That Brute Simmons by Arthur Morrison
Simmons's infamous behaviour toward his wife is still matter for profound
wonderment among the neighbours. The other women had all along regarded
him as a model husband, and certainly Mrs. Simmons was a most
conscientious wife. She toiled and slaved for that man, as any woman in
the whole street would have maintained, far more than any husband had a
right to expect. And now this was what she got for it. Perhaps he had
suddenly gone mad.
Before she married Simmons, Mrs. Simmons had been the widowed Mrs. Ford.
Ford had got a berth as donkeyman on a tramp steamer, and that steamer had
gone down with all hands off the Cape: a judgment, the widow woman feared,
for long years of contumacy, which had culminated in the wickedness of
taking to the sea, and taking to it as a donkeyman—an immeasurable
fall for a capable engine-fitter. Twelve years as Mrs. Ford had left her
still childless, and childless she remained as Mrs. Simmons.
As for Simmons, he, it was held, was fortunate in that capable wife. He
was a moderately good carpenter and joiner, but no man of the world, and
he wanted one. Nobody could tell what might not have happened to Tommy
Simmons if there had been no Mrs. Simmons to take care of him. He was a
meek and quiet man, with a boyish face and sparse, limp whiskers. He had
no vices (even his pipe departed him after his marriage), and Mrs. Simmons
had ingrafted on him divers exotic virtues. He went solemnly to chapel
every Sunday, under a tall hat, and put a penny—one returned to him
for the purpose out of his week's wages—in the plate. Then, Mrs.
Simmons overseeing, he took off his best clothes, and brushed them with
solicitude and pains. On Saturday afternoons he cleaned the knives, the
forks, the boots, the kettles, and the windows, patiently and
conscientiously; on Tuesday evenings he took the clothes to the mangling;
and on Saturday nights he attended Mrs. Simmons in her marketing, to carry
Mrs. Simmons's own virtues were native and numerous. She was a wonderful
manager. Every penny of Tommy's thirty-six or thirty-eight shillings a
week was bestowed to the greatest advantage, and Tommy never ventured to
guess how much of it she saved. Her cleanliness in housewifery was
distracting to behold. She met Simmons at the front door whenever he came
home, and then and there he changed his boots for slippers, balancing
himself painfully on alternate feet on the cold flags. This was because
she scrubbed the passage and door-step turn about with the wife of the
downstairs family, and because the stair-carpet was her own. She
vigilantly supervised her husband all through the process of "cleaning
himself" after work, so as to come between her walls and the possibility
of random splashes; and if, in spite of her diligence, a spot remained to
tell the tale, she was at pains to impress the fact on Simmons's memory,
and to set forth at length all the circumstances of his ungrateful
selfishness. In the beginning she had always escorted him to the
ready-made clothes shop, and had selected and paid for his clothes, for
the reason that men are such perfect fools, and shopkeepers do as they
like with them. But she presently improved on that. She found a man
selling cheap remnants at a street-corner, and straightway she conceived
the idea of making Simmons's clothes herself. Decision was one of her
virtues, and a suit of uproarious check tweeds was begun that afternoon
from the pattern furnished by an old one. More: it was finished by Sunday,
when Simmons, overcome by astonishment at the feat, was endued in it, and
pushed off to chapel ere he could recover his senses. The things were not
altogether comfortable, he found: the trousers hung tight against his
shins, but hung loose behind his heels; and when he sat, it was on a
wilderness of hard folds and seams. Also, his waistcoat collar tickled his
nape, but his coat collar went straining across from shoulder to shoulder;
while the main garment bagged generously below his waist. Use made a habit
of his discomfort, but it never reconciled him to the chaff of his
shopmates; for, as Mrs. Simmons elaborated successive suits, each one
modelled on the last, the primal accidents of her design developed into
principles, and grew even bolder and more hideously pronounced. It was
vain for Simmons to hint—as hint he did—that he shouldn't like
her to overwork herself, tailoring being bad for the eyes, and there was a
new tailor's in the Mile End Road, very cheap, where . . . "Ho yus," she
retorted, "you're very consid'rit I dessay sittin' there actin' a livin'
lie before your own wife Thomas Simmons as though I couldn't see through
you like a book a lot you care about overworkin' me as long as your
turn's served throwin' away money like dirt in the street on a lot o'
swindlin' tailors an' me workin' and' slavin' 'ere to save a 'a'penny an'
this is my return for it any one 'ud think you could pick up money in the
'orse-road an' I b'lieve I'd be thought better of if I laid in bed all day
like some would that I do." So that Thomas Simmons avoided the subject,
nor even murmured when she resolved to cut his hair.
So his placid fortune endured for years. Then there came a golden summer
evening when Mrs. Simmons betook herself with a basket to do some small
shopping, and Simmons was left at home. He washed and put away the
tea-things, and then he fell to meditating on a new pair of trousers,
finished that day, and hanging behind the parlour door. There they hung,
in all their decent innocence of shape in the seat, and they were shorter
of leg, longer of waist, and wilder of pattern than he had ever worn
before. And as he looked on them the small devil of Original Sin awoke and
clamoured in his breast. He was ashamed of it, of course, for well he knew
the gratitude he owed his wife for those same trousers, among other
blessings. Still, there the small devil was, and the small devil was
fertile in base suggestions, and could not be kept from hinting at the new
crop of workshop gibes that would spring at Tommy's first public
appearance in such things.
"Pitch 'em in the dust-bin!" said the small devil at last. "It's all
they're fit for."
Simmons turned away in sheer horror of his wicked self, and for a moment
thought of washing the tea-things over again by way of discipline. Then he
made for the back room, but saw from the landing that the front door was
standing open, probably the fault of the child downstairs. Now a front
door standing open was a thing that Mrs. Simmons would not abide:
it looked low. So Simmons went down, that she might not be wroth with him
for the thing when she came back; and, as he shut the door, he looked
forth into the street.
A man was loitering on the pavement, and prying curiously about the door.
His face was tanned, his hands were deep in the pockets of his unbraced
blue trousers, and well back on his head he wore the high-crowned peaked
cap, topped with a knob of wool, which is affected by Jack ashore about
the docks. He lurched a step nearer to the door, and "Mrs. Ford ain't in,
is she?" he said.
Simmons stared at him for a matter of five seconds, and then said, "Eh?"
"Mrs. Ford as was, then—Simmons now, ain't it?"
He said this with a furtive leer that Simmons neither liked nor
"No," said Simmons; "she ain't in now."
"You ain't her 'usband, are ye?"
The man took his pipe from his mouth and grinned silently and long.
"Blimy," he said at length, "you look like the sort o' bloke she'd like,"
and with that he grinned again. Then, seeing that Simmons made ready to
shut the door, he put a foot on the sill and a hand against the panel.
"Don't be in a 'hurry, matey," he said; "I come 'ere t' 'ave a little talk
with you, man to man, d' ye see?" And he frowned fiercely.
Tommy Simmons felt uncomfortable, but the door would not shut, so he
parleyed. "Wotjer want?" he asked, "I dunno you."
"Then, if you'll excuse the liberty, I'll interdooce meself, in a manner
of speaking." He touched his cap with a bob of mock humility. "I'm Bob
Ford," he said, "come back out o' kingdom come so to say. Me as went down
with the Mooltan—safe dead five year gone. I come to see my
During this speech Thomas Simmons's jaw was dropping lower and lower. At
the end of it he poked his fingers up through his hair, looked down at the
mat, then up at the fanlight, then out into the street, then hard at his
visitor. But he found nothing to say.
"Come to see my wife," the man repeated. "So now we can talk it over—as
man to man."
Simmons slowly shut his mouth, and led the way upstairs mechanically, his
fingers still in his hair. A sense of the state of affairs sank gradually
into his brain, and the small devil woke again. Suppose this man was
Ford? Suppose he did claim his wife? Would it be a knock-down blow?
Would it hit him out?—or not? He thought of the trousers, the
tea-things, the mangling, the knives, the kettles, and the windows; and he
thought of them in the way of a backslider.
On the landing Ford clutched at his arm, and asked in a hoarse whisper,
"'Ow long 'fore she's back?"
"'Bout an hour, I expect," Simmons replied, having first of all repeated
the question in his own mind. And then he opened the parlour door.
"Ah," said Ford, looking about him, "you've bin pretty comf'table. Them
chairs an' things," jerking his pipe toward them, "was hers—mine,
that is to say, speakin' straight, and man to man." He sat down, puffing
meditatively at his pipe, and presently, "Well," he continued, "'ere I am
agin, ol' Bob Ford, dead an' done for—gone down in the Mooltan.
On'y I ain't done for, see?" And he pointed the stem of his pipe at
Simmons's waistcoat. "I ain't done for, 'cause why? Cons'kence o' bein'
picked up by a ol' German sailin'-'utch an' took to 'Frisco 'fore the
mast. I've 'ad a few years o' knockin' about since then, an' now"—looking
hard at Simmons—"I've come back to see my wife."
"She—she don't like smoke in 'ere," said Simmons, as it were at
"No, I bet she don't," Ford answered, taking his pipe from his mouth and
holding it low in his hand. "I know 'Anner. 'Ow d' you find 'er? Do she
make ye clean the winders?"
"Well," Simmons admitted, uneasily, "I—I do 'elp 'er sometimes, o'
"Ah! An' the knives too, I bet, an' the bloomin' kittles. I know. W'y"—he
rose and bent to look behind Simmons's head—"s' 'elp me, I b'lieve
she cuts yer 'air! Well, I'm dammed! Jes' wot she would do, too."
He inspected the blushing Simmons from divers points of vantage. Then he
lifted a leg of the trousers hanging behind the door. "I'd bet a trifle,"
he said, "she made these 'ere trucks. No-body else 'ud do 'em like that.
Damme! they're wuss'n wot you've got on."
The small devil began to have the argument all its own way. If this man
took his wife back perhaps he'd have to wear those trousers.
"Ah," Ford pursued, "she ain't got no milder. An', my davy, wot a jore!"
Simmons began to feel that this was no longer his business. Plainly,
'Anner was this other man's wife, and he was bound in honour to
acknowledge the fact. The small devil put it to him as a matter of duty.
"Well," said Ford, suddenly, "time's short an' this ain't business. I
won't be 'ard on you, matey. I ought prop'ly to stand on my rights, but
seein' as you're a well-meaning young man, so to speak, an' all settled
an' a-livin' 'ere quiet an' matrimonual, I'll"—this with a burst of
generosity—"damme! yus, I'll compound the felony an' take me 'ook.
Come, I'll name a figure, as man to man, fust an' last, no less an' no
more. Five pound does it."
Simmons hadn't five pounds,—he hadn't even fivepence,—and he
said so. "An' I wouldn't think to come between a man an' 'is wife," he
added, "not on no account. It may be rough on me, but it's a dooty. I'll
"No," said Ford, hastily, clutching Simmons by the arm, "don't do that.
I'll make it a bit cheaper. Say three quid—come, that's reasonable,
ain't it? Three quid ain't much compensation for me goin' away for ever—where
the stormy winds do blow, so to say—an' never as much as seein' me
own wife agin for better nor wuss. Between man an' man, now, three quid,
an' I'll shunt. That's fair, ain't it?"
"Of course it's fair," Simmons replied, effusively. "It's more'n fair:
it's noble—downright noble, I call it. But I ain't goin' to
take a mean advantage o' your good-'artedness, Mr. Ford. She's your wife,
an' I oughtn't to 'a' come between you. I apologise. You stop an' 'ave yer
proper rights. It's me as ought to shunt, an' I will." And he made a step
toward the door.
"'Old on," quoth Ford, and got between Simmons and the door; "don't do
things rash. Look wot a loss it'll be to you with no 'ome to go to, an'
nobody to look after ye, an' all that. It'll be dreadful. Say a couple—there,
we won't quarrel, jest a single quid, between man an' man, an' I'll stand
a pot out o' the money. You can easy raise a quid—the clock 'ud
pretty nigh do it. A quid does it, an' I'll—"
There was a loud double knock at the front door. In the East End a double
knock is always for the upstairs lodgers.
"Oo's that?" asked Bob Ford, apprehensively.
"I'll see," said Thomas Simmons, in reply, and he made a rush for the
Bob Ford heard him open the front door. The he went to the window, and
just below him he saw the crown of a bonnet. It vanished, and borne to him
from within the door there fell upon his ear the sound of a
well-remembered female voice.
"Where ye goin' now with no 'at?" asked the voice, sharply.
"Awright, 'Anner—there's—there's somebody upstairs to see
you," Simmons answered. And, as Bob Ford could see, a man went scuttling
down the street in the gathering dusk. And behold, it was Thomas Simmons.
Ford reached the landing in three strides. His wife was still at the front
door, staring after Simmons. He flung into the back room, threw open the
window, dropped from the wash-house roof into the back yard, scrambled
desperately over the fence, and disappeared into the gloom. He was seen by
no living soul. And that is why Simmons's base desertion—under his
wife's very eyes, too—is still an astonishment to the neighbours.