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

This eBook was produced by: Malcolm Farmer

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H2, etc.


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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