A Son of the State
The Project Gutenberg eBook, A Son of the State, by W. Pett RidgeThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: A Son of the StateAuthor: W. Pett RidgeRelease Date: August 16, 2018 [eBook #57710]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A SON OF THE STATE***
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OF THE STATE
W. PETT RIDGE
AUTHOR OF “MORD EM’LY,”ETC.
METHUEN AND CO.
36, ESSEX STREET, W.C.
The round white September moonlighted up Pitfield Street from end to end, making the gas lightsin the shop windows look abashed and unnecessary; out in the OldStreet triangle, men on the wooden seats who had good eyesightread halfpenny evening papers as though it were day, able withouttrouble to make record in knowing-looking pocket-books of therunning of Ormonde. At the Hoxton Theatre of Varieties, theearly crowd streamed out into Pitfield Street flushed with twohours of joy for twopence, and the late crowd which had beenwaiting patiently for some time at the doors, flowed in. When these two crowds had disappeared, the Old Street end ofPitfield Street belonged once more to the men and women who wereshopping, and at the obtrusive fruiterer’s (with a shopthat bulged almost to the kerb and a wife whose size was reallybeyond all reason), even there one could just pass withoutstepping into the road. Further up the street, outside apublic-house, was, however, another crowd blocking the pathway,and this crowd overflowed into the dim passage by the side of thepublic-house, where it looked up at a lighted room on the firstfloor with an interest ungenerously repaid by the back view of afew heads. A grown-up crowd, mainly of middle-agedwomen. Children had given up efforts to belong to it, anddown the passage, which was as the neck of a bottle leading intoa court quite six feet wide, youngsters shouted and sang andquarrelled and played at games. From the direction of theother end came a short acute-faced boy with a peakless cap, aworn red scarf tied very tightly around his neck. He hadboth hands in the pockets of a jacket which was too large forhim; he smoked the fag-end of a cigar with the frowning air of aconnoisseur who is not altogether well pleased with thebrand. He stopped, signalled with a jerk of his head to aslip of a girl who was disputing for the possession of an emptylobster can, with the vigour that could not have been exceeded ifthe lobster can had been a jewel case of priceless value; sheretired at once from the struggle, and, pulling at her stocking,ran towards him.
“Where’s all the chaps?” he asked, removingthe cigar stump from his lips.
“Where’ve you bin, Bobbie Lancaster?” sheasked, without replying to his question.
“Some of ’em have gone over ’Ackneyway,” said the slip of a girl. “Where’veyou bin?”
He flicked the black ash from the fag end in the manner of onefive times his age.
“’Opping!” he said.
“You’re a liar!” retorted the small girl,sharply.
“Ho!” said the boy. “Shows what youknow about it.”
“No, but,” she said, admiringly, “’aveyou though, straight?”
“I’ve bin at Yaldin’,” he said, withimmeasurable importance,—“at Yaldin’ down inKent for ite days. Me and another chap.”
“Bin ’ome?” asked the girl, withinterest.
“Not yet,” he said. “When I do I shall’ave to take a drop of something in for the old gel. I went off wifout letting her know and I expect she’s beenwonderin’ what’s become of me.”
“Then if you ain’t bin ’ome,” said thelittle girl, breathlessly, “p’raps youdon’t—”
A strong voice called from a doorway.
“Trixie Bell! Trixie Bell! You come in thisminute and look after the shop, you good-for-nothing littleterror.”
“I must be off,” said the small girl, goinghurriedly. “Wait ’ere till I come out again andI’ll tell you somefing.”
“I don’t waste my time loafin’ about forgels,” said Master Lancaster, as the girl disappeared in adoorway. “Ketch me!”
He sauntered down the court towards Pitfield Street and,noting the crowd, slightly increased his pace. Taking ashilling from his coat pocket he tied it in a blue handkerchiefand stuffed the handkerchief inside his waistcoat, being awareapparently that it is in a London crowd that property sometimeschanges hands in the most astonishing manner.
“Very well then,” said a fiery faced woman, who,getting the worst of an argument, was looking around for anothersubject, “if you did ’ave an uncle who was drowned,that’s no reason why you should step on this littlekid’s toes.”
“Born clumsy!” agreed Master Lancaster,resentfully rubbing his boot.
“Stand a bit aside, can’t you, and let theyoungster pass. ’Aving a uncle who was in the navydon’t entitle you to take up all the room.
“Likely as not the little beggar’s a witness andwants to go upstairs.” The fiery faced woman lookeddown at the boy. “Are you a witness, dear?”
“Course I’m a witness,” he said,readily.
“What did I tell you?” exclaimed the beefy facedwoman with triumph. “Constable, ’ere ’s awitness that ’s got to be got upstairs. Make way forhim, else he’ll get hisself in a row for beinglate.”
Whereupon, to his great amazement and satisfaction, MasterBobbie Lancaster found himself passed along through the thickcrowd of matrons to the swing doors of the public-house; theimportance of his mission being added to by every lady, so thatwhen at last he reached the two policemen guarding the stairs hewas introduced to them as a boy who saw the accident; couldidentify the driver, could, in short, clear up everything. Bobbie, accordingly, after being cuffed by the two policemen(more from force of habit than any desire to treat him harshly),was shot up the staircase past a window where, glancing aside, hesaw the bunches of excited interested faces below; past alanding, and, the door being left momentarily unattended, heslipped into the room. He gave up instantly his newlygained character and crouched modestly in a corner behind thethirty members of the general public and kept his head welldown.
“Now, now, now! Do let ’s proceed inorder. Is there any other witness who can throw any lighton the affair? What?”
The club room of the public-house, with cider and whiskeyadvertisements on its brown papered walls, was long and narrow,and the stout genial man seated at the end of the table hadcommand of the room from his position. He gave his ordersto a bare-headed sergeant who hunted for witnesses and submittedthe results at the other end of the long table; he smiled when heturned to the twelve moody gentlemen at the side of the table; toone, at the extreme end, who had a carpenter’s rule in hisbreast pocket he was especially courteous. The carpentermade laborious notes with a flat lead pencil on a slip of bluepaper, a proceeding at which the other members of the jurygrunted disdainfully. Bobbie Lancaster, between the arms oftwo men in front of him, caught sight momentarily of the womanwhom the sergeant had caught and who was now kissing theTestament. He recognised her as a neighbour.
“What does she say her name is, sergeant?”
“Mary Jane Rastin, sir.”
“Mary Jane Rastin.” The coroner wrote thename. “Very good! Now, Mrs.Rastin—”
“’Alf a minute,” interrupted thecarpenter. “Let me get this down right. W—r—a—”
“W be blowed,” said the blowsy woman at the end ofthe table indignantly. “Don’t you know how tospell a simple name like Rastin? Very clear you was beforethe days of the School Board.”
“I have it down,” said the coroner, suavely,“R—a—s—t—i—n.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Rastin, in complimentary tones,“you’re a gentleman, sir. You’ve had aneducation. You ain’t been dragged uplike—”
“Be careful what you’re saying of,” beggedthe carpenter, fiercely. “Don’t you goaspersing my character, if you please. I’m setting’ere now to represent the for and—”
“Now, now, my dear sir,” said the coroner,“don’t quarrel with the witness.” Hesmiled cheerfully at the other members of the jury and almostwinked. “That’s my prerogative, youknow.” He turned to the trembling lady at the end ofthe table. “Now, Mrs. Rastin, you live in PimlicoWalk, and you are, I believe, a widow?” Mrs. Rastinbowed severely, and then looked at the carpenter as who shouldsay, What do you make of that, my fine fellow? The coronerwent on. “And you knew the deceased?”
“Was she a woman with—er, inebriatetendencies?”
“I say was she a woman who had a weakness foralcohol?”
The sergeant interpreted, “Did she booze?”
“She liked her glass now and again, sir,” saidMrs. Rastin, carefully.
“That is rather vague,” remarked thecoroner. “What does ’now and again’mean?”
“Well, sir,” said Mrs. Rastin, tying the ribbonsof her rusty bonnet into a desperate knot, “what I mean tosay is whenever she had the chance.”
“You had been drinking together?”
“Well, sir,” said Mrs. Rastin, impartially, anduntying her bonnet-strings, “scarcely what you’d calldrinking. It was like this. It were the anniversaryof my weddin’ day, and, brute as Rastin always was, andshameful as he treated all my rel’tives in the way ofborrowin’, still it’s an occasion that comes, as Isay, only once a year, and it seems wicked not to take a littlesomething special, if it’s only a drop of—”
“And after you had been together some time, you walkedalong Haberdasher Street to East Street.”
“With the view, sir,” explained Mrs. Rastin,“of ’aving a breath of fresh air before turningin.”
“Was the deceased the worse for drink?”
“Oh, no, sir! No, nothing of thekind.” Mrs. Rastin was quite emphatic. “She felt much the better for it. She saidso.”
A corroborative murmur came from the crowd behind which Bobbiewas hiding; one of the endorsements sounded so much like thetones of his mother that he edged a little further away. Hehad become interested in the proceedings, and after the greatgood fortune of getting into the room, he did not want to beexpelled by an indignant parent.
“How was it you did not see the omnibus comingalong?”
“Just one query I should like to ask first,”interposed the carpenter, holding up his left hand with a dimremembrance of school etiquette. “What time was allthis?”
“Six o’clock, as near as I can remember,”snapped Mrs. Rastin.
“Six o’clock in the morning?” asked thecarpenter, writing.
“No, pudden head,” said Mrs. Rastin,contemptuously. “Six o’clock in theevening. Why don’t you buy a new pair of ears andgive another twopence this time and get a good—All right,sir.” To the coroner. “I’ll answeryour question with pleasure. I know when I’m speakingto gentlemen, and I know when I’m talking topigs.” Mrs. Rastin glanced triumphantly at thecarpenter, and the carpenter looked appealingly at hisunsympathetic colleagues in search of support. “Wewas standing on the kerb as I might be ’ere. Overthere, as it might be, where the young man in glasses isthat’s connected with the newspaper, was a barrer withsweetstuff. ‘Oh!’ she says all at once,‘I must get some toffee,’ she says, ‘for mylittle boy ’gainst he comes ’ome,’ shesays. With that, and before I could so much as open memouth to say ‘Mind out!’ the poor deer was ’alfway across the road; the ’bus was on her and down shewent. I cuts across to her”—Mrs. Rastin wept,and Bobbie could hear responsive sobs from the women nearhim—“I cuts across to her, and she says. ‘I—I never got the sweets for him,’ shesays. Thinking of her—of her little boy right at thelast; you understand me, sir! And the constable off withhis cape and put it under her ’ead, and she just turned,and,” Mrs. Rastin wept bitterly, “and it was allover.” Mrs. Rastin patted her eyes with a deplorablehandkerchief. “‘Yes,’ she says, ‘Inever got them sweets—’”
“Pardon me!” said the carpenter. “Didyou make a note of them words at the time? What I mean tosay is, did you write ’em down on paper?”
“Not being,” said Mrs. Rastin, swallowing, herhead shivering with p.9contempt, and speaking with great elaboration, “notbeing a clever juggins with a miserable twopenny ’apennybusiness as joiner and carpenter