Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 11 Prison

  • "Joe," inquired Elsie, "where's your papers?"
  • She had brought his clothes—dry, folded, and possibly wearable—back into he_edroom. She had found nothing in the pockets of the suit except som_igarette-card portraits of famous footballers, a charred pipe, three Frenc_ous, and a broken jack-knife. These articles, the raiment, and a pair o_attered shoes which she had pushed under the bed and forgotten, seemed to b_ll that Joe had to show for more than twenty years of strenuous and dangerou_ife on earth—much less even than Elsie could show. The paucity of hi_ossessions did not trouble her, and scarcely surprised her, for she knew tha_ery many unmarried men, with no incentive to accumulate what they coul_mmediately squander in personal use, had no more reserves than Joe; but th_bsence of the sacred "papers" disturbed her. Every man in her world could,
  • when it came to the point, produce papers of some sort from somewhere—army-
  • discharge, pension documents, testimonials, birth-certificate, etc., etc. Eve_he tramps who flitted in and out of Rowton House had their papers to whic_hey rightly attached the greatest importance. No man in Elsie's world coul_et far along without papers, unless specially protected by heaven; and,
  • sooner or later—generally sooner than later—heaven grew tired of protecting.
  • All day Elsie had been awaiting an opportunity to speak to Joe about hi_apers. The opportunity had now come. Mr. Earlforward could be left for a_our or so. Joe was apparently in less pain. The two bedrooms were tidied up.
  • Both men had been fed. Joe had had more quinine. She could not sponge hi_gain till the morrow. She herself had drunk two cups of tea, and eaten th_ast contents of the larder. She had lighted a new candle—the last candle—i_he candle-stick. She had brought coal and mended the fire. The next mornin_he would have a great deal to do and to arrange—getting money, marketing,
  • seeing the doctor and Mrs. Belrose, discussing the funeral with Mr.
  • Earlforward— terrible anxieties—but for the present she was free.
  • Joe made no answer. He seemed to be trying to frame sentences. She encourage_im with a repetition
  • "Where's your papers? I can't find 'em nowhere. You haven't lost them, hav_e?" Her brow contracted in apprehension.
  • "I sold 'em," said Joe, in his deep, vibrating and yet feeble voice. He looke_way.
  • "Sold 'em, Joe? Ye never sold 'em!"
  • "Yes I have, I tell ye. I sold 'em yesterday morning."
  • "But, Joey—"
  • "I sold 'em yesterday morning to a man as came to meet a man as came out o_entonville same time as me."
  • "Pentonville Joe, d'ye mean ye've been to prison?" He nodded. "What a shame!"
  • she exclaimed in protest, not at his having done anything wicked enough t_end him to prison, but at the police having been wicked enough to send him t_rison. She assumed instinctively and positively that he was an innocen_ictim of the ruthless blue men whom some people know only as pilots o_erambulators across busy streets.
  • "There was no option, ye know, so I had fourteen days."
  • She dropped on her knees at the bedside, and put her left arm under his nec_nd threw her right arm over his waist, and with it felt again the familia_hape of his waist through the bedclothes, and gazed into his homely, ugl_ace upon which soft, dark hair—a beard on the chin—was sprouting. This fait_nd tenderness made Joe cry.
  • "Tell me," she murmured, scarcely hoping that he would succeed in an_arrative.
  • "Oh, it's nothin'," Joe replied gloomily. "Armistice Day, ye know. I had m_fternoon, and I went out."
  • "Were ye in a place, Joe?"
  • "I had a part-time place in Oxford Street—carrying coal upstairs, and cleanin_rasses and sweeping and errands. And a bed. Yes, in the basement. Sort of _atchman. Doctor he give me a testimonial. Least, he sent it me when I wrot_nd asked him." (No doubt whatever that she had been unjust to that doctor!) "
  • I went down to Piccadilly to see the sights, and when it was about dark I se_ur old divisional general in a damn big car with two young ladies. There wa_ block, ye see, in Piccadilly Circus, and he was stopped by the kerb wher_hem flower-girls are, ye know, by the fountain, and I was standing there a_lose as I am to you, Elsie. We used to call him the Slaughterer. That was ho_e called him. We never called him nothin' else. And there he was with his tw_ows o' ribbons and his flash women, perhaps they weren't flash, and I didn'_ike the look of his face—hard, ye know. Cruel. We knowed him, we did. An_hen I thought of the two minutes' silence, and hats off and stand at
  • 'tention, and the Cenotaph, and it made me laugh. I laughed at him through th_lass. And he didn't like it, he didn't. I was as close to him as I am to you,
  • ye see. And he lets down the glass and says something about insultin'
  • behaviour to these ladies, and I put my tongue out to him. That tore it, tha_id. That fair put the lid on. I felt something coming over me—ye know. The_here was a crowd, and I caught a policeman one on the shoulder. Oh, the_arched me off, three of 'em! The doctor at the station said I was drunk, m_s hadn't had a drop for three days! Next morning the beak he said he'd trea_e lenient because it was Armistice Day, and I'd had some and I'd fought fo_he old country, but assaulting an officer of the law, he couldn't let tha_ass. No option for that, so he give me fourteen days."
  • "But yer master, Joe?"
  • "It was an old woman."
  • "Wouldn't she—?"
  • "No, she wouldn't," said Joe roughly. "And another thing, I didn't go bac_here either, afterwards."
  • "Did ye leave yer things there?"
  • "Yes. A bag and some things. And I shan't fetch it either."
  • " _I_  shall!" said Elsie resolutely. "I won't let 'er have 'em. I shall tel_er you was taken ill, and I shall bring 'em away."
  • Joe offered no remark.
  • "But why did ye sell yer papers, Joe?"
  • "He give me four-and-six for 'em. I was on me uppers; he give me four-and-six,
  • and then we went and had a meal after all that skilly and cocoa and dry bread.
  • No good me going back. I'd left without notice, I had."
  • "But why didn't ye come to me straight, Joey?"
  • Joe didn't answer. After all this inordinate loquacity of his, he had resume_is great silence.
  • Elsie still gazed at him. The candle light went down and up. A burst of heav_raffic shook the bed. And now Elsie had a desire to tell Joe all about he_wn story, all about Mr. Earlforward and the death of Mrs. Earlforward, an_he troubles awaiting her in the morning. She wanted to be confidential, an_he wanted to discuss with him a plan for putting him on his feet again afte_e was better—for she was sure she could restore his self-respect to him, an_im to his proper position in the world. But he did not seem interested i_nything, not even in herself. He was absorbed in his aches and pains an_ever. And she was very tired. So, without moving her arms, she just laid he_ead on his breast, and was indignant against the whole of mankind on hi_ehalf, and regarded her harsh, pitiless self as the author of all hi_isfortunes and loved him.