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We were sitting together on the Embankment, and talked, to the accompaniment
of the rumble of trains over the bridge at Charing Cross. It was a warm evening
for the season of the year; and young Alf preferred an outdoor conversation,
because he wished to keep his napper cool. Later on he had, as it appeared, an
appointment in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park, the nature of which he did
not disclose, nor did I inquire.
Once or twice as we talked a policeman paced slowly past us, and turned a flash of his lantern on to the seat. But young Alf is by no means nervous in face of a constable in uniform. If you have a difference of opinion with a policeman your course is extremely simple. Your object is to get past him. Do not dodge, do not hesitate.
'You put yer 'ed down and run at 'is belly,' is young Alf's simple prescription. 'Then you walk down the next to the left. That's the sawftest place about a cop, wiv no error. Run! Wot yer talkin' abart?'
Young Alf spat contemptuously.
In the Walk young ALf is sometimes spoken of familiarly as 'The Deer', and he prides himself on meriting the nickname.
Having half-an-hour to spare before leaving for his engagement in North London, young Alf dwelt upon the interval in his life during which he was bereft of Billy the Snide and had not yet found favour in the eyes of Jimmy. It was a lean month, during which he sold newspapers and kept an eye skinned for an opening. The month was chiefly memorable on account of a purse he nicked in the neighbourhood of Waterloo Station. There was a fog about at the time, and the woman had lost her way. Young Alf has the good feeling to admit his debt to the teaching of the acrobat. But it was a simple, straightforward job, and scarcely worth mention, except as his first essay in highway robbery. Also the success gave him confidence.
Of course young Alf knew Jimmy by sight as well as by repute, though it was rather too much to hope that Jimmy took more than a casual interest in him. But one night Jimmy bought an evening paper from young Alf, gave him a penny, and did not press for the change. Jimmy regarded young Alf for a moment or two, then he said:
'What you sellin' papers for? 'Bout time you was doin' better'n that.'
'Best fing I can fink of,' replied young Alf, and Jimmy walked on, disappointing young Alf.
Now Jimmy - who had enough surnames to fill a birthday-book - occupied an assured position as a burglar with a large visiting list. But Jimmy was waxing fat with prosperity, and growing a little too stout for the active work of his profession. The stairs bothered him - for of course you have to ascend by the banisters for fear of electric bells and suchlike modern fakements. It was therefore natural that Jimmy should be shifting the rough work on to the younger generation and taking matters a bit easy himself.
Jimmy, in fact, had a gang under him, and since the pinching of Pat Hooligan had been the recognized leader of the Lambeth boys who worked on the crooked.
Young Alf had lost his boss; and though he had gained in reputation from working with Billy the Snide, he had no inkling of the good fortune that was to fall to him.
It came one evening in Paradise Street.
'I'd had a bit of a argyment,' said young Alf, 'wiv anuvver boy that was sellin' papers like me outside Waterloo Station. An' comin' down the Walk later on I met him accidental, an' 'e says, "Garn, young Alf, you're 'fraid. An' I said he was a bleed'n' liar. An' in 'arf a mo we was up Paradise Street, an' scrappin' all we know'd. I should a' beat 'im easy, beat 'is 'ed off. Only fore I could get at 'im proper I felt myself pulled off by the collar of me coat, an' there was Jimmy luggin' me round the corner. Soon as we got out of sight of the uvvers Jimmy let go of me an' says, "Let me p'int out to you," e says, "that scrappin' in the 'ighways an' 'edges ain't no class at all." Jimmy was always one for talk, 'e was. "What do you want to go an' make yourself conspickyus for?" says Jimmy. Then Jimmy goes on to say 'ow he knowed of a bit o' stuff I could put me 'ooks on if I was game. Course I answers back that I was game enough. What do you fink?
'"Fact is," says Jimmy, "there's a 'ouse that I've 'ad waxed for about a week down Denmark Hill way. It's a easy job," says Jimmy, "but if you like to come alonger me and lend a 'and it'll be comp'ny like. See?" "I'm wiv you," I says. "Well," says Jimmy, "you come 'an 'ave a snack at a cawfy-'ouse, and then you wait a bit while I goes and fetches the tools. It'll be about time to start then."'
Young Alf went and had his snack with Jimmy, and then sat and waited in great contentment while Jimmy went for the tools.
He was of course very happy, for to be noticed at all by such a man as Jimmy was a privilege; to work with him was glory. A little nervous, too, because this was the first job of the kind in which he had taken part - putting aside fanlight jumping, which really does not count - but very happy. Moreover, Jimmy was known to be a very safe man to work with. He had a way of eluding the police, and never spared pains in taking all reasonable precautions beforehand. In fact, Jimmy at this period could boast of never having been arrested for years. And to this day he walks - with some difficulty, due to increasing bulk - a free man among his fellow-men.