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.