A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

24

But indeed Josh Perrott’s luck was worse than he thought. For the gross, pimply man was a High Mobsman — so very high a mobsman that it would have been slander and libel, and a very great expense, to write him down a mobsman at all. He paid a rent of a hundred and twenty pounds a year, and heavy rates, and put half-a-crown into the plate at a very respectable chapel every Sunday. He was, in fact, the King of High Mobsmen, spoken of among them as the Mogul. He did no vulgar thievery: he never screwed a chat, nor claimed a peter, nor worked the mace. He sat easily at home, and financed (sometimes planned) promising speculations: a large swindle requiring much ground-baiting and preliminary outlay; or a robbery of specie from a mail train; or a bank fraud needing organization and funds. When the results of such speculations consisted of money he took the lion’s share. When they were expressed in terms of imprisonment they fell to active and intelligent subordinates. So that for years the Mogul had lived an affluent and a blameless life, far removed from the necessity of injudicious bodily exercise, and characterised by every indulgence consistent with a proper suburban respectability. He had patronised, snubbed, or encouraged High Mobsmen of more temerarious habit, had profited by their exploits, and had read of their convictions and sentences with placid interest in the morning papers. And after all this, to be robbed in his own house and knocked downstairs by a casual buster was an outrage that afflicted the Mogul with wrath infuriate. Because that was a sort of trouble that had never seemed a possibility, to a person of his eminence: and because the angriest victim of dishonesty is a thief.

However, the burglar had got clean away, that was plain; and he had taken the best watch and chain in the house, with the Mogul’s initials on the back. So that respectable sufferer sent for the police, and gave his attention to the the alleviation of bumps and the washing away of blood. In his bodily condition a light blow was enough to let a great deal of blood — no doubt with benefit; and Josh Perrott’s blows were not light in any case.

So it came to pass that not only were the police on the look-out for a man with a large gold watch with the Mogul’s monogram on the back; but also the word was passed as by telegraph through underground channels, till every fence in London was warned that the watch was the Mogul’s; and ere noon next day there was not one but would as lief have put a scorpion in his pocket as that same toy and tackle that Josh Perrott was gloating over in his back room in Old Jago Street.

As for Josh, his ankle was bad in the morning, and swelled. He dabbed at it perseveringly with wet rags, and rubbed it vigorously, so that by one o’clock he was able to lace up his boot and go out. He was anxious to fence his plunder without delay, and he made his way to Hoxton. The watch seemed to be something especially good, and he determined to stand out for a price well above the usual figure. For the swag of common thieves commanded no such prices as did that of the High Mob. All of it was bought and sold on the simple system first called into being seventy years back and more by the prince of fences, Ikey Solomons. A breast-pin brought a fixed sum, good or bad, and a roll of cloth brought the fixed price of a roll of cloth, regardless of quality. Thus a silver watch fetched six shillings, never more and never less; a gold watch was worth twice as much; an uncommonly good one — a rich man’s watch — would bring as much as eighteen shillings, if the thief were judge enough of its quality to venture the demand. And as it commonly took three men to secure a single watch in the open street — one to ‘front,’ one to snatch, and a third to take from the snatcher — the gains of the toy-getting trade were poor, except to the fence. This time Josh resolved to put pressure on the fence, and to do his best to get something as near a sovereign as might be. And as to the chain, so thick and heavy, he would fight his best for the privilege of sale by weight. Thus turning the thing in his mind, he entered the familiar doorway of the old clothes shop.

‘Vot is id?’ asked the fence, holding out his hand with the customary air of contempt for what was coming, by way of discounting it in advance. This particular fence, by-the-bye, never bought anything himself. He inspected whatever was brought on behalf of an occult friend; and the transaction was completed by a shabby third party in an adjoining court. But he had an amazingly keen regard for his friend’s interests.

Josh put the watch into the extended hand. The fence lifted it to his face, turned it over, and started. He looked hard at Josh, and then again at the watch, and handed it hastily back, holding it gingerly by the bow. ‘Don’ vant dot,’ he said; ‘nod me — nod ’im, I mean. No, no.’ He turned away, shaking his hand as though to throw off contamination. ‘Take id avay.’

‘Wot’s the matter?’ Josh demanded, astonished. ‘Is it ’cos o’ the letters on the back? You can easy send it to church, can’t ye?’

A watch is ‘sent to church’ when it is put into another case. But the fence waved away the suggestion. ‘Take id avay I tell you,’ he said. ‘I—’e von’t ’ave nodden to do vid id.’

‘Wot’s the matter with the chain, then?’ asked Josh. But the fence walked away to the back of the shop, wagging his hands desperately, like a wet man seeking a towel, and repeating only:—‘Nodden to do vid id — take id avay — nodden to do vid id.’

Josh stuffed his prize back into his pocket, and regained the street. He was confounded. What was wrong with Cohen? Did he suspect a police trick to entrap him? Josh snorted with indignation at the thought. He was no nark! But perhaps the police were showing a pressing interest in Cohen’s business concerns just now, and he had suspended fencing for a while. The guess was a lame one, but he could think of none better at the moment, as he pushed his way to the Jago. He would try Mother Gapp.

Mother Gapp would not even take the watch in her hands; her eyes were good enough at that distance. ‘Lor’, Josh Perrott,’ she said, ‘wot ’a’ ye bin up to now? Want to git me lagged now, do ye? Ain’t satisfied with breakin’ up the ’ouse an’ ruinin’ a pore widder that way, ain’t ye? You git out, go on. I ’ad ’nough o’ you!’

It was very extraordinary. Was there a general reclamation of fences? But there were men at work at the Feathers, putting down boards and restoring partitions; and two of them had been ‘gone over’ ruinously on their way to work, and now they came and went with four policemen. Possibly Mother Gapp feared the observation of carpenters. Be it as it might, there was nothing for it now but Weech’s.

Mr Weech was charmed. ‘Dear me, it’s a wonderful fine watch, Mr Perrott — a wonderful fine watch. An’ a beautiful chain.’ But he was looking narrowly at the big monogram as he said it. ‘It’s reely a wonderful article. ’Ow they do git ’em up, to be sure! Cost a lot o’ money too, I’ll be bound. Might you be thinkin’ o’ sellin’ it?’

‘Yus o’ course,’ replied Josh. ‘That’s wot I brought it for.’

‘Ah, it’s a lovely watch, Mr Perrott — a lov-erly watch; an’ the chain matches it. But you mustn’t be too ’ard on me. Shall we say four pound for the little lot?’

It was more than double Josh’s wildest hopes, but he wanted all he could get. ‘Five,’ he said doggedly.

Weech gazed at him with tender rebuke. ‘Five pound’s a awful lot o’ money, Mr Perrott,’ he said. ‘You’re too ’ard on me, reely. I ’ardly know ’ow I can scrape it up. But it’s a beautiful little lot, an’ I won’t ’aggle. But I ain’t got all that money in the ’ouse now. I never keep so much money in the ’ouse — sich a neighb’r’ood, Mr Perrott! Bring it round to-morrer mornin’ at eleven.’

‘Awright, I’ll come. Five quid, mind.’

‘Ah yus,’ answered Mr Weech, with a reproving smile. ‘It’s reely more than I ought!’

Josh was jubilant, and forgot his sore ankle. He had never handled such a sum as five pounds since his fight with Billy Leary, years ago; when, indeed, he had stooped to folly in the shape of lavish treating, and so had not enjoyed the handling of the full amount.

Mr Weech, also, was pleased. For it was a great stroke of business to oblige so distinguished a person as the Mogul. There was no telling what advantages it might not lead to in the way of trade.

That night the Perrotts had a hot supper, brought from Walker’s cook-shop in paper. And at eleven the next morning Josh, twenty yards from Mr Weech’s door, with the watch and chain in his pocket, was tapped on the arm by a constable in plain clothes, while another came up on the other side. ‘Mornin’, Perrott,’ said the first constable, cheerily. ‘We’ve got a little business with you at the station.’

‘Me? Wot for?’

‘Oh well, come along; p’raps it ain’t anything — unless there’s a gold watch an’ chain on you, from Highbury. It’s just a turnin’ over.’

‘Awright,’ replied Josh, resignedly. ‘It’s a fair cop. I’ll go quiet.’

‘That’s right, Perrott; it ain’t no good playin’ the fool, you know.’ They were moving along; and as they came by Weech’s shop, a whiskered face, with a patch of shining scalp over it, peeped from behind a curtain that hung at the rear of the bloaters and plumcake in the window. As he saw it, Josh ducked suddenly, wrenching his arm free, and dashed over the threshold. Mr Weech, whiskers and apron flying, galloped through the door at the back, and the constables sprang upon Josh instantly and dragged him into the street. ‘Wotcher mean?’ cried the one who knew him, indignantly, and with a significant glance at the other. ‘Call that goin’ quiet?’

Josh’s face was white and staring with rage. ‘Awright,’ he grunted through his shut teeth, after a pause. ‘I’ll go quiet now. I ain’t got nothin’ agin you.’

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