“‘Ere it is,” said the little ferret-faced man, and stooped to pick up a cindery cube. He looked at Denton, then at the others.
Slowly, unwillingly, Denton stood up.
A dirty-faced albino extended a hand to the ferret-faced man. “Gimme that toke,” he said. He advanced threateningly, bread in hand, to Denton. “So you ain’t ‘ad your bellyful yet,” he said. “Eh?”
Now it was coming. “No, I haven’t,” said Denton, with a catching of the breath, and resolved to try this brute behind the ear before he himself got stunned again. He knew he would be stunned again. He was astonished how ill he had judged himself beforehand. A few ridiculous lunges, and down he would go again. He watched the albino’s eyes. The albino was grinning confidently, like a man who plans an agreeable trick. A sudden perception of impending indignities stung Denton.
“You leave ‘im alone, Jim,” said the swart man suddenly over the blood-stained rag. “He ain’t done nothing to you.”
The albino’s grin vanished. He stopped. He looked from one to the other. It seemed to Denton that the swart man demanded theprivilege of his destruction. The albino would have been better.
“You leave ‘im alone,” said the swart man. “See? ‘E’s ‘ad ‘is licks.”
A clattering bell lifted up its voice and solved the situation. The albino hesitated. “Lucky for you,” he said, adding a foul metaphor, and turned with the others towards the press-room again. “Wait for the end of the spell, mate,” said the albino over his shoulder—an afterthought. The swart man waited for the albino to precede him. Denton realised that he had a reprieve.
The men passed towards an open door. Denton became aware of his duties, and hurried to join the tail of the queue. At the doorway of the vaulted gallery of presses a yellow-uniformed labour policeman stood ticking a card. He had ignored the swart man’s hæmorrhage.
“Hurry up there!” he said to Denton.
“Hello!” he said, at the sight of his facial disarray. “Who’s been hitting you?”
“That’s my affair,” said Denton.
“Not if it spiles your work, it ain’t,” said the man in yellow. “You mind that.”
Denton made no answer. He was a rough—a labourer. He wore the blue canvas. The laws of assault and battery, he knew, were not for the likes of him. He went to his press.