A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

25

Dicky’s morning theft that day had been but a small one — he had run off with a new two-foot rule that a cabinet-maker had carelessly left on an unfinished office table at his shop door in Curtain Road. It was not much, but it might fetch some sort of a dinner at Weech’s, which would be better than going home, and, perhaps, finding nothing. So about noon, all ignorant of his father’s misfortune, he came by way of Holywell Lane and Bethnal Green Road to Meakin Street.

Mr Weech looked at him rather oddly, Dicky fancied, when he came in, but he took the two-foot rule with alacrity, and brought Dicky a rasher of bacon, and a slice of cake afterward. This seemed very generous. More: Mr Weech’s manner was uncommonly amiable, and when the meal was over, of his own motion, he handed over a supplementary penny. Dicky was surprised; but he had no objection, and he thought little more about it.

As soon as he appeared in Luck Row he was told that his father had been ‘smugged.’ Indeed the tidings had filled the Jago within ten minutes. Josh Perrott was walking quietly along Meakin Street — so went the news — when up comes Snuffy and another split, and smugs him. Josh had a go for Weech’s door, to cut his lucky out at the back, but was caught. That was a smart notion of Josh’s, the Jago opinion ran, to get through Weech’s and out into the courts behind. But it was no go.

Hannah Perrott sat in her room, inert and lamenting. Dicky could not rouse her, and at last he went off by himself to reconnoitre about Commercial Street Police Station, and pick up what information he might; while a gossip or two came and took Mrs Perrott for consolation to Mother Gapp’s. Little Em, unwashed, tangled and weeping, could well take care of herself and the room, being more than two years old.

Josh Perrott would be brought up to-morrow, Dicky ascertained, at the North London Police Court. So the next morning found Dicky trudging moodily along the two miles of flags to Stoke Newington Road; while his mother and three sympathising friends, who foresaw an opportunity for numerous tiny drops with interesting circumstances to flavour them, took a penny cast on the way in a tramcar.

Dicky, with some doubt as to the disposition of the door-keeping policeman toward ragged boys, waited for the four women, and contrived to pass in unobserved among them. Several Jagos were in the court, interested not only in Josh’s adventure, but in one of Cocko Harnwell’s, who had indulged, the night before, in an animated little scramble with three policemen in Dalston; and they waited with sympathetic interest while the luck was settled of a long string of drunk-and-disorderlies.

At last Josh was brought in, and lurched composedly into the dock, in the manner of one who knew the routine. The police gave evidence of arrest, in consequence of information received, and of finding the watch and chain in Josh’s trousers pocket. The prosecutor, with his head conspicuously bedight with sticking-plaster, puffed and grunted up into the witness-box, kissed the book, and was a ‘retired commission agent.’ He positively identified the watch and chain, and he not less positively identified Josh Perrott, whom he had picked out from a score of men in the police-yard. This would have been a feat indeed for a man who had never seen Josh, and had only once encountered his fist in the dark, had it not been for the dutiful though private aid of Mr Weech: who, in giving his information had described Josh and his one suit of clothes with great fidelity, especially indicating a scar on the right cheek-bone which would mark him among a thousand. The retired commission agent was quite sure of the prisoner. He had met him on the stairs, where there was plenty of light from a lamp, and the prisoner had attacked him savagely, beating him about the head and flinging him downstairs. The policeman called by the prosecutor’s servant deposed to finding the prosecutor bruised and bleeding. There was a ladder against the back of the house; a bedroom window had been opened; there were muddy marks on the sill; and he had found the stick — produced — lying in the bedroom.

Josh leaned easily on the rail before him while evidence was being given, and said ‘No, yer worship,’ whenever he was asked if he desired to question a witness. He knew better than to run the risk of incriminating himself by challenging the prosecutor’s well-coloured evidence; and, as it was a certain case of committal for trial, it would have been useless in any event. He made the same reply when he was asked if he had anything to say before being committed: and straightway was ‘fullied.’ He lurched serenely out of the dock, waving his cap at his friends in the court, and that was all. The Jagos waited till Cocko Harnwell got his three months and then retired to neighbouring public-houses; but Dicky remembered his little sister, and hurried home.

The month’s session at the Old Bailey had just begun, so that Josh had no long stay at Holloway. Among the Jagos it was held to be a most creditable circumstance that Josh was to take his trial with full honours at the Old Bailey, and not at mere County Sessions at Clerkenwell, like a simple lob-crawler or peter-claimer. For Josh’s was a case of burglary with serious violence, such as was fitting for the Old Bailey, and not even a High Mobsman could come to trial with greater glory. ‘As like as not it’s laggin’ dues, after ’is other convictions,’ said Bill Rann. And Jerry Gullen thought so too.

Dicky went, with his mother and Em, to see Josh at Newgate. They stood with other visitors, very noisy, before a double iron railing covered with wire-netting, at the farther side whereof stood Josh and other prisoners, while a screaming hubbub of question and answer filled the air. Josh had little to say. He lounged against the farther railing with his hands in his pockets, asked what Cocko Harnwell had got, and sent a message to Bill Rann. While his wife did little more than look dolefully through the wires, and pipe:—‘Oh, Josh, wotever shall I do?’ at intervals, with no particular emotion; while Em pressed her smudgy little face against the wires, and stared mightily; and while Dicky felt that if he had been younger he would have cried. When time was up, Josh waved his hand and slouched off, and his family turned out with the rest: little Em carrying into later years a memory of father as a man who lived in a cage.

In such a case as this, the Jago would have been for ever disgraced if Josh Perrott’s pals had neglected to get up a ‘break’ or subscription to pay for his defence. Things were never very flourishing in the Jago. But this was the sort of break a Jago could not shirk, lest it were remembered against him when his own turn came. So enough was collected to brief an exceedingly junior counsel, who did his useless best. But the facts were too strong even for the most inexperienced advocate; the evidence of the prosecutor was nowhere to be shaken, and the jury found a verdict of guilty without leaving the box — indeed, with scarce the formality of collecting their heads together over the rails. Then Josh’s past was most unpleasantly raked up before him. He had been convicted of larceny, of assaulting the police, and of robbery with violence. There were two sentences of six months’ imprisonment recorded against him, one of three months, and two of a month. Besides fines. The Recorder considered it a very serious offence. Not deterred by the punishments he had already received, the prisoner had proceeded to a worse crime — burglary; and with violence. It was plain that lenience was wasted in such a case, and simple imprisonment was not enough. There must be an exemplary sentence. The prisoner must be kept in penal servitude for five years.

Lagging dues it was, as Bill Rann had anticipated. That Josh Perrott agreed with him was suggested by the fact that from the very beginning he described himself as a painter; because a painter in prison is apt to be employed at times in painting — a lighter and a more desirable task than falls to the lot of his fellows in other trades.

In a room by the court Josh saw his wife, Dicky, and Bill Rann (Josh’s brother-in-law for the occasion) before his ride to Holloway, his one stopping place on the way to Chelmsford Gaol. Little Em had been left sprawling in the Jago gutters. This time Hannah Perrott wept in good earnest, and Dicky, notwithstanding his thirteen years, blinked very hard at the wall before him. The arrangement of Josh’s affairs was neither a long nor a difficult labour. ‘S’pose you’ll ’ave to do wot you can with rush bags, an’ sacks, and match-boxes, an’ wot not,’ he said to his wife, and she assented. Josh nodded:—‘An’ if you ’ave to go in the ’ouse,’— he meant the workhouse — ‘well, it can’t be ’elped. You won’t be no wuss auf ‘n me.’

‘Oh, she’ll be awright,’ said Bill Rann, jerking his thumb cheerfully toward the missis. ‘Wot about you? Think they’ll make it Parkhurst?’

Josh shook his head moodily. Parkhurst being the prison reserved for convicts of less robust habit, he had little hope of enjoying its easier conditions. Presently he said:—‘I bin put away this time — fair put away.’

‘Wot?’ answered Bill, ‘narkin’ dues is it?’

Josh nodded.

”Oo done it then? ’Oo narked?’

Josh shook his head. ‘Never mind,’ he said, ‘I don’t want ’im druv out o’ the Jago ‘fore I come out. I’d be sorry to miss ’im. I know ’im — that’s enough.’

And then time was up. Josh suffered the missis to kiss him, and shook hands with Bill Rann. ‘Good luck to all you Jagos,’ he said. Dicky shook hands too, and said ‘Good-bye, father!’ in a voice of such laboured cheerfulness that a grin burst for a moment amid Josh’s moody features as he was marched away, and so departed for the place — in Jago idiom — where the dogs don’t bite.

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