This little tale is written in the style of the P.-C. Lee stories published in 1909. Indeed, two of the characters in the present narrative—Albert Sigee and Police-Constable Sankey—made their first appearance in the P.-C. Lee stories, a complete collection of which is available in this library. —RG
MR. ALBERT SIGEE had a tale of calamity when I called at the little bird-and-beast shop in West Kensington. It was the tale of a careless and youthful assistant who, in the urgency of his desire for recreation, left the shop without securely fastening the door of the cage in which resided the big, fluffy-tailed Persian cat.
The cat waked in the middle of the night, to find itself free in the midst of a small battalion of caged birds, and doubtless wondered in its amazed mind if this indeed was heaven.
"Two thrushes, three canaries, four teeny, tiny little mice, an' a gol'fish," said Mr Sigee, bitterly, "not to speak of damage to cages an' a fish-bowl broken."
"Cats," he continued, "is almost as bad as monkeys. I used to do a line of monkeys once—little 'uns, with now an' then a big 'un if I could get him cheap. At one time I had about a dozen black monkeys from the Wes' Coast, nice little ol' gentlemen they was, with white side whiskers, as solemn as church wardens. I had one grey monkey an' a baby chimpanzee. The grey one was the mischievousiest, wickedest, artfulest bloke you could imagine, and the chimp was a quiet, slow little feller, with a face like an ol' man.
"I tied the grey 'un up where he couldn't get at the black 'uns, because he used to smack 'em; but when I wasn't looking he used to sneak out of his box an' get hold of their chains an' draw 'em gradually to him until he could reach 'em; then biff! he'd welt 'em one, and nip back to his box. One day he come down, an' what with lookin' round to see if I was coming an' what with trying to keep out of sight, he got hol' of the wrong chain an' pulled in the baby chimpanzee."
"The chimp wondered what was up, but he didn't sort of realize the grey 'un's game till he reached him a back-hander. Then before the grey 'un could get away, the chimp hit him. He only hit him once, but it seemed to meet the case, in a manner of speaking. To be exact, he knocked the grey 'un about four feet orf, an' he lay there calling for brandy in monkey language till me an' my boy picked him up. The chimp wasn't a bit upset, only a little annoyed, but the grey 'un was weeks before he crawled aroun' again.
" 'Arf the trouble that ever come to my family come from ketchin' hold of the wrong chain an' pulling the wrong blooming monkey. There's a cousin of mine named Elf, whose 'obby is being in two places at once. S'ppose you wake up one morning an' see a feller gettin' out of the window with the family plate under his arm. Well, he gets away, an' you call in the p'lice and describes him—red hair, green eyes, an' a little twist in his nose.
" 'That's young Elf,' ses the p'lice; an' they go away an' fin' Elf innercently nursing the baby at Somers Town.
" 'Halloa, Elfi,' ses the nark. 'I want you.'
" 'Whaffor?' ses Elf, very astonished.
" 'For that little job at Notting Hill,' ses the p'lice, an' they nabs Elf an' runs him down to the little station at Stibbington Street, puts Elf in the little dock, an' Elf gives 'em a bit of his mind.
" 'You've made an errow this time, Mr Carr,' he ses, in a very injured voice. 'I didn't stir out of my house excep' once last night, an' the time this burglary was committed I was takin' in the milk at the end of the court.'
"Next day in front of the beak you go into the box an' swear that was the chap you saw gettin' out of the winder, but to your bloomin' astonishment Elf perduces six independent witnesses—chaps you know can't have been got at—to swear they saw him on that mornin'—men like respectable milkmen an' coffee-stall keepers an' road cleaners—an' Elf gets off.
"Lots of times Elf was pulled for one job or another. But they could never prove anythin'. He was always somewhere else when it occurred, an' always had half-a-dozen chaps to prove it. Why, once he perduced a p'liceman to swear that when the lady lost her watch he was at St Pancras Station carryin' a gent's bag.
"It used to make the magistrate scratch his head a bit; but, as he said, 'The Law's the Law, an' a man can't be in two places at once, so you're discharged.'
"What made the slops so awful wild was the Highgate job.
"Somebody got into a post-office an' cleared out the safe. The only person wot saw the thief was a chap who lived opposite and happened to be lookin' out of his winder when the burglar walked out of the post-office as bold as brass.
" 'Can you describe 'im?' says the p'lice.
" 'Yes,' ses the feller, 'He's a little red-haired chap with a twist in his nose.'
" 'That's young Elf,' ses the p'lice, 'Now we've got 'im!'
"So down to Somers Town they goes an' pinches Elf.
"The astoundin' and astonishin' thing was that when Elf was put inside the little dock to be charged, the sergeant on duty ses:—'Halloa' he ses, quite amazed. 'What again—two days runnin'?' he ses.
" 'Wot d'ye mean by two days runnin'?' ses the tec that pinched Elf.
" 'Why', ses the sergeant, 'he was run in last night for drunk and disorderly, an' was here all night!'
"That staggered the 'tec,
" 'Here all night?' he ses, bewildered'
" 'Yes,' ses the sergeant.
"So young Elf gets off.
"It was a rare puzzle for the p'lice, an' they reported it to Scotland Yard, an' down comes one of their bright young men—a la-di-da young fellow with an eyeglass.
"He went and saw Elf, an' Elf told me all about him next day.
" 'If that's the sort of 'tecs they're getting at the Yard,' he ses, 'my perfession will be a bit overcrowded.'
" 'Why?' I ses.
" 'Why,' ses Elf in disgust—'why, because that chap don't know enough to come in out of the rain; he can't detectivise to keep himself warm. You ought to have heard the silly questions he arst me; where I was born, if I ever went to Church, where was I christened, an' things like that.'
"I had my doubts about this new slop, an' I sent word round to Elf to go slow; but, bless you, Elf won't be told anything, an' the first I knew—from my brother—was that Elf had got another job fixed up for a house in Camberwell where there was two old ladies an' a lot of plate and stuff.
"Nobody saw Elf do the job, an' he got away with about half a hundredweight of silver; but there was certain signs bout it that made it look like Elf's work; so 'long come a couple of p'licemen in plain clothes, an' they pulled Elf in.
" 'Me!' ses Elf, when they got him to the station, 'Why, I can prove that I was at—'
"The young la-di-da was there with his eyeglass on, 'an he laughed.
" 'We know all about where you were,' he ses, 'an' we know where your brother Peter was.'
"An' with that they brought Elf's brother up from the cells. A living image of Elf is Peter—same coloured hair, same twisty nose, an' same green eyes, an' dressed the same,
" 'I've been lookin' you up,' ses the young 'tec. 'Born in St Giles, one of twins. I've been to the Board-school you was at, an' seen the headmaster. He remembered the twins, as like as two peas. So when I got wind of the burglary at Camberwell I went to look for the alibi in Somers Town, an' there he is.'
"So young Elf got put away for three year, an' Peter, the alibi, got eighteen months as 'accessory after.'
"Which proves what I say: that trouble comes from pulling the wrong chain. Young Elf thought he'd got a mug at the end of his chain, an' it wasn't.
"You can never depend on slops, an' it's no good at all going by what they look like. There's one that comes in here to buy chickweed an' groun'sell for his dicky-bird, a sorf-looking chap that's a bach'lor, an' spends his spare time knittin' stockin's an' feedin' the canary. A pleasant-spoken man with a friendly word for ev'rybody, an' orful kind to kids.
"He's on this beat sometimes, an' what with the 'heads' and the 'lads' that live round about here, it's not much of a catch—as a beat. They used to treat him a bit sorcy when he fust come—he's a heavy, slow customer—and he was always as perlite an' affable as you please. P.-C. Sankey his name was, an' from what I hear he was converted years an' years ago, an' the Sundays he's off duty he has a little class at one of the ragged schools. Of course, the 'lads' got to know that, an' used to walk past him whistlin' hymns an' pertend to hold open-air meetin's in the street.
" 'Don't take any notice of 'em, Mr Sankey,' I ses to him one day, when he was standing outside my shop and a few of the bright boys were singin' 'Onwards Christian Soldiers' at the corner of the street.
" 'I don't,' he ses, cheerful; 'the Lord has given me a stout head and an understanding heart (I Kings iii 9) an' the Government's give me a good stick, 'a whip for a horse, a bridle for as ass, an' a rod for the backs of fools' (Prov. xxvi, 3),' he ses.
" 'P'r'aps if you spoke to 'em,' I ses.
" 'Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his conceits (that's Proverbs too),' he ses; 'an' one of these days I'll give these young fellers a beltin' they won't forget.'
"One Saturday night there was a bit of a disturbance round the corner. There's a little street of houses where nobody seems to pay any rent. A feller named Clinker lives round there; he's a proper terrer—a great big chap in the book-makin' line. From what my father ses he's on the 'cross' too, but not in a very nice line of business. Well, Clinker was giving his wife the usual Saturday night thrashin', an' overdid it a bit. Usually she takes it quiet, but this night she screamed blue murder, an' a crowd got round the house. Clinker came down to the door in his shirt-sleeves an' wanted to know what the crowd was doin' round his house, an' they began to melt away—quick. Just then one of the boys ses:
" 'Here comes Holy Joe!' meanin' P.-C. Sankey.
" 'He's knocking his wife about somethin' shameful,' ses an old woman.
" 'An' I'll knock her about just as much as I like!' roars Clinker. 'She's my wife, an' I've got marriage lines to prove it.'
" 'Go indoors, an' behave like a man,' ses the slop. Clinker went indoors, an' whilst the p'liceman was tellin' the crowd to move on the woman inside began shriekin' again, an' bimeby down comes Clinker to the door an' stood on the doorstep.
" 'Hear her?' he ses. 'Hear her, Mr Sankey-an'-Moody? An Englishman's house is his castle,' he ses, 'an' I can do what I like in my own house without bein' interfered with by a flat-footed slop.'
"P.-C. Sankey is a slow chap, an' does everything at a crawl, so to speak; but somehow, before Clinker knew what'd happened, the p'liceman had him,
" 'Leggo!' ses Clinker, 'or I'll burst you.' An' he punched the slop in the chest.
"But, bless you, you can't hurt a slop, and P.-C. Sankey had his stick out of his pocket before you could say 'knife.'
" 'You're not fightin' women now,' he ses an' gave Clinker one that he'll remember for years.
" 'Not women an' children now. Clinker,' he ses, an' gave him another.
" 'I'll go quietly!' gasps Clinker.
" 'You'd better,' ses the slop, 'or I might forget me Christianity an' beat your bloomin' head orf,' he ses.