Silas Linden, prize-fighter and fake-medium, had had some good days in hi_ife — days crowded with incidents for good or evil. There was the time whe_e had backed Rosalind at 100 to 1 in the Oaks and had spent twenty-four hour_f brutal debauchery on the strength of it. There was the day also when hi_avourite right uppercut had connected in most accurate and rhythmical fashio_ith the protruded chin of Bull Wardell of Whitechapel, whereby Silas pu_imself in the way of a Lonsdale Belt and a try for the championship. Bu_ever in all his varied career had he such a day as this supreme one, so it i_orth our while to follow him to the end of it. Fanatical believers have urge_hat it is dangerous to cross the path of spiritual things when the heart i_ot clean. Silas Linden's name might be added to their list of examples, bu_is cup of sin was full and overflowing before the judgment fell.
He emerged from the room of Algernon Mailey with every reason to know tha_ord Roxton's grip was as muscular as ever. In the excitement of the struggl_e had hardly realized his injuries, but now he stood outside the door wit_is hand to his bruised throat and a hoarse stream of oaths pouring throug_t. His breast was aching also where Malone had planted his knee, and even th_uccessful blow which had struck Mailey down had brought retribution, or i_ad jarred that injured hand of which he had complained to his brother.
Altogether, if Silas Linden was in a most cursed temper, there was a very goo_eason for his mood.
"I'll get you one at a time," he growled, looking back with his angry pigs'
eyes at the outer door of the flats. "You wait my lads, and see!" Then wit_udden purpose he swung off down the street.
It was to the Bardsley Square Police Station that he made his way, and h_ound the jovial, rubicund, black-moustached Inspector Murphy seated at hi_esk.
"Well, what do you want?" asked the inspector in no very friendly voice.
"I hear you got that medium right and proper."
"Yes, we did. I learn he was your brother."
"That's neither here not there. I don't hold with such things in any man. Bu_ou got your conviction. What is there for me in it?"
"Not a shilling "
"What? Wasn't it I that gave the information? Where would you have been if _ad not given you the office?"
"If there had been a fine we might have allowed you something We would hav_ot something, too. Mr. Melrose sent him to gaol. There is nothing fo_nybody."
"So say you. I'm damned sure you and those two women got something out of it.
Why the hell should I give away my own brother for the sake of the likes o_ou? You'll find your own bird next time."
Murphy was a choleric man with a sense of his own importance. He was not to b_earded thus in his own seat of office. He rose with a very red face.
"I'll tell you what, Silas Linden, I could find my own bird and never move ou_f this room. You had best get out of this quick, or you may chance to sta_ere longer than you like. We've had complaints of your treatment of those tw_hildren of yours, and the children's protection folk are taking an interest.
Look out that we don't take an interest, too."
Silas Linden flung out of the room with his temper hotter than ever, and _ouple of rum-and-waters on his way home did not help to appease him. On th_ontrary, he had always been a man who grew more dangerous in his cups. Ther_ere many of his trade who refused to drink with him.
Silas lived in one of a row of small brick houses named Bolton's Court, lyin_t the back of Tottenham Court Road. His was the end house of a cul-de-sac, with the side wall of a huge brewery beyond. These dwellings were very small, which was probably the reason why the inhabitants, both adults and children, spent most of their time in the street. Several of the elders were out now, and as Silas passed under the solitary lamp-post, they scowled at his thick- set figure, for though the morality of Bolton's Court was of no high order, i_as none the less graduated and Silas was at zero. A tall Jewish woman, Rebecca Levi, thin, aquiline and fierce-eyed, lived next to the prizefighter.
She was standing at her door now, with a child holding her apron.
"Mr. Linden," she said as he passed, "them children of yours want more car_han they get. Little Margery was in here to-day. That child don't get enoug_o eat."
"You mind your own business, curse you!" growled Silas. "I've told you befor_ow not to push that long, sheeny beak of yours into my affairs. If you was _an I'd know better how to speak to you."
"If I was a man maybe you wouldn't dare to speak to me so. I say it's a shame, Silas Linden, the way them children is treated. If it's a police-court case, I'll know what to say."
"Oh, go to hell!" said Silas, and kicked open his own unlatched door. A big, frowsy woman with a shock of dyed hair and some remains of a florid beauty, now long over-ripe, looked out from the sitting-room door.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" said she.
"Who did you think it was? The Dook of Wellington?"
"I thought it was a mad bullock maybe got strayin' down the lane, and buttin'
down our door."
"Funny, ain't you?"
"Maybe I am, but I hain't got much to be funny about. Not a shilling in the
'ouse, nor so much as a pint o' beer, and these damned children of yours fo_ver upsettin' me."
"What have they been a-doin' of?" asked Silas with a scowl. When this worth_air could get no change out of each other, they usually united their force_gainst the children. He had entered the sitting-room and flung himself dow_n the wooden armchair.
"They've been seein' Number One again."
"How d'ye know that?"
"I 'eard 'im say somethin' to 'er about it. 'Mother was there', 'e says. The_fterwards 'e 'ad one 'o them sleepy fits."
"It's in the family."
"Yes, it is," retorted the woman. "If you 'adn't sleepy fits you'd get som_ork to do, like other men."
"Oh, shut it, woman! What I mean is, that my brother Tom gets them fits, an_his lad o' mine is said to be the livin' image of his uncle. So he had _rance, had he? What did you do?"
The woman gave an evil grin.
"I did what you did."
"What, the sealin'-wax again?"
"Not much of it. Just enough to wake 'im. It's the only way to break 'im o_t."
Silas shrugged his shoulders.
"'Ave a care, my lass! There is talk of the p'lice, and if they see thos_urns, you and I may be in the dock together."
"Silas Linden, you are a fool! Can't a parent c'rect 'is own child?"
"Yes, but it ain't your own child, and stepmothers has a bad name, see?
There's that Jew woman next door. She saw you when you took the clothes' rop_o little Margery last washin'-day. She spoke to me about it and again to-da_bout the food."
"What's the matter with the food? The greedy little bastards! They had a 'unc_f bread each when I 'ad my dinner. A bit of real starvin' would do them no
'arm, and I would 'ave less sauce."
"What, has Willie sauced you?"
"Yes, when 'e woke up."
"After you'd dropped the hot sealin'-wax on him?"
"Well, I did it for 'is good, didn't I? It was to cure 'im of a bad 'abit."
"Wot did he say?"
"Cursed me good and proper, 'e did. All about his mother — wot 'is mothe_ould do to me. I'm dam' well sick of 'is mother!"
"Don't say too much about Amy. She was a good woman."
"So you say now, Silas Linden, but by all accounts you 'ad a queer way o_howin' it when she was alive."
"Hold your jaw, woman! I've had enough to vex me to-day without you startin'
your tantrums. You're jealous of the grave. That's wot's the matter with you."
"And her brats can insult me as they like — me that 'as cared for you thes_ive years."
"No, I didn't say that. If he insulted you, it's up to me to deal with him.
Where's that strap? Go, fetch him in!"
The woman came across and kissed him.
"I've only you, Silas."
"Oh hell! don't muck me about. I'm not in the mood. Go and fetch Willie in.
You can bring Margery also. It takes the sauce out of her also, for I thin_he feels it more than he does."
The woman left the room but was back, in a moment.
"'E's off again!" said she. "It fair gets on my nerves to see him. Come 'ere, Silas! 'Ave a look!"
They went together into the back kitchen. A small fire was smouldering in th_rate. Beside it, huddled up in a chair, sat a fair-haired boy of ten. Hi_elicate face was upturned to the ceiling. His eyes were half-closed, and onl_he whites visible. There was a look of great peace upon his thin, spiritua_eatures. In the corner a poor little cowed mite of a girl, a year or tw_ounger, was gazing with sad, frightened eyes at her brother.
"Looks awful, don't 'e?" said the woman. "Don't seem to belong to this world.
I wish to God 'e'd make a move for the other. 'E don't do much good 'ere."
"Here, wake up!," cried Silas. "None of your foxin'! Wake up! D'ye hear?" H_hook him roughly by the shoulder, but the boy still slumbered on. The back_f his hands, which lay upon his lap, were covered with bright scarle_lotches.
"My word, you've dropped enough hot wax on him. D'you mean to tell me, Sarah, it took all that to wake him?"
"Maybe I dropped one or two extra for luck. 'E does aggravate me so that I can
'ardly 'old myself. But you wouldn't believe 'ow little 'e can feel when 'e'_ike that. You can 'owl in 'is ear. - It's all lost on 'im. See 'ere!"
She caught the lad by the hair and shook him violently. He groaned an_hivered. Then he sank back into his serene trance.
"Say!" cried Silas, stroking his stubbled chin as he looked thoughtfully a_is son, "I think there is money in this if it is handled to rights. Wot abou_ turn on the halls, eh? 'The Boy Wonder or How is it Done?' There's a nam_or the bills. Then folk know his uncle's name, so they will be able to tak_im on trust."
"I thought you was going into the business yourself."
"That's a wash-out," snarled Silas. "Don't you talk of it. It's finished."
"Been caught out already?"
"I tell you not to talk about it, Woman!" the man shouted. "I'm just in th_ood to give you the hidin' of your life, so don't you get my goat' or you'l_e sorry." He stepped across and pinched the boy's arm with all his force. "B_ripes, he's a wonder! Let us see how far it will go."
He turned to the sinking fire and with the tongs he picked out a half-re_mber. This he placed on the boy's head. There was a smell of burning hair, then of roasting flesh, and suddenly, with a scream of pain, the boy came bac_o his senses.
"Mother! Mother!" he cried. The girl in the corner took up the cry. They wer_ike two lambs bleating together.
"Damn your mother!" cried the woman, shaking Margery by the collar of he_rail black dress. "Stop squallin', you little stinker!" She struck the chil_ith her open hand across the face. Little Willie ran at her and kicked he_hins until a blow from Silas knocked him into the corner. The brute picked u_ stick and lashed the two cowering children, while they screamed for mercy, and tried to cover their little bodies from the cruel blows.
"You stop that!" cried a voice in the passage.
"It's that blasted Jewess!" said the woman. She went to the kitchen door.
"What the 'ell are you doing in our 'ouse? 'Op it, quick, or it will be th_orse for you!"
"If I hear them children cry out once more, I'm off far the police."
"Get out of it! 'Op it, I tell you!" The frowsy stepmother bore down in ful_ail, but the lean, lank Jewess stood her ground. Next instant they met. Mrs.
Silas Linden screamed, and staggered back with blood running down her fac_here four nails had left as many red furrows. Silas' with an oath, pushed hi_ife out of the way, seized the intruder round the waist, and slung her bodil_hrough the door. She lay in the roadway with her long gaunt limbs sprawlin_bout like some half-slain fowl. Without rising, she shook her clenched hand_n the air and screamed curses at Silas, who slammed the door and left her, while neighbours ran from all sides to hear particulars of the fray. Mrs.
Linden, staring through the front blind, saw with some relief that her enem_as able to rise and to limp back to her own door, whence she could be hear_elivering a long shrill harangue as to her wrongs. The wrongs of a Jew ar_ot lightly forgotten, for the race can both love and hate.
"She's all right, Silas. I thought maybe you 'ad killed 'er "
"It's what she wants, the damned canting sheeny. It's bad enough to have he_n the street without her daring to set foot inside my door. I'll cut the hid_ff that young Willie. He's the cause of it all. Where is he?"
"They ran up to their room. I heard them lock the door."
"A lot of good that will do them."
"I wouldn't touch 'em now, Silas. The neighbours is all up and about and w_eedn't ask for trouble."
"You're right!" he grumbled. "It will keep till I come back."
"Where are you goin'?"
"Down to the 'Admiral Vernon'. There's a chance of a job as sparrin' partne_o Long Davis. He goes into training on Monday and needs a man of my weight."
"Well, I'll expect you when I see you. I get too much of that pub of yours. _now what the 'Admiral Vernon' means."
"It means the only place in God's earth where I get any peace or rest" sai_ilas.
"A fat lot I get — or ever 'ave 'ad since I married you."
"That's right. Grouse away!" he growled. "If grousin' made a man happy, you'_e the champion."
He picked up his hat and slouched off down the street, his heavy trea_esounding upon the great wooden flap which covered the cellars of th_rewery.
Up in a dingy attic two little figures were seated on the side of a wretche_traw-stuffed bed, their arms enlacing each other, their cheeks touching, their tears mingling. They had to cry in silence, for any sound might remin_he ogre downstairs of their existence. Now and again one would break into a_ncontrollable sob, and the other would whisper, "Hush! Hush! Oh hush!" The_uddenly they heard the slam of the outer door and that heavy tread boomin_ver the wooden flap. They squeezed each other in their joy. Perhaps when h_ame back he might kill them, but for a few short hours at least they wer_afe from him. As to the woman, she was spiteful and vicious, but she did no_eem so deadly as the man. In a dim way they felt that he had hunted thei_other into her grave and might do as much for them.
The room was dark save for the light which came through the single dirt_indow. It cast a bar across the floor, but all round was black shadow.
Suddenly the little boy stiffened, clasped his sister with a tighter grip, an_tared rigidly into the darkness.
"She's coming!" he muttered. "She's coming!" Little Margery clung to him.
"Oh, Wiliie, is it mother?"
"It is a light — a beautiful yellow light. Can you not see it, Margery?"
But the little girl, like all the world, was without vision. To her all wa_arkness.
"Tell me, Willie," she whispered, in a solemn voice. She was not reall_rightened, for many times before had the dead mother returned in the watche_f the night to comfort her stricken children.
"Yes. Yes, she is coming now. Oh, mother! Mother!"
"What does she say, Willie?"
"Oh, she is beautiful. She is not crying. She is smiling. It is like th_icture we saw of the angel. She looks so happy. Dear, dear mother! Now she i_peaking. 'It is over', she says. 'It is all over'. She says it again. Now sh_eckons with her hand. We are to follow. She has moved to the door."
"Oh, Willie, I dare not."
"Yes, yes, she nods her head. She bids us fear nothing Now she has passe_hrough the door. Come, Margery, come, or we shall lose her."
The two little mites crept across the room and Willie unlocked the door. Th_other stood at the head of the stair beckoning them onwards. Step by ste_hey followed her down into an empty kitchen. The woman seemed to have gon_ut. All was still in the house. The phantom still beckoned them on."
"We are to go out."
"Oh, Willie, we have no hats."
"We must follow, Madge. She is smiling and waving."
"Father will kill us for this."
"She shakes her head. She says we are to fear nothing. Come!"
They threw open the door and were in the street. Down the deserted court the_ollowed the gleaming gracious presence, and through a tangle of low streets, and so out into the crowded rush of Tottenham Court Road. Once or twice ami_ll that blind torrent of humanity, some man or woman, blessed with th_recious gift of discernment, would start and stare as if they were aware o_n angel presence and of two little white-faced children who followed behind, the boy with fixed, absorbed gaze, the girl glancing ever in terror over he_houlder. Down the long street they passed, then again amid humbler dwellings, and so at last to a quiet drab line of brick houses. On the step of one th_pirit had halted.
"We are to knock," said Willie.
"Oh, Willie, what shall we say? We don't know them."
"We are to knock," he repeated, stoutly. Rat-tat!
"It's all right, Madge. She is clapping her hands and laughing."
So it was that Mrs. Tom Linden, sitting lonely in her misery and brooding ove_er martyr in gaol, was summoned suddenly to the door, and found two littl_pologetic figures outside it. A few words, a rush of woman's instinct, an_er arms were round the children. These battered little skiffs, who ha_tarted their life's voyage so sadly, had found a harbour of peace where n_torm should vex them more.
There were some strange happenings in Bolton's Court that night. Some fol_hought they had no relation to each other. One or two thought they had. Th_ritish Law saw nothing and had nothing to say.
In the second last house, a keen, hawklike face peered from behind a window- blind into the darkened street. A shaded candle was behind that fearful face, dark as death, remorseless as the tomb. Behind Rebecca Levi stood a young ma_hose features showed that he sprang from the same Oriental race. For an hour — for a second hour — the woman had sat without a word, watching, watching… A_he entrance to the court there was a hanging lamp which cast a circle o_ellow light. It was on this pool of radiance that her brooding eyes wer_ixed.
Then suddenly she saw what she had waited for. She started and hissed out _ord. The young man rushed from the room and into the street. He vanishe_hrough a side door into the brewery.
Drunken Silas Linden was coming home. He was in a gloomy, sulken state o_efuddlement. A sense of injury filled his mind. He had not gained the bille_e sought. His injured hand had been against him. He had hung about the ba_aiting for drinks and had got some, but not enough. Now he was in a dangerou_ood. Woe to the man, woman or child, who crossed his path! He though_avagely of the Jewess who lived in that darkened house. He thought savagel_f all his neighbours. They would stand between him and his children, woul_hey? He would show them. The very next morning he would take them both ou_nto the street and strap them within an inch of their lives. That would sho_hem all what Silas Linden thought of their opinions. Why should he not do i_ow? If he were to waken the neighbours up with the shrieks of his children, it would show them once for all that they could not defy him with impunity.
The idea pleased him. He stepped more briskly out. He was almost at his doo_hen…
It was never quite clear how it was that the cellar-flap was not securel_astened that night. The jury were inclined to blame the brewery, but th_oroner pointed out that Linden was a heavy man, that he might have fallen o_t if he were drunk, and that all reasonable care had been taken. It was a_ighteen-foot fall upon jagged stones, and his back was broken. They did no_ind him till next morning, for, curiously enough, his neighbour, the Jewess, never heard the sound of the accident. The doctor seemed to think that deat_ad not come quickly. There were horrible signs that he had lingered. Down i_he darkness, vomiting blood and beer, the man ended his filthy life with _ilthy death.
One need not waste words or pity over the woman whom he had left. Relieve_rom her terrible mate, she returned to that music-hall stage from which he, by force of his virility and bull-like strength, had lured her. She tried t_egain her place with:
"Hi! Hi! Hi! I'm the dernier cri,
The girl with the cart-wheel hat."
which was the ditty which had won her her name. But it became too painfull_vident that she was anything but the dernier cri, and that she could neve_et back. Slowly she sank from big halls to small halls, from small halls t_ubs, and so ever deeper and deeper, sucked into the awful silent quicksand_f life which drew her down and down until that vacuous painted face an_rowsy head were seen no more.