A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

34

The Lion and Unicorn had been fresh gilt since he was there before, but the white-headed old gaoler in the dock was much the same. And the big sword — what did they have a big sword for, stuck up there, over the red cushions, and what was the use of a sword six foot long? But perhaps it wasn’t six foot after all — it looked longer than it was; and no doubt it was only for show, and probably a dummy with no blade. There was a well-dressed black man sitting down below among the lawyers. What did he want? Why did they let him in? A nice thing — to be made a show of, for niggers! And Josh Perrott loosened his neckcloth with an indignant tug of the forefinger, and went off into another train of thought. He had a throbbing, wavering headache, the outcome of thinking so hard about so many things. They were small things, and had nothing to do with his own business; but there were so many of them, and they all had to be got through at such a pace, and one thing led to another.

Ever since they had taken him he had been oppressed by this plague of galloping thought, with few intervals of rest, when he could consider immediate concerns. But of these he made little trouble. The thing was done. Very well then, he would take his gruel like a man. He had done many a worse thing, he said, that had been thought less of.

The evidence was a nuisance. What was the good of it all? Over and over and over again. At the inquest, at the police court, and now here. Repeated, laboriously taken down, and repeated again. And now it was worse than ever, for the judge insisted on making a note of everything, and wrote it down slowly, a word at a time. The witnesses were like barrel-organs, producing the same old tune mechanically, without changing a note. There was the policeman who was in Meakin Street at twelve-thirty on the morning of the fourth of the month, when he heard cries of Murder, and proceeded to the coffee-shop. There was the other policeman who also ‘proceeded’ there, and recognised the prisoner, whom he knew, at the first-floor window. And there was the sergeant who had found him in the cellar, and the doctor who had made an examination, and the knife, and the boots, and all of it. It was Murder, Murder, Murder still. Why? Wasn’t it plain enough? He felt some interest in what was coming — in the sentence, and the black cap, and so on — never having seen a murder trial before. But all this repetition oppressed him vaguely amid the innumerable things he had to think of, one thing leading to another.

Hannah and Dicky were there, sitting together behind the glass partition that rose at the side of the dock. Hannah’s face was down in her hands, and Dicky’s face was thin and white, and he sat with his neck stretched, his lips apart, his head aside to catch the smallest word. His eyes, too, were red with strained, unwinking attention. Josh felt vaguely that they might keep a bolder face, as he did himself. His sprained foot was still far from well, but he stood up, putting his weight on the other. He might have been allowed to sit if he had asked, but that would look like weakness.

There was another judge this time, an older one, with spectacles. He had come solemnly in, after lunch, with a bunch of flowers in his hand, and Josh thought he made an odd figure in his long red gown. Why did he sit at the end of the bench, instead of in the middle, under the long sword? Perhaps the old gentleman, who sat there for a little while and then went away, was the Lord Mayor. That would account for it. There was another room behind the bedroom at Weech’s, which he had never thought about. Perhaps the money was there, after all. Could they have missed any hiding place in the shop parlour? No: there was the round table, with the four chairs about it, and the little sideboard; besides the texts on the wall, and two china figures on the mantel-piece — that was all. There was a copper in the wash-house, but there was nothing in it. The garret was a very good place to keep things in; but there was a strong smell of stale pickles. He could smell it now — he had smelt it ever since.

The judge stopped a witness to speak of a draught from a window. Josh Perrott watched the shutting of the window — they did it with a cord. He had not noticed a draught himself. But pigeons were flying outside the panes and resting on the chimney-stacks. Pud Palmer tried to keep pigeons in Jago Row, but one morning the trap was found empty. A poulterer gave fourpence each for them. They were ticketed at eighteenpence a pair in the shop, and that was fivepence profit apiece for the poulterer. Tenpence a pair profit on eleven pairs was nearly ten shillings — ten shillings all but tenpence. They wouldn’t have given any more in Club Row. A man had a four-legged linnet in Club Row, but there was a show in Bethnal Green Road with a two-headed sheep. It was outside there that Ginger Stagg was pinched for lob-crawling. And so on, and so on, till his head buzzed again.

His counsel was saying something. How long had he been talking? What was the good of it? He had told him that he had no defence. The lawyer was enlarging on the dead man’s iniquities, talking of provocation, and the heat of passion, and the like. He was aiming desperately at a recommendation to mercy. That was mere foolery.

But presently the judge began to sum up. They were coming to something at last. But it was merely the thrice-told evidence once more. The judge blinked at his notes, and went at it again; the policeman with his whistle, and the other with his lantern, and the doctor, and the sergeant, and the rest. It was shorter this time, though. Josh Perrott turned and looked at the clock behind him, with the faces over it, peering from the gallery. But when he turned to face the judge again he had forgotten the time, and crowded trivialities were racing through the narrow gates of his brain once more.

There was a cry for silence, and then a fresh voice spoke. ‘Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon your verdict?’

‘We have.’ The foreman was an agitated, colourless man, and he spoke in a low tone.

‘Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty, or not guilty?’

‘Guilty.’

Yes, that was right; this was the real business. His head was clear and ready now.

‘And is that the verdict of you all?’

‘Yes.’

Was that Hannah sobbing?

A pale parson in his black gown came walking along by the bench, and stood like a tall ghost at the judge’s side, his eyes raised and his hands clasped. The judge took a black thing from the seat beside him, and arranged it on his head. It was a sort of soft mortarboard, Josh noted curiously, with a large silk tassel hanging over one side, giving the judge, with his wig and his spectacles and his red gown, a horribly jaunty look. No brain could be clearer than Josh Perrott’s now.

‘Prisoner at the bar, have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed on you according to law?’

‘No sir — I done it. On’y ’e was a worse man than me!’

The Clerk of Arraigns sank into his place, and the judge spoke.

‘Joshua Perrott, you have been convicted, on evidence that can leave no doubt whatever of your guilt in the mind of any rational person, of the horrible crime of wilful murder. The circumstances of your awful offence there is no need to recapitulate, but they were of the most brutal and shocking character. You deliberately, and with preparation, broke into the house of the man whose death you have shortly to answer for in a higher court than this: whether you broke in with a design of robbery as well as of revenge by murder I know not, nor is it my duty to consider: but you there, with every circumstance of callous ferocity, sent the wretched man to that last account which you must shortly render for yourself. Of the ill-spent life of that miserable man, your victim, it is not for me to speak, nor for you to think. And I do most earnestly beseech you to use the short time yet remaining to you on this earth in true repentance, and in making your peace with Almighty God. It is my duty to pronounce sentence of that punishment which not I, but the law of this country, imposes for the crime which you have committed. The sentence of the Court is: that you be taken to the place whence you came, and thence to a place of execution: and that you be there Hanged by the Neck till you be Dead: and may the Lord have Mercy on your Soul!’

‘Amen!’ It was from the tall black figure.

Well, well, that was over. The gaoler touched his arm. Right. But first he took a quick glance through the glass partition. Hannah was falling over, or something — a mere rusty swaying bundle — and Dicky was holding her up with both arms. Dicky’s face was damp and grey, and twitching lines were in his cheeks. Josh took a step toward the partition, but they hurried him away.

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