“You just leave me alone, will you?” he said, rubbing his cheek ruefully. “It’s nothing to do with you whether I’m a sound sleeper or not.”
“That’s just where you’re wrong, young fellow,” was the reply. “It’s a lot to do with me. Ain’t your name Joe Leaver?”
Joe nodded his head.
“How did you find out?” he asked.
“Perhaps a friend of mine pointed you out to me.”
“Perhaps he did, and perhaps he didn’t,” said Joe. “Anyway, what is your name?”
“Mr. Kemp is my name, my boy. And unless you’re pretty civil I’ll give you cause to remember it.”
“What have you got to do with me?” asked the boy in an injured tone. “I’ve never done nothing to you.”
“You mind your P’s and Q’s and me and you’ll get along all right,” said Mr. Kemp, in a somewhat softer tone. “When you ask me what I’ve got to do with you, my answer is I’ve got a lot to do with you, for I’m your guardian, so to speak.”
Joe looked at Mr. Kemp with a gleam of comprehension in his amazement. He had had some experience in his Islington days of the strange phenomena produced by drink.
“Rats!” he retorted rudely. “I’ve never had a guardian and I don’t want none. What made you a guardian, I’d like to know?”
“Your father did,” was the reply.
“Oh, him!” said Joe, in a tone which indicated pronounced antipathy to his parent. “Do you know him? Are you one of his sort?”
“Now don’t try to be insulting, my boy, or I’ll take you across my knee. We won’t say nothing about where your father is, because in high society Wormwood Scrubbs isn’t mentioned. All we’ll say is that he has been unfortunate like many another man before him, and that for the present he can’t come and go as he likes. But he has still got a father’s heart, Joe, and there are times when he worries about his family and about there being no one with them to keep an eye on them and see they grow up a credit to him. He has been particularly worried about you, Joe. So when I was coming away he asked me to look you up if I had time, and let him know how you was getting on, seeing that none of his family has gone near him for a matter of three years or so, though there is one regular visiting day each week.”
“I don’t want to see him no more,” said Joe. “He’s no good.”
“That’s a nice way for a boy to talk about his own father,” said Mr. Kemp, in a reproving tone. “I don’t know what the young generation is coming to.”
“If you want to send him word about me, you can tell him that I’m not going to be a thief,” said Joe defiantly.
“No,” said Mr. Kemp tauntingly, “you’d sooner be a nark.”
“Yes, I would,” said the boy.
“And that’s what you are now,” declared the man wrathfully. “You’re a nark for that fellow Crewe. I know all about you.”
“I’m earning an honest living,” said Joe.
“As a nark,” said Mr. Kemp, with a sneer.