A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

19

Dicky had gone on an errand, and Mr Grinder was at the shop door, when there appeared before him a whiskered and smirking figure, with a quick glance each way along the street, and a long and smiling one at the oil-man’s necktie.

‘Good mornin’, Mr Grinder, good mornin’ sir.’ Mr Weech stroked his left palm with his right fist and nodded pleasantly. ‘I’m in business meself, over in Meakin Street — name of Weech: p’r’aps you know the shop? I— I jist ’opped over to ask’— Grinder led the way into the shop —‘to ask (so’s to make things quite sure y’know, though no doubt it’s all right) to ask if it’s correct you’re awfferin’ brass roastin’-jacks at a shillin’ each.’

‘Brass roastin’-jacks at a shillin’?’ exclaimed Grinder, shocked at the notion. ‘Why, no!’

Mr Weech appeared mildly surprised. ‘Nor yut seven-poun’ jars o’ jam an’ pickles at sixpence?’ he pursued, with his eye on those ranged behind the counter.

‘No!’

‘Nor doormats at fourpence?’

‘Fourpence? Cert’nly not!’

Mr Weech’s face fell into a blank perplexity. He pawed his ear with a doubtful air, murmuring absently:—‘Well I’m sure ’e said fourpence: an’ sixpence for pickles, an’ bring ’em round after the shop was shut. But there’, he added, more briskly, ‘there’s no ’arm done, an’ no doubt it’s a mistake.’ He turned as though to leave, but Grinder restrained him.

‘But look ’ere,’ he said, ‘I want to know about this. Wotjer mean? ’Oo was goin’ to bring round pickles after the shop was shut? ’Oo said fourpence for doormats?’

‘Oh, I expect it’s jest a little mistake, that’s all,’ answered Weech, making another motion toward the door; ’an’ I don’t want to git nobody into trouble.’

‘Trouble? Nice trouble I’d be in if I sold brass smoke-jacks for a bob! There’s somethink ’ere as I ought to know about. Tell me about it straight.’

Weech looked thoughtfully at the oil-man’s top waistcoat button for a few seconds, and then said:—‘Yus, p’raps I better. I can feel for you, Mr Grinder, ’avin’ a feelin’ ’art, an’ bein’ in business meself. Where’s your boy?’

‘Gawn out.’

‘Comin’ back soon?’

‘Not yut. Come in the back-parlour.’

There Mr Weech, with ingenuous reluctance, assured Mr Grinder that Dicky Perrott had importuned him to buy the goods in question at the prices he had mentioned, together with others — readily named now that the oil-man swallowed so freely — and that they were to be delivered and paid for at night when Dicky left work. But perhaps, Mr Weech concluded, parading an obstinate belief in human nature, perhaps the boy, being new to the business, had mistaken the prices, and was merely doing his best to push his master’s trade.

‘No fear o’ that,’ said Grinder, shaking his head gloomily. ‘Not the least fear o’ that. ’E knows the cheapest doormats I got’s one an’ six — I ’eard him tell customers so outside a dozen times; an’ anyone can see the smoke-jacks is ticketed five an ‘nine’— as Mr Weech had seen, when he spoke of them. ‘I thought that boy was too eager an’ willin’ to be quite genavin,’ Dicky’s master went on. ”E ain’t ’ad me yut, that’s one comfort: if anythin’ ’ud bin gawn I’d ’a’ missed it. But out ’e goes as soon as ’e comes back: you can take yer davy o’ that!’

‘Ah,’ replied Mr Weech, ‘it’s fearful the wickedness there is about, ain’t it? It’s enough to break yer ’art. Sich a neighb’r’ood, too! Wy, if it was known as I’d give you this ’ere little friendly information, bein’ in business meself an’ knowin’ wot it is, my life wouldn’t be safe a hower. It wouldn’t, Mr Grinder.’

‘Wouldn’t it?’ said Mr Grinder. ‘You mean them in the Jago, I s’pose.’

‘Yus. They’re a awful lot, Mr Grinder — you’ve no idear. The father o’ this ’ere boy as I’ve warned you aginst, ’e’s in with a desprit gang, an’ they’d murder me if they thought I’d come an’ told you honest, w’en you might ’a’ bin robbed, as is my nature to. They would indeed. So o’ course you won’t say wot I toldjer, nor ’oo give you this ’ere honourable friendly warnin’— not to nobody.’

‘That’s awright,’ answered the simple Grinder, ‘I won’t let on. But out ’e goes, promp’. I’m obliged to ye, Mr Weech. Er — r wot’ll ye take?’

Weech put away the suggestion with a virtuous palm:—‘Nothink at all, Mr Grinder, thanks all the same. I never touch nothink; an’ I’m glad to — to do any moral job, so to speak, as comes in my way. ‘Scatter seeds o’ kindness’ you know, as the — the Psalm says, Mr Grinder. Your boy ain’t back, is ’e?’

And after peering cautiously, Mr Weech went his way.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11