Bill's Wolf Burt
It was evening, and the moon shone on the ice at London Bridge. The
River Thames was frozen over and London was celebrating its Frost Fair.
Tomorrow night might bring the great thaw, so everyone was taking the
opportunity of enjoying themselves.
Bill had been out on the ice for most of the day selling hot chestnuts,
and was looking forward to a busy night's work. Chestnuts were very
popular with the skaters and Bill's were considered the best from
Blackfriars to London Bridge.
As well as Bill's hot chestnuts there were beer stands, gin tents and
gingerbread stalls; roast beef vendors, puppet shows and toy sellers.
For the Frost Fair was a good time for all the craftsmen, performers
and sellers to earn an extra few bob. Printers made little cards to say
that you had walked on the ice and one had actually printed a whole
book about ice and frost near London Bridge.
Bill had his own pair of skates and spent much of his time picking up
fallen skaters. After brushing them down he would often sell them a big
bag of very hot chestnuts. But, as usual, the chestnuts were too
As well as skating and sideshows there were other excitements on the
ice on this cold evening everyone watched as a fire-eater called the
Great Egyptian blew huge flames into the air, as high as a steeple. He
skinny little man and Bill worried that the wind might change and The
Great Egyptian would go up in a puff of smoke.
"I am the Great Egyptian, descended from the Fire gods of the Ancient
Nile. My blood is of fire. I fear no man and I fear no fire". However
many times the wind changed he didn't so much as singe an
After performing his death defying feat he took off towards Westminster
and with pennies filling his pockets he sent another ball of fire high
into the night, to everyone's great amusement and delight.
Next, Eight Bells Roger came skating over the ice ringing from head to
toe. He was very popular and sang old songs and new ditties. Shaking
the bells on his head, his arms and his legs he sang his new piece to
the happy crowd:
I ring the bells on Thames' water,
At home a wife a son and a daughter.
I'm as free as a bird in a summer's harvest
And warm as toast with a coat and a vest.
Then he did a quick spin and everyone clapped to the sound of his
After a few more songs he skated off singing:
In good King George's day
I made my earthly way
Making a bob or a crown
On the ice of London Town.
It wasn't long before Bill's favourite performers skated up and stopped
front of him. They were a funny little family of acrobats: a girl and a
boy with their mother and father. And even though they were obviously a
family they called themselves the 'Rollover Brothers'.
"Hey, Bill, save us some chestnuts," they shouted. Bill gave them a
loud cheer as they started their act.
"Welcome all you ladies and gentlemen who have come to see the Rollover
Brothers. We rollover all the way from Barking to make you happy". At
this everyone laughed. The Rollover Brothers clapped and turned a
somersault over each other and ended up in a great pile in the middle
of the crowd. Picking
themselves up the Brothers climbed on top of each other with Mum at
bottom. The father climbed onto her shoulders with his foot in her
mouth, and the boy and the girl on top. Mum then bit Dad's foot and
they all fell down into a heap again.
"Hey, Mum", shouted Dad. "That's my bad foot". Mum turned and slapped
round the face and shouted "and that's my bad mouth". Then everyone
laughed again, and after passing their hat round they all jumped on Dad
and he carried them off shouting: "The Rollover Brothers from Barking,
roll over the ice which is very nice".
"Don't forget your chestnuts", shouted Bill, and threw Dad over a big
bag. And without dropping either a chestnut or a member of the family
he shared them out as they wandered off to find another audience. As
Bill watched the Rollover Brothers disappear he thought how happy he
would be to get into bed that night, after such a long day. Shouting
even louder, hoping to sell his chestnuts off quicker, he suddenly
heard a growl behind him. Turning round he saw the nastiest man
imaginable. He had a big black beard and was dressed in animal skins.
And pulling on thick chains were three grey animals. Snarling, he
Bill aside. Bill had never seen him before and was not very happy at
seeing him now.
"I am Herman the Wolf Man", he bawled. "these are my wolves that I
captured single-handedly in a forest in Germany".
"In a forest in Islington", shouted someone from the crowd.
"In a forest in Germany", he snarled above the laughter. At this the
grey wolves growled and tugged on their chains. This was enough to keep
everyone quiet for a few moments.
"Silence!" roared Herman. He then went round with a bag for everyone to
put a penny in. "and now for one penny I will put my hand in each of
these vicious wolves' mouths, taken by me in a forest in
"Islington", shouted someone again from the crowd. "Germany", he
The wolves growled and once again the laughter was over for a few
"And in putting my hand in these mouths", he continued, "I take the
risk of not only losing my hand, but also the rest of me. For once
these ferocious animals have tasted my blood they will devour me in
seconds". "Gosh", cried
a few people, but no one was going to tell him not to do it.
After much snarling at the animals, Herman put his great big dirty hand
into each of the wolves' mouths.
"Bite it off, doggie" came a lone shout. And once again, everyone
laughed. Herman growled and the wolves snapped and pulled on their
chains. But, however ferocious Herman and his wolves looked nobody was
very impressed. So once he had done his tricks everyone wandered off
laughing and joking about The Horrible Herman and Herman began counting
But Herman was a mean man and when he noticed Bill's chestnuts he
wanted some for nothing. "Give me a bag", he snarled, as the wolves
growled and pulled on their chains.
"Not in a month of Sundays", said Bill. Herman growled again.
"You're a little thief charging for nuts that can be picked up in the
forest for nothing". But Bill was not going to be frightened by
"Ah, but not a forest in Islington".
This enraged Herman, who jumped at Bill. But Bill was far too quick and
skated out of the way.
"You little thief, I'll crack your head open". But the Wolf Man got
tangled up in his chains and before he knew it the wolves had pulled
them out of his hands. Instead of jumping on Bill they ran straight
past him and disappeared into the darkness, with Herman chasing after
"Come back you dogs" he shouted, "Come back". But they were as free as
kites and no amount of growling would bring them back.
However happy Bill was at upsetting the mean Wolf Man it wasn't exactly
a good idea to have wolves running all over London. Bill would have to
tell the towncrier.
Eight Bells Roger came by and said he would look after Bill's chestnuts
until he returned. "I'll ring all the time" he said and immediately
composed another ditty:
Chestnuts, chestnuts, hot as coals
Warm your body and your souls.
Come and buy while you've the chance
For on the ice it's all romance.
Bill rushed off toward Mansion House through the dark, snow-covered
streets to find the towncrier. It wasn't long before he was
breathlessly telling the story of Herman the Wolf Man and the escape of
his wolves. Immediately the towncrier started ringing his bell.
"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. Ten o'clock on Monday night and all is not
well. Three wolves have escaped from the ice at London Bridge. Hear ye,
hear ye, hear ye. Ten o'clock on a Monday night and all is not well".
And off he
went through the city streets crying his message of woe to all and
sundry. It was bitterly cold when Bill returned and Eight Bells Roger
was jumping up and down to keep warm . He sounded like a small St
Paul's Cathedral on ice. And he had sold every last one of the
Here comes the Prince of Chestnuts,
Now my friends, we really must shut.
See you all on the morrow, more
That's as long as there isn't a thaw.
Bill thanks Eight Bells Roger who skated off, as always ringing from
head to toe. Then Bill loaded his barrow, and made his way towards
Three Cranes Lane. It was here that Bill had made his home in a stable
behind the Three Cranes Inn. Though it wasn't much to look at, at least
it was warm and could take his barrow, and store his chestnuts. He
slept in a kind of loft-bed that he had built himself, after he had
become an orphan (but that is another story).
Bill looked forward to coming back to his little home, especially on a
cold night like tonight. It was hard work selling chestnuts, keeping
the fire going and shouting from morn 'til night.
As Bill opened the door he realised that he had left the window open.
It was freezing. Ice hung from the window ledge and a cold wind was
blowing through. He closed the window quickly and called himself a
fool, out loud. To his complete surprise, as if in answer, there came a
"What in heaven's name is that?" thought Bill as a cold tingle ran down
his spine. "Sounds as though I've got an intruder". Very carefully he
lit his oil lamp. Holding it high above his head and picking up his
heavy stick, he
turned the light towards the corner. There, shivering from head to toe
was a frightened animal. "Why, it's one of Herman's wolves that they
are looking for all over London. He must have got in through the
window". Bill thought quickly. The best thing would be to run out and
But as soon as he moved backwards the wolf growled again, and that sent
another shiver down his spine. "I'm caught here" he said to himself.
"I'll have to make a run for it". Slowly he picked up an old coat to
the wolf before he ran for the door.
Suddenly something occurred to Bill, the wolf was shivering and had
fallen through the ice. But he was no longer a big grey animal: he was
It didn't take Bill long to realise that Herman was a bigger fraud than
anybody had imagined. He had coloured the dog's coats grey so they
looked like wolves! They really were just ordinary dogs! And they may
well have come from Islington after all!
"Well, I never did!" said Bill out loud. "You are just an ordinary old
dog, not a fierce grey wolf".
Bill lit the fire and heated some food up. "Come, my lad, you must be
starving. I'm sure that's how Herman kept you growling all the time -
by beating and starving you". Bill watched as the ginger dog wolfed
down the food. He put out another portion and then fried himself some
bacon and cabbage. The stable was as warm as a bakers' after a while,
and Bill's new ginger friend dozed by the fire.
Bill himself could hardly keep his eyes open. Tomorrow he would tell
the towncrier about Herman's fraud, and the mean Wolf Man would then be
driven out of town.
"I'll think I'll call you Bert", he yawned as he stoked up the fire for
night, laid out an old rug for his new friend, and settled down to
The next morning everyone gathered around as Bill showed off Bert.
Where did you get him, Bill?" he was asked.
So Bill began his story....