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The rest of the story of that momentous evening young Alf told me as we sat
together on the Embankment, still under police supervision. Once or twice it
crossed my mind that I, an honest citizen, paying rates and taxes, living in a
house and serving on juries, having numerous friends, too, in the same case,
should have forthwith handed young Alf over to a passing policeman and demanded
that he should thereafter eat skilly and pick oakum.
But that would have been a despicable proceeding. As a good citizen, perhaps, I should have turned traitor. But as a student of human nature I refused to tear up the human document which was opening itself before me.
Besides, as you may have guessed already, young Alf is no fool; he gives away nothing that he cannot afford to lose. Up to a certain point he is as frank as you please, nor do I remember to have seen a touch of shame on his face during any of his revelations, except when he told me how he blackmailed a pair of lovers who were talking innocently on Clapham Common. Even from young Alf's point of view blackmailing is rather bad form, and only to be resorted to when you haven't one copper to rub against another. He has described localities, and hinted at dates; but if I were put into the witness-box and invited to testify against young Alf in the dock, I do not think I could do him much harm. Finally, young Alf trusted me.
And so the policeman walked to and fro, flashing his lantern periodically upon one of the most incorrigible scamps in London, and passed peacefully on to worry cabmen.
Young Alf continued his tale with many jerky silences, pulling violently at his cigar, and now and then puffing with amusement at the recollections revived.
It was the memory of the slavey that amused him especially.
'Such bleeders they are - slaveys,' said young Alf, in parenthesis.
Well, young Alf sat in the coffee-shop, enjoying his snack, with a warmth of pride glowing at his heart. For now at last he was in for something class. He was waited on by a girl, a rather nice girl, with pretty hair and pleasant eyes, and that sweet way about her that makes you yearn to shove her off the pavement when you meet her out walking in the street.
She had but lately left school. So she confided in young Alf as he made his meal. And that was a link between them. Young Alf, as you know, was very young at the time. But even on that evening I understand that he was a bit saucy, being precocious. For, of course, he had a big job on hand, and thought a deal of himself. And Alice - that was her name - Alice was compelled to box his ears.
In due time Jimmy returned with the tools, paid for young Alf's meal, and said it was time to start.
Young Alf told Alice that he would look in again when he was passing. Alice replied that she would not break her heart in the meantime; and the two partners started for their job.
On the way down to Denmark Hill, Jimmy explained to young Alf that the job was nothing out of the ordinary. The house was a pretty big one, but, the family being away, it was tenanted by a single slavey who slept on the second floor. Jimmy had spent some days in acquiring this knowledge, and, having acquired it, regarded the job as good as done.
'Jimmy knowed the 'ouse jest as if he'd lived in it a monf,' said young Alf.
At Denmark Hill the railway goes under the roadway. The house that Jimmy had waxed stood near the point at which the railway disappears, and a little back from the road. The pair slipped round to the back, and in a few minutes Jimmy had the kitchen window open, and the house was at their mercy.
They mounted the stairs - by the banisters, of course, Jimmy first, and climbing with some difficulty, young Alf behind, a little nervous. It was the first time he had done anything so big as this; for fanlight-jumping does not count.
At this point young Alf warmed to his story; he threw away his cigar and leaned forward with his elbows upon his knees, speaking in quick, low tones.
'Soon as we got to the second landing, Jimmy stopped and catched old of my arm. I don't fink I was scared - not what you'd call scared - an' there wasn't anyfink to be afraid of. But when you're on a job like that in the dark, and 'ave to keep as quiet as you can, it's - it's creepy. See?
'Jimmy says to me in a whisper, "First fing," 'e says, "get that old duck-footed slavey wiv a sneezer." And then I see we was in for a bit of gagging.
Well, Jimmy knowed awright which room the gal was sleepin' in, an' 'e turned the 'andle wivout a sound, an' fore you could turn round we was inside an' creepin' up to the bed. The gal was in a sound sleep and never stirred. Jimmy was cross the room quicker'n anyfink; he wes corpylint, Jimmy was, but 'e could walk as light as me, an' I didn't weigh more'n seven stone then - not that. Like lightnin', Jimmy 'ad 'er teef apart an' whipped a piece of wood 'tween 'er jores, - piece of wood about an inch an' a quarter long, an' 'arf as thick froo. Then 'e brought the two straps back, an' fastened 'em be'ind the slavey's 'ead wiv a buckle. Sing out? She 'adn't no time to sing out. Jimmy'd got the gag in fore she knowed she was awake, Jimmy 'ad. Jimmy always said that beat all uvver ways of stopping rat-traps, an' pon me soul I b'lieve 'im. It was a smawt bit of work, that was. But Jimmy didn't fink any-fink of that. Nuffink at all.
'Course, be that time, bein' 'andled like that the slavey was wide awake. 'Arf out of bed, an' 'arf in, she was, an' givin' us a look - well, I never see such a look in all me life - much as to say, "Oh, don't, please; spare me life." An' then she put up 'er ands, like as if she was praying for us to stop it. Gawblimey!'
Young Alf had to pause for a bit. The reminiscence was so amusing. Then he leaned back in the seat, shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets, which are cut diagonally, and very high.
'Jimmy wouldn't stop for anyfink, Jimmy wouldn't,' continued young Alf. 'Not when he 'ad a job on. I fink I was raver sorry for the poor gal meself. Well, Jimmy, 'e give the slavey a shove an' sent her 'arf way cross the room. "Git back, you bloomin' old cow," says Jimmy. Then he teared a long strip off of one of the sheets, and bound the slavey's ands togevver, an' tied em to the bedstead.
' 'Course, after that there wasn't anyfink more to fear, and Jimmy an' your 'umble 'ad the place at their own sweet will. Reg'lar beano it was that night, wiv no error. We went right froo the 'ouse, cause Jimmy knew all about it, an' where everyflnk was kep. You understand Jimmy'd been larkin' wiv the slavey when 'e was strollin' about Denmark Hill, on'y he soon see she wasn't no good. What I mean, she wasn't game to lend a 'and. See?
Well, we got togevver about as much swag as we could scoot wiv, an' a bit over for luck. Then we 'ad a bit of supper downstairs, quiet an' peaceful, an' a glass of beer each. Jimmy don't 'old wiv drinkin'. Never did. An' then we come out by the front door wiv as much swag as we could carry, an' a bit over. So we planted some of it in a field 'andy, so's we could lift it some uvver evening. An' lift it we did, s' 'elp me. Fair old beano, that was. Straight.'
He threw back his head and sniffed the river breeze. A tug snorted by, kicking the water viciously from its bows. From the clock tower at Westminster Big Ben spoke.
Young Alf followed the tug with his eyes as he buttoned his coat.
'But what do you suppose became of the slavey?' I asked.
Young Alf sniffed once or twice, and rose from the seat.
'Dessay she 'ad a pretty bad time of it,' he replied. 'But the gag doesn't make anyone peg out, an' if it did, I don't fink Jimmy'd 'ave cared much. Jimmy was about the last man to fink that anyone could stan' 'tween 'im an' a job 'e'd set 'is eart on. Well, so long.'
The next moment he was a dim figure walking swiftly and silently away from me up the Embankment.