A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

29

Things grew a little easier with the Perrotts. Father Sturt saw that there was food while the mother was renewing her strength, and he had a bag of linen sent. More, he carried his point as to parish relief by main force. It was two shillings and three quartern loaves a week. Unfortunately the loaves were imprinted with the parish mark, or they might have been sold at the chandler’s, in order that the whole measure of relief might be passed on to the landlord (a very respectable man, with a chandler’s shop of his own) for rent. As it was, the bread perforce was eaten, and the landlord had the two shillings, as well as eighteenpence which had to be got in some other way. Of course, Hannah Perrott might have ‘taken in lodgers’ in the room, as others did, but she doubted her ability to bully the rent out of them, or to turn them out if they did not pay. Whatever was pawnable had gone already, of course, except the little nickel-plated clock. That might have produced as much as sixpence, but she had a whim to keep it. She regarded it as a memorial of Josh, for it was his sole contribution to the family appointments.

Dicky, with a cast-off jacket from the vicar’s store, took to hanging about Liverpool Street Station in quest of bags to carry. Sometimes he got bags, and coppers for carrying them: sometimes he got kicks from porters. An hour or two of disappointment in this pursuit would send him off on the prowl to ‘find’ new stock for Mr Weech. He went farther afield now: to the market-places in Mile End and Stepney, and to the riverside, where there were many chances — guarded jealously, however, by the pirate boys of the neighbourhood, who would tolerate no interlopers at the wharves. In the very early morning, too, he practised the sand-bag fake, in the Jago. For there were those among the Jagos who kept (two even bred) linnets and such birds, and prepared them for julking, or singing matches at the Bag of Nails. It was the habit of the bird-fanciers to hang their little wooden cages on nails out of window, and there they hung through the night: for it had been noted, as a surprising peculiarity in linnets, that a bird would droop and go off song after a dozen or so of nights in a Jago room, in company with eight, ten or a dozen human sleepers, notwithstanding the thoughtful shutting of windows. So that any early riser provided with a little bag packed with a handful or so of sand, could become an opulent bird-owner in half-an-hour. Let but the sand-bag be pitched with proper skill at the bottom of a cage, and that cage would leave the nail, and come tumbling and fluttering down into the ready hands of the early riser. The sand-bag brought down the cage and fell quietly on the flags, which was why it was preferred before a stone. The sand-bag faker was moved by no particular love of linnets. His spoil was got rid of as soon as the bird-shops opened in Club Row. And his craft was one of danger.

Thus the months went with Dicky, and the years. There were changes in the Jago. The baby was but three months old when Father Sturt’s new church was opened, and the club set going in new buildings; and it was at that time that Josh Perrott was removed to Portland. Even the gradual removal of the Old Jago itself was begun. For the County Council bought a row of houses at the end of Jago Row, by Honey Lane, with a design to build big barrack dwellings on the site. The scenes of the Jago Court eviction were repeated, with less governed antics. For the County Council knew not Jago ways; and when deputations came forth weeping, protesting the impossibility of finding new lodgings, and beseeching a respite, they were given six weeks more, and went back delighted into free quarters. At the end of the six weeks a larger deputation protested a little louder, wept a great deal more, and poached another month; for it would seem an unpopular thing to turn the people into the street. Thus in the end, when the unpopular thing had to be done, it was with sevenfold trouble, loud cursing of the County Council in the public street, and many fights. But this one spot of the Jago cleared, the County Council began to creep along Jago Row and into Half Jago Street; and after long delay the crude yellow brick of the barrack dwellings rose above the oft-stolen hoardings, and grew, storey by storey. Dicky was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. If Josh Perrott had only earned his marks, he would soon be out now.

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