This is the corner of my home where I delve into the periodicals of my day and share with you good people some of the short stories from therein. A snuggery, if you will, where I will regail you with all the thrills, the passions, the humour and the horrors of Victorian fiction. So, Ladies & Gents, settle yourselves down, help yourself to a glass or two of the finest unsweetened, and I will begin.
Today’s tale is from the magnificent Arthur Morrison, a favourite here at The Sloperies; famous of course for his sensational slum trilogy of Tales of Mean Streets, A Child of the Jago, and To London Town. This is one of Mr. Morrison’s darkly comical crime fictions featuring one of his many recurring characters, the roguish Snorkey Timms. First published in Pall Mall Magazine in 1905 it also appeared in his collection, Divers Vanities, and it is called…
The Disorder of the Bath
by Arthur Morrison
SNORKEY TIMMS is as disreputable an acquaintance as a man need seek, and full of the most ungenteel information.
It was from Snorkey’s report that I was able long ago to tell the tale of the Red Cow Anarchist Group; and it was long after that time that I learned, by chance, that he had a surname at all. Not that he had been christened Snorkey; his original given name I cannot tell you now, and it is quite possible he has forgotten it himself; while even “Timms” has so far gone out of use that you may shout it aloud without attracting Snorkey’s notice.
It was Snorkey, furthermore, who told me the real story of the attempt on the Shah of Persia’s jewelled hat in open London; as well as many others, more credible and less, of the doings of them that live by trades of no respectability. He told them behind bar-screens and in remote snuggeries, not without interruption from thirst and its remedy.
“I s’pose,” said Snorkey thoughtfully, on one such occasion, “I s’pose such a party as yourself might ‘ave as much objections as what another party might ‘ave, for to say what ‘is line o’ business might be?”
Such objections were familiar enough, for good reason, among Snorkey’s acquaintance, and he plainly anticipated my reply. I signified my entire agreement with Snorkey’s supposition.
“Um!” he answered, and meditatively licked the cigar by the gift whereof I had sought to avert the fumes of Snorkey’s shag. “Um—m—m!” He leaned back on the snuggery bench, put the cigar in his mouth, and reached for a light. “You ain’t one of our mob, any’ow,” he proceeded, “an’ I know you ain’t a nark; I’ll give ye that much credit. But I ‘ave ‘eard o’ parties, same as it might be you, as is come down to the Ditch, or the Kate, or the Gun, same as you might be here, and got a-talkin’ with other parties, same as it might be me, an’ ‘earin’ about all sorts o’ things, an’ then writin’ ’em in the papers, an’ gettin’ paid for it—pecks o’ money: about a bob a word. Gettin’ it all out o’ other parties, an’ then smuggin’ the makin’s.”
“Disgraceful,” I said.
Snorkey pushed back a sadly damaged bowler hat and looked fixedly at me. Then he took a drink, wiped his mouth, tugged his grimy neckerchief with a hooked forefinger, and stared again at his cigar. I remained silent and contemplative.
“Not as you ain’t bin pally, now an’ then,” he resumed awkwardly, after a blank pause. “Standin’, an’ all that; an’ you greased my duke more’n once; I’ll give ye that much credit.” And here Snorkey’s speech tailed off into inarticulate mumblings.
“Out with it,” I said. “You want something. What is it all about?”
“I’m a-savin’ up a bit for a ‘oliday in the country,” he answered sulkily, evading my eye.
“In the country?” I asked doubtfully; for the phrase is a euphemism for a convict prison.
“I mean the real country; not where the dawgs don’t bite. I want a bit of a ‘oliday.”
I judged that there must be some other reason than that of health for this aspiration of Snorkey’s, and I said so.
“Well, some parties mightn’t call it reasons of ‘ealth,” Snorkey answered. “I should. Ginger Bates’ll be out in a day or two, an’ Joe Kelly too—both together.”
I knew that Ginger Bates and Joe Kelly had experienced the misfortune, some months more than two years back, to be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. By the ordinary operation of the prison system, with prudence and good luck, they must soon be released. It seemed clear that Snorkey had some particularly good reason for not wishing to meet these old friends, fresh from their troubles.
“What’s this, then?” I said. “You haven’t been narking, have you?”
“Me? Narkin’?” Snorkey glared indignantly; and in fact the sin of the informer was the sole transgression of which I could never really have suspected him. “No, I ain’t bin narkin’. I ain’t bin narkin’, but I don’t want to see Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly when they come out—not both on ’em together, any’ow. After a week or two they’ll split out after other things, an’ it won’t matter so much; but when they fust come out they’ll be together, an’ the fust thing they’ll do, they’ll ask after me. I don’t want to be at ‘ome just then.”
“I ‘spec’ they’ll be angry. Matter o’ perfessional jealousy.” Snorkey chuckled and winked. “It was a bit of a lark, an’ none so bad a dick, neither—double event. But are you goin’ to grease my duke?”
This rite—nothing more nor less than the passing over of a contribution to Snorkey’s holiday fund—was accomplished with no more delay; and fresh interest was given to Snorkey’s empty glass.
“It was none so bad a click,” repeated Snorkey: “quite a lucky touch for a chap workin’ alone, like me. It was when I came ‘ome in that dossy knickerbocker suit.”
I had faint memories of cryptic “chaff” directed at Snorkey by his intimates in the matter of a certain magnificent walking-suit, arrayed in which he was said to have dazzled Shoreditch at some indefinite period of his career. But I waited for explanations.
“Ginger Bates and Joe Kelly ‘ad got their eye on a nice place in the country for a bust,” Snorkey proceeded; meaning thereby that his two friends had in view a burglary at a country house. “It was a nice medium sort o’ place, not too big, but well worth doin’, an’ they got me to go down an’ take the measure of it for a few days, them not wantin’ to show theirselves in the neighbourhood, o’ course. So they gives me a quid for exes, an’ a few odd sheets o’ glass in a glazier’s frame with a lump o’ putty an’ a knife on it, an’ I humps the lot and starts. O’ course I was to take my whack when they’d done the job. Nothin’ better than the glazier caper, if you want to run the rule over a likely place. Buyin’ bottles an’ bones does pretty well sometimes, but you don’t get the same chances.
“It was very nigh two hours’ run out on the rattler, an’ then a four-mile walk; very good weather, an’ I put in a day or two doin’ it easy in the sun.
“The ‘ouse was a fust-rate place—quite nobby. I had a good look at it from outside the garden wall, an’ I asked a few questions at the pub an’ what not. After that I went in by the back way, with my glass on my back; an’ I had luck straight away, for I see a pantry winder broke. So I ‘ad a good look round fust, an’ then I went along, very ‘umble an’ civil to everybody, an’ got the job to mend that winder. More luck.
“They let me do the winder—me offerin’ to do it cheap,—an’ so I sets to work steady enough, with a slavey comin’ to pipe me round the corner every now an’ then, to see I didn’t pinch nothink. An’ o’ course I didn’t. I behaved most industrious an’ honest, an’ you might ha’ made a picture of me, facsimiliar, to go in front of a bloomin’ tract, an’ done it credit, too. But while the slavey was a-pipin’ me, I was a-pipin’ the pantry—what ho! I was a-pipin’ the pantry with my little eye, and there was more bloomin’ luck; for if ever I see a wedge-kip in all my nach’ral puff, I see one fine an’ large under the shelf in that bloomin’ pantry! The luck I ‘ad all through that job was jist ‘eavenly.”
Heavenly might not have been the appropriate word in the strictly moral view, but since by the “wedge-kip” Snorkey indicated the plate-basket of the unsuspecting householder, I understood him well enough.
“It was jist ‘eavenly. I never ‘ad sich luck before nor since. So I finished the job very slow, an’ took my money very ‘umble, an’ a glass o’ beer as they sent out for me, an’ pratted away to the village an’ sent off a little screeve by the post, for Ginger an’ Joe to come along to-morrer night an’ do the job peaceful an’ pleasant. You see the new putty I’d put in ‘ud peel out on yer finger, an’ it on’y meant takin’ out the pane an’ openin’ the catch to do the job.
“Well, I put up cheap at the smallest pub, an’ in the mornin’ I went out for a walk. Bein’ a glazier, ye see, ‘twouldn’t ‘a’ done for me not to go on the tramp like as if it was after a job. So off I went along the road, an’ it was about the ‘ottest stroll ever I took. It was a ‘ot day, without any extrys, but you don’t know what a ‘ot day’s like till you’ve tramped in it with the sun on yer back, an’ two or three thicknesses o’ winder-glass for it to shine through. I took the loneliest road out o’ the village, not wantin’ to be called on for another job, an’ not wantin’ to be seen more’n I could ‘elp. It was a ‘orrid long lane, without a soul or a ‘ouse on it for miles, an’ I got ‘alf frightened after a bit, thinkin’ there never was goin’ to be a pub. It seems unnach’ral an’ weirdlike to be on a road with no pubs—the sort o’ thing you dream about in nightmares.
“Well, I went along this ‘ere lane with no turnin’ till I was ready to drop, an’ I could smell the putty afrizzlin’ in the frame be’ind me; me a-wonderin’ whatever the lane was made for. Not for traffic, I reckon, for there was places with grass ‘alf across it, an’ other places where some ijiot ‘ad chucked down long patches o’ stones for to repair it, an’ the stones was washed clean with years o’ rain, but not a wheel-mark on ’em. I didn’t know whether to turn back or go on, not knowin’ which meant the longest job; till at last I b’lieve I’d ‘a’ ate the bloomin’ putty off the frame, if I’d ‘ad anythink to drink with it. But even the ditch was a dry ‘un, an’ I was in that state o’ roastin’ torment, I almost think if there’d been a pond or a river I’d ‘a’ took a bath, I was that desp’rit.
“It was like that when I came to a pub at last. It wasn’t much of a pub, bein’ mostly pigsties, but it was good enough for me. There was beer there, an’ bread an’ cheese, so I sat on a bench under a tree in front, an’ took an hour or two’s rest. An’ the ‘ole time not a thing or a livin’ soul come past, except towards the end, an’ then it was a van—a carryvan, ye know, sich as gipsies an’ showmen ‘as—a carryvan for livin’ in, with muslin blinds an’ a little chimney-pipe. It’s a sort o’ thing you gen’rally see a purcession of together, but this was all alone. There was a steady-lookin’ ol’ bloke a-sittin’ in front drivin’, an’ as the van came opposyte the pub there was a rare ‘ullabaloo o’ shoutin’ inside it, but the ol’ chap drivin’ didn’t take no notice. Then a bloke come flounderin’ an’ hollerin’ out o’ the back door, an’ runs up alongside shoutin’ to the of chap to stop, till he ketches ‘im by the elbow, an’ very nigh pulls ‘im off the van. Then the ol’ bloke looks round innocent as ye please, an’ pulls up; an’ it turns out that ‘e was stone-deaf, an’ what the other chap was after was to pull up ‘ere an’ get some water. ‘E was a rare toff, this chap—knickerbocker suit an’ eyeglass—quite a dook. It seemed this was ‘is way o’ takin’ a quiet ‘oliday, goin’ round the country in a van. I’ve ‘eard of others doin’ the same, since. Not altogether my idea of a ‘oliday, but a sight better’n ‘umpin’ a glazier’s frame for miles an’ miles along a road with no pubs in it.
“Well, they goes an’ fetches their water, an’ a precious large lot they seemed to want. They brought it out in pails an’ cans, an’ poured it into somethink in the van, which made me s’pose they’d got a tank there. I might ha’ gone an’ ‘ad a look, but I was sittin’ nice an’ comfortable under the tree an’ didn’t want to get up. So when they’d got all the water they wanted, they started off again. It was a very tidy ‘orse in front, but I’d ‘a’ guessed the van was an old ‘un, painted up. It was a good big long van, but the wheels was a-runnin’ like the numbers on a clock—all V’s an’ X’s.
“Soon after they went I began to think about movin’ meself. At a place like that a visitor must ‘a’ bin a sort of event, even a glazier; an’ I wanted to look as genuine as possible, so I guyed off the same way the van ‘ad gone. I meant to slide off by a cross turn, or across the fields, an’ get back to meet Bates an’ Kelly by dark. But it was pretty open sort o’ country, so I went a good bit o’ way before I began to think about puttin’ on the double. I come over a bit of a rise, which was all loose stones with grass growin’ atween ’em, an’ was a-takin’ a look round to find a easy way ‘cross country, when I ‘ears a most desp’rit sorrowful ‘owl. I looks down the ‘ill, an’ there I see somethink a-movin’ in the ditch, like a—like a—well, more like some sort of a bloomin’ shellfish than anythink else, or a tortoise—a tortoise more’n a yard acrost. I took a step or two, an’ there came another yell, an’ I could see a man’s ‘ead stickin’ out from under the shell, singin’ out at the top of ‘is shout. So I starts a trot, an’ presently I see it was a sort of tin enamel thing the bloke was under, an’ then—s’elp me!—s’elp me never! blimy if it wasn’t the toff out o’ the carryvan, stark naked as a little coopid, ‘idin’ under a bloomin’ ‘ip-bath you know, yaller tin scoopy-shape thing—’idin’ in the dry ditch under a ‘ip-bath, an’ singin’ out to me to ‘urry up!
“So I ‘urried up, an’ ‘is language was pretty sparky for a toff, an’ no error. But when e’ told me what was up—larf! Lord! it was on’y ‘cos I remembered the winder-glass be’ind me that I didn’t go smack down on my back an’ roll! Larf! S’elp me, I larfed till it ‘urt me all over!
“‘I’ve fell through the bottom o’ my van,’ sez ‘e, ‘I’ve fell through the bottom o’ the dam’ thing in my bath! An’ my man’s as deaf as a post,’ sez ‘e, ‘an’ ‘e’s gone on without me! An’ I couldn’t run after ‘im over these ‘ere dam’ flints! Don’t stand there laughin’ like a maniac,’ sez ‘e—’go an’ stop ‘im!’
“Well, I never ‘ad such a paralysed, chronic fit in all my puff! I’d ‘a’ give a tanner for a lamp-post to ketch ‘old of an’ ‘ang on to, s’elp me! I jist ‘owled an’ staggered, an’ the toff under the bath, ‘is language got sparkier every second, till you’d ‘a’ thought no patent enamel could ‘a’ stood the ‘eat.
“‘If you ain’t as big a fool as you look,’ sez ‘e, ‘go after that van an’ earn a sovereign for yerself! I’ll give you a sovereign if you’ll lend me your coat an’ fetch back that infernal van so that I can get at my clothes!’
“So I steadied a bit when e’ offered to spring a quid, an’ I climbed out o’ the slings o’ the glass-frame, an’ shoved it in the ditch. Then I pulls off my old coat, an’ blimy, ‘e snatches it as though it was jewelled sealskin, an’ worth five ‘undred quid; an’ there wasn’t another soul in sight, neither, nor likely to be. An’ then I ‘oofs it off in my shirtsleeves at a trot after the van.
“I dunno ‘ow far I trotted ‘fore I caught sight of it, but it pretty nigh knocked me out—what with runnin’ an’ sweatin’ an’ blowin’, an’ bustin’ out a-larfin’ ‘tween whiles. The job seemed worth a good deal more’n a quid, an’ by the time I see the van in front I’d made up my mind to try if I couldn’t make it pay better.
“Well, I rounded a bend, an’ there was the carry-van at last, goin’ along easy as though nothink was wrong, an’ I put on a extry spurt. It was no good a-callin’ out, o’ course; an’ what was more, I didn’t mean to do it. No; I legged it up be’ind the van, an’ I jumped up on the footboard an’ opened the door. It was a snug crib inside, an’ I see the toff ‘ad bin a-doin’ ‘isself proper. But the floor! It was two-penn’orth o’ firewood, an’ dear at that! Now it was broke, you could see it was wore thin as a matchbox down the middle, an’ pretty rotten for a man to stand on alone; but when it come to a man an’ a bathful o’ water together, joltin’ down that stony ‘ill—what ho!
“But I’d got no time to waste on the busted floor. There was the fine new knickerbocker suit, an’ a portmanter, an’ a nobby kit-bag, an’ fishin’ rods, an’ a photoin’ camera. The portmanter was too big, so I slung the suit an’ the camera into the kit-bag an’ dropped out be’ind. The steady of dummy in front just went on like a stuck image. ‘E’d ‘a doddered on through a bloomin’ earthquake so long as it didn’t knock ‘im off ‘is perch.
“I guyed it back round the bend an’ opened the kit-bag. There was a tidy watch an’ chain in the jacket, an’ a sovereign-purse on the chain, with nine quid in it. So I got be’ind the ‘edge, an’ just wrung out o’ my old clothes an’ into the dossy knickerbockers in no time. Then I ‘ung the old things on the ‘edge, for anybody as might want ’em. I wanted the kit-bag for something else—’cos I’d got a fresh idea. Some’ow a bit o’ luck like that always gives me fresh ideas.
“I dotted back the way I’d come, meanin’ to go wide round a field when I come to where I’d left of cockalorum with the bath. But after a bit I topped a little rise, an’ there I see ‘im comin’ along the road, ‘alf a mile off! There ‘e was, all alone in the world, with my old coat tied round the middle of ‘im an’ the bath on ‘is ‘ead, ‘oppin’ along tender on a little strip o’ grass by the road, like a cat on broken bottles atop of a garden wall! If on’y ‘e’d ‘a’ ‘ad the frame o’ winder-glass on ‘is back I could ‘a’ died ‘appy, but ‘e’d left that where I put it. Showed ‘ow much ‘e considered my interests, as was supposed to ‘a’ left it unpertected to do ‘im a service! You wouldn’t think a toff ‘ud be so selfish.
“I ‘ooked it through a gate an’ waited be’ind a ‘aystack while ‘e went past, an’ a precious while he was a-doin’ it, too, gruntin’ an’ cussin’ to ‘isself; me, with ‘is clothes on me, a-lookin’ at ‘im, an’ ‘im too wild an’ too tender in the feet to notice anythink but the ground ‘e was treadin’ on. I was sorry for the pore bloke, o’ course, but then a chap can’t neglect business, can ‘e? An’, besides, I felt sure ‘e’d find my of duds on the ‘edge presently.
“So I guyed off as soon as I could to the place where I put in the pantry winder, an’ I took the win out again just after dusk an’ did the show for ‘alf the wedge in the kipsy—spoons an’ forks in my pockets, an’ the rest in the kit-bag: all I could carry. That was my new idea, you see. Then I come through the shrubbery an’ out the front way, an’ at the gate I met the very slavey as was pipin’ me while I put in the pantry winder! She looked pretty ‘ard, so I puts on a voice like a markis, an’ ‘Good evenin’!’ I says, very sniffy an’ condescendin’ as I went past, and she says ‘Good evenin’, sir,’ an’ lets me go. Oh, I can do it sossy, I tell ye, when I’ve got ’em on!
“I went all out for the station, an’ caught a train snug. I see Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly comin’ off from the train as I got there; but I dodged ’em all right, an’ did the wedge in next day for thirty quid an’ twenty-five bob for the photo-camera—ought to ‘a’ bin more. An’ so I pulled off a merry little double event. I never ‘ad sich a day’s luck as I ‘ad that day, all through. It was ‘eavenly!”
“And is that all you know of the affair?” I asked.
“All that’s to do with me,” replied the unblushing Snorkey. “But the toff with the van, ‘is troubles wasn’t over. ‘E was in the papers next day—locked up for ‘ousebreakin’. It seems they missed the stuff out o’ the plate-basket soon after I’d gone, an’ the slavey that piped me goin’ out gave a description o’ me in the nobby tweed suit, an’ somebody remembered seem’ jist sich a bloke go past in a carryvan. It made a fetchin’ novelty for the ‘a’penny papers—’Gentleman Burglar in a Travelling Van,’ especially when ‘e was found disguised as a glazier in my old clothes, an’ ‘is frame o’ glass discovered concealed in a ditch. That did it pretty plain for ‘im, you see. ‘E’d turned up first like a glazier, and reconnoitiered, an’ then ‘e’d come dossed up to clear out the stuff. Plain enough. It was quite a catch for a bit, but it didn’t last—the rozzers ‘ad to let ‘im go. But they didn’t let Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly go, though—not them. Them two unfort’nit spec’lators prowled about lookin’ for me for some time, an’ about twelve o’clock at night they sailed in to do the job without me. Well, you see, by then it was a bit late for that place. The people was up all night, listenin’ for burglars everywhere, an’ there was two policemen there on watch as well. So Ginger Bates and Joe Kelly was collared holus-bolus, an’ thereby prevented raisin’ unproper claims to stand in with what I’d scraped up myself. An’ now they’ve bin wearin’ knickerbockers theirselves for more’n two years, an’ as soon as they’ve done their time—well, there’s no knowin’ but what they may make it a matter o’ perfessional jealousy. What ho-o-o-o!”