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Part I: Larrikins All




  ― 1 ―

I: 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


  ― 2 ―
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'


  ― 3 ―
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.




  ― 4 ―
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.




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“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.

Jonah nodded.

“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


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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”




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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.




  ― 8 ―
“'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


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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.

“Did I?”

“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


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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




  ― 11 ―
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.




  ― 12 ―

II: 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


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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,


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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


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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


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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,


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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


  ― 18 ―
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.




  ― 19 ―
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.




  ― 20 ―
“'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


  ― 21 ―
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?”




  ― 22 ―
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.




  ― 23 ―

III: 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


  ― 24 ―
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


  ― 25 ―
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'


  ― 26 ―
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


  ― 27 ―
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


  ― 28 ―
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 allée,
Comme elle était essoufflée,
Et comme j'étais 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


  ― 29 ―
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


  ― 30 ―
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.




  ― 31 ―
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


  ― 32 ―
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


  ― 33 ―
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


  ― 34 ―
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


  ― 35 ―
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.




  ― 36 ―

IV: 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


  ― 37 ―
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


  ― 38 ―
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.




  ― 39 ―
“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


  ― 40 ―
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.




  ― 41 ―
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


  ― 42 ―
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.




  ― 43 ―
“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.”




  ― 44 ―

V: 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


  ― 45 ―
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?”




  ― 46 ―
“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.




  ― 47 ―
“'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


  ― 48 ―
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


  ― 49 ―
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


  ― 50 ―
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


  ― 51 ―
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


  ― 52 ―
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.




  ― 53 ―

VI: 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


  ― 54 ―
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


  ― 55 ―
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


  ― 56 ―
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


  ― 57 ―
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.




  ― 58 ―
“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


  ― 59 ―
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?”




  ― 60 ―
“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


  ― 61 ―
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


  ― 62 ―
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.




  ― 63 ―
“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


  ― 64 ―
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.”

Ever since Ada was a child, Mrs. Yabsley had speculated on her marriage, when all the street would turn out to the wedding. And now, after years of planning and waiting, she was to be married on the quiet, for there was nothing to boast about.

“Well, it's no use cryin' over skimmed milk,” she reflected, adapting the proverb to her needs.

But she clung with obstinacy to a marriage in a church, convinced that none other was genuine. And casting about in her mind for a parson who would marry them without fuss or expense, she remembered Trinity Church, and the thing was done.

Canon Vaughan, the new rector of Trinity Church, had brought some strange ideas from London, where he had worked in the slums. He had founded a workman's club, and smoked his pipe with the members; formed a brigade of newsboys and riff-raff, and taught them elementary morality with the aid of boxing-gloves; and offended his congregation by treating the poor with the same consideration as themselves. And then, astonished by the number of mothers who were not wives, that he discovered on his rounds, he had announced that he would open the church on the first Saturday night in every month to marry any couples without needless questions. They could pay, if they chose, but nothing was expected.

Jonah and Ada jumped at the idea, but Mrs. Yabsley thought with sorrow of her cherished dream


  ― 65 ―
— Ada married on a fine day of sunshine, Cardigan Street in an uproar, a feast where all could cut and come again, the clink of glasses, and a chorus that shook the windows. Well, such things were not to be, and she shut her mouth grimly. But she determined in secret to get in a dozen of beer, and invite a few friends after the ceremony to drink the health of the newly married, and keep the secret till they got home. And as she was rather suspicious of a wedding that cost nothing, she decided to give the parson a dollar to seal the bargain and make the contract more binding.




  ― 66 ―

VII: A Quiet Wedding

THE following Saturday Mrs. Yabsley astonished her customers by delivering the shirts and collars in the afternoon. There were cries of amazement.

“No, I'm quite sober,” she explained; “but I'm changin' the 'abits of a lifetime just to show it can be done.”

Then she hurried home to clean up the house. After much thought, she had decided to hold the reception after the wedding in the front room, as it was the largest. She spent an hour carrying the irons, boards, and other implements of the laundry into the back rooms. A neighbour, who poked her head in, asked if she were moving. But when she had finished the cleaning, she surveyed the result with surprise. The room was scrubbed as bare as a shaven chin. So she took some coloured almanacs from the bedroom and kitchen, and tacked them on the walls, studying the effect with the gravity of a decorative artist. The crude blotches of colour pleased her eye, and she considered the result with pride. “Wonderful 'ow a few pitchers liven a place up,” she thought.




  ― 67 ―
She looked doubtfully at the chairs. There were only three, and, years ago, her immense weight had made them as uncertain on their legs as drunkards. She generally sat on a box for safety. Finally, she constructed two forms out of the ironing-boards and some boxes. Then she fastened two ropes of pink tissue paper, that opened out like a concertina, across the ceiling. This was the finishing touch, and lent an air of gaiety to the room.

For two hours past Ada and Pinkey had been decorating one another in the bedroom. When they emerged, Mrs. Yabsley cried out in admiration, not recognizing her own daughter for the moment. Their white dresses, freshly starched and ironed by her, rustled stiffly at every movement of their bodies, and they walked daintily as if they were treading on eggs. Both had gone to bed with their hair screwed in curling-pins, losing half their sleep with pain and discomfort, but the result justified the sacrifice. Ada's hair, dark and lifeless in colour, decreased the sullen heaviness of her features; Pinkey's, worn up for the first time, was a barbaric crown, shot with rays of copper and gold as it caught the light.

“Yous put the kettle on, an' git the tea, an' I'll be ready in no time,” said Mrs. Yabsley. “W'en I was your age, I used ter take 'arf a day ter doll meself up, an' then git down the street with a brass band playin' inside me silly 'ead; but now, gimme somethin' new, if it's only a bit o' ribbon in me 'at, an' I feel dressed up ter the knocker.”

At seven o'clock Jonah and Chook arrived. They were dressed in the height of larrikin fashion — tight-


  ― 68 ―
fitting suits of dark cloth, soft black felt hats, and soft white shirts with new black mufflers round their necks in place of collars — for the larrikin taste in dress runs to a surprising neatness. But their boots were remarkable, fitting like a glove, with high heels and a wonderful ornament of perforated toe-caps and brass eyelet-holes on the uppers.

Mrs. Yabsley, moved by the solemn occasion, formally introduced Chook and Pinkey. They stared awkwardly, not knowing what to say. In a flash, Chook remembered her as the red-haired girl whom he had chiacked at the corner. As he stared at her in surprise, the impudence died out of his face, and he thought with regret of his ferocious jest and her stinging reply. Pinkey grew uneasy under his eyes. Again the curious pink flush coloured her cheeks, and she turned her head with a light, scornful toss. That settled Chook. In five minutes he was looking at her with the passionate adoration of a savage before an idol, for this Lothario of the gutter brought to each fresh experience a surprising virginity of emotion that his facile, ignoble conquests left untouched. Jonah broke the silence by complimenting the ladies on their appearance.

“My oath, yer a sight fer sore eyes, yous are!” he cried. “I'm glad yer don't know 'ow giddy yer look, else us blokes wouldn't 'ave a chance, would we, Chook?”

The girls bridled with pleasure at the rude compliments, pretending not to hear them, feeling very desirable and womanly in their finery.

“Dickon ter you,” said Mrs. Yabsley. “Yer needn't think they're got up ter kill ter please yous. It's


  ― 69 ―
only ter give their clobber an airin', an' keep out the moths.”

When it was time to set out for the church, the five were quite at their ease, grinning and giggling at the familiar jokes on marriage, broad as a barn door, dating from the Flood. Mrs. Yabsley toiled in the rear of the bridal procession, fighting for wind on account of the hill. She kept her fist shut on the two half-dollars for the parson; the wedding ring, jammed on the first joint of her little finger for safety, gave her an atrocious pain. At length they reached Cleveland street, and halted opposite the church.

The square tower of Trinity Church threw its massive outline against the faint glow of the city lights, keeping watch and ward over the church, that had grown grey in the service of God, like a fortress of the Lord planted on hostile ground. And they stood together, the grim tower and the grey church, for a symbol of immemorial things — a stronghold and a refuge.

The wedding party walked into the churchyard on tiptoe as if they were trespassers. Then, unable to find the door in the dark, they walked softly round the building, trying to see what was going on inside through the stained-glass windows. Their suspicious movements attracted the attention of the verger, and he followed them with stealthy movements, convinced that they meditated a burglary. When he learned their errand, he took charge of the party. They entered the church like foreigners in a remote land. Another wedding was in progress, so they sat down in the narrow, uncomfortable pews, waiting their


  ― 70 ―
turn. When Chook caught sight of the Canon in his surplice and bands, he uttered a cry of amazement.

“Look at the old bloke. 'E's wearin' 'is shirt outside!”

The two girls were convulsed, turning crimson with the effort to repress their giggles. Mrs. Yabsley was annoyed, feeling that they were treating the matter as a farce.

“I'm ashamed o' yer, Chook,” she remarked severely. “Yer the two ends an' middle of a 'eathen. That's wot they call 'is surplus, an' I wish I 'ad the job of ironin' it.”

Order was restored, but at intervals the girls broke into ripples of hysterical laughter. Then Chook saw the organ, with its rows of painted pipes, and nudged Jonah.

“Wot price that fer a mouth-orgin, eh? Yer'd want a extra pair o' bellows ter play that.”

Jonah examined the instrument with the interest of a musician, surprised by the enormous tubes, packed stiffly in rows, the plaything of a giant; but he still kept an eye on the pair that were being married, with the nervous interest of a criminal watching an execution. The women, to whom weddings were an afternoon's distraction, like the matinees of the richer, stared about the building. Mrs. Yabsley, wedged with difficulty in the narrow pew, pretended that they were made uncomfortable on purpose to keep people awake during the sermon. Presently Ada and Pinkey, who had been examining the memorial tablets on the walls, began to argue whether the dead people were buried under the floor of the church. Pinkey decided they were, and


  ― 71 ―
shivered at the thought. Ada called her a fool; they nearly quarrelled.

When their turn came, the Canon advanced to meet them, setting them at their ease with a few kindly words, less a priest than a courteous host welcoming his guests. He seemed not to notice Jonah's deformity. But, as he read the service, he was the priest again, solemn and austere, standing at the gates of Life and Death. He followed the ritual with scrupulous detail, scorning to give short measure to the poor. In the vestry they signed their names with tremendous effort, holding the pen as if it were a prop. Mrs. Yabsley, being no scholar, made a mark. The Canon left them with an apology, as another party was waiting.

“Rum old card,” commented Chook, when they got outside. “I reckon 'e's a man w'en 'e tucks 'is shirt in.”

The party decided to go home by way of Regent Street, drawn by the sight of the jostling crowd and the glitter of the lamps. As they threaded their way through the crowd, Jonah stopped in front of a pawnshop and announced that he was going to buy a present for Ada and Pinkey to bring them luck. He ignored Ada's cries of admiration at the sight of a large brooch set with paste diamonds, and fixed on a thin silver bracelet for her, and a necklace of imitation pearls, the size of peas, for Pinkey. Ada thrust her fat fingers through the rigid band of metal; it slipped over the joints and hung loosely on her wrist. Then Pinkey clasped the string of shining beads round her thin neck, the metallic lustre of the false gems heightening the delicate pallor of


  ― 72 ―
her fine skin. The effect was superb. Ada, feeling that the bride was eclipsed, pretended that her wedding ring was hurting her, and drew all eyes to that badge of honour.

When they reached Cardigan Street, Mrs. Yabsley went into the back room, and returned grunting under the weight of a dozen bottles of beer in a basket. Then, one by one, she set them in the middle of the table like a group of ninepins. It seemed a pity to break the set, but they were thirsty, and the pieman was not due for half an hour. A bottle was opened with infinite precaution, but the faint plop of the cork reached the sharp ears of Mrs. Swadling, who was lounging at the end of the lane. The unusual movements of Mrs. Yabsley had roused her suspicions, but the arrival of her husband, Sam, fighting drunk for his tea, had interrupted her observations. She was accustomed to act promptly, even if it were only to dodge a plate, and in an instant her sharp features were thrust past the door, left ajar for the sake of coolness.

“I thought I'd run across an' ask yer about that ironmould on Sam's collar,” she began.

Then, surprised by the appearance of the room, dressed for a festival, she looked around. Her eyes fell on the battalion of bottles, and she stood thunderstruck by this extravagance. But Ada, anxious to display her ring, was smoothing and patting her hair every few minutes. Already the movement had become a habit. Unconsciously she lifted her hand and flashed the ring in the eyes of Mrs. Swadling.

“Well, I never!” she cried. “I might 'ave known


  ― 73 ―
wot yer were up to, an' me see a weddin' in me cup only this very mornin'.”

Mrs. Yabsley looked at Jonah and laughed.

“Might as well own up, Joe,” she cried. “The cat's out of the bag.”

“Right y'are,” cried Jonah. “Let 'em all come. I can't be 'ung fer it.”

Mrs. Yabsley, delighted with her son-in-law's speech, invited Mrs. Swadling to a seat, and then stepped out to ask a few of her neighbours in to drink a glass and wish them luck. In half an hour the room was full of women, who were greatly impressed by the bottles of beer, a luxury for aristocrats. When Joey the pieman arrived, some were sitting on the veranda, as the room was crowded. Mrs. Yabsley anxiously reckoned the number of guests; she had reckoned on twelve, and there were twenty. She beckoned to Jonah, and they whispered together for a minute. He counted some money into her hand, and cried,

“Let 'er go; it's only once in a lifetime.”

Then Mrs. Yabsley, as hostess, went to each in turn, asking what they preferred. The choice was limited to green peas, hot pies, and saveloys, and as each chose, she ticked it off on a piece of paper in hieroglyphics known only to herself, as she was used to number the shirts and collars. Joey, impressed by the magnitude of the order, got down from his perch in the cart and helped to serve the guests. And he passed in and out among the expectant crowd, helping them to make a choice, like a chef anxious to please even the most fastidious palates.

Cups, saucers, plates, and basins were pressed into


  ― 74 ―
service until Mrs. Yabsley's stock ran out; the last served were forced to hold their delicacy wrapped in a scrap of paper in their hands, the hot grease sweating through the thin covering on to their fingers. The ladies hesitated, fearful of being thought vulgar if they ate in their usual manner; but Mrs. Yabsley seeing their embarrassment, cried out that fingers were made before forks, and bit a huge piece out of her pie.

Then the feast began in silence, except for the sound of chewing. Joey had surpassed himself. The peas melted in your mouth, the piecrusts were a marvel, and the saveloys were done to a turn. And they ate with solemn, serious faces, for it was not every day the chance came to fill their bellies with such dainties. Joey, with an eye to business, decided to stay in the street on the chance of selling out, for the crowd had now reached to the gutter. He rattled the shining lids of the hot cans from time to time to attract attention as his cracked voice chanted his familiar cry,

“Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!”

And he drove a brisk trade among the uninvited guests, who paid for their own. Inside, they drank the health of the married couple; but the dozen of beer barely wet their throats. Jonah and Chook went to the “Woolpack” with jugs, and the company settled down to the spree. At intervals the men offered to shout for a few friends, and, borrowing a dead marine from the heap of empty bottles, shuffled off to the hotel to get it filled. The noise grew to an uproar — a babel of tongues, sudden explosions of laughter, and the shuffling of feet.




  ― 75 ―
Suddenly Mrs. Yabsley looked at the clock.

“Good Gawd!” she cried. “to-morrer's Sunday, an' there ain't a bite or sup in the blessed 'ouse!”

In the excitement of the wedding she had forgotten her weekly shopping. It was a catastrophe. But Chook had an idea.

“Cum on, blokes,” he cried, “'oo'll cum down the road wi' Mother, an' 'elp carry the tucker? Blimey, I reckon it's 'er night out!”

A dozen volunteered, with a shout of applause. Jonah and Ada were left to entertain the guests, and the party set out. The grocer was going to bed, and the shop was in darkness, but they banged so fiercely on the door that he leaned over the balcony in his shirt, convinced that the Push had come to wreck his shop. Yet he came down, distressed in his shopkeeper's soul at the thought of losing his profit. He served her in haste, terrified by the boisterous noise of her escort.

Then they walked up the Road, shrieking with laughter, bumping against the passengers, who hurried past with scared looks. It was a triumphal procession to the butcher's and the greengrocer's. Mrs. Yabsley, radiant with beer, gave her orders royally, her bodyguard, seizing on every purchase, fighting for the privilege of carrying it. The procession turned into Cardigan Street again, laden with provisions, yelling scraps of song, rousing the street with ungodly clamour.

Old Dad met them at the corner of Cooper Street. He stood for a moment, lurching with unpremeditated steps to the front and rear, astonished by the noise and the crowd. Then he recognized Mrs. Yabsley,


  ― 76 ―
and became suddenly excited, under the impression that she was being taken to the lock-up by the police. He lurched gallantly into the throng, calling on his friends to rescue the old girl from her captors. When he learned that she was in no danger, he grew enthusiastic, and insisted on helping to carry the provisions.

“'Ere, Dad, yer've lost yer 'ead. Take this,” said Chook, offering him a cabbage.

“Keep it, sonny — keep it; you want it more than I do,” cried Dad, scornfully.

So saying, he tore a shoulder of mutton out of Waxy's hands, and, carrying it in his arms as a woman carries a child, joined the procession with sudden, zigzag steps. When the party reached the cottage, it was met with a howl of welcome from the crowd, which now reached to the opposite footpath. Barney Ryan, seized with an inspiration, broke suddenly into “Mother Shipton”. The chorus was taken up with a roar of discordant voices:

Good old Mother has come again to prophesy
Things that will surely occur as the days go rolling by,
So listen to me if you wish to know,
For I'll let you into the know, you know,
And tell you some wonders before I go
To home, sweet home.

Mrs. Yabsley, delighted by the compliment, stood on her veranda, smiling and radiant, like Royalty receiving homage from its subjects. This set the ball rolling. Song followed song, the pick of the music-halls. Jonah gave a selection on the mouth-organ. Then Barney, who was growing hoarse,


  ― 77 ―
winked maliciously at Jonah and Ada, and struck into his masterpiece, “Trinity Church”. It was the success of the evening.

She told me her age was five-and-twenty,
Cash in the bank of course she'd plenty,
I like a lamb believed it all,
I was an M.U.G.;
At Trinity Church I met my doom,
Now we live in a top back room,
Up to my eyes in debt for “;renty”,
That's what she's done for me.

The chorus rang out with a deafening roar. The guests, tickled by the words that fell so pat, twisted and squirmed with laughter, digging their fingers into their neighbours' ribs to emphasize the details. But Barney, in trying to imitate a stumpy man with an umbrella, as the song demanded, tripped and lay where he fell, too fatigued to rise.

Then, saddened by the beer they had drunk, they grew sentimental. Mrs. Swadling, who never let herself be asked twice, for fear of being thought shy, led off with a pathetic ballad. She sang in a thin, quavering voice, staring into vacancy with glassy eyes like the blind beggars at the corner, dragging the tune till it became a wail — a dirge for lost souls.

Some are gone from us for ever,
Longer here they might not stay;
They have reached a fairer region,
Far away-ee, far away —
They have reached a fairer region,
Far away-ee, far away.

The guests listened with a beery sadness in their


  ― 78 ―
eyes, suddenly reminded that you were here to-day and gone to-morrow, pierced with a sense of the tragic brevity of Life, their hearts oppressed with a pleasant anguish at the pity and wonder of this insubstantial world.

Mrs. Yabsley had put the baby in her bed, where it had slept calmly through the night till awakened by the singing. Then it grew fretful, disturbed by the rude clamour. At length, in a sudden pause, a lusty yell from the bedroom fell on their ears. Everyone smiled. But, as Mrs. Yabsley crossed the room to pacify it, the women called for the baby to be brought out. When Mrs. Yabsley appeared with the infant in her arms, she was greeted with yells of admiration. Ada turned crimson with embarrassment. The women passed it from hand to hand, nursing it for a few minutes with little cries of emotion.

But suddenly Jonah walked up to Mrs. Swadling and took his child in his arms. And he stood before the crowd, his eyes glittering with pride as he exhibited his own flesh and blood, the son whose shapely back and limbs proved that only an accident separated the hunchback from his fellows. The guests howled with delight, clapping their hands, stamping their feet, trying to add to the din. It was a triumph, the sensation of the evening. Then Old Dad, shutting one eye to see more distinctly, proposed the health of the baby. It was given with a roar. The noise stimulated Dad to further effort and, swaying slightly, he searched his memory for a suitable quotation. A patent medicine advertisement zigzagged across his brain, and with a sigh of relief, he muttered,

“The 'and that slaps the baby rocks the world,”

beaming on the guests with the air of a man who has Shakespeare at his fingers' ends. There was a dead silence, and Dad looked round in wonder. Then a woman tittered, and a shout went up that rattled the windows.

It was nearly twelve when the party broke up, chiefly because the “Woolpack” was closed and the supply of beer was cut off. Some of the men had reached the disagreeable stage, maudlin drunk or pugnacious, anxious to quarrel, but forgetting the cause of dispute. The police, who had looked on with a tolerant eye, began to clear the footpaths, shaking the drowsy into wakefulness, threatening and coaxing the obstinate till they began to stagger homewards.

There was nearly a fight in the cottage. Pinkey's young man had called to take her home, and Chook had recognized him for an old enemy, a wool-washer, called “Stinky” Collins on account of the vile smell of decaying skins that hung about his clothes. Chook began to make love to Pinkey under his very eyes. And Stinky sat in sullen silence, refusing to open his mouth. Pinkey, amazed by Chook's impudence and annoyed that her lover should cut so poor a figure, encouraged him, with the feminine delight in playing with fire. Then Chook, with an insolent grin at Stinky, announced that he was going to see Pinkey home. Mrs. Yabsley just parted them in


  ― 80 ―
time. Chook went swearing up to the corner on the chance of getting a final taste at the “Woolpack.”

Mrs. Yabsley stood on the veranda and watched his departing figure, aching in every joint from the strain of the eventful day. Cardigan Street was silent and deserted. The air was still hot and breathless, but little gusts of wind began to rise, the first signs of a coming “buster”. Then she turned to Jonah and Ada, who had followed her on to the veranda, and summed up the day's events.

“All's well that ends well, as the man said when he plaited the horse's tail, but this is a new way of gittin' married on the sly, with all the street to keep the secret. There's no mistake, secrets are dead funny. Spend yer last penny to 'elp yer friend out of a 'ole, an' it niver gits about, but pawn yer last shirt, an' nex' day all the bloomin' street wants to know if yer don't feel the cold.”




  ― 81 ―

VIII: Jonah Starts On His Own

IT was Monday morning. Hans Paasch was at his bench cleaning up the dirt and litter of last week, setting the tools in order at one end of the bench, while he swept it clear of the scraps of leather that had gathered through the week. Then he set the heavy iron lasts on their shelves, where they looked like a row of amputated feet. The shining knives and irons lay in order, ready to hand. A light cloud of dust from the broom made him sneeze, and he strewed another handful of wet tea-leaves on the floor. These he saved carefully from day to day to lay the dust before sweeping. When the bench and the shop were swept clean, he looked round with mild satisfaction.

Once a week, in this manner, he gratified his passion for order and neatness; but when work began, everything fell into disorder, and he wasted hours peering over the bench with his short sight for tools that lay under his nose, buried in a heap of litter.

The peculiar musty odour of leather hung about the shop. A few pairs of boots that had been mended stood in a row, the shining black rim of the new soles contrasting with the worn, dingy uppers


  ― 82 ―
— the patched and mended shoes of the poor, who must wear them while upper and sole hang together. They betrayed the age and sex of the wearer as clearly as a photograph. The shoddy slipper, with the high, French heels, of the smart shop-girl; the heavy bluchers, studded with nails, of the labourer; the light tan boots, with elegant, pointed toes, of the clerk or counter-jumper; the shoes of a small child, with a thin rim of copper to protect the toes.

For the first time since he was on piecework, Jonah set out for the shop on Monday morning; but when he walked in, Paasch met him with a look of surprise, thinking he had mistaken the day of the week. He blinked uneasily when Jonah reached for his apron.

“It vas no use putting on your apron. Dere is not a stitch of work to be done,” he cried in amazement.

Jonah looked round, it was true. He remembered that the repairs, which were the backbone of Paasch's trade, began to come in slowly on Monday. Paasch always began the week by making a pair of boots for the window, which he sold at half price when the leather had perished. In his eagerness for work, he had forgotten that Paasch's business was so small. He looked round with annoyance, realizing that he would never earn the wages here that he needed for his child. For he usually earned about fifteen shillings, except in the Christmas season, when trade was brisk. Then he drew more than a pound. This sum of money, which had formerly satisfied his wants, now seemed a mere flea-bite.

He looked round with a sudden scorn on the musty shop that had given him work and food since he was a boy. The sight of the old man, bending over the


  ― 83 ―
last, with his simple, placid face, annoyed him. And he felt a sudden enmity for this man whose old-fashioned ways had let him grow grey here like a rat in a hole.

He stared round, wondering if anything could be done to improve the business. The shop wanted livening up with a coat of paint. He would put new shelves up, run a partition across, and dress the windows like the shops down town. In his eager thoughts he saw the dingy shop transformed under his touch, spick and span, alive with customers, who jostled one another as they passed in and out, the coin clinking merrily in the till.

He awoke as from a dream, and looked with dismay on the small, grimy shop keeping pace with its master's old age. Suddenly an idea came into his head, and he stared at Paasch with a hard, calculating look in his eyes. Then he got up, and walked abruptly out of the shop. The old German, who was used to his sudden humours and utter want of manners peered after his retreating figure with a puzzled look.

Jonah had walked out of the door to look for work. He saw that it was useless to expect the constant work and wages that he needed from Paasch, for the old man's business had remained stationary during the twelve years that Jonah had worked for him. And he had decided to leave him, if a job could be found. He stood on the footpath and surveyed the Road with some anxiety. There were plenty of shops, but few of them in which he would be welcome, owing to his reputation as leader of the Push. For years he had been at daggers drawn with the owners of the three


  ― 84 ―
largest shops, and the small fry could barely make a living for themselves.

The street-arab in him, used to the freedom of a small shop, recoiled from the thought of Packard's, the huge factory where you became a machine, repeating one operation indefinitely till you were fit for nothing else. Paasch had taught him the trade thoroughly, from cutting out the insoles to running the bead-iron round the finished boot. As a forlorn hope, he resolved to call on Bob Watkins. Bob, who always passed the time of day with him, had been laid up with a bad cold for weeks. He might be glad of some help. Jonah found the shop empty, the bench and tools covered with dust. Mrs. Watkins came in answer to his knock.

“Bob's done 'is last day's work 'ere,” she said, using her handkerchief. “'E 'ad a terrible cold all the winter, an' at last 'e got so bad we 'ad to call the doctor in, an' 'e told 'im 'e was in a gallopin' consumption, an' sent 'im away to some 'ome on the mountains.”

“It's no use askin' fer a job, then?” inquired Jonah.

“None at all,” said the woman. “Bob neglected the work for a long time, as 'e was too weak to do it, an' the customers took their work away. In fact, I'm giving up the shop, an' going back to business. I was a dressmaker before I got married, and my sister's 'ad more work than she could do ever since I left 'er. And Bob wrote down last week to say that I was to sell the lasts and tools for what they would fetch. And now I think of it, I wish you would run your eye over the lasts and bench, an' tell me what


  ― 85 ―
they ought to fetch. A man offered me three pounds for the lot, but I know that's too cheap.”

“Yer'll niver get wot 'e gave fer 'em, but gimme a piece of paper, an' I'll work it out,” said Jonah.

In half an hour he made a rough inventory based on the cost and present condition of the material.

“I make it ten pounds odd, but I don't think yer'll git it,” he said at last. “Seven pounds would be a fair offer, money down.”

“I'd be thankful to get that,” said Mrs. Watkins.

Jonah walked thoughtfully up Cardigan Street. Here was the chance of a lifetime, if a man had a few dollars. With Bob's outfit, he could open a shop on the Road, and run rings round Paasch and the others. But seven pounds! He had never handled so much money in his life, and there was no one to lend it to him. Mrs. Yabsley was as poor as a crow. Well, he would fit up the back room as a workshop, and go on at Packard's as an outdoor finisher, carrying a huge bag of boots to and from the factory every week, like Tom Mullins.

When Jonah reached the cottage, he found Mrs. Yabsley sorting the shirts and collars; Ada was reading a penny novelette. She had left Packard's without ceremony on her wedding-day, and was spending her honeymoon on the back veranda. Her tastes were very simple. Give her nothing to do, a novelette to read, and some lollies to suck, and she was satisfied. Ray, who was growing too big for the box-cradle, was lying on a sugar-bag in the shade.

“W'y, Joe, yer face is as long as a fiddle!” cried Mrs. Yabsley, cheerfully. “Wot's up? 'Ave yer got the sack?”




  ― 86 ―
“No, but Dutchy's got nuthin' fer me till We'n'sday. I might 'ave known that. An' anyhow, if I earned more than a quid, 'e'd break 'is 'eart.”

“Well, a quid's no good to a man wi' a wife an' family,” replied the old woman. “Wot do yer reckon on doin'?”

She knew that her judgment of Jonah was being put to the test, and she remarked his gloomy face with satisfaction.

“I'm goin' ter chuck Dutchy, if I can git a job,” said Jonah. “I went round ter Bob Watkins, but 'e's in the 'orspital, an' 'is wife's sellin' 'is tools.”

“Wot does she want for 'em?” asked Mrs. Yabsley, with a curious look.

“Seven quid, an' they'd set a man up fer life,” said Jonah.

“Ah! that's a lot o' money,” said Mrs. Yabsley, raking the ashes from under the copper. “Wait till this water boils, an' we'll talk things over.”

Ada returned to her novelette. Ray, sitting upright with an effort, gurgled with pleasure to see his father. Jonah tilted him on his back, and tickled his fat legs, pretending to worry him like a dog. The pair made a tremendous noise.

“Oh, gi' the kid a bit o' peace!” cried Ada, angry at being disturbed.

“Yous git round, an' 'elp Mum wi' the clothes,” snapped Jonah.

“Me? No fear!” cried Ada, with a malicious grin. “I didn't knock off work to carry bricks. Yous married me, an' yer got ter keep me.”

Jonah looked at her with a scowl. She knew quite well that he had married her for the child's sake alone.


  ― 87 ―
A savage retort was on his tongue, but Mrs. Yabsley stepped in.

“Well, Joe, now I see yer dead set on earnin' a livin', I don't mind tellin' yer I've got somethin' up me sleeve. No, I don't mean a guinea-pig an' a dozen eggs, like the conjurer bloke I see once,” she explained in reply to his surprised look; “but if yer the man I take yer for, we'll soon 'ave the pot a-boiling. Many's the weary night I've spent in bed thinkin' about you w'en I might 'ave bin snorin'. That reminds me. Did y'ever notice yer can niver tell exactly w'en yer drop off? I've tried all I know, but ye're awake one minit, an' chasin' a butterfly wi' a cow's 'ead the next. But that ain't wot I'm a-talkin' about. Paasch 'e's blue mouldy, an' couldn't catch a snail unless yer give 'im a start; an' if yer went ter Packard's, yer'd tell the manager ter go to 'ell, an' git fired out the first week. Yous must be yer own boss, Joe. I've studied yer like a book, an yer nose wasn't made that shape for nuthin'.”

“W'y, wot's wrong wi' it?” laughed Jonah, feeling his nose with its powerful, predatory curve.

“Nuthin', if yer listen to me. 'Ave yer got pluck enough ter start on yer own?” she inquired, suddenly.

“Wot's the use, w'en I've got no beans?” replied Jonah.

“I'll find the beans, an' yer can go an' buy Bob Watkins's shop out as it stands,” said Mrs. Yabsley, proudly.

“Fair dinkum!” cried Jonah, in amazement.

Ada put down her novelette and stared, astonished


  ― 88 ―
at the turn of the conversation. It flashed through her mind that her mother had some mysterious habits. Suppose she were like the misers she had read of in books, who lived in the gutter, and owned terraces of houses? For a moment Ada saw herself riding in a carriage, with rings on every finger, and feathers in her hat, with the childlike faith of the ignorant in the marvellous.

But Mrs. Yabsley was studying some strange hieroglyphics like Chinese, pencilled on the cupboard. She knitted her brows in the agony of calculation.

“I can lay me 'ands on thirty pounds in solid cash,” she announced. She spoke as if it were a million. Jonah cried out in amazement; Ada felt disappointed.

“W'ere is it, Mum? In the bank?” asked Jonah.

“No fear,” said Mrs. Yabsley, with a crafty smile. “It's as safe as a church. I was niver fool enough ter put my money in the bank. I know all about them. Yer put yer money in fer years, an' then, w'en they've got enough, they shut the door, an' the old bloke wi' the white weskit an' gold winkers cops the lot. No banks fer me, thank yer!”

Then she explained that ever since she opened the laundry, she had squeezed something out of her earnings as one squeezes blood out of a stone. She had saved threepence this week, sixpence that, sometimes even a shilling went into the child's money-box that she had chosen as a safe deposit. When the coins mounted to a sovereign, she had changed them into a gold piece. Then, her mind disturbed by visions of thieves bent on plunder, she had hit on a plan. A floorboard was loose in the kitchen. She had levered this up, and probed with a stick till she


  ― 89 ―
touched solid earth. Then the yellow coin, rolled carefully in a ball of paper, was dropped into the hole. And for years she had added to her unseen treasure, dropping her precious coins into that dark hole with more security than a man deposits thousands in the bank. But the time was come to unearth the golden pile.

She trembled with excitement when Jonah ripped up the narrow plank with the poker. Then he thrust his arm down till he touched the soft earth. He seemed a long time groping, and Mrs. Yabsley wondered at the delay. At last he sat up, with a perplexed look.

“I can't feel nuthin',” he said. “Are yez sure this is the place?”

“Of course it is,” said Mrs. Yabsley, sharply. “I dropped them down right opposite the 'ead of that nail.”

Jonah groped again without success.

“'Ere, let me try,” said Mum, impatiently.

She knelt over the hole to get her bearings, and then plunged her arm into the gap. Jonah and Ada, on their knees, watched in silence.

At last, with a cry of despair, Mrs. Yabsley sat up on the floor.

There was no doubt, the treasure was gone! In this extremity, her wit, her philosophy, her temper, her very breath deserted her, and she wept. She looked the picture of misery as the tears rolled down her face. Jonah and Ada stared at one another in dismay, each wondering if this story of a hidden treasure was a delusion of the old woman's mind. Like her neighbours, who lived from hand to mouth, she was given to dreaming of imaginary


  ― 90 ―
riches falling on her from the clouds. But her grief was too real for doubt.

“Well, if it ain't there, w'ere is it?” cried Jonah, angrily, feeling that he, too, had been robbed. “If it's gone, somebody took it. Are yer sure yer niver got a few beers in, an' started skitin' about it?” He looked hard at Ada.

“Niver a word about it 'ave I breathed to a livin' soul till this day,” wailed Mrs. Yabsley, mopping her eyes with her apron.

“Rye buck!” said Jonah. “'Ere goes! I'll find it, if the blimey house falls down. Gimme that axe.”

The floor-boards cracked and split as he ripped them up. Small beetles and insects, surprised by the light, scrambled with desperate haste into safety. A faint, earthy smell rose from the foundations. Suddenly, with a yell of triumph, Jonah stooped, and picked up a dirty ball of paper. As he lifted it, a glittering coin fell out.

“W'y, wot's this?” he cried, looking curiously at the wad of discoloured paper. One side had been chewed to a pulp by something small and sharp. “Rats an' mice!” cried Jonah.

“They've boned the paper ter make their nests. Every dollar's 'ere, if we only look.”

“Thank Gawd!” said Mrs. Yabsley, heaving a tremendous sigh. “Ada, go an' git a jug o' beer.”

In an hour Jonah had recovered twenty-eight of the missing coins; the remaining two had evidently been dragged down to their nests by the industrious vermin. Late in the afternoon Jonah, who looked like a sweep, gave up the search. The kitchen was a


  ― 91 ―
wreck. Mrs. Yabsley sat with the coins in her lap, feasting her eyes on this heap of glittering gold, for she had rubbed each coin till it shone like new. Her peace of mind was restored, but it was a long time before she could think of rats and mice without anger.




  ― 92 ―

IX: Paddy's Market

CHOOK was standing near the entrance to the market where his mates had promised to meet him, but he found that he had still half an hour to spare, as he had come down early to mark a pak-ah-pu ticket at the Chinaman's in Hay Street. So he lit a cigarette and sauntered idly through the markets to kill time.

The three long, dingy arcades were flooded with the glare from clusters of naked gas-jets, and the people, wedged in a dense mass, moved slowly like water in motion between the banks of stalls. From the stone flags underneath rose a sustained, continuous noise — the leisurely tread and shuffle of a multitude blending with the deep hum of many voices, and over it all, like the upper notes in a symphony, the shrill, discordant cries of the dealers.

Overhead, the light spent its brightness in a gloomy vault, like the roof of a vast cathedral fallen into decay, its ancient timbers blackened with the smoke and grime of half a century. On Saturdays the great market, silent and deserted for six nights in the week, was a debauch of sound and colour and smell. Strange, pungent odours assailed the


  ― 93 ―
nostrils; the ear was surprised with the sharp, broken cries of dealers, the cackle of poultry, and the murmur of innumerable voices; the stalls, splashed with colour, astonished the eye like a picture, immensely powerful, immensely crude.

The long rows of stalls were packed with the drift and refuse of a great City. For here the smug respectability of the shops were cast aside, and you were deep in the romance of traffic in merchandise fallen from its high estate — a huge welter and jumble of things arrested in their ignoble descent from the shops to the gutter.

At times a stall was loaded with the spoils of a sunken ship or the loot from a city fire, and you could buy for a song the rare fabrics and costly dainties of the rich, a stain on the cloth, a discoloured label on the tin, alone giving a hint of their adventures. Then the people hovered round like wreckers on a hostile shore, carrying off spoil and treasure at a fraction of its value, exulting over their booty like soldiers after pillage.

There was no caprice of the belly that could not be gratified, no want of the naked body that could not be supplied in this huge bazaar of the poor, but its cost had to be counted in pence, for those who bought in the cheapest market came here.

A crowd of women and children clustered like flies round the lolly stall brought Chook to a standstill; the trays heaped with sweets coloured like the rainbow, pleased his eye, and, remembering Ada's childish taste for lollies, he thought suddenly of her friend, Pinkey the red-haired, and smiled.

Near at hand stood a collection of ferns and pot-


  ― 94 ―
plants, fresh and cool, smelling of green gardens and moist earth. Over the way, men lingered with serious faces, trying the edge of a chisel with their thumb, examining saws, planes, knives, and shears with a workman's interest in the tools that earn his bread.

Chook stopped to admire the art gallery, gay with coloured pictures from the Christmas numbers of English magazines. On the walls were framed pictures of Christ crucified, the red blood dropping from His wounds, or the old rustic bridge of an English village, crude as almanacs, printed to satisfy the artistic longings of the people.

Opposite, a cock crowed in defiance; the hens cackled loudly in the coops; the ducks lay on planks, their legs fastened with string, their eyes dazed with terror or fatigue.

A cargo of scented soap and perfume, the damaged rout of a chemist's shop, fascinated the younger women, stirring their instinctive delight in luxury; and for a few pence they gratified the longing of their hearts.

The children pricked their ears at the sudden blare of a tin trumpet, the squeaking of a mechanical doll. And they stared in amazement at the painted toys, surprised that the world contained such beautiful things. The mothers, harassed with petty cares, anxiously considered the prices; then the pennies were counted, and the child clasped in its small hands a Noah's ark, a wax doll, or a wooden sword.

Chook stared at the vegetable stalls with murder in his eyes, for here stood slant-eyed Mongolians behind heaps of potatoes, onions, cabbages, beans, and cauliflowers, crying the prices in broken English,


  ― 95 ―
or chattering with their neighbours in barbaric, guttural sounds. To Chook they were the scum of the earth, less than human, taking the bread out of his mouth, selling cheaply because they lived like vermin in their gardens.

But he forgot them in watching the Jews driving bargains in second-hand clothes, renovated with secret processes handed down from the Ark. Coats and trousers, equipped for their last adventure with mysterious darns and patches, cheated the eye like a painted beauty at a ball. Women's finery lay in disordered heaps — silk blouses covered with tawdry lace, skirts heavy with gaudy trimming — the draggled plumage of fine birds that had come to grief. But here buyer and seller met on level terms, for each knew to a hair the value of the sorry garments; and they chaffered with crafty eyes, each searching for the silent thought behind the spoken lie.

Chook stared at the bookstall with contempt, wondering how people found the time and patience to read. One side was packed with the forgotten lumber of bookshelves — an odd volume of sermons, a collection of scientific essays, a technical work out of date. And the men, anxious to improve their minds, stared at the titles with the curious reverence of the illiterate for a printed book. At their elbows boys gloated over the pages of a penny dreadful, and the women fingered penny novelettes with rapid movements, trying to judge the contents from the gaudy cover.

The crowd at the provision stall brought Chook to a standstill again. Enormous flitches hung from the posts, and the shelves were loaded with pieces


  ― 96 ―
of bacon tempting the eye with a streak of lean in a wilderness of fat. The buyers watched hungrily as the keen knife slipped into the rich meat, and the rasher, thin as paper, fell on the board like the shaving from a carpenter's plane. The dealer, wearing a clean shirt and white apron, served his customers with smooth, comfortable movements, as if contact with so much grease had nourished his body and oiled his joints.

When Chook elbowed his way to the corner where Joe Crutch and Waxy Collins had promised to meet him, there was no sign of them, and he took another turn up the middle arcade. It was now high tide in the markets, and the stream of people filled the space between the stalls like a river in flood. And they moved at a snail's pace, clutching in their arms fowls, pot-plants, parcels of groceries, toys for the children, and a thousand odd, nameless trifles, bought for the sake of buying, because they were cheap. A babel of broken conversation, questions and replies, jests and laughter, drowned the cries of the dealers, and a strong, penetrating odour of human sweat rose on the hot air. From time to time a block occurred, and the crowd stood motionless, waiting patiently until they could move ahead.

In one of these sudden blocks Chook, who was craning his neck to watch the vegetable stalls, felt someone pushing, and turning his head, found himself staring into the eyes of Pinkey, the red-haired.

“'Ello, fancy meetin' yous,” cried Chook, his eyes dancing with pleasure.

The curious pink flush spread over the girl's face, and then she found her tongue.




  ― 97 ―
“Look w'ere ye're goin'. Are yer walkin' in yer sleep?”

“I am,” said Chook, “an' don't wake me; I like it.”

But the twinkle died out of his eyes when he saw Stinky Collins, separated from Pinkey by the crowd, scowling at him over her shoulder. He ignored Chook's friendly nod, and they stood motionless, wedged in that sea of human bodies until it chose to move.

Chook felt the girl's frail body pressed against him. His nostrils caught the odour of her hair and flesh, and the perfume mounted to his brain like wine. The wonderful red hair, glittering like bronze, fell in short curls round the nape of her neck, where it had escaped from the comb. A tremor ran through his limbs and his pulse quickened. And he was seized with an insane desire to kiss the white flesh, pale as ivory against her red hair. The crowd moved, and Pinkey wriggled to the other side.

“I'll cum wid yer, if yer feel lonely,” said Chook as she passed.

“Yous git a move on, or yer'll miss the bus,” cried Pinkey, as she passed out of sight.

When Chook worked his way back to the corner, little Joe Crutch and Waxy Collins stepped forward.

“W'ere the 'ell 'ave yer bin? We've bin waitin' 'ere this 'arf 'our,” they cried indignantly.

“Wot liars yer do meet,” said Chook, grinning.

The three entered the new market, an immense red-brick square with a smooth, cemented floor, and a lofty roof on steel girders. It is here the people


  ― 98 ―
amuse themselves with the primitive delights of an English fair after the fatigue of shopping.

The larrikins turned to the chipped-potato stall as a hungry dog jumps at a bone, eagerly sniffing the smell of burning fat as the potatoes crisped in the spitting grease.

“It's up ter yous ter shout,” cried Joe and Waxy.

“Well, a tray bit won't break me,” said Chook, producing threepence from his pocket.

The dealer, wearing the flat white cap of a French cook, and a clean apron, ladled the potatoes out of the cans into a strainer on the counter. His wife, with a rapid movement, twisted a slip of paper into a spill, and, filling it with chips, shook a castor of salt over the top. Customers crowded about, impatient to be served, and she went through the movements of twisting the paper, filling it with chips, and shaking the castor with the automatic swiftness of a machine.

When they were served, the larrikins stood on one side crunching the crisp slices of potato between their teeth with immense relish as they watched the cook stirring the potatoes in the cauldron of boiling fat. Then they licked the grease off their fingers, lit cigarettes, and sauntered on. But the chips had whetted their appetites, and the sight of green peas and saveloys made their mouths water.

Men, women, and children sat on the forms round the stall with the stolid air of animals waiting to be fed. When each received a plate containing a squashy mess of peas and a luscious saveloy, they began to eat with slow, animal satisfaction, heedless of the


  ― 99 ―
noisy crowd. The larrikins sat down and gave their order, each paying for his own.

“Nothin' like a feed ter set a man up,” said Chook, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

As he turned, he was surprised to see Stinky Collins and Pinkey in front of the electric battery. These machines had a singular attraction for the people. The mysterious fluid that ran silently and invisibly through the copper wires put them in touch with the mysteries of Nature. And they gripped the brass handles, holding on till the tension became too great, with the conscientious air of people taking medicine.

Stinky, full of jealous fear, had dragged Pinkey to the new market, where he meant to treat her to green peas and ice-cream. But as they passed the battery, a sudden desire swept through him to give an exhibition of his strength and endurance to this girl, to force her admiration with the vanity of a cock strutting before his hens.

He took hold of the brass handles, and watched the dial, like a clock-face, that marked the intensity of the current. The muscles of his face contracted into a rigid stare as the electric current ran through his limbs. He had the face of one visiting the dentist, but he held on until the pointer marked half-way. Then he nodded, and dropped the handles with a sigh of relief as the current was turned off.

But as he looked to Pinkey for the applause that he had earned, Chook stepped up to the machine and, with an impudent grin at Pinkey, grasped the handles. The pointer moved slowly round, and passed Stinky's mark, but Chook held on, determined


  ― 100 ―
to eclipse his rival. His muscles seemed to be cracking with pain, the seconds lengthened into intolerable hours. Suddenly, as the dial marked three-quarters, he dropped the handles with a grin of triumph at Pinkey.

Stinky, smarting with defeat, instantly took up the challenge.

“That's no test of strength,” he cried angrily. “Women can stand a lot more than men.”

“Orl right; choose yer own game, an' I'm after yer,” said Chook.

Behind them a hammer fell with a tremendous thud, and a voice cried, “Try yer strength — only a penny, only a penny.”

“'Ow'll that suit yer?” inquired Stinky, with a malicious grin, for he counted on his superior weight and muscle to overcome his rival.

“Let 'er go!” cried Chook.

Stinky spat on his hands, and seized the wooden mallet. Cripes, he would show Pinkey which was the better man of the two! He tightened his muscles with tremendous effort as he swung the hammer, turning red in the face with the exertion. The mallet fell, and a little manikin flew up the pillar, marking the weight of the blow. It was a good stroke, and he threw down the hammer with the air of a Sandow.

Then Chook seized the mallet, still with his provoking grin at Pinkey, and swung it with the ease of a man using an axe. The manikin flew level with Stinky's mark. And they disputed angrily which was the heavier blow. But Stinky, whose blood was up, seized the mallet again, and forced


  ― 101 ―
every ounce of his strength into the blow. The manikin flew a foot higher than the previous mark. The contest went on, each striving to beat the other's mark, with blows that threatened to shatter the machine, till both were tired. But Stinky's second blow held the record. Chook was beaten.

“Is there any other game yer know?” sneered Stinky.

Near them were the shooting-galleries, looking like enormous chimneys that had blown down. A sharp, spitting crack came from each rifle as it was fired.

“A dollar even money yer can't ring the bell in six shots,” cried Chook.

“Done!” shouted Stinky.

The stakes, in half-crowns, were handed to the proprietor of the gallery, and they took turns with the pea-rifle, resting their elbows on the ledge as they stared down the black tube at a white disc that seemed miles away. Each held the gun awkwardly like a broom-handle, holding their breath to prevent the barrel from wobbling. At the fifth shot, by a lucky fluke, Chook rang the bell. When he put down the rifle, Stinky was already dragging Pinkey away, his face black with anger. But Chook cried out,

“'Ere, 'arf a mo' — this is my shout!”

They were near the ice-cream stall, where trade was brisk, for the people's appetite for this delicacy is independent of the season. Pinkey, who adored ice-cream, looked with longing eyes, but Stinky turned angrily on his heel.

“'Ave a bit o' common, an' don't make a 'oly show


  ― 102 ―
of yerself 'cause yer lost a dollar,” she whispered in disgust.

She pulled him to a seat, and the party sat down to wait their turn. Then the dealer scooped the frozen delicacy out of the can, and plastered it into the glasses as if it were mortar. And they swallowed the icy mixture in silence, allowing it to melt on the tongue to extract the flavour before swallowing. All but Stinky, who held his glass as if it belonged to someone else, disdaining to touch it. Chook's gorge rose at the sight

“Don't eat it, if it chokes yer,” he cried.

With an oath Stinky threw the glass on the ground, where it broke with a noisy crash that jerked every head in their direction as if pulled by strings.

“I can pay fer wot I eat,” he cried. “Come on, Liz.”

The others had sprung to their feet, astonished at this prodigal waste of a delicacy fit for kings. Chook stood for a moment, glowering with rage, and then ran at his enemy; but Pinkey jumped between them.

“You do! — you do!” she cried, pushing him away with the desperate valour of a hen defending her chickens.

“Orl right, not till next time,” said Chook, smiling grimly.

She pulled Stinky by the arm, and they disappeared in the crowd.

“It's all right, missis; I'll pay fer the glass,” said Chook to the dealer, who began to jabber excitedly in Italian. The woman began to scrape the pieces


  ― 103 ―
of broken glass together, and the sight reminded Chook of the insult. His face darkened.

“Cum on, blokes, an' see a bit o' fun,” he cried with a mirthless grin that showed he was dangerously excited. The three larrikins caught up with Stinky and the girl as they were crossing into Belmore Park. Stinky was explaining to some sympathizers the events that had led up to the quarrel.

“Wot would yous do if a bloke tried to sneak yer moll?” he inquired in an injured tone.

“Break 'is bleedin' neck,” said Chook as he stepped up.

“When I want yer advice, I'll ask fer it,” cried Stinky.

“Yer'll git it now without askin',” said Chook. “Don't open yer mouth so wide, or yer'll ketch cold.”

“I don't want ter talk ter anybody as 'awks rotten cabbages through the streets,” cried Stinky.

“The cabbages don't stink worse than some people I've met,” Chook replied.

Stinky, who was very touchy on the score of the vile smell of his trade, boiled over.

“Never mind my trade,” he shouted, “I'm as good a man as yous.”

“Garn, that's only a rumour! I wouldn't let it git about,” sneered Chook.

The smouldering hate of months burst suddenly into flame, and the two men rushed at each other. The others tried to separate them.

“Don't be a fool.”

“Yer'll only git lumbered.”




  ― 104 ―
“'Ere's the traps.” But the two enemies, with a sudden twist, broke away from their advisers, and threw off their hats and coats.

And as suddenly, the others formed a ring round the two antagonists, who faced each other with the savage intensity of gamecocks, with no thought but to maim and kill the enemy in front of them.

A crowd gathered, and Pinkey was pushed to the outside of the ring, where she could only judge the progress of the fight by the cries of the onlookers.

“Use yer left, Chook.”

“Wot price that?”

“Time!”

“Wait fer 'is rush, an' use yer right.”

“Foller 'im up, Chook.”

“Oh, dry up! I tell yer 'e slipped.”

“Not in the same class, I tell yer.”

“Mix it, Chook — mix it. Yer've got 'im beat.”

The last remark was true, for Stinky, in spite of his superior weight and height, was no match for Chook, the cock of Cardigan Street. It was the fifth round, and Chook was waiting for an opening to finish his man before the police came up, when a surprising thing happened. As Stinky retreated in exhaustion before the fists that rattled on his face like drumsticks, his hand struck his enemy's lower jaw by chance, and the next minute he was amazed to see Chook drop to the ground as if shot. And he stared with open mouth at his opponent, wondering why he didn't move.

“Gawd, 'e's stiffened 'im!”




  ― 105 ―
“I 'eard 'is neck crack!”

Stinky stood motionless, his wits scattered by this sudden change — the stillness of his enemy, who a moment ago was beating him down with murderous fists.

“'Ere's the johns,” cried someone.

“Come on, Liz,” cried Stinky, and turned to run.

“Cum with yous, yer great 'ulkin', stinkin' coward,” cried Pinkey, her face crimson with passion, “yer'll be lucky if y'ain't hung fer murder.”

Stinky listened in amazement. Here was another change that he was too dazed to understand, and, hastily grabbing his coat, he ran.

Pinkey ran to Chook's prostrate body, and listened. “I can 'ear 'im breathin',” she cried.

The others listened, and the breathing grew louder, a curious, snoring sound.

“Gorblimey! A knock-out!”

“'E'll be right in a few minutes.”

It was true. Stinky, with a haphazard blow, had given Chook the dreaded knock-out, a jolt beside the chin that, in the expressive phrase, “sent him to sleep”.

But now the police came up, glad of this chance to show their authority and order the people about. The crowd melted.

Chook's mates had pulled him into a sitting position, when, to Pinkey's delight, he opened his eyes and spat out a mouthful of blood.

“W'ere the 'ell am I?” he muttered, like a man awaking from a dream.

“What's this? You've been fighting,” said the policeman.




  ― 106 ―
“Me? No fear,” growled Chook. “I was walkin' along, quiet as a lamb, when a bloke come up an' landed me on the jaw.”

“Well, who was he?” asked the policeman.

“I dunno. I never set eyes on 'im before,” said Chook, lying without hesitation to their common enemy, the police.

The policeman looked hard at him, and then cried roughly,

“Get out of this, or I'll lock you up.”

Chook's mates helped him to his feet, and he staggered away like a drunken man. Suddenly he became aware that someone was crying softly near him, and, turning his head, found that it was Pinkey, who was holding his arm and guiding his steps. He wrenched his arm free with an oath, remembering that she was the cause of his fight and defeat. “Wot the 'ell are yous doin' 'ere? Go an' tell yer bloke I nearly got lumbered.”

“I ain't got no bloke,” sobbed Pinkey.

“Wotcher mean?” cried Chook.

“I don't run after people I don't want,” said Pinkey, smiling through her tears.

“Fair dinkum?” cried Chook.

Pinkey nodded her head, with its crown of hair that glittered like bronze.

Chook stopped to think.

“I'm orl right,” he said to Waxy and Joe; “I'll ketch up with yer in a minit.” They understood and walked on.

He stood and stared at Pinkey with a scowl that softened imperceptibly into a smile, and then a passionate flame leapt into his eyes.




  ― 107 ―
“Cum 'ere,” he said; and Pinkey obeyed him like a child.

He looked at her with a gloating fondness in his eyes, and then caught her in his arms and kissed her with his bleeding lips.

“Ugh, I'm all over blood!” cried the girl with a shuddering laugh, as she wiped her lips with her handkerchief.




  ― 108 ―

X: Jonah Declares War

AS it promised to be a slack week, Paasch had decided to dress the window himself, as he felt that the goods were not displayed to their proper advantage. This was a perquisite of Jonah's, for which he was paid eighteenpence extra once a fortnight; but Jonah had deserted him — a fact which he discovered by finding that Jonah's tools, his only property, were missing.

So he had spent a busy morning in renovating his entire stock with double coats of Peerless Gloss, the stock that the whole neighbourhood knew by sight — the watertight bluchers with soles an inch thick that a woolwasher from Botany had ordered and left on his hands; the pair of kangaroo tops that Pat Riley had ordered the week he was pinched for manslaughter; the pair of flash kid lace-ups, high in the leg, that Katey Brown had thrown at his head because they wouldn't meet round her thick calves; and half a dozen pairs of misfits into which half the neighbourhood had tried to coax their feet because they were dirt cheap.

But the pride of the collection was a monstrous abortion of a boot, made for a clubfoot, with a sole


  ― 109 ―
and heel six inches deep, that had cost Paasch weeks of endless contrivance, and had only one fault — it was as heavy as lead and unwearable. But Paasch clung to it with the affection of a mother for her deformed offspring, and gave it the pride of place in the window. And daily the urchins flattened their noses against the panes, fascinated by this monster of a boot, to see it again in dreams on the feet of horrid giants. This melancholy collection was flanked by odd bottles of polish and blacking, and cards of bootlaces of such unusual strength that elephants were shown vainly trying to break them.

The old man paused in his labours to admire the effect of his new arrangement, and suddenly noticed a group of children gathered about a man painting a sign on the window opposite. Paasch stared; but the words were a blur to his short sight, and he went inside to look for his spectacles, which he had pushed up on his forehead in order to dress the window. By the time he had looked everywhere without finding them, the painter had finished the lettering, and was outlining the figure of something on the window with rapid strokes.

Paasch itched with impatience. He would have crossed the street to look, but he made it a rule never to leave the shop, even for a minute, lest someone should steal the contents in his absence. As he fidgeted with impatience, it occurred to him to ask a small boy, who was passing, what was being painted on the window.

“Why, a boot of course,” replied the child.

Paasch's amazement was so great that, forgetting the caution of a lifetime, he walked across until the


  ― 110 ―
words came into range. What he saw brought him to a standstill in the middle of Botany Road, heedless of the traffic, for the blur of words had resolved themselves into:

JOSEPH JONES,

BOOTMAKER.

Repairs neatly executed.

And, underneath, the pattern of a shoe, which the painter was finishing with rapid strokes.

So, thought Paasch, another had come to share the trade and take the bread out of his mouth, and he choked with the egotistical dread of the shopkeeper at another rival in the struggle for existence. Who could this be? he thought, with the uneasy fear of a man threatened with danger. For the moment he had forgotten Jonah's real name, and he looked into the shop to size up his adversary with the angry curiosity of a soldier facing the enemy. Then, through the open door, he spied the familiar figure of the hunchback moving about the shop and placing things in order. He swallowed hastily, with the choking sensation of a parent whose child has at last revolted, for his rival was the misshapen boy that he had taken off the streets, and clothed and fed for years. Jonah came to the door for a moment, and, catching sight of the old man, stared at him fixedly without a sign of recognition.

And suddenly, with a contraction at his heart, a fear and dread of Jonah swept through Paasch, the vague, primeval distrust and suspicion of the deformed that lurks in the normal man, a survival of the ancient


  ― 111 ―
hostility that in olden times consigned them to the stake as servants of the Evil One.

He forgot where he was till the warning snort of a steam tram made him jump aside and miss the wheels of a bus from the opposite direction by the skin of his teeth.

And the whole street smiled at the sight of the bewildered old man, with his silvery hair and leather apron, standing in the middle of the Road to stare at a dingy shop opposite.

Paasch crossed the street and entered his door again with the air of a man who has been to a funeral. He had never made any friends, but, in his gruff, reserved way, he liked Jonah. He had taught him his trade, and here, with a sudden sinking in his heart, he remembered that the pupil had easily surpassed the master in dexterity. Then another fear assailed him. How would he get through his work? for most of it had passed through Jonah's nimble fingers. Ah well, it was no matter! He was a lonely old man with nothing but his fiddle to bring back the memories of the Fatherland.

The week ran to an end, and found Jonah out of pocket. He had planted himself like a footpad at the door of his old master to rob him of his trade and living; and day by day he counted the customers passing in and out of the old shop, but none came his way. As he stared across the street at his rival's shop, his face changed; it was like a hawk's, threatening and predatory, indifferent to the agony of the downy breast and fluttering wings that it is about to strike.

It maddened him to see the stream of people pass


  ― 112 ―
his shop with indifference, as if it were none of their business whether he lived or starved. The memory of his boyish days returned to him, when every man's hand was against him, and he took food and shelter with the craft of an old soldier in hostile country. Even the shop which he had furnished and laid out with such loving care, seemed a cunning trap to devour his precious sovereigns week by week.

True, he had drawn some custom, but it was of the worst sort — that of the unprincipled rogues who fatten upon tradesmen till the back of their credit is broken, and then transfer their sinister custom to another. Jonah recognized them with a grim smile, but he had taken their work, glad of something to do, although he would never see the colour of their money.

Meanwhile the weeks ran into a month, and Jonah had not paid expenses. He could hold out for three months according to his calculation, but he saw the end rapidly approaching, when he must retire covered with ignominious defeat. He would have thrown up the sponge there and then, but for the thought of the straight-limbed child in Cardigan Street, for whom he wanted money — money to feed and clothe him for the world to admire.

One Saturday night, weary of waiting for the custom that never came, he closed the shop, and joined Ada, who was waiting on the footpath. They sauntered along, Ada stopping every minute to look into the shop windows, while Jonah, gloomy and taciturn, turned his back on the lighted windows with impatience. Presently Ada gave a cry of delight before the draper's.




  ― 113 ―
“I say, Joe, that bonnet would suit the kid all to pieces. An' look at the price! Only last week they was seven an' a kick.”

Jonah turned and looked at the window. The bonnet, fluffy and absurd, was marked with a ticket bearing an enormous figure 4 in red ink, and beside it, faintly marked in pencil, the number 11.

“W'y don't yer say five bob, an' be done with it?” said Jonah.

“But it ain't five bob; it's only four an' eleven,” insisted Ada, annoyed at his stupidity.

“An' I suppose it 'ud be dear at five bob?” sneered Jonah.

“Any fool could tell yer that,” snapped Ada.

Jonah included the whole feminine world in a shrug of the shoulders, and turned impatiently on his heel. But Ada was not to be torn away. She ran her eye over the stock, marvelling at the cheapness of everything. Jonah, finding nothing better to do, lit a cigarette, and turned a contemptuous eye on the bales of calico, cheap prints, and flimsy lace displayed. Presently he began to study the tickets with extraordinary interest. They were all alike. The shillings in gigantic figures of red or black, and across the dividing line elevenpence three-farthings pencilled in strokes as modest as the shy violet. When Jonah reached Cardigan Street, he was preoccupied and silent, and sat on the veranda, smoking in the dark, long after Ada and her mother had gone to bed.

About one o'clock Mrs. Yabsley, who was peacefully ironing shirts in her sleep, was awakened by a loud hammering on the door. She woke up, and


  ― 114 ―
instantly recognized what had happened. Ada had left the candle burning and had set the house on fire, as her mother had daily predicted for the last ten years. Then the hammering ceased.

“Are yez awake, Mum?” cried Jonah's voice.

“No,” said Mrs. Yabsley firmly. “'Ow did it 'appen?”

“'Appen wot?” cried Jonah roughly.

“'Ow did the 'ouse ketch fire?” said Mrs. Yabsley, listening for the crackling.

“The 'ouse ain't a-fire, an' ye're talkin' in yer sleep.”

“Wot!” cried Mrs. Yabsley, furiously, “yer wake me up out o' me sleep to tell me the 'ouse ain't a-fire. I'll land yer on the 'ead wi' me slipper, if yer don't go to bed.”

“I say, Mum,” entreated Jonah, “will yer gimme five quid on Monday, an ask no questions?”

Mrs. Yabsley's only answer was a snore.

But a week later the morning procession that trudged along Botany Road towards the city was astonished at the sight of a small shop, covered with huge calico signs displaying in staring red letters on a white ground the legend:

WHILE U WAIT.

Boots and Shoes Soled and Heeled.

GENTS, 2/11; LADIES, 1/11; CHILDS, 1/6.

The huge red letters, thrown out like a defiance and a challenge, caused a sensation in the Road. The pedestrians stopped to read the signs, looked


  ― 115 ―
curiously at the shop, and went on their way. The passengers in the trams and buses craned their necks, anxious to read the gigantic advertisement before they were carried out of sight. A group of urchins, stationed at the door, distributed handbills to the curious, containing the same announcement in bold type.

Across the street hung Paasch's dingy sign from which the paint was peeling:

Repairs neatly executed

GENTS, 3/6; LADIES, 2/6; CHILDS, 1/9

— the old prices sanctioned by usage, unchangeable and immovable as the laws of nature to Paasch and the trade on Botany Road.

The shop itself was transformed. On one side were half a dozen new chairs standing in a row on a strip of bright red carpet. Gay festoons of coloured tissue paper, the work of Mrs. Yabsley's hands, stretched in ropes across the ceiling. The window had been cleared and at a bench facing the street Jonah and an assistant pegged and hammered as if for dear life. Another, who bore a curious likeness to Chook, with his back to the street and a last on his knees, hammered with enthusiasm. A tremendous heap of old boots, waiting to be repaired, was thrown carelessly in front of the workers, who seemed too busy to notice the sensation they were creating.

The excitement increased when a customer, Waxy Collins by name, entered the shop, and, taking off his boots, sat down while they were repaired, reading


  ― 116 ―
the morning paper as coolly as if he were taking his turn at the barber's. The thing spread like the news of a murder, and through the day a group of idlers gathered, watching with intense relish the rapid movements of the workmen. Jonah had declared war.

Six weeks after he had opened the shop, Jonah found twelve of Mrs. Yabsley's sovereigns between him and ignominious defeat. Then the tickets in the draper's window had given him an idea, and, like a general who throws his last battalion at the enemy, he had resolved to stake the remaining coins on the hazard. The calico signs, then a novelty, the fittings of the shop, and the wages for a skilful assistant, had swallowed six of his precious twelve pounds. With the remaining six he hoped to hold out for a fortnight. Then, unless the tide turned, he would throw up the sponge. Chook, amazed and delighted with the idea, had volunteered to disguise himself as a snob, and help to give the shop a busy look; and Waxy Collins jumped at the chance of getting his boots mended for the bare trouble of walking in and pretending to read the newspaper.

The other shopkeepers were staggered. They stared in helpless anger at the small shop, which had suddenly become the most important in their ken. Already they saw their families brought to the gutter by this hunchback ruffian, who hit them below the belt in the most ungentlemanly fashion in preference to starving. But the simple manœuvre of cutting down the prices of his rivals was only a taste of the unerring instinct for business that was later


  ― 117 ―
to make him as much feared as respected in the trade. By a single stroke he had shown his ability to play on the weakness as well as the needs of the public, coupled with a pitiless disregard for other interests than his own, which constitutes business talent.

The public looked on, surprised and curious, drawn by the novelty of the idea and the amazing prices, but hesitating like an animal that fears a tempting bait. The ceaseless activity of the shop reassured them. One by one the customers arrived. Numbers bred numbers, and in a week a rush had set in. It became the fashion on the Road to loll in the shop, carelessly reading the papers for all the world to see, while your boots were being mended. On Saturday for the first time Jonah turned a profit, and the battle was won.

Among the later arrivals Jonah noticed with satisfaction some of Paasch's best customers, and every week, with an apologetic smile, another handed in his boots for repair. Soon there was little for Paasch to do but stand at his door, staring with frightened, short-sighted eyes across the Road at the octopus that was slowly squeezing the life out of his shop. But he obstinately refused to lower his prices, though his customers carried the work from his counter across the street. It seemed to him that the prices were something fixed by natural laws, like the return of the seasons or the multiplication table.

“I haf always charge tree an' six for men's, an' it cannot be done cheaper without taking de bread out of mine mouth,” he repeated obstinately.




  ― 118 ―
In three months Jonah hired another workman, and the landlord came down to see if the shop could be enlarged to meet Jonah's requirements. Then a traveller called with an armful of samples. He was travelling for his brother, he explained, who had a small factory. Jonah looked longingly, and confessed that he wanted to stock his shop, but had no money to buy. Then the traveller smiled, and explained to Jonah, alert and attentive, the credit system by which his firm would deliver fifty pounds' worth of boots at three months. Jonah was quick to learn, but cautious.

“D'ye mean yer'd gimme the boots, an' not want the money for three months?”

The traveller explained that was the usual practice.

“An' can I sell 'em at any price I like?”

The man said he could give them away if he chose. Jonah spent a pound on brass rods and glass stands, and sold the lot in a month at sixpence a pair profit. His next order ran into a hundred pounds, and Jonah had established a cash retail trade. Meanwhile, he worked in a way to stagger the busy bee. Morning and night the sound of his hammer never ceased, except the three nights a week he spent at a night school, where he discovered a remarkable talent for mental arithmetic and figures. Jonah the hunchback had found his vocation.

And in the still night, when he stopped to light a cigarette, Jonah could hear the mournful wail of a violin in Paasch's bedroom across the street. In his distress the old man had turned to his beloved


  ― 119 ―
instrument as one turns to an old friend. But now the tunes were never merry, only scraps and fragments of songs of love and despair, the melancholy folk-songs of his native land, long since forgotten, and now returning to his memory as its hold on the present grew feebler.




  ― 120 ―

XI: The Courting of Pinkey

IT was Monday morning, and, according to their habit, the Partridges were moving. Every stick of their furniture was piled on the van, and Pinkey, who was carrying the kerosene lamp for fear of breakage, watched the load anxiously as the cart lurched over a rut. A cracked mirror, swinging loosely in its frame, followed every movement of the cart, one minute reflecting Pinkey's red hair and dingy skirt, the next swinging vacantly to the sky.

The cart stopped outside a small weatherboard cottage, and the vanman backed the wheels against the kerbstone, cracking his whip and swearing at the horse, which remained calm and obstinate, refusing to move except of its own accord. The noise brought the neighbours to their doors. And they stood with prying eyes, ready to judge the social standing of the newcomers from their furniture.

It was the old battered furniture of a poor family, dragged from the friendly shelter of dark corners into the naked light of day, the back, white and rough as a packing-case, betraying the front, varnished and stained to imitate walnut and cedar. Every scratch and stain showed plainly on the tables


  ― 121 ―
and chairs fastened to their companions in misery, odd, nameless contrivances made of boxes and cretonne, that took the place of the sofas, wardrobes, and toilet-tables of the rich. Every mark and every dint was noted with satisfaction by the furtive eyes. The new arrivals had nothing to boast about.

Mrs. Partridge, who collected gossip and scandal as some people collect stamps, generally tired of a neighbourhood in three months, after she had learned the principal facts — how much of the Brown's money went in drink, how much the Joneses owed at the corner shop, and who was really the father of the child that the Smiths treated as a poor relation. When she had sucked the neighbourhood dry like an orange, she took a house in another street, and Pinkey lost a day at the factory to move the furniture.

Pinkey's father was a silent, characterless man, taking the lead from his wife with admirable docility, and asking nothing from fortune but regular work and time to read the newspaper. He had worked for the same firm since he was a boy, disliking change; but since his second marriage he had been dragged from one house to another. Sometimes he went home to the wrong place, forgetting that they had moved. Every week he planned another short cut to Grimshaw's works, which landed him there half an hour late.

Her mother had died of consumption when Pinkey was eleven, and two years later her father had married his housekeeper. She proved to be a shiftless slattern, never dressed, never tidy, and selfish


  ― 122 ―
to the core under the cloak of a good-natured smile. She was always resting from the fatigue of imaginary labours, and her house was a pigsty. Nothing was in its place, and nothing could be found when it was wanted. This, she always explained with a placid smile, was owing to the fact that they were busy looking for a house where they could settle down.

The burden of moving fell on Pinkey, for her father had never lost a day at Grimshaw's in his life; and after Mrs. Partridge had hindered for half an hour by getting in the way and mislaying everything, Pinkey usually begged her in desperation to go and wait for the furniture in the new house.

Meanwhile, lower down the street, Chook was slowly working his way from house to house, hawking a load of vegetables. In the distance he remarked the load of furniture, and resolved to call before a rival could step in and get their custom. As he praised the quality of the peas to a customer, he found time to observe that the unloading went on very slowly. The vanman stood on the cart and slid the articles on to the shoulders of a girl, who staggered across the pavement under a load twice her size. It looked like an ant carrying a beetle. Five minutes later Chook stood at the door and rapped with his knuckles.

“Any vegetables to-day, lydy?” he inquired, in his nasal, professional sing-song.

The answer to his question was Pinkey, dishevelled, sweating in beads, covered with dust, her sleeves tucked up to the elbows, showing two arms as thick


  ― 123 ―
as pipe-stems. She flushed pink under the sweat and grime, feeling for her apron to wipe her face. They had not seen each other since the fight, for in a sudden revulsion of feeling Pinkey had decided that Chook was too handy with his fists to make a desirable bloke, and a change of address on the following Monday had enabled her to give him the slip easily. And after waiting at street corners till he was tired, Chook had returned to his old love, the two-up school. Pinkey broke the silence with a question that was furthest from her thoughts.

“'Ow are yez sellin' yer peas?”

Chook dropped his basket and roared with laughter.

“If yer only come ter poke borak, yer better go,” cried Pinkey, with an angry flush.

Chook sobered instantly.

“No 'arm meant,” he said, quite humbly, “but yer gimme the knock-out every time I see yer. But wot are yez doin'?” he asked.

“We're movin',” said Pinkey, with an important air.

“Oh, are yez?” said Chook, looking round with interest. “Yous an' old Jimmy there?” He nodded familiarly to the vanman, who was filling his pipe. “Well, yer must excuse me, but I'm on in this act.”

“Wotcher mean?” said Pinkey, looking innocent, but she flushed with pleasure.

“Nuthin',” said Chook, seizing the leg of a table; “but wait till I put the nosebag on the moke.”

“Whose cart is it?” inquired Pinkey.




  ― 124 ―
“Jack Ryan's,” answered Chook; “'e's bin shickered since last We'n'sday, an' I'm takin' it round fer 'is missis an' the kids.”

Mrs. Partridge received Chook very graciously when she learned that he was a friend of Pinkey's and had offered to help in passing. She had been reading a penny novelette under great difficulties, and furtively eating some slices of bread-and-butter which she had thoughtfully put in her pocket. But now she perked up under the eyes of this vigorous young man, and even attempted to help by carrying small objects round the room and then putting them back where she found them. In an hour the van was empty, and Jimmy was told to call next week for his money. It was well into the afternoon when Chook resumed his hawking with the cart and then only because Pinkey resolutely pushed him out of the door.

Chook's previous love-affairs had all been conducted in the open air. Following the law of Cardigan Street, he met the girl at the street corner and spent the night in the park or the dance-room. Rarely, if she forgot the appointment, he would saunter past the house, and whistle till she came out. What passed within the house was no concern of his. Parents were his natural enemies, who regarded him with the eyes of a butcher watching a hungry dog. But his affair with Pinkey had been full of surprises, and this was not the least, that chance had given him an informal introduction to Pinkey's stepmother and the furniture.

He had called again with vegetables, and when he adroitly remarked that no one would have taken


  ― 125 ―
Mrs. Partridge to be old enough to be the mother of Pinkey, she had spent a delightful hour leaning against the doorpost telling him how she came to marry Partridge, and the incredible number of offers she had refused in her time. Charmed with his wit and sympathy, she forgot what she was saying, and invited him to tea on the following Sunday. Chook was staggered. He knew this was the custom of the law-abiding, who nodded to the police and went to church on Sunday. But here was the fox receiving a pressing invitation from the lamb. He decided to talk the matter over with Pinkey. But when he told her of the invitation, she flushed crimson. '

“She asked yous to tea, did she? The old devil!”

“W'y,” said Chook mortified.

“W'y? 'Cause she knows father 'ud kill yer, if yer put yer nose inside the door.”

“Oh! would 'e?” cried Chook, bristling.

“My word, yes! A bloke once came after Lil, an' 'e run 'im out so quick 'e forgot 'is 'at, an' waited at the corner till I brought it.”

“Well, 'e won't bustle me,” cried Chook.

“But y'ain't goin'?” said Pinkey, anxiously.

“My oath, I am!” cried Chook. “I'm doin' the square thing this time, don't yous fergit, an' no old finger's goin' ter bustle me, even if 'e's your father.”

“Yous stop at 'ome while yer lucky,” said Pinkey. “Ever since Lil cleared out wi' Marsden, 'e swears 'e'll knife the first bloke that comes after me.”

“Ye're only kiddin',” said Chook, cheerfully; “an' wot'll 'e do ter yous?”




  ― 126 ―
“Me! 'E niver rouses on me. W'en 'e gits shirty, I just laugh, an' 'e can't keep it up.”

“Right-oh!” said Chook. “Look out fer a song an' dance nex' Sunday.”

About five o'clock on the following Sunday afternoon, Chook, beautifully attired in the larrikin fashion, sauntered up to the door and tried the knocker. It was too stiff to move, and he used his knuckles. Then he heard footsteps and a rapid whispering, and Pinkey, white with anxiety, opened the door. Mrs. Partridge, half dressed, slipped into the bedroom and called out in a loud voice:

“Good afternoon, Mr Fowles! 'Ave yer come to take Elizabeth for a walk?”

Ignoring Pinkey's whispered advice, he pushed in and looked round. He was in the parlour, and a large china dog welcomed him with a fixed grin.

“W'ere's the old bloke?” muttered Chook.

Pinkey pointed to the dining-room, and Chook walked briskly in. He found Partridge in his arm-chair, scowling at him over the newspaper.

“Might I ask 'oo you are?” he growled.

“Me name's Fowles — Arthur Fowles,” replied Chook, picking a seat near the door and smoothing a crease in his hat.

“Ah! that's all I wanted to know,” growled Partridge. “Now yer can go.”

“Me? No fear!” cried Chook, affecting surprise. “Yer missis gave me an invite ter tea, an' 'ere I am. Besides, I ain't such a stranger as I look; I 'elped move yer furniture in.”




  ― 127 ―
“An' yer shove yer way into my 'ouse on the strength of wot a pack o' silly women said ter yer?”

“I did,” admitted Chook.

“Now you take my advice, an' git out before I break every bone in yer body.”

Chook stared at him with an unnatural stolidity for fear he should spoil everything by grinning.

“Well, wot are yer starin' at?” inquired Partridge, with irritation.

“I was wonderin' 'ow yer'd look on the end of a rope,” replied Chook, quietly.

“Me on the end of a rope?” cried Partridge in amazement.

“Yes. They said yous 'ud stiffen me if I cum in, an' 'ere I am.”

“An' yet you 'ad the cheek?”

“Yes,” said Chook; “I niver take no notice o' wot women say.”

Partridge glared at him as if meditating a spring, and then, with a rapid jerk, turned his back on Chook and buried his nose in the newspaper. Pinkey and her stepmother, who were listening to this dialogue at the door, ready for flight at the first sound of breaking glass or splintered wood, now ventured to step into the room. Chook, secure of victory, criticized the weather, but Partridge remained silent as a graven image. Mrs. Partridge set the table for tea with nervous haste.

“Tea's ready, William,” she cried at last.

William took his place, and, without lifting his eyes, began to serve the meat. Mrs. Partridge had made a special effort. She had bought a pig's cheek,


  ― 128 ―
some German sausage, and a dozen scones at seven for threepence. This was flanked by bread-and-butter, and a newly opened tin of jam with the jagged lid of the tin standing upright. She thought, with pride, that the young man would see he was in a house where no expense was spared. She requested Chook to sit next to Pinkey, and talked with feverish haste.

“Which do yer like, Mr Fowles? Lean or fat? The fat sometimes melts in yer mouth. Give 'im that bit yer cut for me, William.”

“If 'e don't like it, 'e can leave it,” growled Partridge.

“Now, that'll do, William. I always said yer bark was worse than yer bite. You'll be all right w'en yer've 'ad yer beer. 'E's got the temper of an angel w'en 'e's 'ad 'is beer,” she explained to Chook, as if her husband were out of hearing.

Partridge sat with his eyes fixed on his plate with the face of a sulky schoolboy. His long features reminded Chook of a horse he had once driven. When he had finished eating, he pulled his chair back and buried his silly, obstinate face in the newspaper. He had evidently determined to ignore Chook's existence. Mrs. Partridge broke the silence by describing his character to the visitor as if he were a naughty child.

“William always sulks w'en 'e can't get 'is own way. Not another word will we 'ear from 'im tonight. 'E knows 'e ought to be civil to people as eat at 'is own table, an' that only makes 'im worse. But for all 'is sulks, 'e's got the temper of an angel w'en 'e's 'ad 'is beer. I've met all sorts — them as smashes the


  ― 129 ―
furniture for spite, an' them as bashes their wives 'cause it's cheaper, but gimme William every time.”

Partridge took no notice, except to bury his nose deeper in the paper. He had reached the advertisements, and a careful study of these would carry him safely to bed. After tea, Pinkey set to work and washed up the dishes, while Mrs. Partridge entertained the guest. Chook took out his cigarettes, and asked if Mr Partridge objected to smoke. There was no answer.

“You must speak louder, Mr Fowles,” said Mrs. Partridge. “William's 'earing ain't wot it used to be.”

William resented this remark by twisting his chair farther away and emitting a grunt.

Pinkey, conscious of Chook's eyes, was bustling in and out with the airs of a busy housewife, her arms, thin as a broomstick, bared to the elbow. His other love-affairs had belonged to the open-air, with the street for a stage and the park for scenery, and this domestic setting struck Chook as a novelty. Pinkey, then, was not merely a plaything for an hour, but a woman of serious uses, like the old mother who suckled him and would hear no ill word of him. And as he watched with greedy eyes the animal died within him, and a sweeter emotion than he had ever known filled his ignorant, passionate heart. For the first time in his life he understood why men gave up their pals and the freedom of the streets for a woman. Mrs. Partridge saw the look in his eyes, and wished she were twenty years younger. When Pinkey got her hat and proposed a walk, Chook,


  ― 130 ―
softened by his novel emotions, called out “Good night, boss!”

For a wonder, Partridge looked up from his paper and grunted “Night!”

“There now,” cried Mrs. Partridge, delighted, “William wouldn't say that to everybody, would you, William? Call again any time you like, an' 'e'll be in a better temper.”

When they reached the park, they sat on a seat facing the asphalt path. Near them was another pair, the donah, with a hat like a tea-tray, nursing her bloke's head in her lap as he lay full length along the seat. And they exchanged caresses with a royal indifference to the people who were sauntering along the paths. But, without knowing why, Chook and Pinkey sat as far apart as if they had freshly studied a book on etiquette. For to Chook this frail girl with the bronze hair and shabby clothes was no longer a mere donah, but a laborious housewife and a potential mother of children; and to Pinkey this was a new Chook, who kept his hands to himself, and looked at her with eyes that made her forget she was a poor factory girl.

Chook looked idly at the stars, remote and lofty, strewn like sand across the sky, and wondered at one that gleamed and glowed as he watched. A song of the music-hall about eyes and stars came into his head. He looked steadily into Pinkey's eyes, darkened by the broad brim of her hat, and could see no resemblance, for he was no poet. And as he looked, he forgot the stars in an intense desire to know the intimate details of her life — the mechanical, monotonous habits that fill the day from morning


  ― 131 ―
till night, and yet are too trivial to tell. He asked some questions about Packard's factory where she worked, and Pinkey's tongue ran on wheels when she found a sympathetic listener. Apart from the boot factory, the great events of her life had been the death of her mother, her father's second marriage, and the flight of her elder sister, Lil, who had gone to the bad. She blamed her stepmother for that. Lil had acted like a fool, and Mrs. Partridge, with her insatiable greed for gossip, had gathered hints and rumours from the four corners of Sydney, and Lil had bolted rather than argue it out with her father. That and the death of Pinkey's mother had soured his temper, and his wits, never very powerful, had grown childish under the blow.

“So don't yous go pokin' borak at 'im,” she cried, flushing pink. “'E's a good father to me, if she lets 'im alone. But she's got 'im under 'er thumb with 'er nasty tongue.”

Chook thought Mrs. Partridge was an agreeable woman. Instantly Pinkey's eyes blazed with anger.

“Is she? You ought ter 'ear 'er talk. She's got a tongue like a dog's tail; it's always waggin'. An' niver a good word for anybody. I wish she'd mind 'er own business, an' clean up the 'ouse. W'en my mother was alive, you could eat yer dinner off the floor, but Sarah's too delicate for 'ousework. She'd 'ave married the greengrocer, but she was too delicate to wait in the shop. We niver see a bit o' fresh meat in the 'ouse, an' if yer say anythin' she bursts into tears, an' sez somethin' nasty about Lil. She makes believe she's got no more appetite than a


  ― 132 ―
canary, but she lives on the pick of the 'am shop w'en nobody's lookin'. Look 'ow fat she is. W'en she married Dad, you could 'ear 'er bones rattle. I wouldn't mind if she did the washin'. But she puts the things in soak on Monday, an' then on Saturday I 'ave ter turn to an' do the lot, 'cause she's delicate. I ain't delicate. I'm only skin an' bone.”

Her face was flushed and eager; her eyes sparkled. Chook remembered the song about eyes and stars, and agreed with the words. And as suddenly the sparkle died out of her eyes, her mouth drooped, and the colour left her face, pale as ivory in the faint gleam of the stars.

“Yous don't think any worse o' me 'cause Lil's crook, do yer?” she asked piteously.

Chook swore a denial.

“P'raps yer think it runs in the family; but Lil 'ud 'a' gone straight if she 'adn't been driven out o' the 'ouse by Sarah's nasty tongue.”

Chook declared that Lil was spotless.

“No, she ain't,” said Pinkey; “she's as bad as they make 'em now; but …wot makes yer tail up after me?” she inquired suddenly.

Chook answered that she had sent him fair off his dot.

“Oh yes, that's wot yer said to Poll Corcoran, an' then went skitin' that she'd do anythin' yer liked, if yer lifted yer finger. I've 'eard all about yous.”

Chook swore that he would never harm a hair of her head.

“The worst 'arm is done without meanin' it,”


  ― 133 ―
said Pinkey wisely, “an' that's w'y I'm frightened of yer.”

“Wotcher got ter be frightened o' me?” asked Chook, softly.

“I'm frightened o' yer …'cause I like yer,” said Pinkey, bursting into tears.

Mrs. Partridge was disappointed in Chook. He was too much taken up with that red-headed cat, and he ate nothing when he came to tea on Sunday, although she ransacked the ham-and-beef shop for dainties — black pudding, ham-and-chicken sausage, and brawn set in a mould of appetizing jelly. She flattered herself she knew her position as hostess and made up for William's sulks by loading the table with her favourite delicacies. And Chook's healthy stomach recoiled in dismay before these doubtful triumphs of the cookshop. His mother had been a cook before she married, and, as a shoemaker believes in nothing but leather, she pinned her faith to good cooking. The family might go without clothes or boots, but they always had enough to eat. Chook's powerful frame, she asserted, was due entirely to careful nourishment in his youth. “Good meals keep people out of jail,” was her favourite remark. Chook had learned this instead of the catechism, and the sight of Pinkey's starved body stirred his anger. What she wanted was proper nourishment to cover her bones.

The next Sunday, while Pinkey was frying some odds and ends in the pan to freshen them up for breakfast, Mrs. Partridge, who was finishing a novelette in bed, heard a determined knock on the door. It was only eight o'clock. She called Pinkey, and


  ― 134 ―
ran to the window in surprise. It was Chook, blushing as nearly as his face would permit, and carrying two plates wrapped in a towel. He pushed through to the kitchen with the remark “I'll just 'ot this up agin on the stove.”

“But wot is it?” cried Pinkey, in astonishment.

Chook removed the upper plate, and showed a dish of sheep's brains, fried with eggs and breadcrumbs — a thing to make the mouth water.

“Mother sent these; she thought yer might like somethin' tasty fer yer breakfast,” he muttered gruffly, in fear of ridicule.

Pinkey tried to laugh, but the tears welled into her eyes.

“Oh, Sarah will be pleased!” she cried.

“No, she won't,” said Chook, grimly. “Wot yer can't eat goes back fer the fowls.”

While Mrs. Partridge was dressing, they quarrelled fiercely, because Chook swore she must eat the lot. Sarah ended the dispute by eating half, but Chook watched jealously till Pinkey declared she could eat no more.

The next Sunday it was a plate of fish fried in the Jewish fashion — a revelation to Pinkey after the rancid fat of the fish shop — then a prime cut off the roast for dinner, or the breast and wing of a fowl; and he made Pinkey eat it in his presence, so that he could take the plates home to wash. One Sunday he was so late that Mrs. Partridge fell back on pig's cheek; but he arrived, with a suspicious swelling under his eye. He explained briefly that there had been an accident. They learned afterwards than an ill-advised wag in the street had asked him if he were feeding Pinkey up for the show. During the two rounds that followed, Chook had accidentally stepped on the plates.

Whenever Ada met Pinkey, she wanted to know how things were progressing; but Pinkey could turn like a hare from undesirable questions.

“Are you an' 'im goin' to git spliced?” she inquired, for the hundredth time.

“I dunno,” said Pinkey, turning scarlet; “'e sez we are.”

END OF PART I
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