a day he had entered a world of uncertainty. In less than a day he had lost his best friend.
"FOX" he had yelled as his best friend had tumbled into the waters.
Peter had thenentered into a state of shock caused by the death of Fox.
I got Fox killed.
Earlier he had stayed in the shadows while the rest of the crew sat sullenly among the trees. There was a sense of uncertainty that permeated the air around the group as well as an overbearing feeling of hostility.
Hostility directed at him.
He knew why: Fox.
If he hadn't gone back to the ship to find Jimmy then Fox wouldn't have followed and would now be alive. But his friend had followed him anyway and paid for it with his life. He should have known that Fox was going to go after him. The older boy had a profound sense of responsibility to his mates but especially to Peter and that's what made the situation all the more difficult.
Fox was the first member of the crew that Peter had met.
H His first memory of Fox played in his mind-
Six year old Peter walked into the backroom, which served as the Whitechapel Fencing Academy's office and saw his benefactor Jimmy Hook sitting behind his desk with a small figure standing alongside him. Peter, who had been left back at the academy under the watchful eye of one of Jimmy's assistant instructors, had followed the sound of Jimmy's voice. Jimmy had been gone for several hours, much to Peter's dismay. The boy enjoyed the attention that Jimmy lavished upon him and was always happy to be around his guardian. But now there was someone else who now had Jimmy's attention.
Peter stared at the figure. It was a skinny, brown-haired boy, whose blue eyes peeked out at him from under a black cap.
"Peter," said Jimmy with a smile, "I'd like you to meet someone," Jimmy gestured at the boy who was maybe two or three years older than he, "This is Lorn…and he's as sly as a fox."
Jimmy winked at Peter as he said the word 'fox'.
"Hello Peter!" said the boy who walked around the desk, stuck out his hand, and gave a friendly smile.
Peter stared at the offered hand with hesitation. He didn't know what to make of the new arrival. Why was he here? Why had Jimmy brought him here? Was he going to take his place with Jimmy?
Jimmy stared at the two boys, one making an offer of friendship, the other staring questioningly. "Peter, where are your manners? Shake his hand."
Tentatively, Peter shook the other boy's hand.
"Aren't you going to greet him?"
Peter didn't know exactly what to say to the new boy so he said the first thing that popped into his head: "You don't look like a fox."
Jimmy and the older boy broke out in laughter.
"I didn't say he was a fox Peter," said Jimmy with a laugh, "I meant that he is sly like a fox."
"Oh," was all Peter could say in reply.
"However," said Jimmy who leaned back in his chair and looked over the older boy, "I think a fox fits you. What do you think of that? Are you as sly as a fox?"
The boy grinned, thought about how he had managed to use his friendly smile and polite demeanor to nick a couple of apples from a vendor earlier that day, and said happily, "Yes I am!"
"Very well then," Jimmy said as he patted the boy on his head, "Fox it is!"
And that was how Fox got his name.
The memory of his first meeting with his friend brought a sad smile to Peter's face. He was the first real friend that Peter had had and had been a part of his life for eight years, which was a year longer than he had known Curly, who was the next member of the crew to be brought in by Jimmy.
The thought of the blond boy made Peter flush with shame. Curly had openly accused him of Fox's death. Curly's words tore into Peter. How could Curly of all people attack him? After all, it was only three months back that he had come to Curly's rescue after being cornered by their rival Tom McKenna and three of his gang.
He had bravely stood by Curly's side as they faced two-to-one odds. Peter hadn't flinched. He remained cool and had gotten the better of Tom. But there was something else: He had known that Curly had been humbled. Despite all of his bravado and outspokenness, his friend hadn't been able to muster up the courage to challenge Tom and had had to be aided by Peter.
Peter knew then that Curly felt inadequate about himself. Curly had always seemed to voice the opposite of whatever he had to say and for the longest time Peter didn't know why. It had seemed odd that someone he had been friends with since they were wee lads would have come to be so set against him but now it was obvious: Curly was jealous of him.
Peter knew that Curly, like the rest of the lads, had had a rough life, but not one of them could claim that they had been thrown into a canal by his mother's drunken lover.
A year after Fox had come to live with Jimmy and Peter, Curly had arrived. The three of them had been in Devon as Jimmy had had business to attend to. Peter and Fox didn't know what that business entailed, all they knew was that the three of them got to take a train from London west to Devon which became an adventure for the two boys as they had wandered from train car to train car during the trip.
Jimmy, who still held his place in London society, had booked a room in a sleeper car for the duration of the trip. It may have been odd to see a man traveling alone with two boys but no one dared question the well-dressed and well-spoken man. His emotionless eyes, difficult to read facial features, and his regal bearing spoke volumes about him. This was one of the elites of society who was not to be questioned. Give him his room and regard him with respect. In Peter's eyes, this was something that made him look up to his benefactor; want to be like him.
While in Devon however, Jimmy's 'business' was put on hold by a terrible sight: A drunken man had flung a small boy from a bridge into the Hackney Canal. The canal, which started at the Hackney Clay Cellars and ended at the nearby River Teign, was cold this time of year, it being early spring. The falling boy screamed as his fell from the bridge and splashed down into the water. Acting on impulse, Jimmy threw off his coat and jumped into the water. He swam with the fast moving current toward the boy who struggled to stay afloat.
Peter watched as the boy's head disappeared under the frigid waters. He then saw Jimmy go under after him. Seconds later, Jimmy broke the surface, the boy in his arms. He and Fox raced down the side of the canal where they met Jimmy who clambered out of the water with the boy. To Peter and Fox's horror the boy had a length of rope wound around his neck that was weighted down with a large rock. Jimmy removed the rope and rock, cradled the shivering boy, and looked back toward the bridge. The man who had thrown the boy had gone.
Taking the freezing lad to their hotel, Jimmy had instructed one of the maids to fetch a doctor. The boy was dried, put into warm clothes, and instructed to stay in bed until he felt well. After the doctor had left, Jimmy questioned him about what had happened. The boy, whom it turned out was a month older than Peter, had been trying to run away from his mother's drunken boyfriend. The boy's mother had always stood by and let her man beat her seven year old son for even the smallest of infractions.
Jimmy asked both Peter and Fox to go to their suite's second bedroom. Both complied, but not before Jimmy had asked where the boy's home was.
That night Peter, feigning sleep, watched through barely open eyes as Jimmy peered into their room and then closed the door. Peter waited a short time and then got out of his bed. He went to a window and peered through the curtains to the streets below. Jimmy stood below with two men, men who Peter had recognized from earlier that day. Jimmy had introduced them as 'business partners'. Now Jimmy and the two business partners spoke in hushed tones.
"Go to the first flat above the Lazy Dog Pub, look for a brown-haired man in his late thirties," said Jimmy.
"What about the wife?" asked the shorter of the two men.
"She's a woman, so don't harm her."
"Well shove her in a closet then," said the taller of the pair.
"How do you want it done?" asked the short one.
"Quietly," Jimmy said, paused, and then continued, "See if he likes being treated like he treated the boy."
The two men laughed and then walked off. Peter saw that Jimmy was heading back inside so he hurried back to his bed and got back into it as slowly as he could so as to not awake the sleeping boy who shared the bed with him, tip to tail.
At seven, Peter didn't know what exactly was happening between Jimmy and the two men, but the next morning he, Fox, and the new boy left the hotel with Jimmy and boarded a train back to London. The train took them passed the canal and Peter caught a brief glimpse of a group of coppers pulling something out of the canal.
That was not only Peter's first memory of Curly but it was also the first glimpse of what type of man Jimmy was. However, Peter's childish innocence had blinded him to what kind of person Jimmy was. He had instead been elated to see his hero rescue the drowning boy, who was almost immediately nicknamed Curly by Fox on account of his curly hair, which made Peter idolize Jimmy all the more. He had an idol to emulate as well as a new brother to grow up with.
Thinking of that incident, Peter also felt bad for Curly. Whereas he had never known his parents, Curly had been beaten by his mother's lover with her tacit approval. He could only imagine the sorts of things that Curly had had to endure. Curly for his part had never spoken of his past, the painful memories being shut out.
Peter realized that this must be why Curly acted the way he was. His mother and her boyfriend must have ruined his idea of himself and so he now had to be more assertive and forceful to make up for it. Curly needed to feel good about himself, even if it meant having to challenge Peter.
"Poor Curly," Peter whispered to himself, "If you only knew how much I respect you…you're the toughest of us all."
Peter continued to sit alone, his ears picking up snatches of conversation from his mates. Curly was speaking about their situation and he sounded like he was trying to take charge, Nibs was at his side supporting him.
Nibs, Peter thought.
Three years after the arrival of Curly, two new members joined the ranks of the little family-first Tootles and then a fortnight later, Nibs. At this time, Jimmy had been spending time with a woman from a prominent family but had begun to incur the wrath of her high-born father. He didn't like the self-made man who trafficked in military armaments and viewed him as dangerous on account of his associates. Peter and the boys didn't know it, but Jimmy's fortunes were soon to change over some illegal dealings with certain members of the establishment and less than loyal members of the army.
This however wasn't a concern for the boys. Their main concerns were being taught by the tutors that Jimmy had brought in to teach them as well as their 'life lessons' from Jimmy himself. Another concern was Nibs.
The boy, four months younger than Peter, had come from a marginalized society. As a son of 'darkies' a derogatory term for people of African descent, Nibs and his family had been confined into a poor section of London and had been treated with a measure of contempt on account of their skin color. Nibs had to endure the taunts of white children who teased him and called him names.
Nibs acted like it didn't bother him and dealt with them as best he could. He had more than his fair share of tussles and scrapes which forced him to toughen himself up. His family's poverty also caused him to turn to crime. He had become a proficient thief by the time he joined the crew. His talents were noticed by Jimmy.
Peter remembered Jimmy telling him that he had felt someone bump into him and run a hand lightly along his coat. Jimmy said that he knew he was being robbed but instead played along with a move of his own which robbed his robber of a stolen bracelet. He then followed the boy to an alley where the boy had stopped to nibble on a piece of bread that had no doubt been nicked from a bakery.
Instead of being angry, Jimmy had spoken to the boy and made him an offer: come with him and join his 'family' and be protected and respected. The boy, whose parents were hardly ever around due to long hours of labour, agreed on the spot.
On introducing the boys to their newest member, Jimmy said to them, "He's a little underweight boys, he nibbles his food too much, teach him to eat like a real lad."
"C'mon Nibs," said Curly with a bright smile, "Let's put a little weight on your bones."
This was the beginning of the partnership between Curly and Nibs.
Right now Nibs was siding with Curly. Peter's friends were turning on him. If only he hadn't led them to Harbottle's, if only he hadn't gone after Jimmy.
Peter looked again toward the rest of the crew. Twins now stood and went to Curly. Peter shook his head in frustration. Now Twins, everyone's little brother, was turning on him.
A memory of Twins came to his mind. It was a memory of two Twins and not just one Twins.
Peter stood between the beds of both Colin and Corin Brighton. The identical twins, known affectionately by the crew as 'Twins' lay near death.
Fox had noticed that both boys were ill and had, along with Slightly, taken it upon himself to take the Twins to hospital. Afterward, Slightly had gone back to fetch the others, who had been out and let them know what was going on. Jimmy, who had been absent most of the day, was told and summoned a carriage to take him and the boys to hospital.
Peter watched as Jimmy had taken the hospital's administrator aside and spoke to him in hushed tones. The man nodded to Jimmy and then called for his best doctors to see to the two boys. Peter was amazed at how Jimmy was able to persuade the important man to stop what he was doing and to provide care for two obvious street urchins.
It made him want to by just like Jimmy all the more.
Unfortunately the best medical care Jimmy could get couldn't save Corin.
Peter was watching the Twins alone, the boys watched over the Twins in shifts, from the window next to Corin's bed. Peter saw the exhausted boy who, like his twin Colin, had been going in and out of consciousness, struggle in his bed. A nurse came by and put her hand to Corin's forehead. She then hurried off.
Sensing something was wrong, Peter pushed open the window and clambered inside. He knelt beside Corin and felt the boy's forehead. It was hot and dry, there was no sweat at all, just a painful dryness. Corin hacked and then spat out. Blood came out of his mouth followed by a weak groan. Peter grabbed Corin, hugged him, and whispered to him that everything would be alright, that the doctor was coming.
The doctor did come, along with a nurse who pulled Peter away from Corin and admonished him for sneaking in. Corin was wheeled out of the children's ward and into a room down the hall. Peter then turned to Colin, who lay fast asleep, and whispered into his ear.
"It'll be alright Colin, I'm here for you," Peter then leaned in close to the sleeping boy and lightly kissed him on the forehead, "Me and the lads will always be here for you."
The same nurse that had admonished Peter earlier found him outside sitting up against the building. She looked at him sadly and knelt down beside him.
"He's dead, isn't he?" Peter had asked.
The nurse looked at him with red-tinged eyes and spoke, "He was a brave little boy…he fought on as best he could."
Peter took a deep breath and replied, "Does his brother know?"
"No. Colin is still asleep."
"His twin is gone…how is he going to take it?"
She gently squeezed his arm and spoke to him, showing Peter that some adults did show kindness to this kind.
"I've been watching you and your friends these past few days. You watched over them both like guardian angels. Now all of you will need to watch over Colin all the more now."
"We're family," Peter said flatly.
"Then Colin will know that his brothers will be there for him."
She smiled sadly at him and walked off, leaving Peter with a higher regard for adults in general. This nurse had been there for the Twins since they were brought in and Corin's death had affected her just like it was affecting him.
An hour later Fox had arrived to relieve Peter and was told about Corin. Peter watched as Fox turned ashen white and started to weep. Seeing his best friend like this made Peter cry; the two boys hugged one another and wept.
After regaining his composure, Peter went back to the fencing academy and broke the news to the crew. Each boy went off to deal with the news in their own way. Peter then went back to hospital with Jimmy to collect Corin's body. Jimmy remained silent and emotionless the whole way.
Peter and the crew had already lost two of their own and he was determined to lose no one else. He had to do something! He heard his mates speaking again, he had lost track of their words as he remembered the Twins.
Now he saw Slightly who was being his usual, neutral self. The pudgy boy seemed to make no move to either support or refute Curly. Peter couldn't criticize Slightly for his stance because he had been like that since they had met.
Peter remembered the day he had first laid eyes on Slightly well.
Peter and the boys had been out roving around the streets three years ago when they saw a master at work.
The master was a roly-poly boy, dressed in respectable attire befitting someone from a good family, who was coursing among a group of well-dressed people who were leaving a church. The boy smiled at them and they smiled back, patting his head or shoulders as they did so. They were completely oblivious to the fact that they were being robbed.
The boy pilfered rings, watches, jewelry, and fine linen handkerchiefs from the congregation. He did this with the greatest ease and then boarded a carriage with a vicar and his wife.
"He's a bloody clergyman's son!" said Curly in amazement.
"Did you see that? Asked Nibs, "He made that look easy!"
"Peter," said Fox, "We could use someone like him."
The boys all smiled at each other and then ran off after the carriage.
They followed the carriage all the way to Westminster Abbey. There the vicar got out with his wife and son in tow.
"All be," said Peter to the crew, "His father is a higher up."
Slightly's father was indeed a higher up in the Church of England. He held the title of sub-Dean of the cathedral and was addressed as the 'Reverend Canon.'
The crew watched the cathedral area and the rectory in which the sub-Dean and his family, all eleven of them lived, for two days until they managed to get to the boy.
Slightly had snuck out one night and went toward Mayfair. The boys followed and watched as the boy went about picking pockets. The boys were initially amused with his ability to go unnoticed but that didn't last. A nearby rozzer had been watching him the whole time and then snuck up behind him. They watched as he was cuffed and carted off into the night.
They could've let him go but they all agreed that this was someone who could be useful.
They told Jimmy about the lad and made the appeal to get him to find a way to get the boy on their side. Jimmy, by this time no longer welcome in 'polite society' reluctantly agreed to speak with his connections in the police and see about getting the boy out.
A day later Jimmy informed them that the boy was being released to his father and that they could go and find him at the vicarage. What Jimmy didn't tell the boys, except Peter, was that he had gone to the station to meet with his contacts there and had seen the boy in action. The boy had managed to nick food from an inattentative guard as well the guard's own whistle.
"I don't care how you and the boys do it Peter," Jimmy had said, "But get that boy."
Peter and his mates were up for the challenge and within days they had snuck into the vicarage and left a note explaining to the boy who they were and what they did. They asked him to join them and to meet them in Hyde Park if he agreed. They said that one of them would be there every day at noon for one hour for a whole week.
Three days later Slightly joined the crew. His words to Fox who was posted in the park that day were, "I've been watching the lot of you watching me, and you should all really be less obvious."
Peter smiled, Slightly was a great addition and he was glad to have him in the crew.
The next person Peter thought of was Tootles. The scrawny and harmless looking Tootles was by far the most supportive of the crew. He was the most loyal of the boys and had stood up in Peter's defense even when Peter didn't stand up for himself. That was why he had gone to Tootles, who like the rest of the boys was asleep, and told him of his plans to make things right.
Peter was going to go and find the man from his dream; a man who he somehow knew held the secret to getting out of this place. Peter would make up for everything by getting him and his crew home again.
But he had to do it alone. It was his fight and his alone.
Tootles on the other hand didn't want Peter to go it alone.
"I'm coming with you!" said Tootles with eagerness in his voice.
"No Toots," said Peter, "It's too dangerous."
"I don't care."
Peter knew that Tootles would follow him anywhere, to the gates of Hell if need be, but he didn't want to risk losing anyone one else.
"But I do…I've done enough damage."
He let Tootles consider this a moment and then told him that if everything worked out that he'd be back for them.
Tootles asked what he should tell the others and Peter said to have them to wait for him. That was when he walked off into the darkness.
Peter imagined Tootles would be watching him until he faded away into the night. Good ol' Tootles, the most loyal of the crew.
No matter what, Tootles would always stand by him, regardless of what anyone in the crew said.
Peter knew why Tootles was like that: Tootles had once told him about his time in the workhouse. It had been while the two of them had been out and about near the docks in London's Poplar district.
They had been looking to see if there was anything worth 'acquiring' from the ships that were docked there that sunny afternoon. Nothing had caught their attention at the time when Tootles asked Peter question that caught him off-guard.
"Peter, if Jimmy hadn't found you, what do you think you'd be doing now?"
Peter paused in his steps to consider the possibility of life without Jimmy and the crew. How would his life be if he had never come to live with Jimmy?
"I don't know Toots," he answered, "I've never really thought about it."
Tootles stopped walking and hopped up on a short wall that separated the lane they were walking on from a drop off that led to the water.
"I used to think a lot about what I would do when I left the workhouse."
Peter took a seat next to his friend on the wall and said, "What did you think you'd do?"
"I always thought I'd find some work as an apprentice or something. You know maybe work in a printer's shop or a butcher's shop."
"You? Working for a rag or cleaving up cows?" Peter said, am image of Tootles with ink stains on his hands or swinging a butcher's knife around making him laugh.
"What's so funny?" Tootles asked with an annoyed look.
Peter kept laughing at the scenes in his head, "I'm sorry Toots, but I just don't think you'd be suited for being covered in ink or cow's blood."
"You don't think I could do it?" Tootles asked a little defensively.
"No, it's not that."
"Then what is it then?"
Peter wasn't used to seeing Tootles acting this way. Tootles was normally a calm person and seeing him become annoyed so quickly made Peter wonder if there was something more to it. Was there something that Tootles had on his mind?
"I just don't think you'd be one for that sort of work."
"But I do this," Tootles said pointing to the watch he wore on his wrist, a watch that he had slipped off a man the day before yesterday.
Peter considered the watch on his friend's wrist for a moment and then said, "I just can't seem to think of you doing anything other than being in the crew…at least not seriously."
Tootles was silent for a bit and then said, "I never thought I'd be a pickpocket."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing I guess…I just don't think anyone would have thought I'd be nicking things."
"Why is that?" Peter laughed, trying to lighten up Tootles' mood.
"The boys in the workhouse-"
Tootles stopped in mid-sentence.
"The boys in the workhouse what?" asked Peter.
Tootles answered in a bland voice, "Said that I'd never amount to anything."
Peter stared at his friend who sat there looking at him with an expression that was both hurt and hopeful. Hurt in that what was on Tootles' mind bothered him and hopeful in that Peter would understand.
Peter was right on both accounts.
Tootles was both hurt by how the boys at the workhouse had treated him and hopeful that Peter would understand. But there was more; Tootles hoped that Peter wouldn't think less of him for being the target of taunts and scorn.
Pressing the matter further, Tootles opened up to Peter about his years at the workhouse.
Peter sat there and listened as Tootles told him of his arrival at the workhouse after his father and mother had ended up in Wandsworth Prison and in an asylum respectively. He was told how the other boys laughed at Tootles for having a mother who was committed and called him terrible things because of it. Tootles explained that he had tried to make friends with some of the boys but they had instead shunned him for fear of being hassled for having him as a friend. Every attempt he made to fit in was met with derision and hostility. So Tootles kept to himself for most of his time at the workhouse…until Jimmy found him and recruited him into his juvenile gang which at the time included just Peter, Fox, and Curly.
When Tootles was finished talking he became quiet and stared at Peter who had remained silent throughout. Then Peter smiled at his friend and said, "Those louts don't know a good man when they see one!" He patted Tootles' shoulder, hopped off the wall, and added, "Now let's go and see what we can get our hands on."
The smile on Tootles' face spoke of genuine happiness.
"Tootles, good ol' Tootles," Peter said as he continued on through the darkened forest.
As Peter walked his mind kept bringing him back to Fox.
The older boy's death kept involuntarily repeating in his head.
Fox falling off of the back of the ship, arms splayed wide, tumbling into the water.
Peter blinked hard in an effort to chase the terrible image from his already troubled mind.
A thought then occurred to him: what if he thought about the good things between he and Fox? Maybe that would help console him.
A memory flashed into his mind of the first time that he and Fox had first spent time together.
It was three days after Peter had been introduced to Fox and for the first time they found themselves alone as Jimmy was having a meeting with some 'friends' in the office of the academy. A group of well-dressed gentlemen had arrived fifteen minutes earlier and had disappeared into the office. Peter wasn't old enough to understand what Jimmy did other than run the academy. If Fox knew what Jimmy did behind closed doors he didn't lead on to it.
Fox. The boy seemed to take well to his nickname even if he didn't look fox-like.
He may look sly and fox-like to Jimmy, but he didn't look that way to Peter; he looked friendly. Initially suspicious of the older boy, Peter now felt himself warming up to him. The two spent part of the afternoon shooting marbles and playing a makeshift game of cricket inside the room that they shared. The older boy seemed a little uncoordinated to Peter but that didn't stop him from having fun. His infectious personality had Peter enjoying the afternoon. Their youthful laughter caught Jimmy's attention as he ended his meeting; his smile of approval further encouraging the boys to play.
Peter smiled at the warm memory which then shifted to another; a more serious one.
Peter, now eight and Fox now eleven, sat along the Thames, fishing poles in hand. So far the fishing had been anything but successful, unless one counted a bottle and an old boot as successful. Curly, who had started off the morning with them, had gotten bored and decided to wander off, leaving the two of them alone.
"Nothing's biting," said Peter, "We should go."
"Let's give it a few minutes," said Fox who noticed a group of Royal Navy sailors walking along a lane off to their right. "I think my uncle should be almost finished with his service."
"You're uncle?" Peter asked in wonder as he assumed that Fox had no family.
"Yes, Uncle Martin joined up when he was sixteen...I haven't seen him since my folks passed away."
Peter felt uncomfortable with the mention of Fox's parents, "Um, does your uncle know about you? I mean about you pickpocketing?"
"Good Lord no," Fox laughed, "He thinks I'm in a church orphanage."
"Oh," Peter said, "Is he your only family?"
"More or less. I've an elderly great aunt and some cousins here and there but none that are close to me. If they were, I don't think I'd have you and Jimmy and Curly."
"But you have some family."
"Aye, I've two families."
Peter gave Fox a confused look, "Two families?"
"Yes," Fox smiled, "People I never see and an adopted father and two little brothers!"
Peter laughed as Fox put his arm around his shoulders and brought him in close. Peter enjoyed the feeling of it and the fact that Fox viewed the four of them as a family.
"What'll you do when your uncle leaves the Navy?"
"Visit him," he's only ten years older than me but I don't think he'll want to raise me. I don't think he has any idea how to raise children."
"Maybe he will adopt you."
"I doubt it," Fox said, "Last I heard he was going to try his hand at accounting. Maybe he can teach me though."
The memory was significant to Peter because it showed a side to Fox that he had never seen: Someone who had family yet chose to live as a street urchin and pickpocket. It seemed that Fox lived this life for fun and not just as a way to get by.
A third memory came to his mind:
Last year when Peter was thirteen and Fox sixteen, they and the crew had been pursued across the East End by Tom McKenna and his gang of juvenile thugs. The McKenna crew, twice as large as their own, had spied them pilfering in a market that they claimed as their territory. A flurry of insults and curse words flowed between the two groups until Curly attacked Tom's 'legitimacy'.
"Oi you stupid bastard! This market is open territory!"
Tom's eyes went wide in shock. No one, and he meant no one, called him a bastard. The rumors about his parentage had plagued him all of his life and he'd had to deal with it. There was no way he was going to allow anyone, especially one of his rivals, to get away with that.
"What. Did. You. Just. Call. Me?" Tom said coldly. At hearing the tone of his voice his own people readied to pounce.
Fox shot Peter a look and mouthed, "Here we go."
Peter grinned in anticipation.
"I said, 'Oi you stupid bastard! This market is open territory'" replied Curly with a devious grin.
Tom's face turned bright red in anger and embarrassment. "You're going to regret this you bloody tosspot!"
And then the McKenna gang charged.
Peter smiled automatically at the memory.
The seven members of the crew turned tail and fled from the market with all fourteen members of the McKenna gang hot on their heels.
They weren't running because they were scared, instead they were running because they had a plan. When trouble had started up with the McKenna gang the previous year the crew knew that it was outnumbered. They decided they needed to find a way to turn the tide on the McKenna's if they ever found themselves up against the entire gang…and now was the time.
"Run!" yelled Peter to his mates.
As one the boys turned and fled.
Peter could hear the voices of his friends as they spun around and ran:
"Leave it to Curly to start something!" said Slightly to Nibs.
Nibs just smiled.
"Someone had to say something!" said Curly as he took a turn down a narrow lane, "None of you lot were doing anything!"
The crew ran for all they were worth and found themselves coming to a series of warehouses.
"Split up!" yelled Peter to the crew.
On cue, the boys split into pairs: Peter and Fox, Curly and Nibs, Tootles and Slightly, and both Twins.
None of the McKenna gang went after the Twins. They didn't view them as a threat, instead they went after the older boys…just as Peter and the crew had hoped they would.
Peter smiled. All they had to do was wait until the Twins gave a signal to let them know everything was ready, then they'd show up McKenna and his thugs. All they had to do was keep ahead of their pursuers.
Fox had thought up the plan one lazy afternoon with Nibs. It went like this: They knew that they and the McKenna gang had fought over a piece of Poplar and that this area had warehouses that handled merchandise that was offloaded from the ships that docked there. Both Fox and Nibs knew that the crew couldn't take the McKenna's in a straight fight so they had to be creative. The two put their heads together and decided that they needed to divide up the McKenna's and lead them to a place of their choosing, or rather, the Twins' choosing.
The Twins would find a suitable warehouse, go to the roof, and signal the rest of the crew. The crew would then run inside with the McKenna's in tow, and then the Twins would spring the trap. The boys had no idea if the plan would work but it was all they had at the present.
As Peter and his mates ran they made sure to look at the rooftops. After a couple minutes of running and barely dodging Tom McKenna and his band of miscreants, the lads had begun to lose hope; the plan was going to fail. Suddenly a whistled tune caught their attention.
"It's the Marseillaise!" shouted Fox joyously.
Peter grinned, looked up, and saw one of the Twins waving down at them from the rooftop of a warehouse.
"This is it!" yelled Peter who darted into the building.
As he and Fox entered they were met by Nibs and Curly and a moment later by Tootles and Slightly. They were also met by a pair of angry workers who yelled curses at them in a fit of rage.
"C'mon!" Peter hollered, "There right on us!"
And right on them they were; Tom McKenna and nine of his crew. Where the other four didn't matter, they were still out-manned.
"No where to go eh Peter?" said McKenna in a haughty voice.
"You'll regret this McKenna," Peter said as he looked up above Tom's head.
Tom laughed, "Tell you what Peter, give us Curly and we'll let the rest of your lot go."
"If you want him you'll have to go through us!" Fox challenged.
"C'mon McKenna," said Curly with a sneaky voice, "Come and get me!"
"Gladly you bleeding prat!"
And with that, the McKenna's charged…and were hit with bucket's of blood.
What the McKenna's had failed to notice was that this warehouse was actually a fish market. Fish were cleaned and the blood seeped into metal grates in the floor.
A few minutes earlier the Twins had ran in, gathered as much blood as they could, and headed for the rafters and roof. Both Twins now stood above the crowd of boys and rained down fish blood and fish guts by the bucketful.
"WHAT THE HELL!" roared Tom McKenna as his clothes became soaked with blood.
Both Twins laughed as they poured the contents of their bucket's, ten in all, down upon the members of the McKenna gang.
As soon as they ran into the warehouse, they had spotted a worker who looked to be down on his luck, they handed him a pair of filched wallets, and asked him to get them as much fish blood and guts as he could as quickly as possible. The man obliged and turned his head while the Twins climbed a ladder to the upper levels of the warehouse. He d had then rounded up a couple of his fellow workers, gathered up as much blood as they could, and carried it to the catwalk above the main room.
The McKenna gang panicked as the red liquid rained down from above. Tom McKenna screamed in anger and charged Curly. In his blind rage he didn't notice Fox tossing a fish to Curly. Curly grabbed the fish, a salmon, and threw it right in front of Tom's feet. Tom stepped on the salmon and slipped on its slick body. He fell backward, landed on his bottom, and slid across the now blood covered floor.
At that moment a pair of rozzers rushed in, clubs brandished, and charged toward the boys.
"TIME TO GO!" yelled Slightly at the sight of the pair of policemen.
Peter and his crew raced out of the warehouse leaving the McKenna gang to the mercy of the coppers.
It was beautiful.
He smiled a sadness-tinged smile. That was a good day. Scratch that: that was a great day because of a plan that was thought up by Slightly and Fox
Peter sighed heavily. He had lost his best friend; a fun-loving person who was someone who he looked up too: his big brother.
Peter sat down on a fallen tree, cupped his face in his hands, and wept.
The tears came slowly as the sorrow and guilt finally, truly caught up with him. He had triggered the events which had cost Fox his life. It was because of him that the family had lost one of their own. The one they all looked to as an elder brother was lost to a pirate's blade, his body not even being afforded a proper Christian burial.
Peter continued to cry for several more minutes as guilt, sadness, and hopelessness assailed him. Then, as suddenly as he had begun crying, he stopped. It was if someone had thrown a switch. Tears gone, and with the exception of red-tinged eyes, Peter was his normal self-his normal, daring, and defiant self.
"I'm going to make up for everything," he said to the trees. He stood up, gazing Heaven-ward, and spoke, "Fox, wherever you are I'm going to make up for everything. I'm going set things right for you and the lads. I don't know how I'm going to do it but I'll make it happen...I love you Fox."
He then stood up and walked off, determined to make amends, knowing somehow that his best friend and big brother would approve.