The Shadow in the North – extract

‘Drunken fussock,’ observed the child.

‘You want to mind your manners,’ said Jim. ‘Speaking of your elders and betters

like that.’

She took the fish out of her mouth again, looked at him steadily for a moment,

and then released a flood of the filthiest, richest, ripest, fruitiest, foulest

language Jim had ever heard. It went on for an uninterrupted two minutes and a

half, without repetition. He, his face, his manners, his ancestry, his clothes,

and his mind were compared unfavourably to parts of his body, to parts of other

people’s bodies, to parts of animals’ bodies, to the stink arising from dead fish,

to boils, to intestinal wind, and to several dozen other unpleasantnesses. Jim

was completely taken aback, and that didn’t happen very often.

He put his hand in his pocket.

‘Here,’ he said, holding out a sixpence. ‘You’re a virtuoso, you are. I never

heard such a talent.’

She took the sixpence whereupon he swiped her round the head, and sent her sprawling.

‘But you want to be quicker on your pins than that,’ he added. ‘Cheerio.’

She told him what to do and where to go, and then called: ‘And you’ve

missed yer mate. He’s just gorn. She told him you was here. Oo’s the slow one

now?’ and with a cackle of witchlike glee, fled dripping around the corner of

the yard. 

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