A Child of the Jago/Chapter 31

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It was in Mother Gapp's that Josh Perrott and his family met. Hannah had started out with an idea of meeting him at Waterloo Station; but, finding herself an object of distinction and congratulation among the women she met, she had lingered by the way, accepting many little drops, to prove herself not unduly proud, and so had failed of her intent. Josh, on his part, had not been abstinent. He had successfully run the gauntlet of Prisoners' Aid Societies and the like, professing to have 'a job waiting for him' in Shoreditch, and his way across London had been freely punctuated at public-houses; for his prison gratuity was a very pleasant and useful little sum. And now, when at last they met, he was not especially gracious. He wanted to know, not only why he had found nobody at home, but also why Hannah had never been to see him at Portland. As to the second question, the obvious and sufficient answer was that the return fare to Portland would have been some twenty-five shillings: a sum that Hannah had never seen together since Josh left her. As to the first, she protested, with muddled vehemence, that she had gone to meet him, and had missed him by some mistake as to arrival platforms. So that at length, urged thereto by the rest of the hour's customers at the Feathers, Josh kissed her sulkily, and ordered her a drink. Em was distrustful at first, but drank her allowance of gin with much relish, tipping the glass again and again to catch the last drop; and little Josh, now for the first time introduced to Josh the elder, took a dislike to his father's not particularly sober glare and grin, and roared aloud upon his knee, assailing him, between the roars, with every curse familiar in the Jago, amid the genial merriment of the company. Dicky came in quietly and stood at his father's elbow with the pride natural to a dutiful son on such an occasion. And at closing-time they all helped each other home.

In the morning Josh rose late. He looked all the better for his lagging, browner than ever in his face, smarter and stouter. In a corner he perceived a little heap of made match-boxes, and, hard by, the material for more. It was Em's work of yesterday morning. 'Support 'ome industeries,' said Josh, musingly. 'Yus. Twopence-farden a gross.' And he kicked the heap to splinters.

He strolled out into the street, to survey the Jago. In the bulk it was little changed, though the County Council had made a difference in the north-east corner, and was creeping farther and farther still. The dispossessed Jagos had gone to infect the neighbourhoods across the border, and to crowd the people a little closer. They did not return to live in the new barrack-buildings; which was a strange thing, for the County Council was charging very little more than double the rents which the landlords of the old Jago had charged. And so another Jago, teeming and villainous as the one displaced, was slowly growing in the form of a ring, round about the great yellow houses. But the new church and its attendant buildings most took Josh's notice. They were little more than begun when last he walked Old Jago Street in daylight, and now they stood, large and healthy amid the dens about them, a wonder and a pride. As he looked, Jerry Gullen and Bill Rann passed.

"Wayo, brother-in-law!" sang out Bill Rann, who remembered the Old Bailey fiction of four years back, and thought it a capital joke.

"Nice sort o' thing, ain't it?" said Jerry Gullen, with indignant sarcasm, jerking his thumb toward the new church.

"The street 's clean ruined. Wot's the good o' livin' 'ere now? W'y, a man mustn't even do a click, blimy!"

"An' doncher?" asked Josh, with a grin. Hereat another grin broke wide on Jerry Gullen's face, and he went his way with a wink and a whistle.

"And so you 're back again. Josh Perrott!" said old Beveridge, seedier than ever, with the 'Hard Up' fresh chalked on the changeless hat. "Back again! Pity you couldn't stay there, isn't it? Pity we can't all stay there."

Josh looked after the gaunt old figure with much doubt and a vague indignation; for such a view was foreign to his understanding. And as he looked Father Sturt came out of the church, and laid his hand on Josh's shoulder.

"What!" exclaimed the vicar, "home again without coming to see me! But there, you must have been coming. I hope you haven't been knocking long? Come in now, at any rate. You're looking wonderfully well. What a capital thing a holiday is, isn't it—a good long one?" Taking Josh by the arm he hauled him, grinning, sheepish and almost blushing, toward the club door. And at that moment Sam Cash came hurrying round Luck Row corner, with his finger through a string, and on that string a bunch of grouse.

"Dear me," said Father Start, turning back, but without releasing Josh's arm. "Here 's our dear friend, Sam Cash, taking home something for his lunch. Come, Sam, with such a fine lot of birds as that, I'm sure you'll be proud to tell us where they came from. Eh?"

For a moment Sam Cash was a trifle puzzled, even offended. Then there fell over his face the mask of utter inexpression, which the vicar had learned to know well. Said Sam Cash, stolidly: "I bin 'avin' a little shootin' with a friend."

"Dear, dear, what a charming friend! And where are his moors? Nowhere about the Bethnal Green Road, I suppose, by the goods depot? Come now, I'm sure Josh Perrott would like to know. You didn't get any shooting in your little holiday, did you. Josh?" Josh grinned, delighted, but Sam shuffled uneasily, with a hopeless, sidelong glance, as in search of a hole wherein to hide. "Ah, you see," Father Sturt said, "he doesn't want his friend's hospitality to be abused. Let me see—two, four, six—why, there must be nine or ten brace, and all at one shot, too! Sam always makes his bag at one shot, you know, Josh, whatever the game is. Yes, wonderful shooting. And did you shoot the label at the same time, Sam? Come, I should like to look at that label!"

But the wretched Sam was off at a bolt, faster than a police pursuit would have sent him, while Josh guffawed joyously. To be "rotted" by Father Sturt was the true Jago terror, but to the Jagos looking on it was pure delight. Theft was a piece of the Jago nature; but at least Father Sturt could wither the pride of it by such ridicule as the Jago could understand.

"There—he's very bashful for a sportsman, isn't he, Josh?" the vicar proceeded. "But you must come and see the club at once. You shall be a member."

Josh spent near an hour in the new buildings. Father Sturt showed him the club, the night shelter, the church, and his own little rooms. He asked, too, much about Josh's intentions for the future. Of course, Josh was "going to look for a job." Father Sturt knew he would say that. Every Jago had been going to look for a job ever since the vicar first came to the place. But he professed to take Josh's words seriously, and offered to try to get him taken on as a plasterer at some of the new County Council buildings. He flattered Josh by reminding him of his command of a regular trade. Josh was a man with opportunities, and he should be above the pitiable expedients of the poor untradesmanlike people about him. Indeed, he should leave the Jago altogether, with his family, and start afresh in a new place, a reputable mechanic.

To these things Josh Perrott listened with fidgety deference, answering only, "Yus, Father," when it seemed to be necessary. In the end he promised to "think it over," which meant nothing, as the parson well knew. And in the mood in which Josh came away he would gladly have risked another lagging to serve Father Sturt's convenience; but he would rather have suffered one than take Father Sturt's advice.

He made the day a holiday. He had been told that he was in for a little excitement, for it was held that fitting time had arrived for another scrap with Dove Lane; but the affair was not yet moving. Snob Spicer had broken a window with a Dove-Laner's head, it was true, but nothing had come of it, and etiquette demanded that the next card should be played by Dove Lane. For the present, the Jago was content to take thought for Josh's "friendly lead." Such a thing was everybody's right on return from a lagging, and this one was fixed for a night next week. All that day Mr. Weech looked out anxiously, but Josh Perrott never passed his way.