Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Hooligan Nights, by Clarence Rook, 1899 - Chapter 8 - The Burglar and the Baby

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The Burglar and the Baby

The scheme for obtaining honest employment had broken down. But Jimmy was much pleased with young Alf's exploit; and it must be said that this does infinite credit to Jimmy, who was not devoid of generous feeling. For there is no doubt at all that Jimmy had intended to have his share in the contents of the house on Clapham Common, and he would have been quite justified in resenting the conduct of young Alf in getting all the swag for himself. Jimmy, however, chose to be magnanimous. He was the best pal that young Alf ever had, as young Alf has frequently borne witness, and he promptly invited our young friend, who had advantageously exchanged his livery for a less conspicuous dress, to enter his regular service, which young Alf accordingly did.
    Jimmy treated young Alf, who was still an inexperienced hand, with great consideration, and looked about for a job which he could work more or less on his own.
    Now, in the course of his walks, Jimmy had noted a house that seemed just the thing for young Alf to try his hand upon. It was situated at Brixton, and Jimmy suggested that young Alf should see what he could do with it.
    You will admit, when you have heard the story as young Alf told it to me, that he came out of the affair with some credit to himself.
    'Jimmy'd found out all about the fambly,' said young Alf. There was a toff an' 'is missus, an' a baby, an' there was free servants, one of 'em the baby's nurse. Course Jimmy know'd what time they ad their tuck in the evenin'.
    ' "They'll be downstairs settin' in the dinin'-room," says Jimmy, as we went along Brixton way. "Best fing you can do is to go froo the rooms on the first floor, cause you get up easy, and get down easy if you 'ave to scoot. From what I unnerstand, "says Jimmy, "you'll strike the missus's bedroom, and don't you forget the jool-cases. See?"
    'I didn't feel very slippy over the job, but Jimmy, 'e said 'e'd be at 'and if I had to cut for it, an' give a whistle when I 'ad a chance to grease off. See?
    'Well, it was about nine o'clock when I got on the job, an' me an' Jim sneaked froo the groun's, an' got underneaf a bedroom windy that Jimmy said was the right one to try.
    'There was some wood-work for trainin' flahers agin the wall, an' Jim, 'e says, "Up you go, cocky," Oh! I didn't tell you that Jimmy 'e gave me 'is barker fore that.'
    'But I thought burglars, as a rule, went unarmed, to avoid temptation,' I interposed.
    'Twasn't loaded,' said young Alf, 'wouldn't a bin worf my while to out a bloke. It was different wiv Jimmy. Jimmy couldn't afford to be lagged again, an' he didn't mean to, neiver.'
    Young Alf's mouth was working in excitement at the reminiscence.
    "Up you goes," says Jimmy, an' I gets up on 'is shoulders an' catches old of the lath-work, an' pulls meself up two foot or so, an' then I could lay me and on the windy-sill. In arf a mo I was on the sill, settin' easy, an' feelin' at the sash. That was fastened up tight. But I'd got a bit o'putty on me; so I got it out an' put it on the glass an' whipped a di'mond round it. See?'
    'That's the dodge, is it?' I said.
    'You can do it that way,' said young Alf, 'or you can do it wiv a pin if you aven't got a bit o' putty. Jest press wiv your 'and on the other part, while you turn your di'mond an' pick the bit out wiv a pin. That's easy.
    'Well, I 'ad a bit out big enough to get me and froo,' he continued, 'an' I pushed back the catch, an' in arf a tick I was inside. I was inside, wiv no error, an' there wasn't no mistake about it either. I 'adn't got more'n 'arf across the room when I 'eard a orful strange noise, jest like chokin'.'
    'Choking?' I exclaimed.
    'Chokin', you unnerstand,' he said. 'There was a glim burning in the room, and I fort it was empty. But jest as I was nipping across to the door, meanin' to stick a wedge, you unnerstand, I eard a orful strange noise. Didn't take me long to tumble what it was. There was a youngster, not more'n free monfs old, in a cot in the corner of the room, fair bein' strangled. I steps up quiet, and there was the little bleeder gettin' black in the face froo its night-dress bein' tied too tight round its gargler. See?
    'Well, I out wiv my sticker in a mo an' whipped the little nipper out o' the cot, an' slashed the string froo, an' it give a sort of - a sort of-'
    Young Alf's mouth was working violently, and he sought for the word.
    'Sob,' I suggested.
    'Gobbed, like,' he said, and drew his sleeve across his mouth. 'Layin' over my arm it was, an' all of a sudden it set up 'owlin'. That's 'ealfy, I finks, wiv me in a strange 'ouse. Oh yus, it was a bit of awright, it was; specially when the slavey ran into the room, an' see me wiv the kid in one and an' the sticker in the uvver. 'Course she fort I was goin' to put the little bleeder's lights out, an' she gave a scream that raised the 'ouse from top to bottom, an' fell down in a dead faint; an' there was me. Eh?'
    I appreciated the awkwardness of the situation; and young Alf continued:
    'I didn't 'ave fair time to look round 'fore in rushes the  guv'nor' an' made at me as if he was goin' for my frottle. Fair ole treat, wasn't it? Me wiv the kid over me arm. See? Well, I whipped out me bull-dog wiv six teef, an' I calls out, "'Nuvver step and your number's up, plain as I could. Course the barker wasn't loaded, but it 'eld 'im up proper; an', jest as he was stannin' an' lookin' at me an' the kid, 'is wife come in runnin' an' screamin' like mad. So I turned the barker on 'er an' 'eld 'er up sharp, an' she fair goes off on the floor like the slavey. Reg'lar beano, it was, wiv no error. Me there wiv the kid on me arm - Gawblimey! it was a treat. Eh? But be that time there was on'y the guv'nor to talk to, an' 'e was lookin' as if 'e wanted to get at my frottle. "What you mean," he says, "comin' into my 'ouse? What's the meanin' of it?" So I puts my barker on 'im an' I says, "Carm yourself," I says, "an' I'll tell you what saved your 'ouse from being burgled." Then I told 'im jest 'ow it was. 'Ow I'd nipped in at the windy after his stuff, an' found the kid chokin', an' my 'eart'd gone out to the little fing, an' I'd looked more to savin' its life than gettin' the swag that was in me 'ands, as you might say.
    '"I s'pose," I says, "the slavey fort I was goin' cut the young un's 'ead off when I was snickin' the tape; but you can see for yourself," I says, "what I done."
    I never see a man so pleased, not in all me life; an' be that time the missus'd come to, an' took the kid an' 'ugged it, an' cried over it fit to break 'er 'eart.
    "The guv'nor arst me if I'd take anyfink. But I fort 'e might be on for makin' a spring, so I kept the barker on 'im an' I says:
    '"None a' your old swank, boss," I says. "If you go crooked I'll 'ave your wall-paper orn'minted wiv your brains. You ac' fair over the kid, an' I'll clear. Well then 'e called for some wine, an' poured out a couple of glasses. One of 'em 'e tasted 'imself, so's to show me it wasn't fiddled, I s'pose. The uvver one I 'ad, wiv what was left in the bottle. An' I could do wiv a gargle. That slavey's scream was enough to scare a bloke till 'is dyin' day, an' don't you make no mistake. 'E was a nice, pleasant gent, the guv'nor was. Seemed as if he couldn't fank me enough for savin' the kid's life. Arrever, when I'd finished what there was in the bottle, I said I fort I must be goin'. So the toff come downstairs wiv me an' give me a jimmy, an' showed me out of the front door, an' told me never to show my nose round that 'ouse again. Nor I never did.'
    Jimmy, who was strolling to and fro outside, was considerably surprised to see young Alf apparently in friendly relations with the master of the house he had just entered by the window. And when he heard the story, and learned that young Alf had got no more than a sovereign by his exploit, Jimmy was fair knocked. Nevertheless he allowed that young Alf had played his hand as best he could under the circumstances, and took him on as his regular mate, putting him up to about as many quiffs in crib-cracking as any boy ever got inside his napper.