was past the mid of a summer night in the Old Jago. The narrow
street was all the blacker for the lurid sky; for there was a fire
in a farther part of Shoreditch, and the welkin was an infernal
coppery glare. Below, the hot, heavy air lay, a rank oppression, on
the contorted forms of those who made for sleep on the pavement:
and in it, and through it all, there rose from the foul earth and
the grimed walls a close, mingled stink—the odour of the
From where, off Shoreditch High
Street, a narrow passage, set across with posts, gave menacing
entrance on one end of Old Jago Street, to where the other end lost
itself in the black beyond Jago Row; from where Jago Row began
south at Meakin Street, to where it ended north at Honey Lane—there
the Jago, for one hundred years the blackest pit in London, lay and
festered; and half-way along Old Jago Street a narrow archway gave
upon Jago Court, the blackest hole in all that pit.
A square of two hundred and fifty
yards or less—that was all there was of the Jago. But in that
square the human population swarmed in thousands. Old Jago Street,
New Jago Street, Half Jago Street lay parallel, east and west: Jago
Row at one end and Edge Lane at the other lay parallel also,
stretching north and south: foul ways all. What was too vile for
Kate Street, Seven Dials, and Ratcliff Highway in its worst day,
what was too useless, incapable and corrupt—all that teemed in the
Old Jago Street lay black and
close under the quivering red sky; and slinking forms, as of great
rats, followed one another quickly between the posts in the gut by
the High Street, and scattered over the Jago. For the crowd about
the fire was now small, the police was there in force, and every
safe pocket had been tried. Soon the incursion ceased, and the sky,
flickering and brightening no longer, settled to a sullen flush. On
the pavement some writhed wearily, longing for sleep; others,
despairing of it, sat and lolled, and a few talked. They were not
there for lack of shelter, but because in this weather repose was
less unlikely in the street than within doors: and the lodgings of
the few who nevertheless abode at home were marked here and there
by the lights visible from the windows. For in this place none ever
slept without a light, because of three kinds of vermin that light
in some sort keeps at bay: vermin which added to existence here a
terror not to be guessed by the unafflicted: who object to being
told of it. For on them that lay writhen and gasping on the
pavement; on them that sat among them; on them that rolled and
blasphemed in the lighted rooms; on every moving creature in this,
the Old Jago, day and night, sleeping and walking, the third plague
of Egypt, and more, lay unceasing.
The stifling air took a further
oppression from the red sky. By the dark entrance to Jago Court a
man rose, flinging out an oath, and sat with his head bowed in his
'Ah—h—h—h,' he said. 'I wish I
was dead: an' kep' a cawfy shop.' He looked aside from his hands at
his neighbours; but Kiddo Cook's ideal of heaven was no new thing,
and the sole answer was a snort from a dozing man a yard
Kiddo Cook felt in his pocket and
produced a pipe and a screw of paper. 'This is a bleed'n' unsocial
sort o' evenin' party, this is,' he said, 'An' 'ere's the on'y real
toff in the mob with ardly 'arf a pipeful left, an' no lights. D'
y' 'ear, me lord'—leaning toward the dozing neighbour—'got a
'Go t' 'ell!'
'O wot 'orrid langwidge! It's
shocking, blimy. Arter that y' ought to find me a match. Come
'Go t' 'ell!'
A lank, elderly man, who sat with
his back to the wall, pushed up a battered tall hat from his eyes,
and, producing a box of matches, exclaimed 'Hell? And how far's
that? You're in it!' He flung abroad a bony hand, and glanced
upward. Over his forehead a greasy black curl dangled and shook as
he shuddered back against the wall. 'My God, there can be no hell
'Ah,' Kiddo Cook remarked, as he
lit his pipe in the hollow of his hands, 'that's a comfort, Mr
Beveridge, any'ow.' He returned the matches, and the old man,
tilting his hat forward, was silent.
A woman, gripping a shawl about
her shoulders, came furtively along from the posts, with a man
walking in her tracks—a little unsteadily. He was not of the Jago,
but a decent young workman, by his dress. The sight took Kiddo
Cook's idle eye, and when the couple had passed, he said
meditatively: 'There's Billy Leary in luck ag'in: 'is missis do
pick 'em up, s'elp me. I'd carry the cosh meself if I'd got a woman
Cosh-carrying was near to being
the major industry of the Jago. The cosh was a foot length of iron
rod, with a knob at one end, and a hook (or a ring) at the other.
The craftsman, carrying it in his coat sleeve, waited about dark
staircase corners till his wife (married or not) brought in a well
drunken stranger: when, with a sudden blow behind the head, the
stranger was happily coshed, and whatever was found on him as he
lay insensible was the profit on the transaction. In the hands of
capable practitioners this industry yielded a comfortable
subsistence for no great exertion. Most, of course, depended on the
woman: whose duty it was to keep the other artist going in
subjects. There were legends of surprising ingatherings achieved by
wives of especial diligence: one of a woman who had brought to the
cosh some six-and-twenty on a night of public rejoicing. This was,
however, a story years old, and may have been no more than an
exemplary fiction, designed, like a Sunday School book, to convey a
counsel of perfection to the dutiful matrons of the Old Jago.
The man and woman vanished in a
doorway near the Jago Row end, where, for some reason, dossers were
fewer than about the portal of Jago Court. There conversation
flagged, and a broken snore was heard. It was a quiet night, as
quietness was counted in the Jago; for it was too hot for most to
fight in that stifling air—too hot to do more than turn on the
stones and swear. Still the last hoarse yelps of a combat of women
came intermittently from Half Jago Street in the further
In a little while something large
and dark was pushed forth from the door-opening near Jago Row which
Billy Leary's spouse had entered. The thing rolled over, and lay
tumbled on the pavement, for a time unnoted. It might have been yet
another would-be sleeper, but for its stillness. Just such a thing
it seemed, belike, to two that lifted their heads and peered from a
few yards off, till they rose on hands and knees and crept to where
it lay: Jago rats both. A man it was; with a thick smear across his
face, and about his head the source of the dark trickle that sought
the gutter deviously over the broken flags. The drab stuff of his
pockets peeped out here and there in a crumpled bunch, and his
waistcoat gaped where the watch-guard had been. Clearly, here was
an uncommonly remunerative cosh—a cosh so good that the boots had
been neglected, and remained on the man's feet. These the kneeling
two unlaced deftly, and, rising, prize in hand, vanished in the
deeper shadow of Jago Row.
A small boy, whom they met full
tilt at the corner, staggered out to the gutter and flung a veteran
curse after them. He was a slight child, by whose size you might
have judged his age at five. But his face was of serious and
troubled age. One who knew the children of the Jago, and could
tell, might have held him eight, or from that to nine.
He replaced his hands in his
trousers pockets, and trudged up the street. As he brushed by the
coshed man he glanced again toward Jago Row, and, jerking his thumb
that way, 'Done 'im for 'is boots,' he piped. But nobody marked him
till he reached Jago Court, when old Beveridge, pushing back his
hat once more, called sweetly and silkily, 'Dicky Perrott!' and
beckoned with his finger.
The boy approached, and as he did
so the man's skeleton hand suddenly shot out and gripped him by the
collar. 'It—never—does—to—see—too—much!' Beveridge said, in a
series of shouts, close to the boy's ear. 'Now go home,' he added,
in a more ordinary tone, with a push to make his meaning plain: and
straightway relapsed against the wall.
The boy scowled and backed off
the pavement. His ragged jacket was coarsely made from one much
larger, and he hitched the collar over his shoulder as he shrank
toward a doorway some few yards on. Front doors were used merely as
firewood in the Old Jago, and most had been burnt there many years
ago. If perchance one could have been found still on its hinges, it
stood ever open and probably would not shut. Thus at night the Jago
doorways were a row of black holes, foul and forbidding.
Dicky Perrott entered his hole
with caution, for anywhere, in the passage and on the stairs,
somebody might be lying drunk, against whom it would be unsafe to
stumble. He found nobody, however, and climbed and reckoned his way
up the first stair-flight with the necessary regard for the treads
that one might step through and the rails that had gone from the
side. Then he pushed open the door of the first-floor back and was
A little heap of guttering
grease, not long ago a candle end, stood and spread on the
mantel-piece, and gave irregular light from its drooping wick. A
thin-railed iron bedstead, bent and staggering, stood against a
wall, and on its murky coverings a half-dressed woman sat and
neglected a baby that lay by her, grieving and wheezing. The woman
had a long dolorous face, empty of expression and weak of
'Where 'a' you bin, Dicky?' she
asked, rather complaining than asking. 'It's sich low hours for a
Dicky glanced about the room.
'Got anythink to eat?' he asked.
'I dunno,' she answered
listlessly. 'P'raps there's a bit o' bread in the cupboard. I don't
want nothin', it's so 'ot. An' father ain't bin 'ome since
The boy rummaged and found a
crust. Gnawing at this, he crossed to where the baby lay. ''Ullo,
Looey,' he said, bending and patting the muddy cheek.
The baby turned feebly on its
back, and set up a thin wail. Its eyes were large and bright, its
tiny face was piteously flea-bitten and strangely old. 'Wy, she's
'ungry, mother,' said Dicky Perrott, and took the little thing
He sat on a small box, and rocked
the baby on his knees, feeding it with morsels of chewed bread. The
mother, dolefully inert, looked on and said: 'She's that backward
I'm quite wore out; more 'n ten months old, an' don't even crawl
yut. It's a never-endin' trouble, is children.'
She sighed, and presently
stretched herself on the bed. The boy rose, and carrying his little
sister with care, for she was dozing, essayed to look through the
grimy window. The dull flush still spread overhead, but Jago Court
lay darkling below, with scarce a sign of the ruinous back yards
that edged it on this and the opposite sides, and nothing but
The boy returned to his box, and
sat. Then he said: 'I don't s'pose father's 'avin' a sleep outside,
The woman sat up with some show
of energy. 'Wot?' she said sharply. 'Sleep out in the street like
them low Ranns an' Learys? I should 'ope not. It's bad enough
livin' 'ere at all, an' me being used to different things once, an'
all. You ain't seen 'im outside, 'ave ye?'
'No, I ain't seen 'im: I jist
looked in the court.' Then, after a pause: 'I 'ope 'e's done a
click,' the boy said.
His mother winced. 'I dunno wot
you mean, Dicky,' she said, but falteringly. 'You—you're gittin'
that low an' an'—'
'Wy, copped somethink, o' course.
Nicked somethink. You know.'
'If you say sich things as that
I'll tell 'im wot you say, an' 'e'll pay you. We ain't that sort o'
people, Dicky, you ought to know. I was alwis kep' respectable an'
straight all my life, I'm sure, an'—'
'I know. You said so before, to
father—I 'eard: w'en 'e brought 'ome that there yuller prop—the
necktie pin. Wy, where did 'e git that? 'E ain't 'ad a job for
munse and munse: where's the yannups come from wot's bin for to pay
the rent, an' git the toke, an' milk for Looey? Think I dunno? I
ain't a kid. I know.'
'Dicky, Dicky! you mustn't say
sich things!' was all the mother could find to say, with tears in
her slack eyes. 'It's wicked an'—an' low. An' you must alwis be
respectable an' straight, Dicky, an' you'll—you'll git on
'Straight people's fools, I
reckon. Kiddo Cook says that, an' 'e's as wide as Broad Street.
W'en I grow up I'm goin' to git toffs' clo'es an' be in the 'igh
mob. They does big clicks.'
'They git put in a dark prison
for years an' years, Dicky—an'—an' if you're sich a wicked low boy,
father 'll give you the strap—'ard,' the mother returned, with what
earnestness she might. 'Gimme the baby, an' you go to bed, go on;
'fore father comes.'
Dicky handed over the baby, whose
wizen face was now relaxed in sleep, and slowly disencumbered
himself of the ungainly jacket, staring at the wall in a brown
study. 'It's the mugs wot git took,' he said, absently. 'An'
quoddin' ain't so bad.' Then, after a pause, he turned and added
suddenly: 'S'pose father'll be smugged some day, eh, mother?'
His mother made no reply, but
bent languidly over the baby, with an indefinite pretence of
settling it in a place on the bed. Soon Dicky himself, in the short
and ragged shirt he had worn under the jacket, burrowed head first
among the dingy coverings at the foot, and protruding his head at
the further side, took his accustomed place crosswise at the