This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

Samuel has returned to his earlier, lively style of narrative. He imaginatively understands the office boy, but utters conventional proprieties while undercutting them by the sheer gusto of the narrative and of the illustrations. He takes a leaf out of Dickens or Thackeray in the juxtaposition of a New Testament reference to the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28 and Luke 12:27) and a boys’ game, through the pun on ‘spinning’. (A ‘peg top’ being a pear-shaped spinning top with a metal pin or peg forming the point.) Another example is the hyperbole of describing the boy ‘s pleasure from the ‘gory, pirate-cum-sailor-hero type of story’, as ‘the balm of Gilead’ (mentioned in Jeremiah 8:19-22). The Yorkshire idiom for playing at marbles is 'laking [or laiking] at taws.' —David Skilton

Mural decorations by the office boy – with the office poker – red hot.

HE ways of the office boy, sir, are peculiar – and unpleasantly peculiar for the most part. The office boy, sir, evidently enters upon life with the resolve that he will toil not, neither will he spin – and he generally keeps his word, unless carving his name on one of his employers' best mahogany desks be reckoned as toil, and spinning tops in the cheering and invigorating game of ‘peg top’ constitute the spinning part of the programme. A really attentive office boy who is devoted to the interests of his master is a treasure to be hugged to one's bosom – metaphorically speaking, I of course mean – and treasured on account of his rarity, like a receipted bill or a family squint. I never yet knew but one such treasure – and he died young from an excess of lemon coolers and ice-cream, indulgences against which no office boy that ever was has been proof. His master was an impecunious man, and that boy, with an instinct that was as rare and remarkable as a cabman in spectacles, could and did unerringly detect a creditor and a ‘dun’ immediately such a person presented himself, and a champion bore who called to fritter away the time had no chance whatever of interviewing the boy's master when the sagacious youth willed that it should not be so. Some uncharitable people were there who accounted for the boy's wondrous power of detecting duns and men with county court processes by saying than no one else ever happened to call at his master's office -- except men having pens and rubber stamps, and they are easy enough to detect.

The office boy’s idea of Samuel. Blotting pad illustration.

The new office boy looks nice enough, as a rule, when he first calls upon you, accompanied by his mother, who is usually of the ‘'ighly respectable, much-dragged-down-with-childer’ order. His face shines with yellow soap, his hair, upon which tremendous exertion seems to have been expended, is plastered down as with a flat iron, the patches in his clothes (if any) absolutely seem to give him an air of severe respectability, and he has, with a lavishness and generosity of which you never have any further evidences, been provided with a pocket-handkerchief. It is represented to you that he has at school passed innumerable standards, and that at home he is a ‘varry good lad,’ he answers questions promptly – though somewhat mechanically, the while that his eye wanders round the room as though in search of objects of interest, and finally he is engaged. It is now that he begins to urge on his mad career, to the total disorganisation of his master's temper, and to the general discomfort of all whose misfortune it is to come into intimate contact with him. He developes [sic] a taste, when you are out, for hanging half out of the office window and pelting the sparrows on the neighbouring roof, or the passers-by, with lumps of coal; having his head out in the street, so to speak, he wholly fails to hear anybody who may knock at the office door; you find him, when you return, on the landing fighting with another office lad, or practising tobogganing on the balustrade of the staircase, or he is neatly and ingeniously burning a graphic representation of yourself on the office floor with a red-hot poker, or he is lost in a reverie, smoking cane. You leave him a document to copy, telling him that you will return in exactly an hour, and he then locks up and sallies forth, leaving a notification at the door that you will be ‘back in five minutes.’ Possibly when you return you will discover him endeavouring to obtain re-entry, the key having gone wrong somehow, or he will seem to be extremely busy with the document in question, upon his copy of which he has inscribed about five lines and a huge inkstain, the latter being the result of a spill. Although he has done so little to decorate in a legitimate manner the copy document you will find that he has been by no means idle as regards the blotting pad, which is most pleasantly and plentifully inscribed with such records as that ‘Tom Gubbens’ (the boy next door[)] ‘is a hass,’ ‘owd –– (blank – probably intended for yourself)‘ ‘in a fit,’ these legends being attended by fitting illustrations. Nor does his decorative craze confine itself exclusively to every available scrap of paper – mural decorations on the newly distempered wall supplement his other artistic efforts, and it is astonishing what wondrous breadth of effect and freedom of design be can get with the burnt and charcoaly end of a bit of chip or one's favourite walking-stick.

The office boy taking a little ‘light’ refreshment – jam pasty. Mark his jammy features.

The office boy is universally a youth of large, not to say unhealthy appetite, his weakness lying apparently in the direction of jam and mint pasties (a dreadful mixtures of yellow pastry, mint and currants), so far as the heavier (I use the term advisedly) articles of his dietary are concerned, and the trail of those pasties seems to lie over everything about the office, from the handles of the doors to the hafts of the pens and to the ruler. Even his face betrays evidence of his jammy propensities, and the floor near where he has enjoyed his feast (or guzzle, perhaps, I ought to say) is thickly bestrewn with the many crumbs he has shed around him. And he is not always content in the enjoyment of his own victuals. A confiding master, eager for a snack, may, about the hour of noon, despatch him for a couple of hot pies. An errand of this sort comes to him as a boon and a blessing. His master probably finds that the hot gravy usually associated with this species of pie is conspicuous by its absence. A cursory examination of the front of that boy's jacket affords damning proof of his guilt. He has levied toll upon the gravy during his passage up the stairs, and has, moreover, despoiled the dainty of such ornamental crust as may have adorned its lid or covering.

Sunday aspect of the office boy.

The office boy is not pre-eminently renowned for the promptitude and despatch he exercises in the running of errands; in fact, being sent on a very special message, and one demanding haste, he usually contrives, despite the exigencies of the occasion and his knowledge that time is of essence of the contract, to get through a considerable amount of weighty business of his own, such as ‘laking at taws’ (‘aily on’) with a friend, looking in toy-shop and picture dealers' windows, calling in just to discuss current on dits at the establishment of Antonio Stomachachio, the ice-cream purveyor, following a street band or a Punch and Judy tragedian, or having a lengthy ride with a friendly 'bus-man. Whilst you are eating your heart out for a reply to an important communication, he is lifting stones with a sucker in a bye-lane, or he is having a friendly game at knuckle down with a doctor's boy who has medicine to deliver to a dying patient. Sometimes the amiable peculiarity of the office boy is the collecting of stamps – English stamps and unused ones.

This the sort of gentleman the office boy likes to read about.

Another pleasant feature of his character is his reception of your most particular friends whilst you are out. He either ‘cheeks’ them, as the expression goes, or he reveals things in connection with the office that were better left unknown. I cannot conclude my remarks upon the office boy without referring to his love of light literature which he invariably conceals, in the shape ‘penny numbers,’ under his blotting pad, and reads during office hours, and when you have given him letters which ought to be despatched at once, to address. The gory, pirate-cum-sailor-hero type of story is his speciality, and the adventures of ‘Prairie Peter, the Indian Sticker,’ and of ‘Black Beppo, Skipper of the Scaramouch,’ are as balm of Gilead to his soul. If he can only succeed in embezzling some petty cash, he invariably purchases a pistol and a watch (the latter no doubt to be used on some future occasion when he is giving one of the victims of his buccaneering excursions five minutes for prayer ere walking the plank), and really imagines that he is ‘Murdering Matthew, the Pottery Fields Pirate’ till a policeman is called upon the scene and asks for an explanation of his accounts, when he bellows in a manner that the stoical pirate would no doubt have been heartily ashamed of. I have come to the conclusion, sir, that the less one knows of the office boy the better one likes him. He is almost too good for this world. Boys will be boys, of course; the Prophet be thanked that they are not all office boys.

Last modified 3 March 2022