Billy Dumps, the Tailor by Charles Clark
Billy Dumps was very fond of spending his evenings with his two cronies,
Natty Dyer, a shoemaker, and Neddy Tueson, an umbrella mender, at the
"Cunning Cat," just round the corner. This worthy trio seldom left their
favourite haunt before closing time, much to the disgust of their
respective helpmates, Mrs. Dumps in particular.
Billy Dumps was a tailor, working as he termed it on his own hook. As
his prices were moderate, and his work durable, he earned a pretty good
living, making and mending for his neighbours, chiefly of the dock
labouring class; but his nightly orgies at the "Cunning Cat" made sad
inroads into his hard earnings, which tended much to sour Betsy's
otherwise naturally good temper.
The climax was reached one eventful evening, on the occasion of a
Free-and-Easy being held at the old quarters, after which, Billy, for
prudential reasons, was escorted home at midnight by his two associates,
all fully bent on informing the sleeping neighbourhood at the top of
their voices that they were "jolly good fellows," supplemented by a
further assertion of, "and so say all of us!" Finishing up by depositing
the confiding tailor at full length in his own front passage, through
the door being inadvertently left ajar, where he laid and snored in
blissful ignorance of the trials and troubles of this life until rather
rudely awakened, and then somewhat briskly assisted upstairs, by Betsy
and a broom handle.
"Now, Mister Billy Dumps, I am tired of sitting up for you night after
night, and mean to do so no longer. So if you are not in when our clock
strikes ten, I locks the door and you finds other lodgings," exclaimed
Betsy his wife, on the morning after the Free-and-Easy.
Tailor Dumps felt small after the previous night's dissipation, and
determined to get home earlier and sober that evening. But under the
influence of the soothing pipe, the nut-brown ale, and the merry laugh
and jest of his boon companions, he was induced to forget his late
resolution, and to prolong his stay at the "Cunning Cat" until aroused
to the fact that it was ten o'clock and closing-time. On reaching home,
all was still and dark. Strange! he went round to the back door and
thumped loudly. The bed-room casement flew open with a bang, from which
instantly protruded the night-capped head of the wife of his bosom.
Billy at once tried the high hand, shouting, "Now then, sleepy, what's
yer game? Be spry and open sharp!"
No. She wasn't going to be spry, neither was she sleepy; and as to her
little game—she had locked him out according to promise, so didn't
intend unlocking again that night. Not if she knew it. Oh no!
"Now, Betsy, don't be a fool, you'll repent it," he urged.
She wasn't a fool, she answered. In her opinion, he was the biggest
fool to be hammering and shivering outside at that time of night, when
he might have been comfortably lying in a warm bed hours ago. As for
repentance—she thought that would be more on his side of the door, for
she felt comfortable—very.
Billy fumed and stormed, and fully felt the ridiculousness of his
position, especially as he heard sounds of the neighbouring casements
stealthily unclose, and suppressed indications of merriment issuing
therefrom. But Billy stormed to no purpose. Betsy coolly recommended him
to go back where he had spent such a pleasant evening. She was sure Mrs.
Mudge, the landlady, would be only too pleased to accommodate him with a
lodging. If she wasn't, she ought to be, considering the time and money
he spent in her house.
But Billy had his own ideas of that arrangement, so still lingered,
determined to try another tack. He promised amendment, but Betsy was
sceptical. He appealed to her feelings. "Let me in, Betsy, for I am
cold!" That she could not help; as he had made his bed so he must lie.
He then became affectionate. "Oh Betsy, you are unkind: remember old
times, remember our wedding-day!" he pleaded, thinking to touch her that
way. But Betsy was not going to be had by soft sawder, for she promptly
rejoined, "Remember our wedding-day, you drunken sot? I do to my
sorrow, no fear of my forgetting that great mistake. But, as I told you
before, into this house this blessed night you do not step. No, not if
you were to go on your knees and beg for it!"
"Ah, Betsy. You'll be sorry for this when too late. I'm determined to
end my misery. I'll jump down the well and drown myself. And you'll be
the cause of it!" whined Billy.
The night was dark. Betsy felt a little relenting as she heard her
husband groping about in the wood shed. Then she could dimly discern him
making for the well; plainly hear the creaking of the hinges and the lid
thrown back with a thud. Then came the cry of "Good bye, Betsy, I'm
gone!" The dull sound of a heavy body plunging into the water—a gasping
moan, and all was still.
Betsy's old affection for her erring husband at once returned with
tenfold force, for she raced downstairs, rushing into the darkness,
shrieking for help.
The neighbours were aroused. Men and women tumbled out of their back
doors in such scanty dishabille that would have charmed a sculptor.
Betsy, still screeching like a bagpipe, had to be forcibly restrained
from jumping to the rescue by the bystanders.
Dick Ward, the blacksmith, thrust the bucket-pole into the well, singing
out, "Lay hold, Billy, if ye ain't too fur gone!"
"I can feel un," shouted Dick, as the pole struck some hard substance
with a sounding smack.
"My eye, Dick! he'll feel you too, if that's Billy's head you tapped,"
said Nat; "it 'ud be one for his nob and no mistake."
They caught a glimpse, by the uncertain light of a flaming candle, of a
something floating low on the surface of the water.
"His head feels as hard as a koker nut," said Dick, as the pole rattled
on the dark object.
"Why it seems off his shoulders, for it goes bobbing up and down like a
dumplin in a soup-kettle!"
Just then, to the astonishment of all, the well known voice of Billy
Dumps was heard from the identical bed-room window that his wife had so
lately vacated, shouting, "Hullo, you people. What the deuce are ye
making such a rumpas for?"
"A ghost! A ghost!" was the cry.
"No fear," laughed the tailor. "But, Dick, as you have the pole in hand,
I should feel obliged if you'd fish up my chopping-block which I dropped
in there awhile ago!"
Betsy Dumps at the sound of her husband's voice, made for the door, but
found it fastened. "Let me in! Let me in! I am so glad you are safe!"
she joyously exclaimed.
"Not if I know it, Betsy. It's my turn now. Into this house this
blessed night you do not step. No, not if you were to go on your knees
and beg for it!"
A loud laugh broke from the crowd, as the joke dawned on them. Betsy was
being paid back in her own coin. The neighbourhood had been sold. The
crafty tailor had secured the chopping-block from the wood shed, and
popped it down the well as his substitute, then, in the darkness and
confusion slipped back into the house unseen. Betsy, having been
accommodated for the night by a friendly neighbour, the crowd dispersed,
highly amused at the adventure. Early the next morning, Mrs. Dumps on
returning home was surprised to find her husband up, a cheerful fire
burning, and the breakfast ready. Taking her hand he gave her a hearty
kiss, with this greeting, "Dear old woman, let bygones be bygones!" And
they were, too; for from that time the "Cunning Cat" knew him no more.
It struck him strongly that his wife's true affection shown in the hour
of his supposed great danger was too precious to trifle with; as a proof
that he kept his word, let it be added that anyone visiting that large
thriving tailoring establishment in the High Street, would hardly
recognise in the respectable dapper proprietor, Mr. William Dumps, the
once drunken tailor so long a nightly nuisance to the neighbourhood.