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Title: H2, etc.
Author: A. J. Alan
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609271.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

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Title: H2, etc.
Author: A. J. Alan





I've got a cat. She's a black Persian--a shocking great beast--and she
weighs over fifteen pounds on our kitchen scales, but she's awfully
delicate. If she stays out too long in the cold she gets bronchitis and
has to be sat up with. So, unless it's really hot weather, we reckon to
get her indoors by eleven o'clock.

Well, one night not long ago--it was after eleven--in fact ten past
twelve, and we were sort of thinking of bed, when my wife said, "I
wonder where Tibbins is." Tibbins is, of course, our cat, and at that
time in the evening she ought, according to her schedule, to have been
lying in a heap with the dogs in front of the fire.

However, the dogs were there but she wasn't. No one remembered having
seen her last, so I made a tour of her usual haunts. She wasn't in her
basket by the coke stove down in the scullery, where she generally takes
her morning nap, neither was she in hell. Hell is a place at the top of
the house where the hot-water cistern is. She often retires there in the
afternoon. At all events, I drew a complete blank, so we were finally
forced to the conclusion that she wasn't in the house at all, and my
wife said, "I'm afraid you'll have to go out and meow for her." So I
went out and meowed.

I searched our garden, but as she wasn't there I went through the main
garden. Perhaps I'd better explain that all the houses in our road have
their own gardens at the back, and these have gates into what we call
the main garden. This runs right along behind them, and there's one of
these main gardens to every eight houses or so, but they are divided off
from each other by the side-turnings which run into our road.

I'm afraid it sounds rather complicated. However, our particular main
garden is about a hundred yards long and forty yards wide, and it's
quite big enough for a black cat to hide in, as I found. I walked round
every blooming bush in it and said, "R-r-r-wow," or words to that
effect, in what I considered to be an ingratiating manner, but without
any success, and I was just going to chuck my hand in when I saw our
Tibbins sitting on the end wall. That is to say, the wall which divides
the garden from the road.

She let me sidle quite close, but just as I was going to grab her she
jumped down on the far side (the road side). Then she skipped across the
road and squeezed through the bars of the gate into the next main
garden. I said a few things and climbed over the wall and followed her.
Of course, I couldn't squeeze between the bars of the gate so I had to
scramble over the top. She very kindly waited while I did this and then
moved off just ahead. She frolicked about with her tail in the air, as
who should say, "Isn't it fun our going for a walk like this in the
moonlight?" and I told her what fun I thought it was. I'd already torn
my dinner-jacket getting over the gate, but it's no good being sarcastic
to a cat.

She continued to lead me up the garden, darting from tree to tree, until
we got half-way along, and then she turned off to the right and went
into one of the private gardens. Luckily the gate was open and I didn't
have to climb over it. The house it belonged to was all in darkness, of
course, but when I got to the middle of the lawn the lights suddenly
came on in one of the ground-floor rooms. It had a French window and the
blinds were up.

Well, this startled the cat and she let me pick her up, so that was all
right, but just as I was turning to come away a little old man appeared
at the window. He was so close that he couldn't have helped seeing me if
I'd moved, so I stood quite still and held Tibbins up against my shirt
front. He was a very old man indeed, rather inclined to dodder, and he
had on a dark blue dressing-gown. He'd got something white hanging over
his arm, I couldn't quite see what it was, but it looked like a small
towel.

Anyway, he peered out for a bit and then he drew the bolts and pushed
the window open. He came and stood right outside, and I thought, "He's
bound to see me now," but he didn't seem to. After a minute he wandered
back into the room again, and sat down and began writing a letter.

By the way, this wasn't exactly a sitting-room. It had more the
appearance of a workroom. I mean, there was a large deal table which
looked as if it was used for cutting out on, a gas-ring for heating
irons, and a sewing-machine, and things like that.

I didn't wait to notice any more. While the old gentleman was busy, me
and my cat left.

When I got home my wife had gone to bed. I told her about my adventures
and what I'd seen and so on, and she said, "I wonder which house it
was." I couldn't tell the number from the back, naturally, but I made a
rough guess whereabouts it came and she said, "Oh, then, I think I know
the old man. He's usually out in a bath-chair. He doesn't look quite
right in his head and he's got asthma or something." And I said, "Well,
paddling about the garden won't do his asthma any good. What had we
better do?"

It was no use trying to telephone because we didn't know the name of the
people or their number in the road, so there was obviously nothing for
it but to go back and see what he was up to and warn his family that
he'd got loose.

You mustn't think that we spend our lives doing good deeds, but we both
came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be nice to go past the house in
a week's time and find a hearse at the door.

At any rate, at perfectly enormous self-sacrifice I went back, over all
the walls and gates and what not, and once again fetched up on this
precious lawn. The windows had been pulled to but the light was on and I
could see in.

The old josser was still sitting at the table, only I couldn't see his
face. It was rather funny, he'd got himself up rather like a member of
the Ku Klux Klan. You know, you've seen pictures of them. They wear a
sort of tall white head-dress going up to a point with two round holes
cut out for the eyes. But what he'd got on wasn't a proper head-dress,
it was a pillow-case, and there weren't any holes for the eyes.

I wondered for a moment what he was playing at until I noticed that he'd
taken the tube off the gas-ring and shoved it up into the pillow-case.
He'd buttoned his dressing-gown round it to keep it from falling out.

I said, "Oh, that's it, is it?" and pulled the windows open (they
weren't fastened), and I went in and lugged the pillowcase off his head
and turned off the gas.

He wasn't at all dead, but he'd begun to turn grey--well, a silvery
colour, and I wouldn't have given much for him in another ten minutes.

The only treatment that occurred to me was fresh air in large
quantities, so I rolled him up in the hearthrug and laid him down
outside the window. There was a note on the table addressed to the
coroner, and I wondered whether I ought to do anything with it, but
decided not to.

Next I went through to the bottom of the stairs and set about rousing
the house, and you've no idea what a job that was. If I hadn't wanted
them to hear me they'd have been yelling blue murder out of the top
windows for the last ten minutes. As it was, I called out loudly several
times without any one taking the slightest notice.

I was even looking round for the dinner-gong when a door opened
somewhere upstairs and I heard whispering going on. It went on for such
a long time that I got annoyed. I said, "Will some one please come down
_at once_ and not keep me standing here all night." That had an effect.
Two middle-aged females appeared. Singularly nasty looking they were,
and I loathe boudoir caps at the best of times. They were evidently
sisters; I explained who I was and told them that an old gentleman had
just done his very best to make away with himself. They said, "Oh dear,
oh dear, that's father. How exasperating of him. He's always doing it."
And I said, "What are you talking about, 'always doing it,' it's not a
thing people usually make a hobby of." (We were out by the window by
this time inspecting the culprit.) And they said, "Well, you see, as a
matter of fact, it's like this. Father is very old and he suffers from
melancholia. Every now and then, when he gets an especially bad fit, he
tries to commit suicide like this. We can't stop him because he simply
won't be locked in his room. First of all he creeps down here and writes
a letter to the coroner" (they'd apparently got several of them), "and
then he goes through this performance with the pillow-case and turns on
the gas." I said, "Yes, that's all very well, but why doesn't it work? I
mean it ought to kill him every time." And they said, "Oh, that's all
right, we've thought of that. We always turn the gas off at the main
before we go to bed." They had the nerve to tell me that once or twice
they'd actually watched through the keyhole and seen it all happen.
According to them there was just enough gas left in the pipe to send him
off to sleep, and at three or four in the morning he'd wake up and crawl
back to bed and forget all about it.

Well, it isn't often that I can't think of anything adequate to say, but
I couldn't then. I've never in all my life been so angry with two women
at once. It was no use calling them the names I wanted to call them
because they wouldn't have understood. I did remark on their
unsuitability to be in charge of any one, and I also threatened to run
them in, though I don't quite know what for, but it must be illegal to
hazard one's parents like that. Anyway, they got rather haughty. They
said there was no need for any one to interfere because they'd already
made arrangements to send their father to a home in Kent. I said, "Mind
you do," and the subject rather dropped. It was a little difficult to
know what to do for the best, because they wouldn't hear of sending for
a doctor, and I couldn't make them--you can't, you know. Every moment I
was expecting them to disapprove my dictatorial attitude. The patient
was recovering, but he still looked as if he wanted fresh air, so we
decided to give him a few minutes more.

At the same time it wouldn't have done to let him catch his death of
cold, so we covered him up with some more rugs.

After that, by way of something to do, I put the india-rubber tube back
on to the gas-ring with the idea of boiling some water for hot bottles.
When I'd fixed it I just turned the tap on and off to see if it was
working, quite forgetting that there oughtn't to be any gas. But there
was--quite a lot. It came out with no end of a hiss; and I said, "Oy,
you seem to get a better pressure in this house with the main turned off
than we do with it on," and I turned the tap on again. You could hear it
all over the room. Upon which one of the ugly sisters said to the other,
"Agatha, are you sure you turned it off last thing?" And Agatha
naturally was absolutely certain. She distinctly remembered doing it.
She began to tell us all her reasons for remembering it so distinctly,
but I said, "Why argue when we can go and look?" So we went and looked,
in the pantry, and, of course, there it was--full on.



THE END





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