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HOME > Classical Novels > A Child of the Jago37 > CHAPTER 13
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 Ten days after his first tour of the Old Jago, the Reverend Henry Sturt first preached in the parish church made of a stable, in an alley1 behind Meakin Street, but few yards away, though beyond sight and sound of the Jago. There, that Sunday morning was a morning of importance, a time of excitement, for the fight between Billy Leary and Josh Perrott was to come off in Jago Court. The assurance that there was money in the thing was a sovereign liniment for Billy Leary's bruises3—for they were but bruises—and he hastened to come by that money, lest it melt by caprice of the backers, or the backers themselves fall at unlucky odds4 with the police. He made little of Josh Perrott, his hardness and known fighting power notwithstanding. For was there not full a stone and a half between their weights? and had Billy not four or five inches the better in height and a commensurate advantage in reach? And Billy Leary's own hardness and fighting power were well proved enough.  
It was past eleven o'clock. The weekly rents—for the week forthcoming—had been extracted, or partly extracted, or scuffled over. Old Poll Rann, who had made money in sixty-five years of stall-farming and iniquity7, had made the rounds of the six houses she rented, to turn out the tenants8 of the night who were disposed to linger. Many had already stripped themselves to their rags at pitch-and-toss in Jago Court; and the game still went busily on in the crowded area and in overflow9 groups in Old Jago Street; and men found themselves deprived, not merely of the money for that day's food and that night's lodging11, but even of the last few pence set by to back a horse for Tuesday's race. A little-regarded fight or two went on here and there as usual, and on kerbs and doorsteps sat women, hideous12 at all ages, filling the air with the rhetoric13 of the Jago.
Presently down from Edge Lane and the 'Posties' came the High Mobsmen, swaggering in check suits and billycocks, gold chains and lumpy rings: stared at, envied, and here and there pointed14 out by name or exploit. 'Him as done the sparks in from Regent Street for nine centuries o' quids'; 'Him as done five stretch for a snide bank bill an' they never found the oof'; 'Him as maced the bookies in France an' shot the nark in the boat'; and so forth6. And the High Mob being come, the fight was due.
Of course, a fight merely as a fight was no great matter of interest: the thing was too common. But there was money on this; and again, it was no common thing to find Billy Leary defied, still less to find him challenged. Moreover, the thing had a Rann and Leary complexion15, and it arose out of the battle of less than a fortnight back. So that Josh Perrott did not lack for partisans16, though not a Rann believed he could stand long before Billy Leary Billy's cause, too, had lost some popularity because it had been reported that Sally Green, in hospital, had talked of 'summonsing' Norah Walsh in the matter of her mangled18 face: a scandalous device to overreach, a piece of foul19 practice repugnant to all proper feeling; more especially for such a distinguished20 Jago as Sally Green—so well able to take care of herself. But all this was nothing as affecting the odds. They ruled at three to one on Billy Leary, with few takers, and went to four to one before the fight began.
Josh Perrott had been strictly21 sober for a full week. And the family had lived better, for he had brought meat home each day. Now he sat indifferently at the window of his room, and looked out at the crowd in Jago Court till such time as he might be wanted. He had not been out of the room that morning: he was saving his energy for Billy Leary.
As for Dicky, he had scarce slept for excitement. For days he had enjoyed consideration among his fellows on account of this fight. Now he shook and quivered, and nothing relieved his agitation23 but violent exertion24. So he rushed downstairs a hundred times to see if the High Mob were coming, and back to report that they were not. At last he saw their overbearing checks, and tore upstairs, face before knees, with ''Ere they are, father! 'Ere they are! They're comin' down the street, father!' and danced frenzied25 about the room and the landing.
Presently Jerry Gullen and Kiddo Cook came, as seconds, to take Josh out, and then Dicky quieted a little externally, though he was bursting at the chest and throat, and his chin jolted26 his teeth together uncontrollably. Josh dragged off his spotted27 coat and waistcoat and flung them on the bed, and then was helped out of his ill-mended blue shirt. He gave a hitch28 to his trousers-band, tightened29 his belt, and was ready.
'Ta-ta, ol' gal,' he said to his wife, with a grin; 'back agin soon.'
'With a bob or two for ye,' added Kiddo Cook, grinning likewise.
Hannah Perrott sat pale and wistful, with the baby on her knees. Through the morning she had sat so, wretched and helpless, sometimes putting her face in her hands, sometimes breaking out hopelessly:—'Don't, Josh, don't—good Gawd, Josh, I wish you wouldn't!' or 'Josh, Josh, I wish I was dead!' Josh had fought before, it was true, and more than once, but then she had learned of the matter afterward30. This preparation and long waiting were another thing. Once she had even exclaimed that she would go with him—though she meant nothing.
Now, as Josh went out at the door, she bent31 over Looey and hid her face again. 'Good luck, father,' called Dicky, 'go it!' Though the words would hardly pass his throat, and he struggled to believe that he had no fear for his father.
No sooner was the door shut than he rushed to the window, though Josh could not appear in Jago Court for three or four minutes yet. The sash-line was broken, and the window had been propped32 open with a stick. In his excitement Dicky dislodged the stick, and the sash came down on his head, but he scarce felt the blow, and readjusted the stick with trembling hands, regardless of the bruise2 rising under his hair.
'Aincher goin' to look, mother?' he asked. 'Wontcher 'old up Looey?'
But his mother would not look. As for Looey, she looked at nothing. She had been taken to the dispensary once again, and now lay drowsy33 and dull, with little more movement than a general shudder34 and a twitching35 of the face at long intervals36. The little face itself was thinner and older than ever: horribly flea-bitten still, but bloodlessly pale. Mrs Perrott had begun to think Looey was ailing37 for something; thought it might be measles38 or whooping-cough coming, and complained that children were a continual worry.
Dicky hung head and shoulders out of the window, clinging to the broken sill and scraping feverishly39 at the wall with his toes. Jago Court was fuller than ever. The tossing went on, though now with more haste, that most might be made of the remaining time. A scuffle still persisted in one corner. Some stood to gaze at the High Mob, who, to the number of eight or ten, stood in an exalted40 group over against the back fences of New Jago Street; but the thickest knot was about Cocko Harnwell's doorstep, whereon sat Billy Leary, his head just visible through the press about him, waiting to keep his appointment.
Then a close group appeared at the archway, and pushed into the crowd, which made way at its touch, the disturbed tossers pocketing their coppers41, but the others busily persisting, with no more than a glance aside between the spins. Josh Perrott's cropped head and bare shoulders marked the centre of the group, and as it came, another group moved out from Cocko Harnwell's doorstep, with Billy Leary's tall bulk shining pink and hairy in its midst.
''E's in the court, mother,' called Dicky, scraping faster with his toes.
The High Mobsmen moved up toward the middle of the court, and some from the two groups spread and pushed back the crowd. Still half a dozen couples, remote by the walls, tossed and tossed faster than ever, moving this way and that as the crowd pressed.
Now there was an irregular space of bare cobble stones and house refuse, five or six yards across, in the middle of Jago Court, and all round it the shouting crowd was packed tight, those at the back standing5 on sills and hanging to fences. Every window was a clump42 of heads, and women yelled savagely43 or cheerily down and across. The two groups were merged44 in the press at each side of the space, Billy Leary and Josh Perrott in front of each, with his seconds.
'Naa then, any more 'fore17 they begin?' bawled45 a High Mobsman, turning about among his fellows. 'Three to one on the big 'un—three to one! 'Ere, I'll give fours—four to one on Leary! Fourer one! Fourer one!'
But they shook their heads; they would wait a little. Leary and Perrott stepped out. The last of the tossers stuffed away his coppers, and sought for a hold on the fence.
'They're a-sparrin', mother!' cried Dicky, pale and staring, elbows and legs a-work, till he was like to pitch out of window. From his mother there but jerked a whimpering sob22, which he did not hear.
The sparring was not long. There was little of subtlety46 in the milling of the Jago: mostly no more than a rough application of the main hits and guards, with much rushing and ruffianing. What there was of condition in the two men was Josh's: smaller and shorter, he had a certain hard brownness of hide that Leary, in his heavy opulence47 of flesh, lacked; and there was a horny quality in his face and hands that reminded the company of his boast of invulnerability to anything milder than steel. Also his breadth of chest was great. Nevertheless all odds seemed against him, by reason of Billy Leary's size, reach, and fighting record.
The men rushed together, and Josh was forced back by weight. Leary's great fists, left and right, shot into his face with smacking49 reports, but left no mark on the leathery skin, and Josh, fighting for the body, drove his knuckles50 into the other's ribs51 with a force that jerked a thick grunt52 from Billy's lips at each blow.
There was a roar of shouts. 'Go it, father! Fa—ther! Fa—ther!' Dicky screamed from the window, till his voice broke in his throat and he coughed himself livid. The men were at holds, and swaying this way and that over the uneven53 stones. Blood ran copiously54 from Billy Leary's nose over his mouth and chin, and, as they turned, Dicky saw his father spit away a tooth over Leary's shoulder. They clipped and hauled to and fro, each striving to break the other's foothold. Then Perrott stumbled at a hole, lost his feet, and went down, with Leary on top.
Cheers and yells rent the air, as each man was taken to his own side by his seconds. Dicky let go the ............
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