FICTION

"Ginger"

The gang were afraid he would tell; but his was a story only an artist In words could tell

JOEL BARNETT September 1 1938
FICTION

"Ginger"

The gang were afraid he would tell; but his was a story only an artist In words could tell

JOEL BARNETT September 1 1938

"Ginger"

The gang were afraid he would tell; but his was a story only an artist In words could tell

JOEL BARNETT

LAST YEAR, just before I left school, I was in that chase with Slugger Cassidy and Ginger Roland. We were all sitting here on the curb, when Fishy Snaith comes running up like the fire engine was chasing after him.

“Hey, Slugger, there’s a truck load of something on the railway lines outside Hawthorne’s foundry!" he yells. “What is it?” Slugger asks.

“I don’t know,” Fishy tells him. “I didn’t go close enough. 1 think they’re boots, though. They’re boxes like that, anyhow; and piled right up to the top.”

Slugger jumps right up. “Righto,” he says. “We’ll soon find out. Who’s game to go?”

All of us said we were; so we went right down to the railway and got up on the wall to take a look. The truck was over on the far siding, just like Fishy said, and about a hundred yards from the signal cabin. We could see the boxes piled way up; but it was a bit risky to go over, because they could see us easy from the signal cabin if they were looking.

Slugger thinks we can chance it, and he says to me: “You’ll be one, I^anky. You can get up there easier than anybody. And I’ll take Ginger for the other; he can whack anybody in the gang but me at running.”

The others all want to go as well; but he tells them too many cooks’ll spoil the broth, so they have to get up on the wall again and watch out for a yard copper; and if the stuff’s anything we can sell, we’ll all share evens.

WELL, the three of us start to climb over; and it wasn’t easy, either, because that’s the thickest barb wire anywhere round here, and the spikes curve in at the top of the railings as well. But that wasn’t much to U9~ even the jump down; and except that Slugger cut his foot a bit, we did it easy.

We stood clase to the wall for a minute, keeping an eye on the cabin; and 1 can tell you that my heart was bouncing, because that was a tough climb back if we got chased.

“Can you see anybody in the cabin?” Slugger whispers. "Yes,” I tell him. “I can see a bloke; but I don’t think he’s spotted us.”

“He’s nobody,” Ginger says. “Just a bloke that works up there. He won’t come down. Come on; let’s make a dash for it.”

Slugger nods; and it’s every man for himself till we get back with the stuff. We dash away, jumping across the lines like kangaroos, and were at the truck in no time. We skip around to the foundry side to keep out of sight of the cabin; and without wasting a jiffy, 1 bunk Slugger and Ginger up. then climb it myself.

The boxes were fastened up with sticky paper; and there were hundreds of them. I was for getting an armful apiece and «cutting right away. But Slugger says we'd better take a look first , because it mightn’t be something we can sell so easy. So he rips one open with his jackknife; and they’ve got scales in themthe kind that hang on chains in the butcher shops.

Slugger lets out a whistle. "Gee ! Who could need all these?” he says.

Then we look at the name on the boxes; and they’re for Sourby’s, the wholesale hardware place.

Slugger thinks there’ll be a fortune in them if we can get two shillings apiece; and we make it up to hide them in somebody’s yard till it gets dark, then we’ll take them over to Granny’s. She always pays the best money for anything.

"Let’s load up and chuck them over to the lads,” Slugger says; “then we’ll come back for more. You get down,

Lanky, and we’ll hand them to you, so we don’t make a noise.”

Well, I’m just getting out, and have one leg over the side, when it's too late. “Look out!” the lads on the wall yell; and I hop right back. But there’s nowhere to hide; so we lie flat on the boxes, and I see a train coming round the bend on our line. And I can see the lads starting to climb up the railings to give us a hand up when we get there.

“Down!” Slugger hisses. “Mebbe they won’t see us. I think they’re going to couple up, and we can jump for it after they start again. They won’t stop to chase us then.”

But the lads yelling on the wall brought a yard copper out of the cabin, where he must have been sneaking a smoke; and before we could stop him, Ginger jumps down and goes for the wall.

I couldn’t chance it now to look over the top, but I could

hear the lads shouting, “Come on, Ginger! You can do it!” Then I heard the copper running past the truck and shouting for him to stop.

The next minute the other truck smacks ours, and me and Slugger lies there still as a mouse and flat as a pancake. Our truck rolls a bit, then stops; and just as we hear the men jump down, Ginger lets out a yell.

Slugger and me look at each other. “Nabbed him,” he whispers.

“Sounds like it,” I say.

But just then Ginger screams again; and I know right away by the sound this time that he isn’t nabbed but spiked or stuck on the wire. My heart’s like a jelly now, and 1 chance a look over the top. And I was right, except that Ginger got both. One of the curved spikes at the top of the railings got stuck in his thigh; and when he tried to pull himself off, he fell over on the other side and was hanging upside down on the barb wire. The copper and one of the blokes from the truck were running like race hosses; and the lads were trying to pull Ginger down before they got him.

Then the lads yelled, “Look out. Lanky ! Run, Slugger !” And I saw a bloke on the steps of the signal cabin waving to two other fellows on the ground to tell them Slugger and me were still in the truck.

We didn’t waste a jiffy. Slugger jumped down on one side and me on the other.

Then the chase starts. 1 fall on my knees and hit the ground, and the bloke just misses grabbing me. I think 1 can beat him to the foundry wall—me in my bare feet, and him having boots on; but good climber as I am, I still need a bit of a start up that fence or he’ll be able to drag me back.

So I run a bit along the side of the trucks; and that bloke surprises me, the way he can run. I can’t gain an inch. But suddenly I dart under the buffers and come out on the other side. It would have been a good dodge, because I could

have gained about twenty yards till he could crawl through; but just when I’m getting on my feet on the other side, I nearly go smack into the other bloke, who was coming back after Slugger got away.

I’ve got to get up speed now, and I’m puffing like a train, from too much smoking. But the minute I know' I’ve got them both on the same side, I dart right back under the buffers. And that diddled them all right. I just keep going, and I’m up that foundry wall and laughing at them when they get there.

WELL, that might have been the last of it, except for the other things.

I scut back to the street, and find Slugger and the lads all talking and shouting. They told me they had to take Ginger to the hospital in the ambulance, and that he was covered with blood right through his trousers. But they said I didn’t need to worry. Just before the copper took him off the wire, he yells he wouldn’t tell.

Slugger says his foot’s hurting him a bit as well—where he cut it when he jumped down. But he says it’s nothing; just a bit of glass in it, and he pulled it out.

And now we’re sorry for Ginger, and wished we hadn’t gone over the railway. But there was nothing to do, so we went to play billiards.

Now I bet we weren’t in there five minutes, when Holley and Shaw, the two flatfeet walk in. Slugger nudges me and whispers: “Don’t let on you know them. Mebbe they’ll think we don’t know they’re tecs.”

I wink at him and stand up. “What about a game when the table’s empty, Slugger?” I say loud enough for them to hear.

“Righto, Lanky,” he says.

Then before you could say Jack Robi’son, Holley grabs me, and Shaw gets a half nelson on Slugger. The rest of the gang gets out as fast as ants coming out of a hole.

"What’s up?” Slugger asks.

“I’ve done nothing,” I tell them.

The tecs don’t say a word; they just drag me and Slugger to the station. And all the time Slugger keeps telling them that his foot hurts; but they don’t take any notice.

They stick me in a room by myself, with nothing but a few chairs and a table, not even a picture on the walls. I must be there nearly an hour; but I don’t take no chances

of trying the door; just sit there; because I know they can’t prove anything on me.

Then the two of them come in.

“Your name’s Robert Bristol, isn’t it. Lanky?” Shaw snaps at me. “And you've been here before?’'

“Yes,” I tell him. “But I haven’t done anything this time.”

“Turn your pockets out,” he says.

“What for?” I asked. “I told you I’ve done nothing.”

“Turn them out !” he yaps.

Well, I put my jackknife and a few pennies on the table.

“Where did you get the money?” he wants to know.

“I made it carrying parcels,” I come back at him.

Shaw’s looking at my knife; and suddenly he sticks it under my nose. “Is this the knife you used to open the box with?” he shoots at me.

But these blokes can’t catch me. I’m just as smart as them any day. “What box?” I say.

“Stop lying or I’ll slap your face for you,” Shaw says. “Cassidy and Roland both told us you were the one who went over.”

And I’m laughing up both sleeves of my Sunday coat, because I know Ginger and Slugger wouldn’t say a word

no matter what they did to them; and these blokes are just trying to kid me, like they did the last time; only I’m up to their game now.

“Slugger and Ginger couldn’t say nothing about me, because I haven’t been near the railway,” I said. And right after, I could have bit my tongue off for letting it out and saying “railway.” But that’s the trick of them blokes; they keep asking you things till you say something you didn’t mean to.

YY7ELL, Slugger and me get summonses to go to * * juvenile Court the next Tuesday. And when I come out of the station I’m feeling funny about something, but I don’t want to say anything right off to Slugger. So we start to walk home and neither of us is talking. Then I say to him: “Hey, Slugger, I’m thinking about something.”

“So am I,” he tells me.

I look at him, and take a chance. “It’s about Ginger.”

"So am I,” he says. “I wouldn’t have thought he would do it, either. But look; how could the tecs nab just us two - exactly the ones who went over with him?”

“It’s funny,” I told him. "I can hardly believe it, either, that Ginger would tell. Specially when he told the lads he wouldn’t.”

“Well, who else could have done it?" he asks. “He’s the only one who got nabbed.”

“Mebbe he was talking in his sleep,” I said. “I’ve heard about people doing it when they’re sick.”

“That must be it,” Slugger thinks. “But I don’t like Ginger doing it, anyhow.”

And neither did I. But I didn’t say anything else about it.

Well, we had to go to court on Tuesday; but this was only Thursday, and things were starting to go wrong. I think if it wasn’t for that, I would have took a chance and run away, because my old man had his temper up so much at me for getting pinched for the second time that he took a swipe at me with the beer bottle when I brought it in for him.

But the next we heard was that Ginger was very bad. It seems like he did worse to himself than we thought; and his mother tells mine that they’re starting to give him an operation to take his leg off, because he got it ripped worse when the lads tried to pull him down before the copper got there. And he’s cut up pretty bad from the barb wire as well.

I went out and told Slugger; but he doesn’t seem to bother much. He says his arm hurts; and he looks sort of sick. But I went in to tell Mrs. Roland that I was sorry about Ginger. And you can’t believe it. but when I went in. Ginger’s oíd man was crying. Gee, I didn’t know what to say; so I just got out as quick as I could.

I didn’t sleep a dot that night. And in the morning the

very worst happened. Ginger died during the night. His mother told mine that the doctor said he had some fancy name that means he didn't get enough to eat, or he should drink milk, and he couldn’t stick the operation out after they took his leg off, because he was too weak. And that surprised me, because I thought Ginger was as strong as a bull.

Now, it was in all the papers; and me and Slugger got taken by the tecs again, and we had to tell them all about going over the railway right from the start.

After, we went to the funeral. Well, everybody did but Slugger. And I don’t know what’s up with Slugger. When I come back from the cemetery he’s sitting all by himself, with his back against the wall and his eyes closed. I sit down beside him, but he doesn't open his eyes.

“What’s up. Slugger?” I asked him. “Why didn’t you go to the cemetery?”

“I can hardly walk.” he says. “I couldn’t make it that far, I don’t think.”

“Mebbe it’s the glass you got in your foot the other day, Slugger,” I tell him.

“No; I don’t think it’s that.” he says. “My foot’s a little bit swelled, but it doesn’t hurt much unless I try to walk. It’s my arm all of a sudden hurting me.” Then he opens his eyes and looks at me. “Look; will you not say anything if I show you something?” he says.

“Of course I won't,” I tell him.

Then we get up and go in the back lane, and he rolls his sleeve up and shows me a red line right up his arm.

“I think that’s what hurting me,” he says. “Do you know what it is?”

“No,” I told him. "I never saw a mark like that before.”

"I think my old man would if he wasn’t in Australia.” he says. “Or my mother if she was alive. But my sister doesn’t know anything. She’s too busy with her kids. But don’t say anything,” he makes me promise.

And till Tuesday, when we had to go to court. Slugger seems to get worse. He just sits all by himself and won’t talk to nobody; and once I found him stretched out asleep against the wall here and had to wake him up.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Lanky,” he says to me; and I thought he was going to cry.

“Done what?” I ask him.

“Wake me up,” he says. "I was just starting to get some peace with my arm.”

YYT'ELL. on Tuesday we go to court and my mother goes W w'ith me, but Slugger's sister can’t leave the kids and he has to go himself. And the place is packed on account of Ginger getting his leg cut off and dying. And w'hen 1 see Tommy Henderson on the bench. I’m wobbling Continued oti page 26

Ginger

Continued from page 15—Starts on page 14

like a jelly, because since he got beat for Member of Parliament he’s been even worse than before. And I’m thinking I’d like to get one good yank at that beard of his. I’d trim it so it would be straight for once !

At first when they tell Slugger to get in the dock he doesn’t hear, and they have to tell nim again. I bet everybody thought he was frightened; but I knew it was on account of his arm and he was sick.

“Are you Patrick Cassidy?” Beard growls at him ; and Slugger nods. Then he tells Slugger he was over the railway and all he’s fit for is the reformatory, and that it’s his fault Ginger died. And he asks if he has anything to say about it.

Slugger shakes his head ; and Henderson says that means he owns up then. And when Slugger nods. Beard yells at him and tells him not to wag his head if he isn’t a jackass.

“Yessir.” Slugger says; and there’s something funny about his voice, and I can hardly hear him. Then I see him close his eyes as if he didn’t care any more what the bloke said. And the old beezer puts his hands together like he was going to pray, and leans down and yaps at Slugger for about ten minutes. He tells him again that he’s no good, and that they’re going to write to his father and talk to his sister about him. And if he doesn’t get better of his ways, they’re going to put him in the reformatory. Then he says he’s going to get three strokes of the birch right away, and he has to see Mr. Kail every week for a year because he’s going to be on probation. And I’m thinking Slugger’s lucky to get off with three strokes, and that I might get the reformatory on account of being pinched before and let off for being too young that time.

Well. Slugger just stands there with his eyes closed and holding the rail, and he doesn’t look like he knows his case is done.

“All right ! Don’t stand there !” Henderson growls at him. And Slugger says, “Yessir,” and gets down; and Fatty Kail goes over for him and brings him back to the seat next to me.

Then I get called up; but he doesn’t keep me very long. He says I’m no good, and my mother’s no good for letting me get like this, and if she doesn’t take care of me he’ll see to it himself that I’m put where they’ll know how to take care of me. And he blames me as well about Ginger; and I’m lucky I only get three strokes and probation, the same as Slugger.

Kail takes us right out and across the yard into the gym. where there’s punch balls and leather hosses and rings and a wrestling mat. and everything you can think of. for the coppers to play with. And he signs a paper at a desk, while me and

Slugger sit down. Then he nods to the copper that’s going to give us the birch; and the bloke says; “Righto. Strip to the waist.”

\\/HEN HE doesn’t say which one, I

*’ get up first, because I know Slugger’s sick and mebbe if he sees me stick it. he won’t feel so bad when it’s his turn. So I take my shirt off, and the copper tells me to put my hands up and hold some rings on the wall. And I turn around and wink at Slugger; but he’s got his eyes closed; and Kail’s looking out of the window.

I get my teeth together and look at the wall and wait for that swipe. That first stroke’s the worst thing you ever have. I can still feel it. It’s like a knife right across your back; and you have to keep your teeth tight closed or you’ll be sure to yell. It stings like it was a fire, and you get tears in your eyes because you can’t help it. And sometimes you think you’re going to kill that bloke for doing it. But the trick is that you don’t know, and you grip the rings too hard and stand too stiff.

Well, I took it all right; just wobbled a bit. And for the second one I didn’t hold on so hard, and it would have been easy except he caught me right on the same place where the first one landed and I had a job not to yell this time. W'hen I got the third one, I thought I was going to turn round and slug that bloke, the way he put an extra cut on it for luck; and I was sure I had a slash right across my back. But I didn’t say anything. Just closed my eyes a minute, then turned and winked at Slugger to show him it wasn’t so bad. But he still had his eyes closed.

Then Kail comes over to me; and he says: “That’s spunk all right, Lanky.

They nearly all yell. You’ll make a man all right. What do you say if we shake hands? You’re coming to see me every week, and we’re going to be pals, you know.”

Well, I shake hands with him, and he’s smiling. But it’s all right for him; he didn’t have to get the strokes; and my back feels like it’s bust wide open. And even though I’m sorry Ginger’s dead. I’m thinking it was a rotten trick of him to tell.

When I’m putting my shirt on, I hear the copper telling Slugger to strip, and I turn away so Slugger won’t think I’m watching him. And Kail looks out of the window again; and I see he’s got his teeth together like he was going to get the strokes.

Slugger mustn’t have heard the copper, because he had to yell at Slugger to get up. And Kail puts his arm around my shoulder. and we wait till Slugger is all done.

Then I hear that first lash and it nearly makes me sick, and I wouldn’t care if it was me getting it again instead of Slugger

on account of him not feeling well and having to stand it.

And all of a sudden I hear Slugger fall, and the copper’s telling him to get up. And I look around, and Slugger’s on the floor and doesn’t move.

Kail hurries right over and bends over him, while I’m standing watching.

Then he looks up, and his face is as white as a ghost.

“You lunatic!” he yells at the copper. “Didn’t you see? This—this boy’s full of blood poison. He’s—he’s dead !”

"X/TAN, I just stand there. Then Kail jumps up and drags me out the door. “W’ait here till I come back,” he says. Then he runs out, and I’m standing there by myself. And all of a sudden I’m starting to tremble, and I can’t stop myself crying. “Slugger’s got blood poison,” I’m saying to myself. “And it’s serious and he’s dead.” And I can’t even believe it. Ginger’s dead and now Slugger’s dead. And even if I'm sorry for Ginger, I’m boiling at him now for telling, because if Slugger hadn’t got that lash he mightn’t have died.

Then Kail comes back with some other blokes—one a doctor with a bag. And they rush right past me and don’t even bother with me; and I’m just standing there for heaven knows how long.

At last Kail comes out again, and puts his arm on my shoulder like he did at the window.

“You haven’t been crying, Lanky, have you?” he says.

But I didn’t deny it. “I couldn’t help it,” I tell him. “Slugger was my pal and he’s dead now.”

“But I don’t think he would want you to cry. Lanky,” he says. “He didn’t cry himself, did he?”

And Kail’s right; and I’m feeling proud of Slugger. Even sick as he was, he didn’t yell, even when it killed him. But I’m hating Ginger more now; and I told Kail that.

“If Ginger hadn’t told,” I said, “Slugger wouldn’t be dead now.”

And Kail surprises me all right. “What do you mean about Ginger telling!” he says; and he sounds real crusty about it. “Ginger didn’t say a word. Y'ou can take my word for that. I was with him all the time at the hospital, and he wouldn’t tell the detectives anything when they let them ask him.”

“Honest?” I said to him. And I was as pleased as Punch, because I thought it was funny if Ginger would tell.

“Honor bright,” he says. “Nobody really told. Do you remember how the lads were yelling to you and Slugger when you were in the truck? Well, that gave

your names away to the copper. Then you both spoke your names when the detectives were in the billiard room.’\ “Honest?” I said to him again “Is that how it was?”

“Honor bright, Lanky; that’s how it was,” he says

And all of a sudden I’m glad again. “Gee. Slugger and Ginger were great pals, Mr. Kail,” I told him.

“You bet they were.” he said. Then he smiled at me again. “You’re going to need a new pal now. Lanky, you know. Call me Uncle Kail, will you?”