by Louis Stone
AT THE CORNER
CHAPTER 2. JONAH
EATS GREEN PEAS
CHAPTER 4. JONAH
CHAPTER 5. THE
PUSH DEALS IT
CHAPTER 6. THE
CHAPTER 7. A
CHAPTER 8. JONAH
STARTS ON HIS
CHAPTER 11. THE
PART 2. THE SIGN
OF THE "SILVER
CHAPTER 12. THE
SIGN OF THE
CHAPTER 13. A
FAMILY IN EXILE
CHAPTER 14. ADA
MAKES A FRIEND
CHAPTER 15. Mrs
CHAPTER 16. A
DEATH IN THE
CHAPTER 17. THE
CHAPTER 18. THE
"ANGEL" LOSES A
CHAPTER 19. THE
PIPES OF PAN
CHAPTER 20. MRS
CHAPTER 21. DAD
WEEPS ON A
CHAPTER 22. A
PART 1. LARRIKINS ALL
CHAPTER 1. SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE
One side of the street glittered like a brilliant eruption with the
light from a row of shops; the other, lined with houses, was almost
deserted, for the people, drawn like moths by the glare, crowded and
jostled under the lights.
It was Saturday night, and Waterloo, by immemorial habit, had flung
itself on the shops, bent on plunder. For an hour past a stream of
people had flowed from the back streets into Botany Road, where the
shops stood in shining rows, awaiting the conflict.
The butcher's caught the eye with a flare of colour as the light
played on the pink and white flesh of sheep, gutted and skewered like
victims for sacrifice; the saffron and red quarters of beef, hanging
like the limbs of a dismembered Colossus; and the carcasses of pigs,
the unclean beast of the Jews, pallid as a corpse. The butchers
passed in and out, sweating and greasy, hoarsely crying the prices as
they cut and hacked the meat. The people crowded about, sniffing the
odour of dead flesh, hungry and brutal--carnivora seeking their prey.
At the grocer's the light was reflected from the gay labels on tins
and packages and bottles, and the air was heavy with the confused
odour of tea, coffee and spices.
Cabbages, piled in heaps against the door-posts of the
greengrocer's, threw a rank smell of vegetables on the air; the fruit
within, built in pyramids for display, filled the nostrils with the
fragrant, wholesome scents of the orchard.
The buyers surged against the barricade of counters, shouting their
orders, contesting the ground inch by inch as they fought for the
value of a penny. And they emerged staggering under the weight of
their plunder, laden like ants with food for hungry mouths--the
insatiable maw of the people.
The push was gathered under the veranda at the corner of Cardigan
Street, smoking cigarettes and discussing the weightier matters of
life--horses and women. They were all young--from eighteen to
twenty-five--for the larrikin never grows old. They leaned against
the veranda posts, or squatted below the windows of the shop, which
had been to let for months.
Here they met nightly, as men meet at their club--a terror to the
neighbourhood. Their chief diversion was to guy the pedestrians,
leaping from insult to swift retaliation if one resented their foul
"Garn!" one was saying, "I tell yer some 'orses know more'n a man.
I remember old Joe Riley goin' inter the stable one day to a brown
mare as 'ad a derry on 'im 'cause 'e flogged 'er crool. Well, wot
does she do? She squeezes 'im up agin the side o' the stable, an'
nearly stiffens 'im afore 'e cud git out. My oath, she did!"
"That's nuthin' ter wot a mare as was runnin' leader in Daly's 'bus
used ter do," began another, stirred by that rivalry which makes
talkers magnify and invent to cap a story; but he stopped suddenly as
two girls approached.
One was short and fat, a nugget, with square, sullen features; the
other, thin as a rake, with a mass of red hair that fell to her waist
in a thick coil.
"'Ello, Ada, w'ere you goin'?" he inquired, with a facetious grin.
"Cum 'ere, I want ter talk ter yer."
The fat girl stopped and laughed.
"Can't--I'm in a 'urry," she replied.
"Well, kin I cum wid yer?" he asked, with another grin.
"Not wi' that face, Chook," she answered, laughing.
"None o' yer lip, now, or I'll tell Jonah wot yer were doin' last
night," said Chook.
"W'ere is Joe?" asked the girl, suddenly serious. "Tell 'im I want
ter see 'im."
"Gone ter buy a smoke; 'e'll be back in a minit."
"Right-oh, tell 'im wot I said," replied Ada, moving away.
"'Ere, 'old 'ard, ain't yer goin' ter interdooce yer cobber?" cried
Chook, staring at the red-headed girl.
"An' 'er ginger 'air was scorchin' all 'er back," he sang in
parody, suddenly cutting a caper and snapping his fingers.
The girl's white skin flushed pink with anger, her eyes sparkled
"Ugly swine! I'll smack yer jaw, if yer talk ter me," she cried.
"Blimey, 'ot stuff, ain't it?" inquired Chook.
"Cum on, Pinkey. Never mind 'im," cried Ada, moving off.
"Yah, go 'ome an' wash yer neck!" shouted Chook, with sudden venom.
The red-headed girl stood silent, searching her mind for a stinging
"Yer'd catch yer death o' cold if yer washed yer own," she cried;
and the two passed out of sight, tittering. Chook turned to his
"She kin give it lip, can't she?" said he, in admiration.
A moment later the leader of the Push crossed the street, and took
his place in silence under the veranda. A first glance surprised the
eye, for he was a hunchback, with the uncanny look of the
deformed--the head, large and powerful, wedged between the shoulders
as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the hump projecting behind,
monstrous and inhuman. His face held you with a pair of restless grey
eyes, the colour and temper of steel, deep with malicious
intelligence. His nose was large and thin, curved like the beak of an
eagle. Chook, whose acquaintance he had made years ago when selling
newspapers, was his mate. Both carried nicknames, corrupted from
Jones and Fowles, with the rude wit of the streets.
"Ada's lookin' fer yous, Jonah," said Chook.
"Yer don't say so?" replied the hunchback, raising his leg to
strike a match. "Was Pinkey with 'er?" he added.
"D'ye mean a little moll wi' ginger hair?" asked Chook.
"My oath, she was! Gi' me a knockout in one act," said Chook; and
the others laughed.
"Ginger fer pluck!" cried someone.
And they began to argue whether you could tell a woman's character
from the colour of her hair; whether red-haired women were more
deceitful than others.
Suddenly, up the road, appeared a detachment of the Salvation Army,
stepping in time to the muffled beat of a drum. The procession halted
at the street corner, stepped out of the way of traffic, and formed a
circle. The Push moved to the kerbstone, and, with a derisive grin,
awaited the performance.
The wavering flame of the kerosene torches, topped with thick
smoke, shone yellow against the whiter light of the gas-jets in the
shops. The men, in red jerseys and flat caps, held the poles of the
torches in rest. When a gust of air blew the thick black smoke into
their eyes, they patiently turned their heads. The sisters, conscious
of the public gaze, stood with downcast eyes, their faces framed in
The Captain, a man of fifty, with the knotty, misshapen hands of a
workman, stepped into the centre of the ring, took off his cap, and
began to speak.
"Oh friends, we 'ave met 'ere again tonight to inquire after the
safety of yer everlastin' souls. Yer pass by, thinkin' only of yer
idle pleasures, w'en at any moment yer might be called to judgment by
'Im Who made us all equal in 'Is eyes. Yer pass by without 'earin'
the sweet voice of Jesus callin' on yer to be saved this very minit.
For 'E is callin' yer to come an' be saved an' find salvation, as 'E
called me many years ago. I was then like yerselves, full of
wickedness, an gloryin' in sin. But I 'eard the voice of 'Im Who died
on the Cross, an' saw I was rushin' 'eadlong to 'ell. An' 'Is blood
washed all my sins away, an' made me whiter than snow. Whiter than
snow, friends--whiter than snow! An' 'E'll do the same fer you if yer
will only come an' be saved. Oh, can't yer 'ear the voice of Jesus
callin' to yer to come an' live with 'Im in 'Is blessed mansions in
the sky? Oh, come tonight an' find salvation!"
His arms were outstretched in a passionate gesture of appeal, his
rough voice vibrated with emotion, the common face flamed with the
ecstasy of the fanatic. When he stopped for breath or wiped the sweat
from his face, the Army spurred him on with cries of "Hallelujah!
Amen!" as one pokes a dying fire.
The Lieutenant, who was the comedian of the company, met with a
grin of approval as he faced the ring of torches like an actor facing
the footlights, posing before the crowd that had gathered, flashing
his vulgar conceit in the public eye. And he praised God in a song
and dance, fitting his words to the latest craze of the music-hall:
"Oh! won't you come and join us? Jesus leads the throng,"
snapping his fingers, grimacing, cutting capers that would have
delighted the gallery of a theatre.
"Encore!" yelled the Push as he danced himself to a standstill,
hot and breathless.
The rank and file came forward to testify. The men stammered in
confusion, terrified by the noise they made, shrinking from the crowd
as a timid bather shrinks from icy water, driven to this performance
by an unseen power. But the women were shrill and self-possessed,
scolding their hearers, demanding an instant surrender to the Army,
whose advantages they pointed out with a glib fluency as if it were a
Then the men knelt in the dust, the women covered their faces, and
the Captain began to pray. His voice rose in shrill entreaty, mixed
with the cries of the shopmen and the noise of the streets.
The spectators, familiar with the sight, listened in nonchalance,
stopping to watch the group for a minute as they would look into a
shop window. The exhibition stirred no religious feeling in them, for
their minds, with the tenacity of childhood, associated religion with
churches, parsons and hymn-books.
The Push grew restless, divided between a desire to upset the
meeting and fear of the police.
"Well I used ter think a funeral was slow," remarked Chook, losing
patience, and he stepped behind Jonah.
"'Ere, look out!" yelled Jonah the next minute, as, with a push
from Chook, he collided violently with one of the soldiers and fell
into the centre of the ring.
"'E shoved me," cried Jonah as he got up, pointing with an injured
air to the grinning Chook. "I'll gi' yer a kick in the neck, if yer
git me lumbered," he added, scowling with counterfeit anger at his
"If yer was my son," said the Captain severely--"If yer was my
son..." he repeated, halting for words.
"I should 'ave trotters as big as yer own," cried Jonah, pointing
to the man's feet, cased in enormous bluchers. The Push yelled with
derision as Jonah edged out of the circle ready for flight.
The Captain flushed angrily, and then his face cleared.
"Well, friends," he cried, "God gave me big feet to tramp the
streets and preach the Gospel to my fellow men." And the interrupted
service went on.
Jonah, who carried the brains of the Push, devised a fresh attack,
involving Chook, a broken bottle, and the big drum.
"It'll cut it like butter," he was explaining, when suddenly there
was a cry of "Nit! 'Ere's a cop!" and the Push bolted like rabbits.
Jonah and Chook alone stood their ground, with reluctant valour,
for the policeman was already beside them. Chook shoved the broken
bottle into his pocket, and listened with unusual interest to the last
hymn of the Army. Jonah, with one eye on the policeman, looked
worried, as if he were struggling with a desire to join the Army and
lead a pure life. The policeman looked hard at them and turned away.
The pair were making a strategic movement to the rear, when the two
girls who had exchanged shots with Chook at the corner passed them.
The fat girl tapped Jonah on the back. He turned with a start.
"Nit yer larks!" he cried. "I thought it was the cop."
"Cum 'ere, Joe; I want yer," said the girl.
"Wot's up now?" he cried, following her along the street.
They stood in earnest talk for some minutes, while Chook
complimented the red-headed girl on her wit.
"Yer knocked me sky-'igh," he confessed, with a leer.
"Yer did. Gi' me one straight on the point," he admitted.
"Yous keep a civil tongue in yer head," she cried, and the curious
pink flush spread over her white skin.
"Orl right, wot are yer narked about?" inquired Chook.
He noticed, with surprise, that she was pretty, with small regular
features; her eyes quick and bright, like a bird's. Under the
gaslight her hair was the colour of a new penny.
"W'y, I don't believe yer 'air is red," said Chook, coming nearer.
"Now then, keep yer 'ands to yerself," cried the girl, giving him a
vigorous push. Before he could repeat his attack, she walked away to
join Ada, who hailed her shrilly.
Jonah rejoined his mate in gloomy silence. The Push had
scattered--some to the two-up school, some to the dance-room. The
butcher's flare of lights shone with a desolate air on piles of bones
and scraps of meat--the debris of battle. The greengrocer's was
stripped bare to the shelves, as if an army of locusts had marched
through with ravenous tooth.
"Comin' down the street?" asked Chook, feeling absently in his
"No," said Jonah.
"W'y, wot's up now?" inquired Chook in surprise.
"Oh, nuthin'; but I'm goin' ter sleep at Ada's tonight," replied
Jonah, staring at the shops.
"'Strewth!" cried Chook, looking at him in wonder. "Wot's the game
"Oh! the old woman wants me ter put in the night there. Says some
blokes 'ave bin after 'er fowls," replied Jonah, hesitating like a boy
inventing an excuse.
"Fowls!" cried Chook, with infinite scorn. "Wants yer to nuss the
"My oath, she don't," replied Jonah, with great heartiness.
"Well, gimme a smoke," said Chook, feeling again in his pockets.
Jonah took out a packet of cigarettes, counted how many were left,
and gave him one.
"Kin yer spare it?" asked Chook, derisively. "Lucky I've only got
"Mouth? More like a hole in a wall," grinned Jonah.
"Well, so long. See yer to-morrer," said Chook, moving off. "Ere,
gimme a match," he added.
"Better tell yer old woman I'm sleepin' out," said Jonah
He was boarding with Chook's family, paying what he could spare out
of fifteen shillings or a pound a week.
"Oh, I don't suppose you'll be missed," replied Chook graciously.
"Rye buck!" cried Jonah.
CHAPTER 2. JONAH EATS GREEN PEAS
Eighteen months past, Jonah had met Ada, who worked at Packard's
boot factory, at a dance. Struck by her skill in dancing, he courted
her in the larrikin fashion. At night he stood in front of the house,
and whistled till she came out. Then they went to the park, where
they sprawled on the grass in obscure corners.
At intervals the quick spurt of a match lit up their faces,
followed by the red glow of Jonah's everlasting cigarette. Their talk
ran incessantly on their acquaintances, whose sayings and doings they
discussed with monotonous detail. If it rained, they stood under a
veranda in the conventional attitude--Jonah leaning against the wall,
Ada standing in front of him. The etiquette of Cardigan Street
considered any other position scandalous.
On Saturday night they went to Bob Fenner's dance-room, or strolled
down to Paddy's Market. When Jonah was flush, he took her to the
"Tiv.", where they sat in the gallery, packed like sardines. If it
were hot, Jonah sat in his shirtsleeves, and went out for a drink at
the intermission. When they reached home, they stood in the lane
bordering the cottage where Ada lived, and talked for an hour in the
dim light of the lamp opposite, before she went in.
Sometimes, in a gay humour, she knocked off Jonah's hat, and he
retaliated with a punch in the ribs. Then a scuffle followed, with
slaps, blows and stifled yells, till Ada's mother, awakened by the
noise, knocked on the wall with her slipper. And this was their
romance of love.
Mrs Yabsley was a widow; for Ada's father, scorning old age, had
preferred to die of drink in his prime. The publicans lost a good
customer, but his widow found life easier.
"Talk about payin' ter see men swaller knives an' swords!" she
exclaimed. "My old man could swaller tables an' chairs faster than I
could buy 'em."
So she opened a laundry, and washed and ironed for the
neighbourhood. Cardigan Street was proud of her. Her eyes twinkled in
a big, humorous face; her arm was like a leg of mutton; the floors
creaked beneath her as she walked. She laughed as a bull roars; her
face turned purple; she fought for air; the veins rose like cords on
her forehead. She was pointed out to strangers like a public building
as she sat on her veranda, gossiping with the neighbours in a voice
that shook the windows. There was no tongue like hers within a mile.
Her sayings were quoted like the newspaper. Draymen laughed at her
Yet the women took their secret troubles to her. For this unwieldy
jester, with the jolly red face and rough tongue, could touch the
heart with a word, when she was in the humour. Then she spoke so
wisely and kindly that the tears gathered in stubborn eyes, and the
poor fools went home comforted.
Ever since her daughter was a child she had speculated on her
marriage. There was to be no nonsense about love. That was all very
well in novelettes, but in Cardigan Street love-matches were a
failure. Generally the first few months saw the divine spark drowned
in beer. She would pick a steady man with his two pounds a week; he
would jump at the chance, and the whole street would turn out to the
wedding. But, as is common, her far-seeing eyes had neglected the
things that lay under her nose. Ada, in open revolt, had chosen Jonah
the larrikin, a hunchback, crafty as the devil and monstrous to the
sight. In six months the inevitable had happened.
She was dismayed, but unshaken, and set to work to repair the
damage with the craft and strategy of an old general. She made no
fuss when the child was born, and Jonah, who meditated flight, in fear
of maintenance, was assured he had nothing to worry about. Mrs
Yabsley had a brief interview with him at the street corner.
"As fer puttin' yous inter court, I'll wait till y'earn enough ter
keep yerself, an' Gawd knows w'en that'll 'appen," she remarked
As she spoke she earnestly considered the large head, wedged
between the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the
masterful nose, the keen grey eyes, and the cynical lips; and in that
moment determined to make him Ada's husband. Yet he was the last man
she would have chosen for a son-in-law. A loafer and a vagabond, he
spoke of marriage with a grin. Half his time was spent under the
veranda at the corner with the Push. He worked at his trade by fits
and starts, earning enough to keep himself in cigarettes.
That was six months ago, and Ada had returned to the factory, where
her disaster created no stir. Such accidents were common. Mrs
Yabsley reared the child as she had reared her daughter, in a
box-cradle near the wash-tub or ironing-board, for Ada proved an
Then, with a sudden change of front, she encouraged Jonah's
intimacy with Ada. She invited him to the house, which he avoided
with an animal craft and suspicion, meeting Ada in the streets. It
was her scheme to get him to live in the house; the rest, she thought,
would be easy. But Jonah feared dimly that if he ventured inside the
house he would bring himself under the law. So he grinned, and kept
his distance, like an animal that fears a trap.
But at last, his resistance worn to a thread by constant coaxing,
he had agreed to spend the night there on account of the fowls. He
was interested in these, for one pair was his gift to Ada, the fruit
of some midnight raid.
Jonah stood alone at the corner watching the crowd. Chook's
reference to the baby had shaken his resolution, and he decided to
think it over. And as he watched the moving procession with the
pleasure of a spectator at the play, he thought uneasily of women and
marriage. As he nodded from time to time to an acquaintance, a young
man passed him carrying a child in his arms. His wife, a slip of a
girl, loaded with bundles, gave Jonah a quick look of fear and scorn.
The man stared Jonah full in the face without a sign of recognition,
and bent his head over the child with a caressing movement. Jonah
noted the look of humble pride in his eyes, and marvelled. Twelve
months ago he was Jonah's rival in the Push, famous for his strength
and audacity, and now butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Jonah called
to mind other cases, with a sudden fear in his heart at this
mysterious ceremony before a parson that affected men like a disease,
robbing them of all a man desired, and leaving them contented and
happy. He turned into Cardigan Street with the air of a man who is
putting his neck in the noose, resolving secretly to cut and run at
the least hint of danger.
As he walked slowly up the street he became aware of a commotion at
the corner of George Street. He saw that a crowd had gathered, and
quickened his pace, for a crowd in Cardigan Street generally meant a
fight. Jonah elbowed his way through the ring, and found a young
policeman, new to this beat, struggling with an undersized man with
the face of a ferret. Jonah's first thought was to effect a rescue, as
his practised eye took in the details of the scene. Let them get away
from the light of the street lamp, and with a sudden rush the thing
would be done. He looked round for the Push and remembered that they
were scattered. Then he saw that the captive was a stranger, and
decided to look on quietly and note the policeman's methods for future
On finding that he was overmatched in strength, the prisoner had
dropped to the ground, and, with silent, cat-like movements baulked
the policeman's efforts. As Jonah looked on, the constable
straightened his back, wiped the sweat from his face, and then,
suddenly desperate, called on the nearest to help him. The men
slipped behind the women, who laughed in his face. It was his first
arrest, and he looked in astonishment at the grinning, hostile faces,
too nervous to use his strength, harassed by the hatred of the people.
"Take 'im yerself; do yer own dirty work."
"Wot's the poor bloke done?"
"Nuthin', yer may be sure."
"These Johns run a man in, an' swear his life away ter git a stripe
on their sleeve."
"They think they kin knock a man about as they like 'cause 'e's
"They'd find plenty to do if they took the scoundrels that walk the
streets in a top 'at."
"It don't pay. They know which side their bread's buttered, don't
Chiefly by his own efforts the prisoner had become a disreputable
wreck. Hatless, with torn collar, his clothes covered with the dirt he
was rolling in, ten minutes' struggle with the policeman had
transformed him into a scarecrow.
"If there was any men about, they wouldn't see a decent young man
turned into a criminal under their very eyes," cried a virago, looking
round for a champion.
"If I was a man, I'd..."
She stopped as Sergeant Carmody arrived with a brisk air, and the
crowd fell back, silent before the official who knew every face in the
ring. In an instant the captive was lifted to his feet, his arms were
twisted behind his back till the sinews cracked, and the procession
moved off to the station. When Jonah reached the cottage, he stood
irresolute on the other side of the street. Already regretting his
promise, he turned to go, when Ada came to the door and saw him under
the gas lamp. He crossed the street, trying to show by his walk that
his presence was a mere accident.
"Cum in," cried Ada. "Mum won't eat yer."
Mrs Yabsley, who was ironing among a pile of shirts and collars,
looked up, with the iron in her hand.
"W'y, Joe, ye're quite a stranger!" she cried. "Sit down an' make
yerself at 'ome."
"'Ow do, missus?" said Jonah, looking round nervously for the
child, but it was not visible.
"I knowed yer wouldn't let them take the old woman's fowls," she
continued. "'Ere, Ada, go an' git a jug o' beer."
The room, which served for a laundry, was dimly lit with a candle.
The pile of white linen brought into relief the dirt and poverty of
the interior. The walls were stained with grease and patches of dirt,
added slowly through the years as a face gathers wrinkles. But Jonah
saw nothing of this. He was used to dirt.
He sat down, and, with a sudden attack of politeness, decided to
take off his hat, but, uncertain of his footing, pushed it on the back
of his head as a compromise. He lit a cigarette, and felt more at
A faint odour of scorching reached his nostrils as Mrs Yabsley
passed the hot iron over the white fronts. The small black iron ran
swiftly over the clean surface, leaving a smooth, shining track behind
it. And he watched, with an idler's pleasure, the swift, mechanical
When the beer came, Jonah gallantly offered it to Mrs Yabsley,
whose face was hot and red.
"Just leave a drop in the jug, an' I'll be thankful for it when I'm
done," she replied, wiping her forehead on her sleeve. Jonah had
risen in her esteem.
After some awkward attempts at conversation, Jonah relapsed into
silence. He was glad that he had brought his mouth-organ, won in a
shilling raffle. He would give them a tune later on.
When she had finished the last shirt, Mrs Yabsley looked at the
clock with an exclamation. It was nearly ten. She had to deliver the
shirts, and then buy the week's supplies. For she did her shopping at
the last minute, in a panic. It had been her mother's way--to dash
into the butcher's as he swept the last bones together, to hammer at
the grocer's door as he turned out the lights. And she always forgot
something which she got on Sunday morning from the little shop at the
As she was tying the shirts into bundles, she heard the tinkle of a
bell in the street, and a hoarse voice that cried:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!"
"'Ow'd yer like some peas, Joe?" she cried, dropping the shirts and
seizing a basin.
"I wouldn't mind," said Jonah.
"'Ere, Ada, run an' git threepenn'orth," she cried.
In a minute Ada returned with the basin full of green peas, boiled
into a squashy mass.
Mrs Yabsley went out with the shirts, and Jonah and Ada sat down to
the peas, which they ate with keen relish, after sprinkling them with
pepper and vinegar.
After the green peas, Ada noticed that Jonah was looking furtively
about the room and listening, as if he expected to hear something.
She guessed the cause, and decided to change his thoughts.
"Give us a tune, Joe," she cried.
Jonah took the mouth-organ from his pocket, and rubbed it carefully
on his sleeve. He was a famous performer on this instrument, and on
holiday nights the Push marched through the streets, with Jonah in the
lead, playing tunes that he learned at the "Tiv". He breathed slowly
into the tubes, running up and down the scale as a pianist runs his
fingers over the keyboard before playing, and then struck into a
In five minutes he had warmed up to his work, changing from one
tune to another with barely a pause, revelling in the simple rhythm
and facile phrases of the popular songs. Ada listened spellbound,
amazed by this talent for music, carried back to the gallery of the
music-hall where she had heard these very tunes. At last he struck
into a waltz, marking the time with his foot, drawing his breath in
rapid jerks to accentuate the bass.
"Must 'ave a turn, if I die fer it," cried Ada, springing to her
feet, and, with her arms extended to embrace an imaginary partner, she
began to spin round on her toes. Ada's only talent lay in her feet,
and, conscious of her skill, she danced before the hunchback with the
lightness of a feather, revolving smoothly on one spot, reversing,
advancing and retreating in a straight line, displaying every
intricacy of the waltz. The sight was too much for Jonah, and,
dropping the mouth-organ, he seized her in his arms.
"Wot did yer stop for?" cried Ada. "We carn't darnce without a
"Carn't we?" said Jonah, in derision, and began to hum the words of
the waltz that he had been playing:
White Wings, they never grow weary, They carry me cheerily over
the sea; Night comes, I long for my dearie-- I'll spread out my White
Wings and sail home to thee.
The pair had no equals in the true larrikin style, called "cass
dancing", and they revolved slowly on a space the size of a
dinner-plate, Ada's head on Jonah's breast, their bodies pressed
together, rigid as the pasteboard figures in a peep-show. They were
interrupted by a cry from Mrs Yabsley's bedroom. Jonah stopped
instantly, with a look of dismay on his face. Ada looked at him with a
curious smile, and burst out laughing.
"I'll 'ave ter put 'im to sleep now. Cum an' 'ave a look at 'im,
Joe--'e won't eat yer."
"No fear," cried Jonah, recoiling with anger. "Wot did yer promise
before I agreed to come down?"
Chook's words flashed across his mind. This was a trap, and he had
been a fool to come.
"I'll cum to-morrow, an' fix up the fowls," he cried, and grabbing
his mouth-organ, turned to go--to find his way blocked by Mrs Yabsley,
carrying a shoulder of mutton and a bag of groceries.
CHAPTER 3. CARDIGAN STREET AT HOME
Mrs Yabsley came to the door for a breath of fresh air, and
surveyed Cardigan Street with a loving eye. She had lived there since
her marriage twenty years ago, and to her it was the pick of Sydney,
the centre of the habitable globe. She gave her opinion to every
newcomer in her tremendous voice, that broke on their unaccustomed
ears like thunder:
"I've lived 'ere ever since I was a young married woman, an' I know
wot I'm talkin' about. My 'usband used ter take me to the play before
we was married, but I never see any play equal ter wot 'appens in this
street, if yer only keeps yer eyes open. I see people as wears
spectacles readin' books. I don't wonder. If their eyesight was
good, they'd be able ter see fer themselves instead of readin' about
it in a book. I can't read myself, bein' no scholar, but I can see
that books an' plays is fer them as ain't got no eyes in their 'eads."
The street, which Mrs Yabsley loved, was a street of poor
folk--people to whom poverty clung like their shirt. It tumbled over
the ridge opposite the church, fell rapidly for a hundred yards, and
then, recovering its balance, sauntered easily down the slope till it
met Botany Road on level ground. It was a street of small houses and
large families, and struck the eye as mean and dingy, for most of the
houses were standing on their last legs, and paint was scarce. The
children used to kick and scrape it off the fences, and their parents
rub it off the walls by leaning against them in a tired way for hours
at a stretch. On hot summer nights the houses emptied their
inhabitants on to the verandas and footpaths. The children, swarming
like rabbits, played in the middle of the road. With clasped hands
they formed a ring, and circled joyously to a song of childland, the
immemorial rhymes handed down from one generation to another as
savages preserve tribal rites. The fresh, shrill voices broke on the
air, mingled with silvery peals of laughter.
What will you give to know her name, Know her name, know her name?
What will you give to know her name, On a cold and frosty morning?
Across the street comes a burst of coarse laughter, and a string of
foul, obscene words on the heels of a jest. And again the childish
trebles would ring on the tainted air:
Green gravel, green gravel, Your true love is dead; I send you a
message To turn round your head.
They are ragged and dirty, true children of the gutter, but
Romance, with the cloudy hair and starry eyes, holds them captive for
a few merciful years. Their parents loll against the walls, or squat
on the kerbstone, devouring with infinite relish petty scandals about
their neighbours, or shaking with laughter at some spicy yarn.
About ten o'clock the children are driven indoors with threats and
blows, and put to bed. By eleven the street is quiet, and only gives
a last flicker of life when a drunken man comes swearing down the
street, full of beer, and offering to fight anyone for the pleasure of
the thing. By twelve the street is dead, and the tread of the
policeman echoes with a forlorn sound as if he were walking through a
As Mrs Yabsley leaned over the gate, Mrs Swadling caught sight of
her, and, throwing her apron over her head, crossed the street, bent
on gossip. Then Mrs Jones, who had been watching her through the
window, dropped her mending and hurried out.
The three women stood and talked of the weather, talking for
talking's sake as men smoke a pipe in the intervals of work.
Presently Mrs Yabsley looked hard at Mrs Swadling, who was shading
her head from the sun with her apron.
"Wot's the matter with yer eye?" she said, abruptly.
"Nuthin'," said Mrs Swadling, and coloured.
The eye she was shading was black from a recent blow, a present
from her husband, Sam the carter, who came home for his tea, fighting
drunk, as regular as clockwork.
"I thought I 'eard Sam snorin' after tea," said Mrs Jones.
"Yes, 'e was; but 'e woke up about twelve, an' give me beans
'cause I'd let 'im sleep till the pubs was shut."
"An' yer laid 'im out wi' the broom-handle, I s'pose?"
"No fear," said Mrs Swadling. "I ran down the yard, an' 'ollered
"Well," said Mrs Yabsley, reflectively, "an 'usband is like the
weather, or a wart on yer nose. It's no use quarrelling with it. If
yer don't like it, yer've got ter lump it. An' if yer believe all yer
'ear, everybody else 'as got a worse."
She looked down the street, and saw Jonah and Chook, with a few
others of the Push, sunning themselves in the morning air. Her face
"I see the Push 'ave got Jimmy Sinclair at last. Only six months
ago 'e went ter Sunday school reg'lar, an' butter wouldn't melt in 'is
mouth. Well, if smokin' cigarettes, an' spittin', and swearin' was
'ard work, they'd all die rich men. There's Waxy Collins. Last week
'e told 'is father 'e'd 'ave ter keep 'im till 'e was twenty-one
'cause of the law, an' the old fool believed 'im. An' little Joe
Crutch, as used ter come 'ere beggin' a spoonful of drippin' fer 'is
mother, come 'ome drunk the other night so natural, that 'is mother
mistook 'im fer 'is father, an' landed 'im on the ear with 'er fist.
An' 'im the apple of 'er eye, as the sayin' is. It's 'ard ter be a
mother in Cardigan Street. Yer girls are mothers before their bones
are set, an' yer sons are dodgin' the p'liceman round the corner
before they're in long trousers."
It was rare for Mrs Yabsley to touch on her private sorrows, and
there was an embarrassing silence. But suddenly, from the corner of
Pitt Street, appeared a strange figure of a man, roaring out a song in
the voice of one selling fish. Every head turned.
"'Ello," said Mrs Jones, "Froggy's on the job to-day."
The singer was a Frenchman with a wooden leg, dressed as a sailor.
As he hopped slowly down the street with the aid of a crutch, his
grizzled beard and scowling face turned mechanically to right and
left, sweeping the street with threatening eyes that gave him the look
of a retired pirate, begging the tribute that he had taken by force in
better days. The song ended abruptly, and he wiped the sweat from his
face with an enormous handkerchief. Then he began another.
The women were silent, greedily drinking in the strange, foreign
sounds, touched for a moment with the sense of things forlorn and far
away. The singer still roared, though the tune was caressing,
languishing, a love song. But his eyes rolled fiercely, and his
moustache seemed to bristle with anger.
Le pinson et la fauvette Chantaient nos chastes amours, Que les
oiseaux chantent toujours, Pauvre Colinette, pauvre Colinette.
When he reached the women he hopped to the pavement holding out his
hat like a collection plate, with a beseeching air. The women were
embarrassed, grudging the pennies, but afraid of being thought mean.
Mrs Yabsley broke the silence.
"I don't know wot ye're singin' about, an' I shouldn't like ter
meet yer on a dark night, but I'm always willin' ter patronize the
opera, as they say."
She fumbled in her pocket till she found tuppence. The sailor took
the money, rolled his eyes, gave her a magnificent bow, and continued
on his way with a fresh stanza:
Lorsque nous allions tous deux Dans la verdoyante allee, Comme
elle etait essoufflee, Et comme j'etais radieux.
"The more fool you," said Mrs Jones, who was ashamed of having
nothing to give. "I've 'eard 'e's got a terrace of 'ouses, an'
thousands in the bank. My cousin told me 'e sees 'im bankin' 'is
money reg'lar in George Street every week."
And then a conversation followed, with instances of immense
fortunes made by organ-grinders, German bands, and street-singers--men
who cadged in rags for a living, and could drive their carriage if
they chose. The women lent a greedy ear to these romances, like a
page out of their favourite novelettes. They were interrupted by an
extraordinary noise from the French singer, who seemed suddenly to
have gone mad. The Push had watched in ominous silence the approach
of the Frenchman. But, as he passed them and finished a verse, a
blood-curdling cry rose from the group. It was a perfect imitation of
a dog baying the moon in agony. The singer stopped and scowled at the
group, but the Push seemed to be unaware of his existence. He moved
on, and began another verse. As he stopped to take breath the cry
went up again, the agonized wail of a cur whose feelings are harrowed
by music. The singer stopped, choking with rage, bewildered by the
novelty of the attack. The Push seemed lost in thought. Again he
turned to go, when a stone, jerked as if from a catapult, struck him
on the shoulder. As he turned, roaring like a bull, a piece of blue
metal struck him above the eye, cutting the flesh to the bone. The
blood began to trickle slowly down his cheek.
Still roaring, he hopped on his crutch with incredible speed
towards the Push, who stood their ground for a minute and then, with
the instinct of the cur, bolted. The sailor stopped, and shook his
fist at their retreating forms, showering strange, foreign
maledictions on the fleeing enemy. It was evident that he could swear
better than he could sing.
"Them wretches is givin' Froggy beans," said Mrs Swadling.
"Lucky fer 'im it's daylight, or they'd tickle 'is ribs with their
boots," said Mrs Jones.
"Jonah and Chook's at the bottom o' that," said Mrs Swadling,
looking hard at Mrs Yabsley.
"Ah, the devil an' 'is 'oof!" said Mrs Yabsley grimly, and was
The sailor disappeared round the corner, and five minutes later the
Push had slipped back, one by one, to their places under the veranda.
Mrs Jones was in the middle of a story:
"'Er breath was that strong, it nearly knocked me down, an' so I
sez to 'er, 'Mark my words, I'll pocket yer insults no longer, an' you
in a temperance lodge. I'll make it my bizness to go to the
sekertary this very day, an' tell 'im of yer goin's on.' An' she
sez...w'y, there she is again," cried Mrs Jones, as she caught the
sound of a shrill voice, high-pitched and quarrelsome. The women
craned their necks to look.
A woman of about forty, drunken, bedraggled, dressed in dingy
black, was pacing up and down the pavement in front of the barber's.
She blinked like a drunken owl, and stepped high on the level
footpath as if it were mountainous. And without looking at anything,
she threw a string of insults at the barber, hiding behind the
partition in his shop. For seven years she had passed as his wife,
and then, one day, sick of her drunken bouts, he had turned her out,
and married Flash Kate, the ragpicker's daughter. Sloppy Mary had
accepted her lot with resignation, and went out charring for a living;
but whenever she had a drop too much she made for the barber's,
forgetting by a curious lapse of memory that it was no longer her
home. And as usual the barber's new wife had pushed her into the
street, staggering, and now stood on guard at the door, her coarse,
handsome features alive with contempt.
"Wotcher doin' in my 'ouse?" suddenly inquired Sloppy, blinking
with suspicion at Flash Kate. "Yous go 'ome, me fine lady, afore yer
git yerself talked about."
The woman at the door laughed loudly, and pretended to examine with
keen interest a new wedding ring on her finger.
"Cum 'ere, an' I'll tear yer blasted eyes out," cried the drunkard,
turning on her furiously.
The ragpicker's daughter leaned forward, and inquired, "'Ow d'ye
like yer eggs done?"
At this simple inquiry the drunkard stamped her foot with rage,
calling on her enemy to prepare for instant death. And the two women
bombarded one another with insults, raking the gutter for adjectives,
spitting like angry cats across the width of the pavement.
The Push gathered round, grinning from ear to ear, sooling the
women on as if they were dogs. But just as a shove from behind threw
Sloppy nearly into the arms of her enemy, the Push caught sight of a
policeman, and walked away with an air of extreme nonchalance. At the
same moment the drunkard saw the dreaded uniform, and, obeying the
laws of Cardigan Street, pulled herself together and walked away,
mumbling to herself. The three women watched the performance without a
word, critical as spectators at a play. When they saw there would be
no scratching, they resumed their conversation.
"W'en a woman takes to drink, she's found a short cut to 'ell, an'
lets everybody know it," said Mrs Yabsley, briefly. "But this won't
git my work done," and she tucked up her sleeves and went in.
The Push, bent on killing time, and despairing of any fresh
diversion in the street, dispersed slowly, one by one, to meet again
The Cardigan Street Push, composed of twenty or thirty young men of
the neighbourhood, was a social wart of a kind familiar to the streets
of Sydney. Originally banded together to amuse themselves at other
people's expenses, the Push found new cares and duties thrust upon
them, the chief of which was chastising anyone who interfered with
their pleasures. Their feats ranged from kicking an enemy senseless,
and leaving him for dead, to wrecking hotel windows with blue metal,
if the landlord had contrived to offend them. Another of their duties
was to check ungodly pride in the rival Pushes by battering them out
of shape with fists and blue metal at regular intervals.
They stood for the scum of the streets. How they lived was a
mystery, except to people who kept fowls, or forgot to lock their
doors at night. A few were vicious idlers, sponging on their parents
for a living at twenty years of age; others simply mischievous lads,
with a trade at their fingers' ends, if they chose to work. A few
were honest, unless temptation stared them too hard in the face. On
such occasions their views were simple as A B C. "Well, if yer lost a
chance, somebody else collared it, an' w'ere were yer?"
The police, variously named "Johns", "cops" and "traps", were their
natural enemies. If one of the Push got into trouble, the others
clubbed together and paid his fine; and if that failed, they made it
hot for the prosecutors. Generally their offences were disorderly
conduct, bashing their enemies, and resisting the police.
Both Jonah and Chook worked for a living--Chook by crying fish and
vegetables in the streets, Jonah by making and mending for Hans
Paasch, the German shoemaker on Botany Road. But Chook often lacked
the few shillings to buy his stock-in-trade, and Jonah never felt
inclined for work till Wednesday. Then he would stroll languidly down
to the shop. The old German would thrust out his chin, and blink at
him over his glasses. And he always greeted Jonah with one of two set
"Ah, you haf come, haf you? I vas choost going to advertise for a
man." This meant that work was plentiful. When trade was slack, he
would shake his head sadly as if he were standing over the grave of
his last sixpence, and say:
"Ah, it vas no use; dere is not enough work to fill one mouth."
Jonah always listened to either speech with utter indifference,
took off his coat, put on his leather apron, and set to work silently
and swiftly like a man in anger.
Although he always grumbled, Paasch was quite satisfied. He had
too much work for one, and not enough for two. So Jonah, who was a
good workman, and content to make three or four days in a week, suited
him exactly. Besides, Jonah had started with him as an errand-boy at
five shillings a week, years ago, and was used to his odd ways.
Hans Paasch was born in Bavaria, in the town of Hassloch. His
father was a shoemaker, and destined Hans for the same trade. The boy
preferred to be a fiddler but his father taught him his trade
thoroughly with the end of a strap.
In his eighteenth year Hans suddenly ended the dispute by running
away from home with his beloved fiddle. He made his way to the coast,
and got passage on a cargo tramp to England. There he heard of the
wonderful land called Australia, where gold was to be had for the
picking up. The fever took him, and he worked his passage out to
Melbourne on a sailing ship. He reached the goldfields, dug without
success, and would have starved but for his fiddle. A year found him
back in Melbourne, penniless. Here he met another German in the same
condition. They decided to work their way overland to Sydney, Hans
playing the fiddle and his mate singing. Then began a Bohemian life of
music by the wayside inns, sleep in the open air, and meals when it
pleased God to send them.
This had proved to be the solitary sunlit passage in his life, for
when he reached Sydney he found that his music had no money value,
and, under the goad of hunger, took to the trade that he had learned
so unwillingly. Twenty years ago he had opened his small shop on the
Botany Road, and to-day it remained unchanged, dwarfed by larger
buildings on either side. He lived by himself in the room over the
shop, where he spent his time reading the newspaper as a child spells
out a lesson, or playing his beloved violin. He was a good player,
but his music was a puzzle and a derision to Jonah, for his tastes
were classical, and sometimes he spent as much as a shilling on a back
seat at a concert in the Town Hall. Jonah scratched his ear and
listened, amazed that a man could play for hours without finding a
tune. The neighbours said that Paasch lived on the smell of an oil
rag; but that was untrue, for he spent hours cooking strange messes
soaked in vinegar, the sight of which turned Jonah's stomach.
Bob Fenner's dance-room, three doors away, was a thorn in his side.
Three nights in the week a brazen comet struck into a set of lancers,
drowning the metallic thud of the piano and compelling his ear to
follow the latest popular air to the last bar.
His solitary life, his fiddling, and his singular mixture of
gruffness and politeness had bred legends among the women of the
neighbourhood. He was a German baron, who had forfeited his title and
estates through killing a man in a duel; and never a milder pair of
eyes looked timidly through spectacles. He was a famous musician, who
had chosen to blot himself out of the world for love of a high-born
lady; and, in his opinion, women were useful to cook and sew, nothing
CHAPTER 4. JONAH DISCOVERS THE BABY
Joey the pieman had scented a new customer in Mrs Yabsley, and on
the following Saturday night he stopped in front of the house and
rattled the lids of his cans to attract her attention. His voice,
thin and cracked with the wear of the streets, chanted his familiar
cry to an accompaniment faintly suggestive of clashing cymbals:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!"
His cart, a kitchen on wheels, sent out a column of smoke from its
stovepipe chimney; and when he raised the lids of the shining cans, a
fragrant steam rose on the air. The cart, painted modestly in red,
bore a strange legend in yellow letters on the front:
WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT IT, PEAS AND PIES WOULD HAVE BOUGHT IT!
This outburst of lyric poetry was to inform the world that Joey had
risen from humble beginnings to his present commercial eminence, and
was not ashamed of the fact.
He called regularly about ten o'clock, and Jonah and Ada spent a
delightful five minutes deciding which delicacy to choose for the
night. When they tired of green peas they chose hot pies, full of rich
gravy that ran out if you were not careful how you bit; or they
preferred the plump saveloy, smoking hot from the can, giving out a
savoury odour that made your mouth water. Then Ada fetched a jug of
beer from the corner to wash it down. Soon Jonah stayed at the house
on Saturday night as a matter of course.
But Jonah drew the line when the mother hinted that he might as
well stay there altogether. He feared a trap; and when she pointed
out the danger of two women living alone in the house, he looked at
her brawny arms and smiled.
Haunted by her scheme for marriage, she set to work to undermine
Jonah's obstinacy. She proceeded warily, and made no open attack; but
Jonah began to notice with uneasiness that he could not talk for five
minutes without stumbling on marriage. In the midst of a conversation
on the weather, he would be amazed to find the theme turn to the
praise of marriage, brought mysteriously to this hateful word as a man
is led blindfold to a giddy cliff. When his startled look warned the
mother, she changed the subject.
Still she persevered, sapping Jonah's prejudices with the terrible
zeal of a priest making a convert. When he saw her drift, it set him
thinking, and he watched Ada with curious attention as she moved about
the house helping her mother.
It was Sunday morning, and Ada was shelling peas. The pods split
with a sharp crack under her fingers, and the peas rattled into a tin
basin. She wore an old skirt, torn and shabby; her bodice was split
under the arms, showing the white lining. Her hair lay flat on her
forehead, screwed tightly in curling-pins, which brought into relief
her fiat face and high cheekbones, for she was no beauty. By a
singular coquetry, she wore her best shoes, small and neat, with high
Jonah looked at the girl with satisfaction, but she stirred no
sentiment, for all women were alike to him. His view of them was
purely animal. The procession of Chook's loves crossed his mind, and
he smiled. At regular intervals Chook "went balmy" over some girl or
other, and, while the fit lasted, worshipped her as a savage worships
an idol. And Jonah was stupefied by this passionate preference for
one woman. He had never felt that way for Ada.
He returned to his own affairs. Marriage meant a wife, a family,
and steady work, for Ada would leave the factory if he married her.
The thought filled him with weariness. The vagabond in him recoiled
from the set labours and common burdens of his kind. Ever since he
could remember he had been more at home in the streets than in the
four walls of a room. The Push, the corner, the noise and movement of
the streets--that was life for him. And he decided the matter for
ever; there was nothing in it.
But, as the months slipped by, and Jonah remained impregnable to
her masked batteries, Mrs Yabsley attacked him openly. Jonah stood
his ground, and pointed out, with cynical candour, his unfitness to
keep a wife. But Mrs Yabsley seized the opportunity to sketch out a
career for him, with voluminous instances, for she had foreseen and
arranged all that.
"An' 'oo's ter blame fer that?" she cried, "a feller that oughter
be gittin' 'is three pounds a week. W'y, look at Dave Brown. Don't I
remember the time 'e used ter 'awk a basket o' fish on Fridays, an'
doss in park? An' now 'e goes round in a white shirt, an' draws 'is
rents. An' mark me, it was gittin' married did that fer 'im. W'en a
man's married, 'e's got somethin' better to do than smokin' cigarettes
an' playin' a mouth-orgin."
"Yes," said Jonah, grinning. "Git up an' light the fire, an' graft
'is bloomin' 'ead off."
Mrs Yabsley feigned deafness.
"Anyhow, 'e didn't git 'is 'ouses 'awkin' fish," pursued Jonah; "'e
got 'em while 'e kep' a pub."
Then, with feverish vivacity, Mrs Yabsley mapped out half a dozen
careers for him, chiefly in connection with a shop, for to her, who
lived by the sweat of her brow, shopkeepers were aristocrats, living
in splendid ease.
"It's no go, missis," said Jonah. "Marriage is all right fer them
as don't know better, but anyhow, it ain't wot it's cracked up ter
He avoided the house for some weeks after this conversation,
patrolling the streets with the gang, with the zest of a drunkard
returning to his cups. Mrs Yabsley, who saw that she had pushed her
attack too far, waited in patience.
Jonah found the Push thirsting for blood. One of them had got
three months for taking a fancy to a copper boiler that he had found
in an empty house, and they discovered that a bricklayer, who lived
next door, had put the police on his track. The Push resolved to
stoush him, and had lain in wait for a week without success. Jonah
took the matter in hand, and inquired secretly into the man's habits.
He discovered that the bricklayer, sober as a judge through the week,
was in the habit of fuddling himself on pay-day. Jonah arranged a
plan, which involved a search of every hotel in the neighbourhood.
But one Saturday night, as they were stealthily scouting the
streets for their man, Jonah suddenly thought of Ada. It was weeks
since he had last seen her. He was surprised by a faint longing for
her presence, and, with a word to Chook, he slipped away.
The cottage was in darkness and the door locked; but after a
moment's hesitation, he took the key from under the flowerpot and went
in. He struck a match and looked round. The irons were on the table.
Mrs Yabsley had evidently gone out with the shirts. He lit the candle
and sat down.
The room was thick with shadows, that fled and advanced as the
candle flickered in the draught. He looked with quiet pleasure on the
familiar objects--the deal table, propped against the wall on account
of a broken leg, the ragged curtain stretched across the window, the
new shelf that he had made out of a box. He studied, with fresh
interest, the coloured almanacs on the wall, and spelt out, with
amiable derision, the Scripture text over the door. He felt vaguely
that he was at home.
Home!--the word had no meaning for him. He had been thrown on the
streets when a child by his parents, who had rid themselves of his
unwelcome presence with as little emotion as they would have tossed an
empty can out of doors.
A street-arab, he had picked a living from the gutters, hardened to
exposure, taking food and shelter with the craft of an old soldier in
hostile country. Until he was twelve he had sold newspapers, sleeping
in sheds and empty cases, feeding on the broken victuals thrown out
from the kitchens of hotels and restaurants, and then, drifting by
chance to Waterloo, had found a haven of rest with Paasch as an
errand-boy at five shillings a week.
His cigarette was finished, and there was no sign of Ada. He swore
at himself for coming, picked up his hat, and turned to go. But, at
that moment, from the corner of the room, came a thin, wailing cry.
Jonah started violently, and then, as he recognized the sound, smiled
grimly. It was the baby, awakened by the light. He remembered that
Mrs Yabsley often left it alone in the house.
But the infant, thoroughly aroused, gave out a querulous note, thin
and sustained. Jonah stooped to blow out the candle, and then, with a
sudden curiosity, walked over to the cradle.
It was a box on rough rollers, made out of a packing-case, grimy
with dirt from the hands that had rocked it. Jonah pulled it out of
the corner into the light, and the child, pacified by the sight of a
face, stopped crying.
Fearful of observation, he looked round, and then stared intently
at the baby. It was a meeting of strangers, for Mrs Yabsley, aware of
his aversion from the child, had kept it out of the way. It was the
first baby that he had seen at close quarters, for he had never lived
in a house with one. And he looked at this with the curiosity with
which one looks at a foreigner--surprised that he, too, is a man.
The child blinked feebly under the light of the candle, which Jonah
was holding near. Its fingers moved with a mechanical, crab-like
With an odd sensation Jonah remembered that this was his
child--flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone--and, with a swift
instinct, he searched its face for a sign of paternity.
The child's bulging forehead bore no likeness to Jonah's which
sloped sharply from the eyebrows, and the nose was a mere dab of
flesh; but its eyes were grey, like his own. His interest increased.
Gently he stroked the fine silky down that covered its head, and
then, growing bolder, touched its cheek. The delicate skin was smooth
as satin under his rough finger.
The child, pleased with his touch, smiled and clutched his finger,
holding it with the tenacity of a monkey. Jonah looked in wonder at
that tiny hand, no bigger than a doll's. His own fist, rough with
toil, seemed enormous beside it.
Flesh of his flesh, he thought, half incredulous, as he compared
his red, hairy skin with that delicate texture; amazed by this miracle
of life--the renewal of the flesh that perishes.
Then he remembered his deformity, and, with a sudden catch in his
breath, lifted the child from the cradle, and felt its back, a
passionate fear in his heart: it was straight as a die. He drew a
long breath, and was silent, embarrassed for words before this mite,
searching his mind in vain for the sweet jargon used by women.
"Sool 'im!" he cried at last, and poked his son in the ribs. The
child crowed with delight. Jonah touched its mouth, and its teeth,
like tiny pegs, closed tightly on his fingers. It lay contentedly on
his knees, its eyes closed, already fatigued. And, as Jonah watched
it, there suddenly vibrated in him a strange, new sensation--the sense
of paternity, which Nature, crafty beyond man, has planted in him to
fulfil her schemes, the imperious need to protect and rejoice in its
young that preserves the race from extinction.
Jonah sat motionless, afraid to disturb the child, intoxicated by
the first pure emotion of his life, his heart filled with an immense
pity for this frail creature. Absorbed in his emotions, he was
startled by a step on the veranda.
He rose swiftly to put the child in the cot, but it was too late,
and he turned to the door with the child in his arms, ashamed and
defiant, like a boy caught with the jam-pot. He expected Mrs Yabsley
or Ada; it was Chook, breathless with haste. He stood in the doorway,
dumb with amazement as his eye took in this strange picture; then his
face relaxed in a grin.
"Well, Gawd strike me any colour 'E likes, pink for preference," he
cried, and shook with laughter.
Jonah stared at him with a deepening scowl, till chuckles died
"Garn!" he cried at last, and his voice was between a whine and a
snarl; "yer needn't poke borak!"
CHAPTER 5. THE PUSH DEALS IT OUT
It was near eleven, and the lights were dying out along the Road as
the shopmen, fatigued by their weekly conflict with the people,
fastened the shutters. At intervals trams and buses, choked with
passengers from the city, laboured heavily past. Groups of men still
loitered on the footpaths, careless of the late hour, for to-morrow
was Sunday, the day of idleness, when they could lie a-bed and read
the paper. And they gossiped tranquilly, no longer harassed by the
thought of the relentless toil, the inexorable need for bread, that
dragged them from their warm beds while the rest of the world lay
The Angel, standing at the corner, dazzled the eye with the glare
from its powerful lamps, their rays reflected in immense mirrors
fastened to the walls, advertising in frosted letters the popular
brands of whisky. And it stood alone in the darkening street, piercing
the night with an unwinking stare like an evil spirit, offering its
warm, comfortable bars to the passer-by, drawing men into its deadly
embrace like a courtesan, to reject them afterwards babbling, reeling,
staggering, to rouse the street with quarrels, or to snore in the
gutters like swine.
Cassidy the policeman, with the slow, leaden step of a man who is
going nowhere, stopped for a moment in front of the hotel, and
examined the street with a suspicious eye. He saw nothing but some
groups of young men leaning against the veranda-posts at the opposite
corner. They smoked and spat, tranquilly discussing the horses and
betting for the next Cup meeting. Satisfied that the Road was quiet,
he moved off, dragging his feet as if they weighed a ton. At once a
sinister excitement passed through the groups.
"That was Cassidy, now we shan't be long."
"Wot price Jonah givin' us the slip?"
"'Ow'll Chook perform, if 'e ain't at Ada's?"
It was the Push, who had run their man to earth at the Angel, where
he was drinking in the bar, alone. Chook had posted them with the
instinct of a general, and then left in hurried search of Jonah. And
they watched the swinging doors of the hotel with cruel eyes, their
nerves already vibrating with the ancestral desire to kill, the wild
beast within them licking his lips at the thought of the coming feast.
Meanwhile, in Cardigan Street, Chook was arguing with Jonah. When
told that the Push was waiting for him, he had listened without
interest; the matter seemed foreign and remote. The velvety touch of
his son's frail body still thrilled his nerves; its sweet, delicate
odour was still in his nostrils. And he flatly refused to go. Chook
was beside himself with excitement; tears stood in his eyes.
"W'y, y'ain't goin' ter turn dawg on me, Jonah, are yer?"
"No bleedin' fear," said Jonah; "but I feel--I dunno 'ow I feel.
The blasted kid knocked me endways," he explained, in confusion.
As he looked down the street, he caught sight of Mrs Yabsley on the
other side. She walked slowly on account of the hill, gasping for
air, the weekly load of meat and groceries clutched in her powerful
arms. His eyes softened with tenderness. He felt a sudden kinship
for this huge, ungainly woman. He wanted to run and meet her, and
claim the sweet, straight-limbed child that he had just discovered.
Chook, standing at his elbow, like the devil in the old prints, was
watching him curiously.
"Well, I'm off," cried Chook at last. "Wot'll I tell the blokes?"
Jonah was silent for a moment, with a sombre look in his eyes.
Then he pulled himself together.
"Let 'er go," he cried grimly; "the kid can wait."
On the stroke of eleven, as they reached the "Angel", the huge
lamps were extinguished, the doors swung open and vomited a stream of
men on to the footpath, their loud voices bringing the noise and heat
of the bar into the quiet street. They dispersed slowly, talking
immoderately, parting with the regret of lovers from the warm bar with
its cheerful light and pleasant clink of glasses. The doors were
closed, but the bar was still noisy, and the laggards slipped out
cautiously by the side door, where a barman kept watch for the police.
Presently the bricklayer came out, alone. He stood on the footpath,
slightly fuddled, his giddiness increased by the fresh air.
Immediately Chook lurched forward to meet him, with a drunken leer.
"'Ello, Bill, fancy meetin' yous!" he mumbled.
The man, swaying slightly, stared at him in a fog.
"I dunno you," he muttered.
"Wot, yer dunno me, as worked wid yer on that job in Kent Street?
Dunno Joe Parsons, as danced wid yer missis at the bricklayers'
The man stopped to think, trying to remember, but his brain refused
"Orl right," he muttered; "come an' 'ave a drink." And he turned to
"No fear," cried Chook, taking him affectionately by the arm, "no
more fer me! I'm full up ter the chin, an' so are yous."
"Might's well 'ave another," said the man, obstinately.
Chook pulled him gently away from the hotel, along the street.
"It's gittin' late; 'ow'll yer ole woman rous w'en yer git 'ome?"
"Sez anythin' ter me, break 'er bleedin' jaw," muttered the
bricklayer. And then his eyes flamed with foolish, drunken anger. "I
earn the money, don' I, an' I spend it, don' I?" he inquired. And he
refused to move till Chook answered his question.
The Push closed quietly in.
"'Oo are these blokes?" he asked uneasily.
"Pals o' mine, all good men an' true," said Chook, gaily.
They were near Eveleigh Station, and the street was clear. The red
signal-lights, like angry, bloodshot eyes, followed the curve of the
line as it swept into the terminus. An engine screamed hoarsely as
it swept past with a rattle of jolting metal and the hum of swiftly
revolving wheels. The time was come to strike, but the Push
hesitated. The show of resistance, the spark to kindle their brutal
fury, was wanting.
"Is this a prayer meetin'?" inquired Waxy Collins, with a sneer.
"Biff him on the boko, an' we'll finish 'im in one act."
"Shut yer face," said Jonah, and he stepped up to the bricklayer.
"Ever 'ear tell of a copper boiler?" he inquired pleasantly.
"Ever meet a bleedin' bastard as put the cops on a bloke, an' got
'im three months' 'ard?" he inquired again.
The bricklayer stared at him open-mouthed, surprised and alarmed by
the appearance of this misshapen devil with the glittering eyes. Then
a sudden suspicion ran through the fuddled brain.
"I niver lagged 'im; s'elp me Gawd, I niver put nobody away to the
cops!" he cried.
"Yer rotten liar, take that!" cried Jonah, and struck him full on
the mouth with his fist. The man clapped his hand to his cut lip, and
looked at the blood in amazement. The shock cleared his brain, and he
remembered with terror the tales of deadly revenge taken by the
pushes. He looked wildly for help. He was in a ring of mocking,
"Let 'im out," cried Jonah, in a sharp, strident voice. "The swine
lives about 'ere; give 'im a run for 'is money."
The Push opened out, and the man, sobered by his danger, stood for
a moment with bewildered eyes. Then, with the instinct of the hunted,
he turned for home and ran. The Push gave chase, with Chook in the
lead. Again and again the quarry turned, blindly seeking refuge in the
As his pursuers gained on him he gave a hoarse scream--the dolorous
cry of a hunted animal.
But it was the cat playing with the mouse. The bricklayer ran like
a cow, his joints stiffened by years of toil; the larrikins, light on
their feet as hares, kept the pace with a nimble trot, silent and
dangerous, conscious of nothing but the desire and power to kill.
As he turned into Abercrombie Street, Chook ran level with him,
then stooped swiftly and caught his ankle. The bricklayer went
sprawling, and in an instant the Push closed in on the fallen man as
footballers form a scrum, kicking the struggling body with silent
ferocity, drunk with the primeval instinct to destroy.
"Nit!" cried Jonah; and the Push scattered, disappearing by magic
over fences and down lanes.
The bricklayer had ceased to struggle, and lay in a heap. Five
minutes later some stragglers, noticing the huddled mass on the road,
crossed the street cautiously and stared. Then a crowd gathered, each
asking the other what had happened, each amazed at the other's
The excitement seemed to penetrate the houses opposite. Heads were
thrust out of windows, doors were opened, and a stream of men and
women, wearing whatever they could find in the dark, shuffled across
Some still fumbled at their braces; others, draped like Greek
statues, held their garments on with both hands. A coarse jest
passed round when a tall, bony woman came up, a man's overcoat, thrown
over her shoulders, barely covering her nightdress. They stood
shivering in the cold air, greedy to hear what sensation had come to
their very doors.
"It's only a drunken man."
"They say 'e was knocked down in a fight."
"No; the Push stoushed 'im, an' then cleared."
Someone struck a match and looked at his face; it was smeared with
blood. Then the crowd rendered "first aid" in the street fashion.
"Wot's yer name? W'ere d'yer live? 'Ow did it 'appen?"
And at each question they shook him vigorously, impatient at his
silence. The buzz of voices increased.
"W'ere's the perlice?"
"Not w'ere they're wanted, you may be sure."
"It's my belief they go 'ome an' sleep it out these cold nights."
"Well, I s'pose a p'liceman 'as ter take care of 'imself, like
everybody else," said one, and laughed.
"It's shameful the way these brutes are allowed to knock men
"An' the perlice know very well 'oo they are, but they're afraid of
their own skins."
The woman in the nightdress had edged nearer, craning her neck over
the shoulders of the men to see better. As another match was struck
she saw the man's face.
"My Gawd, it's my 'usband!" she screamed. "Bill, Bill, wot 'ave
they done ter yer?"
Her old affection, starved to death by years of neglect, sprang to
life for an instant in this cry of agony. She dropped on her knees
beside the bruised body, wiping the blood from his face with the
sleeve of her nightdress. A dark red stain spread over the coarse,
common calico. And she kissed passionately the bleeding lips, heedless
of the sour smell of alcohol that tainted his breath. The bricklayer
groaned feebly. With a sudden movement she stripped the coat from her
shoulders, and covered him as if to protect him from further harm.
Her hair, fastened in an untidy knot, slipped from the hairpins,
and fell, grey and scanty, over her neck; her bony shoulders, barely
covered by the thin garment, moved convulsively.
"'Ere, missis, take this, or you'll ketch cold," said a man kindly,
pulling off his coat.
Then, with the quick sympathy of the people, they began to make
light of the matter, trying to persuade her that his injuries were not
serious. A friendly rivalry sprang up among them as they related
stories of wonderful recoveries made by men whose bodies had been
beaten to a jelly. One, carried away by enthusiasm, declared that it
did a man good to be shattered like glass, for the doctors, with
satanic cunning seized the opportunity to knead the broken limbs like
putty into a more desirable shape. But their words fell on deaf ears.
The woman crouched over the prostrate man, stroking the bruised limbs
with a stupid, mechanical movement as an animal licks its wounded
The crowd divided as a policeman came up with an important air.
Brisk and cheerful, he made a few inquiries, enchanted with this
incident that broke the monotony of the night's dreary round. The
crowd breathed freely, feeling that the responsibility had shifted on
to the official shoulders. He blew shrilly on his whistle, and
demanded a cab.
"Cab this time o' night? No chance," was the common opinion.
But by great good luck a cab was heard rattling along the next
street. Two men ran to intercept it.
The woman clung desperately to the crippled body as they lifted it
into the cab, impeding the men in their efforts, imploring them to
carry him to his own house, with the distrust of the ignorant for the
hospitals, where the doctors amuse themselves by cutting and carving
the bodies of their helpless patients. The policeman, a young man,
embarrassed by the sight of this half-dressed woman, swore softly to
"'Ere, missis, you'd better get 'ome, you can't do any good 'ere,"
he said, kindly. "Don't you worry; I've seen worse cases than this go
'ome to breakfast the next day."
As the cab drove off, some neighbours led her away, her thin,
angular body shaken with sobs.
The street was quiet again, but some groups still lingered,
discussing with relish the details of the outrage, searching their
memories for stories of brutal stoushings that had ended in the death
of the victim.
CHAPTER 6. THE BABY DISCOVERS JONAH
An hour later Jonah and Chook, picking the most roundabout way,
reached home. The family was in bed, and the house in darkness. The
two mates dropped silently over the fence, and, with the stealthy
movements of cats, clambered through the window of the room which they
shared, for Jonah believed that secrets were kept best by those who
had none to tell.
"Gawd, I'm dry," said Chook, yawning. "I could do a beer."
"That comes of runnin' along the street so 'ard," said Jonah,
grinning. "It must 'ave bin a fire by the way I see yer run. W'y was
yer runnin' so 'ard?" Then his face darkened. "I wonder 'ow the poor
bloke feels, that fell down an' 'urt 'imself?"
"D'ye think 'e knows enough ter give us away?" asked Chook,
"No fear," said Jonah. "I make the Ivy Street Push a present of
that little lot."
"Well, I s'pose a sleep's the next best thing," replied Chook, and
in a minute was snoring.
Jonah finished undressing slowly. As he unlaced his boots, he
noticed a dark patch on one toe. It looked as if he had kicked
something wet. He examined the stain without repugnance, and thought
of the bricklayer.
"Serve the cow right," he thought. "'Ope it stiffens 'im!"
Again he examined the patch of blood attentively, wondering if it
would leave a mark on his tan boots, of which he was very proud.
Dipping a piece of rag in water, he washed it off carefully. And, as
he rubbed, the whole scenes passed through his brain in rapid
succession--the Angel, bright and alluring with the sinister gleam of
its powerful lamps, the swaying man in the midst of the Push, the
wild-beast chase, and the fallen body that ceased to struggle as they
He lit a cigarette and stared at the candle, smiling with the pride
of a good workman at the thought of his plan that had worked so
neatly. The Push was secure, and the blame would fall on the Ivy
Street gang, the terror of Darlington. For a moment he regretted the
active part he had taken in the stoushing, as his hunchback made him
conspicuous. He wondered carelessly what had happened after the Push
bolted. These affairs were so uncertain. Sometimes the victim could
limp home, mottled with bruises; just as often he was taken to the
hospital in a cab, and a magistrate was called in to take down his
dying words. In this case the chances were in favour of the victim
recovering, as the Push had been interrupted in dealing it out through
Jonah's excessive caution. Still, they had no intention of killing
the man; they merely wished to teach him a lesson.
True, the lesson sometimes went too far; and he thought with
anxiety of the Surry Hills affair, in which, through an accident, a
neighbouring push had disappeared like rats into a hole, branded with
murder. The ugly word hung on his tongue and paralysed his thoughts.
His mind recoiled with terror as he saw where his lawless ways had
carried him, feeling already branded with the mark of Cain, which the
instinct of the people has singled out as the unpardonable crime,
destroying the life that cannot be renewed. And suddenly he began to
persuade himself that the man's injuries were not serious, that he
would soon recover; for it was wonderful the knocking about a man
He turned on himself with amazement. Why was he twittering like an
old woman? Quarrels, fights, and bloodshed were as familiar to him as
his daily bread. With a sudden cry of astonishment he remembered the
baby. The affair of the bricklayer had driven it completely out of his
mind. His thoughts returned to Cardigan Street. He remembered the
quiet room dimly lit with a candle, the dolorous cry of the infant,
and the intoxicating touch of its frail body in his arms.
His amazement increased. What had possessed him to take the brat
in his arms and nurse it? His lips contracted in a cynical grin as he
remembered the figure he cut when Chook appeared. He decided to look
on the affair as a joke. But again his thoughts returned to the
child, and he was surprised with a vibration of tenderness sweet as
honey in his veins. A strange yearning came over him like a physical
weakness for the touch of his son's body.
His eye caught his shadow on the wall, grotesque and forbidding;
the large head, bunched beneath the square shoulders, thrust outwards
in a hideous lump. Monster and outcast was he? Well, he would show
them that only an accident separated the hunchback from his fellows.
He thought with a fierce joy of his son's straight back and shapely
limbs. This was his child, that he could claim and exhibit to the
world. Then his delight changed to a vague terror--the fear of an
animal that dreads a trap, and finds itself caught. He blew out the
candle and fell asleep, to dream of enemies that fled and mocked at
him, embarrassed with an infant that hung like a millstone round his
Within a month the affair of the bricklayer had blown over. The
police made inquiries, and arrested some of the Ivy Street Push, but
released them for want of evidence. In the hospital the bricklayer
professed a complete ignorance of his assailants and their motive. It
was understood that he was too drunk to recognize anyone.
But it was his knowledge of Push methods that sealed his tongue.
No one would risk his skin by giving evidence. If the police had
brought the offenders to book, the magistrates, who seemed to regard
these outrages as the playful excesses of wanton blood, would have let
them off with a light punishment, and the streets would never have
been safe for him again. So he held his tongue, thankful to have
escaped so easily.
But burnt on his brain was the vision of a misshapen devil who
struck at him, with snarling lips, and a desperate flight through
avenues of silent, impassive streets that heard with indifference his
cry for help. In six weeks he was back at work, with no mark of his
misadventure but a broken nose, caused by a clumsy boot.
So the Push took to the streets again, and Jonah resumed his visits
to Cardigan Street on Saturday nights. He had concealed his adventure
with the baby from Ada and her mother, feeling ashamed, as if he had
discovered an unmanly taste for mud pies and dolls. But the imperious
instinct was aroused, and he gratified it in secret, caressing the
child by stealth as a miser runs to his hoard. In the women's
presence he ignored its existence, but he soon discovered that Ada
shared none of his novel sensations. And he grew indignant at her
indifference, feeling that his child was neglected.
Mrs Yabsley, for ever on the alert, felt some change in his manner,
and one Sunday morning received a shock. She was chopping wood in the
yard. She swung the axe with a grunt, and the billet, split in two,
left the axe wedged in the block. As she was wrenching it out, Jonah
dropped his cigarette and cried:
"'Ere, missis, gimme that axe; I niver like ter see a woman chop
She looked at him in amazement. Times without number he had
watched her grunt and sweat without stirring a finger. Bitten with
her one idea, she watched him curiously.
It was the baby that betrayed him at last. Ada was carrying it
past him in furtive haste, when it caught sight of his familiar
features. Jonah, off his guard, smiled. The child laughed joyously,
and leaned out of Ada's arms towards him.
"W'y, wot's the matter, Joe?" cried Mrs Yabsley, all eyes.
Jonah hesitated. Denial was on his tongue, but he looked again at
his child, and a lump rose in his throat.
"Oh, nuthin', missis," he replied, reddening. "Me an' the kid took
a fancy ter one another long ago."
He smiled blandly, in exquisite relief, as if he had confessed a
sin or had a tooth drawn. He took the child from Ada, and it lay in
his arms, nestling close with animal content.
Ada looked in silence, astonished and slightly scornful at this
development, jealous of the child's preference, already regretting
Mrs Yabsley stood petrified with the face of one who has seen a
miracle. For a moment she was too amazed to think; then, with a rapid
change of front, she conquered her surprise and claimed the credit for
"I knowed all along the kid 'ud fetch yer, Joe. I knowed yer'd got
a soft 'eart," she cried. "An' 'e's the very image of yer, wi' the
sweetest temper mortal child ever 'ad."
From that time Sunday became a marked day for Jonah, and he looked
forward to it with impatience. It was spring. The temperate rays of
the sun fell on budding tree and shrub; the mysterious renewal of life
that stirred inanimate nature seemed to touch his pulse to a quicker
and lighter beat. He sat for hours in the backyard, once a garden,
screened from observation, with the child on his knees. The blood ran
pleasantly in his veins; he felt in sympathy with the sunlight, the
sky flecked with clouds, and the warm breath of the winds. It broke
on him slowly that he was taking his place among his fellows, outcast
and outlaw no longer.
Soon, he and the child were inseparable. He learned to attend to
its little wants with deft fingers, listening with a smile to the
kindly banter of the women. His manner changed to Ada and her mother;
he was considerate, even kind. Then he began to drop in on Monday or
Tuesday instead of loafing with the Push at the corner. Ada was at
the factory; but Mrs Yabsley, sorting piles of dirty linen, with her
arms bared to the elbow, welcomed him with a smile. He remarked with
satisfaction that a change had come over the old woman. She never
spoke of marriage; seemed to have given up the idea.
But one day, as he sat with the child on his knees, she stopped in
front of the pair, with a bundle of shirts in her arms, and regarded
them with a puzzling smile. The baby lay on its back, staring into
space with solemn, unreflective eyes. From time to time Jonah turned
his head to blow the smoke of his cigarette into the air.
"You'll be gittin' too fond of 'im, if y'ain't careful, Joe," she
said at last.
"Git work; wot's troublin' yer?" said Jonah, with a grin.
"Nuthin'; only I was thinkin' wot a fine child 'e'd be in a few
years. It's a pity 'e ain't got no real father."
"Wot d'yer mean?" said Jonah, looking up angrily. "W'ere do I come
in? Ain't I the bloke?"
"Well, y'are an' y'ain't, yer know," said Mrs Yabsley. "There's
two ways of lookin' at these things."
"'Strewth! I niver thought o' that," said Jonah, scratching his
"No, but other people do, worse luck," said Mrs Yabsley.
Jonah stared at the child in silence. Mrs Yabsley turned and poked
the fire under the copper boiler. Suddenly Jonah lifted his head and
"I say, missis, I can see a hole in a ladder plain enough! Yer
mean I've got ter marry Ada?"
The old woman left the fire and stood in front of him.
"Not a bit, Joe. I've give up that idea. Marriage wouldn't suit
yous. Your dart is ter be King of the Push, an' knock about the
streets with a lot of mudlarks as can't look a p'liceman straight in
the face. You an' yer pals are seein' life now all right; but wait
till yer bones begin ter stiffen, an' yer can't run faster than the
cop. Then it'll be jail or worse, an' yous might 'ave bin a good
workman, with a wife an' family, only yer knowed better--"
"'Ere, steady on the brake, missis," interrupted Jonah, with a
"No, Joe, I don't mind sayin' that I 'ad some idea of marryin' yous
an' Ada, but ye're not the man I took yer for an' I give it up. I
don't believe in a man marryin' because 'e wants a woman ter cook 'is
meals. My idea is a man wants ter git married because 'e's found out a
lot o' surprisin' things in the world 'e niver dreamt of before. An'
it's only when 'e's found somethin' ter live for, an' work for, that
'e's wot yer rightly call a man. That's w'y I don't worry about you,
Joe. I can see your time ain't come."
"Don't be too bleedin' sure," cried Jonah, angrily.
"Of course I'm only a fat old woman as likes 'er joke an' a glass
o' beer. I'd be a fool ter lay down the law to a bloke as sharp as
yous, that thinks 'e can see everything. But I wasn't always so fat I
'ad ter squeeze through the door, an' I tell yer the best things in
life are them yer can't see at all, an' that's the feelin's. So take
a fool's advice, an' don't think of marryin' till yer feel there's
somethin' wrong wi' yer inside, fer that's w'ere it ketches yer."
"'Ere, 'old 'ard! Can't a bloke git a word in edgeways?"
Mrs Yabsley stopped, with an odd smile on her face.
Jonah stared at her with a perplexed frown, and then the words came
in a rush.
"Look 'ere, missis, I wasn't goin' ter let on, but since yer on fer
a straight talk, I tell yer there's more in me than yer think, an' if
it's up ter me ter git married, I can do it without gittin' roused on
"Keep yer 'air on, Joe," said Mrs Yabsley, smiling. "I didn't mean
ter nark yer, but yer know wot I say is true. An' don't say I ever
put it inter yer 'ead ter git married. You've studied the matter, an'
yer know it means 'ard graft an' plenty of worry. There's nuthin' in
it, Joe, as yer said, an' besides, the Push is waitin' for yer.
"Of course, there's no 'arm in yer comin' 'ere ter see the kid, but
I 'ope yer won't stand in Ada's way w'en she gits a chance. There's
Tom Mullins, that was after Ada before she ever took up wi' yous.
Only last week 'e told Mrs Jones 'e'd take Ada, kid an' all, if he
got the chance. I know yous don't want a wife, but yer shouldn't
'inder others as do."
"Yer talkin' through yer neck," cried Jonah, losing his temper.
"Suppose I tell yer that the kid's done the trick, an' I want ter
git married, an' bring 'im up respectable?"
The old woman was silent, but a wonderful smile lit up her face.
"Yer've got a lot ter say about the feelin's. Suppose I tell yer
there's somethin' in me trembles w'en I touch this kid? I felt like a
damned fool at first, but I'm gittin' used to it."
"That's yer own flesh an' blood a-callin' yer, Joe," cried Mrs
Yabsley, in ecstasy--"the sweetest cry on Gawd's earth, for it goes to
yer very marrer."
"That's true," said Jonah, sadly; "an' 'e's the only relation I've
got in the wide world, as far as I know. More than that, 'e's the
only livin' creature that looks at me without seein' my hump."
It was the first time in Mrs Yabsley's memory that Jonah had
mentioned his deformity. A tremor in his voice made her look at him
sharply. Tears stood in his eyes. With a sudden impulse she stopped
and patted his head.
"That's all right, Joe," she said, gently. "I was only pullin' yer
leg. I wanted yer to do the straight thing by Ada, but I wasn't sure
yer'd got a 'eart, till the kid found it. But wot will the Push say
"The Push be damned!" cried Jonah.
"Amen ter that," said Mrs Yabsley. "Gimme yer fist."
Jonah stayed to tea that night, contrary to his usual habit, for
Mrs Yabsley was anxious to have the matter settled.
"Wot's wrong wi' you an' me gittin' married, Ada?" he said. Ada
nearly dropped her cup.
"Garn, ye're only kiddin'!" she cried with an uneasy grin.
"Fair dinkum!" said Jonah.
"Right-oh," said Ada, as calmly as if she were accepting an
invitation to a dance.
But she thought with satisfaction that this was the beginning of a
perpetual holiday. For she was incorrigibly lazy and hated work,
going through the round of mechanical toil in a slovenly fashion,
indifferent to the shower of complaints, threats and abuse that fell
about her ears.
"Where was yer thinkin' of gittin' married, Joe?" inquired Mrs
Yabsley after tea.
"I dunno," replied Jonah, suddenly remembering that he knew no more
of weddings than a crow.
"At the Registry Office, of course," said Ada. "Yer walk in an'
yer walk out, an' it's all over."
"That's the idea," said Jonah, greatly relieved. He understood
vaguely that weddings were expensive affairs, and he had thirty
shillings in his pocket.
"Don't tell me that people are married that goes ter the Registry
Office!" cried Mrs Yabsley. "They only git a licence to 'ave a
family. I know all about them. Yer sign a piece of paper, an' then
the bloke tells yer ye're married. 'Ow does 'e know ye're married?
'E ain't a parson. I was married in a church, an' my marriage is as
good now as ever it was. Just yous leave it to me, an' I'll fix yez
Ever since Ada was a child, Mrs Yabsley had speculated on her
marriage, when all the street would turn out to the wedding. And now,
after years of planning and waiting, she was to be married on the
quiet, for there was nothing to boast about.
"Well, it's no use cryin' over skimmed milk," she reflected,
adapting the proverb to her needs.
But she clung with obstinacy to a marriage in a church, convinced
that none other was genuine. And casting about in her mind for a
parson who would marry them without fuss or expense, she remembered
Trinity Church, and the thing was done.
Canon Vaughan, the new rector of Trinity Church, had brought some
strange ideas from London, where he had worked in the slums. He had
founded a workman's club, and smoked his pipe with the members; formed
a brigade of newsboys and riff-raff, and taught them elementary
morality with the aid of boxing-gloves; and offended his congregation
by treating the poor with the same consideration as themselves. And
then, astonished by the number of mothers who were not wives, that he
discovered on his rounds, he had announced that he would open the
church on the first Saturday night in every month to marry any couples
without needless questions. They could pay, if they chose, but
nothing was expected.
Jonah and Ada jumped at the idea, but Mrs Yabsley thought with
sorrow of her cherished dream--Ada married on a fine day of sunshine,
Cardigan Street in an uproar, a feast where all could cut and come
again, the clink of glasses, and a chorus that shook the windows.
Well, such things were not to be, and she shut her mouth grimly. But
she determined in secret to get in a dozen of beer, and invite a few
friends after the ceremony to drink the health of the newly married,
and keep the secret till they got home. And as she was rather
suspicious of a wedding that cost nothing, she decided to give the
parson a dollar to seal the bargain and make the contract more
CHAPTER 7. A QUIET WEDDING
The following Saturday Mrs Yabsley astonished her customers by
delivering the shirts and collars in the afternoon. There were cries
"No, I'm quite sober," she explained; "but I'm changin' the 'abits
of a lifetime just to show it can be done."
Then she hurried home to clean up the house. After much thought,
she had decided to hold the reception after the wedding in the front
room, as it was the largest. She spent an hour carrying the irons,
boards, and other implements of the laundry into the back rooms. A
neighbour, who poked her head in, asked if she were moving. But when
she had finished the cleaning, she surveyed the result with surprise.
The room was scrubbed as bare as a shaven chin. So she took some
coloured almanacs from the bedroom and kitchen, and tacked them on the
walls, studying the effect with the gravity of a decorative artist.
The crude blotches of colour pleased her eye, and she considered the
result with pride. "Wonderful 'ow a few pitchers liven a place up,"
She 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
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 church.
The square tower of Trinity Church threw its massive outline
against the faint glow of the city lights, keeping watch and ward over
the church, that had grown grey in the service of God, like a fortress
of the Lord planted on hostile ground. And they stood together, the
grim tower and the grey church, for a symbol of immemorial things--a
stronghold and a refuge.
The wedding party walked into the churchyard on tiptoe as if they
were trespassers. Then, unable to find the door in the dark, they
walked softly round the building, trying to see what was going on
inside through the stained-glass windows. Their suspicious movements
attracted the attention of the verger, and he followed them with
stealthy movements, convinced that they meditated a burglary. When he
learned their errand, he took charge of the party. They entered the
church like foreigners in a remote land. Another wedding was in
progress, so they sat down in the narrow, uncomfortable pews, waiting
their 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 nearly quarrelled.
When their turn came, the Canon advanced to meet them, setting them
at their ease with a few kindly words, less a priest than a courteous
host welcoming his guests. He seemed not to notice Jonah's deformity.
But, as he read the service, he was the priest again, solemn and
austere, standing at the gates of Life and Death. He followed the
ritual with scrupulous detail, scorning to give short measure to the
poor. In the vestry they signed their names with tremendous effort,
holding the pen as if it were a prop. Mrs Yabsley, being no scholar,
made a mark. The Canon left them with an apology, as another party
"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
"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
"Right y'are," cried Jonah. "Let 'em all come. I can't be 'ung
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
"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
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 familiar cry,
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot, all 'ot!"
And he drove a brisk trade among the uninvited guests, who paid for
their own. Inside, they drank the health of the married couple; but
the dozen of beer barely wet their throats. Jonah and Chook went to
the "Woolpack" with jugs, and the company settled down to the spree.
At intervals the men offered to shout for a few friends, and,
borrowing a dead marine from the heap of empty bottles, shuffled off
to the hotel to get it filled. The noise grew to an uproar--a babel of
tongues, sudden explosions of laughter, and the shuffling of feet.
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
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
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 a cabbage.
"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 voices:
Good old Mother has come again to prophesy Things that will surely
occur as the days go rolling by, So listen to me if you wish to know,
For I'll let you into the know, you know, And tell you some wonders
before I go To home, sweet home.
Mrs Yabsley, delighted by the compliment, stood on her veranda,
smiling and radiant, like Royalty receiving homage from its subjects.
This set the ball rolling. Song followed song, the pick of the
music-halls. Jonah gave a selection on the mouth-organ. Then Barney,
who was growing hoarse, winked maliciously at Jonah and Ada, and
struck into his masterpiece, "Trinity Church". It was the success of
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
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
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."
CHAPTER 8. 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
"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
"Well, a quid's no good to a man wi' a wife an' family," replied
the old woman. "Wot do yer reckon on doin'?"
She knew that her judgment of Jonah was being put to the test, and
she remarked his gloomy face with satisfaction.
"I'm goin' ter chuck Dutchy, if I can git a job," said Jonah. "I
went round ter Bob Watkins, but 'e's in the 'orspital, an' 'is wife's
sellin' 'is tools."
"Wot does she want for 'em?" asked Mrs Yabsley, with a curious
"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
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
"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 marvellous.
But Mrs Yabsley was studying some strange hieroglyphics like
Chinese, pencilled on the cupboard. She knitted her brows in the
agony of calculation.
"I can lay me 'ands on thirty pounds in solid cash," she announced.
She spoke as if it were a million. Jonah cried out in amazement; Ada
"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
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 without anger.
CHAPTER 9. PADDY'S MARKET
Chook was standing near the entrance to the market where his mates
had promised to meet him, but he found that he had still half an hour
to spare, as he had come down early to mark a pak-ah-pu ticket at the
Chinaman's in Hay Street. So he lit a cigarette and sauntered idly
through the markets to kill time.
The three long, dingy arcades were flooded with the glare from
clusters of naked gas-jets, and the people, wedged in a dense mass,
moved slowly like water in motion between the banks of stalls. From
the stone flags underneath rose a sustained, continuous noise--the
leisurely tread and shuffle of a multitude blending with the deep hum
of many voices, and over it all, like the upper notes in a symphony,
the shrill, discordant cries of the dealers.
Overhead, the light spent its brightness in a gloomy vault, like
the roof of a vast cathedral fallen into decay, its ancient timbers
blackened with the smoke and grime of half a century. On Saturdays
the great market, silent and deserted for six nights in the week, was
a debauch of sound and colour and smell. Strange, pungent odours
assailed the nostrils; the ear was surprised with the sharp, broken
cries of dealers, the cackle of poultry, and the murmur of innumerable
voices; the stalls, splashed with colour, astonished the eye like a
picture, immensely powerful, immensely crude.
The long rows of stalls were packed with the drift and refuse of a
great City. For here the smug respectability of the shops were cast
aside, and you were deep in the romance of traffic in merchandise
fallen from its high estate--a huge welter and jumble of things
arrested in their ignoble descent from the shops to the gutter.
At times a stall was loaded with the spoils of a sunken ship or the
loot from a city fire, and you could buy for a song the rare fabrics
and costly dainties of the rich, a stain on the cloth, a discoloured
label on the tin, alone giving a hint of their adventures. Then the
people hovered round like wreckers on a hostile shore, carrying off
spoil and treasure at a fraction of its value, exulting over their
booty like soldiers after pillage.
There was no caprice of the belly that could not be gratified, no
want of the naked body that could not be supplied in this huge bazaar
of the poor, but its cost had to be counted in pence, for those who
bought in the cheapest market came here.
A crowd of women and children clustered like flies round the lolly
stall brought Chook to a standstill; the trays heaped with sweets
coloured like the rainbow, pleased his eye, and, remembering Ada's
childish taste for lollies, he thought suddenly of her friend, Pinkey
the red-haired, and smiled.
Near at hand stood a collection of ferns and pot-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
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
The curious pink flush spread over the girl's face, and then she
found her tongue.
"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
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 was fired.
"A dollar even money yer can't ring the bell in six shots," cried
"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 strings.
"I can pay fer wot I eat," he cried. "Come on, Liz."
The others had sprung to their feet, astonished at this prodigal
waste of a delicacy fit for kings. Chook stood for a moment,
glowering with rage, and then ran at his enemy; but Pinkey jumped
"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 quarrel.
"Wot would yous do if a bloke tried to sneak yer moll?" he inquired
in an injured tone.
"Break 'is bleedin' neck," said Chook as he stepped up.
"When I want yer advice, I'll ask fer it," cried Stinky.
"Yer'll git it now without askin'," said Chook. "Don't open yer
mouth so wide, or yer'll ketch cold."
"I don't want ter talk ter anybody as 'awks rotten cabbages through
the streets," cried Stinky.
"The cabbages don't stink worse than some people I've met," Chook
Stinky, who was very touchy on the score of the vile smell of his
trade, boiled over.
"Never mind my trade," he shouted, "I'm as good a man as yous."
"Garn, that's only a rumour! I wouldn't let it git about," sneered
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
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 murderous fists.
"'Ere's the johns," cried someone.
"Come on, Liz," cried Stinky, and turned to run.
"Cum with yous, yer great 'ulkin', stinkin' coward," cried Pinkey,
her face crimson with passion, "yer'll be lucky if y'ain't hung fer
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
"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
"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
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
"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.
CHAPTER 10. JONAH DECLARES WAR
As it promised to be a slack week, Paasch had decided to dress the
window himself, as he felt that the goods were not displayed to their
proper advantage. This was a perquisite of Jonah's, for which he was
paid eighteenpence extra once a fortnight; but Jonah had deserted
him--a fact which he discovered by finding that Jonah's tools, his
only property, were missing.
So he had spent a busy morning in renovating his entire stock with
double coats of Peerless Gloss, the stock that the whole neighbourhood
knew by sight--the watertight bluchers with soles an inch thick that a
woolwasher from Botany had ordered and left on his hands; the pair of
kangaroo tops that Pat Riley had ordered the week he was pinched for
manslaughter; the pair of flash kid lace-ups, high in the leg, that
Katey Brown had thrown at his head because they wouldn't meet round
her thick calves; and half a dozen pairs of misfits into which half
the neighbourhood had tried to coax their feet because they were dirt
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:
JOSEPH JONES, BOOTMAKER. Repairs neatly executed.
And, underneath, the pattern of a shoe, which the painter was
finishing with rapid strokes.
So, thought Paasch, another had come to share the trade and take
the bread out of his mouth, and he choked with the egotistical dread
of the shopkeeper at another rival in the struggle for existence. Who
could this be? he thought, with the uneasy fear of a man threatened
with danger. For the moment he had forgotten Jonah's real name, and he
looked into the shop to size up his adversary with the angry curiosity
of a soldier facing the enemy. Then, through the open door, he spied
the familiar figure of the hunchback moving about the shop and placing
things in order. He swallowed hastily, with the choking sensation of
a parent whose child has at last revolted, for his rival was the
misshapen boy that he had taken off the streets, and clothed and fed
for years. Jonah came to the door for a moment, and, catching sight
of the old man, stared at him fixedly without a sign of recognition.
And suddenly, with a contraction at his heart, a fear and dread of
Jonah swept through Paasch, the vague, primeval distrust and suspicion
of the deformed that lurks in the normal man, a survival of the
ancient hostility that in olden times consigned them to the stake as
servants of the Evil One.
He forgot where he was till the warning snort of a steam tram made
him jump aside and miss the wheels of a bus from the opposite
direction by the skin of his teeth.
And the whole street smiled at the sight of the bewildered old man,
with his silvery hair and leather apron, standing in the middle of the
Road to stare at a dingy shop opposite.
Paasch crossed the street and entered his door again with the air
of a man who has been to a funeral. He had never made any friends,
but, in his gruff, reserved way, he liked Jonah. He had taught him
his trade, and here, with a sudden sinking in his heart, he remembered
that the pupil had easily surpassed the master in dexterity. Then
another fear assailed him. How would he get through his work? for
most of it had passed through Jonah's nimble fingers. Ah well, it was
no matter! He was a lonely old man with nothing but his fiddle to
bring back the memories of the Fatherland.
The week ran to an end, and found Jonah out of pocket. He had
planted himself like a footpad at the door of his old master to rob
him of his trade and living; and day by day he counted the customers
passing in and out of the old shop, but none came his way. As he
stared across the street at his rival's shop, his face changed; it was
like a hawk's, threatening and predatory, indifferent to the agony of
the downy breast and fluttering wings that it is about to strike.
It maddened him to see the stream of people pass his shop with
indifference, as if it were none of their business whether he lived or
starved. The memory of his boyish days returned to him, when every
man's hand was against him, and he took food and shelter with the
craft of an old soldier in hostile country. Even the shop which he
had furnished and laid out with such loving care, seemed a cunning
trap to devour his precious sovereigns week by week.
True, he had drawn some custom, but it was of the worst sort--that
of the unprincipled rogues who fatten upon tradesmen till the back of
their credit is broken, and then transfer their sinister custom to
another. Jonah recognized them with a grim smile, but he had taken
their work, glad of something to do, although he would never see the
colour of their money.
Meanwhile the weeks ran into a month, and Jonah had not paid
expenses. He could hold out for three months according to his
calculation, but he saw the end rapidly approaching, when he must
retire covered with ignominious defeat. He would have thrown up the
sponge there and then, but for the thought of the straight-limbed
child in Cardigan Street, for whom he wanted money--money to feed and
clothe him for the world to admire.
One Saturday night, weary of waiting for the custom that never
came, he closed the shop, and joined Ada, who was waiting on the
footpath. They sauntered along, Ada stopping every minute to look into
the shop windows, while Jonah, gloomy and taciturn, turned his back on
the lighted windows with impatience. Presently Ada gave a cry of
delight before the draper's.
"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 talent.
The public looked on, surprised and curious, drawn by the novelty
of the idea and the amazing prices, but hesitating like an animal that
fears a tempting bait. The ceaseless activity of the shop reassured
them. One by one the customers arrived. Numbers bred numbers, and in
a week a rush had set in. It became the fashion on the Road to loll
in the shop, carelessly reading the papers for all the world to see,
while your boots were being mended. On Saturday for the first time
Jonah turned a profit, and the battle was won.
Among the later arrivals Jonah noticed with satisfaction some of
Paasch's best customers, and every week, with an apologetic smile,
another handed in his boots for repair. Soon there was little for
Paasch to do but stand at his door, staring with frightened,
short-sighted eyes across the Road at the octopus that was slowly
squeezing the life out of his shop. But he obstinately refused to
lower his prices, though his customers carried the work from his
counter across the street. It seemed to him that the prices were
something fixed by natural laws, like the return of the seasons or the
"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
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
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
CHAPTER 11. 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
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
The burden of moving fell on Pinkey, for her father had never lost
a day at Grimshaw's in his life; and after Mrs Partridge had hindered
for half an hour by getting in the way and mislaying everything,
Pinkey usually begged her in desperation to go and wait for the
furniture in the new house.
Meanwhile, lower down the street, Chook was slowly working his way
from house to house, hawking a load of vegetables. In the distance he
remarked the load of furniture, and resolved to call before a rival
could step in and get their custom. As he praised the quality of the
peas to a customer, he found time to observe that the unloading went
on very slowly. The vanman stood on the cart and slid the articles on
to the shoulders of a girl, who staggered across the pavement under a
load twice her size. It looked like an ant carrying a beetle. Five
minutes later Chook stood at the door and rapped with his knuckles.
"Any vegetables to-day, lydy?" he inquired, in his nasal,
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 the door."
"Oh! would 'e?" cried Chook, bristling.
"My word, yes! A bloke once came after Lil, an' 'e run 'im out so
quick 'e forgot 'is 'at, an' waited at the corner till I brought it."
"Well, 'e won't bustle me," cried Chook.
"But y'ain't goin'?" said Pinkey, anxiously.
"My oath, I am!" cried Chook. "I'm doin' the square thing this
time, don't yous fergit, an' no old finger's goin' ter bustle me, even
if 'e's your father."
"Yous stop at 'ome while yer lucky," said Pinkey. "Ever since Lil
cleared out wi' Marsden, 'e swears 'e'll knife the first bloke that
comes after me."
"Ye're only kiddin'," said Chook, cheerfully; "an' wot'll 'e do ter
"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'
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
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
"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
"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
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
"I was wonderin' 'ow yer'd look on the end of a rope," replied
"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
"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 feverish haste.
"Which do yer like, Mr Fowles? Lean or fat? The fat sometimes
melts in yer mouth. Give 'im that bit yer cut for me, William."
"If 'e don't like it, 'e can leave it," growled Partridge.
"Now, that'll do, William. I always said yer bark was worse than
yer bite. You'll be all right w'en yer've 'ad yer beer. 'E's got the
temper of an angel w'en 'e's 'ad 'is beer," she explained to Chook, as
if her husband were out of hearing.
Partridge sat with his eyes fixed on his plate with the face of a
sulky schoolboy. His long features reminded Chook of a horse he had
once driven. When he had finished eating, he pulled his chair back
and buried his silly, obstinate face in the newspaper. He had
evidently determined to ignore Chook's existence. Mrs Partridge broke
the silence by describing his character to the visitor as if he were a
"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
Partridge took no notice, except to bury his nose deeper in the
paper. He had reached the advertisements, and a careful study of these
would carry him safely to bed. After tea, Pinkey set to work and
washed up the dishes, while Mrs Partridge entertained the guest.
Chook took out his cigarettes, and asked if Mr Partridge objected to
smoke. There was no answer.
"You must speak louder, Mr Fowles," said Mrs Partridge. "William's
'earing ain't wot it used to be."
William resented this remark by twisting his chair farther away and
emitting a grunt.
Pinkey, conscious of Chook's eyes, was bustling in and out with the
airs of a busy housewife, her arms, thin as a broomstick, bared to the
elbow. His other love-affairs had belonged to the open-air, with the
street for a stage and the park for scenery, and this domestic setting
struck Chook as a novelty. Pinkey, then, was not merely a plaything
for an hour, but a woman of serious uses, like the old mother who
suckled him and would hear no ill word of him. And as he watched with
greedy eyes the animal died within him, and a sweeter emotion than he
had ever known filled his ignorant, passionate heart For the first
time in his life he understood why men gave up their pals and the
freedom of the streets for a woman. Mrs Partridge saw the look in his
eyes, and wished she were twenty years younger. When Pinkey got her
hat and proposed a walk, Chook, softened by his novel emotions, called
out "Good night, boss!"
For a wonder, Partridge looked up from his paper and grunted
"There now," cried Mrs Partridge, delighted, "William wouldn't say
that to everybody, would you, William? Call again any time you like,
an' 'e'll be in a better temper."
When they reached the park, they sat on a seat facing the asphalt
path. Near them was another pair, the donah, with a hat like a
tea-tray, nursing her bloke's head in her lap as he lay full length
along the seat. And they exchanged caresses with a royal indifference
to the people who were sauntering along the paths. But, without
knowing why, Chook and Pinkey sat as far apart as if they had freshly
studied a book on etiquette. For to Chook this frail girl with the
bronze hair and shabby clothes was no longer a mere donah, but a
laborious housewife and a potential mother of children; and to Pinkey
this was a new Chook, who kept his hands to himself, and looked at her
with eyes that made her forget she was a poor factory girl.
Chook looked idly at the stars, remote and lofty, strewn like sand
across the sky, and wondered at one that gleamed and glowed as he
watched. A song of the music-hall about eyes and stars came into his
head. He looked steadily into Pinkey's eyes, darkened by the broad
brim of her hat, and could see no resemblance, for he was no poet.
And as he looked, he forgot the stars in an intense desire to know
the intimate details of her life--the mechanical, monotonous habits
that fill the day from morning 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
"Yous don't think any worse o' me 'cause Lil's crook, do yer?" she
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
Chook declared that Lil was spotless.
"No, she ain't," said Pinkey; "she's as bad as they make 'em now;
but...wot makes yer tail up after me?" she inquired suddenly.
Chook answered that she had sent him fair off his dot.
"Oh yes, that's wot yer said to Poll Corcoran, an' then went
skitin' that she'd do anythin' yer liked, if yer lifted yer finger.
I've 'eard all about yous."
Chook swore that he would never harm a hair of her head.
"The worst 'arm is done without meanin' it," 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 fowls."
While Mrs Partridge was dressing, they quarrelled fiercely, because
Chook swore she must eat the lot. Sarah ended the dispute by eating
half, but Chook watched jealously till Pinkey declared she could eat
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
"Are you an' 'im goin' to git spliced?" she inquired, for the
"I dunno," said Pinkey, turning scarlet; "'e sez we are."
END OF PART I.
PART 2. THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER SHOE"
CHAPTER 12. THE SIGN OF THE "SILVER
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 them in safety to the platform. It was in
this pause that the passengers on the left looked out with an upward
jerk of the head, and saw that the sun had found a new plaything in
It was the model of a shoe, fifteen feet long, the hugest thing
within sight, covered with silver leaf that glittered like metal in
the morning sun. A gang of men had hoisted it into position last
night by the flare of naphtha lamps, and now it trod securely on air
above the new bootshop whose advertisement sprawled across half a page
of the morning paper.
In Regent Street a week of painting and hammering had prepared them
for surprises; two shops had been knocked into one, with two
plate-glass windows framed in brass, and now the shop with its
triumphant sign caught the eye like a check suit or a red umbrella.
Every inch of the walls was covered with lettering in silver leaf,
and across the front in huge characters ran the sign:
JONAH'S SILVER SHOE EMPORIUM
Meanwhile, the shop was closed, the windows obscured by blinds; but
the children, attracted by the noise of hammering, flattened their
noses against the plate glass, trying to spy out the busy privacy
within. Evening fell, and the hammering ceased. Then, precisely on
the stroke of seven, the electric lights flashed out, the curtains
were withdrawn, and the shop stood smiling like a coquette at her
Everything was new. The fittings glistened with varnish, mirrors
and brass rods reflected the light at every angle, and the building
was packed from roof to floor with boots. The shelves were loaded
with white cardboard boxes containing the better sort of boot. But
there was not room enough on the shelves, and boots and shoes hung
from the ceiling like bunches of fruit; they clung to brass rods like
swarming bees. The strong, peculiar odour of leather clogged the air.
The shopmen stood about, whispering to one another or changing the
position of a pair of boots as they waited for the customers.
A crowd had gathered round the window on the left, which was fitted
out like a workshop. On one side a clicker was cutting uppers from
the skin; beside him a girl sat at a machine stitching the uppers
together at racing speed. On the other side a man stood at a bench
lasting the uppers to the insoles, and then pegging for dear life;
near him sat a finisher, who shaved and blackened the rough edges,
handing the finished article to a boy, who gave it a coat of gloss and
placed it in the front of the window for inspection. A placard
invited the public to watch the process of making Jonah's Famous
Silver Shoes. The people crowded about as if it were a play,
delighted with the novelty, following the stages in the growth of a
boot with the pleasure of a boy examining the inside of a watch.
At eight o'clock another surprise was ready. A brass band began to
play popular airs on the balcony, hung about with Chinese lanterns,
and a row of electric bulbs flashed out, marking the outline of the
wonderful silver shoe, glittering and gigantic in the white light.
The crowd looked up, and made bets on the length of the shoe, and
recalled the time, barely five years ago, when the same man--Jonah the
hunchback--had astonished Botany Road with his flaring signs in red
and white. True, his shop was still on the Road, for Regent Street is
but the fag end of a long, dusty road where it saunters into town,
snobbishly conscious of larger buildings and higher rents. Since then
his progress had been marked by removals, and each step had carried
him nearer to the great city. He had outgrown his shops as a boy
outgrows his trousers.
It was reported that everything turned to gold that he touched. It
was certain that he had captured the trade of the Road, and this move
meant that he had fastened his teeth in the trade of the roaring city.
And not so long ago people could remember when he was a common
larrikin, reputed leader of the Cardigan Street Push, and working for
old Paasch, whose shop was now empty, his business absorbed by Jonah
with the ease one swallows a lozenge. And they say he began life as a
street-arab, selling papers and sleeping in the gutter. Well, some
people's luck was marvellous!
The crowd became so dense that the police cleared a passage through
it, and the carts and buses slackened to a walk as they passed the
shop, where the electric lights glittered, the Chinese lanterns swung
gaily in the breeze, and the band struck noisily into the airs from a
Meanwhile the shop was crowded with customers, impatient to be
served, each carrying a coupon cut from the morning paper, which
entitled the holder to a pair of Jonah's Famous Silver Shoes at cost
price. And near the door, in an interval of business, stood the
proprietor, a hunchback, his grey eyes glittering with excitement at
seeing his dream realized, the huge shop, spick and span as paint
could make it, the customers jostling one another as they passed in
and out, and the coin clinking merrily in the till.
Yes, they were quite right. Everything that he touched turned to
gold. Outsiders confused his fortune with the luck of the man who
draws the first prize in a sweep, enriched without effort by a chance
turn of Fortune's wrist. They were blind to the unresting labour,
the ruthless devices that left his rivals gaping, and the fixed idea
that shaped everything to its needs. In five years he had fought his
way down the Road, his line of march dotted with disabled rivals.
Old Paasch, the German, had been his first victim. Bewildered and
protesting, he had succumbed to Jonah's novel methods of attack as a
savage goes down under the fire of machine-guns. His shop was closed
years ago, and he lived in a stuffy room, smelling vilely of
tobacco-smoke, where he taught the violin to hazardous pupils for
little more than a crust. He always spoke of Jonah with a vague
terror in his blue eyes, convinced that he had once employed Satan as
People were surprised to find that Jonah meant to live in the rooms
over the new shop, when he could well afford to take a private house
in the suburbs. It was said he treated his wife like dirt; that they
lived like cat and dog; that he grudged her bare living and clothing.
Jonah set his lips grimly on a hint of these rumours.
Three years ago he had planted Ada in a house of her own, and had
gone home daily to rooms choked with dirt, for with years of ease she
had grown more slovenly. Servants were a failure, for she made a
friend of them, and their families lived in luxury at her expense.
And when Ada was left alone, the meals were never ready, the house
was like a pigsty, and she sat complacently amidst the dirt, reading
penny novelettes in a gaudy dressing-jacket, or entertaining her old
pals from the factory.
These would sit through an afternoon with envy in their hearts, and
cries of wonder on their lips at the sight of some useless and costly
article, which Ada, with the instinct of the parvenu, had bought to
dazzle their eyes. For she remained on the level where she was born,
and the gaping admiration of her poorer friends was the only profit
she drew from Jonah's success. If Jonah arrived without warning, they
tumbled over one another to get out unseen by the back door, but never
forgot to carry away some memento of their visit--a tin of salmon, a
canister of tea, a piece of bacon, a bottle whose label puzzled
them--for Ada bestowed gifts like Royalty, with the invariable formula
"Oh! take it; there's plenty more where that comes from."
But the worst was her neglect of Ray, now seven years old, and the
apple of Jonah's eye. She certainly spent part of the morning in
dressing him up in his clothes, which were always new, for they were
discarded by Jonah when the creases wore off; but when this duty,
which she was afraid to neglect, was ended, she sent him out into the
street to play in the gutter. His meals were the result of hazard,
starving one day, and over-eating the next. And then, one day, some
stains which Ada had been unable to sponge out elicited a stammering
tale of a cart-wheel that had stopped three inches from the prostrate
This had finished Jonah, and with an oath he had told Ada to pack
up, and move into the rooms over the shop, when they could be got
ready. Ada made a scene, grumbled and sulked, but Jonah would take no
more risks. His son and his shop, he had fathered both, and they
should be brought together under his watchful eye, and Ada's parasites
could sponge elsewhere.
It had happened in time for him to have the living-rooms fitted up
over the shop, for the part which was required as a store-room left
ample space for a family of three. Ada gave in with a sullen anger,
refusing to notice the splendours of the new establishment. But she
had a real terror, besides her objection to being for ever under
Jonah's sharp eyes.
Born and bred in a cottage, she had a natural horror of staircases,
looking on them as dangerous contrivances on which people daily risked
their lives. She climbed them slowly, feeling for safety with her
feet, and descended with her heart in her mouth. The sight of others
tripping lightly up and down impressed her like a dangerous
performance on the tight-rope in a circus. And the new rooms could
only be reached by two staircases, one at the far end of the shop,
winding like a corkscrew to the upper floor, and another, sickening to
the eye, dropping from the rear balcony in the open air to the kitchen
and the yard.
Mrs Yabsley continued to live in the old cottage in Cardigan
Street. Jonah made her an allowance, but she still worked at the
laundry, not for a living, as she carefully explained to every new
customer, but for the sake of exercise. And she had obstinately
refused to be pensioned off.
"I've seen too many of them pensioners, creepin' an' coughin' along
the street, because they thought they was too old fer work, an' one
fine mornin' they fergit ter come down ter breakfust, an' the
neighbours are invited to the funeral. An' but for that they might
'ave lived fer years, drawin' their money an' standin' in the way of
younger men. No pensions fer me, thank yer!"
When Jonah had pointed out that she could not live alone in the
cottage, she had listened with a mysterious smile. With Jonah's
allowance and her earnings, she was the rich woman, the lady
chatelaine of the street, and she chose a companion from the swarm of
houseless women that found a precarious footing in the houses of their
relations--women with raucous voices, whose husbands had grown tired
of life and fled; ladies who were vaguely supposed to be widows;
comely young women cast on a cold world with a pitiful tale and a
handbag. And she fed them till they were plump and vicious again,
when they invariably disappeared, taking everything of value they
could lay hands on. When Jonah, exasperated by these petty thefts,
begged her to come and live with them, she shook her head, with a
humorous twinkle in her eyes.
"No, yer'd 'ave ter pull me up by the roots like that old tree if
yer took me out of this street. I remember w'en 'arf this street was
open paddicks, an' now yer can't stick a pin between the 'ouses. I
was a young gell then, an' a lot better lookin' than yer'd think.
Ada's father thought a lot o' me, I tell yer. That was afore 'e took
ter drink. I was 'is first love, as the sayin' is, but beer was 'is
second. 'E was a good 'usbind ter me wot time 'e could spare from the
drink, an' I buried 'im out of this very 'ouse, w'en Ada could just
walk. I often think life's a bloomin' fraud, Joe, w'ichever way yer
look at it. W'en ye're young, it promises yer everythin' yer want,
if yer only wait. An' w'en ye're done waitin', yer've lost yer teeth
an' yer appetite, or forgot wot yer were waitin' for. Yes, Joe, the
street an' me's old pals. We've seen one another in sickness an'
sorrer an' joy an' jollification, an' it 'ud be a poor job ter part us
now. Funny, ain't it? This street is more like a 'uman bein' ter me
than plenty I know. Yer see, I can't read the paper, an' see 'oo's
bin married and murdered through the week, bein' no scholar, but I can
read Cardigan Street like a book. An' I've found that wot 'appens in
this street 'appens everywhere else, if yer change the names an'
About a week after the triumphant opening of the Silver Shoe, Jonah
was running his eye down some price-lists, when he was disturbed by a
loud noise. He looked round, and was surprised to see Miss Giltinan,
head of the ladies' department, her lips tight with anger, replacing a
heap of cardboard boxes with jerks of suppressed fury.
She was his best saleswoman, gathered in from the pavement a week
after she had been ejected from Packard's factory for cheeking the
boss. She had spent a few weeks dusting shoes and tying up parcels,
and then, brushing the old hands aside, had taken her place as a born
saleswoman. Sharp as a needle, the customers were like clay in her
hands. She recognized two classes of buyers--those who didn't know
what they wanted, and always, under her guidance, spent more than they
intended, and those who knew quite well what they wanted, the best
quality at an impossible price. Both went away satisfied, for she
took them into her confidence, and, with covert glances for fear she
should be overheard, gave them her private opinion of the articles in
a whisper. And they went away satisfied that they had saved money,
and made a friend who would always look after their interests. But
this morning she was blazing.
"Save the pieces, Mary," said Jonah, "wot's the matter?"
"A woman in there's got me beat," replied the girl savagely--"says
she must 'ave Kling Wessel's, an' we 'aven't got a pair in the place.
Not likely either, when the firm's gone bung; but I wasn't goin' to
tell 'er that. Better come an' try 'er yourself, or she'll get away
with 'er money."
As Jonah entered, the troublesome customer looked up with an air of
great composure. She was a young woman of five-and-twenty, tall,
dark, and slight, with features more uncommon than beautiful. Her
face seemed quite familiar to Jonah.
"Good mornin', Miss. Can I 'elp you in any way?" he said, trying
to remember where he had seen her before.
"So sorry to trouble you, but my feet are rather a nuisance," she
said, in a voice that broke like the sound of harps and flutes on
Jonah noted mechanically that her eyes were brown, peculiar, and
luminous as if they glowed from within. They were marked by dark
eyebrows that formed two curves of remarkable beauty. She showed her
teeth in a smile; they were small and white and even, so perfect that
they passed for false with strangers. She explained that she had an
abnormally high instep, and could only be fitted by one brand of shoe.
She showed her foot, cased in a black stocking, and the sight of it
carried Jonah back to Cardigan Street and the push, for the high
instep was a distinguished mark of beauty among the larrikins, adored
by them with a Chinese reverence.
"I can only wear Kling Wessel's, and your assistant tells me you
are out of them at present," she continued, "so I am afraid I must
give it up as a bad job." She picked up her shoe, and Jonah was seized
with an imperious desire to keep her in the shop at any cost.
"I'm afraid yer've worn yer last pair of that make," said Jonah.
"The Americans 'ave driven them off the market, and the agency's
"How annoying! I must wear shoes. Whatever shall I do?" she
replied, staring at the shelves as if lost in thought.
Jonah marked with an extraordinary pleasure every detail of her
face and dress. The stuff was a cheap material, but it was cut and
worn with a daintiness that marked her off from the shopgirls and
others that Jonah was most familiar with. And as he looked, a soft
glow swept through him like the first stage of intoxication.
Sometimes at the barber's a similar hypnotic feeling had come over
him, some electric current stirred by the brushing of his hair, when
common sounds and movements struck on his nerves like music. Again
his nerves vibrated tunefully, and he became aware that she was
"So sorry to have troubled you," she said, and prepared to go.
He felt he must keep her at any cost. "A foot like yours needs a
special last shaped to the foot. I don't make to order now, as a
rule, but I'll try wot I can do fer yer, if yer care to leave an
order," he said. He spoke like one in a dream.
She looked at him with a peculiar, intense gaze. "I should prefer
that, but I'm afraid they would be too expensive," she said.
"No, I can do them at the same price as Kling Wessel's," said
Miss Giltinan started and looked sharply from Jonah to his
customer. She knew that was impossible. And she looked with a frown
at this woman who could make Jonah forget his business instincts for a
minute. For she worshipped him in secret, grateful to him for lifting
her out of the gutter, and regarded him as the arbiter of her destiny.
He went to the desk and found the sliding rule and tape. As he
passed the tape round the stranger's foot, he found that his hands
were trembling. And as he knelt before her on one knee, the young
woman studied, with a slight repugnance, the large head, wedged
beneath the shoulders as if a giant's hand had pressed it down, and
the hump projecting behind, monstrous and inhuman. Suddenly Jonah
looked up and met her eyes. She coloured faintly.
"Wot sort of fit do yer like?" he asked. His voice, usually sharp
and nasal, was rather hoarse.
All her life she remembered that moment. The huge shop, glittering
with varnish, mirrors, and brass rods, the penetrating odour of
leather, the saleswoman silently copying the figures into the book,
and the misshapen hunchback kneeling before her and looking up into
her face with his restless grey eyes, grown suddenly steady, that
asked one question and sought another. She frowned slightly,
conscious of some strange and disagreeable sensation.
"I prefer them as tight as possible without hurting me," she
replied nervously; "but I'm afraid I'm giving you too much trouble."
"Not a bit," replied Jonah, clearing his throat.
As he finished measuring, a small boy, dressed in a Fauntleroy
velvet suit, with an enormous collar and a flap cap, ran noisily into
the shop, dragging a toy train at his heels.
"Get upstairs at once, Ray," said Jonah, without looking round.
The child, puffing and snorting like an engine, took no notice of
"Did yez 'ear me speak?" cried Jonah, angrily.
The child laughed, and stopped with his train in front of the
customer, staring at her with unabashed eyes.
"What a pretty boy!" said the young woman. "Won't you tell me your
"My name's Ray Jones, and I'll make old bones," he cried, with the
glibness of a parrot.
The young woman laughed, and Jonah's face changed instantly. It
wore the adoring gaze of the fond parent, who thinks his child is a
marvel and a prodigy.
"Tell the lady 'ow old yer are," he said.
"I'm seven and a bit old-fashioned," cried the child, looking into
the customer's face for the amused look that always followed the
words. The young woman smiled pleasantly as she laced her shoe.
"'E's as sharp as a needle," said Jonah, with a proud look, "but I
'aven't put 'im to school yet, 'cause 'e'll get enough schooling later
on. But I'll 'ave ter do somethin' with 'im soon; 'e's up ter 'is
neck in mischief. I wish 'e was old enough ter learn the piano. 'E's
got a wonderful ear fer music."
"But he is old enough," said the young woman with a sudden
interest. "I have two pupils the same age as he."
"Ah?" said Jonah, inquiringly.
"I am a teacher of music," continued the young woman, "and in my
opinion, they can't start too early, if they have any gift."
"An' 'ow would yer judge that?" said Jonah, delighted at the turn
of the conversation.
"I generally go by the width of the forehead at the temples.
Phrenologists always look for that, and I have never found it fail.
Come here," she said to the child, in a sharp, businesslike tone.
She passed her hand over his forehead, and pointed out to Jonah a
fullness over the corner of the eye. "That is the bump of music. You
have it yourself," she said, suddenly looking at Jonah's face. "I'm
sure you're fond of music. Do you sing or play?"
"I can do a bit with the mouth-organ," said Jonah, off his guard.
He turned red with shame at this vulgar admission but the young woman
"Well, about the boy," said Jonah, anxious to change the subject,
"I'd like yer to take 'im in 'and, if yer could make anythin' of 'im."
"I should be very pleased," said the young woman.
"Very well, we'll talk it over on Thursday, when yer come fer yer
shoes," said Jonah, feeling that he was making an appointment with
this fascinating stranger.
As she left the shop she handed Jonah a card, on which was printed:
MISS CLARA GRIMES, TEACHER OF MUSIC. Terms: 1 pound 1 shilling
"Well, I'm damned!" said Jonah. "Old Grimes's daughter, of
course." And as he watched her crossing the street with a quick, alert
step, an intense yearning and loneliness came over him. Something
within him contracted till it hurt. And suddenly there flashed across
his mind some half-forgotten words of Mrs Yabsley's:
"Don't think of marryin' till yer feel there's somethin' wrong wi'
yer inside, for that's w'ere it ketches yer."
He sighed heavily, and went into the shop, preoccupied and silent
for that day.
CHAPTER 13. A FAMILY IN EXILE
Dad Grimes had just finished the story of his nose and the cabman,
and the group in the bar of the Angel exploded like a shell. Dicky
Freeman's mouth seemed to slip both ways at once till it reached his
ears. The barman put down the glass he was wiping and twisted the
cloth in his fingers till the tears stood in his eyes. The noise was
"An' 'e sez, 'Cum on, you an' yer nose, an' I'll fight the pair o'
yez,'" spluttered Dicky, with hysterical gasps, and went off again.
His chuckles ended in a dead silence. There was no sound but the
rapid breathing of the men. The barman flattened a mosquito on his
cheek, the smack sounded like a kiss. Dicky Freeman emptied his
glass, and then stared through the bottom as if he wondered where the
liquor had gone.
"I assure you for the moment I was staggered," said Dad, rounding
off his story. "I am aware that my nose has added to the gaiety of
nations, but it was the first time that it had been reckoned as a
creature distinct from myself with an individuality of its own."
Dad Grimes was a man of fifty, wearing a frock coat that showed a
faint green where the light fell on the shoulders, and a tall silk hat
that had grown old with the wearer. But for his nose he might have
been an undertaker. It was an impossible nose, the shape and size of
a potato, and the colour of pickled cabbage--the nose for a clown in
the Carnival of Venice. Its marvellous shape was none of Dad's
choosing, but the colour was his own, laid on by years of patient
drinking as a man colours a favourite pipe. Years ago, when he was a
bank manager, his heart had bled at the sight of this ungainly
protuberance; but since his downfall, he had led the chorus of
laughter that his nose excited, with a degraded pride in his physical
It was Dicky Freeman's turn to shout, and he began another story as
Dad sucked the dregs of beer off his moustache. Dad recognized the
opening sentence. It was one of the interminable stories out of the
Decameron of the bar-room, realistic and obscene, that circulate among
drinkers. Dad knew it by heart. He looked at his glass, and
remembered that it was his fourth drink. Instantly he thought of the
Duchess. With his usual formula "'Scuse me; I'm a married man,
y'know," he hurried out of the bar in search of his little present.
It was nine o'clock, and the Duchess would be waiting for him with
his tea since six. And always when he stopped at the "Angel" on his
way home, he tried to soften her icy looks with a little present.
Sometimes it was a bunch of grapes that he crushed to a pulp by
rolling on them; sometimes a dozen apples that he spilt out of the
bag, and recovered from the gutter with lurching steps. But tonight
he happened to stop in front of the fish shop, and a lobster caught
his eye. The beer had quickened the poetry in his soul, and the sight
of this fortified inhabitant of the deep pleased him like a gorgeous
sunset. He shuffled back to the Angel with the lobster under his arm,
wrapped in a piece of paper.
One more drink and he would go home. He put the lobster carefully
at his elbow and called for drinks. But Dicky was busy with a new
trick with a box of matches, and Dad, who was a recognized expert in
the idle devices of bar-room loafers--picking up glasses and bottles
with a finger and thumb, opening a footrule with successive jerks from
the wrist, drinking beer out of a spoon--forgot the lapse of time with
the new toy.
Punctually on the stroke of eleven the swinging doors of the Angel
were closed and the huge street lamps were extinguished. Dad's eye
was glassy, but he remembered the lobster.
"Whersh my lil' present?" he wailed. "Mush 'ave lil' present for
the Duchess, y'know. 'Ow could I g'ome, d'ye think?"
He made so much noise that the landlord came to see what was the
matter, and then the barman pointed to where he had left the lobster
on the counter. He tucked it under his arm and lurched into the
street. Now, Dad could run when he couldn't walk. He swayed a
little, then suddenly broke into a run whose speed kept him from
falling and preserved his balance like a spinning top.
The Duchess, seen through a haze, seemed unusually stern tonight;
but with beery pride he produced his little present, the mail-clad
delicacy, the armoured crustacean. But Dicky Freeman, offended by
Dad's sudden departure in the middle of the story, had taken a mean
revenge with the aid of the barman, and, as Dad unfastened the
wrapping, there appeared, not the shellfish in its vermilion armour,
but something smooth and black--an empty beer-bottle! Dad stared and
blinked. A look at the Duchess revealed a face like the Ten
Commandments. The situation was too abject for words; he grinned
vacantly and licked his lips.
The Grimes family lived in the third house in the terrace, counting
from the lamp-post at the corner of Buckland Street, where, running
parallel to Cardigan Street, it tumbles over the hill and is lost to
sight on its way to Botany Road. It was a long, ugly row of
two-storey houses, the model lodging-houses of the crowded suburbs, so
much alike that Dad had forced his way, in a state of intoxication,
into every house in the terrace at one time or another, under the
impression that he lived there.
Ten years ago the Grimes family had come to live in Waterloo, when
the Bank of New Guinea had finally dispensed with Dad's services as
manager at Billabong. His wife had picked on this obscure suburb of
working men to hide her shame, and Dad who could make himself at home
on an ant-hill, had cheerfully acquiesced. He had started in business
as a house-agent, and the family of three lived from hand to mouth on
the profits that escaped the publican. Not that Dad was idle. He was
for ever busy; but it was the busyness of a fly. He would call for
the rent, and spend half the morning fixing a tap for Mrs Brown,
instead of calling in the plumber; he would make a special journey to
the other end of Sydney for Mrs Smith, to prove that he had a nose for
Mrs Grimes forgot with the greatest ease that her neighbours were
made of the same clay as herself, but she never forgot that she had
married a bank manager, and she never forgave Dad for lowering her
pride to the dust. True, she was only the governess at Nullah Nullah
station when Dad married her, but her cold aristocratic features had
given her the pick of the neighbouring stations, and Dad was reckoned
a lucky man when he carried her off. It was her fine, aquiline
features and a royal condescension in manner that had won her the
title of "Duchess" in this suburb of workmen. She tried to be affable,
and her visitors smarted under a sense of patronage. The language of
Buckland Street, coloured with oaths, the crude fashions of the
slop-shop, and the drunken brawls, jarred on her nerves like the
sharpening of a saw. So she lived, secluded as a nun, mocked and
derided by her inferiors.
She was born with the love of the finer things that makes poverty
tragic. She kept a box full of the tokens of the past--a scarf of
Maltese lace, yellow with age, that her grandmother had sent from
England; a long chain of fine gold, too frail to be worn; a brooch set
with diamonds in a bygone fashion; a ring with her father's seal
carved in onyx.
Her daughter Clara was the image of herself in face and manner, and
her grudge against her husband hardened every time she thought of her
only child's future. Clara was fifteen when they descended to
Buckland Street, a pampered child, nursed in luxury. The Duchess
belonged to the Church of England, and it had been one of the sights
of Billabong to see her move down the aisle on Sunday like a frigate
of Nelson's time in full sail; but she had overcome her scruples, and
sent Clara to the convent school for finishing lessons in music,
dancing, and painting.
We each live and act our parts on a stage built to our proportions,
and set in a corner of the larger theatre of the world, and the
revolution that displaces princes was not more surprising to them than
the catastrophe that dropped the Grimes family in Buckland Street was
to Clara and her mother.
Clara had been taught to look on her equals with scorn, and she
stared at her inferiors with a mute contempt that roused the devil in
their hearts. She had lived in the street ten years, and was a
stranger in it. Buckland Street was never empty, but she learned to
pick her time for going in and out when the neighbours were at their
meals or asleep. She attended a church at an incredible distance from
Waterloo, for fear people should learn her unfashionable address. Her
few friends lived in other suburbs whose streets she knew by heart, so
that they took her for a neighbour.
When she was twenty-two she had become engaged to a clerk in a
Government office, who sang in the same choir. A year passed, and the
match was suddenly broken off. This was her only serious love-affair,
for, though she was handsome in a singular way, her flirtations never
came to anything. She belonged to the type of woman who can take her
pick of the men, and remains unmarried while her plainer friends are
The natural destiny of the Waterloo girls was the factory, or the
workshops of anaemic dressmakers, stitching slops at racing speed for
the warehouses. A few of the better sort, marked out by their face
and figure, found their way to the tea-rooms and restaurants. But the
Duchess had encouraged her daughter's belief that she was too fine a
lady to soil her hands with work, and she strummed idly on the
dilapidated piano while her mother roughened her fine hands with
washing and scrubbing. This was in the early days, when Dad,
threatened with starvation, had passed the hotels at a run to avoid
temptation, for which he made amends by drinking himself blind for a
week at a time. Then, after years of genteel poverty, the Duchess had
consented to Clara giving lessons on the piano--that last refuge of
the shabby-genteel. But pupils were scarce in Waterloo, and Clara's
manner chilled the enthusiasm of parents who only paid for lessons on
the understanding that their child was to become the wonder of the
world for a guinea a quarter.
This morning Clara was busy practising scales, while her mother
dusted and swept with feverish haste, for Mr Jones, the owner of the
great boot-shop, was bringing his son in the afternoon to arrange for
lessons on the piano. The Duchess knew the singular history of Jonah,
the boot king, and awaited his arrival with intense curiosity. She
had married a failure, and adored success. She decided to treat Jonah
as an equal, forgiving his lowly origin with a confused idea that it
was the proper thing for millionaires to spring from the gutter, the
better to show their contempt for the ordinary advantages of education
and family. She had decided to wear her black silk, faded and darned,
but by drawing the curtains; she hoped it would pass. From some
receptacle unknown to Dad she had fished out a few relics of her
former grandeur--an old-fashioned card-tray of solid silver, and the
quaint silver tea-set with the tiny silver spoons that her grandmother
had sent as a wedding present from England.
Clara had just finished a variation with three tremendous
fortissimo chords when she heard the wheels of a cab. This was an
event in itself, for cabs in Buckland Street generally meant doctors,
hospitals, or sudden death. She ran to the window and saw the
hunchback and the boy stepping out. Clara opened the door with an air
of surprise, and led them to the parlour where the Duchess was
waiting. Years and misfortune had added to her dignity, and Jonah
felt his shop and success and money slip away from him, leaving him
the street-arab sprung from the gutter before this aristocrat. Ray
took to her at once, and climbed into her lap, bringing her heart into
her mouth as he rubbed his feet on the famous black silk.
"I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I have heard of
your romantic career," she said.
"Well, I've got on, there's no denying that," said Jonah. "Some
people think it's luck, but I tell 'em it's 'ard graft."
"Exactly," said the Duchess, wondering what he meant by graft.
Jonah looked round the stuffy room. It had an indescribable air of
antiquity. Every piece of furniture was of a pattern unknown to him,
and there was a musty flavour in the air, for the Duchess, valuing
privacy more than fresh air, never opened the windows. On the wall
opposite was a large picture in oils, an English scene, with the old
rustic bridge and the mill in the distance, painted at Billabong by
Clara at an early age. The Duchess caught Jonah's eye.
"That was painted by my daughter ten years ago. Her teachers
considered she had a wonderful talent, but misfortune came, and she
was unable to follow it up," she said.
Jonah's amazement increased. It was a mere daub, but to his
untrained eye it was like the pictures in the Art Gallery, where he
had spent a couple of dull afternoons. Over the piano a framed
certificate announced that Clara Grimes had passed the junior grade of
Trinity College in 1890. And Jonah, who had an eye for business like
a Jew, who moved in an atmosphere of profit and loss, suddenly felt
ill at ease. His shop, his money, and his success must seem small
things to these women who lived in the world of art. His thoughts
were brought back to earth by a sudden crash. Ray was sitting on a
chair, impatient for the music to begin, and, as he never sat on a
chair in the ordinary fashion, he had paralysed the Duchess with a
series of gymnastic feats, twining his legs round the chair, sitting on
his feet, kneeling on the seat with his feet on the back of the chair,
until at last an unlucky move had tilted the chair backwards into a
pot-stand. The jar fell with a crash, and Ray laughed. The Duchess
uttered a cry of terror.
"Yer young devil, keep still," cried Jonah, angrily. "Yer can pay
fer that out of yer pocket-money," he added.
"It was of no value," said the Duchess, with frigid dignity.
"Perhaps Miss Grimes will play something," said Jonah. "Ray's
talked of nothing else since daylight this morning."
Clara sat down at the piano and ran her fingers over the keys. She
had selected her masterpiece, "The Wind Among the Pines", a
tone-picture from a shilling album. Her fingers ran over the keys
with amazing rapidity as she beat out the melody with the left hand on
the groaning bass, while with the right she executed a series of
scales to the top of the keyboard and back. Jonah listened spellbound
to the clap-trap arrangement. He had the native ear for music, and he
recognized that he was in the presence of a born musician. Ray crept
near, and listened with open mouth to this display of musical
fireworks. When she had finished, Clara turned to Jonah with a
languid smile, the look of the artist conscious of divine gifts.
"My daughter was considered the best player at the convent where
she was educated," said the Duchess--"a great talent wasted in this
"I niver 'eard anythin' like that in my natural," said Jonah with
enthusiasm. "If yer can teach Ray ter play like that, I'm satisfied."
"You may depend upon her doing her best with your son, but it is
not everyone who has Clara's talent," said the Duchess.
"Play some more," said Ray.
This time she selected a grand march, striking the dilapidated
piano a series of stunning blows with both hands, filling the air with
the noise of battle.
"That must be terrible 'ard," said Jonah.
"It takes it out of one," replied Clara, with the simplicity of an
Then she gave Ray his first lesson, showing him how to sit and
place his hands, anxious to impress the parent that she was a good
teacher. She declared that Ray was very apt, and would learn rapidly.
An hour later, Jonah paid for Ray's first quarter. Clara's terms
were a guinea, but Jonah insisted on two guineas on the understanding
that Ray would receive special attention.
But in spite of her promises, Ray's progress was slow. As Jonah
had no piano, the boy came half an hour early to his lesson to
practise, but the twenty minutes' journey from the Silver Shoe
occupied the best part of an hour, for Ray, who took to the streets as
a duck takes to water, could spend a morning idling before shop
windows, following fiddlers on their rounds, watching navvies dig a
drain, with a frank, sensuous delight in the sights and sounds of the
streets, an inheritance from Jonah's years of vagabondage. Then the
street-arabs fell on him, annoyed by his new clothes and immense white
collar, and at the end of the third week he reached home after dark
with a cut on his forehead and spattered with mud.
The next day Jonah called on Clara to make some other arrangements.
His tone was brusque, and Clara noticed with surprise that he was
inclined to blame her for Ray's mishap. He seemed to forget
everything when it was a question of his son. But all of the Duchess
in Clara came to the surface in her annoyance, and she suggested that
the lessons had better come to an end. Absorbed in his egotistic
feelings, Jonah looked up in surprise, and his anger vanished. He saw
that he had offended her, and apologized. Then he remembered what had
brought him. His overpowering desire to see this woman had surprised
him like the first symptoms of an illness. He had not seen her for
three weeks, and in the increased flow of business at the Silver Shoe
had half forgotten his amazing emotions as one forgets a powerful
dream. Women, he repeated, were worse than drink for taking a man's
mind off his work.
In his experience he had observed with some curiosity that drink
and women were alike in throwing men off their balance. Drink,
fortunately, had no power over him. Beer only fuddled his brain, and
he looked on its effect with the curious dislike women look on
smoking, blind to its fascinations. As for women, Ada was the only one
he had ever been on intimate terms with, and, judging by his
sensations, people who talked about love were either fools or liars.
True, he had heard Chook talking like a fool about Pinkey, swearing
that he couldn't live without her, but thought naturally that he lied.
And they had quarrelled so fiercely over the colour of her hair, that
for years each looked the other way when they met in the street. But
as he looked at Clara again, something vibrated within him, and he was
conscious of nothing but a desire to look at her and hear her speak.
"My idea was to buy a piano, an' then yer could give Ray 'is
lessons at 'ome," he said.
"That is the only way out of the difficulty," said Clara.
Jonah thought awhile, and made up his mind with a snap.
"Could yer come with me now, an' pick me a piano? I can tell a
boot by the smell of the leather, but pianos are out of my line.
Clara's manner changed instantly as she thought of the commission she
would get from Kramer's, where she had a running account for music."
"I shall be only too pleased," she said.
As they left the house she remembered, with a slight repugnance,
Jonah's deformity. She hoped people wouldn't notice them as they went
down the street. But to her surprise and relief, Jonah hailed a
"Time's money to me," he said, with an apologetic look.
Cabs were a luxury in Buckland Street, and Clara was delighted.
She felt suddenly on the level of the rich people who could afford to
ride where others trudged afoot. She leaned forward, hoping that the
people would notice her.
At Kramer's she took charge of Jonah as a guide takes charge of
tourists in a foreign land, anxious to show him that she was at home
among this display of expensive luxuries. The floor was packed with
pianos, glittering with varnish which reflected the strong light of
the street. From another room came a monotonous sound repeated
indefinitely, a tuner at work on a piano.
The salesman stepped up, glancing at the hunchback with the quick
look of surprise which Clara had noticed in others. They stopped in
front of an open piano, and Clara, taking off her gloves, ran her
fingers over the keys. The rich, singing notes surprised Jonah, they
were quite unlike those he had heard on Clara's piano. Clara played
as much as she could remember of "The Wind Among the Pines", and Jonah
decided to buy that one.
"'Ow much is that?" he inquired.
"A hundred guineas," replied the shopman, indifferently.
"Garn! Yer kiddin'?" cried Jonah, astounded.
The salesman looked in surprise from Jonah to Clara. She coloured
slightly. Jonah saw that she was annoyed. The salesman led them to
another instrument, and, with less deference in his tone, remarked
that this was the firm's special cheap line at fifty guineas. But
Jonah had noticed the change in Clara's manner, and decided against
the cheaper instrument instantly. They thought he wasn't good for a
hundred quid, did they? Well, he would show them. But, to his
surprise, Clara opposed the idea. The Steinbech, she explained, was
an instrument for artists. It would be a sacrilege for a beginner to
touch it. Jonah persisted, but the shopman agreed with Clara that the
celebrated Ropp at eighty guineas would meet his wants. A long
discussion followed, and Jonah listened while Clara tried to beat the
salesman down below catalogue price for cash. Here was a woman after
his own heart, who could drive a bargain with the best of them. At
the end of half an hour Jonah filled in a cheque for eighty guineas,
and the salesman, reading the signature, bowed them deferentially out
of the shop.
Clara walked out of the shop with the air of a millionaire. To be
brought in contact even for a moment with this golden stream of
sovereigns excited her like wine. All her life she had desired things
whose price put them beyond her reach, and she felt suddenly friendly
to this man who took what he wanted regardless of cost. She thought
pleasantly of the ride home in the cab, but she was pulled up with a
jerk when Jonah led the way to the tram. He wore an anxious look, as
if he had spent more than he could afford, and yet the money was a
mere flea-bite to him. But whenever he spent money, a panic terror
seized him--a survival of the street-arab's instinct, who counted his
money in pennies instead of pounds.
CHAPTER 14. ADA MAKES A FRIEND
Ada moved uneasily, opened her eyes and stared at the patch of
light on the opposite wall. As she lay half awake, she tried to
remember the day of the week, and, deceived by the morning silence,
decided that it was Sunday. She thought, with lazy pleasure, that a
day of idleness lay before her, and felt under the pillow for the tin
of lollies that she hid there every night. This movement awakened her
completely, and stretching her limbs luxuriously between the warm
sheets, she began to suck the lollies, at first slowly revolving the
sticky globules on her tongue, and then scrunching them between her
firm teeth with the tranquil pleasure of a quadruped.
This was her only pleasure and the only pleasant hour of the day.
She looked at Jonah, who lay on his side with his nose buried in the
pillow, without repugnance and without liking. That had gone long
ago. And as she looked, she remembered that he was to be awakened
early and that it was Friday the hardest day of the week, when she
must make up her arrears of scrubbing and dusting. Her luxurious mood
changed to one of dull irritation, and she looked sullenly at the
enormous wardrobe and dressing-table with their speckled mirrors.
These had delighted her at first, but in her heart she preferred the
battered, makeshift furniture of Cardigan Street. A few licks with
the duster and her work was done; but here the least speck of dust
showed on the polished surface. Jonah, too, had got into a nasty
habit of writing insulting words on the dusty surface with his finger.
Well, let him! There had been endless trouble since he bought the
piano. As sure as Miss Grimes came to give Ray his lesson, he declared
the place was a pigsty and tried to shame her by taking off his coat
and dusting the room himself. Not that she blamed Miss Grimes. She
was quite a lady in her way, and had won Ada's heart by telling her
that she hated housework. She thought Ada must be a born housekeeper
to do without a servant, and Ada didn't trouble to put her right.
Anyhow, Jonah should keep a servant. He pretended that their servants
in Wyndham Street had made game of her behind her back, and robbed her
right and left. What did that matter? she thought--Jonah could afford
The real reason was that he wanted no one in the house to see how
he treated his wife. She cared little herself whether she had a girl
or not, for she had always been accustomed to make work easy by
neglecting it. If Jonah wanted a floor that you could eat your dinner
off, let him get a servant. He was as mean as dirt. A fat lot she
got out of his money. Here she was, shut up in these rooms, little
better than a prisoner, for her old pals never dared show their noses
in this house, and she could never go out without all the shop-hands
knowing it. She never bought a new dress, but Jonah stormed like a
madman, declaring that she looked like a servant dressed up. Well,
her clothes knocked Cardigan Street endways when she paid her mother a
visit, and that was all she wanted.
There was her mother, too. She had never been a real mother to
her; you could never tell what she was thinking about. Other people
took their troubles to her, but she treated her own daughter like a
stranger. And, of course, she sided with Jonah and talked till her
jaw ached about her duty to her child and her husband. She would have
married Tom Mullins if it hadn't been for the kid, and lived in
Cardigan Street like her pals. Her thoughts travelled back to
Packard's and the Road. She remembered with intense longing the group
at the corner, the drunken rows, and the nightly gossip on the
doorstep. That was life for her. She had been like a fish out of
water ever since she left it. She thought with singular bitterness of
Jonah's attempts to introduce her to the wives of the men he met in
business, women who knew not Cardigan Street, and annoyed her by
staring at her hands, and talking of their troubles with servants till
they made her sick.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Jonah. He turned in his
sleep and pushed the sheet from his face, but a loud scrunch from
Ada's jaw woke him completely. He tugged at the pillow and his hand
fell on the tin of sticky lollies.
"Bah!" he cried in disgust, and rubbed his fingers on the sheet.
"Only kids eat that muck."
"Kid yerself!" cried Ada furiously. "Anybody 'ud think I was
eatin' di'monds. Yer'd grudge me the air I breathe, if yer thought it
"Yah, git up an' light the fire!" replied Jonah.
"Yes, that's me all over. Anybody else 'ud keep a servant; but as
long as I'm fool enough ter slave an' drudge, yer save the expense."
"You slave an' drudge?" cried Jonah in scorn--"that was in yer
dream. Are yer sure ye're awake?"
"Yes, I am awake, an' let me tell yer that it's the talk of the
neighbourhood that yer've got thousands in the bank, an' too mean ter
keep a servant."
"That's a lie, an' yer know it!" cried Jonah. "Didn't yez 'ave a
girl in Wyndham Street, an' didn't she pinch enough things to set up
'er sister's 'ouse w'en she got married?"
"Yous couldn't prove it," said Ada, sullenly.
"No, I couldn't prove it without showing everybody wot sort of wife
"She's a jolly sight too good fer yous, an' well yer know it."
"Yes, that's wot I complain of," said Jonah. "I'd prefer a wife
like other men 'ave that can mind their 'ouse, an' not make a 'oly
show of themselves w'en they take 'em out."
"A fat lot yer take me out!"
"Take yous out! Yah! Look at yer neck!"
Ada flushed a sullen red. So far the quarrel had been familiar and
commonplace, like a conversation about the weather, but her neck,
hidden under grubby lace, was Ada's weak point.
"Look at the hump on yer back before yer talk about my neck," she
shouted. It was the first time she had ever dared to taunt Jonah with
his deformity, and the sound of her words frightened her. He would
strike her for certain.
Jonah's face turned white. He raised himself on his elbow and
clenched his fist, the hard, knotty fist of the shoemaker swinging at
the end of the unnaturally long arms, another mark of his deformity.
Jonah had never struck her--contrary to the habit of Cardigan
Street--finding that he could hit harder with his tongue; but it was
coming now, and she nerved herself for the blow. But Jonah's hand
"You low, dirty bitch," he said. "If a man said that to me, I'd
strangle him. I took yer out of the factory, I married yer, an'
worked day an' night ter git on in the world, an' that's yer thanks.
Pity I didn't leave yer in the gutter w'ere yer belonged. I wonder
who yer take after? Not after yer mother. She is clean an'
wholesome. Any other woman would take an interest in my business, an'
be a help to a man; but you're like a millstone round my neck. I
thought I'd done with Cardigan Street, an' the silly loafers I grew up
with, but s'elp me Gawd, when I married you I married Cardigan Street.
I could put up with yer want of brains--you don't want much brains
ter git through this world--but it's yer nasty, sulky temper, an' yer
bone idleness. I suppose yer git them from yer lovely father. The
'ardest work 'e ever did was to drink beer. It's a wonder yer don't
take after 'im in that. I suppose I've got something to be thankful
"Yes, I suppose yer'd like me ter drink meself ter death, so as yer
could marry again. But yer needn't fear I'll last yous out," cried
Ada, recovering her tongue now that she was no longer in fear of a
"Ah well, yer can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear they say,"
said Jonah. There was an intense weariness in his voice as he turned
his back on Ada.
"No more than yer can make a man out of a monkey on a stick,"
muttered Ada to herself as she got out of bed.
Ada got the breakfast and went about the house in sullen silence.
Jonah was used to this. For days together after a quarrel she would
sulk without speaking, proud of her stubborn temper that forced others
to give in first. And they would sit down to meals and pass one
another in the rooms, watching each other's movements to avoid the
necessity for speaking. The day had begun badly for Ada, and her
anger increased as she brooded over her wrongs. Heavy and sullen by
nature, her wrath came to a head hours after the provocation, burning
with a steady heat when others were cooling down.
But as she was pegging out some towels in the yard she heard a
discreet cough on the other side of the fence. Ada recognized the
signal. It was her neighbour, the woman with the hairy lip,
housekeeper to Aaron the Jew. It had taken Ada weeks to discover Mrs
Herring's physical defect, which she humoured by shaving. Now Ada
could tell in an instant whether she was shaven or hairy, for when her
lip bristled with hairs for lack of the razor, she peered over the
fence so as to hide the lower part of her face. Ada, being used to
such things, thought at first she was hiding a black eye. But who was
there to give her one? Aaron the pawnbroker, not being her husband,
could not take such a liberty.
She had introduced herself over the fence the week of Ada's
arrival, giving her the history of the neighbourhood in an unceasing
flow of perfect English, her voice never rising above a whisper. For
days she would disappear altogether, and then renew the conversation
by coughing gently on her side of the fence. This morning her lip was
shaven, and she leaned over the fence, full of gossip. But Ada's
sullen face caught her eye, and instantly she was full of sympathy, a
peculiar look of falsity shining in her light blue eyes.
"Why, what's the matter, dearie?" she inquired.
"Oh, nuthin'," said Ada roughly.
"Ah, you mustn't tell me that! When my poor husband was alive,
I've often looked in my glass and seen a face like that. He was my
husband, and I suppose I should say no more, but men never brought any
happiness to me or any other woman that I know of. The first day I
set eyes on you, I said, 'That's an unhappy woman.'"
"Well, yer needn't tell the bloomin' street," growled Ada.
"What you want is love and sympathy, but I suppose your husband is
too busy making money to spare the time for that. Ah, many's the
time, when my poor dear husband was alive, did I pine for a kind word,
and get a black look instead! And a woman can turn to no one in a
trouble like that. She feels as if her own door had been slammed in
her face. What you want is a cheerful outing with a sympathetic
friend, but I hear you're little more than a prisoner in your own
"Who told yer that?" cried Ada, flushing angrily.
"A little bird told me," said the woman, with a false grin.
"Well, I'd wring its neck, if I 'eard it," cried Ada. "And as fer
bein' a prisoner, I'm goin' out this very afternoon."
"Why, how curious!" cried Mrs Herring. "This is my afternoon out.
We could have a pleasant chat, if you have nothing better to do."
Ada hesitated. Jonah always wanted to know where she was going,
and had forbidden her to make friends with the neighbours, for in
Cardigan Street friendship with neighbours generally ended in a fight
or the police court. She had never defied Jonah before, but her anger
was burning with a steady flame. She'd show him!
"I'll meet yer at three o'clock opposite the church," she cried,
and walked away.
She gave Jonah his meal in silence, and sent Ray off on a message
before two o'clock. But Jonah seemed to have nothing to do this
afternoon, and sat, contrary to custom, reading the newspaper. Ada
watched the clock anxiously, fearing she would be baulked. But, as
luck would have it, Jonah was suddenly called into the shop, and the
coast was clear. It never took Ada long to dress; her clothes always
looked as if they had been thrown on with a pitchfork, and she slipped
down the outside stairs into the lane at the back. It was the first
time she had gone out without telling Jonah where she was going and
when she would be back. And afterwards she could never understand why
she crept out in this furtive manner. Mrs Herring was waiting,
dressed in dingy black, a striking contrast to Ada's flaring colours.
They walked up Regent Street, as Mrs Herring said she wanted to buy a
But when they reached Redfern Street, Mrs Herring put her hand
suddenly to her breast and cried "Oh, dearie, if you could feel how my
heart is beating! I really feel as if I am going to faint. I've
suffered for years with my heart, and the doctor told me always to
take a drop of something soothing, when I had an attack."
They were opposite the "Angel", no longer sinister and forbidding
in the broad daylight. The enormous lamps hung white and opaque; the
huge mirrors reflected the cheerful light of the afternoon sun. The
establishment seemed harmless and respectable, like the grocer's or
baker's. But from the swinging doors came a strong odour of alcohol,
enveloping the two women in a vinous caress that stirred hidden
desires like a strong perfume.
"Do you think we could slip in here without being seen?" said the
"If ye're so bad as all that, we can," replied Ada.
Mrs Herring turned and slipped in at the side door with the
dexterity of customers entering a pawnshop, and Ada followed, slightly
bewildered. The housekeeper, seeming quite familiar with the turnings,
led the way to a small room at the back. Ada looked round with great
curiosity. She had never entered a hotel before in this furtive
fashion. In Cardigan Street she had always fetched her mother's beer
in a jug from the bar. On the walls were two sporting prints of dogs
chasing a hare, and a whisky calendar. On the table was a small gong,
which Mrs Herring rang. Cassidy himself, the landlord, answered the
"Good dey, good dey to you, Mrs Herring," he said briskly. "The
same as usual, I suppose? And what'll your friend take?" he added,
grinning at Ada.
"My friend, Mrs Jones," said the housekeeper.
"Glad to meet you," cried Cassidy. "A terrible hill this," he
continued, winking at Ada. "We should never see Mrs Herring, if it
wasn't for the hill."
"Nothing for me," said Ada, shaking her head.
"Now just a drop to keep me company," begged Mrs Herring.
As Ada continued to shake her head, Cassidy went out, and returned
with a bottle of brandy and three glasses on a tray.
"Sure, I forgot to tell you I'm a father again; father number nine,
unless I've lost count. Sure your friend will join us in a glass to
wet the head of the baby?"
He filled three glasses as he spoke, and winked at Mrs Herring.
Ada's brain was in a whirl. She saw that she had been trapped, and
that Mrs Herring was a liar and a comedian. She might as well drink
now she was here. But Jonah would kill her, if he smelt drink on her.
Well, let him! It was little enough fun she got out of life anyhow.
She nodded to Cassidy. They clinked the three glasses and drank, the
landlord and Mrs Herring at a gulp, Ada with tiny sips as if it were
"Well, I'll leave you to your bit of gossip; I think I hear the
child crying," said the landlord, backing out of the door with a grin.
Mrs Herring, who had forgotten her palpitations, filled her glass
again, and sipped slowly to keep Ada company. In half an hour Ada
finished her second glass. A pleasant glow had spread through her
body. The weight was lifted off her mind, and she felt calm and
happy. She thought of Jonah with indifference. What did he matter?
She listened cheerfully to Mrs Herring's ceaseless whisper, only
catching the meaning of one word in ten.
"And many's the time, when my poor dear husband was alive, have I
gone out meaning to throw myself into the harbour, and a drop of
cordial has changed my mind."
Ada nodded to show that she understood that the late Mr Herring was
a brute and a tyrant.
"And then he went with the contingent to South Africa, and the next
I heard was that he was dead. And the thought of my poor dear lying
with his face turned to the skies would have driven me mad, if the
doctor hadn't insisted on my taking a drop of cordial to bear my
grief. And when I recovered, I vowed I would never marry again. The
men dearie, are all alike. They marry one woman, and want twenty.
And if you as much as look at another man, they smash the furniture
and threaten to get a divorce. I can see you've found that out."
"Ye're barkin' up the wrong tree," said Ada. "My old man's as 'ard
as nails, but 'e don't run after women. 'E's the wrong shape, see."
Ada had never spent such a pleasant time in her life. She had
never tasted brandy till that afternoon. Cardigan Street drank beer,
and the glasses Ada had drunk at odd times had only made her sleepy
without excitement. But this seductive liquid leapt through her
veins, bringing a delicious languor and a sense of comfort. Her mind,
dull and heavy by habit, ran on wheels. She wanted to interrupt Mrs
Herring to make some observations of her own which seemed too good to
lose. She felt a silly impulse to ask her whether she was born with a
moustache, who taught her to shave, whether she could grow a moustache
if she left it alone. She wanted to ask why her palpitations had gone
off so quickly, and why she seemed perfectly at home in the "Angel",
but her thoughts crowded heel on heel so fast that she had forgotten
them before she could speak.
She remembered that a few weeks ago the housekeeper's husband had
died of typhoid in the Never Never country, and Mrs Herring had nursed
him bravely to the end. She tried to reconcile this with his death
this afternoon in the Boer War, and decided that it didn't matter. He
must have died somewhere, for no one had ever seen him. She was
discovering slowly that this woman was a consummate liar, who lied as
the birds sing, but forgot her many inventions, a born liar without a
memory. Suddenly Mrs Herring said she must be going, and Ada got up
to leave. She lurched as she stood, and pushed her chair over with a
"I b'lieve I'm drunk," she muttered, with a foolish titter.
CHAPTER 15. Mrs PARTRIDGE LENDS A
Since ten o'clock in the morning the large house, standing in its
own grounds, had been invaded by a swarm of dealers, hook-nosed and
ferret-eyed, prying into every corner, searching each lot for hidden
faults, judging at a glance the actual value of every piece of
furniture, their blood stirred with the hereditary joy in chaffering,
for an auction is as full of surprises as a battle, the prices rising
and falling according to the temper of the crowd. And they watched
one another with crafty eyes that had long lost the power to see
anything but the faults and defects in the property of others. Those
who had commissions from buyers marked the chosen lots in their
catalogue with a stumpy pencil.
Mother Jenkins was one of these. She was the auctioneer's
scavenger, snapping up the dishonoured, broken remnants disdained by
the others, buying for a song the job lots on the way to the
rubbish-heap. All was fish that came to her net, for her second-hand
shop in Bathurst Street had taught her to despise nothing that had an
ounce of wear left in it. Her bids never ran beyond a few shillings,
but to-day she had an important commission, twenty pounds to lay out
on the furnishing of three rooms for a married couple. These were her
windfalls. Sometimes she got a wedding order, and furnished the house
out of her amazing collection, supplemented by her bargains at the
next auction sale. This had brought her to the sale early, for the
young couple, deciding to furnish in style, had exhausted her
resources by demanding wardrobes, dressing-tables, and washstands with
The young woman with the mop of red hair followed on her heels,
amazed by the luxury of the interior harmonized in a scheme of colour.
Her day-dreams, coloured by the descriptions of ducal mansions in
penny novelettes, came suddenly true. And she lingered before carved
cabinets, strange vases like frozen rainbows, and Oriental tapestry
with the instinctive delight in luxury planted in women.
But Mother Jenkins had no time to spare. She had found the very
thing for Pinkey, and led the way to the servants' quarters, hidden at
the back of the house. Pinkey's visions of grandeur fled at the
sight. The rooms were small, and a sour smell hung on the air, the
peculiar odour of servants' rooms where ventilation is unknown.
Pinkey recognized the curtains and drapes at a glance, the pick of a
suburban rag-shop. One room was as bare as a prison cell, merely a
place to sleep in, but the next was royally furnished with a wardrobe,
toilet-table, and washstand, solid and old-fashioned like the
generation it had outlived. By its look it had descended in regular
stages from the bedrooms of the family to the casual guests' room and
then to the servants. But Pinkey had seen nothing so beautiful at
home, and her heart swelled at the thought of possessing such genteel
furniture. Mother Jenkins explained that with a lick of furniture
polish they would look as good as new, but Pinkey's only fear was that
they would be too expensive. Then the dealer reckoned that she could
get the lot for seven pounds. The only rivals she feared were women
who, if they set their heart on anything, sometimes forced the price
up till you could buy it for less in the shop.
Meanwhile the sale had begun, and in the distance Pinkey could hear
the monotonous voice of the auctioneer forcing the bids up till he
reached the limit. From time to time there was a roar of laughter as
he cracked a joke over the heads of his customers. The buyers stood
wedged like sardines in the room, craning their necks to see each lot
as it was put up. As the crowd moved from room to room, Pinkey's
excitement increased. Mother Jenkins had gone to the kitchen, where
she always found a few pickings. She came back and found Pinkey's
husband, the young man with the ugly face and dancing eyes, who was
waiting outside with the cart, watching while Pinkey polished a corner
of the wardrobe to show him its quality. She hurried them down to the
kitchen to examine the linoleum on the floor, as it would fit their
dining-room, if the worn parts were cut out.
The crowd moved like a mob of sheep into the servants rooms,
standing in each other's way, tired of the strain on their attention.
Mother Jenkins whispered that things would go cheap because the
auctioneer was in a hurry to get to his lunch. Pinkey stood behind
her, ready to poke her in the ribs if she wished her to keep on
"Now, gentlemen," said the auctioneer, "lot one hundred and
seventy-five. Duchesse wardrobe, dressing-table with bevelled mirrors,
and marble-top washstand, specially imported from England by Mrs
Harper. What am I offered?"
"Specially imported from England?" cried a dealer. "Yes, came out
in the first fleet."
"What's that?" cried the auctioneer. "Thank you for telling me,
Mr Isaacs." And he began again: "What offer for this solid ash bedroom
suite, imported in the first fleet, guaranteed by Mr Isaacs, who was
in leg-irons and saw it."
There was a roar of laughter at the dealer's discomfiture.
"Now, Mr Isaacs, how much are you going to bid, for old times'
sake?" cried the auctioneer, pushing his advantage. But Isaacs had
"A pound," said Mother Jenkins.
"No, mother, you don't mean it," cried the auctioneer, grinning.
"That'll leave you nothing to pay your tram fare home." But he went
on: "I'm offered a pound for this solid ash bedroom suite that cost
thirty guineas in London."
The bids crawled slowly up to six pounds.
"It's against you, mother," cried the auctioneer; "don't let a few
shillings stand in the way of your getting married. I knew the men
couldn't leave you alone with that face. Thank you, six-five."
The old hag showed her toothless gums in a hideous smile, the woman
that was left in the dried shell still tickled at the reference to
marriage. But her look changed to one of intense pain as Pinkey,
trembling with excitement, nudged her violently in the ribs as a
signal to keep on bidding. However, there was no real opposition, and
the bidding stopped suddenly at seven pounds, forced up to that price
by a friend of Mother Jenkins's to increase her commission.
In the kitchen the auctioneer lost his temper, and knocked down to
Mother Jenkins enough pots and pans to last Pinkey a lifetime for ten
shillings before the others could get in a bid. Chook, who had
borrowed Jack Ryan's cart for the day, drove off with his load in
triumph, while Pinkey went with Mother Jenkins to her shop in Bathurst
Street to sort out her curtains, bed-linen, and crockery from that
extraordinary collection. Twenty pounds would pay for the lot, and
leave a few shillings over.
One Saturday morning, two years ago, Pinkey had set out for the
factory as usual, and had come home to dinner with her wages in her
handkerchief and a wedding ring on her finger. Mrs Partridge gave up
novelettes for a week when she learned that her stepdaughter had
married Chook that morning at the registry office. Partridge had
taken the news with a look that had frightened the women; the only
sign of emotion that he had given was to turn his back without a word
on his favourite daughter. Since then they had lived with Chook's
mother, as he had no money to furnish; but last month Chook had joined
a syndicate of three to buy a five-shilling sweep ticket, which, to
their amazement, drew a hundred-pound prize. With Chook's share they
had decided to take Jack Ryan's shop in Pitt Street just round the
corner from Cardigan Street. It was a cottage that had been turned
into a shop by adding a false front to it. The rent, fifteen
shillings a week, frightened Chook, but he reserved ten pounds to
stock it with vegetables, and buy the fittings from Jack Ryan, who had
tried to conduct his business from the bar of the nearest hotel, and
failed. If the money had run to Jack's horse and cart, their fortunes
would have been made.
Mrs Partridge's wanderings had ended with the marriage of Pinkey.
Only once had she contrived to move, and the result had frightened
her, for William had mumbled about his lost time in his sleep. And
she had lived in Botany Street for two years, a stone's throw from the
new shop in Pitt Street. She remembered that Chook had helped to move
her furniture in at their first meeting, and, not liking to be
out-done in generosity, resolved to slip round after tea and lend a
hand. She knew, if any woman did, the trouble of moving furniture and
setting it straight. She prepared for her labours by putting on her
black silk blouse and her best skirt, and as William was anchored by
the fireside with the newspaper, she decided to wear her new hat with
the ostrich feathers, twenty years too young for her face, which she
had worn for three months on the quiet out of regard for William's
feelings, for it had cost the best part of his week's wages, squeezed
out in shillings and sixpences, the price of imaginary pounds of tea,
butter, and groceries.
She found Chook with his mouth full of nails, hanging pictures at
five shillings the pair; Pinkey, dishevelled, sweating in beads,
covered with dust, her sleeves tucked up to the elbows, ordering Chook
to raise or lower the picture half an inch to increase the effect. It
was some time before Mrs Partridge could find a comfortable chair
where she ran no risk of soiling her best clothes, but when she did
she smiled graciously on them, noting with intense satisfaction
Pinkey's stare of amazement at the black hat, twenty years too young
for her face.
"I thought I'd come round and give you a hand," she explained.
"Thanks, Missis," said Chook, thankful for even a little
Pinkey stared again at the hat, and Mrs Partridge felt a momentary
dissatisfaction with life in possessing such a hat without the right
to wear it in public. In half an hour Chook and Pinkey had altered
the position of everything in the room under the direction of Mrs
Partridge, who sat in her chair like a spectator at the play. At last
they sat down exhausted and Mrs Partridge, who felt as fresh as paint,
gave them her opinion on matrimony and the cares of housekeeping. But
Pinkey, unable to sit in idleness among this beautiful furniture, got
to work with her duster.
"Ah," said Mrs Partridge, "it's natural to take a pride in the bit
of furniture you start with, but when you've been through the mill
like I 'ave, you'll think more of your own comfort. There was yer
Aunt Maria wore 'er fingers to the bone polishing 'er furniture on the
time-payment plan, an' then lost it all through the death of 'er
'usband, an' the furniture man thanked 'er kindly fer keepin' it in
such beautiful order when 'e took it away. An' Mrs Ross starved
'erself to buy chairs an' sofas, which she needed, in my opinion,
being too weak to walk about; an' then 'er 'usband dropped a match,
an' they 'ad the best fire ever seen in the street, an' 'ave lived in
lodgings ever since."
"That's all right," said Chook uneasily, "but this ain't
time-payment furniture, an' I ain't goin' ter sling matches about like
some people sling advice."
"That's very true," said Mrs Partridge, warming up to her subject,
"but there's no knowin' 'ow careless yer may git when yer stomach's
undermined with bad cookin'."
"Wot rot ye're talkin'!" cried Chook. "Mother taught her to cook a
fair treat these two years. She niver got anythin' to practise on in
"That's true," said Mrs Partridge, placidly. "I was never one to
poison meself with me own cooking. When I was a girl I used ter buy a
penn'orth of everythin', peas-pudden, saveloys, pies, brawn, trotters,
Fritz, an' German sausage. Give me the 'am shop, an' then I know who
ter blame, if anythin' goes wrong with me stomach."
Chook gave his opinion of cookshops.
"Ah well," said Mrs Partridge, "what the eye doesn't see the 'eart
doesn't grieve over, as the sayin' is! An' that reminds me.
Elizabeth suffers from 'er 'eart, an' that means a doctor's bill
which I could never understand the prices they charge, knowin' plenty
as got better before the doctor could cure 'em an' so takin' the bread
out of 'is mouth, as the sayin' is. Though I make it my business to
be very smooth with them as might put somethin' nasty in the medsin
an' so carry you off, an' none the wiser, as the sayin' is."
"'Ere, this ain't a funeral," cried Chook, in disgust.
"An' thankful you ought ter be that it ain't," cried Mrs Partridge,
"after what I read in the paper only last week about people bein'
buried alive oftener than dead, an' fair gave me the creeps thinkin' I
could see the people scratchin' their way out of the coffin, an'
sittin' on a tombstone with nuthin' but a sheet round 'em. It would
cure anybody of wantin' ter die. I've told William to stick pins in
me when my time comes."
"Anybody could tell w'en you're dead," said Chook.
"Why, 'ow?" cried Mrs Partridge, eagerly.
"Yer'll stop gassin' about yerself," cried Chook, roughly.
Mrs Partridge started to smile, and then stopped. It dawned slowly
on her mind that she was insulted, and she rose to her feet.
"Thank's fer yer nasty remark," she cried. "That's all the thanks
I get fer comin' to give a 'elpin' 'and. But I know when I'm not
"Yer don't," said Pinkey, "or yer'd 'ave gone 'ours ago."
Mrs Partridge turned to go, the picture of offended dignity, when
her eyes fell on an apparition in the doorway, and she quailed. It
was William, left safely by the fireside for the night, and now
glowering, not at her as she swiftly divined, but at the hat with the
drooping feathers, twenty years too young for her face. For the first
time in her life she lost her nerve, but with wonderful presence of
mind, she smiled in her agony.
"Why, there you are, William," she cried. "Yer gave me quite a
start. I was just tryin' on Elizabeth's new 'at, to see if it suited
As she spoke, she tore out the hatpins with feverish dexterity, and
thrust the hat into Pinkey's astonished hand.
"Take it, yer little fool," she whispered, savagely.
Her face looked suddenly old and withered under the scanty grey
"Good evenin', Mr Partridge--glad ter see yer," cried Chook,
advancing with outstretched hand; but the old man ignored him. His
eyes travelled slowly round the room, taking in every detail of the
humble furniture. The others stood silent with a little fear in their
hearts at the sight of this old man with the face of a sleep-walker;
but suddenly Pinkey walked up to him, and, reaching on tiptoe, kissed
him, her face pink with emotion. It was the first time since her
unforgiven marriage. And she hung on him like a child, her wonderful
hair, the colour of a new penny, heightening the bloodless pallor of
the old man's face. The stolid grey eyes turned misty, and, in
silence, he slowly patted his daughter's cheek.
Chook kept his distance, feeling that he was not wanted. Mrs
Partridge, who had recovered her nerve, came as near cursing as her
placid, selfish nature would permit. She could have bitten her tongue
for spite. She thought of a thousand ways of explaining away the hat.
She should have said that a friend had lent it to her; that she had
bought it for half price at a sale. She had meant to show it to
William some night after his beer with a plausible story, but his
sudden appearance had upset her apple-cart, and the lie had slipped
out unawares. She wasn't afraid of William, she scorned him in her
heart. And now that little devil must keep it, for if she went back
on her word it would put William on the track of other little luxuries
that she squeezed out of his wages unknown to him--luxuries whose
chief charm lay in their secrecy. She felt ready to weep with
vexation. Instead she cried gaily:
"I've been tellin' them what a nice little 'ome they've got
together. I've seen plenty would be glad to start on less."
Partridge seemed not to hear his wife's remark. His mind dulled by
shock and misfortune, was slowly revolving forgotten scenes. He saw
with incredible sharpness of view his first home, with its few sticks
of second-hand furniture like Pinkey's, and Pinkey's mother, the dead
image of her daughter. That was where he belonged--to the old time,
when he was young and proud of himself, able to drink his glass and
sing a song with the best of them. Someone pulled him gently. He
looked round, wondering what he was doing there. But Pinkey pulled
him across the room to Chook, who was standing like a fool. He looked
Chook up and down as if he were a piece of furniture, and then,
without a word, held out his hand. The reconciliation was complete.
"Well, we must be goin', William," said Mrs Partridge, wondering
how she was to get home without a hat; but Partridge followed Chook
into the kitchen, where a candle was burning. Chook held the candle
in his hand to show the little dresser with the cups and saucers and
plates arranged in mathematical precision. The pots and pans were
already hung on hooks. They had all seen service, and in Chook's eyes
seemed more at home than the brand-new things that hung in the shops.
As Chook looked round with pride, he became aware that Partridge was
pushing something into his hand. It seemed like a wad of dirty paper,
and Chook held it to the candle in surprise. He unrolled it with his
fingers, and recognized banknotes.
"'Ere, I don't want yer money," cried Chook, offering the wad of
paper to the old man; but he pushed it back into Chook's hand with an
"D'ye mean it fer Liz?" asked Chook.
Partridge nodded; his eyes were full of tears.
"Yous are a white man, an' I always knew it. Yer niver 'ad no
cause ter go crook on me, but I ain't complainin'," cried Chook
The tears were running a zigzag course over the grey stubble of
"Yer'll be satisfied if I think as much of 'er as yous did of her
mother?" asked Chook, feeling a lump in his throat.
Partridge nodded, swallowing as if he were choking.
"She's my wife, an' the best pal I ever 'ad, an' a man can't say
more than that," cried Chook proudly, but his eyes were full of tears.
Without a word the grey-haired old man shook his head and hurried
to the front door, where Mrs Partridge was waiting impatiently. She
had forced the hat on Pinkey in a speech full of bitterness, and had
refused the loan of a hat to see her home. To explain her bare head,
she had prepared a little speech about running down without a hat
because of the fine night, but Partridge was too agitated to notice
what she wore.
When they stepped inside, the first thing that met Chook's eyes was
the hat with the wonderful feathers lying on a chair where Pinkey had
disdainfully thrown it. He stood and laughed till his ribs ached as
he thought of the figure cut by Mrs Partridge. He looked round for
Pinkey to join in, and was amazed to find her in tears.
"W'y, wot's the matter, Liz?" he cried, serious in a moment.
"Nuthin'," said Pinkey, drying her eyes "I was cryin' because I'm
glad father made it up with you. 'E's bin a good father to me. W'en
Lil an' me was kids, 'e used ter take us out every Saturday afternoon,
and buy us lollies," and the tears flowed again.
Chook wisely decided to say nothing about the banknotes till her
nerves were steadier.
"'Ere, cum an' try on yer new 'at," he cried, to divert her
"Me?" cried Pinkey, blazing. "Do yer think I'd put anythin' on my
'ead belongin' to 'er?"
"All right," said Chook, with regret, "I'll give it to mother fer
one of the kids."
"Yer can burn it, if yer like," cried Pinkey.
Chook held up the hat, and examined it with interest. It was
quite unlike any he had seen before.
"See 'ow it look on yer," he coaxed.
"Not me," said Pinkey, glaring at the hat as if it were Mrs
But Chook had made up his mind, and after a short scuffle, he
dragged Pinkey before the glass with the hat on her head.
"That's back ter front, yer silly," she said, suddenly quiet.
A minute later she was staring into the glass, silent and absorbed,
forgetful of Mrs Partridge, Chook, and her father. The hat was a
dream. The black trimmings and drooping feathers set off the ivory
pallor of her face and made the wonderful hair gleam like threads of
precious metal. She turned her head to judge it at very angle,
surprised at her own beauty. Presently she lifted it off her head as
tenderly as if it were a crown, with the reverence of women for the
things that increase their beauty. She put it down as if it were made
"I'll git Miss Jones to alter the bow, an' put the feathers farther
back," she said, like one in a dream.
"I thought yer wouldn't wear it at any price," said Chook,
delighted, but puzzled.
"Sometimes you talk like a man that's bin drinkin'," said Pinkey,
with the faintest possible smile.
CHAPTER 16. A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
It was past ten o'clock, and one by one, with a sudden, swift
collapse, each shop in Botany Road extinguished its lights, leaving a
blank gap in the shining row of glass windows. Mrs Yabsley turned
into Cardigan Street and, taking a firmer grip of her parcels, mounted
the hill slowly on account of her breath. She still continued to shop
at the last minute, in a panic, as her mother had done before her,
proud of her habit of being the last customer at the butcher's and the
grocer's. She looked up at the sky and, being anxious for the morrow,
tried to forecast the weather. A sharp wind was blowing, and the stars
winked cheerfully in a windswept sky. There was every promise of a
fine day, but to make sure, she tried the corn on her left foot. The
corn gave no sign, and she thought with satisfaction of her new
companion, Miss Perkins.
For years she had searched high and low for some penniless woman to
share her cottage and Jonah's allowance, and her pensioners had gone
out of their way to invent new methods of robbing her. But Miss
Perkins (whom she had found shivering and hungry on the doorstep as
she was going to bed one night and had taken in without asking
questions, as was her habit) guarded Mrs Yabsley's property like a
watchdog. For Cardigan Street, when it learned that Mrs Yabsley only
worked for the fun of the thing, had leaped to the conclusion that she
was rolling in money. They knew that she had given Jonah his start in
life, and felt certain that she owned half of the Silver Shoe.
So the older residents had come to look on Mrs Yabsley as their
property, and they formed a sort of club to sponge on her
methodically. They ran out of tea, sugar and flour, and kept the
landlord waiting while they ran up to borrow a shilling. They each
had their own day, and kept to it, respecting the rights of their
friends to a share of the plunder. None went away empty-handed, and
they looked with unfriendly eyes on any new arrivals who might
interfere with their rights. They thought they deceived the old
woman, and the tea and groceries had a finer flavour in consequence;
but they would have been surprised to know that Mrs Yabsley had
herself fixed her allowance from Jonah at two pounds a week and her
"That's enough money fer me to play the fool with, an' if it don't
do much good, it can't do much 'arm," she had remarked, with a
mysterious smile, when he had offered her anything she needed to live
The terrible Miss Perkins had altered all that. She had discovered
that Mrs Harris was paying for a new hat with the shilling a week she
got for Johnny's medicine; that Mrs Thorpe smelt of drink half an hour
after she had got two shillings towards the rent; that Mr Hawkins had
given his wife a black eye for saying that he was strong enough to go
to work again. Mrs Yabsley had listened with a perplexing smile to her
companion's cries of indignation.
"I could 'ave told yer all that meself," she said, "but wot's it
matter? Who am I to sit in judgment on 'em? They know I've got more
money than I want, but they're too proud to ask fer it openly. People
with better shirts on their backs are built the same way, if all I
'ear is true. I've bin poor meself an' yer may think there's
somethin' wrong in me 'ead, but if I've got a shillin', an' some poor
devil's got nuthin', I reckon I owe 'im sixpence. It isn't likely fer
you to understand such things, bein' brought up in the lap of luxury,
but don't yer run away with the idea that poor people are the only
ones who are ashamed to beg an' willin' to steal."
Mrs Yabsley had asked no questions when she had found Miss Perkins
on the step, but little by little her companion had dropped hints of
former glory, and then launched into a surprising tale. She was the
daughter of a rich man, who had died suddenly, and left her at the
mercy of a stepmother and she had grown desperate and fled, choosing
to earn her own bread till her cousin arrived, who was on his way from
England to marry her. On several occasions she had forgotten that her
name was Perkins, and when Mrs Yabsley dryly commented on this, she
confessed that she had borrowed the name from her maid when she fled.
And she whispered her real name in the ear of Mrs Yabsley, who
marvelled, and promised to keep the secret.
Mrs Yabsley, who was no fool, looked for some proof of the story,
and was satisfied. The girl was young and pretty, and gave herself
the airs of a duchess. Mrs Swadling, indeed, had spent so much of her
time at the cottage trying to worm her secret from the genteel
stranger that she unconsciously imitated her aristocratic manner and
way of talking, until Mr Swadling had brought her to her senses by
getting drunk and giving her a pair of black eyes, which destroyed all
resemblance to the fascinating stranger. Mrs Swadling had learned
nothing, but she assured half the street that Miss Perkins's father
had turned her out of doors for refusing to marry a man old enough to
be her father, and the other half that a forged will had robbed her of
thousands and a carriage and pair.
Cardigan Street had watched the aristocracy from the gallery of the
theatre with sharp, envious eyes, and reported their doings to Mrs
Yabsley, but Miss Perkins was the first specimen she had ever seen in
the flesh. In a week she learned more about the habits of the idle
rich than she had ever imagined in a lifetime. Her lodger lay in bed
till ten in the morning, and expected to be waited on hand and foot.
And when Mrs Yabsley could spare a minute, she described in detail
the splendours of her father's home. She talked incessantly of
helping Mrs Yabsley with the washing, but she seemed as helpless as a
child, and Mrs Yabsley, noticing the softness and whiteness of her
hands, knew that she had never done a stroke of work in her life.
Then, with the curious reverence of the worker for the idler, she
explained to her lodger that she only worked for exercise.
When Miss Perkins came, she had nothing but what she stood up in;
but one night she slipped out under cover of darkness, and returned
with a dress-basket full of finery, with which she dazzled Mrs
Yabsley's eyes in the seclusion of the cottage. The basket also
contained a number of pots and bottles with which she spent hours
before the mirror, touching up her eyebrows and cheeks and lips. When
Mrs Yabsley remarked bluntly that she was young and pretty enough
without these aids, she learned with amazement that all ladies in
society used them. Mrs Yabsley never tired of hearing Miss Perkins
describe the splendours of her lost home. She recognized that she had
lived in another world, where you lounged gracefully on velvet couches
and life was one long holiday.
"It's funny," she remarked, "'ow yer run up agin things in this
world. I never 'ad no partic'lar fancy fer dirty clothes an' soapsuds,
but in my time, which ever way I went, I never ran agin the
drorin'-room carpet an' the easy-chairs. It was the boilin' copper,
the scrubbin' brush, an' the kitchen floor every time."
She was intensely interested in Miss Perkins's cousin, who was on
his way from England to marry her. She described him so minutely that
Mrs Yabsley would have recognized him if she had met him in the
street. His income, his tastes and habits, his beautiful letters to
Miss Perkins, filled Mrs Yabsley with respectful admiration. As a
special favour Miss Perkins promised to read aloud one of his letters
announcing his departure from England, but found that she had mislaid
it. She made up for it by consulting Mrs Yabsley on the choice of a
husband. Mrs Yabsley, who had often been consulted on this subject,
gave her opinion.
"Some are ruled by 'is 'andsome face, an' some by 'ow much money
'e's got, but they nearly all fergit they've got ter live in the same
'ouse with 'im. Women 'ave only one way of lookin' at a man in the
long run, an' if yer ask my opinion of any man, I want ter know wot 'e
thinks about women. That's more important, yer'll find in the long
run, than the shape of his nose or the size of 'is bankin' account."
Mrs Yabsley still hid her money, but out of the reach of rats and
mice, and Miss Perkins had surprised her one day by naming the exact
amount she had in her possession. And she had insisted on Mrs Yabsley
going with her to the Ladies' Paradise and buying a toque, trimmed
with jet, for thirty shillings, a fur tippet for twenty-five
shillings, and a black cashmere dress, ready-made, for three pounds.
Mrs Yabsley had never spent so much money on dress in her life, but
Miss Perkins pointed out that the cadgers in Cardigan Street went out
better dressed than she on Sunday, and Mrs Yabsley gave in. Miss
Perkins refused to accept a fur necklet, slightly damaged by moth,
reduced to twelve-and-six, but took a plain leather belt for eighteen
pence. They were going out to-morrow for the first time to show the
new clothes, and she had left Miss Perkins at home altering the
waistband of the skirt and the hooks on the bodice, as there had been
some difficulty in fitting Mrs Yabsley's enormous girth.
Mrs Yabsley's thoughts came to a sudden stop as she reached the
steep part of the hill. On a steep grade her brain ceased to work,
and her body became a huge, stertorous machine, demanding every ounce
of vitality to force it an inch farther up the hill. Always she had
to fight for wind on climbing a hill, but lately a pain like a knife
in her heart had accompanied the suffocation, robbing her of all power
of locomotion. The doctor had said that her heart was weak, but,
judging by the rest of her body, that was nonsense, and a sniff at the
medicine before she threw it away had convinced her that he was merely
When she reached the cottage she was surprised to find it in
darkness, but, thinking no harm, took the key from under the doormat
and went in. She lit the candle and looked round, as Jonah had done
one night ten years ago. The room was unchanged. The walls were
stained with grease and patches of dirt, added, slowly through the
years as a face gathers wrinkles. The mottoes and almanacs alone
differed. She looked round, wondering what errand had taken Miss
Perkins out at that time of night. She was perplexed to see a sheet of
paper with writing on it pinned to the table. Miss Perkins knew she
was no scholar. Why had she gone out and left a note on the table?
The pain eased in her heart, and strength came back slowly to her
limbs as the suffocation in her throat lessened. At last she was able
to think. She had left Miss Perkins busy with her needle and cotton,
and she noticed with surprise that the clothes were gone.
With a sudden suspicion she went into the bedroom with the candle,
and looked in the wardrobe made out of six yards of cretonne. The
black cashmere dress, the fur tippet, and the box containing the toque
with jet trimmings were gone! She shrank from the truth, and, candle
in hand, examined every room, searching the most unlikely corners for
the missing articles. She came back and, taking the note pinned to
the table, stared at it with intense curiosity. What did these black
scratches mean? For the first time in her life she wished she were
scholar enough to read. She had had no schooling and when she grew up
it seemed a poor way to spend the time reading, when you might be
talking. Somebody always told you what was in the newspapers, and if
you wanted to know anything else, why, where was your tongue? She
examined the paper again, but it conveyed no meaning to her anxious
And then in a flash she saw Miss Perkins in a new light, The
woman's anxiety about her was a blind to save her money from dribbling
out in petty loans. Mrs Yabsley, knowing that banks were only traps,
still hid her money so carefully that no one could lay hands on it.
So that was the root of her care for Mrs Yabsley's appearance. She
held up the note, and regarded it with a grimly humorous smile. She
knew the truth now, and felt no desire to read what was written
there--some lie, she supposed--and dropped it on the floor.
Suddenly she felt old and lonely, and wrapping a shawl round her
shoulders, went out to her seat on the veranda. It was near eleven,
and the street was humming with life. The sober and thrifty were
trudging home with their loads of provisions; gossips were gathered at
intervals; sudden jests were bandied, conversations were shouted
across the width of the street, for it was Saturday night, and
innumerable pints of beer had put Cardigan Street in a good humour.
The doors were opened, and the eye travelled straight into the front
rooms lit with a kerosene lamp or a candle. Under the veranda at the
corner the Push was gathered, the successors of Chook and Jonah, young
and vicious, for the larrikin never grows old.
She looked on the familiar scenes that had been a part of her life
since she could remember. The street was changed, she thought, for a
new generation had arrived, scorning the old traditions. The terrace
opposite, sinking in decay, had become a den of thieves, the scum of a
city rookery. She felt a stranger in her own street, and saw that her
money had spoilt her relations with her neighbours. Once she could
read them like a book, but these people came to her with lies and many
inventions for the sake of a few miserable shillings. She wondered
what the world was coming to. She threw her thoughts into the past
with an immense regret. A group on the kerbstone broke into song:
Now, honey, yo' stay in yo' own back yard, Doan min' what dem
white chiles do; What show yo' suppose dey's a-gwine to gib A little
black coon like yo'? So stay on this side of the high boahd fence,
An', honey, doan cry so hard; Go out an' a-play, jes' as much as yo'
please, But stay in yo' own back yard.
The tune, with a taking lilt in it, made no impression on the old
woman. And she thought with regret that the old tunes had died out
with the people who sang them. These people had lost the trick of
enjoying themselves in a simple manner. Ah for the good old times,
when the street was as good as a play, and the people drank and
quarrelled and fought and sang without malice! A meaner race had come
in their stead, with meaner habits and meaner vices. Her thoughts
were interrupted by a tinkling bell, and a voice that cried:
"Peas an' pies, all 'ot!--all 'ot!"
It was the pieman, pushing a handcart. He went the length of the
street, unnoticed. She thought of Joey, dead and gone these long
years, with his shop on wheels and his air of prosperity. His widow
lived on the rent of a terrace of houses, but his successor was as
lean as a starved cat, for the people's tastes had changed, and the
chipped-potato shop round the corner took all their money. She
thought with pride of Joey and the famous wedding feast--the peas, the
pies, the saveloys, the beer, the songs and laughter. Ah well, you
could say what you liked, the good old times were gone for ever. Once
the street was like a play, and now...Her thoughts were disturbed
again by a terrific noise in the terrace opposite. The door of a
cottage flew open, and a woman ran screaming into the road, followed
by her husband with a tomahawk. But as the door slammed behind him,
he suddenly changed his mind and, turning back, hammered on the closed
door with frantic rage, calling on someone within to come out and be
killed. Then, as he grew tired of trying to get in, he remembered his
wife, but she had disappeared.
The crowd gathered about, glad of a diversion, and the news
travelled across the street to Mrs Yabsley on her veranda. Doughy the
baker, stepping down unexpectedly from the Woolpack to borrow a
shilling from his wife, had found her drinking beer in the kitchen
with Happy Jack. And while Doughy was hammering on the front door,
Happy Jack had slipped out at the back, and was watching Doughy's
antics over the shoulders of his pals. Presently Doughy grew tired
and, crossing the street, sat on the kerbstone in front of Mrs
Yabsley's, with his eye on the door. And as he sat, he caressed the
tomahawk, and carried on a loud conversation with himself, telling all
the secrets of his married life to the street. Cardigan Street was
enjoying itself. The crowd dwindled as the excitement died out, and
Doughy was left muttering to himself. From the group at the corner
came the roar of a chorus:
You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the bee, I'd like to sip the
honey sweet from those red lips, you see; I love you dearly, dearly,
and I want you to love me; You are my honey, honeysuckle, I am the
Doughy still muttered, but the beer had deadened his senses and his
jealous anger had evaporated. Half an hour later his wife crossed the
street cautiously and went inside. Doughy saw her and, having reached
the maudlin stage, got up and lurched across the street, anxious to
make it up and be friends. Quite like the old times, thought Mrs
Yabsley, when the street was as good as a play. And suddenly
remembering her dismal thoughts of an hour ago, she saw in a flash
that she had grown old and that the street had remained young. The
past, on which her mind dwelt so fondly, was not wonderful. It was
her youth that was wonderful, and now she was grown old. She
recognized that the street was the same, and that she had
changed--that the world is for ever beginning for some and ending for
It was nearly midnight, and, with a shiver, she pulled the shawl
over her shoulders and took a last look at the street before she went
to bed. Thirty years ago since she came to live in it, when half the
street was an open paddock! If Jim could see it now he wouldn't know
it! The thought brought the vision of him before her eyes. She was
an old woman now, but in her mind's eye he remained for ever young and
for ever joyous, the smart workman in a grey cap, with the brown
moustache and laughing eyes, who was nobody's enemy but his own.
Something within her had snapped when he died, and she had remained
on the defensive against life, expecting nothing, surprised at
nothing, content to sit out the performance like a spectator at the
She thought of to-morrow, and decided to pay a surprise visit to
the Silver Shoe before the people set out for church. There was
something wrong with Ada, she felt sure. Jonah had failed to look her
in the eye when she had asked news of Ada the last time. Well, she
would go and see for herself, and talk Ada into her senses again. She
locked the door and went to bed.
She gave Jonah and Ada a surprise, but not in the way she intended.
On Sunday morning it happened that Mrs Swadling sent over for a pinch
of tea, and, growing impatient, ran across to see what was keeping
Tommy. She found that he could make no one hear, and growing
suspicious, called the neighbours. An hour later the police forced
the door, and found Mrs Yabsley dead in bed. The doctor said that she
had died in her sleep from heart failure. Mrs Swadling, wondering
what had become of Miss Perkins, found a note lying on the floor, and
wondered no more when she read:
DEAR MRS YABSLEY,
I am sorry that I can't stay for the outing to-morrow, but my
cousin came out of Darlinghurst jail this morning, and we are going to
the West to make a fresh start. All I told you about my beautiful
home was quite true, only I was the upper housemaid. I am taking a
few odds and ends that you bought for the winter, as I could never
find out where you hid your money. I have searched till my back
ached, and quite agree with you that it is safer than a bank. I left
your clothes at Aaron's pawnshop, and will post you the ticket. When
you get this I shall be safe on the steamer, which is timed to leave
at ten o'clock. I hope someone will read this to you, and tell you
that I admire you immensely, although I take a strange way of showing
In haste, MAY
CHAPTER 17. THE TWO-UP SCHOOL
The silence of sleeping things hung over the Haymarket, and the
three long, dingy arcades lay huddled and lifeless in the night, black
and threatening against a cloudy sky. Presently, among the odd
nocturnal sounds of a great city, the vague yelping of a dog, the
scream of a locomotive, the furtive step of a prowler, the shrill cry
of a feathered watchman from the roost, the ear caught a continuous
rumble in the distance that changed as it grew nearer into the bumping
and jolting of a heavy cart.
It was the first of a lumbering procession that had been travelling
all night from the outlying suburbs--Botany, Fairfield, Willoughby,
Smithfield, St Peters, Woollahra and Double Bay--carrying the patient
harvest of Chinese gardens laid out with the rigid lines of a
chessboard. A sleepy Chinaman, perched on a heap of cabbages, pulled
the horse to a standstill, and one by one the carts backed against the
kerbstone forming a line the length of the arcades, waiting patiently
for the markets to open. And still, muffled in the distance, or
growing sharp and clear, the continuous rumble broke the silence, the
one persistent sound in the brooding night.
Presently the iron gates creaked on rusty hinges, the long, silent
arcades were flooded with the glow from clusters of electric bulbs,
and, with the shuffle of feet on the stone flags, the huge market woke
slowly to life, like a man who stretches himself and yawns. Outside,
the carters encouraged the horses with short, guttural cries, the
heavy vehicles bumped on the uneven flags, the horses' feet clattered
loudly on the stones as the drivers backed the carts against the
stalls, and the unloading began.
In half an hour the grimy stalls had disappeared under piles of
green vegetables, built up in orderly masses by the Chinese dealers.
The rank smell of cabbages filled the air, the attendants gossiped in
a strange tongue, and the arcades formed three green lanes, piled with
the fruits of the earth. Here and there the long green avenues were
broken with splashes of colour where piles of carrots, radishes and
rhubarb, the purple bulbs of beetroot, the creamy white of
cauliflowers, and the soft green of eschalots and lettuce broke the
dominant green of the cabbage.
The markets were transformed; it was an invasion from the East.
Instead of the sharp, broken cries of the dealers on Saturday night,
the shuffle of innumerable feet, the murmur of innumerable voices in a
familiar tongue, there was a silence broken only by strange guttural
sounds dropping into a sing-song cadence, the language of the East.
Chinamen stood on guard at every stall, slant-eyed and yellow,
clothed in the cheap slops of Sydney, their impassive features carved
in fantastic ugliness, surveying the scene with inscrutable eyes that
had opened first on rice-fields, sampans, junks, pagodas, and the
barbaric trappings of the silken East.
At four o'clock the sales began, and the early buyers arrived with
the morose air of men who have been robbed of their sleep. There were
small dealers, Dagoes from the fruit shops, greengrocers from the
suburbs, with a chaff-bag slung across their arm, who buy by the
dozen. They moved silently from stall to stall, pricing the
vegetables, feeling the market, calculating what they would gain by
waiting till the prices dropped, making the round of the markets
before they filled the chaff-bags and disappeared into the darkness
doubled beneath their loads.
Chook and Pinkey reached the markets by the first workman's tram in
the morning. As the rain had set in, Chook had thrown the chaff-bags
over his shoulders, and Pinkey wore an old jacket that she was ashamed
to wear in the daytime. By her colour you could tell that they had
been quarrelling as usual, because she had insisted on coming with
Chook to carry one of the chaff-bags. And now, as she came into the
light of the arcades, she looked like a half-drowned sparrow. The
rain dripped from her hat, and the shabby thin skirt clung to her legs
like a wet dishcloth. Chook looked at her with rage in his heart.
These trips to the market always rolled his pride in the mud, the
pride of the male who is willing to work his fingers to the bone to
provide his mate with fine plumage.
The cares of the shop had told on Pinkey's looks, for the last two
years spent with Chook's mother had been like a long honeymoon, and
Pinkey had led the life of a lady, with nothing to do but scrub and
wash and help Chook's mother keep her house like a new pin. So she
had grown plump and pert like a well-fed sparrow, but the care and
worry of the new shop had sharpened the angles of her body. Not that
Pinkey cared. She had the instinct for property, the passionate
desire to call something her own, an instinct that lay dormant and
undeveloped while she lived among other people's belongings.
Moreover, she had discovered a born talent for shopkeeping. With her
natural desire to please, she enchanted the customers, welcoming them
with a special smile, and never forgetting to remember that it was Mrs
Brown's third child that had the measles, and that Mrs Smith's case
puzzled the doctors. They only wanted a horse and cart, so that she
could mind the shop while Chook went hawking about the streets, and
their fortunes were made. But this morning the rain and Chook's
temper had damped her spirits, and she looked round with dismay on the
cold, silent arcades, recalling with a passionate longing the same
spaces transformed by night into the noisy, picturesque bazaar through
which she had been accustomed to saunter as an idler walks the block
on a Saturday morning.
Pinkey waited, shivering in a corner, while Chook did the buying.
He walked along the stalls, eyeing the sellers and their goods with
the air of a freebooter, for, as he always had more impudence than
cash, he was a redoubtable customer. There was always a touch of
comedy in Chook's buying, and the Chinamen knew and dreaded him,
instantly on the defensive, guarding their precious cabbages against
his predatory fingers, while Chook parted with his shillings as
cheerfully as a lioness parts with her cubs. A pile of superb
cauliflowers caught his eye.
"'Ow muchee?" he inquired.
"Ten shilling," replied the Chinaman.
"Seven an' six," answered Chook, promptly.
"No fear," replied the seller, relapsing into Celestial gravity and
resuming his dream of fan-tan and opium.
Chook walked the length of the arcade and then came back. These
were the pick of the market, and he must have them. Suddenly he
pushed a handful of silver into the Chinaman's hand and began to fill
his bag with the cauliflowers. With a look of suspicion the seller
counted the money in his hand; there were only eight shillings.
"'Ere, me no take you money," cried he, frantic with rage, trying
to push the silver into Chook's hand. And then Chook overwhelmed him
with a torrent of words, swearing that he had taken the money and made
a sale. The Chinaman hesitated and was lost.
"All li, you no pickum," he said, sullenly.
"No fear!" said Chook, grabbing the largest he could see.
In the next arcade he bought a dozen of rhubarb, Chin Lung watching
him suspiciously as he counted them into the bag.
"You gottum more'n a dozen," he cried.
"What a lie!" cried Chook, with a stare of outraged virtue.
"I'll push yer face in if yer say I pinched yer rotten stuff," and
he emptied the rhubarb out of the bag, dexterously kicking the
thirteenth bunch under the stall.
"Now are yez satisfied?" he cried, and began counting the bunches
into the bag two by two. As the Chinaman watched sharply, he stooped
to move a cabbage that he was standing on, and instantly Chook whipped
in two bunches without counting.
"Twelve," said Chook, with a look of indignation. "I 'ope ye're
satisfied: I am."
When the bags were full, Pinkey was blue with the cold, and the
dawn had broken, dull and grey, beneath the pitiless fall of rain. It
was no use waiting for such rain to stop, and they quarrelled again
because Chook insisted that she should wait in the markets till he
went home with one chaff-bag and came back for the other. Each bag,
bulging with vegetables, was nearly the size of Pinkey, but the expert
in moving furniture was not to be dismayed by that. She ended the
dispute by seizing a bag and trudging out into the rain, bent double
beneath the load, leaving Chook to curse and follow.
Halfway through breakfast Pinkey caught Chook's eye fixed on her in
a peculiar manner.
"Wot are yez thinkin' about?" she asked, with a smile.
"Well, if yer want ter know, I'm thinkin' wot a fool I was to marry
yer," said Chook, bitterly.
A cold wave swept over Pinkey. It flashed through her mind that he
was tired of her; that he thought she wasn't strong enough to do her
share of the work. Well, she could take poison or throw herself into
"Ah!" she said, cold as a stone. "Anythin' else?"
"I mean," said Chook, stumbling for words, "I ought to 'ave 'ad
more sense than ter drag yez out of a good 'ome ter come 'ere an' work
like a bus 'orse."
"Is that all?" inquired Pinkey.
"Yes; wot did yer think?" said Chook, miserably. "It fair gives me
the pip ter see yer 'umpin' a sack round the stalls, when I wanted ter
make yer 'appy an' comfortable."
Pinkey took a long breath of relief. She needn't drown herself,
then, he wasn't tired of her.
"An' who told yer I wasn't 'appy an' comfortable?" she inquired,
"'cause yer can go an' tell 'em it's only a rumour. An' while ye're
about it, yous can tell 'em I've got a good 'ome, a good 'usband, an'
everythin' I want." Here she looked round the dingy room as if daring
it to contradict her. "An' as fer the good 'ome I came from, I wasn't
wanted there, an' was 'arf starved; an' now the butcher picks the best
joint an' if I lift me finger, a big 'ulkin' feller falls over 'imself
ter run an' do wot I want."
Chook listened without a smile. Then his lips twitched and his
eyes turned misty. Pinkey ran at him, crying, "Yer silly juggins, if
I've got yous, I've got all I want." She hung round his neck, crying
for pleasure, and Mrs Higgs knocked on the counter till she was tired
before she got her potatoes.
The wet morning gave Pinkey a sore throat, and that finished Chook.
The shop gave them a bare living, but with a horse and cart he could
easily double their takings, and Pinkey could lie snug in bed while he
drove to Paddy's Market in the morning. He looked round in
desperation for some way of making enough money to buy Jack Ryan's
horse and cart, which were still for sale. He could think of nothing
but the two-up school, which had swallowed all his spare money before
he was married. Since his marriage he had sworn off the school, as he
couldn't spare the money with a wife to keep.
All his life Chook had lived from hand to mouth. He belonged to
the class that despises its neighbours for pinching and scraping, and
yet is haunted by the idea of sudden riches falling into its lap from
the skies. Certainly Chook had given Fortune no excuse for neglecting
him. He was always in a shilling sweep, a sixpenny raffle, a hundred
to one double on the Cup. He marked pak-a-pu tickets, took the kip at
two-up, and staked his last shilling more readily than the first. It
was always the last shilling that was going to turn the scale and make
his fortune. Well, he would try his luck again unknown to Pinkey,
arguing with the blind obstinacy of the gambler that after his
abstinence fate would class him as a beginner, the novice who wins a
sweep with the first ticket he buys, or backs the winner at a hundred
to one because he fancies its name.
Chook and Pinkey had been inseparable since their marriage, and he
spent a week trying to think of some excuse for going out alone at
night. But Pinkey, noticing his gloomy looks, decided that he needed
livening up, and ordered him to spend a shilling on the theatre.
Instantly Chook declined to go alone, and Pinkey fell into the trap.
She had meant to go with him at the last moment, but now she declared
that the night air made her cough. Chook could tell her all about the
play when he came home. This in itself was a good omen, and when two
black cats crossed his path on the way to the tram, it confirmed his
belief that his luck was in.
When Chook reached Castlereagh Street, he hesitated. It was
market-day on Thursday, and the two sovereigns in his pocket stood for
his banking account. They would last for twenty minutes, if his luck
were out, and he would never forgive himself. But at that moment a
black cat crossed the footpath rapidly in front of him, and his
courage revived. That made the third tonight. Men were slipping in
at the door of the school, which was guarded by a sentinel. Chook,
being unknown, waited till he saw an acquaintance, and was then passed
in. The play had not begun, and his long absence from the alley gave
his surroundings an air of novelty.
The large room, furnished like a barn, gave no sign of its
character, except for the ring, marked by a huge circular seat, the
inner circle padded and covered with canvas to deaden the noise of
falling coins. Above the ring the roof rose into a dome where the
players pitched the coins. The gaffers, a motley crowd, were sitting
or standing about, playing cards or throwing deck quoits to kill time
till the play began. The money-changer, his pockets bulging with
silver, came up, and Chook turned his sovereigns into half-crowns.
Chook looked with curiosity at the crowd; they were all strangers to
The cards and quoits were dropped as the boxer entered the ring.
It was Paddy Flynn himself, a retired pugilist, with the face and
neck of a bull, wearing a sweater and sandshoes, his arms and legs
bared to show the enormous muscles of the ancient athlete. He threw
the kip and the pennies into the centre, and took his place on a low
seat at the head of the ring.
The gaffers scrambled for places, wedged in a compact circle, the
spectators standing behind them to advise or take a hand as occasion
offered. Chook looked at the kip, a flat piece of wood, the size of a
butter-pat, and the two pennies, blackened on the tail and polished on
the face. A gaffer stepped into the ring and picked them up.
"A dollar 'eads! A dollar tails! 'Arf a dollar 'eads!" roared the
gamblers, making their bets.
"Get set!--get set!" cried the boxer, lolling in his seat with a
nonchalant air; and in a twinkling a bright heap of silver lay in
front of each player, the wagers made with the gaffers opposite. The
spinner handed his stake of five shillings to the boxer, who cried
The spinner placed the two pennies face down on the kip, and then,
with a turn of the wrist, the coins flew twenty feet into the air.
For a second there was a dead silence, every eye following the fall
of the coins. One fell flat, the other rolled on its edge, every neck
craned to follow its movements. One head and one tail lay in the
"Two ones!" cried the boxer; and the stakes remained untouched.
The spinner tossed the coins again, and, as they fell, the gaffers
cried "Two heads!"
"Two heads," repeated the boxer, with the decision of a judge.
The next moment a shower of coins flew like spray across the ring;
the tails had paid their dollars to the winning heads. Three times
the spinner threw heads, and the pile of silver in front of Chook grew
larger. Then Chook, who was watching the spinner, noticed that he
fumbled the pennies slightly as he placed them on the kip. Success
had shaken his nerve, and instantly Chook changed his cry to "A dollar
tails--a dollar tails!"
The coins spun into the air with a nervous jerk, and fell with the
two black tails up. The spinner threw down the kip, and took his
winnings from the boxer--five pounds for himself and ten shillings for
As another man took the kip, the boxer glared at the winning
players. "How is it?" he cried with the voice of a footpad demanding
charity, and obeying the laws of the game, the winners threw a dollar
or more from their heap to the boss.
For an hour Chook won steadily, and then at every throw the heap of
coins in front of him lessened. A trot or succession of seven tails
followed, and the kip changed hands rapidly, for the spinner drops the
kip when he throws tails. Chook stopped betting during the trot,
obeying an instinct. Without counting, his practised eye told him that
there were about five pounds in the heap of coins in front of him.
The seventh man threw down the kip, and Chook, as if obeying a
signal, rose from his seat and walked into the centre of the ring. He
handed five shillings to the boxer, and placed the pennies tail up on
the kip. His stake was covered with another dollar, the betting being
"Fair go!" cried the boxer.
Chook jerked the coins upward with the skill of an old gaffer; they
flew into the dome, and then dropped spinning. As they touched the
canvas floor, a hundred voices cried "Two heads!"
"Two heads!" cried the boxer, and a shower of coins flew across the
ring to the winners.
"A dollar or ten bob heads!" cried the boxer, staking Chook's win.
Chook spun the coins again, and as they dropped heads, the boxer
raked in one pound.
"Wot d'ye set?" he cried to Chook.
"The lot," cried Chook, and spun the coins. Heads again, and Chook
had two pounds in the boxer's hands, who put ten shillings aside in
case Chook "threw out", and staked thirty. Chook headed them again,
and was three pounds to the good. The gaffers realized that a trot of
heads was coming, and the boxer had to offer twelve to ten to cover
Chook's stake. For the seventh time Chook threw heads, and was twelve
pounds to the good. This was his dream come true, and with the faith
of the gambler in omens, he knew that was the end of his luck. He set
two pounds of his winnings, and tossed the coins.
"Two ones!" cried the gamblers, with a roar.
Chook threw again. One penny fell flat on its face; the other
rolled on its edge across the ring. In a sudden, deadly silence, a
hundred necks craned to follow its movements. Twenty or thirty pounds
in dollars and half-dollars depended on the wavering coin. Suddenly
it stopped, balanced as if in doubt, and fell on its face.
"Two tails!" cried the gaffers, and the trot of heads was
finished. Chook's stake was swept away, and the boxer handed him ten
pounds. Chook tossed a pound to him for commission. He acknowledged
it with a grunt, and looking round the ring at the winning players
cried out "How is it?--how is it?" With his other winnings Chook had
over fifteen pounds in his pocket, and he decided to go, although the
night was young. As he went to the stairs, the boxer cried out, "No
one to leave for five minutes!" following the custom when a big winner
left the room, to prevent a swarm of cadgers, lug-biters, and spielers
begging a tram fare, a bed, a cup of coffee from the winner. When
Chook reached the top of the staircase, the G.P.O. clock began to
strike, and Chook stopped to listen, for he had forgotten the lapse of
time. He counted the last stroke, eleven, and then, as if it had been
a signal, came the sound of voices and a noise of hammering from the
front door. The next moment the doorkeeper ran up the narrow
staircase crying "The Johns are here!"
For a moment the crowd of gamblers stared, aghast; then the look of
trapped animals came into their faces, and with the noise of
splintering wood below, they made a rush at the money on the floor.
The boxer ran swearing into the ring to hide the kip and the pennies,
butting with his bull shoulders against a mob of frenzied gaffers mad
with fear and greed, grabbing at any coins they could reach in despair
of finding their own. The news spread like fire. The school was
surrounded by a hundred policemen in plain clothes and uniform; every
outlet from the alley was watched and guarded. A cold scorn of the
police filled Chook's mind. For months the school ran unmolested, and
then a raid was planned in the spirit of sportsmen arranging a drive
of rabbits for a day's outing. This raid meant capture by the police,
an ignominious procession two by two to the lock-up, a night in the
cells unless bail was found, and a fine and a lecture from the
magistrate in the morning. To some it meant more. To the bank clerk
it meant the sack; to the cashier who was twenty pounds short in his
cash, an examination of his books and discovery; to the spieler who
was wanted by the police, scrutiny by a hundred pair of official eyes.
The gaffers ran here and there bewildered, cursing and swearing in
an impotence of rage. Like trapped rats the men ran to the windows
and doors, but the room, fortified with iron bars and barbed wire,
held them like a trap. The boxer cried out that bail would be found
for the captured, but his bull roar was lost in the din.
There was a rush of heavy police boots on the stairs, the lights
were suddenly turned out, and in the dark a wild scramble for liberty.
Someone smashed a window that was not barred, and a swarm of men
fought round the opening, dropping one by one on to the roof of some
stables. The first man through shouted something and tried to push
back, but a frenzied stream of men pushed him and the others into the
arms of the police, who had marked this exit beforehand. Chook found
himself on the roof, bleeding from a cut lip, and hatless. Below him
men were crouching on the roofs like cats, to be picked off at the
leisure of the police.
He could never understand how he escaped. He stood on the roof
awaiting capture quietly, as resistance was useless, picked up a hat
two sizes too large for him, and, walking slowly to the end of the
roof, ducked suddenly under an old signboard that was nailed to a
chimney. Every moment he expected a John to walk up to him, but, to
his amazement, none came. As a man may walk unhurt amid a shower of
bullets, he had walked unseen under twenty policemen's eyes. From
Castlereagh Street came a murmur of voices. The theatres were out,
and a huge crowd, fresh from the painted scenes and stale odours of
the stalls and gallery, watched with hilarious interest the
harlequinade on the roofs. In half an hour a procession was formed,
two deep, guarded by the police, and followed by a crowd stumbling
over one another to keep pace with it, shouting words of encouragement
and sympathy to the prisoners. Five minutes later Chook slithered
down a veranda post, a free man, and walked quietly to the tram.
CHAPTER 18. THE "ANGEL" LOSES A
Six months after the death of Mrs Yabsley, Ada and Mrs Herring sat
in the back parlour of the Angel sipping brandy. They had drunk their
fill and it was time to be going, but Ada had no desire to move. She
tapped her foot gently as she listened to the other woman's ceaseless
flow of talk, but her mind was elsewhere. She had reached the stage
when the world seemed a delightful place to live in; when it was a
pleasure to watch the people moving and gesticulating like figures in
a play, without jar or fret, as machines move on well-oiled cogs.
There was nothing to show that she had been drinking, except an
uncertain smile that rippled over her heavy features as the wind
breaks the surface of smooth water. Mrs Herring was as steady as a
rock, but she knew without looking that the end of her nose was red,
for drink affected that organ as heat affects a poker. Ada looked
round with affection on the small room with the sporting prints, the
whisky calendar, and the gong. For months past she had felt more at
home there than at the "Silver Shoe."
She had never forgotten the scene that had followed her first visit
to this room, when Jonah, surprised by her good humour, had smelt
brandy on her breath. The sight of a misshapen devil, with murder in
his eyes, spitting insults, had sobered her like cold water. She had
stammered out a tale of a tea-room where she had been taken ill, and
brandy had been brought in from the adjoining hotel. Mrs Herring, who
had spent a lifetime in deceiving men, had prepared this story for her
as one teaches a lesson to a child, but she had forgotten it until she
found herself mechanically repeating it, her brain sobered by the
shock. For a month she had avoided the woman with the hairy lip, and
then the death of her mother had removed the only moral barrier that
stood between her and hereditary impulse.
Since then she had gone to pieces. Mrs Herring had prescribed her
favourite remedy for grief, a drop of cordial, and Jonah for once
found himself helpless, for Mrs Herring taught Ada more tricks than a
monkey. Privately she considered Ada a dull fool, but she desired her
company, for she belonged to the order of sociable drunkards, for whom
drink has no flavour without company, and who can no more drink alone
than men can smoke in the dark. Ada was an ideal companion, rarely
breaking the thread of her ceaseless babble, and never forgetting to
pay for her share. It was little enough she could squeeze out of
Aaron, and often she drank for the afternoon at Ada's expense.
She looked anxiously at Ada, and then at the clock. For she drank
with the precision of a patient taking medicine, calculating to a drop
the amount she could carry, and allowing for the slight increase of
giddiness when she stepped into the fresh air of the streets. But
to-day she felt anxious, for Ada had already drunk a glass too much,
and turned from her coaxings with an obstinate smile. The more she
drank, she thought, the less she would care for what Jonah said when
she got home. Mrs Herring felt annoyed with her for threatening to
spoil a pleasant afternoon, but she talked on to divert her thoughts
from the brandy.
"And remember what I told you, dearie. Every woman should learn to
manage men. Some say you should study their weak points, but that was
never my way. They all like to think their word is law, and you can
do anything you please if you pretend you are afraid to do anything
without asking their permission. And always humour them in one thing.
Now, Aaron insists on punctuality. His meals must be ready on the
stroke, and once he is fed, I can do as I please. Now, do be ruled by
me, dearie, and come home."
But Ada had turned unmanageable, and called for more drink. Mrs
Herring could have slapped her. Her practised eye told her that Ada
would soon be too helpless to move, and she thought, with a cringing
fear, of Aaron the Jew, and her board and lodging that depended on his
Outside it had begun to rain, and Joe Grant, a loafer by trade and
a lug-biter by circumstance, shifted from one foot to another, and
stared dismally at the narrow slit between the swinging doors of the
"Angel", where he knew there was warmth, and light, and
comfort--everything that he desired. The rain, fine as needle-points,
fell without noise, imperceptibly covering his clothes and beard with
moisture. The pavements and street darkened as if a shadow had been
thrown over them, and then shone in irregular streaks and patches of
light, reflected from the jets of light that suddenly appeared in the
shop windows. Joe looked at the clock through the windows of the bar.
It was twenty to six. The rain had brought the night before its
time, and Joe wondered what had become of Mrs Jones and her pal. He
had had the luck to see her going in at the side door, and she was
always good for a tray bit when she came out. Failing her, he must
depend on the stream of workmen, homeward bound, who always stopped at
the Angel for a pint on their way home.
Suddenly the huge white globes in front of the hotel spluttered and
flashed, piercing the darkness and the rain with their powerful rays.
The bar, as suddenly illumined, brilliant with mirrors and glass,
invited the weary passenger in to share its comforts. Joe fingered
the solitary coin in his pocket--threepence. It was more than the
price of a beer to him; it was the price of admission to the warm,
comfortable bar every night, for the landlord was the friend of every
man with the price of a drink in his pocket, and once inside, he could
manage to drink at other people's expense till closing time. He kept
an eye on the side door for Ada and Mrs Herring, at the same time
watching each pedestrian as he emerged from the darkness into the
glare of the electric lights.
The fine points of rain had gradually increased to a smart
downfall, that drummed on the veranda overhead and gurgled past his
feet in the gutter. Behind him, from a leak in the pipe, the water
fell to the ground with a noisy splash as if someone had turned on a
tap. Joe felt that he hated water like a cat. His watery blue eyes,
fixed with a careless scrutiny on every face, told him in an instant
whether the owner was a likely mark that he could touch for a drink,
but his luck was out. He decided that the two women must have slipped
out by another door.
Jonah, who had been caught in the shower, stopped for a moment
under the veranda, anxious to get back to the Silver Shoe before
closing time. Joe let him pass without stirring a muscle; he knew
him. If you asked him for a drink, he offered you work. But, as
Jonah hesitated before facing the rain again, a sudden anger flamed in
his mind at the sight of Jonah's gold watch-chain and silver-mounted
umbrella. Cripes, he knew that fellow when he knocked about with the
Push, and now he was rolling in money! And with the sudden impulse of
a suicide who throws himself under a train, he stepped up to Jonah.
"Could I 'ave a word with yer, Mr Jones?" he mumbled.
"'Ello, Smacker! Just gittin' 'ome, like myself?" said Jonah.
"Not much use gittin' 'ome to an empty 'ouse," said Joe, with a
doleful whine, "an' I've earned nuthin' this week."
"'Ow do yer expect to find work, when the only place yer look fer
it is in the bottom of a beer-glass?" said Jonah.
"I 'ave me faults, none knows better than meself," said Joe
humbly, "but thinkin' of them won't fill me belly on a night like
"Now look 'ere," said Jonah, "I'm in a 'urry. I won't give yer any
money, but if ye're 'ungry, come across the street, an' I'll buy yer a
Joe hesitated, but the thought of good money being wasted on food
was too much for him, and he played his last card.
"Look, I'll tell yer straight, Mr Jones; it's no use tryin' to pull
yer leg. I can git all the tucker I want for the askin', but I'm
dyin' for a beer to cheer me up an' keep out the cold."
He smiled at Jonah with an air of frankness, hoping to play on
Jonah's vanity by this cynical confession, but his heart sank as Jonah
replied "No, not a penny for drink," and prepared to dive into the
"'Orl right, boss," muttered Joe; and then, half to himself, he
added "'Ard luck, to grudge a man a pint, with 'is own missis inside
there gittin' as full as a tick."
"What's that yer say?" cried Jonah, turning pale.
"Nuthin'," muttered Joe, conscious that he had made a mistake.
But a sudden light flashed on Jonah. Ada had lied to him from the
beginning. She had told him that she got the drink at Paddy Boland's
in the Haymarket, a notorious drinking-den for women, where spirits
were served to customers, disguised as light refreshments. The fear
of a public scandal in a room full of women had alone prevented him
from going there to find her. It was Mrs Herring's craft to throw
Jonah on the wrong scent, and sip comfortably in the back parlour of
the Angel, safe from detection, a stone's throw from the Silver Shoe.
Jonah turned and walked in at the side door, leaving Joe with the
uneasy feeling of the man who killed the goose to get the golden eggs.
Ada had just rung the gong, insisting on another drink with the
fatuous obstinacy of drunkards. She lolled in her chair, her hat
tilted over one ear, watching the door for the return of Cassidy with
the tray and glasses, and wondering dimly why Mrs Herring's voice
sounded far away, as if she were speaking through a telephone. Mrs
Herring, the tip of her nose growing a brighter red with drink and
vexation, was scolding and coaxing by turns in a rapid whisper.
Suddenly she stopped, her eyes fixed in a petrified stare at an
apparition in the doorway. It was the devil himself, Ada's husband,
the hunchback. As he stood in the doorway, his eyes travelled from
her to his wife. His face turned white, a nasty greyish white, his
eyes snapped like an angry cat's, and then his face hardened in a
sneer. But Ada, who was fast losing consciousness of her identity,
stared at her husband without fear or surprise. The deadly silence
was broken by the arrival of Cassidy, who nearly ran into Jonah with
"Beg pardon," said he, briskly, and looking down found himself
staring into the face of a grinning corpse.
"Don't mind me, Cassidy," said the corpse, speaking. "She can
stand another glass, I think."
Cassidy put the tray down with a jerk that upset the glasses.
"I'm very sorry this should have happened, Mr Jones," he stammered.
"I'm very ..."
"Of course you are," cried Jonah. "Ye're sorry fer anythin' that
interferes with yer business of turning men and women into swine."
"Come now," said Cassidy, making a last stand on his dignity, "this
is a public house, and I am bound to serve drink to anyone that asks
for it. As a matter of fact, I didn't know the lady was in this
condition till the barman sent me in to see what could be done."
"You're a liar, an' a fat liar. I hate fat liars--I don't know
why--an' if yer tell another, I'll ram yer teeth down yer throat.
She's been comin' 'ere for months, an' you've been sending her home
drunk for the sake of a few shillings, to poison my life and make her
name a byword in the neighbourhood. Now, listen to me! You'll not
serve that woman again with drink under any pretext whatever."
"I should be glad to oblige you; but this is a public house, as I
He stopped as Jonah took a step forward, his fists clenched,
transformed in a moment into Jonah the larrikin, king of the Cardigan
"D'ye remember me, Cassidy?" he cried. "I've sent better men than
you to the 'orspital in a cab. D'ye remember w'en yer were a cop with
one stripe, an' we smashed every window in Flanagan's pub for laggin'?
D'ye remember the time yer used ter turn fer safety down a side
street w'en yer saw us comin'?"
Cassidy's face stiffened for a moment, the old policeman coming to
life again at the sight of his natural enemy, the larrikin. But years
of ease had buried the guardian of the law under layers of fat. He
stepped hastily back from Jonah's fists.
"No, I won't hit yer; yer might splash," cried Jonah bitterly.
And Cassidy, forgetting that the dreaded Push was scattered to the
winds, and trembling for the safety of his windows, spoke in a changed
"I'll do anything to meet your wishes, Mr Jones. There's no call
to rake up old times. We've both got on since then, and it won't pay
us to be enemies. I promise you faithfully that your wife shan't be
served with drink here."
"I'm glad to 'ear it," said Jonah; "an' now yer better 'elp me ter
git 'er 'ome."
He looked round the room. There were only himself, Cassidy, and
Ada. Mrs Herring, who had been paralysed by the sight of the devil in
the shape of a hunchback, had found herself on the footpath, sober as
a judge, without very well knowing how she got there.
Ada, stupefied with brandy, and tired over the long conversation,
had fallen asleep on the table. Jonah went to the door and called
Joe, who was listening dismally to the hum of voices raised in
argument and the pleasant clink of glasses in the bar, now filled with
workmen carrying their bags of tools, their faces covered with the
sweat and grime of the day.
"Fetch me a cab, Smacker," he said. "My wife's been taken ill.
She fainted in the street, and they brought her here to recover."
"Right y'are, boss," cried Joe. "She turned giddy as she was
walkin' past, an' yer tried to pull 'er round with a drop of brandy."
He repeated the words like a boy reciting a lesson, feeling
anxiously with his thumb as he spoke, wondering if the coin Jonah had
pushed into his hand was a florin or a half-dollar.
Cassidy and Joe, one on each side, helped Ada into the cab. Her
feet scraped helplessly over the flagged pavement her head lolled on
her shoulder, and the baleful white gleam of the huge electric lamps
fell like limelight on her face contracted in an atrocious leer.
The "Silver Shoe" was closed and in darkness, and Jonah drew a
breath of relief. The neighbours were at their tea, and he could get
his shameful burden in unseen. Prendergast, the cabman, helped him to
drag Ada across the shop to the foot of the stairs, where with an oath
he threw her across his shoulder, and ran up the winding staircase as
if he were carrying a bag of chaff.
Suddenly the door on the landing opened, throwing a flood of light
on their faces, and Jonah was astonished to see Miss Grimes, trim and
neat, looking in alarm from him to the cabman and his burden. As
Prendergast dropped Ada on the couch, she took a step forward.
"What has happened? Is she hurt?" she asked, bending over Ada; but
the next moment she turned away.
This unconscious movement of disgust maddened Jonah. What was she
doing there to see his humiliation?
"No, she's not hurt," said Jonah dryly. "But wot are you doing
'ere?" he added.
His tone nettled the young woman, and she coloured.
"I'm sorry I'm in the way," she said stiffly, "but Mr Johnson
locked up, and was anxious to get away, and as I was giving Ray his
lesson, I offered to stay with him till someone came."
"I beg yer pardon," said Jonah. "I'm much obliged to yer fer
mindin' the kid, but I didn't want yer to see this."
"I've known it all the time," said Clara, quietly.
"Ah," said Jonah, understanding many things in a flash.
He caught sight of Ray, staring open-mouthed at his mother lying so
strangely huddled on the couch.
"Yer mother's tired, Ray," he said. "Go an' boil the kettle;
she'll want some tea when she wakes up."
"That's 'ow I 'ave ter lie to everybody; an' I suppose they all
know the truth, an' nod an' wink behind my back," he cried bitterly.
"I've tried all I know; but now 'er mother's gone, I'm fair beat.
People envy me because I've got on, but they little know wot a
millstone I've got round my neck."
He lifted his head, and look steadily at Ada snoring in a drunken
sleep on the couch. And to Clara's surprise, his face suddenly
changed; tears stood in his eyes.
"Poor devil! I don't know that she's to blame altogether. It's in
her blood. Her father went the same way. My money's done 'er no
good. She'd 'ave been better off in Cardigan Street on two pounds a
Clara was surprised at the pity in his voice. She thought that he
loathed and despised his wife. Suddenly Jonah looked up at her.
"Will yer meet me to-morrow afternoon?" he asked abruptly.
"Why?" said Clara, alarmed and surprised.
"I want yer to 'elp me. Since 'er mother died, she's gone from bad
to worse. I've got no one to 'elp me, an' I feel I'll burst if I
don't talk it over with somebody."
"I hardly know," replied Clara, taken by surprise.
"Say the Mosman boat at half past two, an' I'll be there," said
"Very well," said Clara.
CHAPTER 19. THE PIPES OF PAN
Circular Quay, shaped like a bite in a slice of bread, caught the
eye like a moving picture. The narrow strip of roadway, hemmed in
between the Customs House and the huge wool stores, was alive with the
multitudinous activity of an ant-hill. A string of electric cars slid
past the jetties in parallel lines or climbed the sharp curve to
Phillip Street; and every minute cars, loaded with passengers from the
dusty suburbs, swung round the corners of the main streets and stopped
in front of the ferries. And as the cars stopped, the human cargo
emptied itself into the roadway and hurried to the turnstiles,
harassed by the thought of missing the next boat.
From the waterside, where the great mail steamers lay moored along
the Quay, came the sudden rattle of winches, the cries of men
unloading cargo, and the shrill hoot of small steamers crossing the
bay. Where the green waters licked the piles and gurgled under the
jetties, waterside loafers sat on the edge of the wharves intently
watching a fishing-line thrown out. Men in greasy clothes and flannel
shirts, with the look of the sea in their eyes, smoked and spat as
they watched the ships in brooding silence. For of all structures
contrived by the hands of man, a ship is the most fascinating. It is
so complete, so perfect in its devices and ingenuity, a house and a
habitation for men set adrift on the waste of waters, plunging
headlong into danger and romance with its long spars and coiled ropes,
its tarry sailors roaring a sea-chanty, and the common habits of
eating and sleeping accomplished in a spirit of adventure.
Two streams, mainly women, met at the turnstiles--mothers and
children from the crowded, dusty suburbs, drawn by the sudden heat of
an autumn sun in a cloudless sky to the harbour for a day in the open
air, and the leisured ladies of the North Shore, calm and collected,
dressed in expensive materials, crossing from the fashionable
waterside suburbs to the Quay to saunter idly round the Block, look in
the shops, and drink a cup of tea.
Jonah, who had been standing outside the Mosman ferry for the last
half-hour, looked at the clock in the Customs House opposite, and
swore to himself. It was on the stroke of three, and she would miss
the boat, as usual. It was always the same--she was always late; and
when he had worked himself into a fury, deciding to wait another
minute, and then to go home, she would suddenly appear breathless,
with a smile and an apology that took the words out of his mouth.
He watched each tram as it stopped, looking for one face and figure
among the moving crowd, for he had learned to know her walk in the
distance while her features were a blur. For months past he had
endured that supreme tyranny--the domination of the woman--till his
whole life seemed to be spent between thinking about her and waiting
for her at appointed corners. The hours they spent together fled with
incredible speed, and she always shortened the flying minutes by
coming late, with one of half a dozen excuses that he knew by heart.
Their first meeting had been at the Quay the day after he had
brought Ada home drunk from the "Angel", and since then a silent
understanding had grown between them that they should always meet
there and cross the water, as Jonah's conspicuous figure made
recognition very likely in the streets and parks of the city.
The first passion of his life--love of his child--had for ever
stamped on his brain the scenes and atmosphere of Cardigan Street, the
struggle for life on the Road, and the march of triumph to the "Silver
Shoe". And this, the second passion of his life--love of a woman--was
set like a stage-play among the wide spaces of sea and sky, the flight
of gulls, the encircling hills, and the rough, salt breath of the
Suddenly he saw her crossing the road, threading her way between
the electric cars, and noted with intense satisfaction the distinction
of her figure, clothed in light tweed, with an air of scrupulous
neatness in which she could hold her own with the rich idlers from the
Shore. She smiled at him with her peculiar, intense look, and then
frowned slightly. Jonah knew that something was wrong, and remembered
that he had forgotten to raise his hat, an accomplishment that she had
taught him with much difficulty.
"So sorry to be late, but I couldn't really help it. I'll tell you
presently," she said, as they passed the turnstiles.
Jonah knew by her voice that she was in a bad temper, and his heart
sank. The afternoon that he had waited for and counted on for nearly a
week would be spoiled. Never before in his life had his pleasures
depended on the humour or caprice of anyone, but he had learned with
dismal surprise that a word or a look from this woman could make or
mar the day for him. He gave her a sidelong look, and saw she was
angry by a certain hardness in her profile, and, as he stared moodily
at the water, he wondered if all women were as mutable and capricious.
In his dealings with women--shop-hands who moved at his bidding like
machines--he had never suspected these gusts of emotion that ended as
suddenly as they began. Ada had the nerves of a cow.
Over the way the Manly boat was filling slowly with mothers and
children and stray couples. A lamentable band on the upper deck mixed
popular airs with the rattle of winches. The Quay was alive with
ferry-boats, blunt-nosed and squat like a flat-iron, churning the
water with invisible screws. A string of lascars from the P.boat
caught his eye with a patch of colour, the white calico trousers, the
gay embroidered vests, and the red or white turbans bringing a touch
of the East to Sydney. Suddenly the piles of the jetty slipped to the
rear, and the boat moved out past the huge mail-steamers from London,
Marseilles, Bremen, Hongkong, and Yokohama lying at the wharves.
As they rounded the point the warships swung into view, grim and
forbidding, with the ugly strength of bulldogs. A light breeze
flicked the waters of the harbour into white flakes like the lash of a
whip, and Jonah felt the salt breath of the sea on his cheeks. His
eye travelled over the broad sheet of water from the South Head, where
the long rollers of the Pacific entered and broke with a muscular
curve, to the shores broken by innumerable curves into bays where the
moving waters, already tamed, lost their beauty like a caged animal,
and spent themselves in fretful ripples on the sand. Overhead the
sky, arched in a cloudless dome of blue, was reflected in the
turquoise depths of the water.
Then Mosman came in sight with its shaggy slopes and terra-cotta
roofs, the houses, on the pattern of a Swiss chalet, standing with
spaces between, fashionable and reserved. Jonah thought of Cardigan
Street, and smiled. They walked in silence along the path to Cremorne
Point, the noise of birds and the rustling of leaves bringing a touch
of the country to Jonah.
"Had you been waiting long?" asked Clara, suddenly.
"Since twenty past two," replied Jonah.
"The impudence of some people is incredible," she said. "I've just
lost a pupil and a guinea a quarter--it's the same thing. The mother
thought I should buy the music for the child out of the guinea. That
means a hat and a pair of gloves or a pair of boots less through no
fault of my own. You don't seem very sympathetic," she cried, looking
sharply at Jonah.
"I ain't," said Jonah, calmly.
"Well, I must say you don't pick your words. A guinea may be
nothing to you, but it means a great deal to me."
"It ain't that," said Jonah, "but I hate the thought of yer bein'
at the beck an' call of people who ain't fit to clean yer boots.
Ye're like a kid 'oldin' its finger in the fire an' yellin' with
pain. There's no need fer yer to do it. I've offered ter make yer
cashier in the shop at two pounds a week, if yer'd put yer pride in
"And throw a poor girl out of work to step into her shoes."
"Nuthin' of the sort, as I told yer. She's been threatenin' fer
months to git married, but it 'urts 'er to give up a good billet an'
live on three pounds a week. Yer'd do the bloke a kindness, if yer
made me give 'er the sack."
"It's no use. My mother wouldn't listen to it. For years she's
half starved herself to keep me out of a shop. She can never forget
that her people in England are gentry."
"I don't know much about gentry, but I could teach them an' yer
mother some common sense," said Jonah.
"We won't discuss my mother, if you please," said Clara, and they
both fell silent.
They had reached the end of Cremorne Point, a spur of rock running
into the harbour. Clara ran forward with a cry of pleasure, her
troubles forgotten as she saw the harbour lying like a map at her
feet. The opposite shore curved into miniature bays, with the spires
and towers of the city etched on a filmy blue sky. The mass of
bricks and mortar in front was Paddington and Woollahra, leafless and
dusty where they had trampled the trees and green grass beneath their
feet; the streets cut like furrows in a field of brick. As the eye
travelled eastward from Double Bay to South Head the red roofs became
scarcer, alternating with clumps of sombre foliage. Clara looked at
the scene with parted lips as she listened to music. This frank
delight in scenery had amused Jonah at first. It was part of a
woman's delight in the pretty and useless. But, as his eyes had
become accustomed to the view, he had begun to understand. There was
no scenery in Cardigan Street, and he had been too busy in later years
to give more than a hasty glance at the harbour. There was no money
From where they sat they could see a fleet of tramps and
cargo-boats lying at anchor on their right. Jonah examined them
attentively, and then his eyes turned to the city, piled massively in
the sunlight, studded with spires and towers and tall chimneys
belching smoke into the upper air. It was this city that had given him
life on bitter terms, a misshapen and neglected street-arab, scouring
the streets for food, of less account than a stray dog.
His eye softened as he looked again at the water. As the safest
place for their excursions they had picked by chance on the harbour
with its fleet of steamers that threaded every bay and cove, and
little by little, in the exaltation of the senses following his love
for this woman, the swish of the water slipping past the bows, the
panorama of rock and sandy beach, and the salt smell of the sea were
for ever part of this strange, emotional condition where reality and
dream blended without visible jar or shock.
He turned and looked at the woman beside him. She was silent,
looking seaward. He stared at her profile, cut like a cameo, with
intense satisfaction. The low, straight forehead, the straight nose,
the full curving chin, satisfied his eye like a carved statue. About
her ear, exquisitely small and delicate, the wind had blown a fluff of
loose hair, and on this insignificant detail his eye dwelt with
rapture. This woman's face pleased him like music. And as he looked,
all his desires were melted and confounded in a wave of tenderness,
caressing and devotional, the complete surrender of strength to
weakness. He wanted to take her in his arms, and dared not even touch
her hand. There had been no talk of love between them, and she had
kept him at a distance with her air of distinction and superficial
refinements. She seemed to spread a silken barrier between them that
exasperated and entranced him. Some identity in his sensations
puzzled him, and as he looked, with a flash he was in Cardigan Street
again, stooping over his child with a strange sensation in his heart,
learning his first lesson in pity and infinite tenderness. Another
moment and he would have taken her in his arms. Instead of that, he
said "I'm putting that line of patent leather pumps in the catalogue at
seven and elevenpence, post free."
Instantly Clara became attentive.
"You mean those with the buckles and straps? They'll go like hot
"They ought to," said Jonah, dryly. "Post free brings them a shade
below cost price."
"A shade below cost?" said Clara in surprise. "I thought you
bought them at seven and six?"
"So I do," replied Jonah, "but add twelve per cent for working
expenses, an' where's the profit? Packard's manager puts them in the
window at eight an' six, an' wonders why they don't sell. His girls
come straight from the factory and buy them off me. They're the sort
I want--waitresses, dressmakers, shop-hands, bits of girls that go
without their meals to doll themselves up. They want the cheapest
they can get, an' they're always buying."
And at once they plunged into a discussion on the business of the
Silver Shoe. Clara always listened with fascination to the details of
buying and selling. Novelettes left her cold, but the devices to
attract customers, the lines that were sold at a loss for
advertisement, the history of the famous Silver Shoe that Jonah sold
in thousands at a halfpenny a pair profit, astonished her like a
fairy-tale that happened to be real.
One day, while shopping at Jordan's mammoth cash store, her ear had
caught the repeated clink of metal, and turning her head, she stood on
the stairs, thunderstruck. She saw a square room lit with electric
bulbs in broad daylight. It was the terminus of a multitude of
shining brass tubes leading from counters the length of a street away,
and, with an incessant popping, the tubes dropped a cascade of gold
and silver before the cashiers, silent and absorbed in this river of
coin. She felt that she was looking at the heart of this huge machine
for drawing money from the pockets of the multitude. The "Silver
Shoe", that poured a stream of golden coins into the pockets of the
hunchback, fascinated her in a like manner.
They had talked for half an hour, intent on figures which Jonah
dotted on the back of an envelope, when they were surprised by a
sudden change in the light. The sun was low in the sky, dipping to
the horizon, where its motion seemed more rapid, as if it had gathered
speed in the descent. The sudden heat had thrown a haze over the sky,
and the city with its spires and towers was transformed. The
buildings floated in a liquid veil with the unreality of things seen
in a dream. The rays of the sun, filtered through bars of crystal
cloud, fell not crimson nor amber nor gold, but with the mystic
radiance of liquid pearls, touching the familiar scene with Eastern
magic. In the silvery light a dome reared its head that might have
belonged to an Eastern mosque with a muezzin calling the faithful to
prayers. Minarets glistered, remote and ethereal, and tall spires
lifted themselves like arrows in flight. On the left lay low hills
softly outlined against the pearly sky; hills of fairyland that might
dissolve and disappear with the falling night; hills on the borderland
of fantasy and old romance.
And as they watched, surprised out of themselves by this magic play
of light, the sun's rim dipped below the skyline, a level lake of
blood, and the fantastic city melted like a dream. The pearly haze
was withdrawn like a net of gossamer, and the magic city had vanished
at a touch. The familiar towers and spires of Sydney reappeared,
silhouetted against the amber rim of night; the hills, robbed of their
pearly glamour, huddled beneath a belt of leaden cloud; the harbour
waters lay fiat and grey like a sheet of polished metal; light clouds
were pacing in from the sea.
They stared across the water, silent and thoughtful, touched for a
moment with the glamour of a dream. The sound of a cornet, prolonged
into a wail, reached them from the deck of a Manly steamer. At
intervals the full strength of the band, cheerful and vulgar, was
carried by a gust of wind to their ears.
"Oh, I would like to hear some music!" cried Clara. "Something
slow and solemn, a dirge for the dying day."
Jonah turned and looked at her curiously, surprised by the gush of
emotion in her voice. He started to speak, and hesitated. Then the
words came with a rush.
"I could give yer a tune meself, but I suppose yer'd poke borak."
"Give me a tune? I never knew you could sing," said Clara, in
"Sing!" said Jonah, in scorn. "I can beat any singin' w'en I'm in
"Whatever do you mean?" said Clara. She was surprised to see that
the habitual shrewd look had gone out of his eyes. He looked half
ashamed and defiant.
"Yer remember w'en I first met yer in the shop I mentioned that I
could do a bit with the mouth-organ?"
"The mouth-organ?" said Clara, smiling. "I thought only boys
amused themselves with that."
"No fear!" cried Jonah. "I 'eard a bloke at the 'Tiv.' play a fair
treat. That's 'ow I come to git this instrument," and he tapped
something in his breast pocket. "Kramer's 'ad to send 'ome for it,
an' I only got it this afternoon. I've bin dyin' to 'ave a go at it,
but I always wait till I git the place to meself. It wouldn't do for
the 'ands to see the boss playin' the mouth-organ."
He took the instrument out of his pocket, and handed it to Clara
with the pride of a fiddler showing his Strad. Clara looked
carelessly at the flat row of tubes cased in nickel-silver.
"Exhibition concert organ with forty reeds," said Jonah. Again
Clara looked at the instrument with a slightly disdainful air, as an
organist would look at a penny whistle.
"Well, play something," she said with a smile.
Jonah breathed slowly into the reeds, up and down the scale,
testing the compass of the instrument. It was full and rich, unlike
any that she had heard in the streets. Presently he struck into a
popular ballad from the music-hall, holding the organ to his mouth
with the left hand. With his right he covered the pipes to control
the volume of sound as a pianist uses the pedals. When he had
finished, Clara smiled in encouragement, with a secret feeling that he
was making himself ridiculous. She looked across the water, wishing
he would put the thing away and stop this absurd exhibition. But
Jonah had warmed up to his work. He was back in Cardigan Street
again, when the Push marched through the streets with him in the lead,
playing tunes that he had learned at the music-halls.
In five minutes Clara's uneasiness had vanished, and she was
listening to the music with a dreamy languor quite foreign to her
usual composure. Her mind was filled with the fantastic splendour of
the sunset; the fresh salt air had acted like a drug; and the sounds
breathed into the reeds made her nerves vibrate like strings.
Strange, lawless thoughts floated in her mind. The world was meant
for love, and passionate sadness, and breaking hearts that healed at
the glance of an eye. And as her ear followed the tune, her eyes were
drawn with an irresistible movement to the musician. She found him
staring at her with a magnetic look in his eyes.
He was no longer ridiculous. The large head, wedged beneath the
shoulders, the projecting hump, monstrous and inhuman, and the music
breathed into the reeds set him apart as a sinister, uncanny being.
She frowned in an effort to think what the strange figure reminded
her of, and suddenly she remembered. It was the god Pan, the
goat-footed lord of rivers and woods, sitting beside her, who blew
into his pipes and stirred the blood of men and women to frenzies of
joy and fear. There was fear and exultation in her heart. A pagan
voluptuousness spread through her limbs. Jonah paused for a moment,
and then broke into the pick of his repertory. And Clara listened,
hypnotized by the sounds, her brain mechanically fitting the words to
Come to me, sweet Marie, sweet Marie, come to me! Not because your
face is fair, love, to see; But your soul, so pure and sweet, Makes
my happiness complete, Makes me falter at your feet, sweet Marie.
The vulgar, insipid words rang as plainly in her ears as if a voice
were singing them. Jonah stopped playing, and stared at her with a
curious glitter in his eyes. She felt, in a dazed, dreamy fashion,
that this was the hunchback's declaration of love. The hurdy-gurdy
tune and the unsung words had acted like a spell. For a space of
seconds she gazed with a fixed look at Jonah, waiting for him to move
or speak. She seemed to be slipping down a precipice without the
power or desire to resist. Then, like a fit of giddiness, the
sensation passed. She stumbled to her feet and ran wildly down the
rocky path to the wharf where the ferry-boat, glittering with electric
lights, like a gigantic firefly, was waiting at the jetty.
CHAPTER 20. MRS PARTRIDGE MINDS THE
Chook caught the last tram home, and found Pinkey asleep in bed
with a novelette in her hand. She had fallen asleep reading it. The
noise of Chook's entry roused her, and she stared at him, uncertain of
the hour. Then, seeing him fully dressed, she decided that it was four
o'clock in the morning, and that he was trying to sneak off to Paddy's
Market without her. She was awake in an instant, and her face flushed
pink with anger as she jumped out of bed, indignant at being deprived
of her share of the unpleasant trip to the markets. Three times a
week she nerved herself for that heartbreaking journey in the raw
morning air, resolved never to let Chook see her flinch from her duty.
As she started to dress herself with feverish haste, Chook recovered
enough from his astonishment to ask her where she was going.
"To Paddy's, of course," she replied fiercely. "Yer sneaked off
last week on yer own, an' cum 'ome so knocked out that yer couldn't
eat yer breakfast."
A cold shiver ran through Chook. Her mind was affected, and in a
flash he saw his wife taken to the asylum and himself left desolate.
Then he understood, and burst into a roar.
"Git into bed again, Liz," he cried. "Ye're walkin' in yer sleep."
"Wot's the time?" she asked, with a suspicious look.
"Five past twelve," said Chook, reluctantly.
"An' ye're only just come 'ome! Wot d'ye mean by stoppin' out till
this time of night?" she cried, turning on him furiously, but secretly
relieved, like a patient who finds the dentist is out.
"The play was out late, an' we..." stammered Chook.
As he stammered, Pinkey caught sight of a rip in his sleeve, and
looking at him intently, was horrified to see his lip cut and
bleeding. She gave a cry of terror and burst into tears.
"Yer never went to no play; yer've bin fightin'," she sobbed.
"No, I ain't, fair dinkum," cried Chook. "I'll tell yer 'ow I come
by this, if yer wait a minute."
"Yer never cut yer lip lookin' at the play; yer've gone back ter
the Push, as Sarah always said yer would."
"I'll screw Sarah's neck when I can spare the time," said Chook,
Chook, the old-time larrikin, had turned out a model husband, but,
for years after his marriage, Mrs Partridge had taken a delight in
prophesying that he would soon tire of Pinkey's apron-strings and
return to the Push and the streets. And now, although Waxy Collins
and Joe Crutch were in jail for sneak-thieving, their places taken by
younger and more vicious scum, Pinkey thought instantly of the dread
Push when Chook grew restive.
"No," said Chook, deciding to cut it short, "I tore me coat an' cut
me lip gittin' away from the Johns at Paddy Flynn's alley."
Pinkey turned sick with fear. The two-up school was worse than the
Push, and they were ruined.
"I knew it the moment I set eyes on yer. Yer've been bettin'
again, an' lost all yer money. Yer've got nothing left for the
markets, an' the landlord'll turn us out," she cried, seeing herself
already in the gutter.
"Yes, I lost a bit, but I pulled up, an' I'm a couple of dollars to
the good," said Chook, feeling in his pocket for some half-crowns.
"Well, give it to me," said Pinkey, "an' I'll go straight termorrer
and pay ten shillings on a machine."
"Wot would yer 'ave said if I'd won ten or fifteen quid?" asked
"I should 'ave said 'Buy Jack Ryan's 'orse an' cart, an' never go
near a two-up school again'," said Pinkey, thinking of the impossible.
"Well, I won the dollars, an' I'll do as yer say," cried Chook
emptying his pockets on the counterpane.
As Chook poured the heap of gold and silver on to the bed, Pinkey
gasped, and turned deadly white. Chook thought she was going to
"It's all right, Liz," he cried. "I've 'ad a good win, an' we're
set up fer life."
He was busy sorting the gold and silver into heaps, first putting
aside his stake, two pounds ten. There were fifteen pounds twelve
shillings and sixpence left. Pinkey stared in amazement. It seemed
incredible that so much money could belong to them. And suddenly she
thought, with a pang of joy, that no longer would she need to nerve
herself for the cruel journey to the markets in the morning. Chook
would drive down in his own cart, and she would be waiting on his
return with a good breakfast. They had gone up in the world like a
The marriage of Pinkey, three years ago, had affected Mrs Partridge
like the loss of a limb. For over two years she had been chained to
the same house, in the same street, with the desire but not the power
to move. Only once had she managed to change her quarters with the aid
of William, and the result had been disastrous. For the first time in
his life William had lost a day at Grimshaw's to move the furniture,
and for six months he had brooded over the lost time. This last move
had planted them in Botany Street, five minutes' walk from Chook's
shop. At first Mrs Partridge had fretted, finding little consolation
in the new ham-and-beef shop on Botany Road; and then, little by
little, she had become attached to the neighbourhood. She had been
surprised to find that entertainment came to her door unsought, in the
form of constant arrivals and departures among the neighbours. And
each of them was the beginning or the end of a mystery, which she
probed to the bottom with the aid of the postman, the baker, the
butcher, and the tradesmen who were left lamenting with their bills
unpaid. Never before in her wanderings had she got so completely in
touch with her surroundings.
But from habit she always talked of moving. She could never pass
an empty house without going through it, sniffing the drains, and
requesting the landlord to make certain improvements, with the mania
of women who haunt the shops with empty purses, pricing expensive
materials. Every week she announced to Chook and Pinkey that she had
found the very house, if William would take a day off to move. But in
her heart she had no desire to leave the neighbourhood. It was an
agreeable and daily diversion for her to run up to the shop, and
prophesy ruin and disaster to Chook and Pinkey for taking a shop that
had beggared the last tenant, ignoring the fact that Jack Ryan had
converted his profits into beer. Chook's rough tongue made her wince
at times, but she refused to take offence for more than a day. She
had taken a fancy to Chook the moment she had set eyes on him, and was
sure Pinkey was responsible for his sudden bursts of temper. She
thought to do him a service by dwelling on Pinkey's weak points, and
Chook showed his gratitude by scowling. Pinkey, who had been a
machinist in the factory, was no hand with a needle, and Mrs Partridge
commented on this in Chook's hearing.
"An' fancy 'er 'ardly able to sew on a button, which is very
dangerous lyin' about on the floor, as children will eat anythin', not
knowin' the consequences," she cried.
Chook pointed out that there were no children in the house to eat
"An' thankful you ought to be for that," she cried. "There's Mrs
Brown's baby expectin' to be waited on 'and an' foot, an' thinks
nothin' of wakin' 'er up in the night, cryin' its heart out one
minute, an' cooin' like a dove the next, though I don't 'old with
keepin' birds in the 'ouse as makes an awful mess, an' always the fear
of a nasty nip through the bars of the cage, which means a piece of
rag tied round your finger."
Here she stopped for breath, and Chook turned aside the torrent of
words by offering her some vegetables, riddled with grubs, for the
trouble of carrying them home. She considered herself one of Chook's
best customers, having dealt off him since their first meeting. Every
market-day she came to the shop, picked out everything that was
damaged or bruised, and bought it at her own price. She often wished
that Pinkey had married a grocer.
Chook had said nothing to her of his win at the two-up school, and
she only heard of it at the last moment through a neighbour. She put
on her hat, and just reached the shop in time to see Chook drive up to
the door in his own horse and cart. Pinkey was standing there,
radiant, her dreams come true, already feeling that their fortunes
were made. Mrs Partridge looked on with a choking sensation in her
throat, desiring nothing for herself, but angry with Fortune for
showering her gifts on others. Then she stepped up briskly, and cried
"I 'eard all about yer luck, an' I sez to myself, 'it couldn't 'ave
'appened to a more deservin' young feller.' You'll ride in yer
carriage yet, mark my words."
She came nearer and stared at the mare, anxious to find fault, but
knowing nothing of the points of a horse. She decided to make friends
with it, and rubbed its nose. The animal, giving her an affectionate
look, furtively tried to bite her arm, and then threw back its head,
expecting the rap on the nose that always followed this attempt. Mrs
Partridge trembled with fear and rage.
"Well, I never!" she cried. "The sly brute! Looked at me like a
'uman being, an' then tried to eat me, which I could never understand
people preachin' about kindness to dumb animals, an' 'orses takin' a
delight in runnin' over people in the street every day."
"It's because they've got relations that makes 'em thankful animals
are dumb," said Chook.
"Meaning me?" cried Mrs Partridge, smelling an insult.
"You?" said Chook, affecting surprise. "I niver mind yous talkin'.
It goes in one ear an' out of the other."
Mrs Partridge bounced out of the shop in a rage, but next day she
came back to tell Pinkey that she had found the very house in Surry
Hills for a shilling a week less rent. She stayed long enough to
frighten the life out of Pinkey by telling her that she had heard that
Jack Ryan was well rid of the horse, because it had a habit of bolting
and breaking the driver's neck. Chook found Pinkey trembling for his
safety, and determined to put a stop to these annoyances. He
disappeared for a whole day, and when Pinkey wanted to know where he
had been, he told her to wait and see. They nearly quarrelled. But
the next morning he gave her a surprise. After breakfast he announced
that he was going to take her to the Druids' picnic in his own cart,
and that Mrs Partridge had consented to mind the shop in their
When Chook asked Mrs Partridge to mind the shop for the day, she
jumped at the idea. She felt that she had a gift for business which
she had wasted by not marrying the greengrocer; and now, with the shop
to herself, she would show them how to deal with the customers, and
find time in between to run her eye through Pinkey's boxes. She, too,
would have a holiday after her own heart. She decided to wear her
best skirt and blouse, to keep the customers in their place and remind
them that she was independent of their favours. She found everything
ready on her arrival. The price of every vegetable was freshly
painted on the window by Chook in white letters, and there were five
shillings in small change in the till. Lunch was set for her on the
kitchen table, a sight to make the mouth water, for Chook, remembering
the days of his courting, had ransacked the ham-and-beef shop for
dainties--sheep's trotters, brawn, pig's cheek, ham-and-chicken
sausage, and a bottle of mixed pickles. Nothing was wanting. As
Chook drove off with Pinkey, she waved her hand to them, and then,
surveying the street with the air of a proprietor, entered the shop
and took possession.
They were going to Sir Joseph Banks's for the picnic; but, to
Pinkey's surprise, the cart turned into Botany Street and pulled up in
front of Sarah's cottage.
"Wotcher stoppin' 'ere for?" she inquired.
"'Cause we're goin' ter git out," said Chook, with a grin.
"Git out? Wot for? There's nobody at 'ome, Dad's at work."
"I know; that's w'y I came," said Chook, tying the reins to the
seat. "Git down, Liz; yer've got a 'ard day in front of yer."
"'Ard day? Wotcher mean?" cried Pinkey, suspiciously.
"We're goin' ter move Sarah's furniture to the new 'ouse she found
in Surry Hills," replied Chook.
"She never took no 'ouse," said Pinkey.
"No, I took it yesterday in 'er name," said Chook, grinning at
Pinkey's perplexed frown. "I wanted ter give 'er a pleasant surprise
fer 'er birthday."
"Wot about the picnic?" exclaimed Pinkey, suddenly.
"There ain't no picnic," said Chook. "It's next Monday; the date
must 'ave slipped me mind."
"An' yer mean ter move 'er furniture in without 'er knowin'?"
"That's the dart," said Chook, with a vicious smile. "If Sarah's
tongue don't git a change of air, I'll git three months fer murder.
So 'urry up, Liz, an' put this apron over yer skirt."
The impudence of Chook's plan took her breath away, but when he
insisted that there was no other way of getting rid of Mrs Partridge,
she consented, with the feeling that she was taking part in a
burglary. Chook took the key from under the flower-pot and went in.
They found the place like a pigsty, for in the excitement of dressing
for her day behind the counter, Sarah had wasted no time in making
the bed or washing up, and Pinkey, trained under the watchful eye of
Chook's mother, stood aghast. She declared that nothing could be done
till that mess was cleared away, and tucked up her sleeves.
The appearance of the cart had roused the neighbours' curiosity,
and Chook engaged them in conversation over the back fence. He
explained that Mrs Partridge had begged him to come down and move her
furniture while she minded the shop. There was a general sigh of
relief. Nothing had escaped her eye or tongue. Mrs King, who was
supposed to be temperance, did wonders with the bottle under her
apron, but was caught. Then she found out that Mrs Robinson's
brother, who was supposed to be doing well in the country, was really
doin' seven years. Chook refused half a dozen offers of help before
Pinkey had finished washing up.
As Chook lacked the professional skill of Jimmy the van-man, Pinkey
was obliged to make two loads of the furniture; but by twelve o'clock
the last stick was on the cart, and Pinkey, sitting beside her husband
on a plank, carried the kerosene lamp in her lap to prevent breakage.
By sunset everything was in its place, and Chook and Pinkey, aching
in every joint, locked the door and drove home.
Meanwhile, Mrs Partridge had spent a pleasant day conducting
Chook's business on new lines. She had always suspected that she had
a gift for business, and here was an opportunity to prove it. The
first customer was a child, sent for three penn'orth of potatoes. As
children are naturally careless, Mrs Partridge saw here an excellent
opportunity for weeding out the stock, and went to a lot of trouble in
picking out the small and damaged tubers, reserving the best for
customers who came to choose for themselves. Five minutes later she
was exchanging them for the largest in the sack under the direction of
an infuriated mother. This flustered her slightly, and when Mrs Green
arrived, complaining of rheumatic twinges in her leg, she decided to
try Pinkey's sympathetic manner.
"Ah, if anybody knows what rheumatism is, I do," she cried. "For
years I suffered cruelly, an' then I was persuaded to carry a new
pertater in me pocket, an' I've never 'ad ache or pain since; though
gettin' cured, to my mind, depends on the sort of life you've led."
Mrs Green, a woman with a past, flushed heavily.
"'Oo are yer slingin' off at?" she cried. "You and yer new
pertater. I'd smack yer face for two pins," and she walked out of the
This made Mrs Partridge careful, and she served the next customers
in an amazing silence. Then she dined royally on the pick of the
ham-and-beef shop, and settled down for the afternoon. But she
recovered her tongue when Mrs Paterson wanted some lettuce for a
"Which I could never understand people eatin' salads, as I shall
always consider bad for the stomach, an' descendin' to the lower
animals," she cried. "Nothing could make me believe I was meant to
eat vegetables raw when I can 'ave them boiled an' strained for 'alf
In her eagerness to convert Mrs Paterson to her views, she forgot
to charge for the lettuce. When Chook and Pinkey arrived, she had
partially destroyed the business, and was regretting that she had been
too delicate to marry the greengrocer. She showed Chook the till
bulging with copper and silver.
"Yer've done us proud," cried Chook, staring.
Mrs Partridge sorted out ten shillings from the heap.
"That's Mrs Robins's account," she remarked.
"Wot made 'er pay?" inquired Pinkey, suspiciously. "Yer didn't go
an' ask 'er for it, did yer?"
"Not likely," said Mrs Partridge; "but when she complained of the
peas bein' eighteenpence a peck, I pointed out that if she considered
nothing too dear for 'er back, she should consider nothing too dear
for 'er stomach, an' she ran 'ome to fetch this money an' nearly threw
it in my face."
"Me best customer," cried Pinkey in dismay. "She pays at the end
of the month like clockwork."
Mrs Partridge stared at the heap of silver, and changed the
"It 'ud give me the creeps to sleep in the 'ouse with all that
money," she remarked, "after readin' in the paper as 'ow burglars are
passionate fond of silver, an' 'avin' no reg'lar 'ours for callin',
like to drop in when least expected." She noted with satisfaction that
Pinkey changed colour, and shook the creases out of her skirt. "Well,
I must be goin'," she added. "I never like to keep William waitin'
for 'is tea."
A cold wave swept over Chook. He had clean forgotten William, who
would go home to Botany Street and find an empty house. Pinkey dived
into the bedroom, and left Chook to face it out.
"'Ere's yer key," he said helplessly, to make a beginning.
"This is my key," said Mrs Partridge, feeling in her pocket, "an'
the other one is under the flower-pot for William, if I'm out. I
dunno what you mean."
"I mean this is the key of yer new 'ouse in Surry Hills," said
Chook, fumbling hopelessly with the piece of iron.
"You've bin drinkin', an' the beer's gone to yer 'ead," said Mrs
Partridge, unwilling to take offence.
"I tell yer I'm as dry as a bone," cried Chook, losing patience.
"Yer think yer live in Botany Street, but yer don't. Yer live in
Foveaux Street, an' this is the key of the 'ouse."
"I think I live in Botany Street, but I've moved to Foveaux
Street," repeated Mrs Partridge, but the words conveyed no meaning to
She came closer to Chook. He looked and smelt sober, and suddenly
a horrid suspicion ran through her mind that her brain was softening.
She was older than they thought, for she had taken five years off her
age when she had married William. In an agony of fear she searched
her memory for the events of the past month, trying to recall any
symptom of illness that should have warned her. She could remember
nothing, and turned to Chook with a wild fear in her eyes. Something
must be wrong with him.
"Can you understand what you're sayin'?" she asked.
"Yes," said Chook, anxious to get it over. "Yer lived in Botany
Street this morning, but yer moved to-day, an' now yer live in Foveaux
Street in the 'ouse yer picked on Monday."
"Do you expect me to believe that?" cried Mrs Partridge.
"No," said Chook; "but yer will w'en yer go 'ome an' find your
"An' who moved me?"
"Me an' Liz," said Chook. "The picnic wasn't till next week, an'
Liz an' me thought we'd give yer a surprise."
For the first time in her life Mrs Partridge was speechless. She
saw that she had been tricked shamefully. They had ransacked her
house, and laid bare all the secrets of her little luxuries. She
quailed as she remembered what they had found in the cupboard and the
bottom drawer of the wardrobe. Never again could she face Chook and
Pinkey, knowing what they did, and take her pickings of the shop.
Suddenly she recovered her tongue, and turned on Chook, transformed
"William will break every bone in yer body when 'e 'ears what
you've done," she cried, "mark my words. An' in case I never see yer
again, let me tell yer somethin' that's been on my mind ever since I
first met you. If that ginger-headed cat 'idin' behind the bedroom
door 'adn't married yer, nobody else would, for you're that ugly it
'ud pay yer to grow whiskers an' 'ide yer face."
And with this parting shot she marched out of the shop and
disappeared in the darkness.
CHAPTER 21. DAD WEEPS ON A TOMBSTONE
The scene at Cremorne Point had suddenly reminded Clara that she
was playing with fire. In the beginning she had consented to these
meetings to humour the parent of her best pupil, and gradually she had
drifted into an intimacy with Jonah without the courage to end it. To
her fastidious taste his physical deformity and the flavour of
Cardigan Street that still clung about his speech and manners put him
out of court as a possible lover; but it had gratified her pride to
discover that he was in love with her, and as he never expressed
himself more plainly than by furtive glances and sudden inflections in
his voice, she felt sure of her power to keep him at a distance.
These outings, indeed, had nearly fallen through, when Jonah,
fumbling for words and afraid to say what was on his mind, had touched
on a detail of his business. To his surprise Clara caught fire like
straw, fascinated at being shown the inner workings of the "Silver
Shoe". And from that time a curious attitude had grown between them.
Jonah talked of his business, and stared at Clara as she listened,
forgetful of him, her mind absorbed in details of profit and loss.
She found the position easy to maintain, for Jonah, catching at
straws, demanded no positive encouragement. A chance word or look from
her was rich matter for a week's thought, twisted and turned in his
mind till it meant all he desired.
She saw clearly and coldly that Jonah had placed her on a pedestal,
and she determined never to step down of her own accord, recognizing
with the instinct for business that had surprised Jonah that she would
lose more than she would gain. And yet the sudden glimpse of passion
in Jonah had whetted her appetite for more. It had recalled the days
of her engagement with a singular bitterness and pleasure. She
thought with a hateful persistence of her first love, the man who had
accustomed her to admiration and then shuffled out of the engagement,
forced by the attitude of his relatives to her father. But for weeks
after the scene at Cremorne Jonah had retired within himself terrified
lest he should alarm her and put an end to their outings. So far she
had timed their meetings for the daylight out of prudence, but,
pricked on by curiosity, she had begun to dally on the return journey,
desiring and fearing some token of his adoration.
Meanwhile Jonah swung like a pendulum between hope and despair. He
dimly suspected that a bolder man would have had his declaration out
and done with long ago, and he waited for a favourable opportunity;
but it came and went, and left him speechless. He had accepted Ada as
the typical woman, and now found himself as much at sea as if he had
discovered a new species, for he never suspected that any other woman
had it in her power, given a favourable opportunity, to lead him to
this new world of sensation. Women had always been shy of him, and
with his abnormal shape and his absorption in business it had been
easy for him to miss what lay beneath the surface. But for the
accident of his meeting with Clara, his temperament would have carried
him through life, unconscious of love from his own experience and
regarding it as a fable of women and poets.
Jonah never spent money willingly, except where Ray was concerned,
and Clara in their first meetings had been surprised and chilled by
his anxiety to get the value of his money. He had informed her,
bluntly, that money was not made by spending it; but for some months
he had been surprised by a desire to spend his money to adorn and
beautify this woman. Clara, however, maintaining her independence
with a wary eye, had refused to take presents from him. He had become
more civilized and more human under the weight of his generous
emotions, but they could find no outlet.
It was the affair of Hans Paasch that opened his eye to the power
for good that she exercised over him. When his shop had closed for
want of customers, Paasch found that his failing eyesight and
methodical slowness barred him from competing with younger and quicker
men, and, his mind weakened and bewildered by disaster, he had turned
for help to his first and only love, the violin. For some years he
had taught a few pupils who were too poor to pay the fees of the
professional teachers, and, persuaded that pupils would flock to him
if he gave his whole time to it he took a room and set up as a
teacher. In six months he had to choose between starvation by inches
or playing dance music in Bob Fenner's hall for fifteen shillings a
week. For a while he endured this, playing popular airs that he hated
and despised for the larrikins whom he hated and feared, a nightly
butt and target for their coarse jests. Then he preferred starvation,
and found himself in the gutter with the clothes he stood up in and
his fiddle. He had joined the army of mendicant musicians, who scrape
a tune in front of hotels and shops, living on charity thinly veiled.
They had passed him one night on their return from Mosman, playing
in front of a public-house to an audience of three loafers. The
streets had soon dragged him to their level. Unkempt and half
starved, he wore the look of the vagrant who sleeps in his clothes for
want of bedding. Grown childish in his distress, he had forgotten his
lifelong habits of neatness and precision, going to pieces like a man
who takes to drink.
Clara, who knew his history, was horrified at the sight. She
thought he lived comfortably on a crust of bread by giving lessons.
Jonah turned sulky when she reproached him.
"I don't see 'ow I'm ter blame for this any more'n if 'e'd come to
the gutter through drink. It was a fair go on the Road, an' if I beat
'im an' the others, it was because I was a better man at the game. I
spent nearly all my money in that little shanty where I started, an'
'im an' the others looked on an' 'oped I'd starve. Yer talk about me
bein' cruel an' callous. It's the game that's cruel, not me. I
knocked 'im out all right, but wot 'ud be the use of knockin' 'im
down with one 'and an' pickin' 'im up with the other?"
"You say yourself that he took you off the streets, and gave you a
"So 'e did, but 'e got 'is money's worth out of me. I did the work
of a man, an' saved 'im pounds for years. Yer wouldn't 'ave such a
sentimental way of lookin' at things if yer'd been a steet-arab,
sellin' newspapers, an' no one ter make it 'is business whether yer
lived or starved."
"But surely you can't see him in that condition without feeling
sorry for him?"
"Oh yes, I can; 'e's no friend of mine. 'E told everybody on the
Road that I went shares with the Devil," said Jonah, with an uneasy
grin. "'Ere, I'll show yer wot 'e thinks of me."
He felt in his pocket for a coin, and crossed the street. Paasch
had finished his piece, and putting his fiddle under his arm, turned
to the loafers with a beseeching air. They looked the other way and
discussed the weather. Then Jonah stepped up to him and thrust the
coin into his hand. Paasch, feeling something unaccustomed in his
fingers, held it up to the light. It was a sovereign, and he blinked
in wonder at the coin then at the giver, convinced that it was a
trick. Then he recognized Jonah, and a look of passionate fear and
anger convulsed his features. He threw down the coin as if it had
burnt him, crying:
"No, I vill not take your cursed moneys. Give me back mine shop
and mine business that you stole from me. You are a rich man and ride
in your carriage, and I am the beggar, but I would not change with
you. The great gods shall mock at you. Money you shall have in
plenty while I starve, but never your heart's desire, for like a dog
did you bite the hand that fed you."
Suddenly his utterance was choked by a violent fit of coughing, and
he stared at Jonah, crazed with hate and prophetic fury. A crowd
began to gather, and Jonah, afraid of being recognized, walked rapidly
"Now yer can see fer yerself," he cried, sullenly.
"Yes, I see," said Clara, strangely excited; "and I think you would
be as cruel with a woman as you are with a man."
"I've given yer no cause ter say that," protested Jonah.
"Perhaps not," said Clara; "but that man won't last through the
winter unless he's cared for. And if he dies, his blood will be on
your head, and your luck will turn. His crazy talk made me shiver.
Promise me to do something for him."
"Ye're talkin' like a novelette," said Jonah, roughly.
But Paasch's words had struck a superstitious chord in Jonah, and
he went out of his way to find a plan for relieving the old man
without showing his hand. He consulted his solicitors, and then an
advertisement in the morning papers offered a reward to anyone giving
the whereabouts of Hans Paasch, who left Hassloch in Bavaria in 1860,
and who would hear of something to his advantage by calling on Harris
Harris, solicitors. A month later Jonah held a receipt for twelve
pounds ten, signed by Hans Paasch, the first instalment of an annuity
of fifty pounds a year miraculously left him by a distant cousin in
He showed this to Clara while they were crossing in the boat to
Mosman. She listened to him in silence. Then a flush coloured her
"You'll never regret that," she said; "it's the best day's work you
"I 'ope I'll never regret anythin' that gives you pleasure," said
Jonah, feeling very noble and generous, and surprised at the ease with
which he turned a compliment.
They had the Point to themselves, as usual, and Clara went to the
edge of the rocks to see what ships had come and gone during the week,
trying to identify one that she had read about in the papers. Jonah
watched her in silence, marking every detail of her tall figure with a
curious sense of possession that years of intimacy had never given him
with Ada. And yet she kept him at a distance with a skill that
exasperated him and provoked his admiration. One day when he had held
her hand a moment too long, she had withdrawn it with an explanation
that sounded like an apology. She explained that from a child she had
been unable to endure the touch of another person; that she always
preferred to walk rather than ride in a crowded bus or tram because
bodily contact with others set her nerves on edge. It was a nervous
affection, she explained, inherited from her mother. Jonah had his
own opinion of this malady, but he admitted to himself that she would
never enter a crowd or a crush.
The result of her pleading for Paasch had put her in a high good
humour. It was the first certain proof of her power over Jonah, and
she chattered gaily. She had risen in her own esteem. But presently,
to her surprise, Jonah took some papers from his pocket and frowned
"It's very impolite to read in other people's company," she
remarked, with a sudden coolness.
"I beg yer pardon," said Jonah, starting suddenly, as if a whip had
touched him. She never failed to reprove him for any lapse in
manners, and Jonah winced without resentment.
"I thought this might interest yer," he continued. "I'm puttin'
Steel in as manager at last, an' this is the agreement."
"Who advised you to do that?" said Clara, with an angry flush.
"Well, Johnson's been complainin' of overwork fer some time, but
Miss Giltinan decided me. She's very keen on me openin' up branches
in the suburbs."
"You place great weight on Miss Giltinan's opinion," said Clara,
"Ter tell the truth, I do," said Jonah. "Next ter yerself, she's
got the best 'ead fer business of any woman I know."
"I don't agree with it at all," said Clara. "You're the brains of
the "Silver Shoe", and another man's ideas will clash with yours."
"No fear!" said Jonah. "I've got 'im tied down in black and white
by my solicitors."
Clara ran her eye over the typewritten document, reading some of
the items aloud.
"'Turn over the stock three times a year'! What does that mean?"
And she listened while Jonah explained, the position of pupil and
tutor suddenly reversed.
"'Ten and a half per cent bonus, in addition to his salary, if he
shows an increase on last year's sales.'"
"'Net profits on the departments not to exceed twenty-five per
cent.,'" read Clara in amazement. "Why, I should have thought the
more profit he made, the better for you."
"No fear," said Jonah, with a grin; "I can't 'ave a man puttin' up
the price of the Silver Shoe with his eye on his bonus."
Then a long discussion followed that lasted till nightfall. As the
night promised to be fine, Jonah persuaded her to take tea at a
dilapidated refreshment-room, halfway to the jetty, and they continued
the discussion over cups of discoloured water and stale cakes. When
they reached the Point again the moon was rising clear in the sky, and
they sat and watched in silence the gradual illumination of the
harbour. The wind had dropped, and tiny ripples alone broke the
surface of the water. On the opposite shore the beaches lay obscured
in the faint light of the moon, growing momently stronger, the land
and water melted and confounded together in the grey light. The
lesser stars fled at the slow approach of the moon, and in an hour she
floated alone in the sky, save for the larger planets, Hooding the
deep abysses of the night with a gleam of silver, tender and caressing
that softened the angles and blotted details in brooding shadows.
Overhead curved the arch of night, a deep, flawless blue with
velvety depths, pale and diluted with light as it touched the skyline.
On the right, in the farther distance, Circular Quay flashed with the
gleam of electric arcs, each contracted into a star of four points.
And they glittered on the waterline like clustered gems without
visible setting. A fainter glow marked the packed suburbs of the east;
and then the lamps, flung like jewels in the night, picked out the
line of shore to Rose Bay and the Heads.
Ferry-boats were crossing the harbour, jewelled and glittering with
electric bulbs, moving in the distance without visible effort with the
motion of swans, the throb of engines and the swirl of water lost in
the distance. It was a symphony in light, each detached gleam on the
sombre shore hanging
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.
Between the moon and the eye the water lay like a sheet of frosted
glass; elsewhere the water rippled without life or colour, treacherous
and menacing in the night.
Jonah turned and looked at the woman beside him. They were alone
on the rocky headland, the city and the world of men seemed remote and
unreal, cut off by the silvery light and the brooding shadows. It
dawned slowly on him that his relations with this woman were
independent of time and space. Of all things visible, it was she
alone that mattered. Often enough he had missed his cue, but now, as
if answering a question, he began speaking softly, as if he were
talking to himself:
"Clara!--Clara Grimes!--Clara! I've wanted ter say that out aloud
fer months, but I've never found the place ter say it in. It sounds
quite natural 'ere. Yer know that I love yer--I've seen it in yer
face, but yer don't know that you're the first woman I ever wanted.
No, yer needn't run away. I'm afraid ter touch yer, an' yer know it.
Yer thought because I was married that I knew all about women. Why,
I didn't know what women were made for till I met you. I thought w'en
I 'ad the shop an' my boy that I had everythin' I wanted, but the old
woman was right. There's a lot more in this world than I ever dreamt
of. Seein' you opened my eyes. An' now I want yer altogether. I want
ter see yer face every 'our of the day, an' tell yer whatever comes
into my mind. I spend 'ours talkin' to yer w'en I'm by myself."
"It's only my right," he went on, with increased energy. "I'm a
man in spite of my shape, an' I only ask fer what I'm entitled to. I
can see that other men 'ave been gittin' these things without me
knowin' it. I used ter grin at Chook, but I was the fool. I had
everythin' that I could see that was worth 'avin', an' somehow I
wasn't satisfied. I never could see much in this life. I often
wondered what it was all about. But now I understand. What's this
for," and he indicated the dreamy peaceful scene with a sweep of his
hand, "if it only leaves yer starin' and wonderin'? I know now. It's
ter make me think about yer an' want yer. Well, yer've made a man of
me, an' it's up ter yous ter make the best of me." He broke off with a
short laugh. "P'raps this sound funny ter you. I've 'eard old women
at the Salvos' meetings talk like this, tellin' of the wonderful
things they found out w'en they got converted."
Clara had listened in silence, with an intent, curious expression
on her face. Jonah's words were like balm to her pride, lacerated
three years ago by her broken engagement. And she listened, immensely
pleased and a little afraid, like a mischievous child that has set
fire to the curtains. Jonah's face was turned to her, and as she
looked at him her curiosity was changed to awe at the sight of passion
on fire. She thought of the crazy fiddler's words, and felt in
herself an infinite sadness, for she knew that Jonah would never gain
his heart's desire.
"I've 'ad my say," he continued, "an' now I'll talk sense. You're
a grown woman, an' yer know what all this means. I can give yer
anythin' yer like: a house an' servants; everythin' yer want. What do
Clara had gone white to the lips. It had come at last, and the
"Silver Shoe" was within her reach, but the gift was incomplete. She
must decline it, and take her chances for the future.
"Not quite everything, Joe," she replied gently, afraid of wounding
him. "Ever since I was a girl I've had something to be ashamed of
through no fault of my own--my drunken father, the street we live in,
our genteel poverty; and now, when I seem to have missed all my
chances, you come along, and offer me everything I want with the main
thing left out. Oh, I know those cottages where the husband is a
stranger, and the neighbours watch them behind the curtains, and pump
the servant over the back fence! I'm too proud for that sort of thing.
Oh, what a rotten world this is!" she cried passionately, and burst
into a storm of weeping. It was the most natural action of her life.
Jonah sat and stared at the lights of the Quay, dismayed by her
tears but relieved in his mind. He had spoken at last; already he was
framing fresh arguments to persuade her. Presently she dried her eyes
and looked at him with the ghost of a smile. Then began a discussion
which threatened to last all night, neither of them giving way from
the position they had taken up, neither yielding an inch to the
other's entreaties. Suddenly Jonah looked at his watch with an
exclamation. It was nearly ten. In the heat of argument they had
forgotten the lapse of time. They scrambled over boulders and through
the lantana bushes down to the path, and just caught the boat.
When they reached the Quay they were surprised again by the
splendour of the night. The moon, just past the full, flooded the
streets with white light that left deep shadows between the buildings
like a charcoal drawing. They took a tram to the Haymarket, as they
were afraid of being recognized in the Waterloo cars, and reached
Regent Street after eleven. The hotels had disgorged their customers,
who were talking loudly in groups on the footpath or lurching homeward
with uneven steps. Jonah was explaining that he must see Clara all
the way home on account of the lateness of the hour, when he was
astonished to hear someone sobbing in the monumental mason's yard as
if his heart would break. He turned and looked. The headstones and
white marble crosses stood in rows with a faint resemblance to a
graveyard; the moonlight fell clear and cold on these monuments
awaiting a purchaser. Some, already sold, were lettered in black with
the name of the departed. Jonah and Clara stared, puzzled by the
noise, when they saw an old man in the rear of the yard in a top hat
and a frock coat, clinging to a marble cross. He lurched round, and
instantly Clara, with a gasp of amazement and shame, recognized her
She moved into the shadows of a house, humiliated to her soul by
this exhibition; but Jonah laughed, in spite of himself, at the figure
cut by Dad among the ready-made monuments. As he laughed, Dad caught
sight of him, and clinging to a marble angel with one arm for support,
beckoned wildly with the other.
"Come here--come here," he cried between his sobs. "I'm all alone
with the dead, and nobody to shed a tear 'cep' meself. Shame on you,
shame on you," he cried, raising his voice in bitter grief, "to pass
the poor fellows in their graves without sheddin' tear!"
He stopped and stared with drunken gravity at the name on the
nearest tombstone, trying to read the words which danced before his
eyes in the clear light. Jonah saw them plainly.
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF SARAH JAMES, Aged Eighty-five.
A fresh burst of grief announced that Dad had deciphered the
"Sam!" he cried bitterly. "Me old fren' Sam! To think of bringing
him here without letting me know! The besh fren' I ever had."
Here sobs choked his utterance. He stooped and examined the
shining marble slab again, lurching from one side to the other with
"An' not a flowersh onsh grave!" he cried. "Sam was awf'ly fond
"Get away 'ome, or the Johns'll pinch yer," said Jonah.
Dad stopped and stared at him with a glimmering of reason in his
"I know yoush," he cried, with a cunning leer. "An' I know your
fren' there. She isn't yer missis. She never is, y' know. Naughty
boy!" he cried, wagging his finger at Jonah; "but I wont split on
That reminded him of the deceased Sam, and he turned again to the
"Goo'bye, Sam," he cried suddenly, under the impression that he had
been to a funeral. "I've paid me respecks to an ol' fren', an' now
we'll both sleep in peace."
"Come away and leave him," whispered Clara, trembling with disgust
"No fear!" said Jonah. "The Johns down 'ere don't know 'im, an'
they'll lumber 'im. You walk on ahead, an' I'll steer 'im 'ome."
He looked round; there was not a cab to be seen.
He led Dad out of the stonemason's yard with difficulty, as he
wanted to wait for the mourning coaches. Then, opposite the mortuary,
he remembered his little present for the Duchess, and insisted on
"Wheresh my lil' present for Duchess?" he wailed. "Can't go 'ome
without lil' present."
Jonah was in despair. At last he rolled his handkerchief into a
ball and thrust it into Dad's hand.
Then Dad, relieved and happy, cast Jonah off, and stood for a
moment like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Jonah watched anxiously,
expecting him to fall, but all at once, with a forward lurch Dad broke
into a run, safe on his feet as a spinning top. Jonah had forgotten
Dad's run, famous throughout all Waterloo, Redfern, and Alexandria.
CHAPTER 22. A FATAL ACCIDENT
As Clara crossed the tunnel at Cleveland Street, she found that she
had a few minutes to spare, and stopped to admire the Silver Shoe from
the opposite footpath. Triumphant and colossal, treading the air
securely above the shop, the glittering shoe dominated the street with
the insolence of success. More than once it had figured in her
dreams, endowed with the fantastic powers of Aaron's rod, swallowing
its rivals at a gulp or slowly crushing the life out of the bruised
Her eye travelled to the shop below, with its huge plate-glass
windows framed in brass, packed with boots set at every angle to catch
the eye. The array of shining brass rods and glass stands, the gaudy
ticket on each pair of boots with the shillings marked in enormous red
figures and the pence faintly outlined beside them, pleased her eye
like a picture. To-day the silver lettering was covered with narrow
posters announcing that Jonah's red-letter sale was to begin
to-morrow. And as she stared at this huge machine for coining money,
she remembered, with a sudden disdain, her home with its atmosphere of
decay and genteel poverty. She was conscious of some change in
herself. The slight sense of physical repugnance to the hunchback had
vanished since his declaration. He and his shop stood for power and
success. What else mattered?
Her spirits drooped suddenly as she remembered the obstacle that
lay between her and the pride of openly sharing the triumphs of the
Silver Shoe as she already shared its secrets. She thought with
dismay of the furtive meetings drawn out for years without hope of
relief unless the impossible happened. A watched pot never boils, and
Ada was a young woman.
She crossed the street and entered the shop, her eye scouting for
Jonah as she walked to the foot of the stairs, for since the
appointment of a manager, Jonah had found time to slip up to the room
after the lesson to ask her to play for him, on the plea that the
piano was spoiling for want of use. And he waited impatiently for
these stolen moments, with a secret desire to see her beneath his roof
in a domestic setting that gave him a keener sense of intimacy than
the swish of waters and wide spaces of sea and sky. But to-day she
looked in vain, and Miss Giltinan, seeing the swift look of inquiry,
stepped up to her.
"Mr Jones was called away suddenly over some arrangements for our
sale that opens to-morrow. He left word with me that he'd be back as
soon as possible," she said.
Clara thanked her, and flushed slightly. It seemed as if Jonah
were excusing himself in public for missing an appointment. As she
went up the stairs one shopman winked at the other and came across
with a pair of hobnailed boots in his hand.
"This'll never do," he whispered, "the boss missin' his lesson.
He'll get behind in his practice."
"Wotcher givin' us?" replied the other. "The boss don't take
lessons; it's the kid."
"Of course he don't," said the other with a leer. "He learns a lot
here by lookin' on, an' she tells him the rest at Mosman in the pale
moonlight. If I won a sweep, I'd take a few lessons meself an' cut him
He became aware that Miss Giltinan was standing behind him, and
raised his voice.
"I was tellin' Harris that the price of these bluchers ought to be
marked down; they're beginning to sweat," he explained, turning to
Miss Giltinan and showing her some small spots like treacle on the
"Mr Jones doesn't pay you good money to talk behind his back; and
if you take the trouble to look at the tag, you'll see those boots
have already been marked down," she replied indignantly.
The shopman slinked away without a word. Miss Giltinan was
annoyed. It was not the first time that she had heard these scandalous
rumours, for the shop was alive with whispers, some professing to know
every detail of the meetings between Jonah and the music-teacher,
naming to a minute the boat they caught on their return from Mosman.
Jonah had contrived to avoid the faces that were familiar to him, but
he had forgotten that he must be seen and recognized by people unknown
to him. Miss Giltinan's clear and candid mind rejected these rumours
for lying inventions, incapable of belief that her idol, Jonah, would
carry on with any woman. They talked about him going upstairs to hear
the piano. What was more natural when he couldn't play it himself?
And she dismissed the matter from her mind and went about her
Clara gave Ray his lesson, listening between whiles for a rapid
step from below, but none came. She decided to go, and picked up her
gloves. But as she passed the bedroom door on the landing, a voice
that she recognized for Ada's called out "Is that you, Miss Grimes?"
"Yes," said Clara, and paused.
The voice sounded faint and thin, like that of a sick woman.
"'Ow is it y'ain't playin' anythin' to-day?" she continued.
"Mr Jones is out," replied Clara, annoyed by this conversation
through the crack of a door, and anxious to get away.
"Oh, is 'e?" said Ada, with an increase of energy in her voice. "I
wish yer'd come in fer a minit, if ye're not in a 'urry."
Clara pushed the door open, and went in. It was her first sight of
the bedroom, and she recoiled in dismay. The place was like a pigsty.
Ada was lying on the bed, still tossed and disordered from last
night, in a dirty dressing-gown. A basin of soapy water stood on the
washstand, and the carpeted floor was littered with clothes, a pile of
penny novelettes, and a collection of odds and ends on their way to
the rag-bag. In spite of the huge bedroom suite with its streaked and
speckled mirrors, the room seemed half furnished.
For a moment Clara was puzzled, and then her quick, feminine eye
noted a complete absence of the common knick-knacks and trifles that
indicate the refinement or vulgarity of the owner. She remembered
that Jonah had told her that Ada pawned everything she could lay hands
on since he stopped her allowance. But she was more surprised at the
change in Ada herself. Months ago Ada had begun to avoid her, ashamed
of her slovenly looks, and now Clara scarcely recognized her. Her
eyes were sunken, her cheeks had fallen in, and a bluish pallor gave
her the look of one recovering from a long illness. The room had not
been aired, and the accumulated odours of the night turned Clara sick.
She was thinking of some excuse to get away when Ada began to speak
with a curious whine, quite unlike her old manner.
"I'm ashamed ter ask yer in, Miss Grimes, the room's in such a
state; but I've been very ill, with no one ter talk to fer days past.
Not that I'm ter blame. I 'ope it's niver your lot to 'ave a 'usband
with thousan's in the bank, an' too mean ter keep a servant. 'Ere am
I from mornin' ter night, slavin' an' drudgin', an' me with a leg that
bad I can 'ardly stand on it. I'll just show yer wot state I'm in.
It's breakin' out all over. Me blood's that bad fer want of proper
food an' nourishment." She began to unfasten a dirty bandage below her
knee. Clara turned her head in disgust. The flesh was covered with
"I don't know 'ow you find 'im, Miss Grimes," she continued, her
voice rising in anger, "but if yer believe me, a meaner man niver
walked the earth. I've 'ad ter pawn the things in this very room ter
pay the baker an' the grocer. That's 'ow 'e makes 'is money.
Starvin' 'is own wife ter squeeze a few shillin's for 'is bankin'
account. 'E knows I can't go outside the door, 'cause I've got
nuthin' ter put on; but 'e takes jolly good care ter go down town an'
live on the fat of the land."
From the next room came the fitful, awkward sounds of a five-finger
exercise from Ray. Clara listened with silent contempt to this
torrent of abuse. She knew that it was false that the more Jonah gave
her, the more she spent on drink. And as she looked at Ada's face,
ravaged by alcohol, a stealthy thought crept into her mind that set
her heart beating. Suddenly Ada's anger dropped like a spent fire.
"Did yer say Mr Jones was busy in the shop?" she inquired, feebly.
"No," said Clara, "I understand that he went down town on important
business, and won't be back till late."
"Thank yer," said Ada, with a curious glitter in her eyes. "Would
yer mind callin' Ray in? I want ter send 'im on a message to the
Clara went into the next room and sent Ray to his mother, stopping
for a minute to shut the keyboard and put the music straight. After
every lesson she was accustomed to examine the piano as if it were her
own property. When she entered the bedroom again, Ada was whispering
rapidly to Ray. She looked up as Clara entered, and gave him some
money in a piece of paper.
"An' tell 'im I'll send the rest to-morrer," she added aloud. Ray
went down the back stairs, swinging an empty millet-bag in his hand.
For another five minutes Clara remained standing, to show that she
was anxious to get away, while Ada abused her husband, giving detailed
accounts of his meanness and neglect. Suddenly her mood changed.
"I'm afraid I mustn't keep yer any longer, Miss Grimes," she said
abruptly; "an' thank yer fer lookin' in ter see 'ow I was."
Clara, surprised and relieved at the note of dismissal in her
voice, took her leave.
She went down the winding staircase at the rear of the shop,
opposite the cashier's desk. The pungent odour of leather was
delightful in her nostrils after the stale smell of the room above,
and she halted at the turn of the landing to admire the huge shop,
glittering with varnish, mirrors, and brass rods. Then she looked
round for Jonah, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The sight of Ada, ravaged by alcohol, had filled her with strange
thoughts, and she walked up Regent Street, comparing Ada with her own
father, who seemed to thrive on beer. There must be some difference
in their constitutions, for Ada was clearly going to pieces, and...the
thought entered her mind again that quickened her pulse. She had
never thought of that! She was passing the "Angel" with its huge
white globes and glittering mirrors that reflected the sun's rays,
when she caught sight of Ray coming out of the side door, swinging an
empty millet-bag in his hand. A sudden light flashed on her mind.
Ada's invitation into the bedroom, the inquiry about Jonah, and her
sudden dismissal all meant this.
"Did you get what your mother wanted?" she asked the child, with a
thumping sensation in her heart.
"No," said Ray carelessly; "the man wouldn't give me the medicine.
He told me to go home and fetch the rest of the money."
"How much more do you want?" asked Clara, in a curious tone.
"Eighteen pence," said Ray, showing two half-crowns in his hand.
Clara hesitated, with parched lips. She remembered Ada's face,
ravaged by brandy. She was a physical wreck, and six months
ago...perhaps another bottle...
The thought grazed her mind with a stealthy, horrible suggestion.
She felt in her purse with trembling fingers, and found a shilling
and a sixpence.
"Go and get your mother's medicine," she whispered, putting the
money into Ray's hand; "but don't tell her that you met me, or she may
Ray turned in at the side door, and Clara, white to the lips,
hurried round the corner.
It took Ray half an hour to cover the short distance between the
Angel and the Silver Shoe, with a bottle of brandy swinging carelessly
in the millet-bag. Cassidy himself, all smiles, had carefully wrapped
it in paper. Ray had promised to hurry home with the medicine for his
mother, but, as usual, the shop windows were irresistible. Some of
his early trips to the "Angel" had taken half a day.
Meanwhile Ada lay on the bed in an agony of attention, atrociously
alert to every sound, hearing with every nerve in her body. Her
nerves had collapsed under the repeated debauches, and the scream of
an engine shunting in the railway yards went through her like a knife.
The confused rumble of carts in Regent Street, the familiar sounds
from the shop below, the slamming of a door, a voice raised in
inquiry, the monotonous, kindly echoes of life, struck on the raw
edges of her nerves, exasperating her to madness.
And through it all her ears sought for two sounds with agonizing
acuteness--the firm, rapid step of Jonah mounting the stairs winding
from the shop, or the nonchalant, laggard footfall of Ray ascending
from the stairs at the rear. Would Cassidy send the bottle and trust
her for the other eighteen pence? Would Jonah hurry back to meet Miss
Grimes? Presently her ear distinguished the light, uncertain step of
Ray. Every nerve in her body leapt for joy when she saw the bottle.
She looked at the clock, it was nearly four. She had at least an
hour clear, for Jonah would be in no hurry now that he had missed the
music-lesson. She snatched the bag from the astonished child.
"Go an' see if yer father's in the shop. If 'e ain't there, yer
can go an' play in the lane till 'e comes back," she cried.
Her hands shook as she held the bottle, but with a supreme effort
she controlled her muscles and drew the cork without a sound, an
accomplishment that she had learned in the back parlour of the Angel.
She poured out half a glass, and swallowed it neat. The fiery liquid
burnt her throat and brought the tears to her eyes, but she endured it
willingly for the sake of the blessed relief that always followed. A
minute later she repeated the dose and lay down on the bed. In ten
minutes the seductive liquid had calmed her nerves like oil on
troubled waters. She listened to the familiar sounds of the shop and
the street with a delicious languor and sense of comfort in her body.
In an hour she had reached the maudlin stage, and the bottle was half
She felt at peace with the world, and began to think kindly of
Jonah. Hazily she remembered her bitter speech to Miss Grimes, and
wondered at her violence. There was nothing the matter with him. He
had been a good husband to her, working day and night to get on in the
world. She felt a sudden desire to be friendly with him. Maudlin
tears of self-reproach filled her eyes as she thought how she had
stood in his way instead of helping him. She would mend her ways,
give up the drink which was killing her, and take her proper position,
with a fine house and servants. With a fatuous obstinacy in her
sodden brain, she decided not to lose a minute, but to go and surprise
Jonah with her noble resolutions.
She got to her feet, and saw the brandy bottle. Ah! Jonah must
not know that she had been drinking, and with the last conscious act
of her clouded brain she staggered into the sitting-room and hid the
bottle under the cushions of the sofa. Then, conscious of nothing but
her resolve, she lurched to the top of the stairs. It was nearly
dark, and she felt for the railing, but the weight of her body sent an
atrocious pain through her leg, and to ease it she took a step forward
to put her weight on the other. And then, without fear, and without
the desire or the power to save herself, she stepped into space and
fell headlong down the winding staircase that she had always dreaded,
rolling and bumping with a horrible noise on the wooden steps down to
the shop, where the electric lights had just been switched on. She
rolled sideways, and lay, with a curious slackness in her limbs, in
front of the cashier's desk. One of the shopmen, startled by the
noise, turned, and then, with a look of horror on his face, ran to the
door. He bumped into Jonah, who was coming from the ladies'
"Wot the devil's this?" cried Jonah.
The man turned and pointed to the huddled heap at the foot of the
"It's yer missis. She fell from the top. 'Er face is looking the
Jonah ran forward and shouted for a doctor. Then he knelt down and
tried to lift Ada into a sitting posture, but her head sagged on one
side. And Jonah realized suddenly, with a curious feeling of
detachment, that he was free. When the doctor arrived, he told them
that death had been instantaneous, as she had broken her neck in the
The next day the "Silver Shoe" was closed on account of the
funeral. The Grimes family sent a wreath, but Jonah looked in vain
for Clara among the mourners. He was disappointed but relieved,
fearing that the exultation in his heart would betray him in the
presence of strangers. He dwelt with rapture on the moment in which
he would meet her face to face, free to love and be loved, willing to
lose some precious hours for the sake of rehearsing schemes for the
future in his mind. He listened without emotion to the conventional
regrets of the mourners, agreeing mechanically with their empty
remarks on his great loss, a mocking devil in his brain.
The day after the funeral the Silver Shoe returned to business, and
Jonah spent the morning in the shop, too nervous to sit idle. He had
spent a sleepless night debating whether he should go to Clara or wait
till she came to him of her own accord. The shop was alive with
customers, drawn by the red-letter sale, but there was no sign of the
one woman above all he desired to see. Suddenly he decided, with a
certainty that astonished him, that she would come in the afternoon.
After dinner he stayed in the sitting-room, fidgeting with
impatience. He looked for something to do, and remembered that he had
still to clear up the mystery of Ada's drunken bout. All the
shop-hands had denied lending her money, and the mystery was increased
by his finding no bottle in the usual hiding places. Ray, when
questioned about brandy, had stared at him with bewildered eyes. And
to calm his nerves he made another search of the rooms.
He turned out the drawers and cupboards, meeting everywhere
evidence of Ada's slovenly habits. And at the sight and touch of the
tawdry laces and flaring ribbons he was surprised by an emotion of
tenderness and pity for his dead wife. He realized that the last link
had snapped that bound him to Cardigan Street and the Push. Something
vibrated in him as he thought of the woman who had shared his youth,
and he understood suddenly that no other woman could disturb her
possession of the years that were dead. Clara could share the future
with him, but half his life belonged irrevocably to Ada.
He had searched every likely nook and corner of the rooms, and
found nothing. The absence of the bottle set him thinking. He became
certain that the hand of another was in this. Ada had never left her
room; therefore the bottle had been brought to her. And the one who
brought it had taken it away again. Clara had been the last one to
see her alive, and of course...He stopped with an unshaped thought in
his mind, and then smiled at it for an absurdity. Tired with his
exertions, he sat on the sofa, digging his elbow into the cushion, and
instantly felt something hard underneath. The next moment he was on
his feet, holding in his hands the bottle of brandy, half empty. He
stared stupidly at the bottle that had sent Ada to her death and set
him free, wondering who had paid for it and brought it into the house.
As he turned the bottle in his hands, examining it with the morbid
interest with which one examines a bloodstained knife, he heard a
light tap on the door.
"Come in," he cried, absorbed in his discovery.
He turned with the bottle in his hands, to find Clara standing in
the doorway with a tremulous smile on her lips. But, as Jonah turned,
her eye fell on the bottle.
"I've been a day findin' this," said Jonah; "but now..."
An extraordinary change in Clara's face stopped the words on his
lips. The tremulous smile on her parted lips changed to a nervous
grin, and her colour turned to a greyish white as she stared at the
bottle, her eyes dilated with horror. For some moments there was a
dreadful silence, in which Jonah distinctly heard Miss Giltinan giving
an order downstairs. Slowly he looked from Clara to the bottle. Again
he stared at the frightened woman, and his mind leapt to a dreadful
"Come in, an' shut the door," he said. His voice was little more
than a whisper.
Clara obeyed him mechanically.
"Sit down," he added, putting the bottle on the table.
For a while each stared at the other, too stunned to move or speak.
Jonah's world had fallen about his ears, and Clara's dreams of wealth
mocked at her and fled.
Suddenly, in the deadly silence, Jonah began to speak.
"So it was you, was it? I never thought of that. I wonder what
brought yer 'ere just as I found this? They say murder will out, an'
I believe it now. If this 'appened to anybody else, 'e'd go mad. But
I can stand it. I'm tough. I fought my way up from the gutter. An'
ye're the woman that I worshipped....For God's sake, woman, speak!
Make up something that I can believe. Say yer never 'ad a 'and in
this, an' I'll kiss the ground yer walk on. No, it wouldn't be any
use. I couldn't believe the angel Gabriel, if he looked at me with
that face. Yer paid for that bottle an' brought it 'ere. I saw that
the moment yer set eyes on it. Yer thought Ada wasn't goin' ter hell
fast enough, an' yer'd give 'er a shove. An' I see now why yer did
it. Yer wanted ter step into 'er shoes, an' 'andle my money. It
wasn't me yer wanted. I might 'ave known that. It was the shop that
yer were always talkin' about. An' if yer 'adn't walked in at that
door just now, I should never 'ave suspected. Screamin' funny, ain't
it? She wasn't much loss, but she was a thousand times better than
the ladylike devil that killed her. I don't know 'ow the law stands
in a case like this. Yer may be safe from that, but yer've got me ter
deal with first. Yer led me on with yer damned airs to believe in
things I've never dreamt of before. An' now yer've killed the best in
me as sure as yer murdered my wife. Well, yer must pay for that,
Clara sat on the chair like one in a trance. She understood in a
numbed kind of way that something dreadful was going to happen. O
God, she had never meant to do wrong! And if this was the punishment,
let it come quickly. Jonah had been walking backwards and forwards
with nervous steps, and she noted every detail of his person with a
fixed stare. The early repugnance to his deformity returned with
horror as she studied the large head, wedged between the shoulders as
if a giant's hand had pressed it down, the projecting hump, and the
unnaturally long arms ending in the hard, hairy fist of the shoemaker.
She felt that he was going to kill her. She wanted to speak, to
cry out that she was not so guilty as he thought, but her tongue was
like a rasp. Suddenly Jonah stopped in front of her. Her stony
silence had maddened him, and in a moment he was transformed into the
old-time larrikin, accustomed to demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for
a tooth. He rushed at her with a cry like an animal, and caught her
by the throat with his powerful hands. But the contact of his fingers
with that delicate flesh that he had never dared to touch before
brought him to his senses. A violent shudder shook him like ague, his
fingers relaxed, and with a sobbing cry, dreadful to hear, he dragged
the fainting woman to her feet and pushed her towards the door, crying
"Go, go, for God's sake!"
She walked unsteadily through the shop with a face the colour of
chalk, hearing and seeing nothing. The red-letter sale was in full
swing. A crowd of customers jostled one another as they passed in and
out; the coins clinked merrily in the till. Miss Giltinan caught
sight of her face, and wondered. Half an hour later, growing
suspicious, she ran upstairs, and knocked at the door on a pretext of
business. Hearing nothing, she opened the door, with her heart in her
mouth, and looked in. Jonah was crouching motionless on the end of the
sofa, his head buried among the cushions, like a stricken animal.
Puzzled, but reassured, she closed the door gently and went
Jonah never saw Clara again. He spent a week in the depths,
groping blindly, hating life for its deceptions. Then, one day, his
passion of hatred and loathing for Clara left him suddenly, as a
garrison surrenders without a blow. He took a cab to her house, and
knocked at the door. A curtain moved, but the door remained unopened.
A month later he learned that she had married her old love, the clerk
in the Lands Department, transferred by request to Wagga, beyond the
reach of Dad and his reputation. The following year Jonah married
Miss Giltinan, chiefly on account of Ray, who was growing
unmanageable; and on Monday morning it was one of the sights of Regent
Street to see the second Mrs Jones step into her sulky to drive round
and inspect the suburban branches of the "Silver Shoe" which Jonah had
opened under her direction.
Chook and Pinkey did not need to stare at sixpence before spending
it, but their fortune was long in the making. Meanwhile Chook
consoled himself with the presence of a sturdy son, the image of
Pinkey, with a mop of curls the colour of a new penny.