A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

20

Dicky completed his round, and pushed his unladen trolley Grinder-ward with a fuller sense of responsibility than ever. For he carried money. A publican had paid him four and threepence, and he had taken two and tenpence elsewhere. He had left his proud signature, pencilled large and black, on two receipts, and he stopped in a dozen doorways to count the money over again, and make sure that all was right. Between the halts he added four and three to two and ten mentally, and proved his sum correct by subtracting each in turn from seven and a penny. And at last he stood his trolley on end by the bank of saucepans, and entered the shop.

‘Walker’s is paid, an’ Wilkins is paid,’ said Dicky, putting down the money. ‘Two an’ ten an’ four an’ three’s seven an’ a penny.’

Mr Grinder looked steadily and sourly at Dicky, and counted. He pitched the odd penny into the till and shook the rest of the coins in his closed hand, still staring moodily in the boy’s face. ‘It’s three an’ six a week you come ’ere at,’ he said.

‘Yus sir,’ Dicky replied, since Grinder seemed to expect an answer. The supreme moment when he should take his first wages had been the week’s beacon to him, reddening and brightening as Saturday night grew nearer.

‘Three an’ six a week an’ yer tea.’

Dicky wondered.

‘So as if I found out anythink about — say Brass Roastin’-jacks for instance — I could give ye yer three an’ six an’ start y’ auf, unless I did somethin’ wuss.’

Dicky was all incomprehension; but something made him feel a little sick.

‘But s’posin’ I didn’t find out anythink about — say Seven-pun’ Jars o’ Pickles — an’ s’pose I wasn’t disposed to suspect anythink in regard to — say Doormats; then I could either give ye a week s notice or pay y’ a week’s money an’ clear y’ out on the spot, without no more trouble.’

Mr Grinder paused, and still looked at Dicky with calm dislike. Then he added, as though in answer to himself, ‘Yus.’ . . .

He dropped the money slowly from his right hand to his left. Dicky’s mouth was dry, and the drawers and pickle-jars swam before him at each side of Grinder’s head. What did it mean?

”Ere y’ are,’ cried Mr Grinder, with sudden energy, thrusting his hand across the counter. ‘Two three-and-sixes is seven shillin’s, an’ you can git yer tea at ’ome with yer dirty little sister. Git out o’ my shop!’

Dicky’s hand closed mechanically on the money, and after a second’s pause, he found broken speech. ‘W— w — wot for, sir?’ he asked, huskily. ‘I ain’t done nothink!’

‘No, an’ you sha’n’t do nothink, that’s more. Out ye go! If I see ye near the place agin I’ll ’ave ye locked up!’

Dicky slunk to the door. He felt the sobs coming, but he turned at the threshold and said with tremulous lips:—‘Woncher gimme a chance, sir? S’elp me, I done me best. I—’

Mr Grinder made a short rush from the back of the shop, and Dicky gave up and fled.

It was all over. There could never be a shop with ‘R. Perrott’ painted over it, now; there would be no parlour with stuff-bottomed chairs and a piano for Em to play. He was cut off from the trolley for ever. Dicky was thirteen, and at that age the children of the Jago were past childish tears; but tears he could not smother, even till he might find a hiding-place: they burst out shamefully in the open street.

He took dark turnings, and hid his head in doorways. It was very bitter. At last, when the sobs grew fewer, he remembered the money gripped in his wet fist. It was a consolation. Seven shillings was a vast sum in Dicky’s eyes; until that day he had never handled so much in his life. It would have been handsome recompense, he thought, for any trouble in the world but this. He must take it home, of course; it might avail to buy sympathy of his father and mother. But then, to think he might have had as much every fortnight of his life, a good tea every day, and the proud responsibility, and the trolley! At this his lips came awry again, his eyes sought his sleeve, and he turned to another doorway.

His glance fell on the white apron, now smudged and greased in good earnest. It made him feel worse; so he untied it and stuffed it away under his jacket. He wondered vaguely what had occurred to irritate Mr Grinder, and why he talked of pickles and doormats; but the sorrow of it all afflicted him to the extinction of such minor speculation. And in this misery he dragged his reluctant feet toward the Old Jago.

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