A short story by Barry Pain
The Public Scandal
Title: The Public Scandal
Author: Barry Pain [More Titles by Pain]
I am not a landlord. It suits my purpose better, and is in every way more convenient, to rent a small house on a yearly agreement. But if I were a landlord, I would not allow any tenant of mine to do anything that tended to undermine and honeycomb the gentility of the district. I should take a very short method with such a tenant. I should say to him or her: "Now, then, either this stops, or you go out this instant." That would settle it. However, I am not a landlord.
Even as a tenant I take a very natural interest in the district in which I live. I chose the district carefully, because it was residential, and not commercial. The houses are not very large, and they might be more solidly built, but they are not shops. They have electric bells, and small strips of garden, and a generally genteel appearance. Two of the houses in Arthur Street are occupied by piano-tuners, and bear brass plates. I do not object to that. Piano-tuning is a profession, and I suppose that, in a way, I should be considered a professional man myself. Nor do I object to the letting of apartments, as long as it is done modestly, and without large, vulgar notice-boards. But the general tone of the district is good, and I do most strongly object to anything which would tend to lower it.
* * * * *
It was, as far as I remember, on the Tuesday evening that Eliza rather lost her temper about the hairpins, and said that if I kept on taking them and taking them she did not see how she was to do her hair at all.
This seemed to me rather unjust. I had not taken the hairpins for my own pleasure. The fact is that the waste-pipe from the kitchen sink frequently gets blocked, and a hairpin will often do it when nothing else will. I replied coldly, but without temper, that in future I would have hairpins of my own.
She said: "What nonsense!"
At this I rose, and went up-stairs to bed.
I think that most people who know me know that I am a man of my word. On the following morning, before breakfast, I went into the High Street to buy a pennyworth of hairpins. The short cut from our road into the High Street is down Bloodstone Terrace.
It was in Bloodstone Terrace that I witnessed a sight which pained and surprised me very much. It disgusted me. It was a disgrace to the district, and amounted to a public scandal. St. Augustine's--which is the third house in the terrace--had taken in washing, and not only had taken in washing, but were using their front garden as a drying-ground! An offensive thing of that kind makes my blood boil.
* * * * *
"Eliza," I said, as I brushed my hat preparatory to leaving for the city, "I intend to write to Mr. Hamilton to-day."
"Have you got the money, then?" Eliza asked, eagerly.
"If you refer to last quarter's rent, I do not mean to forward it immediately. A certain amount of credit is usual between landlord and tenant. An established firm of agents like Hamilton & Bland must know that."
"Yesterday was the third time they've written for the money, anyhow, and you can say what you like. What are you writing for, then?"
"I have a complaint to make."
"Well, I wouldn't make any complaints until I'd paid last quarter, if I were you. They'll only turn you out."
"I think not. I make the complaint in their interest. When a tenant in Bloodstone Terrace is acting in a way calculated to bring the whole neighbourhood into disrepute, and depreciate the value of house property, the agents would probably be glad to hear of it."
"Well, you're missing your train. You run off, and don't write any letters until to-night. Then you can talk about it, if you like."
In the evening, at supper, Eliza said she had been down Bloodstone Terrace, and could not see what I was making all the fuss about.
"It is simply this," I said. "St. Augustine's is converted into a laundry, and the front garden used as a drying-ground in a way that, to my mind, is not decent."
"Yes," said Eliza, "that's Mrs. Pedder. The poor woman has to do something for her living. She's just started, and only got one job at present. It would be cruel----"
"Not at all. Let her wash, if she must wash, but let her wash somewhere else. I cannot have these offensive rags flapping in my face when I walk down the street."
"They're not offensive rags. I'm most particular about your things."
"What do you mean?"
"It's your things that she washes. I thought I'd give her a start."
I dashed off half a glass of beer, put the glass down with a bang, and flung myself back in the chair without a word.
"Don't behave in that silly way," said Eliza. "She's a halfpenny cheaper on the shirt than the last woman."
"You need not mention that," I replied. "In any case I shall not complain now. I must bear the burden of any mistakes that you make. I am well aware of it."
"I'll tell her to hang them out at the back in future."
"She can hang them where she pleases. I suppose I can bear it. It's only one more trial to bear. One thing goes after another."
"On the contrary," said Eliza, "she's never lost as much as a collar. There's a smut on your nose."
"It can stop there," I said, moodily, and went out into the garden.
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