Page:Court Royal.djvu/25

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the ring, and testing it with acid, she said, ‘My Joanna is of pure gold. You’d better take her, sir. You’d never repent. I reckon she can do most things. Her can wash——

‘I have no washing done here,’ said Lazarus, shortly. ‘Never found the need. The Barbican is poisoned with the smell of yellow soap and the reek of drying linen.’

‘Then, sir, her can cook you a rasher of bacon——

‘I never eat of the pig,’ screamed Lazarus, and spat on the floor.

‘Her can kindle a fire——

‘And waste tons of coal.’

‘Her can nurse the babies——

‘I’ve no babies. I don’t want ’em. I wouldn’t have ’em.’

‘Her can run messages like a greyhound, and mind the shop when you are out; and should burglars try to break in, her would scream, and scream, and scream.’

‘Eh!’ said Lazarus, looking up, interested. ‘Was that she screaming half-an-hour ago?’

‘It was. Her can scream when proper. Other times she’s as still as a mouse.’

Mr. Lazarus considered for a few moments. He rubbed his bristly chin, blew his nose in a fashion almost lost in this age of refinement. Then he leaned both elbows on the counter and stared at the girl. Mr. Lazarus was nervous about burglars. Unwittingly the mother had touched a fibre in his soul that quivered. Report credited him with vast wealth, with money, plate, jewellery, stored in the crazy old house. More than once he had been alarmed by attempts to break in. He had an infirmity which he could not master. He slept so soundly that nothing woke him. The Barbican was a noisy place by night as well as by day. Tipsy sailors rambled about it, drunken women squabbled, foreign sailors fought on the quay. The ear in time became so accustomed to noises that they ceased to disturb. Lazarus had resolved to get a dog, but begrudged the food it would consume. Following this train of thought, he said to himself, ‘Half-a-sov.! I could get a mongrel pup for less.’

‘Sir,’ argued the woman, ‘with a pup you wouldn’t get a gold wedding-ring.’

‘That is true, but a dog eats bones, and girls eat meat.’

‘Oh! my Joanna hasn’t much of that. A crust of bread and some dripping—her never gets beyond that. Besides, you’d have to pay tax on a dog, not on a girl.’