A Child of the Jago, by Arthur Morrison

37

Kiddo Cook prospered. The stall was a present fact, and the awning was not far off; indeed, he was vigilantly in search of a second-hand one, not too much worn. But with all his affluence he was not often drunk. Nothing could be better than his pitch — right out in the High Street, in the busiest part, and hard by the London and County branch bank. They called it Kiddo’s Bank in the Jago, and made jokes about alleged deposits of his. If you bought a penn’orth of greens from Kiddo, said facetious Jagos, he didn’t condescend to take the money himself; he gave you a slip of paper, and you paid at the bank. And Kiddo had indulged in a stroke of magnificence that no other Jago would have thought of. He had taken two rooms, in the new County Council dwellings. The secret was that Father Sturt had agreed to marry Kiddo Cook and Pigeony Poll. There would be plenty for both to do, what with the stall and the regular round with the barrow.

The wedding-day came when Hannah Perrott had been one week a widow. For a few days Father Sturt had left her alone, and had guarded her privacy. Then, seeing that she gave no sign, he went with what quiet comfort he might, and bespoke her attention to her concerns. He invented some charing work in his rooms for her. She did it very badly, and if he left her long alone, she would be found on the floor, with her face in a chair-seat, crying weakly. But the work was something for her to do and to think about, and by dint of bustling it and magnifying its importance, Father Sturt brought her to some degree of mindfulness and calm.

Dicky walked that morning in a sort of numb, embittered fury. What should he do now? His devilmost. Spare nobody and stop at nothing. Old Beveridge was right that morning years ago. The Jago had got him, and it held him fast. Now he went doubly sealed of the outcasts: a Jago with a hanged father. Father Sturt talked of work, but who would give him work? And why do it, in any case? What came of it before? No, he was a Jago and the world’s enemy; Father Sturt was the only good man in it; as for the rest, he would spoil them when he could. There was something for to-morrow night, if only he could get calmed down enough by then. A builder’s yard in Kingsland with an office in a loft, and money in a common desk. Tommy Rann had found it, and they must do it together; if only he could get this odd numbness off him, and have his head clear. So much crying, perhaps, and so much trying not to, till his head was like to burst. Deep-eyed and pale, he dragged round into Edge Lane, and so into New Jago Street.

Jerry Gullen’s canary was harnessed to the barrow, and Jerry himself was piling the barrow with rags and bottles. Dicky stood and looked; he thought he would rub Canary’s head, but then he changed his mind, and did not move. Jerry Gullen glanced at him furtively once or twice, and then said: ‘Good ole moke for wear, ain’t ’e?’

‘Yus,’ Dicky answered moodily, his talk half random. ”E’ll peg out soon now.’

”Im? Not ’im. Wy, I bet ’e’ll live longer’n you will. ’E ain’t goin’ to die.’

‘I think ’e’d like to,’ said Dicky, and slouched on.

Yes, Canary would be better off, dead. So would others. It would be a comfortable thing for himself if he could die quietly then and there. But it would never do for mother and the children to be left helpless. How good for them all to go off easily together, and wake in some pleasant place, say a place like Father Sturt’s sitting-room, and perhaps find — but there, what foolishness!

What was this unendurable stupor that clung about him like a net? He knew everything clearly enough, but it was all in an atmosphere of dull heedlessness. There would be some relief in doing something violent — in smashing something to little pieces with a hammer.

He came to the ruined houses. There was a tumult of yells, and a crowd of thirty or forty lads went streaming across the open waste, waving sticks.

‘Come on! come on, Jago! ’Ere they are!’

A fight! Ah, what more welcome! And Dove Lane, too — Dove Lane, that had taken to bawling the taunt, ‘Jago cut-throats,’ since . . .

He was in the thick of the raid. ‘Come on, Jago! Jago! ’Ere they are!’ Past the Board School and through Honey Lane they went, and into Dove Lane territory. A small crowd of Dove–Laners broke and fled. Straight ahead the Jagos went, till they were suddenly taken in flank at a turning by a full Dove Lane mob. The Jagos were broken by the rush, but they fought stoutly, and the street was filled with a surge of combat.

‘Jago! Jago hold tight!’

Thin, wasted and shaken, Dicky fought like a tiger. He had no stick till he floored a Dove–Laner and took his from him, but then he bludgeoned apace, callous to every blow, till he fought through the thick, and burst out at the edge of the fray. He pulled his cap tight, and swung back, almost knocking over, but disregarding, a leather-aproned, furtive hunchback, who turned and came at his heels.

‘Jago! Jago hold tight!’ yelled Dicky Perrott. ‘Come on, Father Sturt’s boys!’

He was down. Just a punch under the arm from behind. As he rolled, face under, he caught a single glimpse of the hunchback, running. But what was this — all this?

A shout went up. ‘Stabbed! Chived! They chived Dicky Perrott!’

The fight melted. Somebody turned Dicky on his back, and he moaned, and lay gasping. He lifted his dabbled hands, and looked at them, wondering. They tried to lift him, but the blood poured so fast that they put him down. Somebody had gone for a surgeon.

‘Take me ’ome,’ said Dicky, faintly, with an odd gurgle in his voice. ‘Not ’awspital.’

The surgeon came running, with policemen at his heels. He ripped away the clothes from about the wound, and shook his head. It was the lung. Water was brought, and cloths, and an old door. They put Dicky on the door, and carried him toward the surgery; and two lads who stayed by him were sent to bring his friends.

The bride and bridegroom, meeting the news on the way home, set off at a run, and Father Sturt followed.

‘Good Gawd, Dicky,’ cried Poll, tearing her way to the shutter as it stopped at the surgery door, ‘wot’s this?’

Dicky’s eye fell on the flowered bonnet that graced the wedding, and his lip lifted with the shade of a smile. ‘Luck, Pidge!’

He was laid out in the surgery. A crowd stood about the door, while Father Sturt went in. The vicar lifted his eyebrows questioningly, and the surgeon shook his head. It was a matter of minutes.

Father Sturt bent over and took Dicky’s hand. ‘My poor Dicky,’ he said, ‘who did this?’

‘Dunno, Fa’er.’

The lie — the staunch Jago lie. Thou shalt not nark.

‘Fetch mother an’ the kids. Fa’er!’

‘Yes, my boy?’

‘Tell Mist’ Beveridge there’s ‘nother way out — better.’

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