A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

22

The feud between the Jago and Dove Lane was eternal, just as was that between the Ranns and the Learys; but, like the Rann and Leary feud, it had its paroxysms and its intervals. And, in both cases, the close of a paroxysm was signalised by a great show of amity between the factions. Bob Rann and Billy Leary would drink affably from the same pot, and Norah Walsh and Sally Green would call each other ‘mum’; while Jagos and Dove–Laners would mingle in bars and lend pinches of tobacco, and call each other ‘matey.’ A paroxysm in the war had now passed, and reconciliation was due. The Dove–Laners had been heavily thrashed: their benjamins and kicksies had been impounded in Meakin Street, and they had ceased from buying. Dove Lane itself had been swept from end to end by the victorious Jago, and the populations of both were dotted thickly with bandaged heads. This satisfactory state of things achieved, there was little reason left for fighting. Moreover, if fighting persisted too long at a time, the police were apt to turn up in numbers, subjecting the neighbourhood to much inconvenient scrutiny, and very often coming across Jagos — or even Dove–Laners —‘wanted’ on old accounts. So peace was declared; and, as a visible sign thereof, it was determined that the Dove–Laners should visit the Jago in a body, there to join in a sing-song at Mother Gapp’s. Mother Gapp’s was chosen, not only because it was Mother Gapp’s — an important consideration — but also because of the large room behind the bar, called the ‘club-room,’ which had long ago been made of two rooms and a big cupboard, by the cutting away of crazy partitions from the crazy walls.

Scarce was it dark when the Dove–Laners, in a succession of hilarious groups — but withal a trifle suspicious — began to push through Mother Gapp’s doors. Their caps pulled down to their ears, their hands in their pockets, their shoulders humped, and their jackets buttoned tight, they lurched through the Jago, grinning with uneasy affability at the greetings that met them, being less practised than the Jagos in the assumption of elaborate cordiality.

In the club-room of the Feathers there were but three or four of the other party, though the bar was packed. The three or four, of whom Josh Perrott was one, were by way of a committee of stewards deputed to bid the Dove–Laners welcome, and to help them to seats. The Jagos were in some sort in the situation of hosts, and it had been decided after debate that it would ill become them to take their places till their guests were seated. The punctilio of the Jago on such occasions was a marvel ever.

So Josh Perrott stood at one side of the club-room door and Billy Leary at the other, shaking hands with all who entered, and strenuously maintaining cheerful grins. Now the Jago smile was a smile by itself, unlike the smiles in other places. It faded suddenly, and left the face — the Jago face — drawn and sad and startling by contrast, as of a man betrayed into mirth in the midst of great sorrow. So that a persistent grin was known for a work of conscious effort.

The Dove–Laners came in still larger numbers than had been expected, and before long it was perceived that there would be little space in the club-room, if any at all, for the Jagos. Already the visitors seemed to fill the place, but they still kept coming, and found places by squeezing. There was some doubt as to what had best be done. Meanwhile the sing-song began, for at least a score were anxious to ‘oblige’ at once, and every moment fresh volunteers arose. Many Dove–Laners stood up, and so made more room; but more came, and still more, till the club-room could hold not another, and the very walls were like to burst. Under the low ceiling hung a layer of smoke that obscured the face of the man standing on the table at the end to sing; and under the smoke was a close-packed array of heads, hats, and clay pipes, much diversified by white bandages and black eyes.

Such Dove–Laners as came in now were fain to find places in the bar, if they could; and a crowd of Jagos, men and women, hung about the doors of the Feathers. More fortunate than other boys, Dicky, who would go anywhere to hear what purported to be music, had succeeded in worming himself through the bar and almost to the door of the club-room; but he could get no farther, and now he stood compressed, bounded on the face by Cocko Harnwell’s coat-tails, and on the back of the head by Fluffy Pike’s moleskin waistcoat, with pearlies down the front and the artful dodge over the pockets. Pud Palmer — one of the reception committee — was singing. He accompanied his chorus by a step dance, and all the company stamped in sympathy:—

She’s a fighter, she’s a biter, she’s a swearer, she’s a tearer,

The gonophs down aar alley they calls ’er Rorty Sal;

But as I’m a pertikiler sort o’ bloke, I calls ’er Rorty Sairer,

I’m goin’—’

Crack! — CRASH!

Dicky clung to Cocko Harnwell’s coat-tails lest he were trampled to death; and for a while he was flung about, crushed and bruised, among rushing men, like a swimmer among breakers, while the air was rent with howls and the smash of glass. For the club-room floor had given way.

It had been built but slightly in the beginning, as floor for two small rooms and a cupboard, with little weight to carry. Old and rotten now, and put to the strain of a multitude, stamping in unison, it had failed utterly, and had let down a struggling mob of men five feet on the barrels in the cellar, panic-stricken and jumbled with tables, pots, wooden forms, lighted pipes and splintered joinery.

From the midst of the stramash a Dove–Laner bawled aloud that it was a trap, and instantly Jagos and Dove–Laners were at each others’ throats, and it was like to go hard with the few Jagos among the ruins. Billy Leary laid about him desperately with a ragged piece of flooring, while Josh Perrott and Pud Palmer battered Dove–Laners with quart pots. Then it was shouted without that the Dove–Laners were exterminating the Jagos within, and a torrent of Jagos burst through the doors, poured through the bar, and over the club-room threshold into the confusion below.

Dicky, bruised, frightened and flung like a rag this way and that, at last made shift to grasp a post, and climb up on the bar counter. Mother Gapp, a dishevelled maniac, was dancing amid pots and broken glass, black in the face, screaming inaudibly. Dicky stumbled along the counter, climbed over the broken end of a partition, and fell into the arms of Kiddo Cook, coming in with the rush. ‘Put the boy out!’ yelled Kiddo, turning and heaving him over the heads behind him. Somebody caught Dicky by a leg and an arm, his head hit the door post, the world turned a double-somersault about him, and he came down with a crash. He was on the flags of Old Jago Street, with all his breath driven out of him.

But he was quickly on his feet again. A crowd beat against the front of Mother Gapp’s, and reinforcements came running from everywhere, with the familiar rallying-cry, ‘Jago! Jago ’old tight!’ Dove Lane had abused the Jago hospitality; woe to the Dove–Laners!

There were scuffles here and there, where Dove–Laners, who had never reached the club-room, or who had been crowded out of it, made for escape. Dicky was shaken and sore, but he pulled himself together resolutely. He had seen a few Dove Lane boys about before he had got into the Feathers, and plainly it was his duty to find them and bash them. Moreover, he wondered what had become of his father. He hastened through the dark passage of the house next to Mother Gapp’s, into the back yard, and through the broken fence. There was a door in the club-room wall, and through this he thought to see what was going forward.

The cellar — at any rate, at the farther end — was a pit of writhing forms, and the din rose loud as ever. A short figure stood black against the light, and held by the door-post, looking down at the riot. Dicky knew it. He sprang at Bobby Roper, pulled him by the arm, and struck at him furiously. The hunchback, whimpering, did his best to retaliate and to get away; but Dicky, raging at the remembrance of his fancied injury, struck savagely, and struck again, till Bobby Roper tripped backward over the projecting end of a broken floor-board, and pitched headlong into the cellar. He struck a barrel and rolled over, falling into the space between that and two other barrels. Dicky looked, but the hunchback did not move. Then some of the Dove–Laners flung pots at the lamps hanging against the club-room walls. Soon they were smashed and fell, and there was a darkness; and under cover thereof the aliens essayed flight.

Dicky was a little frightened at what he had done, but he felt that with Bobby Roper anything was justifiable. Some Dove–Laners escaped by the back door — the cellar was low, and there was not five feet between the barrels and the broken joists — and these Dicky avoided by getting back through the fence. In the end, most of the enemy struggled away by one means or another, and when lights were brought at last the Jagos were found pummelling each other savagely in the gloom.

Father Sturt, apprised of something uncommon by the exodus of members from the club, finally locked the doors and came to investigate. He arrived as the Jagos were extricating themselves from the cellar, and it was he who lifted the little hunchback from among the barrels and carried him into the open air; he also who carried him home. No bone was broken, and no joint was disturbed, but there was a serious shock, many contusions, and a cut on the scalp. So said the surgeon whom Father Sturt took with him to Dove Lane. And Bobby Roper lay a fortnight in bed.

More plaster than ever embellished the heads of Dove Lane and the Jago that night; but for the Jagos there was compensation. For down among the barrels lay many a packet of tobacco, many a pair of boots, and many a corner stuffed with mixed property of other sorts: which Mother Gapp had fenced for many a month back. So that it happened to more than one warrior to carry home again something with which he had run between the ‘Posties’ long before, and had sold to Mother Gapp for what she would give.

The ground floor of the Feathers stood a battered shell. The damage of four years ago was inconsiderable compared to this. With tears and blasphemy Mother Gapp invaded the hoard of her long iniquity to buy a new floor; but it was the larceny — the taking of the tobacco and the boots, and the many other things from among the barrels — that cut her to the soul. A crool — a crool thing was such robbery — sheer robbery, said Mother Gapp.

Josh Perrott got a bad sprain in the cellar and had to be helped home. More, he took with him not a single piece of plunder, such was his painful disablement.

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