The toy, thin and wrinkly like a small sausage, had a hard blank circle for a face.
Nelly crouched next to the hearth, gripping the toy in her hand. Mam was arguing with the rag-and-bone peddler about the gentleman’s clothes and boots. Jamie wanted to keep the boots, but Mam cuffed him and said not to be so stupid boy. Jamie went in a sulk out back where the pots bubbled. She couldn’t ever go near the cauldrons, or Sal smacked her. Sal said if Nelly put her hand in the pot all her skin would shrivel off and she’d be nothing but bones. When she was tall enough she would stir the boiling laundry with a stick and her face would get all flushed and ugly like Sal’s. She wished she would never get tall, and then she could be like Lizzy, who piled her hair on top of her head and came home every morning with coins and some meat for Mam. Lizzy’s face never got flushed.
The peddler gave Mam some coins, muttering about a hard bargain. Mam tucked the coins away and helped Sal bundle up the boots and trousers and waistcoat and nosewipe and linen shirt. The cufflinks and the gold rings were already gone because Lizzy took them. When the peddler thanked Mam and went out with the bundle under his arm, that meant the gentleman was all gone, even his papers, which Jamie burned in the hearth.
Nelly covered her ears when the gentleman shouted at Lizzy for being a sorry cheating whore. He was so fat his chins trembled and his face got even redder than when Sal stirred the washing. But Sal’s ugly face was white when she hit the gentleman on the head with the heavy pan. After he fell down, Sal and Mam and Lizzy dragged him out back. Mam told Jamie to bring the handsaw and be quick about it or they’d never get the rings off.
When Jamie came back he threw the handsaw into the corner, put a gold ring on the table, and gave her the toy.