アーサー・モリスン「ロンドン・タウンへ」12章125回

最初の幸運は、ジョニーが縁なし帽できていたということだった。作業場の見習いのしきたりで、新しい見習いが頭にかぶってきた縁のある帽子は、たくさんのやすりの刃で、壁にとめることになっているからだ。奉公して四年にもならない見習いが縁なし帽子をかぶれば、それは見せびらかしているということで、怒りの対象となった。次なる幸運は、遅れて行動したせいで、彼の新しいズボンは難をまぬがれたということだった。一番年上の見習い弟子たちは、習わしとなっている罠を用意していた。その罠がしかけられた名誉ある席は、暖炉のそばの、最高の場所に用意された。油の海でかざられた席は、樽の真下に位置していたが、その樽には、旋盤のところから持ってきた水入りの缶がのっていた。一本の糸が缶から下がり、その先端は椅子の座面に結びつけられていた。その仕掛けのせいで、被害者が席につけば、大きな油の飾りが、新しいズックのズボンにつくことになり、その背中が糸に衝撃をあたえ、水でいっぱいの洗礼式を引きおこすことになるだろう。だが、たまたま大きな作業場から年配の職人、老ベン・ガッツがその場に現れ、進みながら、上着の裏地で眼鏡をぬぐった。彼は新しい見習いのことは何も聞いてなかったので、よさそうな場所に、暖かそうな席が空いているということしか気にとめず、急いでその椅子をつかんだ。

 見習いたちは驚いた。「いけません、いけません、そこは」数ヤード離れたところから、誰かが叫んだ。

 「はやくこっちにこい、手をかしてくれ」老ベン・ガッツは上機嫌でいうと、運命の場所に腰をおろした。

「はやくこっちに、はやくー」

 その缶が落下してきた。ドアのところにいたジョニーは息をのんで、白髪頭の職人をみつめ、その手に握られた眼鏡やら、白い作業ズボンに油の模様ができていく様を観察した。職人は水滴をたらし、跳びはねながら罵り声をあげ、まわりの見習いたちの頭を思いっきり叩いて叱りつけたが、それでも殴りつけることはしなかった。

 

He resumed his heavy progress up the stairs, turning Johnny round by the shoulder, and sending him in front. There were furtive grins in the shop, and one lad asked “Got it?” in a voice cautiously subdued. But just then the bell rang for breakfast.

Most of the men and several of the boys made their best pace for the gate. These either lived near, or got their breakfasts at coffee-shops, and their half-hour began and ended in haste. The few others, more leisurely, stayed to gather their cans and handkerchiefs—some to wipe their hands on cotton waste, that curious tangled stuff by which alone Johnny remembered his father. As for him, he waited to do what the rest did, for he saw that his friend, the long man, had gone out with the patrons of coffee-shops. The boys took their cans and clattered down to the smiths’ shop, Johnny well in the rear, for he was desirous of judging from a safe distance, what form the “little game” might take, that the long man had warned him of, in case it came soon. But a wayward fate preserved him from booby-traps that morning.

In the first place, he had come in a cap, and so for-fended one ordeal. For it was the etiquette of the shop among apprentices that any bowler hat brought in on the head of a new lad must be pinned to the wall with the tangs of many files; since a bowler hat, ere a lad had four years at least of service, was a pretension, a vainglory, and an outrage. Next, his lagging saved his new ducks. The first lads down had prepared the customary trap, which consisted of a seat of honour in the best place near the fire; a seat doctored with a pool of oil, and situated exactly beneath a rafter on which stood a can of water taken from a lathe; a string depending from the can, with its lower end fastened behind the seat. So that the victim accepting the accommodation would receive a large oily embellishment on his new white ducks, and, by the impact of his back against the string, induce a copious christening of himself and his entire outfit. But it chanced that an elderly journeyman from the big shop—old Ben Cutts—appeared on the scene early, wiping his spectacles on his jacket lining as he came. He knew nothing of a fresh ‘prentice, saw nothing but a convenient and warm seat, and hastened to seize it.

The lads were taken by surprise. “No—not there!” shouted one a few yards away.

“Fust come fust served, me lad,” chuckled old Ben Cutts, as he dropped on the fatal spot. “‘Ere I am, an’ ‘ere I—”

With that the can fell, and Johnny at the door was astonished to observe a grey-headed workman, with a pair of spectacles in his hand and a vast oily patch on his white overalls, dripping and dancing and swearing, and smacking wildly at the heads of the boys about him, without hitting any.

 

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カテゴリー: アーサー・モリスン, ロンドン・タウンへ パーマリンク

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