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HOME > Classical Novels > A Child of the Jago37 > CHAPTER 10
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 When Dicky retreated from the landing and shut the door behind him, he slipped the bolt, a strong one, put there by Josh Perrott himself, possibly as an accessory to escape by the window in some possible desperate pass. For a little he listened, but no sound hinted of attack from without, and he turned to his mother.  
Josh Perrott had been out since early morning, and Dicky, too, had done no more than look in for a moment in search of dinner. Hannah Perrott, grown tired of self commiseration1, felt herself neglected and aggrieved—slighted in her state of invalid2 privilege. So she transferred some of her pity from her sore neck to her desolate3 condition as misprized wife and mother, and the better to feel it, proceeded to martyrise herself, with melancholy4 pleasure, by a nerveless show of 'setting to rights' in the room—a domestic novelty, perfunctory as it was. Looey, still restless and weeping, she left on the bed, for, being neglected herself, it was not her mood to tend the baby; she would aggravate5 the relish6 of her sorrows in her own way. Besides, Looey had been given something to eat a long time ago, and had not eaten it yet: with her there was nothing else to do. So that now, as she dragged a rag along the grease-strewn mantel-piece, Mrs Perrott greeted Dicky:—'There y'are, Dicky, comin' 'inderin' 'ere jest when I'm a-puttin' things to rights.' And she sighed with the weight of another grievance7.
Looey lay on her back, faintly and vainly struggling to turn her fearful little face from the light. Clutched in her little fist was the unclean stump8 of bread she had held for hours. Dicky plucked a soft piece and essayed to feed her with it, but the dry little mouth rejected the morsel9, and the head turned feverishly10 from side to side to the sound of that novel cry. She was hot wherever Dicky touched her, and presently he said:—'Mother, I b'lieve Looey's queer. I think she wants some med'cine.'
His mother shook her head peevishly11. 'O, you an' Looey's a noosance,' she said. 'A lot you care about me bein' queer, you an' yer father too, leavin' me all alone like this, an' me feelin' ready to drop, an' got the room to do an' all. I wish you'd go away an' stop 'inderin' of me like this.'
Dicky took but another look at Looey, and then slouched out. The landing was clear, and the Ropers' door was shut. He wondered what had become of the stranger with the tall hat—whether he was in the Ropers' room or not. The thought hurried him, for he feared to have that stranger asking him questions about the clock. He got out into the street, thoughtful. He had some compunctions in the matter of that clock, now. Not that he could in any reasonable way blame himself. There the clock had stood at his mercy, and by all Jago custom and ethic12 it was his if only he could get clear away with it. This he had done, and he had no more concern in the business, strictly13 speaking. Nevertheless, since he had seen the woman's face in the jamb of the door, he felt a sort of pity for her—that she should have lost her clock. No doubt she had enjoyed its possession, as, indeed, he would have enjoyed it himself, had he not had to take it instantly to Mr Weech. And his fancy wandered off in meditation14 of what he would do with a clock of his own. To begin with, of course, he would open it, and discover the secret of its works and its ticking: perhaps thereby15 discovering how to make a clock himself. Also he would frequently wind it up, and he would show the inside to Looey, in confidence. It would stand on the mantel-piece, and raise the social position of the family. People would come respectfully to ask the time, and he would tell them, with an air. Yes, certainly a clock must stand eminent17 among the things he would buy, when he had plenty of money. He must look out for more clicks: the one way to riches.
As to the Ropers, again. Bad it must be, indeed, to be deprived suddenly of a clock, after long experience of the joys it brought; and Norah Walsh had punched the woman in the face, and clawed her hair, and the woman could not fight. Dicky was sorry for her, and straightway resolved to give her another clock, or, if not a clock, something that would please her as much. He had acquired a clock in the morning; why not another in the afternoon? Failing a clock, he would try for something else, and the Ropers should have it. The resolve gave Dicky a virtuous19 exaltation of spirit, the reward of the philanthropist.
Again he began the prowl after likely plunder20 that was to be his daily industry. Meakin Street he did not try. The chandlers' and the cook-shops held nothing that might be counted a consolatory21 equivalent for a clock. Through the 'Posties' he reached Shoreditch High Street at once, and started.
This time his movements aroused less suspicion. In the morning he had no particular prize in view, and loitered at every shop, waiting his chance at anything portable. Now, with a more definite object, he made his promenade22 easily, but without stopping or lounging by shop-fronts. The thing, whatsoever23 it might be, must be small, handsome, and of an interesting character—at least as interesting as the clock was. It must be small, not merely for facility of concealment25 and removal—though these were main considerations—but because stealthy presentation were then the easier. It would have pleased Dicky to hand over his gift openly, and to bask26 in the thanks and the consideration it would procure27. But he had been accused of stealing the clock, and an open gift would savour of admission and peace-offering, whereas in that matter stark28 denial was his plain course.
A roll of print stuff would not do; apples would not do; and fish was wide of his purpose. Up one side and down the other side of High Street he walked, his eyes instant for suggestion and opportunity. But all in vain. Nobody exposed clocks out of doors, and of those within not one but an attempt on it were simple madness. And of the things less desperate of access nothing was proper to the occasion: all were too large, too cheap, or too uninteresting. Oddly, Dicky feared failure more than had he been hunting for himself.
He tried farther south, in Norton Folgate. There was a shop of cheap second-hand29 miscellanies: saddles, razors, straps30, dumbbells, pistols, boxing gloves, trunks, bags, and billiard-balls. Many of the things hung about the door-posts in bunches, and within all was black, as in a cave. At one door-post was a pistol. Nothing could be more interesting than a pistol—indeed it was altogether a better possession than a clock; and it was a small, handy sort of thing. Probably the Ropers would be delighted with a pistol. He stood and regarded it with much interest. There were difficulties. In the first place it was beyond his reach; and in the second, it hung by the trigger-guard on a stout31 cord. Just then, glancing within the shop, he perceived a pair of fiery32 eyes regarding him, panther-like, from the inner gloom; and he hastily resumed his walk, as the Jew shop-keeper reached the door, and watched him safely away.
Now he came to Bishopsgate Street, and here at last he chose the gift. It was at a toy-shop: a fine, flaming toy-shop, with carts, dolls, and hoops33 dangling35 above, and wooden horses standing36 below, guarding two baskets by the door. One contained a mixed assortment37 of tops, whips, boats, and woolly dogs; the other was lavishly38 filled with shining, round metal boxes, nobly decorated with coloured pictures, each box with a little cranked handle. As he looked, a tune39, delightfully40 tinkled41 on some instrument, was heard from within the shop. Dicky peeped. There was a lady, with a little girl at her side who was looking eagerly at just such a shining, round box in the saleswoman's hands, and it was from that box, as the saleswoman turned the handle, that the tune came. Dicky was enchanted42. This—this was the thing, beyond debate: a pretty little box that would play music whenever you turned a handle. This was a thing worth any fifty clocks. Indeed it was almost as good as a regular barrel-organ, the first thing he would buy if he were rich.
There was a shop-boy in charge of the goods outside the window, and his eyes were on Dicky. So Dicky whistled absently, and strolled carelessly along. He swung behind a large waggon43, crossed the road, and sought a convenient doorstep; for his mind was made up, and his business was now to sit down before the toy-shop, and wait his opportunity.
A shop had been boarded up after a fire, and from its doorstep one could command a perfect view of the toy-shop across the broad thoroughfare with its crowded traffic—could sit, moreover, safe from interference. Here he took his seat, secure from the notice of the guardian44 shop-boy, whose attention was given to passengers on his own side. The little girl, gripping the new toy in her hand, came out at her mother's side and trotted45 off. For a moment Dicky reflected that the box could be easily snatched. But after all the little girl had but one: whereas the shopwoman had many, and at best could play on no more than one at a time.
He resumed his watch of the shop-boy, confident that sooner or later a chance would come. A woman stopped to ask the price of something, and Dicky had half crossed the road ere the boy had begun to answer. But the answer was short, and the boy's attention was released too soon.
At last the shopwoman called the boy within, and Dicky darted46 across—not directly, but so as to arrive invisibly at the side next the basket of music boxes. A quick glance behind him, a snatch at the box with the reddest picture, and a dash into the traffic did it.
The dash would not have been called for but for the sudden re-appearance of the shop-boy ere the box had vanished amid the intricacies of Dicky's jacket. Dicky was fast, but the boy was little slower, and was, moreover, bigger, and stronger on his legs; and Dicky reached the other pavement and turned the next corner into Widegate Street, the pursuer scarce ten yards behind.
It was now that he first experienced 'hot beef'—which is the Jago idiom denoting the plight47 of one harried48 by the cry 'Stop thief.' Down Widegate Street, across Sandys Row and into Raven49 Row he ran his best, clutching the hem16 of his jacket and the music box that lay within. Crossing Sandys Row a loafing lad shouldered against the shop-boy, and Dicky was grateful, for he made it a gain of several yards.
But others had joined in the hunt, and Dicky for the first time began to fear. This was a bad day—twice already he had been chased; and now—it was bad. He thought little more, for a stunning50 fear fell upon him: the fear of the hunted, that calculates nothing, and is measured by no apprehension51 of consequences. He remembered that he must avoid Spitalfields Market, full of men who would stop him; and he knew that in many places where a man would be befriended many would make a virtue52 of stopping a boy. To the right along Bell Lane he made an agonised burst of speed, and for a while he saw not nor remembered anything; heard no more than dreadful shouts drawing nearer his shoulders, felt only the fear. But he could not last. Quick enough when fresh, he was tiny and ill fed, and now he felt his legs trembling and his wind going. Something seemed to beat on the back of his head, till he wondered madly if it were the shop-boy with a stick. He turned corners, and chose his way by mere24 instinct, ashen-faced, staring, open-mouthed. How soon would he give in, and drop? A street more—half a street—ten yards? Rolling and tripping, he turned one last corner and almost fell against a vast, fat, unkempt woman whose clothes slid from her shoulders.
''Ere y' are, boy,' said the woman, and flung him by the shoulder through the doorway53 before which she stood.
He was saved at his extremity54, for he could never have reached the street's end. The woman who had done it (probably she had boys of her own on the crook) filled the entrance with her frowsy bulk, and the chase straggled past. Dicky caught the stair-post for a moment's support, and then staggered out at the back of the house. He gasped55, he panted, things danced blue before him, but still he clutched his jacket hem and the music box lying within. The back door gave on a cobble-paved court, with other doors, two coster's barrows, and a few dusty fowls56. Dicky sat on a step where a door was shut, and rested his head against the frame.
The beating in his head grew slower and lighter57, and presently he could breathe with no fear of choking. He rose and moved off, still panting, and feeble in the legs. The court ended in an arched passage, through which he gained the street beyond. Here he had but to turn to the left, and he was in Brick Lane, and thence all was clear to the Old Jago. Regaining58 his breath and his confidence as he went, he bethought him of the Jago Row retreat, where he might examine his prize at leisure, embowered amid trucks and barrows. Thither59 he pushed his way, and soon, in the shade of the upturned barrow, he brought out the music box. Bright and shiny, it had taken no damage in the flight, though on his hands he found scratches, and on his shins bruises60, g............
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