Benno and Some of the Push

Chapter VI

On a Bender

Edward Dyson

“S’POSE y’ ain’t ’eard iv it?” said Feathers.

He and the town traveller were lunching together in the small reserve shut off by the lift well and a stack of bales, and splitting sixpenn’orth of draught beer, Billy the Boy having ‘run the rabbit’ for a consideration.

Benno was sitting back in the corner, pale and pimply, and wearing the satiated expression of a man who had breakfasted on cod oil. There was a sort of unearthly yellow down on the clerk’s thin face, and his high, humped nose was dead white, an eerie, corpse-like feature. He had a black eye and some abrasions. Benno was not interested in meals.

“Have a look et his gills,” the packer continued, sitting back for the sake of the view.

“Look as if you were sickening for something, Benno,” said Goudy. “Better have it operated on.”

The clerk tried hard, and pulled his face into a faded smile, but failed to sustain it. He groaned.

“Don’ make him laugh,” said Feathers reprovingly. “Once a bloke died iv laughin’. Let’s pretend we don’ notice nothin’. Fact is that in the corner’s a great objec’ lesson on temp’rance, it’s a touchin’ hillustration iv the ’orrid influence iv strong drink on the himmature ’n’ the weak-minded.”

“Arr-rr, Scotty, call off yer monkey!” hissed Benno viciously.

“’Ave a wet rag on it, dear,” said Feathers, in feminine tones and with great solicitude. Then resuming his confidential manner: “Benno’s one iv the never-shoulds. ’E ain’t built fer the purpose iv encouragin’ the breweries. Men iv his physique ain’t designed be an all-wise Providence fer puttin’ down the demon, ’n’ Benno ortenter entered for the novice pint-bitin’ tournament yes’dee after.

“’Twas a harf day orf, ’n’ our Mr. Dickson must get out after it along iv the Don ’n’ yours till death. The Don was shoutin’—p’raps that’s how—but shickerin’ ain’t a thing Benno ’ad done afore, t’ my knowledge iv his ’abits. We scarcely knoo we had him erbout us, till he’d got his small load, ’n’ was tearin’ orf his rags t’ fight a fifteen-stone mutton ’umper in a bar down be the freezin’ mill. I dunno what the ’umper ’ad done t’ get Benno in that dangerous state-mistook him fer the free lunch ’n’ took him up with his bread proberly. Anyhow he was a helephan’ iv a man, ’n’ Benno was tearin’ orf his rags t’ fight a fifteen-stone mutton ’umper in a bar down be the freezin’ mill. I dunno what the ’umper ’ad done t’ get Benno in that dangerous state—mistook him fer the free lunch ’n’ took him up with his bread proberly. Anyhow he was a helephan’ iv a man, ’n’ Benno was buzzin’ round his outskirts with most iv his clo’s on the floor, arrangin’ a terrible death, ’n’ the barmaid was weepin’ piteous, ’n’ hopin’ Benno wouldn’t act cruel be the pore man. Benno’s shape was the dead ring iv that iv Griffo, ’n’ he was a terrifyin’ spectacle, but the big man jest wiped his fingers on him, absentminded, ’n’ then Benno got a worse attack, ’n’ tore off some more clo’s. But our Mr. Dickson’s like a lot what ’ud rather take orf every stitch than fight, ’n’ we got ’im away, leavin’ a bit iv the ’otel standin’.

“Comin’ up the road Benno had an air iv great gravity. He was stern with everyone, ’n’ when blokes passed, peaceful ez kittens, Benno swung round on ’em, ’n’ glared after ’em with the fecrosity iv a tin tiger, shouting how he wouldn’t take chin from no Little Willie bein’ a naughty man himself when roused, ’n’ good ernuf for penny bundles iv that sort. Then fer an orful moment he’d sorter totter on the brink iv gettin’ across them, ’n’ makin’ a mess iv the place; but, somehow, he never done it.

“When we come to a ’orse tied to a post Benno gave a little start iv pleased su’prise, ’n’ he stopped ’n’ gazed at the crock with an air iv profound wisdom. Then he walked round ’n’ examined the other elervation. Then he lifted up one ’oof, ’n’ gazed into it, ’n’ then put it down on his own foot. After that he tried to open the ’orse’s mouth, ’n’ the ’orse bit him, ’n’ then Benno come away. He said he never see a finer specimen iv a Hinglish ’unter in the ole course iv his experience. Now, ez a matter of fact, our Mr. Dickson don’t know a ’orse from an iron bed, but when he’s got a dribble iv beer in he gets an idea he’s hem’ mistook all over the place fer a successful jockey.”

“Anyone claimin’ t’ be champion long distance liar’ll ’ave t’ toss you fer it, Mills,” said Benno weakly.

“We started on a ’ouse t’ ’ouse visertation,” continued the packer, “with the penny comic there at heel. I wanted t’ wire him ’ome t’ mother ’n’ the girls, but the Don wouldn’t ear iv it. He said he found him a nice change this dull weather, ’n’ so me noble drifted from bad t’ worse. ‘Oh, my!’ ’n’ afore night he was all sorts. S’pose you ain’t studied how beer eats inter differen’ people, Scotty? Nothin’ brings character out like shick. Fer me, I’m never so carm and collected ez when chin-deep in cold colonial. The Don, he blows out his pout, ’n’ rises in the soshul scale hand over dook; ’n’ you can’t reckon he’s wet through ’n’ through till he’s a Hinglish Earl out t’ buy an ’an’ful iv gold-mines ’n’ a small quantity iv cattle-runs; but with a tup’ney like Benno you never know what’s comin’ erlong next. He’s jist odds ’n’ ends. There ain’t nothin’ defnite in his jag, ’n’ one moment his gills was layin’ bare his passionate young ’eart to a barmaid big ernough t’ be his fat aunt, ’n’ the next he was sloped up agin the wall, pressin’ his baby brow t’ the cold, ’n’ snivellin’ erbout his sister Hameliar, what teaches a hinfant class et St. Mark’s, ’n’ is that unconscionable good the flies carn’t live on ’er.

“‘Ah-h-h, Hameliar, what’d yeh say iv y’ cud see what I’ve come ter?’ said Benno, low ’n’ piteous, ’n’ the tears dripped down like a leak in a dipper.

“‘Y’ortenter bring it out without its comforter,’ said the crool barmaid, ’n’ a torpid little gazob what was devourin’ a grown man’s drink et the other end iv the bar put up a ’orrid laugh, ’n’ cried: ‘Gor’ bli’, look et the lost boy!’

“Then Benno pulled his little self up stiff ’n terrible, tugged his coat, ’n’ went across the bar, his legs lockin’ every second stride, ’n’ floundered inter the free lunch, passed t’ recollec’ what he’d come fer, stiffened hisself agin, ’n’ hit the gazob with a ’am san’wich. The gazob bellered, ’n’ went buttin’ at Benno, ’n’ both foundered in the rooms iv the lunch. They got up outer the sawdust, covered with fish balls ’n’ mustard, ’n’ the gazob said Benno was his dear ole cobber, ’n’ Benno kissed the gazob, ’n’ ordered all ’ands ter the pump agin.”

“It’s a low, dirty lie!” cried the clerk, starting up. “I never kissed him. You’re lookin’ fer it, Mills, ’n’ Jimmy Gee! ye’ll get it.”

Benno went suddenly limp again, and sat down. Mills disregarded the outburst.

“Afore the fat Duchess ’d begun t’ pull the drinks Benno fell inter one iv them cold, dank, solemn spasms, ’n’ stood in the middle iv the bar, swayin’ on his stem, ’n’ lookin’ like a man feelin’ the ’and iv death on him. Then he made a straddlin’ break fer the closed door, ’n’ tried t’ walk through it. When he came back he sort o’ slid in, ’n’ stood agin the wall, ’n’ looked over at us, ’n’ his face was like the chiv iv a pale goat I once saw what’d took a big drink on a lunch iv dried peas. A faint, billyus smile fluttered in the stubble, ’n’ he said: ‘Thereshlovelymoon,’ ’n’ the sawdust slid under him, ’n’ he sat down. He smiled up at us agin like a fond poodle, ’n’ he said: ‘Boys, yorter see moon-buful moon!’ Then his ’eart broke in ’im, ’n’ he cried: ‘Hameliar! Hameliar! why don’ yeh come t’ me?’ ’n’ he burrowed down in the sawdust ’n’ wept.”

“Lies! Lies! Lies!” snarled Mr. Dickson, and groaned again.

“The lady ’elp asked, sweet ’n’ pretty, if the legal infant ’ad the price iv the drinks he’d ordered in his sock, ’n’ Benno was his self agin. He rose up, proud ’n’ stern, ’n’ called her madame.

“‘Don’ you make any mistook, Madame.’ he said, ‘Benno kin pay fer any drinks he orders Champagne ’f he likes. Pay fer drinks! I like that!’ ’n’ his voice rose t’ a pig squeak ez he went along. ‘It’s dam insult. Can I pay fer the drinks? Square ’n’ all it’s a dam insult. Whad yer mean be it?’ he yelled, ’n’ he whacked a pewter down on the bar, ’n’ tore orf some clo’s. ‘I did’n’ come here t’ be insulted,’ he said. ‘I’ll fight the blessed barmaid. Come on,’ he yapped, throwin’ his cigger et ’er, ‘I’ll fight yeh, big ’s y’ are. Le’s see who’s bes’ man!’ ’n’ he skipped ’n’ sparred a bit ’n’ skidded ercross the bar, ’n’ shot clean under the lunch table. He came back draggin’ his coat after him be one sleeve. ‘Pay fer drinks!’ he said. ‘Madame, d’ yer know who yer pickin’ at? D’yer know I got two ’unnerd quid fer me las’ win et Corfield? Dam it, sen’ fer boss ’n’ I’ll buy the infernal ’otel. Pay fer drinks! Here, take ‘t out iv that!’ ’n’ he bounced a coin on the counter. ‘Take it outer that, Madame, ’n’ yeh kin keep the change.’ The coin was a lordly copper.

“Et the nex’ pub the Don was doin’ his magnificent Hinglish character himpersonation. He was an ’ell iv a swell frim ’Ome—a dizzv sport with a heyeglass ’n’ guff erbout his fam’ly, ’n’ I wus his trainer, ’n’ Benno his jockey. ’Ow the Don kin do that kind iv thing on three ‘thripneys,’ the glass top off a penny puzzle, ’n’ a brass ring full uv Chiny di’monds, runs me out, but he does it, ’n’ was quite warm ’n’ cosy with the ginger barmaid; on’y Benno got snivellin’ mashed erbout ’er ’imself, ’n’ wanted t’ have ’er t’ cry on all on their lonesome. That ginger pot-polisher ’s bin through all the blood-’ouses in town, ’n’ she’s a tough, a fair halligator; but Benno, he cried on er ’and, ’n’ said it done a man well t’ meet a true, pure woman. He said if he’d met a hangel iv goodness like ’er in his early man’ood he’d never ’ve took the downward track. Then he called her Hameliar, ’n’ said he was lost, lost, lost. He also said he’d ’a’ bin a better man if his child ’ad lived. After that he bucked up wonderful, and called for more beer. He could stand up agin it all night, he said.”

“Yar! chuck it. Yeh gi’ me the ’ump!” came faintly from Benno’s corner.

“’Twas et the Gateway Mr. Dickson made the discov’ry iv his life. He come in, bustlin’ with excitement, ’n’ told us the moon was spiked on the spire iv the Wesleyan Church. He seemed a good deal upset erbout it, ’n’ wanted ter call up the Premier down the pipe; ’n’ when they wouldn’t let ’im et the tellerphone he got proud ’n’ hurt, ’n’ said he washed his ’ands iv the ’ole business. Then he went over t’ the bar, haughtily, ’n’ took on an ole gent’s beer. ‘’Scuse me, young gentleman, tha’s my refreshment,’ said the old gent. He was a very tiny, shaky ole gent, with baggy eyes, ’n’ a mouth that flopped eround feebly, like a cow’s. Benno looked et him zif he was a plague rat, ’n’ he sez, like fifteen thousan’ a year: ‘Barman, remove this fellow; he is annoyin’ me.’ Then he raised the beer. That old gent was seventy if a day, ’n’ all his joints seemed t’ be mended with string, but he was a giant ’n’ a ’ero in defence iv his beer, ’n’ ten secs. later Benno was down in the sawdust agin, with them scratches ’n’ the dawnin’ symptoms iv the black eye you notice he’s wearin’ this spring, ’n’ th’ ole gent was in possession iv his own agin.

“We missed Benno after that, ’n’ found him down in the gutter, with a ’ot-pieman on top iv him. He’d wanted t’ buy a box iv liver pills off the pie stall, ’n’ insisted on the pie-founder lookin’ et his tongue. That’s ’ow. I dunno meself ’ow we got into Reekie’s, the Dago wine-shop back o’ Paddy’s. S’pose y’ don’ know it, Scotty? It’s hextra special, ’n’ Reekie was a brigand in his own country, but got fired out iv the push fer his bad ’abits. He’s big, ’n’ fat, ’n’ lazy, ’n’ his clo’s ‘r fallin’ off him, ’n’ he sez: ‘Good-a th’ ni’, Meester,’ same ’s the purr iv a gorged cat, ’n’ smiles a sudden white smile, like the fear iv death. He’s got two fun ’n’ fancy girls there, what deal out the ebony stain. They’re called Will ’n’ Won’t. Will’s a moth-eaten serio-chronic left over frim father’s day. Won’t ’s a curious coon mixture—stout ’n’ pig-eyed, with a peanut complexion, ’n’ a cartload iv crinkled ’air, dyed lemon yeller.

“Reekie’s shanty’s got the name iv a ’ot shop, ’n’ the young devils don’t think they’re edjikated till they’ve took liberties with Reekie’s pianner. Ther wineshop’s erbout the size iv the publican’s coffin, but there’s a room at the back where the barmaids ’ll sit on yer knee when you’ve stood ’em three drinks outer the stained water bottle. The pianner’s there, ’n’ the young devils ’re there too, actin’ up t’ it all they know how. Benno took t’ Reekie’s like a fair sport. He riglar splashed himself agin the bar, ’n’ was perky ez a chicken rooster after his first win. Be this time he was the rich uncle iv us all. He had t’ cling hard t’ the dead cigar he was carryin’ to keep himself up; but there was no moskeeters on his. When he plunged inter the smoke iv the back room he looked ez disjinted ez sixpen’orth iv bones in a bundle—but his soul was proud. ‘’Ello! ’ello!’ sez he, with a r’yal gesture, ‘clear the room. This room’s reserved for me ’n’ mine, ’n’ if y’ don’ get out I put y’ out, see.’ A lad from a trainin-stable ’bout two foot ’igh hit Benno all iv a ’eap in a corner, where he sat, wonderin’ what’d come erbout since he last remembered himself, ’n’ tryin’ t’ work it out on his fingers.

“We left him there, restin’ fer a time ’n’ presently he was up, walkin’ roun’ the pianner, lookin’ et it with a knowin’ eye, same’s he looked et the ’orse, on’y more hartistic. This trip his niblets was a great musician-in ’is mind. He went up ’n’ touched the pianner in a himpressive sort iv way, ’n’ listened with his ’ead all a one side. That pianner was a sort iv combination dust-bin ’n’ slop-bowl, ’n’ it sounded like a tinker’s shop when y’ ’it it. Benno touched it agin, ’n’ seemed very pleased with it. He sat down t’ it, ’n’ done a crawl over the keys, ’n’ the pianner cried out in pain. ‘That’s a splen’id instrument,’ sez our Mr. Dickson, speakin’ ez a hexpert. ‘That’s a particular fine instrument,’ sez he. ‘Yes,’ sez the lemon-’aired coon girl, ‘but you’d better not play it, sonny—you’ll disturb the cat. That’s where she lives.’

“Benno, who couldn’t scratch a toon out iv a ’and-organ, tossed back his ’ead of ’air, ’n’ got down to it. He hit ’er nine times, ’n’ the commotion was frightful. Erbove the jingle iv fallin’ tins y’ cud ’ear the squealin’ iv a clutch iv blin’ kittens, ’n’ then, outer the top, flew a great grey cat. She landed in Benno’s hair, ’n’ hung on, ’n’ Benno went over backwa’ds, hittin’ the floor with his neck, ’n’ screamin’ ‘Murder.’

“Ben rose up, free ev cats, but with that pianner snouted. He’d put some wine in on top iv his beer, ’n’ was seein’ red, ’n’ the pianner was his t’ kill. He grabbed up the chair ’n’ bashed the pianner in the wind. He swung his club, ’n’ biffed her in the teeth, ’n’ she yelped like a ’uman bein’. Bash! crash! biff! went the chair, ’n’ the ole pianner was shriekin’ fire ’n’ perlice ’n’ murder every belt. Then the Dago, who’s always lurkin’ on the edge iv the smoke, stepped up ’n’ called a finish on a foul. ‘You spoila the pian’,’ he said—‘breaka the bowel of the beautiful pian’. I fine-a you the ten shiel.’ It was a good bluff iv Reekie’s. Sometimes it comes off, but this was Benno’s busy night. He swung the chair agin, ’n’ the Dago took her where the monkey tucks the nuts. Then all iv a sudden ’ell got loose. Reekie whipped out a knife—a long, clean, crool-lookin’ knife. I saw the light dancin’ on it. Benno saw it too, ’n’ he saw the Dago’s white grin, ’n’ he knew. His hands went t’ his face, his knees fell in, ’n’ fer a second his wild eyes stuck out through his fingers, glarin’ et Reekie, who was tryin’ t’ fight his way through the push that’d rushed him.

“Then our Mr. Dickson screamed like a ’orse in a burnin’ stable, ’n’ he turned ’n’ done a guy. The Don punched the Dago fair on the point, ’n’ was after Benno. I got out after the Don all I knew. Run! You never in your natural seen a dead shick pace dirt the way Benno done it. He was jumpin’ cross the town a block at a time ’n’ every bound he yelled ‘Murder!’ I think in his dilly bit iv red brain he b’lieved we was the Dago out after ’im ’n’ we saw him go down the white road, streakin’ through the quiet, moonlit city disturbin’ the peace with his ’owls, ’n’ every now’n agin a fresh helmet ud flash out, ’n’ go bobbin’ after that squealin’ streak iv a demented clerk, till cops’ bonnets was ez thick ez fleas in the limelight. Benno went right bang through the city, ’n’ then a long John got his foot on ’im.

“When we came up eleven cops ’ad our Mr. Dickson down, ’n’ he was two’n-a-harf secs off dead fer want iv wind, but he was sayin’: ‘Murder! Murder! Murder!’ in a thick, fat whisper, ’n’ his chiv was ez white’s a turnip.”

“‘What is ut?” said the long cop, lookin’ at us, suspicious.

“‘It’s a baby drunk what’s broke erway from parents ’n’ guardians,’ I said.

“‘What’s he talkin’ murder fur?’

“‘An old Greek oyster breathed on ’im up et Matter’s fish-shop,’ said the Don.

“‘Then I’ll put ’im where he can meditate ’n pray,’ said ther John.

“We tried t’ beg the body, but the John was set on hushin’ ’im up, ’n so our Mr. Dickson went t’ beddy-by on a soft board lars night, ’n’ was fined in a like hamount this mornin’, ’n’ he’s just bin explainin’ t’ the Firm that he didn’t turn up this mornin’ cause his aunt what’s goin’ t’ die nex’ Sat’dee had t’ be buried in advance, ’n’ how his injuries was doo t’ his fallen outer his motor car ’r somethin’—’ain’t yeh, Benno?”

Benno said: “O-o-o-oh! Oo-oh! Oh!” and pressed his head against the bricks.

Benno and Some of the Push - Contents    |     Chapter VII - At the Opera

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