Fiddle o’Dreams and More - Arthur Morrison - ebook

Fiddle o’Dreams and More ebook

Arthur Morrison



Morrison’s literary reputation is mostly based on his realistic novels and short stories about slum life in London. In addition, he wrote detective fiction that is openly derivative of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Possessed with a wide and free-ranging curiosity, Morrison wrote both fiction and nonfiction works on diverse subjects, from Japanese art to occultism, and participated in English literary life well into World War II. In 1930 Arthur Morrison moved to Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire. In 1933 he published the short story collection „Fiddle o’ Dreams and More”. This collection of mystery and detective fiction contains: „Billy Blenkin’s Radium”, „Frenzied Finance”, „Infantry at the Double”, „Sports of Mugby”, „The Thing in the Upper Room” and others. Highly recommended!

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THERE is a bow-window in the parlour of the Padfield Arms which gives a view of the village street on one hand and of the open road and the fields on the other. Either way offers an attractive walk to an idle man, and I stood in the window in the mood that induces such a man to toss up for it. But a man may be even too idle to toss up, and it struck me to leave the decision to two unconscious arbitrators: Dan’l Robgent, who, with his stick and his rheumatics, was approaching from the village street, and an unknown bicyclist who was coming up the road from Codham, with many swerves and wobbles, occasioned by desperate twisting of the neck and staring at the sky. Dan’l was close, the bicyclist was comparatively far. Which would pass the window first? With a brisk pedestrian and a cyclist intent on his journey, a dead-heat would seem likely; but Dan’l’s rheumatics and the cyclist’s interest in the heavens introduced factors of uncertainty and gave the chance a sporting interest.

Dan’l Robgent paused and rubbed his toe tenderly with his stick–he was losing ground; but after that slight refreshment he came on with quite a spurt, and the cyclist brought down his gaze and made a wild swerve to save his balance.

In the end victory lay with the unwitting Dan’l by the mere distance of the window from the inn-door; for there the two met, and the bicyclist dismounted to ask Dan’l some question which was ungraciously received.

“No,” I heard Dan’l say, very severely, “I hain’t seen no hairyplane, so there!”

The bicyclist grinned.

“All right,” he answered. “Keep your hair on, oad ‘un! I didn’t mean oad Taff-Pilcher’s!”

And with that he turned to his machine and drifted up the village street.

There were military manoeuvres in this part of Essex, and a rumour had been heard that aeroplanes were to fly. So that I wondered at Dan’l’s indignation as he came stumping into the parlour, grumbling vaguely. I ventured a question.

“That young monkey comes from Codham,” said Dan’l Robgent, “an’ when a Codham man talks about hairyplanes to a Padfield man it means impidence. Speeches o’ chaff, I s’pose they call it; but I call it impidence, to a man oad enough to be his father.”

I put my stick in a corner and sat down. Dan’l Robgent sat down, too, and in response to my well-understood signal a mug was planted under his nose ere he was fully settled. He received the mug with a well-bred affectation of surprise, as usual, and wished me excellent health.

“Well,” I said, “and who is old Taff-Pilcher?”

“Mr. Taff-Pilcher, sir,” said Dan’l, with grave reproof, “is Parlyment candidate for this ‘ere division, and a very nice genelman. Them chaps at Codham don’t ‘preciate him Codham not bein’ in this votin’ division though only three mile off. Mr. Taff-Pilcher looks arter our interests, as is proper, not the Codham people’s; and it’s my belief he’ll be member after next election, he’s made hisself that popular. And when he is we shall be all right–them as votes for Mr. Taff-Pilcher, anyway. We shall all get summat for our votes, we shall; we sha’n’t be wheedled out of ‘em for nothink like as what we’ve bin ever since I had a vote.”

“How much are you to get?” I asked.

“‘Tain’t legal for a genelman to mention the ‘zact amount, no more than it’s legal for a genelman to pay it hisself. He’s a lawyer, is Mr. Taff-Pilcher, and he knows the law thorough. I’ve heard my oad father say in his time, when the law was different, the price o’ votes dropped from a sovereign to five shillun paid down afore you went in; then it got to half a crown an’ less; an’ then nothin’ at all. Shameful it was–and has been all my time. But Mr. Taff-Pilcher’s a free-hearted genelman, and he’s goin’ to see things put right again; an’ as he won’t be payin’ hisself he ain’t under no temptation to keep it low. And there’s goin’ to be ashfelt in Padfield street, and ‘lectric light and ping-pong in the workus.”

“But what about his aeroplane?”

“Well, ‘twasn’t ‘zactly his, so to speak but one as he wasn’t able to send. You see he’s always been special kind and attentive has Mr. Taff-Pilcher. It was only a accident that he didn’t get the Lord Mayor o’ Lunnon hisself down to give away the school prizes an’ he’s the very best cricket umpire we ever had on the field here, an’ football, too. Fine he is, straight and fair allus, with just a leetle leanin’ towards Padfield, when it ain’t too noticeable. That’s what I like to see–a perfeck fair umpire as won’t give it agin his own side if he can help it. That’s the sort we want.”

“And Codham doesn’t?” I interjected for the rivalry of Padfield and Codham was intense in cricket and football as in everything else.

“They’re jealous; Codhamites allus are. I dunno what they expect; if they’d got any sense o’ fairness they’d see that their votes ain’t no good to him. But it was about the hairyplane I was tellin’ you. It was in the annual sports–you know what a time we have here at Padfield sports every year. There ain’t nothin’ like it for miles round, and ain’t been since they stopped Codham Fair. Well, it’s wonnerful how Mr. Taff-Pilcher went into them sports. We made him judge, o’ course, seein’ how good he was as umpire an’ it paid us. And he helped us wonnerful other ways, too. He didn’t pay for no prizes, you understand, nor subscribe nothin’ ‘cos that’s all agin his principles. He’s very partic’lar about his principles, is Mr. Taff-Pilcher, an’ the one we found out about first was that it’s wrong for him to pay out anything in this ‘ere constitooency, bein’ a sort o’ bribery as he couldn’t stoop to. But lor’, you’d never ha’ minded if you’d seen him givin’ the prizes away after the sports; you’d ha’ believed he’d give the whole lot out of his own pocket, the handsome way he did it and the generous way he talked. And it was just the same all through; nobody ever knew before what unimportant sort o’ people the squire and the passon was till they see Mr. Taff-Pilcher a-puttin’ of ‘em in the shade at the sports.

“He stuck to his principles about not subscribin’ money, but nobody could call him mean when it was give out he was goin’ to send a hairyplane. Everybody knowed what a expensive thing a hairyplane was, and them chaps as go up in ‘em allus charge about a thousand pound a time. He made a little speech about it afore the sports began. He said we was livin’ in stirrin’ times, and the march o’ progress was astonishin’ to be’old. He told us that man, not content with sailin’ the stormy deep and travellin’ on the firmer terra cotta, had now took to hisself wings to cleave the infinite expense. He said that he was proud and happy to say that a hairyplane was on its way to the spot he loved dearest on earth (meanin’ Padfield) at about a hundred an’ fifty mile an hour and conskently might be expected any time in the arternoon, bein’ driv by a most noted flyin’ genelman o’ the name o’ Walker. If Mr. Walker successfully braved the perils of the windy element, he said, in his journey from Lunnon, we should hev the glory and delight o’ seein’ him come a-swoopin’ down in graceful circles like a heagle or a harchangel on to Padfield. It ‘ud be agin his principles he said, to say anythink about the tremenjus expense o’ givin’ us sich a treat as that, but he hoped we wouldn’t forget it. And then we cheered terrific, and the sports began.

“All Padfield and half Codham must ha’ gone to bed with stiff necks that night, and I wonder most o’ the necks wasn’t broke afore they got home. Half the things in the refreshment tent was ate by boys while the chaps in charge was starin’ up lookin’ for the hairyplane. Them as tried to look for the hairyplane and see the races too got it worst, and you’d think they ought to ha’ broke their necks unanimous. Mr. Taff-Pilcher, he was very eager about it, too, as you’d expect; but he didn’t let it prevent him bein’ faithful to Padfield as judge o’ the sports. O’ course a judge can’t do very much for his pals, even in a country sports where things ain’t done particular; but what any judge could do Mr. Taff-Pilcher did, and did wonnerful neat, too. In the final o’ the hundred yards’ race, when young Bill Parker was comin’ up neck and neck with a Codham chap, Bill bein’ on the side nearest the judge, it was beautiful to see how he changed the tape from his left to his right hand, just casual like, as he turned round to speak to a committee-man, and just brought it up agin Bill Parker’s chest by about six inches. It was one o’ the good-naturedest things I ever see done. And he was just as thoughtful all through. I could see it, havin’ been in it all when I wasa young man, and knowed the comfort of havin’ a friendly judge when you’re a-takin’ off for the long jump, or got a little dab o’ cobbler’s wax in the spoon in the egg-and-spoon race. But the Codham chaps took it downright spiteful.

“The arternoon went on and most o’ the sports was over, one after another, and everybody sick and giddy a-starin’ at the sky, when there come a telegram for Mr. Taff-Pilcher. It come jist as the sack race was finishin’ and there was nothin’ more left but the tug-o’-war between Padfield an’ Codham. That was allus last, an’ a most howlin’ outrageous tussle it’s allus been, ‘cos whichever side wins crows over the other for the rest o’ the year.

“Well, the telegram come, an’ Mr. Taff-Pilcher, he read it, an’ took off his hat an’ wiped his head and showed the telegram to the committee, an’ their faces went as long as fourpenny kites. Everybody saw as something was up, an’ some said the hairyplane man was killed for certain, an’ what a pity it didn’t happen where we could all see it. And then Mr. Taff-Pilcher got on a chair an’ called all the crowd round him an’ made another speech. He said it grieved him to the ‘art to have to announce that he had just received a telegram from Mr. Walker, saying that his sky-hooks had give way and jammed his wind-sifter, so that he wouldn’t be able to get as far as Padfield. Nothin’ as could have occurred could ha’ grieved him wuss, unless it was that a accident might ha’ happened to Mr. Walker instead of his sky-hooks an’ his wind-sifter. He need hardly say how ‘art-broke he was to see us all disappointed, an’ he hoped, at any rate, we wouldn’t blame him as was so devoted to our interests. He could only say that after his first pang o’ grief at seein’ us disappointed his next feelin’ was one of ‘artfelt thankfulness that Mr. Walker was safe, an’ he was sure them was our sentiments’ too.

“You never heard sich a shindy o’ cheerin’ as we give Mr. Taff-Pilcher arter that speech; we cheered him louder than we’d ha’ cheered the hairyplane itself if it had ha’ come, an’ he was a greater favourite than ever–twice as popular as if it had come. But them Codham chaps was nasty about it, o’ course. Sniffed an’ snarled an’ sneered, they did, an’ said there was no flies on oad Taff-Pilcher, an’ a sixpenny telegram came a mighty deal cheaper than a hairyplane. Fair sickenin’ to hear ‘em, it was; you wouldn’t believe people could be so ungrateful.

“It made the Padfield chaps pretty wild, an’ they went at the tug-o’-war that savage that they pulled the Codham team over right bang-off the first pull, as soon as Mr. Taff-Pilcher give the word, an’ the crowd cheered louder ‘n ever. Then they crossed over for the second pull, but this time the Codham chaps was all ready, an’ wouldn’t be done on the rush. It was a long pull an’ a tough pull, and it went agin Padfield. That made things ekal, an’ the crowd went half frantic when they crossed again for the last pull. This time Mr. Taff-Pilcher quite see what a lot depended on him, and he started ‘em very slow and impartial. He had all sorts of a long trouble in gettin’ the red rag on the rope ‘zactly over the mark, an’ then when he give warnin’ to take a strain it got off again an’ he had to begin afresh; an’ so on for a minute or two, till at last Jim Bartrip, the biggest chap on the Codham side, he slipped up, an’ ‘Pull!‘ bawls Mr. Taff-Pilcher at the top of his voice, jist in the nick o’ time. Lor’! Them Codham chaps jist come over hand over hand like a row o’ sacks, Jim Bartrip a-blowin’ an’ a-cussin’ an’ a-scufflin’ to get his feet under him, an’ everybody on the field howlin’ an’ dancin’ like mad.

“Well, there’s no satisfyin’ some people. The row them Codham chaps made over losin’ that tug-o’-war was positive disgraceful, an’ there might almost ha’ been a fight if most o’ the crowd hadn’t been Padfield people. Codham chaps was allus bad losers. They even tried booin’ Mr. Taff-Pilcher when he give away the prizes, but that only made the cheers twice as loud, an’ at last he was chaired off the field an’ all the way to the station. It was the greatest day ever he had in Padfield, an’ if the election had been the day after he’d ha’ been our member now.

“Well, the prize for the tug-o’-war was a side o’ bacon, an’ the team was eight. Bedlow, the landlord here, was one o’ the team, an’ late in the evenin’ they brought the side o’ bacon here to divide; and with that came trouble. There hadn’t never been a side o’ bacon given for a prize before, an’ it never struck nobody there’d be any difficulty in cuttin’ it in eight parts–an’ p’r’aps there mightn’t ha’ been if they hadn’t called in Huxon, the butcher, to advise. But Huxon was that professional an’ scientific there was no doin’ anythink with him. It was agin all the rules, it seemed, to divide a side o’ bacon into eight parts. You could divide it into three parts, or five parts, or nine or thirteen; but anythin’ else ‘ud be unconstitootional. An’ what was more, all them parts was different sizes. It was no good argufyin’ with Huxon; no amount o’ argufyin’ ‘ud bring Huxon to go agin the principles of a lifetime.

“‘There’s fore-end, middle, an’ gammon,’ he said, obstinit as pig itself. ‘Or there’s hock, an’ collar, an’ two streakies, an’ back, an’ ribs, an’ loin, an’ flank, an’ gammon, an’ corner. An’ you can cut your collar in two, an’ your loin in two, an’ your back in two, an’ your streaky in three. An’ that’s the way pigs is made, an’ pigs is bacon, an’ you can’t cut ‘em different, whichever way you go, nohow an’ notsoever!’

“Not only was there no argufyin’ with Huxon, but he got that excited what between sports day an’ laws o’ the trade an’ wettin’ the occasion that presently there was no shuttin’ him up, and at closin’ time he had to be shoved out forcible, an’ went off up the street, shoutin’, ‘There’s hock, an’ collar, an’ two streakies, an’ back, an’ ribs, an’ loin, an’ flank, an’ gammon,’ an’ all the rest of it at the top of his voice.

“So Bedlow shut the door an’ told the rest o’ the team they was there as his friends till the pint was settled, for the sake o’ the licence. And they put the side o’ bacon on the table an’ sat all round it for about two hours, plannin’ out the cuts, till it turned out as nobody particular wanted the hock an’ the whole team was in competition for the gammon. That made a wuss confusion than ever, an’ in the middle of it there came a loud tap at the winder, an’ everybody jumped. Bedlow jumped highest, ‘cos of his licence though he made sure the p’liceman must be in bed long ago. But when they shoved up the winder there was a chap standin’ outside all muffled up in jerseys an’ sweaters an’ sich with his head all tied up in ear-flaps an’ what-not, an’ a big pair o’ glass goggles all over his face.

“‘Come and hold my hairyplane,’ says the chap. ‘It’s in a field along here, an’ the wind’s gettin’ up!’

“‘What?’ says Bedlow.

“‘Didn’t expect me, I s’pose,’ says the chap. ‘I’m late, that’s all. I ought to ha’ been here this afternoon, but my sky-hooks give way and jammed my wind-sifter. My name’s Walker.’

“Them eight big chaps was that amazed you might ha’ blown ‘em all over with a pea-shooter.

“‘We–we thought you wasn’t comin’,’ says Bedlow.

“‘Oh, I allus turn up, sooner or later,’ says the chap. ‘I don’t stop as long as I can get my engine to go an’ my sky-hooks to hold firm. The repairs kep’ me hours an’ hours. But can you chaps pull–hard?’

“‘Rather!’ says Bedlow.

“‘Quite sure?’ says Mr. Walker.

“‘Well, we won the tug-o’-war today, anyhow,’ says Bedlow.

“‘That’s your sort,’ says Mr. Walker. Come along quick, ‘fore the hairyplane gets damaged. I’ve got my mechanic with me, but it wants all the lot of us to hold it down safe.’

“They all went bundlin’ out in the dark, an’ he took ‘em along the road to Wicks’s little three-cornered meddy with the oad stack in it Half-way they met another muffled-up chap with goggles.

“‘Here, Jones,’ says Mr. Walker, ‘you ought to ha’ kep’ with the hairyplane. Is she all right?’

“‘Yes, sir,’ says the man–‘all right as yet. But she lifts awful with every puff o’ wind, an’ she’ll want a lot o’ holding.’

“‘All right, Jones, we’ll hold it,’ says Mr. Walker. ‘Look here, four of you come with me, and the other four go with my man round to the other side o’ the field.’

“So they split out, an’ each party went along the outside o’ the hedge, till Mr. Walker gropes about an’ finds a rope.

“‘Here y’are,’ he says. ‘Stop on this side o’ the hedge an’ catch hold o’ this. Get behind each other an’ take a good hold–you’ll have some hard pullin’ presently. But don’t pull till I give you the word. I’m goin’ over with my man to see the tackle’s all right.’

“With that he climbs over the hedge an’ disappears in the dark. Presently they could hear him a-shoutin’ to his man an’ callin’ out orders, an’ after a little he comes back to his side o’ the hedge an’ calls out, ‘All ready, Jones?’

“‘Yes, sir,’ sings out Jones, over at the other side o’ the field. ‘I’ll cast off as soon as they pull.’

“‘Right,’ says Mr. Walker. ‘All you chaps ready, both sides? Pull!’

“With that they pulled like all possessed, Mr. Walker steadying the rope on his side o’ the hedge an’ encouragin’ ‘em.

“‘That’s right,’ he said, ‘keep a steady draw on her. She’s pullin’ now, ain’t she?’

“‘Aye, that she is,’ says Bedlow, hangin’ on for all he was worth. ‘I shouldn’t ha’ thought there could be sich a wind a night like this.’

“‘Oh, any sort of a little breeze is terrific, once it gets under a hairyplane,’ says Mr. Walker. ‘All right, steady; don’t jerk. Just a steady, even pull’s what’s wanted. This hairyplane o’ mine’s worth thousands, and I wouldn’t have it damaged on any account. Hang on tight; the insurance company pays big salvage for a job like this.’

“‘H-how much?’ says Bedlow, gaspin’ an’ pullin’.

“‘Seven an’ three-quarters per cent.,’ says Mr. Walker. ‘You can work it all out while you’re pullin’. There’s eight of you. Divide seven an’ three quarters by eight, an’ that’ll give you each man’s percentage. Steady on! Keep pullin’, an’ don’t slide into the ditch. You’re doin’ splendid. I don’t wonder you won the tug-o’-war today. I’d like to have a team o’ chaps like you pullin’ for me always.’

“It was past one in the mornin’ when they came out, an’ Mr. Walker kep’ on encouragin’ em’ an’ workin’ out percentages till it was very near two and they was half dead. Then he said:–

“‘Keep steady, and I’ll go and see how she’s gettin’ on. P’r’aps me an’ my man can hang the sky-hooks on the safety-valve an’ give you a bit of a rest. But don’t stop pullin’ till I tell you.’

“He called out to Jones an’ went off to meet him. Bedlow and the other chaps hung on somehow an’ waited, but they heard no more of him. After a bit Bedlow sings out:–

“‘Mr. Walker! Mr. Walker!’

“Not a word of answer did they get, but presently the voice of Sam Gill from the other side o’ the field callin’ out most pathetic:–

“‘Mr. Walker! We can’t stick this here much longer!’

“And Bedlow cries out again:–

“‘Mr. Walker! Flesh an’ blood can’t stand this no more. Is them sky-hooks hung on the safety-valve? Can’t we take a rest?’

“Then they heard Sam Gill again complainin’ most molloncholy in the distance, an’ presently says Bill Wood behind Bedlow:–

“‘This here hairyplane’s easin’ up. It don’t pull half as hard as it did. P’r’aps the sky-hooks is hung on the safety-valve.’

“And once more they heard Sam Gill across the field:–

“‘D’ye hear, Mr. Walker? We’re a-goin’ to let go!’

“With that the rope went all slack, an’ they stood up and shouted across the hedge to Sam Gill. It was just beginning to get a little grey in the sky, and things wasn’t so pitch dark.

“‘I can’t see no hairyplane,’ says Bill Wood.

“‘I can’t see nothin’ at all,’ says Bedlow.

“An’ they couldn’t. ‘Cause why? There was nothin’ there. There was no hairyplane an’ no Mr. Walker, an’ no Jones. Nothing but a precious long rope with half o’ the Padfield tug-o’-war team at each end of it!

“They got over the hedge an’ met in the middle o’ the field, and then they all got a presentiment at once.

“‘Them Codham chaps!’ says four of ‘em, and ‘That side o’ bacon!’ says all eight. And with that they runned headlong. But it were too late. There was the gas still aburnin’ an’ the winder an’ the door open, but the side o’ bacon were gone, an’ nobody in Padfield ever see it again. And it was only when he went to draw some water in the mornin’ that Bedlow found out that that there precious long rope they’d all a-been pullin’ on was the rope out of his own well.

“There’s been more’n one fight since then when Codham chaps ha’ called out: ‘Mr. Walker! Can’t we have a rest?’ on market-days or what-not. An’ there was one in the bar o’ this very house when Jim Bartrip, the big chap as slipped in the Codham team, came in an’ told Huxon that if he didn’t know how to divide a side o’ bacon into eight fair parts he could teach him, havin’ seen it done quite lately.

“‘How?’ asks Huxon, very disputatious.

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