1 SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE CORNER 2 JONAH EATS GREEN PEAS 3 CARDIGAN STREET AT HOME 4 JONAH DISCOVERS THE BABY 5 THE PUSH DEALS IT OUT 6 THE BABY DISCOVERS JONAH 7 A QUIET WEDDING 8 JONAH STARTS ON HIS OWN 9 PADDY'S MARKET 10 JONAH DECLARES WAR 11 THE COURTING OF PINKEY
THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER SHOE"
12 THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER SHOE" 13 A FAMILY IN EXILE 14 ADA MAKES A FRIEND 15 Mrs PARTRIDGE LENDS A HAND 16 A DEATH IN THE FAMILY 17 THE TWO-UP SCHOOL 18 THE "ANGEL" LOSES A CUSTOMER 19 THE PIPES OF PAN 20 Mrs PARTRIDGE MINDS THE SHOP 21 DAD WEEPS ON A TOMBSTONE 22 A FATAL ACCIDENT
SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE CORNER
One side of the street glittered like a brilliant eruption with the light from a row of shops; the other, lined with houses, was almost deserted, for the people, drawn like moths by the glare, crowded and jostled under the lights.
It was Saturday night, and Waterloo, by immemorial habit, had flung itself on the shops, bent on plunder. For an hour past a stream of people had flowed from the back streets into Botany Road, where the shops stood in shining rows, awaiting the conflict.
The butcher's caught the eye with a flare of colour as the light played on the pink and white flesh of sheep, gutted and skewered like victims for sacrifice; the saffron and red quarters of beef, hanging like the limbs of a dismembered Colossus; and the carcasses of pigs, the unclean beast of the Jews, pallid as a corpse. The butchers passed in and out, sweating and greasy, hoarsely crying the prices as they cut and hacked the meat. The people crowded about, sniffing the odour of dead flesh, hungry and brutal—carnivora seeking their prey.
At the grocer's the light was reflected from the gay labels on tins and packages and bottles, and the air was heavy with the confused odour of tea, coffee and spices.
Cabbages, piled in heaps against the door-posts of the greengrocer's, threw a rank smell of vegetables on the air; the fruit within, built in pyramids for display, filled the nostrils with the fragrant, wholesome scents of the orchard.
The buyers surged against the barricade of counters, shouting their orders, contesting the ground inch by inch as they fought for the value of a penny. And they emerged staggering under the weight of their plunder, laden like ants with food for hungry mouths—the insatiable maw of the people.
The push was gathered under the veranda at the corner of Cardigan Street, smoking cigarettes and discussing the weightier matters of life—horses and women. They were all young—from eighteen to twenty-five—for the larrikin never grows old. They leaned against the veranda posts, or squatted below the windows of the shop, which had been to let for months.
Here they met nightly, as men meet at their club—a terror to the neighbourhood. Their chief diversion was to guy the pedestrians, leaping from insult to swift retaliation if one resented their foul comments.
"Garn!" one was saying, "I tell yer some 'orses know more'n a man. I remember old Joe Riley goin' inter the stable one day to a brown mare as 'ad a derry on 'im 'cause 'e flogged 'er crool. Well, wot does she do? She squeezes 'im up agin the side o' the stable, an' nearly stiffens 'im afore 'e cud git out. My oath, she did!"
"That's nuthin' ter wot a mare as was runnin' leader in Daly's 'bus used ter do," began another, stirred by that rivalry which makes talkers magnify and invent to cap a story; but he stopped suddenly as two girls approached.
One was short and fat, a nugget, with square, sullen features; the other, thin as a rake, with a mass of red hair that fell to her waist in a thick coil.
"'Ello, Ada, w'ere you goin'?" he inquired, with a facetious grin. "Cum 'ere, I want ter talk ter yer."
The fat girl stopped and laughed.
"Can't—I'm in a 'urry," she replied.
"Well, kin I cum wid yer?" he asked, with another grin.
"Not wi' that face, Chook," she answered, laughing.
"None o' yer lip, now, or I'll tell Jonah wot yer were doin' last night," said Chook.
"W'ere is Joe?" asked the girl, suddenly serious. "Tell 'im I want ter see 'im."
"Gone ter buy a smoke; 'e'll be back in a minit."
"Right-oh, tell 'im wot I said," replied Ada, moving away.
"'Ere, 'old 'ard, ain't yer goin' ter interdooce yer cobber?" cried Chook, staring at the red-headed girl.
"An' 'er ginger 'air was scorchin' all 'er back," he sang in parody, suddenly cutting a caper and snapping his fingers.
The girl's white skin flushed pink with anger, her eyes sparkled with hate.
"Ugly swine! I'll smack yer jaw, if yer talk ter me," she cried.
"Blimey, 'ot stuff, ain't it?" inquired Chook.
"Cum on, Pinkey. Never mind 'im," cried Ada, moving off.
"Yah, go 'ome an' wash yer neck!" shouted Chook, with sudden venom.
The red-headed girl stood silent, searching her mind for a stinging retort.
"Yer'd catch yer death o' cold if yer washed yer own," she cried; and the two passed out of sight, tittering. Chook turned to his mates.
"She kin give it lip, can't she?" said he, in admiration.
A moment later the leader of the Push crossed the street, and took his place in silence under the veranda. A first glance surprised the eye, for he was a hunchback, with the uncanny look of the deformed—the head, large and powerful, wedged between the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the hump projecting behind, monstrous and inhuman. His face held you with a pair of restless grey eyes, the colour and temper of steel, deep with malicious intelligence. His nose was large and thin, curved like the beak of an eagle. Chook, whose acquaintance he had made years ago when selling newspapers, was his mate. Both carried nicknames, corrupted from Jones and Fowles, with the rude wit of the streets.
"Ada's lookin' fer yous, Jonah," said Chook.
"Yer don't say so?" replied the hunchback, raising his leg to strike a match. "Was Pinkey with 'er?" he added.
"D'ye mean a little moll wi' ginger hair?" asked Chook.
"My oath, she was! Gi' me a knockout in one act," said Chook; and the others laughed.
"Ginger fer pluck!" cried someone.
And they began to argue whether you could tell a woman's character from the colour of her hair; whether red-haired women were more deceitful than others.
Suddenly, up the road, appeared a detachment of the Salvation Army, stepping in time to the muffled beat of a drum. The procession halted at the street corner, stepped out of the way of traffic, and formed a circle. The Push moved to the kerbstone, and, with a derisive grin, awaited the performance.
The wavering flame of the kerosene torches, topped with thick smoke, shone yellow against the whiter light of the gas-jets in the shops. The men, in red jerseys and flat caps, held the poles of the torches in rest. When a gust of air blew the thick black smoke into their eyes, they patiently turned their heads. The sisters, conscious of the public gaze, stood with downcast eyes, their faces framed in grotesque poke-bonnets.
The Captain, a man of fifty, with the knotty, misshapen hands of a workman, stepped into the centre of the ring, took off his cap, and began to speak.
"Oh friends, we 'ave met 'ere again tonight to inquire after the safety of yer everlastin' souls. Yer pass by, thinkin' only of yer idle pleasures, w'en at any moment yer might be called to judgment by 'Im Who made us all equal in 'Is eyes. Yer pass by without 'earin' the sweet voice of Jesus callin' on yer to be saved this very minit. For 'E is callin' yer to come an' be saved an' find salvation, as 'E called me many years ago. I was then like yerselves, full of wickedness, an gloryin' in sin. But I 'eard the voice of 'Im Who died on the Cross, an' saw I was rushin' 'eadlong to 'ell. An' 'Is blood washed all my sins away, an' made me whiter than snow. Whiter than snow, friends—whiter than snow! An' 'E'll do the same fer you if yer will only come an' be saved. Oh, can't yer 'ear the voice of Jesus callin' to yer to come an' live with 'Im in 'Is blessed mansions in the sky? Oh, come tonight an' find salvation!"
His arms were outstretched in a passionate gesture of appeal, his rough voice vibrated with emotion, the common face flamed with the ecstasy of the fanatic. When he stopped for breath or wiped the sweat from his face, the Army spurred him on with cries of "Hallelujah! Amen!" as one pokes a dying fire.
The Lieutenant, who was the comedian of the company, met with a grin of approval as he faced the ring of torches like an actor facing the footlights, posing before the crowd that had gathered, flashing his vulgar conceit in the public eye. And he praised God in a song and dance, fitting his words to the latest craze of the music-hall:
"Oh! won't you come and join us? Jesus leads the throng,"
snapping his fingers, grimacing, cutting capers that would have delighted the gallery of a theatre.
"Encore!" yelled the Push as he danced himself to a standstill, hot and breathless.
The rank and file came forward to testify. The men stammered in confusion, terrified by the noise they made, shrinking from the crowd as a timid bather shrinks from icy water, driven to this performance by an unseen power. But the women were shrill and self-possessed, scolding their hearers, demanding an instant surrender to the Army, whose advantages they pointed out with a glib fluency as if it were a Benefit Lodge.
Then the men knelt in the dust, the women covered their faces, and the Captain began to pray. His voice rose in shrill entreaty, mixed with the cries of the shopmen and the noise of the streets.
The spectators, familiar with the sight, listened in nonchalance, stopping to watch the group for a minute as they would look into a shop window. The exhibition stirred no religious feeling in them, for their minds, with the tenacity of childhood, associated religion with churches, parsons and hymn-books.
The Push grew restless, divided between a desire to upset the meeting and fear of the police.
"Well I used ter think a funeral was slow," remarked Chook, losing patience, and he stepped behind Jonah.
"'Ere, look out!" yelled Jonah the next minute, as, with a push from Chook, he collided violently with one of the soldiers and fell into the centre of the ring.
"'E shoved me," cried Jonah as he got up, pointing with an injured air to the grinning Chook. "I'll gi' yer a kick in the neck, if yer git me lumbered," he added, scowling with counterfeit anger at his mate.
"If yer was my son," said the Captain severely—"If yer was my son..." he repeated, halting for words.
"I should 'ave trotters as big as yer own," cried Jonah, pointing to the man's feet, cased in enormous bluchers. The Push yelled with derision as Jonah edged out of the circle ready for flight.
The Captain flushed angrily, and then his face cleared.
"Well, friends," he cried, "God gave me big feet to tramp the streets and preach the Gospel to my fellow men." And the interrupted service went on.
Jonah, who carried the brains of the Push, devised a fresh attack, involving Chook, a broken bottle, and the big drum.
"It'll cut it like butter," he was explaining, when suddenly there was a cry of "Nit! 'Ere's a cop!" and the Push bolted like rabbits.
Jonah and Chook alone stood their ground, with reluctant valour, for the policeman was already beside them. Chook shoved the broken bottle into his pocket, and listened with unusual interest to the last hymn of the Army. Jonah, with one eye on the policeman, looked worried, as if he were struggling with a desire to join the Army and lead a pure life. The policeman looked hard at them and turned away.
The pair were making a strategic movement to the rear, when the two girls who had exchanged shots with Chook at the corner passed them. The fat girl tapped Jonah on the back. He turned with a start.
"Nit yer larks!" he cried. "I thought it was the cop."
"Cum 'ere, Joe; I want yer," said the girl.
"Wot's up now?" he cried, following her along the street.
They stood in earnest talk for some minutes, while Chook complimented the red-headed girl on her wit.
"Yer knocked me sky-'igh," he confessed, with a leer.
"Yer did. Gi' me one straight on the point," he admitted.
"Yous keep a civil tongue in yer head," she cried, and the curious pink flush spread over her white skin.
"Orl right, wot are yer narked about?" inquired Chook.
He noticed, with surprise, that she was pretty, with small regular features; her eyes quick and bright, like a bird's. Under the gaslight her hair was the colour of a new penny.
"W'y, I don't believe yer 'air is red," said Chook, coming nearer.
"Now then, keep yer 'ands to yerself," cried the girl, giving him a vigorous push. Before he could repeat his attack, she walked away to join Ada, who hailed her shrilly.
Jonah rejoined his mate in gloomy silence. The Push had scattered—some to the two-up school, some to the dance-room. The butcher's flare of lights shone with a desolate air on piles of bones and scraps of meat—the debris of battle. The greengrocer's was stripped bare to the shelves, as if an army of locusts had marched through with ravenous tooth.
"Comin' down the street?" asked Chook, feeling absently in his pockets.
"No," said Jonah.
"W'y, wot's up now?" inquired Chook in surprise.
"Oh, nuthin'; but I'm goin' ter sleep at Ada's tonight," replied Jonah, staring at the shops.
"'Strewth!" cried Chook, looking at him in wonder. "Wot's the game now?"
"Oh! the old woman wants me ter put in the night there. Says some blokes 'ave bin after 'er fowls," replied Jonah, hesitating like a boy inventing an excuse.
"Fowls!" cried Chook, with infinite scorn. "Wants yer to nuss the bloomin' kid."
"My oath, she don't," replied Jonah, with great heartiness.
"Well, gimme a smoke," said Chook, feeling again in his pockets.
Jonah took out a packet of cigarettes, counted how many were left, and gave him one.
"Kin yer spare it?" asked Chook, derisively. "Lucky I've only got one mouth."
"Mouth? More like a hole in a wall," grinned Jonah.
"Well, so long. See yer to-morrer," said Chook, moving off. "Ere, gimme a match," he added.
"Better tell yer old woman I'm sleepin' out," said Jonah
He was boarding with Chook's family, paying what he could spare out of fifteen shillings or a pound a week.
"Oh, I don't suppose you'll be missed," replied Chook graciously.
"Rye buck!" cried Jonah.
JONAH EATS GREEN PEAS
Eighteen months past, Jonah had met Ada, who worked at Packard's boot factory, at a dance. Struck by her skill in dancing, he courted her in the larrikin fashion. At night he stood in front of the house, and whistled till she came out. Then they went to the park, where they sprawled on the grass in obscure corners.
At intervals the quick spurt of a match lit up their faces, followed by the red glow of Jonah's everlasting cigarette. Their talk ran incessantly on their acquaintances, whose sayings and doings they discussed with monotonous detail. If it rained, they stood under a veranda in the conventional attitude—Jonah leaning against the wall, Ada standing in front of him. The etiquette of Cardigan Street considered any other position scandalous.
On Saturday night they went to Bob Fenner's dance-room, or strolled down to Paddy's Market. When Jonah was flush, he took her to the "Tiv.", where they sat in the gallery, packed like sardines. If it were hot, Jonah sat in his shirtsleeves, and went out for a drink at the intermission. When they reached home, they stood in the lane bordering the cottage where Ada lived, and talked for an hour in the dim light of the lamp opposite, before she went in.
Sometimes, in a gay humour, she knocked off Jonah's hat, and he retaliated with a punch in the ribs. Then a scuffle followed, with slaps, blows and stifled yells, till Ada's mother, awakened by the noise, knocked on the wall with her slipper. And this was their romance of love.
Mrs Yabsley was a widow; for Ada's father, scorning old age, had preferred to die of drink in his prime. The publicans lost a good customer, but his widow found life easier.
"Talk about payin' ter see men swaller knives an' swords!" she exclaimed. "My old man could swaller tables an' chairs faster than I could buy 'em."
So she opened a laundry, and washed and ironed for the neighbourhood. Cardigan Street was proud of her. Her eyes twinkled in a big, humorous face; her arm was like a leg of mutton; the floors creaked beneath her as she walked. She laughed as a bull roars; her face turned purple; she fought for air; the veins rose like cords on her forehead. She was pointed out to strangers like a public building as she sat on her veranda, gossiping with the neighbours in a voice that shook the windows. There was no tongue like hers within a mile. Her sayings were quoted like the newspaper. Draymen laughed at her jokes.
Yet the women took their secret troubles to her. For this unwieldy jester, with the jolly red face and rough tongue, could touch the heart with a word, when she was in the humour. Then she spoke so wisely and kindly that the tears gathered in stubborn eyes, and the poor fools went home comforted.
Ever since her daughter was a child she had speculated on her marriage. There was to be no nonsense about love. That was all very well in novelettes, but in Cardigan Street love-matches were a failure. Generally the first few months saw the divine spark drowned in beer. She would pick a steady man with his two pounds a week; he would jump at the chance, and the whole street would turn out to the wedding. But, as is common, her far-seeing eyes had neglected the things that lay under her nose. Ada, in open revolt, had chosen Jonah the larrikin, a hunchback, crafty as the devil and monstrous to the sight. In six months the inevitable had happened.
She was dismayed, but unshaken, and set to work to repair the damage with the craft and strategy of an old general. She made no fuss when the child was born, and Jonah, who meditated flight, in fear of maintenance, was assured he had nothing to worry about. Mrs Yabsley had a brief interview with him at the street corner.
"As fer puttin' yous inter court, I'll wait till y'earn enough ter keep yerself, an' Gawd knows w'en that'll 'appen," she remarked pleasantly.
As she spoke she earnestly considered the large head, wedged between the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the masterful nose, the keen grey eyes, and the cynical lips; and in that moment determined to make him Ada's husband. Yet he was the last man she would have chosen for a son-in-law. A loafer and a vagabond, he spoke of marriage with a grin. Half his time was spent under the veranda at the corner with the Push. He worked at his trade by fits and starts, earning enough to keep himself in cigarettes.
That was six months ago, and Ada had returned to the factory, where her disaster created no stir. Such accidents were common. Mrs Yabsley reared the child as she had reared her daughter, in a box-cradle near the wash-tub or ironing-board, for Ada proved an indifferent mother.
Then, with a sudden change of front, she encouraged Jonah's intimacy with Ada. She invited him to the house, which he avoided with an animal craft and suspicion, meeting Ada in the streets. It was her scheme to get him to live in the house; the rest, she thought, would be easy. But Jonah feared dimly that if he ventured inside the house he would bring himself under the law. So he grinned, and kept his distance, like an animal that fears a trap.
But at last, his resistance worn to a thread by constant coaxing, he had agreed to spend the night there on account of the fowls. He was interested in these, for one pair was his gift to Ada, the fruit of some midnight raid.
Jonah stood alone at the corner watching the crowd. Chook's reference to the baby had shaken his resolution, and he decided to think it over. And as he watched the moving procession with the pleasure of a spectator at the play, he thought uneasily of women and marriage. As he nodded from time to time to an acquaintance, a young man passed him carrying a child in his arms. His wife, a slip of a girl, loaded with bundles, gave Jonah a quick look of fear and scorn. The man stared Jonah full in the face without a sign of recognition, and bent his head over the child with a caressing movement. Jonah noted the look of humble pride in his eyes, and marvelled. Twelve months ago he was Jonah's rival in the Push, famous for his strength and audacity, and now butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Jonah called to mind other cases, with a sudden fear in his heart at this mysterious ceremony before a parson that affected men like a disease, robbing them of all a man desired, and leaving them contented and happy. He turned into Cardigan Street with the air of a man who is putting his neck in the noose, resolving secretly to cut and run at the least hint of danger.
As he walked slowly up the street he became aware of a commotion at the corner of George Street. He saw that a crowd had gathered, and quickened his pace, for a crowd in Cardigan Street generally meant a fight. Jonah elbowed his way through the ring, and found a young policeman, new to this beat, struggling with an undersized man with the face of a ferret. Jonah's first thought was to effect a rescue, as his practised eye took in the details of the scene. Let them get away from the light of the street lamp, and with a sudden rush the thing would be done. He looked round for the Push and remembered that they were scattered. Then he saw that the captive was a stranger, and decided to look on quietly and note the policeman's methods for future use.
On finding that he was overmatched in strength, the prisoner had dropped to the ground, and, with silent, cat-like movements baulked the policeman's efforts. As Jonah looked on, the constable straightened his back, wiped the sweat from his face, and then, suddenly desperate, called on the nearest to help him. The men slipped behind the women, who laughed in his face. It was his first arrest, and he looked in astonishment at the grinning, hostile faces, too nervous to use his strength, harassed by the hatred of the people.
"Take 'im yerself; do yer own dirty work."
"Wot's the poor bloke done?"
"Nuthin', yer may be sure."
"These Johns run a man in, an' swear his life away ter git a stripe on their sleeve."
"They think they kin knock a man about as they like 'cause 'e's poor."
"They'd find plenty to do if they took the scoundrels that walk the streets in a top 'at."
"It don't pay. They know which side their bread's buttered, don't yous fergit."
Chiefly by his own efforts the prisoner had become a disreputable wreck. Hatless, with torn collar, his clothes covered with the dirt he was rolling in, ten minutes' struggle with the policeman had transformed him into a scarecrow.
"If there was any men about, they wouldn't see a decent young man turned into a criminal under their very eyes," cried a virago, looking round for a champion.
"If I was a man, I'd..."
She stopped as Sergeant Carmody arrived with a brisk air, and the crowd fell back, silent before the official who knew every face in the ring. In an instant the captive was lifted to his feet, his arms were twisted behind his back till the sinews cracked, and the procession moved off to the station. When Jonah reached the cottage, he stood irresolute on the other side of the street. Already regretting his promise, he turned to go, when Ada came to the door and saw him under the gas lamp. He crossed the street, trying to show by his walk that his presence was a mere accident.
"Cum in," cried Ada. "Mum won't eat yer."
Mrs Yabsley, who was ironing among a pile of shirts and collars, looked up, with the iron in her hand.
"W'y, Joe, ye're quite a stranger!" she cried. "Sit down an' make yerself at 'ome."
"'Ow do, missus?" said Jonah, looking round nervously for the child, but it was not visible.
"I knowed yer wouldn't let them take the old woman's fowls," she continued. "'Ere, Ada, go an' git a jug o' beer."
The room, which served for a laundry, was dimly lit with a candle. The pile of white linen brought into relief the dirt and poverty of the interior. The walls were stained with grease and patches of dirt, added slowly through the years as a face gathers wrinkles. But Jonah saw nothing of this. He was used to dirt.
He sat down, and, with a sudden attack of politeness, decided to take off his hat, but, uncertain of his footing, pushed it on the back of his head as a compromise. He lit a cigarette, and felt more at ease.
A faint odour of scorching reached his nostrils as Mrs Yabsley passed the hot iron over the white fronts. The small black iron ran swiftly over the clean surface, leaving a smooth, shining track behind it. And he watched, with an idler's pleasure, the swift, mechanical movements.
When the beer came, Jonah gallantly offered it to Mrs Yabsley, whose face was hot and red.
"Just leave a drop in the jug, an' I'll be thankful for it when I'm done," she replied, wiping her forehead on her sleeve. Jonah had risen in her esteem.
After some awkward attempts at conversation, Jonah relapsed into silence. He was glad that he had brought his mouth-organ, won in a shilling raffle. He would give them a tune later on.
When she had finished the last shirt, Mrs Yabsley looked at the clock with an exclamation. It was nearly ten. She had to deliver the shirts, and then buy the week's supplies. For she did her shopping at the last minute, in a panic. It had been her mother's way—to dash into the butcher's as he swept the last bones together, to hammer at the grocer's door as he turned out the lights. And she always forgot something which she got on Sunday morning from the little shop at the corner.
As she was tying the shirts into bundles, she heard the tinkle of a bell in the street, and a hoarse voice that cried:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!"
"'Ow'd yer like some peas, Joe?" she cried, dropping the shirts and seizing a basin.
"I wouldn't mind," said Jonah.
"'Ere, Ada, run an' git threepenn'orth," she cried.
In a minute Ada returned with the basin full of green peas, boiled into a squashy mass.
Mrs Yabsley went out with the shirts, and Jonah and Ada sat down to the peas, which they ate with keen relish, after sprinkling them with pepper and vinegar.
After the green peas, Ada noticed that Jonah was looking furtively about the room and listening, as if he expected to hear something. She guessed the cause, and decided to change his thoughts.
"Give us a tune, Joe," she cried.
Jonah took the mouth-organ from his pocket, and rubbed it carefully on his sleeve. He was a famous performer on this instrument, and on holiday nights the Push marched through the streets, with Jonah in the lead, playing tunes that he learned at the "Tiv". He breathed slowly into the tubes, running up and down the scale as a pianist runs his fingers over the keyboard before playing, and then struck into a sentimental ballad.
In five minutes he had warmed up to his work, changing from one tune to another with barely a pause, revelling in the simple rhythm and facile phrases of the popular songs. Ada listened spellbound, amazed by this talent for music, carried back to the gallery of the music-hall where she had heard these very tunes. At last he struck into a waltz, marking the time with his foot, drawing his breath in rapid jerks to accentuate the bass.
"Must 'ave a turn, if I die fer it," cried Ada, springing to her feet, and, with her arms extended to embrace an imaginary partner, she began to spin round on her toes. Ada's only talent lay in her feet, and, conscious of her skill, she danced before the hunchback with the lightness of a feather, revolving smoothly on one spot, reversing, advancing and retreating in a straight line, displaying every intricacy of the waltz. The sight was too much for Jonah, and, dropping the mouth-organ, he seized her in his arms.
"Wot did yer stop for?" cried Ada. "We carn't darnce without a tune."
"Carn't we?" said Jonah, in derision, and began to hum the words of the waltz that he had been playing:
White Wings, they never grow weary, They carry me cheerily over the sea; Night comes, I long for my dearie— I'll spread out my White Wings and sail home to thee.
The pair had no equals in the true larrikin style, called "cass dancing", and they revolved slowly on a space the size of a dinner-plate, Ada's head on Jonah's breast, their bodies pressed together, rigid as the pasteboard figures in a peep-show. They were interrupted by a cry from Mrs Yabsley's bedroom. Jonah stopped instantly, with a look of dismay on his face. Ada looked at him with a curious smile, and burst out laughing.
"I'll 'ave ter put 'im to sleep now. Cum an' 'ave a look at 'im, Joe—'e won't eat yer."
"No fear," cried Jonah, recoiling with anger. "Wot did yer promise before I agreed to come down?"
Chook's words flashed across his mind. This was a trap, and he had been a fool to come.
"I'll cum to-morrow, an' fix up the fowls," he cried, and grabbing his mouth-organ, turned to go—to find his way blocked by Mrs Yabsley, carrying a shoulder of mutton and a bag of groceries.
CARDIGAN STREET AT HOME
Mrs Yabsley came to the door for a breath of fresh air, and surveyed Cardigan Street with a loving eye. She had lived there since her marriage twenty years ago, and to her it was the pick of Sydney, the centre of the habitable globe. She gave her opinion to every newcomer in her tremendous voice, that broke on their unaccustomed ears like thunder:
"I've lived 'ere ever since I was a young married woman, an' I know wot I'm talkin' about. My 'usband used ter take me to the play before we was married, but I never see any play equal ter wot 'appens in this street, if yer only keeps yer eyes open. I see people as wears spectacles readin' books. I don't wonder. If their eyesight was good, they'd be able ter see fer themselves instead of readin' about it in a book. I can't read myself, bein' no scholar, but I can see that books an' plays is fer them as ain't got no eyes in their 'eads."
The street, which Mrs Yabsley loved, was a street of poor folk—people to whom poverty clung like their shirt. It tumbled over the ridge opposite the church, fell rapidly for a hundred yards, and then, recovering its balance, sauntered easily down the slope till it met Botany Road on level ground. It was a street of small houses and large families, and struck the eye as mean and dingy, for most of the houses were standing on their last legs, and paint was scarce. The children used to kick and scrape it off the fences, and their parents rub it off the walls by leaning against them in a tired way for hours at a stretch. On hot summer nights the houses emptied their inhabitants on to the verandas and footpaths. The children, swarming like rabbits, played in the middle of the road. With clasped hands they formed a ring, and circled joyously to a song of childland, the immemorial rhymes handed down from one generation to another as savages preserve tribal rites. The fresh, shrill voices broke on the air, mingled with silvery peals of laughter.
What will you give to know her name, Know her name, know her name? What will you give to know her name, On a cold and frosty morning?
Across the street comes a burst of coarse laughter, and a string of foul, obscene words on the heels of a jest. And again the childish trebles would ring on the tainted air:
Green gravel, green gravel, Your true love is dead; I send you a message To turn round your head.
They are ragged and dirty, true children of the gutter, but Romance, with the cloudy hair and starry eyes, holds them captive for a few merciful years. Their parents loll against the walls, or squat on the kerbstone, devouring with infinite relish petty scandals about their neighbours, or shaking with laughter at some spicy yarn.
About ten o'clock the children are driven indoors with threats and blows, and put to bed. By eleven the street is quiet, and only gives a last flicker of life when a drunken man comes swearing down the street, full of beer, and offering to fight anyone for the pleasure of the thing. By twelve the street is dead, and the tread of the policeman echoes with a forlorn sound as if he were walking through a cemetery.
As Mrs Yabsley leaned over the gate, Mrs Swadling caught sight of her, and, throwing her apron over her head, crossed the street, bent on gossip. Then Mrs Jones, who had been watching her through the window, dropped her mending and hurried out.
The three women stood and talked of the weather, talking for talking's sake as men smoke a pipe in the intervals of work. Presently Mrs Yabsley looked hard at Mrs Swadling, who was shading her head from the sun with her apron.
"Wot's the matter with yer eye?" she said, abruptly.
"Nuthin'," said Mrs Swadling, and coloured.
The eye she was shading was black from a recent blow, a present from her husband, Sam the carter, who came home for his tea, fighting drunk, as regular as clockwork.
"I thought I 'eard Sam snorin' after tea," said Mrs Jones.
"Yes, 'e was; but 'e woke up about twelve, an' give me beans 'cause I'd let 'im sleep till the pubs was shut."
"An' yer laid 'im out wi' the broom-handle, I s'pose?"
"No fear," said Mrs Swadling. "I ran down the yard, an' 'ollered blue murder."
"Well," said Mrs Yabsley, reflectively, "an 'usband is like the weather, or a wart on yer nose. It's no use quarrelling with it. If yer don't like it, yer've got ter lump it. An' if yer believe all yer 'ear, everybody else 'as got a worse."
She looked down the street, and saw Jonah and Chook, with a few others of the Push, sunning themselves in the morning air. Her face darkened.
"I see the Push 'ave got Jimmy Sinclair at last. Only six months ago 'e went ter Sunday school reg'lar, an' butter wouldn't melt in 'is mouth. Well, if smokin' cigarettes, an' spittin', and swearin' was 'ard work, they'd all die rich men. There's Waxy Collins. Last week 'e told 'is father 'e'd 'ave ter keep 'im till 'e was twenty-one 'cause of the law, an' the old fool believed 'im. An' little Joe Crutch, as used ter come 'ere beggin' a spoonful of drippin' fer 'is mother, come 'ome drunk the other night so natural, that 'is mother mistook 'im fer 'is father, an' landed 'im on the ear with 'er fist. An' 'im the apple of 'er eye, as the sayin' is. It's 'ard ter be a mother in Cardigan Street. Yer girls are mothers before their bones are set, an' yer sons are dodgin' the p'liceman round the corner before they're in long trousers."
It was rare for Mrs Yabsley to touch on her private sorrows, and there was an embarrassing silence. But suddenly, from the corner of Pitt Street, appeared a strange figure of a man, roaring out a song in the voice of one selling fish. Every head turned.
"'Ello," said Mrs Jones, "Froggy's on the job to-day."
The singer was a Frenchman with a wooden leg, dressed as a sailor. As he hopped slowly down the street with the aid of a crutch, his grizzled beard and scowling face turned mechanically to right and left, sweeping the street with threatening eyes that gave him the look of a retired pirate, begging the tribute that he had taken by force in better days. The song ended abruptly, and he wiped the sweat from his face with an enormous handkerchief. Then he began another.
The women were silent, greedily drinking in the strange, foreign sounds, touched for a moment with the sense of things forlorn and far away. The singer still roared, though the tune was caressing, languishing, a love song. But his eyes rolled fiercely, and his moustache seemed to bristle with anger.
Le pinson et la fauvette Chantaient nos chastes amours, Que les oiseaux chantent toujours, Pauvre Colinette, pauvre Colinette.
When he reached the women he hopped to the pavement holding out his hat like a collection plate, with a beseeching air. The women were embarrassed, grudging the pennies, but afraid of being thought mean. Mrs Yabsley broke the silence.
"I don't know wot ye're singin' about, an' I shouldn't like ter meet yer on a dark night, but I'm always willin' ter patronize the opera, as they say."
She fumbled in her pocket till she found tuppence. The sailor took the money, rolled his eyes, gave her a magnificent bow, and continued on his way with a fresh stanza:
Lorsque nous allions tous deux Dans la verdoyante allee, Comme elle etait essoufflee, Et comme j'etais radieux.
"The more fool you," said Mrs Jones, who was ashamed of having nothing to give. "I've 'eard 'e's got a terrace of 'ouses, an' thousands in the bank. My cousin told me 'e sees 'im bankin' 'is money reg'lar in George Street every week."
And then a conversation followed, with instances of immense fortunes made by organ-grinders, German bands, and street-singers—men who cadged in rags for a living, and could drive their carriage if they chose. The women lent a greedy ear to these romances, like a page out of their favourite novelettes. They were interrupted by an extraordinary noise from the French singer, who seemed suddenly to have gone mad. The Push had watched in ominous silence the approach of the Frenchman. But, as he passed them and finished a verse, a blood-curdling cry rose from the group. It was a perfect imitation of a dog baying the moon in agony. The singer stopped and scowled at the group, but the Push seemed to be unaware of his existence. He moved on, and began another verse. As he stopped to take breath the cry went up again, the agonized wail of a cur whose feelings are harrowed by music. The singer stopped, choking with rage, bewildered by the novelty of the attack. The Push seemed lost in thought. Again he turned to go, when a stone, jerked as if from a catapult, struck him on the shoulder. As he turned, roaring like a bull, a piece of blue metal struck him above the eye, cutting the flesh to the bone. The blood began to trickle slowly down his cheek.
Still roaring, he hopped on his crutch with incredible speed towards the Push, who stood their ground for a minute and then, with the instinct of the cur, bolted. The sailor stopped, and shook his fist at their retreating forms, showering strange, foreign maledictions on the fleeing enemy. It was evident that he could swear better than he could sing.
"Them wretches is givin' Froggy beans," said Mrs Swadling.
"Lucky fer 'im it's daylight, or they'd tickle 'is ribs with their boots," said Mrs Jones.
"Jonah and Chook's at the bottom o' that," said Mrs Swadling, looking hard at Mrs Yabsley.
"Ah, the devil an' 'is 'oof!" said Mrs Yabsley grimly, and was silent.
The sailor disappeared round the corner, and five minutes later the Push had slipped back, one by one, to their places under the veranda. Mrs Jones was in the middle of a story:
"'Er breath was that strong, it nearly knocked me down, an' so I sez to 'er, 'Mark my words, I'll pocket yer insults no longer, an' you in a temperance lodge. I'll make it my bizness to go to the sekertary this very day, an' tell 'im of yer goin's on.' An' she sez...w'y, there she is again," cried Mrs Jones, as she caught the sound of a shrill voice, high-pitched and quarrelsome. The women craned their necks to look.
A woman of about forty, drunken, bedraggled, dressed in dingy black, was pacing up and down the pavement in front of the barber's. She blinked like a drunken owl, and stepped high on the level footpath as if it were mountainous. And without looking at anything, she threw a string of insults at the barber, hiding behind the partition in his shop. For seven years she had passed as his wife, and then, one day, sick of her drunken bouts, he had turned her out, and married Flash Kate, the ragpicker's daughter. Sloppy Mary had accepted her lot with resignation, and went out charring for a living; but whenever she had a drop too much she made for the barber's, forgetting by a curious lapse of memory that it was no longer her home. And as usual the barber's new wife had pushed her into the street, staggering, and now stood on guard at the door, her coarse, handsome features alive with contempt.
"Wotcher doin' in my 'ouse?" suddenly inquired Sloppy, blinking with suspicion at Flash Kate. "Yous go 'ome, me fine lady, afore yer git yerself talked about."
The woman at the door laughed loudly, and pretended to examine with keen interest a new wedding ring on her finger.
"Cum 'ere, an' I'll tear yer blasted eyes out," cried the drunkard, turning on her furiously.
The ragpicker's daughter leaned forward, and inquired, "'Ow d'ye like yer eggs done?"
At this simple inquiry the drunkard stamped her foot with rage, calling on her enemy to prepare for instant death. And the two women bombarded one another with insults, raking the gutter for adjectives, spitting like angry cats across the width of the pavement.
The Push gathered round, grinning from ear to ear, sooling the women on as if they were dogs. But just as a shove from behind threw Sloppy nearly into the arms of her enemy, the Push caught sight of a policeman, and walked away with an air of extreme nonchalance. At the same moment the drunkard saw the dreaded uniform, and, obeying the laws of Cardigan Street, pulled herself together and walked away, mumbling to herself. The three women watched the performance without a word, critical as spectators at a play. When they saw there would be no scratching, they resumed their conversation.
"W'en a woman takes to drink, she's found a short cut to 'ell, an' lets everybody know it," said Mrs Yabsley, briefly. "But this won't git my work done," and she tucked up her sleeves and went in.
The Push, bent on killing time, and despairing of any fresh diversion in the street, dispersed slowly, one by one, to meet again at night.
The Cardigan Street Push, composed of twenty or thirty young men of the neighbourhood, was a social wart of a kind familiar to the streets of Sydney. Originally banded together to amuse themselves at other people's expenses, the Push found new cares and duties thrust upon them, the chief of which was chastising anyone who interfered with their pleasures. Their feats ranged from kicking an enemy senseless, and leaving him for dead, to wrecking hotel windows with blue metal, if the landlord had contrived to offend them. Another of their duties was to check ungodly pride in the rival Pushes by battering them out of shape with fists and blue metal at regular intervals.
They stood for the scum of the streets. How they lived was a mystery, except to people who kept fowls, or forgot to lock their doors at night. A few were vicious idlers, sponging on their parents for a living at twenty years of age; others simply mischievous lads, with a trade at their fingers' ends, if they chose to work. A few were honest, unless temptation stared them too hard in the face. On such occasions their views were simple as A B C. "Well, if yer lost a chance, somebody else collared it, an' w'ere were yer?"
The police, variously named "Johns", "cops" and "traps", were their natural enemies. If one of the Push got into trouble, the others clubbed together and paid his fine; and if that failed, they made it hot for the prosecutors. Generally their offences were disorderly conduct, bashing their enemies, and resisting the police.
Both Jonah and Chook worked for a living—Chook by crying fish and vegetables in the streets, Jonah by making and mending for Hans Paasch, the German shoemaker on Botany Road. But Chook often lacked the few shillings to buy his stock-in-trade, and Jonah never felt inclined for work till Wednesday. Then he would stroll languidly down to the shop. The old German would thrust out his chin, and blink at him over his glasses. And he always greeted Jonah with one of two set phrases:
"Ah, you haf come, haf you? I vas choost going to advertise for a man." This meant that work was plentiful. When trade was slack, he would shake his head sadly as if he were standing over the grave of his last sixpence, and say:
"Ah, it vas no use; dere is not enough work to fill one mouth."
Jonah always listened to either speech with utter indifference, took off his coat, put on his leather apron, and set to work silently and swiftly like a man in anger.
Although he always grumbled, Paasch was quite satisfied. He had too much work for one, and not enough for two. So Jonah, who was a good workman, and content to make three or four days in a week, suited him exactly. Besides, Jonah had started with him as an errand-boy at five shillings a week, years ago, and was used to his odd ways.
Hans Paasch was born in Bavaria, in the town of Hassloch. His father was a shoemaker, and destined Hans for the same trade. The boy preferred to be a fiddler but his father taught him his trade thoroughly with the end of a strap.
In his eighteenth year Hans suddenly ended the dispute by running away from home with his beloved fiddle. He made his way to the coast, and got passage on a cargo tramp to England. There he heard of the wonderful land called Australia, where gold was to be had for the picking up. The fever took him, and he worked his passage out to Melbourne on a sailing ship. He reached the goldfields, dug without success, and would have starved but for his fiddle. A year found him back in Melbourne, penniless. Here he met another German in the same condition. They decided to work their way overland to Sydney, Hans playing the fiddle and his mate singing. Then began a Bohemian life of music by the wayside inns, sleep in the open air, and meals when it pleased God to send them.
This had proved to be the solitary sunlit passage in his life, for when he reached Sydney he found that his music had no money value, and, under the goad of hunger, took to the trade that he had learned so unwillingly. Twenty years ago he had opened his small shop on the Botany Road, and to-day it remained unchanged, dwarfed by larger buildings on either side. He lived by himself in the room over the shop, where he spent his time reading the newspaper as a child spells out a lesson, or playing his beloved violin. He was a good player, but his music was a puzzle and a derision to Jonah, for his tastes were classical, and sometimes he spent as much as a shilling on a back seat at a concert in the Town Hall. Jonah scratched his ear and listened, amazed that a man could play for hours without finding a tune. The neighbours said that Paasch lived on the smell of an oil rag; but that was untrue, for he spent hours cooking strange messes soaked in vinegar, the sight of which turned Jonah's stomach.
Bob Fenner's dance-room, three doors away, was a thorn in his side. Three nights in the week a brazen comet struck into a set of lancers, drowning the metallic thud of the piano and compelling his ear to follow the latest popular air to the last bar.
His solitary life, his fiddling, and his singular mixture of gruffness and politeness had bred legends among the women of the neighbourhood. He was a German baron, who had forfeited his title and estates through killing a man in a duel; and never a milder pair of eyes looked timidly through spectacles. He was a famous musician, who had chosen to blot himself out of the world for love of a high-born lady; and, in his opinion, women were useful to cook and sew, nothing more.
JONAH DISCOVERS THE BABY
Joey the pieman had scented a new customer in Mrs Yabsley, and on the following Saturday night he stopped in front of the house and rattled the lids of his cans to attract her attention. His voice, thin and cracked with the wear of the streets, chanted his familiar cry to an accompaniment faintly suggestive of clashing cymbals:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!"
His cart, a kitchen on wheels, sent out a column of smoke from its stovepipe chimney; and when he raised the lids of the shining cans, a fragrant steam rose on the air. The cart, painted modestly in red, bore a strange legend in yellow letters on the front:
WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT IT, PEAS AND PIES WOULD HAVE BOUGHT IT!
This outburst of lyric poetry was to inform the world that Joey had risen from humble beginnings to his present commercial eminence, and was not ashamed of the fact.
He called regularly about ten o'clock, and Jonah and Ada spent a delightful five minutes deciding which delicacy to choose for the night. When they tired of green peas they chose hot pies, full of rich gravy that ran out if you were not careful how you bit; or they preferred the plump saveloy, smoking hot from the can, giving out a savoury odour that made your mouth water. Then Ada fetched a jug of beer from the corner to wash it down. Soon Jonah stayed at the house on Saturday night as a matter of course.
But Jonah drew the line when the mother hinted that he might as well stay there altogether. He feared a trap; and when she pointed out the danger of two women living alone in the house, he looked at her brawny arms and smiled.
Haunted by her scheme for marriage, she set to work to undermine Jonah's obstinacy. She proceeded warily, and made no open attack; but Jonah began to notice with uneasiness that he could not talk for five minutes without stumbling on marriage. In the midst of a conversation on the weather, he would be amazed to find the theme turn to the praise of marriage, brought mysteriously to this hateful word as a man is led blindfold to a giddy cliff. When his startled look warned the mother, she changed the subject.
Still she persevered, sapping Jonah's prejudices with the terrible zeal of a priest making a convert. When he saw her drift, it set him thinking, and he watched Ada with curious attention as she moved about the house helping her mother.
It was Sunday morning, and Ada was shelling peas. The pods split with a sharp crack under her fingers, and the peas rattled into a tin basin. She wore an old skirt, torn and shabby; her bodice was split under the arms, showing the white lining. Her hair lay flat on her forehead, screwed tightly in curling-pins, which brought into relief her fiat face and high cheekbones, for she was no beauty. By a singular coquetry, she wore her best shoes, small and neat, with high French heels.
Jonah looked at the girl with satisfaction, but she stirred no sentiment, for all women were alike to him. His view of them was purely animal. The procession of Chook's loves crossed his mind, and he smiled. At regular intervals Chook "went balmy" over some girl or other, and, while the fit lasted, worshipped her as a savage worships an idol. And Jonah was stupefied by this passionate preference for one woman. He had never felt that way for Ada.
He returned to his own affairs. Marriage meant a wife, a family, and steady work, for Ada would leave the factory if he married her. The thought filled him with weariness. The vagabond in him recoiled from the set labours and common burdens of his kind. Ever since he could remember he had been more at home in the streets than in the four walls of a room. The Push, the corner, the noise and movement of the streets—that was life for him. And he decided the matter for ever; there was nothing in it.
But, as the months slipped by, and Jonah remained impregnable to her masked batteries, Mrs Yabsley attacked him openly. Jonah stood his ground, and pointed out, with cynical candour, his unfitness to keep a wife. But Mrs Yabsley seized the opportunity to sketch out a career for him, with voluminous instances, for she had foreseen and arranged all that.
"An' 'oo's ter blame fer that?" she cried, "a feller that oughter be gittin' 'is three pounds a week. W'y, look at Dave Brown. Don't I remember the time 'e used ter 'awk a basket o' fish on Fridays, an' doss in park? An' now 'e goes round in a white shirt, an' draws 'is rents. An' mark me, it was gittin' married did that fer 'im. W'en a man's married, 'e's got somethin' better to do than smokin' cigarettes an' playin' a mouth-orgin."
"Yes," said Jonah, grinning. "Git up an' light the fire, an' graft 'is bloomin' 'ead off."
Mrs Yabsley feigned deafness.
"Anyhow, 'e didn't git 'is 'ouses 'awkin' fish," pursued Jonah; "'e got 'em while 'e kep' a pub."
Then, with feverish vivacity, Mrs Yabsley mapped out half a dozen careers for him, chiefly in connection with a shop, for to her, who lived by the sweat of her brow, shopkeepers were aristocrats, living in splendid ease.
"It's no go, missis," said Jonah. "Marriage is all right fer them as don't know better, but anyhow, it ain't wot it's cracked up ter be."
He avoided the house for some weeks after this conversation, patrolling the streets with the gang, with the zest of a drunkard returning to his cups. Mrs Yabsley, who saw that she had pushed her attack too far, waited in patience.
Jonah found the Push thirsting for blood. One of them had got three months for taking a fancy to a copper boiler that he had found in an empty house, and they discovered that a bricklayer, who lived next door, had put the police on his track. The Push resolved to stoush him, and had lain in wait for a week without success. Jonah took the matter in hand, and inquired secretly into the man's habits. He discovered that the bricklayer, sober as a judge through the week, was in the habit of fuddling himself on pay-day. Jonah arranged a plan, which involved a search of every hotel in the neighbourhood.
But one Saturday night, as they were stealthily scouting the streets for their man, Jonah suddenly thought of Ada. It was weeks since he had last seen her. He was surprised by a faint longing for her presence, and, with a word to Chook, he slipped away.
The cottage was in darkness and the door locked; but after a moment's hesitation, he took the key from under the flowerpot and went in. He struck a match and looked round. The irons were on the table. Mrs Yabsley had evidently gone out with the shirts. He lit the candle and sat down.
The room was thick with shadows, that fled and advanced as the candle flickered in the draught. He looked with quiet pleasure on the familiar objects—the deal table, propped against the wall on account of a broken leg, the ragged curtain stretched across the window, the new shelf that he had made out of a box. He studied, with fresh interest, the coloured almanacs on the wall, and spelt out, with amiable derision, the Scripture text over the door. He felt vaguely that he was at home.
Home!—the word had no meaning for him. He had been thrown on the streets when a child by his parents, who had rid themselves of his unwelcome presence with as little emotion as they would have tossed an empty can out of doors.
A street-arab, he had picked a living from the gutters, hardened to exposure, taking food and shelter with the craft of an old soldier in hostile country. Until he was twelve he had sold newspapers, sleeping in sheds and empty cases, feeding on the broken victuals thrown out from the kitchens of hotels and restaurants, and then, drifting by chance to Waterloo, had found a haven of rest with Paasch as an errand-boy at five shillings a week.
His cigarette was finished, and there was no sign of Ada. He swore at himself for coming, picked up his hat, and turned to go. But, at that moment, from the corner of the room, came a thin, wailing cry. Jonah started violently, and then, as he recognized the sound, smiled grimly. It was the baby, awakened by the light. He remembered that Mrs Yabsley often left it alone in the house.
But the infant, thoroughly aroused, gave out a querulous note, thin and sustained. Jonah stooped to blow out the candle, and then, with a sudden curiosity, walked over to the cradle.
It was a box on rough rollers, made out of a packing-case, grimy with dirt from the hands that had rocked it. Jonah pulled it out of the corner into the light, and the child, pacified by the sight of a face, stopped crying.
Fearful of observation, he looked round, and then stared intently at the baby. It was a meeting of strangers, for Mrs Yabsley, aware of his aversion from the child, had kept it out of the way. It was the first baby that he had seen at close quarters, for he had never lived in a house with one. And he looked at this with the curiosity with which one looks at a foreigner—surprised that he, too, is a man.
The child blinked feebly under the light of the candle, which Jonah was holding near. Its fingers moved with a mechanical, crab-like motion.
With an odd sensation Jonah remembered that this was his child—flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone—and, with a swift instinct, he searched its face for a sign of paternity.
The child's bulging forehead bore no likeness to Jonah's which sloped sharply from the eyebrows, and the nose was a mere dab of flesh; but its eyes were grey, like his own. His interest increased. Gently he stroked the fine silky down that covered its head, and then, growing bolder, touched its cheek. The delicate skin was smooth as satin under his rough finger.
The child, pleased with his touch, smiled and clutched his finger, holding it with the tenacity of a monkey. Jonah looked in wonder at that tiny hand, no bigger than a doll's. His own fist, rough with toil, seemed enormous beside it.
Flesh of his flesh, he thought, half incredulous, as he compared his red, hairy skin with that delicate texture; amazed by this miracle of life—the renewal of the flesh that perishes.
Then he remembered his deformity, and, with a sudden catch in his breath, lifted the child from the cradle, and felt its back, a passionate fear in his heart: it was straight as a die. He drew a long breath, and was silent, embarrassed for words before this mite, searching his mind in vain for the sweet jargon used by women.
"Sool 'im!" he cried at last, and poked his son in the ribs. The child crowed with delight. Jonah touched its mouth, and its teeth, like tiny pegs, closed tightly on his fingers. It lay contentedly on his knees, its eyes closed, already fatigued. And, as Jonah watched it, there suddenly vibrated in him a strange, new sensation—the sense of paternity, which Nature, crafty beyond man, has planted in him to fulfil her schemes, the imperious need to protect and rejoice in its young that preserves the race from extinction.
Jonah sat motionless, afraid to disturb the child, intoxicated by the first pure emotion of his life, his heart filled with an immense pity for this frail creature. Absorbed in his emotions, he was startled by a step on the veranda.
He rose swiftly to put the child in the cot, but it was too late, and he turned to the door with the child in his arms, ashamed and defiant, like a boy caught with the jam-pot. He expected Mrs Yabsley or Ada; it was Chook, breathless with haste. He stood in the doorway, dumb with amazement as his eye took in this strange picture; then his face relaxed in a grin.
"Well, Gawd strike me any colour 'E likes, pink for preference," he cried, and shook with laughter.
Jonah stared at him with a deepening scowl, till chuckles died away.
"Garn!" he cried at last, and his voice was between a whine and a snarl; "yer needn't poke borak!"
THE PUSH DEALS IT OUT
It was near eleven, and the lights were dying out along the Road as the shopmen, fatigued by their weekly conflict with the people, fastened the shutters. At intervals trams and buses, choked with passengers from the city, laboured heavily past. Groups of men still loitered on the footpaths, careless of the late hour, for to-morrow was Sunday, the day of idleness, when they could lie a-bed and read the paper. And they gossiped tranquilly, no longer harassed by the thought of the relentless toil, the inexorable need for bread, that dragged them from their warm beds while the rest of the world lay asleep.
The Angel, standing at the corner, dazzled the eye with the glare from its powerful lamps, their rays reflected in immense mirrors fastened to the walls, advertising in frosted letters the popular brands of whisky. And it stood alone in the darkening street, piercing the night with an unwinking stare like an evil spirit, offering its warm, comfortable bars to the passer-by, drawing men into its deadly embrace like a courtesan, to reject them afterwards babbling, reeling, staggering, to rouse the street with quarrels, or to snore in the gutters like swine.
Cassidy the policeman, with the slow, leaden step of a man who is going nowhere, stopped for a moment in front of the hotel, and examined the street with a suspicious eye. He saw nothing but some groups of young men leaning against the veranda-posts at the opposite corner. They smoked and spat, tranquilly discussing the horses and betting for the next Cup meeting. Satisfied that the Road was quiet, he moved off, dragging his feet as if they weighed a ton. At once a sinister excitement passed through the groups.
"That was Cassidy, now we shan't be long."
"Wot price Jonah givin' us the slip?"
"'Ow'll Chook perform, if 'e ain't at Ada's?"
It was the Push, who had run their man to earth at the Angel, where he was drinking in the bar, alone. Chook had posted them with the instinct of a general, and then left in hurried search of Jonah. And they watched the swinging doors of the hotel with cruel eyes, their nerves already vibrating with the ancestral desire to kill, the wild beast within them licking his lips at the thought of the coming feast.
Meanwhile, in Cardigan Street, Chook was arguing with Jonah. When told that the Push was waiting for him, he had listened without interest; the matter seemed foreign and remote. The velvety touch of his son's frail body still thrilled his nerves; its sweet, delicate odour was still in his nostrils. And he flatly refused to go. Chook was beside himself with excitement; tears stood in his eyes.
"W'y, y'ain't goin' ter turn dawg on me, Jonah, are yer?"
"No bleedin' fear," said Jonah; "but I feel—I dunno 'ow I feel. The blasted kid knocked me endways," he explained, in confusion.
As he looked down the street, he caught sight of Mrs Yabsley on the other side. She walked slowly on account of the hill, gasping for air, the weekly load of meat and groceries clutched in her powerful arms. His eyes softened with tenderness. He felt a sudden kinship for this huge, ungainly woman. He wanted to run and meet her, and claim the sweet, straight-limbed child that he had just discovered. Chook, standing at his elbow, like the devil in the old prints, was watching him curiously.
"Well, I'm off," cried Chook at last. "Wot'll I tell the blokes?"
Jonah was silent for a moment, with a sombre look in his eyes. Then he pulled himself together.
"Let 'er go," he cried grimly; "the kid can wait."
On the stroke of eleven, as they reached the "Angel", the huge lamps were extinguished, the doors swung open and vomited a stream of men on to the footpath, their loud voices bringing the noise and heat of the bar into the quiet street. They dispersed slowly, talking immoderately, parting with the regret of lovers from the warm bar with its cheerful light and pleasant clink of glasses. The doors were closed, but the bar was still noisy, and the laggards slipped out cautiously by the side door, where a barman kept watch for the police. Presently the bricklayer came out, alone. He stood on the footpath, slightly fuddled, his giddiness increased by the fresh air. Immediately Chook lurched forward to meet him, with a drunken leer.
"'Ello, Bill, fancy meetin' yous!" he mumbled.
The man, swaying slightly, stared at him in a fog.
"I dunno you," he muttered.
"Wot, yer dunno me, as worked wid yer on that job in Kent Street? Dunno Joe Parsons, as danced wid yer missis at the bricklayers' picnic?"
The man stopped to think, trying to remember, but his brain refused the effort.
"Orl right," he muttered; "come an' 'ave a drink." And he turned to the bar.
"No fear," cried Chook, taking him affectionately by the arm, "no more fer me! I'm full up ter the chin, an' so are yous."
"Might's well 'ave another," said the man, obstinately.
Chook pulled him gently away from the hotel, along the street.
"It's gittin' late; 'ow'll yer ole woman rous w'en yer git 'ome?"
"Sez anythin' ter me, break 'er bleedin' jaw," muttered the bricklayer. And then his eyes flamed with foolish, drunken anger. "I earn the money, don' I, an' I spend it, don' I?" he inquired. And he refused to move till Chook answered his question.
The Push closed quietly in.
"'Oo are these blokes?" he asked uneasily.
"Pals o' mine, all good men an' true," said Chook, gaily.
They were near Eveleigh Station, and the street was clear. The red signal-lights, like angry, bloodshot eyes, followed the curve of the line as it swept into the terminus. An engine screamed hoarsely as it swept past with a rattle of jolting metal and the hum of swiftly revolving wheels. The time was come to strike, but the Push hesitated. The show of resistance, the spark to kindle their brutal fury, was wanting.
"Is this a prayer meetin'?" inquired Waxy Collins, with a sneer. "Biff him on the boko, an' we'll finish 'im in one act."
"Shut yer face," said Jonah, and he stepped up to the bricklayer.
"Ever 'ear tell of a copper boiler?" he inquired pleasantly.
"Ever meet a bleedin' bastard as put the cops on a bloke, an' got 'im three months' 'ard?" he inquired again.
The bricklayer stared at him open-mouthed, surprised and alarmed by the appearance of this misshapen devil with the glittering eyes. Then a sudden suspicion ran through the fuddled brain.
"I niver lagged 'im; s'elp me Gawd, I niver put nobody away to the cops!" he cried.
"Yer rotten liar, take that!" cried Jonah, and struck him full on the mouth with his fist. The man clapped his hand to his cut lip, and looked at the blood in amazement. The shock cleared his brain, and he remembered with terror the tales of deadly revenge taken by the pushes. He looked wildly for help. He was in a ring of mocking, menacing faces.
"Let 'im out," cried Jonah, in a sharp, strident voice. "The swine lives about 'ere; give 'im a run for 'is money."
The Push opened out, and the man, sobered by his danger, stood for a moment with bewildered eyes. Then, with the instinct of the hunted, he turned for home and ran. The Push gave chase, with Chook in the lead. Again and again the quarry turned, blindly seeking refuge in the darkest lanes.
As his pursuers gained on him he gave a hoarse scream—the dolorous cry of a hunted animal.
But it was the cat playing with the mouse. The bricklayer ran like a cow, his joints stiffened by years of toil; the larrikins, light on their feet as hares, kept the pace with a nimble trot, silent and dangerous, conscious of nothing but the desire and power to kill.
As he turned into Abercrombie Street, Chook ran level with him, then stooped swiftly and caught his ankle. The bricklayer went sprawling, and in an instant the Push closed in on the fallen man as footballers form a scrum, kicking the struggling body with silent ferocity, drunk with the primeval instinct to destroy.
"Nit!" cried Jonah; and the Push scattered, disappearing by magic over fences and down lanes.
The bricklayer had ceased to struggle, and lay in a heap. Five minutes later some stragglers, noticing the huddled mass on the road, crossed the street cautiously and stared. Then a crowd gathered, each asking the other what had happened, each amazed at the other's ignorance.
The excitement seemed to penetrate the houses opposite. Heads were thrust out of windows, doors were opened, and a stream of men and women, wearing whatever they could find in the dark, shuffled across the footpath.
Some still fumbled at their braces; others, draped like Greek statues, held their garments on with both hands. A coarse jest passed round when a tall, bony woman came up, a man's overcoat, thrown over her shoulders, barely covering her nightdress. They stood shivering in the cold air, greedy to hear what sensation had come to their very doors.
"It's only a drunken man."
"They say 'e was knocked down in a fight."
"No; the Push stoushed 'im, an' then cleared."
Someone struck a match and looked at his face; it was smeared with blood. Then the crowd rendered "first aid" in the street fashion.
"Wot's yer name? W'ere d'yer live? 'Ow did it 'appen?"
And at each question they shook him vigorously, impatient at his silence. The buzz of voices increased.
"W'ere's the perlice?"
"Not w'ere they're wanted, you may be sure."
"It's my belief they go 'ome an' sleep it out these cold nights."
"Well, I s'pose a p'liceman 'as ter take care of 'imself, like everybody else," said one, and laughed.
"It's shameful the way these brutes are allowed to knock men about."
"An' the perlice know very well 'oo they are, but they're afraid of their own skins."
The woman in the nightdress had edged nearer, craning her neck over the shoulders of the men to see better. As another match was struck she saw the man's face.
"My Gawd, it's my 'usband!" she screamed. "Bill, Bill, wot 'ave they done ter yer?"
Her old affection, starved to death by years of neglect, sprang to life for an instant in this cry of agony. She dropped on her knees beside the bruised body, wiping the blood from his face with the sleeve of her nightdress. A dark red stain spread over the coarse, common calico. And she kissed passionately the bleeding lips, heedless of the sour smell of alcohol that tainted his breath. The bricklayer groaned feebly. With a sudden movement she stripped the coat from her shoulders, and covered him as if to protect him from further harm.
Her hair, fastened in an untidy knot, slipped from the hairpins, and fell, grey and scanty, over her neck; her bony shoulders, barely covered by the thin garment, moved convulsively.
"'Ere, missis, take this, or you'll ketch cold," said a man kindly, pulling off his coat.
Then, with the quick sympathy of the people, they began to make light of the matter, trying to persuade her that his injuries were not serious. A friendly rivalry sprang up among them as they related stories of wonderful recoveries made by men whose bodies had been beaten to a jelly. One, carried away by enthusiasm, declared that it did a man good to be shattered like glass, for the doctors, with satanic cunning seized the opportunity to knead the broken limbs like putty into a more desirable shape. But their words fell on deaf ears. The woman crouched over the prostrate man, stroking the bruised limbs with a stupid, mechanical movement as an animal licks its wounded mate.
The crowd divided as a policeman came up with an important air. Brisk and cheerful, he made a few inquiries, enchanted with this incident that broke the monotony of the night's dreary round. The crowd breathed freely, feeling that the responsibility had shifted on to the official shoulders. He blew shrilly on his whistle, and demanded a cab.
"Cab this time o' night? No chance," was the common opinion.
But by great good luck a cab was heard rattling along the next street. Two men ran to intercept it.
The woman clung desperately to the crippled body as they lifted it into the cab, impeding the men in their efforts, imploring them to carry him to his own house, with the distrust of the ignorant for the hospitals, where the doctors amuse themselves by cutting and carving the bodies of their helpless patients. The policeman, a young man, embarrassed by the sight of this half-dressed woman, swore softly to himself.
"'Ere, missis, you'd better get 'ome, you can't do any good 'ere," he said, kindly. "Don't you worry; I've seen worse cases than this go 'ome to breakfast the next day."
As the cab drove off, some neighbours led her away, her thin, angular body shaken with sobs.
The street was quiet again, but some groups still lingered, discussing with relish the details of the outrage, searching their memories for stories of brutal stoushings that had ended in the death of the victim.
THE BABY DISCOVERS JONAH
An hour later Jonah and Chook, picking the most roundabout way, reached home. The family was in bed, and the house in darkness. The two mates dropped silently over the fence, and, with the stealthy movements of cats, clambered through the window of the room which they shared, for Jonah believed that secrets were kept best by those who had none to tell.
"Gawd, I'm dry," said Chook, yawning. "I could do a beer."
"That comes of runnin' along the street so 'ard," said Jonah, grinning. "It must 'ave bin a fire by the way I see yer run. W'y was yer runnin' so 'ard?" Then his face darkened. "I wonder 'ow the poor bloke feels, that fell down an' 'urt 'imself?"
"D'ye think 'e knows enough ter give us away?" asked Chook, anxiously.
"No fear," said Jonah. "I make the Ivy Street Push a present of that little lot."
"Well, I s'pose a sleep's the next best thing," replied Chook, and in a minute was snoring.
Jonah finished undressing slowly. As he unlaced his boots, he noticed a dark patch on one toe. It looked as if he had kicked something wet. He examined the stain without repugnance, and thought of the bricklayer.
"Serve the cow right," he thought. "'Ope it stiffens 'im!"
Again he examined the patch of blood attentively, wondering if it would leave a mark on his tan boots, of which he was very proud. Dipping a piece of rag in water, he washed it off carefully. And, as he rubbed, the whole scenes passed through his brain in rapid succession—the Angel, bright and alluring with the sinister gleam of its powerful lamps, the swaying man in the midst of the Push, the wild-beast chase, and the fallen body that ceased to struggle as they kicked.
He lit a cigarette and stared at the candle, smiling with the pride of a good workman at the thought of his plan that had worked so neatly. The Push was secure, and the blame would fall on the Ivy Street gang, the terror of Darlington. For a moment he regretted the active part he had taken in the stoushing, as his hunchback made him conspicuous. He wondered carelessly what had happened after the Push bolted. These affairs were so uncertain. Sometimes the victim could limp home, mottled with bruises; just as often he was taken to the hospital in a cab, and a magistrate was called in to take down his dying words. In this case the chances were in favour of the victim recovering, as the Push had been interrupted in dealing it out through Jonah's excessive caution. Still, they had no intention of killing the man; they merely wished to teach him a lesson.
True, the lesson sometimes went too far; and he thought with anxiety of the Surry Hills affair, in which, through an accident, a neighbouring push had disappeared like rats into a hole, branded with murder. The ugly word hung on his tongue and paralysed his thoughts. His mind recoiled with terror as he saw where his lawless ways had carried him, feeling already branded with the mark of Cain, which the instinct of the people has singled out as the unpardonable crime, destroying the life that cannot be renewed. And suddenly he began to persuade himself that the man's injuries were not serious, that he would soon recover; for it was wonderful the knocking about a man could stand.
He turned on himself with amazement. Why was he twittering like an old woman? Quarrels, fights, and bloodshed were as familiar to him as his daily bread. With a sudden cry of astonishment he remembered the baby. The affair of the bricklayer had driven it completely out of his mind. His thoughts returned to Cardigan Street. He remembered the quiet room dimly lit with a candle, the dolorous cry of the infant, and the intoxicating touch of its frail body in his arms.
His amazement increased. What had possessed him to take the brat in his arms and nurse it? His lips contracted in a cynical grin as he remembered the figure he cut when Chook appeared. He decided to look on the affair as a joke. But again his thoughts returned to the child, and he was surprised with a vibration of tenderness sweet as honey in his veins. A strange yearning came over him like a physical weakness for the touch of his son's body.
His eye caught his shadow on the wall, grotesque and forbidding; the large head, bunched beneath the square shoulders, thrust outwards in a hideous lump. Monster and outcast was he? Well, he would show them that only an accident separated the hunchback from his fellows. He thought with a fierce joy of his son's straight back and shapely limbs. This was his child, that he could claim and exhibit to the world. Then his delight changed to a vague terror—the fear of an animal that dreads a trap, and finds itself caught. He blew out the candle and fell asleep, to dream of enemies that fled and mocked at him, embarrassed with an infant that hung like a millstone round his neck.
Within a month the affair of the bricklayer had blown over. The police made inquiries, and arrested some of the Ivy Street Push, but released them for want of evidence. In the hospital the bricklayer professed a complete ignorance of his assailants and their motive. It was understood that he was too drunk to recognize anyone.
But it was his knowledge of Push methods that sealed his tongue. No one would risk his skin by giving evidence. If the police had brought the offenders to book, the magistrates, who seemed to regard these outrages as the playful excesses of wanton blood, would have let them off with a light punishment, and the streets would never have been safe for him again. So he held his tongue, thankful to have escaped so easily.
But burnt on his brain was the vision of a misshapen devil who struck at him, with snarling lips, and a desperate flight through avenues of silent, impassive streets that heard with indifference his cry for help. In six weeks he was back at work, with no mark of his misadventure but a broken nose, caused by a clumsy boot.
So the Push took to the streets again, and Jonah resumed his visits to Cardigan Street on Saturday nights. He had concealed his adventure with the baby from Ada and her mother, feeling ashamed, as if he had discovered an unmanly taste for mud pies and dolls. But the imperious instinct was aroused, and he gratified it in secret, caressing the child by stealth as a miser runs to his hoard. In the women's presence he ignored its existence, but he soon discovered that Ada shared none of his novel sensations. And he grew indignant at her indifference, feeling that his child was neglected.
Mrs Yabsley, for ever on the alert, felt some change in his manner, and one Sunday morning received a shock. She was chopping wood in the yard. She swung the axe with a grunt, and the billet, split in two, left the axe wedged in the block. As she was wrenching it out, Jonah dropped his cigarette and cried:
"'Ere, missis, gimme that axe; I niver like ter see a woman chop wood."
She looked at him in amazement. Times without number he had watched her grunt and sweat without stirring a finger. Bitten with her one idea, she watched him curiously.
It was the baby that betrayed him at last. Ada was carrying it past him in furtive haste, when it caught sight of his familiar features. Jonah, off his guard, smiled. The child laughed joyously, and leaned out of Ada's arms towards him.
"W'y, wot's the matter, Joe?" cried Mrs Yabsley, all eyes.
Jonah hesitated. Denial was on his tongue, but he looked again at his child, and a lump rose in his throat.
"Oh, nuthin', missis," he replied, reddening. "Me an' the kid took a fancy ter one another long ago."
He smiled blandly, in exquisite relief, as if he had confessed a sin or had a tooth drawn. He took the child from Ada, and it lay in his arms, nestling close with animal content.
Ada looked in silence, astonished and slightly scornful at this development, jealous of the child's preference, already regretting her neglect.
Mrs Yabsley stood petrified with the face of one who has seen a miracle. For a moment she was too amazed to think; then, with a rapid change of front, she conquered her surprise and claimed the credit for this result.
"I knowed all along the kid 'ud fetch yer, Joe. I knowed yer'd got a soft 'eart," she cried. "An' 'e's the very image of yer, wi' the sweetest temper mortal child ever 'ad."
From that time Sunday became a marked day for Jonah, and he looked forward to it with impatience. It was spring. The temperate rays of the sun fell on budding tree and shrub; the mysterious renewal of life that stirred inanimate nature seemed to touch his pulse to a quicker and lighter beat. He sat for hours in the backyard, once a garden, screened from observation, with the child on his knees. The blood ran pleasantly in his veins; he felt in sympathy with the sunlight, the sky flecked with clouds, and the warm breath of the winds. It broke on him slowly that he was taking his place among his fellows, outcast and outlaw no longer.
Soon, he and the child were inseparable. He learned to attend to its little wants with deft fingers, listening with a smile to the kindly banter of the women. His manner changed to Ada and her mother; he was considerate, even kind. Then he began to drop in on Monday or Tuesday instead of loafing with the Push at the corner. Ada was at the factory; but Mrs Yabsley, sorting piles of dirty linen, with her arms bared to the elbow, welcomed him with a smile. He remarked with satisfaction that a change had come over the old woman. She never spoke of marriage; seemed to have given up the idea.
But one day, as he sat with the child on his knees, she stopped in front of the pair, with a bundle of shirts in her arms, and regarded them with a puzzling smile. The baby lay on its back, staring into space with solemn, unreflective eyes. From time to time Jonah turned his head to blow the smoke of his cigarette into the air.
"You'll be gittin' too fond of 'im, if y'ain't careful, Joe," she said at last.
"Git work; wot's troublin' yer?" said Jonah, with a grin.
"Nuthin'; only I was thinkin' wot a fine child 'e'd be in a few years. It's a pity 'e ain't got no real father."
"Wot d'yer mean?" said Jonah, looking up angrily. "W'ere do I come in? Ain't I the bloke?"
"Well, y'are an' y'ain't, yer know," said Mrs Yabsley. "There's two ways of lookin' at these things."
"'Strewth! I niver thought o' that," said Jonah, scratching his ear.
"No, but other people do, worse luck," said Mrs Yabsley.
Jonah stared at the child in silence. Mrs Yabsley turned and poked the fire under the copper boiler. Suddenly Jonah lifted his head and cried:
"I say, missis, I can see a hole in a ladder plain enough! Yer mean I've got ter marry Ada?"
The old woman left the fire and stood in front of him.
"Not a bit, Joe. I've give up that idea. Marriage wouldn't suit yous. Your dart is ter be King of the Push, an' knock about the streets with a lot of mudlarks as can't look a p'liceman straight in the face. You an' yer pals are seein' life now all right; but wait till yer bones begin ter stiffen, an' yer can't run faster than the cop. Then it'll be jail or worse, an' yous might 'ave bin a good workman, with a wife an' family, only yer knowed better—"
"'Ere, steady on the brake, missis," interrupted Jonah, with a frown.
"No, Joe, I don't mind sayin' that I 'ad some idea of marryin' yous an' Ada, but ye're not the man I took yer for an' I give it up. I don't believe in a man marryin' because 'e wants a woman ter cook 'is meals. My idea is a man wants ter git married because 'e's found out a lot o' surprisin' things in the world 'e niver dreamt of before. An' it's only when 'e's found somethin' ter live for, an' work for, that 'e's wot yer rightly call a man. That's w'y I don't worry about you, Joe. I can see your time ain't come."
"Don't be too bleedin' sure," cried Jonah, angrily.
"Of course I'm only a fat old woman as likes 'er joke an' a glass o' beer. I'd be a fool ter lay down the law to a bloke as sharp as yous, that thinks 'e can see everything. But I wasn't always so fat I 'ad ter squeeze through the door, an' I tell yer the best things in life are them yer can't see at all, an' that's the feelin's. So take a fool's advice, an' don't think of marryin' till yer feel there's somethin' wrong wi' yer inside, fer that's w'ere it ketches yer."
"'Ere, 'old 'ard! Can't a bloke git a word in edgeways?"
Mrs Yabsley stopped, with an odd smile on her face.
Jonah stared at her with a perplexed frown, and then the words came in a rush.
"Look 'ere, missis, I wasn't goin' ter let on, but since yer on fer a straight talk, I tell yer there's more in me than yer think, an' if it's up ter me ter git married, I can do it without gittin' roused on by yous."
"Keep yer 'air on, Joe," said Mrs Yabsley, smiling. "I didn't mean ter nark yer, but yer know wot I say is true. An' don't say I ever put it inter yer 'ead ter git married. You've studied the matter, an' yer know it means 'ard graft an' plenty of worry. There's nuthin' in it, Joe, as yer said, an' besides, the Push is waitin' for yer.
"Of course, there's no 'arm in yer comin' 'ere ter see the kid, but I 'ope yer won't stand in Ada's way w'en she gits a chance. There's Tom Mullins, that was after Ada before she ever took up wi' yous. Only last week 'e told Mrs Jones 'e'd take Ada, kid an' all, if he got the chance. I know yous don't want a wife, but yer shouldn't 'inder others as do."
"Yer talkin' through yer neck," cried Jonah, losing his temper.
"Suppose I tell yer that the kid's done the trick, an' I want ter git married, an' bring 'im up respectable?"
The old woman was silent, but a wonderful smile lit up her face.
"Yer've got a lot ter say about the feelin's. Suppose I tell yer there's somethin' in me trembles w'en I touch this kid? I felt like a damned fool at first, but I'm gittin' used to it."
"That's yer own flesh an' blood a-callin' yer, Joe," cried Mrs Yabsley, in ecstasy—"the sweetest cry on Gawd's earth, for it goes to yer very marrer."
"That's true," said Jonah, sadly; "an' 'e's the only relation I've got in the wide world, as far as I know. More than that, 'e's the only livin' creature that looks at me without seein' my hump."
It was the first time in Mrs Yabsley's memory that Jonah had mentioned his deformity. A tremor in his voice made her look at him sharply. Tears stood in his eyes. With a sudden impulse she stopped and patted his head.
"That's all right, Joe," she said, gently. "I was only pullin' yer leg. I wanted yer to do the straight thing by Ada, but I wasn't sure yer'd got a 'eart, till the kid found it. But wot will the Push say w'en ..."
"The Push be damned!" cried Jonah.
"Amen ter that," said Mrs Yabsley. "Gimme yer fist."
Jonah stayed to tea that night, contrary to his usual habit, for Mrs Yabsley was anxious to have the matter settled.
"Wot's wrong wi' you an' me gittin' married, Ada?" he said. Ada nearly dropped her cup.
"Garn, ye're only kiddin'!" she cried with an uneasy grin.
"Fair dinkum!" said Jonah.
"Right-oh," said Ada, as calmly as if she were accepting an invitation to a dance.
But she thought with satisfaction that this was the beginning of a perpetual holiday. For she was incorrigibly lazy and hated work, going through the round of mechanical toil in a slovenly fashion, indifferent to the shower of complaints, threats and abuse that fell about her ears.
"Where was yer thinkin' of gittin' married, Joe?" inquired Mrs Yabsley after tea.
"I dunno," replied Jonah, suddenly remembering that he knew no more of weddings than a crow.
"At the Registry Office, of course," said Ada. "Yer walk in an' yer walk out, an' it's all over."
"That's the idea," said Jonah, greatly relieved. He understood vaguely that weddings were expensive affairs, and he had thirty shillings in his pocket.
"Don't tell me that people are married that goes ter the Registry Office!" cried Mrs Yabsley. "They only git a licence to 'ave a family. I know all about them. Yer sign a piece of paper, an' then the bloke tells yer ye're married. 'Ow does 'e know ye're married? 'E ain't a parson. I was married in a church, an' my marriage is as good now as ever it was. Just yous leave it to me, an' I'll fix yez up."