He never remembered having a father or mother or anyone to care for him, and so he learned to care for himself. He ate whatever he could get, and slept wherever night overtook him--in an old barrel, a cellar, or, when fortune favored him, he paid a penny for a cot in some rude lodging-house.
His life about the streets taught him early how to earn a living by doing odd jobs, and he learned to be sharp in his speech and wise beyond his years.
One morning Tommy crawled out from a box in which he had slept over night, and found that he was hungry. His last meal had consisted of a crust of bread, and he was a growing boy with an appetite.
He had been unable to earn any money for several days, and this morning life looked very gloomy to him. He started out to seek for work or to beg a breakfast; but luck was against him, and he was unsuccessful. By noon he had grown more hungry than before, and stood before a bake-shop for a long time, looking wistfully at the good things behind the window-panes, and wishing with all his heart he had a ha'penny to buy a bun.
And yet it was no new thing for Little Tommy Tucker to be hungry, and he never thought of despairing. He sat down upon a curb-stone, and thought what was best to be done. Then he remembered he had frequently begged a meal at one of the cottages that stood upon the outskirts of the city, and so he turned his steps in that direction.
"I have had neither breakfast nor dinner," he said to himself, "and I must surely find a supper somewhere, or I shall not sleep much to-night. It is no fun to be hungry."
So he walked on until he came to a dwelling-house where a goodly company sat upon a lawn and beneath a veranda. It was a pretty place, and was the home of a fat alderman who had been married that very day.
The alderman was in a merry mood, and seeing Tommy standing without the gate he cried to him,
"Come here, my lad, and sing us a song."
Tommy at once entered the grounds, and came to where the fat alderman was sitting beside his blushing bride.
"Can you sing?" enquired the alderman.
"No," answered Tommy, earnestly, "but I can eat."
"Ho, ho!" laughed the alderman, "that is a very ordinary accomplishment. Anyone can eat."
"If it please you, sir, you are wrong," replied Tommy, "for I have been unable to eat all day."
"And why is that?" asked the alderman.
"Because I have had nothing to put to my mouth. But now that I have met so kind a gentleman, I am sure that I shall have a good supper."
The alderman laughed again at this shrewd answer, and said, "you shall have supper, no doubt; but you must sing a song for the company first, and so earn your food."
Tommy shook his head sadly.
"I do not know any song, sir," he said.
The alderman called a servant and whispered something in his ear. The servant hastened away, and soon returned bearing upon a tray a huge slice of white bread and butter. White bread was a rare treat in those days, as nearly all the people ate black bread baked from rye or barley flour.
"Now," said the alderman, placing the tray beside him, "you shall have this slice of white bread and butter when you have sung us a song, and complied with one condition."
"And what is that condition?" asked Tommy.
"I will tell you when we have heard the song," replied the fat alderman, who had decided to have some amusement at the boy's expense.
Tommy hesitated, but when he glanced at the white bread and butter his mouth watered in spite of himself, and he resolved to compose a song, since he did not know how to sing any other.
So he took off his cap, and standing before the company he sang as follows:
A bumble-bee lit on a hollyhock flower That was wet with the rain of a morning shower. While the honey he sipped His left foot slipped, And he could n't fly again for half an hour!
"Good!" cried the alderman, after the company had kindly applauded Tommy. "I can't say much for the air, nor yet for the words; but it was not so bad as it might have been.