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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Order Of The Bath

Title:     The Order Of The Bath
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

"We must really do something about the bath," said Celia.

"We must," I agreed.

At present what we do is this. Punctually at six-thirty or nine, or whenever it is, Celia goes in to make herself clean and beautiful for the new day, while I amuse myself with a razor. After a quarter of an hour or so she gives a whistle to imply that the bathroom is now vacant, and I give another one to indicate that I have only cut myself once. I then go hopefully in and find that the bath is half full of water; whereupon I go back to my room and engage in Dr. Hugh de Selincourt's physical exercises for the middle-aged. After these are over I take another look at the bath, discover that it is now three-eighths full, and return to my room and busy myself with Dr. Archibald Marshall's mental drill for busy men. By the time I have committed three Odes of Horace to memory, it may be low tide or it may not; if not, I sit on the edge of the bath with the daily paper and read about the latest strike--my mind occupied equally with wondering when the water is going out and when the bricklayers are. And the thought that Celia is now in the dining-room eating more than her share of the toast does not console me in the least.

"Yes," I said, "it's absurd to go on like this. You had better see about it to-day, Celia."

"I don't think--I mean, I think--you know, it's really _your_ turn to do something for the bathroom."

"What do you mean, _my_ turn? Didn't I buy the glass shelves for it? You'd never even heard of glass shelves."

"Well, who put them up after they'd been lying about for a month?" said Celia. "I did."

"And who bumped his head against them the next day? I did."

"Yes, but that wasn't really a _useful_ thing to do. It's your turn to be useful."

"Celia, this is mutiny. All household matters are supposed to be looked after by you. I do the brain work; I earn the money; I cannot be bothered with these little domestic worries. I have said so before."

"I sort of thought you had."

You know, I am afraid that is true.

"After all," she went on, "the drinks are in your department."

"Hock, perhaps," I said; "soapy water, no. There is a difference."

"Not very much," said Celia.

By the end of another week I was getting seriously alarmed. I began to fear that unless I watched it very carefully I should be improving myself too much.

"While the water was running out this morning," I said to Celia, as I started my breakfast just about lunch-time, "I got _Paradise Lost_ off by heart, and made five hundred and ninety-six revolutions with the back paws. And then it was time to shave myself again. What a life for a busy man!"

"I don't know if you know that it's no----"

"Begin again," I said.

"--that it's no good waiting for the last inch or two to go out by itself. Because it won't. You have to--to _hoosh_ it out."

"I do. And I sit on the taps looking like a full moon and try to draw it out. But it's no good. We had a neap tide to-day and I had to hoosh four inches. Jolly."

Celia gave a sigh of resignation.

"All right," she said, "I'll go to the plumber to-day."

"Not the plumber," I begged. "On the contrary. The plumber is the man who _stops_ the leaks. What we really want is an unplumber."

We fell into silence again.

"But how silly we are!" cried Celia suddenly. "Of course!"

"What's the matter now?"

"The bath is the _landlord's_ business! Write and tell him."

"But--but what shall I say?" Somehow I knew Celia would put it on to me.

"Why, just--_say_. When you're paying the rent, you know."

"I--I see."

I retired to the library and thought it out. I hate writing business letters. The result is a mixture of formality and chattiness which seems to me all wrong.

My first letter to the landlord went like this:--

"DEAR SIR,--I enclose cheque in payment of last quarter's rent. Our bath won't run out properly. Yours faithfully."

It is difficult to say just what is wrong with that letter, and yet it is obvious that something has happened to it. It isn't _right_. I tried again.

"DEAR SIR,--Enclosed please find cheque in payment of enclosed account. I must ask you either to enlarge the exit to our bath or to supply an emergency door. At present my morning and evening baths are in serious danger of clashing. Yours faithfully."

My third attempt had more sting in it:--

"DEAR SIR,--Unless you do something to our bath I cannot send you enclosed cheque in payment of enclosed account. Otherwise I would have. Yours faithfully."

At this point I whistled to Celia and laid the letters before her.

"You see what it is," I said. "I'm not quite getting the note."

"But you're so abrupt," she said. "You must remember that this is all coming quite as a surprise to him. You want to lead up to it more gradually."

"Ah, perhaps you're right. Let's try again."

I tried again, with this result:--

"DEAR SIR,--In sending you a cheque in payment of last quarter's rent I feel I must tell you how comfortable we are here. The only inconvenience--and it is indeed a trifling one, dear Sir--which we have experienced is in connection with the bathroom. Elegantly appointed and spacious as this room is, commodious as we find the actual bath itself, yet we feel that in the matter of the waste-pipe the high standard of efficiency so discernible elsewhere is sadly lacking. Were I alone I should not complain; but unfortunately there are two of us; and, for the second one, the weariness of waiting while the waters of the first bath exude drop by drop is almost more than can be borne. I speak with knowledge, for it is I who----"

I tore the letter up and turned to Celia.

"I'm a fool," I said. "I've just thought of something which will save me all this rotten business every morning."

"I'm so glad. What is it?"

"Why, of course--in future _I_ will go to the bath first."

And I do. It is a ridiculously simple solution, and I cannot think why it never occurred to me before.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Order Of The Bath