When Dicky Perrott came running into Jago Row with the Bishop’s watch in his pocket, another boy punched a fist at him, and at the time Dicky was at a loss to guess the cause — unless it were a simple caprice — but stayed neither to inquire nor to retaliate. The fact was that the Ranns and the Learys were coming out, fighting was in the air, and the small boy, meeting another a trifle smaller, punched on general principles. The Ranns and the Learys, ever at war or in guarded armistice, were the great rival families — the Montagues and the Capulets — of the old Jago. The Learys indeed, scarce pretended to rivalry — rather to factious opposition. For the Ranns gloried in the style and title of the ‘Royal Family,’ and dominated the Jago; but there were mighty fighters, men and women, among the Learys, and when a combat arose it was a hard one and an animated. The two families ramified throughout the Jago; and under the Rann standard, whether by kin or by custom, were the Gullens, the Fishers, the Spicers, and the Walshes; while in the Leary train came Dawsons, Greens, and Harnwells. So that near all the Jago was wont to be on one side or the other, and any of the Jago which was not, was apt to be the worse for it; for the Ranns drubbed all them that were not of their faction in the most thorough and most workmanlike manner, and the Learys held by the same practice; so that neutrality meant double drubbing. But when the Ranns and Learys combined, and the Old Jago issued forth in its entire might against Dove Lane, then the battle was one to go miles to see.
This, however, was but a Rann and Leary fight; and it was but in its early stages when Dicky Perrott, emerging from Jerry Gullen’s back-yard, made for Shoreditch High Street by way of the ‘Posties’— the passage with posts at the end of Old Jago Street. His purpose was to snatch a handful of hay from some passing waggon, or of mixed fodder from some unguarded nosebag, wherewith to reward the sympathy of Jerry Gullen’s canary. But by the ‘Posties,’ at the Edge Lane corner, Tommy Rann, capless, and with a purple bump on his forehead, came flying into his arms, breathless, exultant, a babbling braggart. He had fought Johnny Leary and Joe Dawson, he said, one after the other, and pretty nigh broke Johnny Leary’s blasted neck; and Joe’s Dawson’s big brother was after him now with a bleed’n’ shovel. So the two children ran on together, and sought the seclusion of their own back yard; where the story of Johnny Rann’s prowess, with scowls and the pounding of imaginary foes, and the story of the Bishop’s watch, with suppressions and improvements, mingled and contended in the thickening dusk. And Jerry Gullen’s canary went forgotten and unrequited.
That night fighting was sporadic and desultory in the Jago. Bob the Bender was reported to have a smashed nose, and Sam Cash had his head bandaged at the hospital. At the Bag of Nails in Edge Lane, Snob Spicer was knocked out of knowledge with a quart pot, and Cocko Harnwell’s missis had a piece bitten off of one ear. As the night wore on, taunts and defiances were bandied from window to door, and from door to window, between those who intended to begin fighting to-morrow; and shouts from divers corners gave notice of isolated scuffles. Once a succession of piercing screams seemed to betoken that Sally Green had begun. There was a note in the screams of Sally Green’s opposites which the Jago had learned to recognise. Sally Green, though of the weaker faction, was the female champion of the Old Jago: an eminence won and kept by fighting tactics peculiar to herself. For it was her way, reserving teeth and nails, to wrestle closely with her antagonist, throw her by a dexterous twist on her face, and fall on her, instantly seizing the victim’s nape in her teeth, gnawing and worrying. The sufferer’s screams were audible afar, and beyond their invariable eccentricity of quality — a quality a vaguely suggestive of dire surprise — they had mechanical persistence, a pump-like regularity, that distinguished them, in the accustomed ear, from other screams.
Josh Perrott had not been home all the evening: probably the Bishop’s watch was in course of transmutation into beer. Dicky, stiff and domestically inclined, nursed Looey and listened to the noises without till he fell asleep, in hopeful anticipation of the morrow. For Tommy Rann had promised him half of a broken iron railing wherewith to fight the Learys.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58