Part 2 out of 5
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.
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-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 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 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
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 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 shivered at the thought. Ada called her a fool; they
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 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 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 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
"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.
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, 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
"Keep it, sonny--keep it; you want it more than I do," cried Dad,
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
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, 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 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 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."
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--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 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 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 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?"
"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'
"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
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. 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 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
But Mrs Yabsley was studying some strange hieroglyphics like Chinese,
pencilled on the cupboard. She knitted her brows in the agony of
"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
"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 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 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 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
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 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,
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
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,
Near at hand stood a collection of ferns and pot-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, 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 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
"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 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 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 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 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
"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 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
"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 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
"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,
"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."
"'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
"Use yer left, Chook."
"Wot price that?"
"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!"
"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
"'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,
"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.
"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.
"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.
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,
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 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 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:
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
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
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 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
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
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
"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
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
"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 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
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 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 manoeuvre of cutting down the
prices of his rivals was only a taste of the unerring instinct for
business that was later 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
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.
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 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.
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 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 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
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
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 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
"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.
"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 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
"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
"Ye're only kiddin'," said Chook, cheerfully; "an' wot'll 'e do ter yous?"
"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."
"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,
"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, 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
"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 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
"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, 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
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
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 night 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
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
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
Chook swore that he would never harm a hair of her head.
"The worst 'arm is done without meanin' it," 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
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 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
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
"I dunno," said Pinkey, turning scarlet; "'e sez we are."
END OF PART I.
THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER SHOE"
THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER SHOE"
The suburban trains slid into the darkness of the tunnel at Cleveland
Street, and, as they emerged into daylight on the other side, paused for
a moment like intelligent animals before the spider's web of shining rails
that curved into the terminus, as if to choose the pair that would carry