A facetious clerk called up the tube to Feathers: “Accept delivery of the new boy. Please forward receipt at your convenience.”
The packer grinned. “’R’ yow ther new boy” he said.
Chiller looked sidelong at the packer’s feet with contemptuous casualness, “I’m Chiller Green, amachoor bantim champyin iv ther Port,” he replied.
“Don’ mention it,” said Feathers, cordially.
“I’m jest sayin’,” continued Chiller, “I’m man enough t’ go on with, s’posin’ anyone’s wantin’ anythin’.”
“G’out!” said Feathers; “I’ll contract t’ bury all your dead with ther fat-money from er brick-mill. Iv you’ve come ’ere t’ work, sling off yer coat ’n’ move, ’r the fore-woman ’ll smack you.”
Chiller spat with scientific precision, turned slowly away, and slouched towards the changing-room.
The impression Chiller Green conveyed during those first few minutes proved to be quite erroneous. The new hand was really a jaunty, companionable youth, and demonstrated as much within a week by inaugurating a boxing class in the lift corner, and fraternally blackening the packer’s eye during the luncheon hour. The boxing-gloves were extemporized out of pairs of working stockings discarded by the Beauties. Green was the pride of a suburban “push”, and was certainly not more impudent than was excusable in a man who could “hook” with both hands and had “done time” because a bush-bred policeman had no more respect for his head than to leave it in the way when the “push” was throwing bricks about. Chiller was not backward in publishing his record. He promised to show Feathers a “boshter knack for passing out gazobs”.
“Got on to it when I was ‘up’,” he said.
“Gar-rn!” said the packer.
“Oh, I done my bit,” Chiller went on. “’Tain’t nothin’ agen me, though. Jist lined er John with er half-Brunswick, ’n’ got four moon. Knocked him fair off his trolly.”
“Iv it gets known here they’ll bounce yeh on ther pavement.”
“My trubs! I’d have er cut at ole Spats hisself if ’e looked cock-eyed at me.” Chiller titled his truck-load on to its base, put his hands up to nothing, did a shadowy spar, and then danced a few steps indicative of his cheerful indifference. “I kin alwez get back to ther trade,” he said; “on’y it’s Chinaman’s work.”
“’N’ what’s yer trade” asked Feathers.
“Barrerin’ rabbies. They’s money in it when meat’s riz, but pushin’ a barrer gets er man down, I tell yeh, specially in the winter mon’s. I reckon I’ll hang up here ’n’ make er name fer mesilf.”
“Hope you’ll keep us all on when you take over the business,” said the town-traveller.
The “bantim champyin” sparred at Gaudy, feinted and baulked in a highly decorative way, and tweaked the big man’s beard, making at the same time a plaintive baa-ing. Then he resumed his burden and passed on, singing something to the effect that he could get a sweetheart any day, but not another mother. Chiller’s taste in songs inclined to the sentimental and woebegone.
The town traveller’s remark was called for. Already Chiller Green had assumed dominance in the factory. The deprecatory Ellis was most polite towards his assistant. The foreman’s native timidity doomed him to be an easy victim to the audacity of young Mr Green. Chiller respected nobody. When Spats visited the factory flat, the Bantam outraged his dignity and ruined his influence by ridiculing him with audacious effrontery. As a compliment to Odgson’s hairiness, Chiller had christened him Jo-Jo, and he indulged in doggy pantomime at the heels of the proprietor, or whined and yapped plaintively for the edification of the pasters, scattering choice sotto voce reflections on Spats, his appearance and manners, etc., reflections that embraced all Odgson’s relations, including a purely hypothetical Aunt Lucy, and it was carried on with bravado that amounted to insane recklessness in the minds of the girls, whose dislike for the great man from below was tempered with a becoming awe.
Chiller’s manner towards the girls was familiar, and flippant. Even the superiority of the two or three sedate and somewhat elderly pasters, who preserved a certain aloofness, had no effect upon the Bantam’s exuberance, and he maintained for their benefit an assumption of close and intimate friendship that they seem to find extremely galling. Miss Stevens was the most reserved of all these. The factory had endowed her with aristocratic antecedents and romantic misfortune, and even the ragamuffin Beauties called her “Miss”. She was thirty and scornful.
“What-oh, Steve! How-de-do-de” was Chiller’s morning greeting. Miss Stevens treated him as if he were something to which the attention of the Board of Health should be drawn at the earliest possible moment, and, addressing a neighbour, the young man would continue brightly: “Great cobbers, me ’n’ Steve. She kin keep nothin’ from me, tells me all her secrets. No end iv conferdence in me, she’s got. Used t’ be er friend o’ mother’s. How’s th’ indigestion this mornin’, Sissy” Miss Steven’s name was not Sissy; she had no indigestion. Her wrath towards Mr Green was silent, but very deep.
Benno, the clerk, Mr Green refused to take seriously, at any time or in any capacity. He called him “Tutsie”, and insisted that, despite his present pretensions, his antecedents were of the lowest.
“How’s yer ole pot-’n’-pan, Tutsie” said Chiller. “When I knew him, he was head shop-walker on er saverloy-can, ’n’ yer mother was carryin’ round babies t’ ther poor, ’n’ runnin’ er ‘families supplied’ emporium in Paddy’s Alley.”
“Le’ go me leg,” retorted the clerk, smartly.
“’N’ ’ere ’re you, wearin’ made-t’-measure suits, ’n’ collars what turn down all round, ’n’ splashin’ yerself agin ther verandy posts iv fine nights, like er young dook.”
Mr Green’s spirits were guaranteed to keep in any climate. When the factory was cold it was as inclement as a refrigerating mill, and when it was hot it was suggestive of a material hell with all the modern improvements in house-warming; but cold or hot, Green retained his flippancy, and went about his work with abounding cheerfulness. He frequently paused by the way to put up a vivacious spar with a stack of parcels, and every now and then he threw in a “dead flash” scrap of step-dancing, or sang a couple of lines of a popular music-hall chorus with original effects.
This was before the Spadger began to get in her work. The Spadger was a little folder, so called because Feathers had discovered in her a strong resemblance to a bedraggled sparrow. She was waspish and thin, with a nose like a cheap wooden doll’s, round eyes, and a mouth puckered into an ineradicable perkiness. Her walk had a confident sort of hop in it. Her ginger hair was literally dragged into a knot at the back, which was always misplaced, so that her head had a cunning appearance of being pulled to one side or the other. She dressed very poorly, and her hats looked like some few unconsidered trifles collected on a plate. She was old-maidish at eighteen. Her name was Minnie Silver.
Chiller had been in the factory two months or more before he noticed Minnie particularly. When he began to offer her little attentions, his manner was still gaily impertinent, and the small folder ignored him with elaborate disdain that was a grotesque parody of the arts and graces of her betters. When she came up the stairs Chiller would make a burlesque demonstration, dusting the floor, and bustling pasters and parcels out of the way.
“Hello there, get off th’ earth!” cried the Bantam “’Ere comes ther little Duchess. How’s it this mornin’, yer Grace”
Miss Silver’s nose would be hoisted into the air, her under-lip would curl outwards disdainfully, and she would sweep aside her scarp of faded skirt, and pass on with intense hauteur. Then Chiller to the packer: “Get on to ’er, Feathers. You see ’ow she treats me—me what never put her away when she stole ther tutsie, ’n’ never will, s’help me.” The reference to the tutsie (vernacular for cat) was provoked by Minnie’s muff—a skimpy moth-eaten muff with bald patches—of which she was rather proud.
“I ’ope I got too much self-respec’ t’ have anythink t’ say t’ them low larrikins,” said Minnie to the nearest paster.
Mr Green continued in this vein for some weeks. He never came near Miss Silver without favouring her with some trifle of banter, and his remarks were personal—painfully so, they might have seemed to people of refinement. One afternoon Minnie remarked, in a high-pitched, thin voice, addressing nobody in particular:
“If someone don’t know better ’n ter sing out after people in the street they’ll find out.” The speech was laboriously enigmatic, but Chiller understood. Strange to say, the young man had no reply.
There was an undercurrent of sadness in the Bantam’s greeting to Miss Silver next morning.
“’Ere she is agin. Ain’t she saucy” he said.
“Phew!” said Miss Silver, disdainfully.
“Oh, mother, she bit me!” Chiller sparred, side-stepped the town traveller, hit him in the wind, and then danced a shuffle or two; but it was evident to Feathers that the bloom was passing from the young man’s assurance.
Not long after this the packer came upon Chiller and Miss Silver behind one of the stacks. Minnie was supercilious; Chiller was protesting almost pathetically.
“Oh, I say, Min, get off me face. Ain’t I sweet with yeh! Ain’t—” Chiller discovered Feathers at this point, and fell into a low-comedy vein. He feinted at the stack, ducked in, and put in some effective half-arm blows on a bundle of fruit-bags; but Feathers was not deceived. Miss Silver went perkily up the room. Certainly the courtship was progressing.
After this there was an unmistakably pathetic appeal in Chiller’s banter; and Miss Silver, understanding her advantage accentuated her haughtiness. She was weazened, and plain, and miserably dressed, and in all probability had never had an admirer before, but the most disdainful beauty could not have assumed more airs towards a hapless suppliant. Indeed, at this stage Miss Silver’s performance was an exquisite piece of comedy. Despite her disdain, instinct prompted the girl to preen herself with silly little bits of ribbon and scraps of lace, and a small bunch of second-hand cherries and a turkey feather were added to the quaint collection in her battered hat. Her scorn for Chiller was rapidly working upon what strange sense of humour the Beauties possessed. She put herself to no little trouble to display it. She went out of her way to meet the Bantam in order to avoid him with unspeakable disdain. She talked at Chiller in a loud, reedy voice.
“There’s someone what’s always follerin’ someone about in a way what he orter be ashamed of hisself, knowin’ he ain’t wanted,” she cried.
“Better lay poison for him,” said the Fat Girl.
“It’s yer fatal beauty, Spadger,” suggested Kitty Coudray “Cut yer ’air ’n’ sit in the sun till you freckle up, ’n’ then the man might give you a rest.”
Another paster asked if the villain who still pursued her was an aide-de-camp or a rich squatter.
“Oh, ’e knows what ’e is well enough,” answered Minnie shrilly, “’n’ ’e better mind ’isself, that’s all.”
Chiller had no answer to make to these insinuations. They left him depressed. He went about his work quietly. He had abandoned the boxing-class in the lift-corner, and showed a marked dislike for the society of Feathers, Goudy, and the ribald printers. Even Billy the Boy was losing respect for him, and cast painful reflections up and down the stairs.
“Buck up,” said Billy, “there’s lots better ’n her in ther dust-box.”
Chiller declined to buck up. Minnie piped something to the effect that she would disdain to be “found drowned with a bloke what done up ’is ’air dead leary”; next morning the elaborate festoons had disappeared from Chiller’s brow, and his hair was parted with the oily precision characteristic of Sunday-school superintendents and reputable young barbers.
“They’s scrougers what think they’s jist the lolly in a red tie,” piped Minnie, “but they ain’t respectible if yer arsk me.” Chiller abandoned his red tied He put away the proud bob-tailed coat with the buttons on it, because Minnie said acridly of all wearers of such coats; “It shows what they are—lurchers ’n’ rats, the lot iv ’em.” He lowered his heels for the same reasons and discarded a black-and-white sweater that he had prized very highly, because Minnie thought sweaters suggested disreputable sporting connections. But poor young Mr Green’s courtship was not visibly advanced by these concessions. Minnie Silver remained supercilious.
“Oh, Min, come off,” said Chiller, in sad expostulation.
“Speak ter yer equals!” sniffed the little folder.
“Give’s er charnce won’t yeh” persisted Chiller, following her up.
Minnie gathered up her dingy skirt, pointed her nose straight at the rafters, and to use Chiller’s own expressive phrase, “laid him out cold”. Half-an-hour later, speaking from her place at the board, and addressing the whole factory, Miss Silver cried:
“If people ’angs round other people’s ’ouses of nights it’s their own look-out if the police gets spoke to.”
Chiller Green actually blushed. A few minutes later, when the Bantam was busy at the machines, and well within range, Minnie said to Miss Twentyman:
“Seen me out with Mr Eddie, Sunday, didn’t yer, Sis? ’E’s a gentleman ’e is. Knows how t’ behave ’isseif. Gets ’s quid a week et Goosie’s, solderin’ jam-tins, ’n’ a rise every year. ’E don’t ’ave no truck with no low fightin’ scrougers, ’e don’t.”
Mr Green did not blush this time, but a light came into his eye that augured ill for Mr Eddie, of Goosie’s jam factory. On the morning of the second day, Minnie was extremely caustic in her comments on some person or persons of pugnacious quality.
“Them what ’its them what is too good for them will be made to pay for it, so they better mind out,” she said. Chiller growled a bad expression, and Miss Silver continued moralizing. “It’s somethin’ if a young lady can’t walk down the street with a friend what’s a gentleman, without ’im bein’ dealt with, an’ ’is nose punched. But what I sez is, there’s a law for the likes.”
Chiller got a day off to attend his aunt’s funeral, and Feathers discovered in the suburban department of an evening paper an intimation that one James Green had been fined two pounds, with the alternative of a week’s imprisonment, for a grievous and unprovoked assault on a Mr Henry Eddie in the public street.
Next evening, Chiller said to Feathers, “I’m slingin’ it, blokey, Goin’ back ter ther trade.”
“But I thought barrer-pushin’ was er game fer gazobs”
“Oh, ole Spats can’t expect me ter go on muckin’ round fact’ry fer seventeen-’n’-a-tizzy. I’m thinking iv gettin’ married.”
“Ya-a-a-a-s.” Chiller sparred a bit, danced a step or two, and went off singing. “She’s onlee a wuckin’ girl, no friends ’as she”, but his old spirit was lacking.
Chiller left. In two months, Minnie left. One Monday morning about a year later. Feathers said to Benno, the clerk:
“Who’d yeh think I seen, Sundee? Th’ Bantam ’n’ ’er nibs.”
“Ya-as. They ’ad er pramberlater. There was er pincher in it. Chiller was pushin’ it.”
“Good enough for ’im”, said the relentless Benno.