Read PART I : CHAPTER IX of The Soul of a Child, free online book, by Edwin Bjorkman, on

The kitchen had other attractions than Granny, though she ranked foremost.

As Keith came out from the living-room, he had on his right the huge, old-fashioned fire-place a regular fortress of brick, with a modern cook stove of iron set into one corner of it. It was entirely covered by a smoke-hood of painted metal sheeting, with a flange on its outside edge along which were placed a number of lids.

On his left was a set of shelves filled from top to bottom with pots and pans and kettles of every possible size and shape, including a cauldron so huge and heavy that it took two people to get it out with ease from its place on the bottom shelf. An overwhelming majority of these utensils were of copper and so highly polished that they shone like suns setting through a fog bank. Some of them made good toys, but “things for use and not for play” was an old maxim often quoted by both parents and grudgingly repeated by Granny herself.

A big sofa, in which the grandmother slept at night stood along the centre of the wall on the left. The corner beyond held a wall-fast cupboard so large that it looked like a closet built into the room. It serves both as pantry and buffet, and was full of things tempting to a young palate.

In the opposite corner, beyond the window and right by the outside door, stood an open water barrel holding about twenty gallons. There was no running water above the ground floor. Every drop had to be carried three flights of stairs from the courtyard. What was needed for drinking and cooking was kept in a copper can, two feet high, with a lid on top and a spout in front that made it look like a badly overgrown tea kettle. Water for all other uses had to come out of the barrel. To keep both vessels filled was a heavy task, and waste of water was regarded as little short of a crime. The sacredness of the barrel and its contents was a mystery to Keith until he grew old enough to do some of the carrying. Then he began to understand.

Most of the water went to the stove, where operations of one kind or another were carried on from morning till night, tempting the boy with their mysteries or their promises. In the uppermost corner of the hood was a square opening covered by an iron lid. When the lid was down and you crawled right up into the fire-place, you could see the sky through the chimney.

One day, when Keith had sneaked into the kitchen uninvited, he noticed something unusual going on in the fire-place. All the paraphernalia had been cleared away. The lid was open, and from the chimney issued strange noises. Then soot began to fall in masses, and finally appeared a pair of human feet, quite bare and all black.

It was very funny and very disconcerting. Keith watched with bulging eyes and trembling heart, until at last a whole big man came out of the chimney. As he crouched for a moment on the fire-place before getting down on the floor, he turned on Keith a pair of eyes that seemed to be all white and big as moons.

At that moment fear got the better of curiosity, and Keith made haste to bury his face in Granny’s lap.

“Yes, Keith had better look out,” grinned the servant girl, “for the chimney sweep takes all bad little boys.”

“I’ll take you, if you talk like that,” the black figure in the fire-place shot back at her.

The tone of his voice made Keith steal another glance at him. The white eyes shone right at him in a rather friendly fashion, and further down a huge red slit in the black face framed two rows of teeth no less white than the eyes. Keith guessed that the dark visitor from the chimney was smiling at him in a fashion that seemed to bode no harm.

In another minute the man was gone, and Keith hurried back to the living-room to ask a question of his mother:

“Could he really take me?”

“Not unless we gave him leave,” she replied. “But sometimes, when little boys are very, very bad, their parents turn them over to the sweep as apprentices, because they are not good for anything else.”

Keith thought long and hard.

“I ain’t bad,” he declared at last.

“Not exactly,” his mother remarked diplomatically “But you could be a great deal better. What were you doing in the kitchen just now? I have told you not to run out there all the time. Lena does not like you to get in her way, you know.”

“But Granny is there,” Keith protested.

“Yes, of course, and you must be nice to her, but....”

As his mother did not go on, Keith asked: “Why does Granny always stay in the kitchen?”

“Because she wants to,” his mother answered.

“But why does she want to?”

“It is her way a sort of pride she has. And I have long ago given up trying to persuade her.”

Her tone indicated clearly that further discussion of the subject was not desirable.