The Golden Shanty

The Haunted Corner

Edward Dyson

THE PACKER was entertaining Pepper Ned, from Whimble’s pickle mill, in the Wharf-side bar. There were threepenny beers and spring-onions lunch, and the talk had taken a scientific turn, it bore upon molecular disturbances of the atmosphere, set up by the popular esculent, and the carrying power of certain breeds of onions, on all of which matters Pepper discoursed oracularly as an expert. The young man from the pickle mill was reminded of the pathetic case of one Artie Coutts, a sensitive soul who had been driven by stress of circumstances and the unfortunate remissness of his people at Home in the matter of remittances, to take service at Whimbles and who had become obsessed by onions in the course of a few weeks. It seemed that Artie was a man whose natural refinement had survived a demoralizing weakness that sacrificed everything else for whisky of Scotch extraction, and fate threw him into that department of the factory where the onions were flayed.

“’N’ me lord juke fair stooed in atter iv onyins,” said Ned. “Ev’ry one else got ’ardened t’ ther hum iv onyins, but Artie he never cud. It fair turned him up, ’n’ he’d go er pale pea-green when er bunch iv busy girls got er rush on er ton iv young uns’, ’n’ th’ ink-pink began t’ rattle ther windows, ’n’ push ther slates off ther roof. Youse don’t know what ther little pickle onyin’s capable of till yev met er ton of ’em stripped fer bizness in a ’ot room. Artie began t’ look like er man with er settled sorrer after er week of it. ‘My Gord! my Gord!’ he used t’ say, slappin’ his bald ’ead with his two ’ands, ‘what’s t’ become iv me?’ ’N’ then he’d sneak er gulp of whisky, ’n’ face it agin like a ’ero. I ’eard afterwards that he got a sort iv idea how he was ’aunted by ther concentrated hodor iv Whimble’s onyin branch. He took it ’ome with him. It follered him everywhere. He couldn’t shake it. He took ’t sprintin’ in ther streets, thinkin’ t’ outrun it ’n’ ’ide where it couldn’t find him, ’n’ twice he was run in fer gallopin wild through ther city without his ’at, ’n’ with ther light iv madness in his eye, thinkin’ in his addled ’ead how he was makin’ er break from ther orful smell iv Whimble’s. Then he took t’ shriekin’ out iv nights when he woke ’n’ found th’ ’orrid hodor in his room, ’n’ flier people ’ud find him crouched down in one corner in his nightie, tremblin’ all over, ’n’ moanin’ erbout ther purple ’n’ green smells what was comin’ at him down ther chimbley.

“He said they was some nine foot high,” continued Ned, “’n’ they was breathin’ pestilent fumes on him, ’n’ he couldn’t get no sleep fer ther noise they made trampin’ erbout in ther ’obnailed boots. Then came a Sunday when he went out on ther roof in his shirt, explodin’ the lan’lord’s gun, ’n’ when ther p’lice pulled ’im down, he said he was shootin’ ther big, red onions with livid eyes, what was comin’ down in millyins ’n’ millyins t’ stifle ther town. They put poor Artie in er padded cell, but ther smell gave him no peace, ’n he died of it eventual, sayin’ he was—t’ ’ell, ’n’ ’ell was er pickle fact’ry, jist like Whimble’s, where the scent iv onions without end rolled over ther souls iv ther damned fer ever ’n’ ever, amen!”

Feathers was deeply impressed by the story of Artie. He sipped his beer with a thoughtful air. “Yes,” he said, “I kin understan’ that lad bein’ ’aunted by a nodor. I’ve known ther time when I’ve thort there was somethin’ spooky ’n’ soopernatural erbout er pertickler weird ’n’ unaccountable erfluvium, ’n’ wasn’t ther on’y one, ther whole bloomin’ fact’ry got er bit ratty erbout it, ’n’ was thinkin’ iv givin’ ther grip brusher, ’n’ going’ inter Co. with ther unemployed.”

The wharf-labourers, and the sailor-men, and the hands from Egg Lane drew their beer about the packer. Feathers had some reputation as a yarn spinner. His low-comedy style was popular and it was admitted that with education and opportunity he might have become eminent—he might even have aspired to bean an auctioneer.

“Spats’ fact’ry’s got er bend in it, yeh know, ’n’ ’twas round in ther west corner be ther lift well we first got up agin that ‘whoof’,” continued the packer. “’Twas er mos’ curious ink-pink sorter unearthly—ther kinder thing yeh might expect t’ biff yeh in ther feelin’s when ther trap lid iv ther bottomless is lifted t’ hadmit one more dead ’ead t’ ther pit. For er few days it loitered round there, gatherin’ force, ’n’ preparin’ fer ther attack, ’n’ that part iv ther buildin’ became very unpop’lar. Fuzzy, ther foreman, went down with reports ev’ry arf hour ’r so, ’n’ ther new smell created er good deal iv talk. His gills would come battlin’ down ther flat, full iv bisness ’n’ good intentions, ez he always is, ’n’ butt up agin ther new flavour, what was takin’ on fresh developments each day, ’n’ he’d fetch up, ’n’ sniff round ’n’ round, like er startled terrier, with er new idear erbout rats. Then he’d claw up his bunch iv cobwebs, ’n’ sample her agin. Then he’d say: ‘Seems t’ me they’s somethin’ a bit queer, George ’Enery’; ’n’ he’d paw erbout, ’n’ scratch ’n’ dig ermong ther stacks iv bags ’n’ ther cuttin’s ’n’ stuff, more like er terrier ’n’ ever. Lummie! I used t’ wonder ther beggar didn’t bark.”

Feathers moistened his lips with two-thirds of a long-sleever, and Pepper Ned leaned on his pint, and sighed heavily. The interval between drinks promised to be protracted.

“Well, them hatmospheric ’ints grew more pointed. ’n’ presently they began t’ clamour. They crep’ down on ther pasters, ’n’ eventual they raided Fuzzy’s end, ’n’ drifted out into ther street t’ disturb ther traffic. It was midsummer, ’n’ she raised her voice to er yell, ’n’ ther whole fam’ly iv hodors jined in ther chorus. By’n bye she was screamin’ perlice ’n’ blue murder, ’n’ you couldn’t hear a bloomin’ iron tank drop above ther general din ’n’ hodoref’rousness. Down comes Fuzzy, ’n’ whacks into it agin, ’n’ he gives er sad cry, ’n’ drops his bundle, ’n’ goes pluckin’ et his ’air, ’n’ bedevillin’ his whisks, ’n’ barkin’ his bleedin’ shins over things, ’n’ comin’ up out iv ther tangle presently, wet ’n’ dusty, ’n’ pale ez death, with one ’and pressed on his ‘Darby Kell’. ’n’ the other holdin’ himself down, ‘n’, ‘George ’Enery,’ he sez, petulant like, ‘they must be a leak,’ sez he. Er leak! Mother iv Moses! ’twas more like er Niagarer or er barrel iv litherfracture bustin’ in er condemned graveyard.

“’Er leak!’ I sez, ‘I think ’er whale’s gone bad on ther firm’s ’ands.’

“’Can’t yeh do somethin’?’ wails he, more in sorrow than in anger.

“I asked t’ be excused fer me old mother’s sake, me not havin’ a sound ’eart. ‘Send fer ther Board iv Health ’n’ ther corporation shifters iv detestable objects,’ I sez; ‘I ain’t no dealer in remains.’

“’Somethin’ must be done,’ whimpers Fuzzy, very pitiful. ‘Somethin’ mus’ be done;’ ’n’ he makes ernother break, ’n’ spills over er tub iv paste, ’n’ nex’ minit he’s giggin round ermong ther Beauts, tryin’ t’ bustle ’em inter takin’ on ther job iv searchin’ fer ther disturbin’ element, ’n’ removin’ it beyond ther city limits. Ther toms bucked like mules. Kitty Coudray said she was wanted ’ome, th’ ’ouse being afire, ’n’ Rickards ’n’ nine others guv him er week’s notice with their compliments, but some iv ther wages ’ands took it on; ’n’ presently there was er procession iv pale, sick girls on ther stairs goin’ ’ome t’ bed.

“Meanwhile, that strange, houtlandish smell was reachin’ out ’n’ developin’, same ez Goatie’s candle mill with ther lid off, ’n’ our foreman was gettin’ so worked up he couldn’t sleep iv nights. Ther toadstools ’n’ things was growin’ on that pale blue hodour in ther ’aunted corner like mussels on er mudbarge, ’n’ et this point up comes his gills, ther junior partner, Duff, come on er voyage iv discovery ’n’ in er spirit iv scientific inquiry. ’Twas his juty t’ hinvestergate ’n’ draw up er report. He tried samples from nine points iv view, ’n’ then he looked tired, ’n’ withdrew frim ther commission, holdin’ affectionately to his wishbone, ’n’ mutterin’ like er man in er dream.

“Ther respected proprietor, His Whiskers, was disgusted with what he called this heffeminate weakness on ther part iv Suety. ’n’ he ’eaded fer ther shockin’ outbreak on his own. Bizness was suspended on ther spot, every eye was on Odgson. He passed me with his ’ead up, ’n’ his nose high, ’n’ his cady balanced on ther bridge iv it. He came into collision with ther thick end iv ther distressin’ event unexpected, ’n’ it took his breath erway. He sorter bounced off it. But ther boss is Scotch and stubborn. He put his ’ead down, ’n’ ducked in, ’n’ fer arf er minit there was er catch-ez-cats-can contest ’tween him ’n’ ther reek iv after judgement, ’n’ His Whiskers was beat. He come up out iv it, lookin’ white ’n’ weak, leavin’ his bell-topper in ther possession iv th’ enemy, ’n’ he leaned ’eavily on my board ’n’ breathed hard. Presently he called t’ Ellis in er weak voice, ’n’ Fuzzy come stumpin down ther aisle, cryin’ ‘Yessir! Yessir!’ every stride.

“’Huh, dammit all, man, what’s yonder?’ sez Odgson, speakin’ like er man who’s jist done his ’undred yards in ten secs.

‘I’m erfraid it’s er leak, sir,’ stammers Fuzzy.

“’Er leak, yeh idjit!’ yells Spats ‘Are none iv ther girls missin’? Then he turns t’ me. ‘Come back t’night, Mills,’ sez he, ‘you ’n’ Don, ther carter, ’n’ shift those bales. ’Unt it out! ‘Unt it out!’ I had t’ do it ’r resign me grip on ther spot, ’n’ blime if he didn’t send me in fer his ’at.

“Wot er night we ’ad—Jimmy Jee, wot er night! Fuzzy pegged out after ther first hour, ’n’ ther Don ’n’ me shifted bales ’n’ stacks, ’n’ ate dust, ’n tainted our himmortal bloomin’ souls with the hum of old Tophet, ’n’ nothin’ come iv it ’septin’ ther discovery iv er mysterfyin’ noise wot cud be ’eard when leaned up agin ther wall in ther ’aunted corner. Er creepy, unaccountable kinder noise, like ther faint, far off tickin’ iv er clock shop. We tried t’ track it down, but couldn’t. It seemed t’ come outer ther bricks. That was more ghostly than ther smell, ’n’ it started my thatch walkin’ tiptoe all over me napper, though I ain’t ther man t’ take long odds erbout ghosts happenin’ up anywheres ’r anyhow.

“When ther Beauts got onter that mystery tickin’ erway in the wall then ther plot thickened. You couldn’t get one iv ’em back, fer night work fer gold ’n’ di’monds, ’n’ they shied from ther ’aunted corner in ther shades iv evenin’, ’n’ still ther odour grew, so et life wasn’t worth livin’ up on ther top flat. There was talks iv er general strike, ’n’ er bunch iv ther pasters interviewed Odgson, ’n’ pointed out how they’d wanter be paid time ’n’ er half t’ carry on ther firm’s bizness in ther supernatural hatmosphere what was prevailin’ upstairs. Neighbourin’ firms was complainin’ bitterly, ’n’ people was cryin’ out in the street, sayin’ Spats’ biz otter come under ther head iv noxious trades, ’n’ be shifted out inter ther tannery ’n’ glue mill district. This stirred the boss up, ’n’ he got in workmen t’ punch er hole in ther wall ’n’ locate that spook odour, imaginin’ ther queer tickin’ might be ther furious smell gnawin’ its way inter ther buildin’.

“Er gang was on ther job for four days, goin’ inter ther hinfected arear in shifts iv short dooration, one man down th’ other come on, but, blime, they discovered nothink. They broke ’oles in ther wall, but ther mystery never shifted, ther tickin’ went on just ther same, ’a’ ther erfluvium become more ’n’ more denser. The Board iv ’Ealth was warned be this, ’n’ it come down, ’n’ stood round, wearin’ little patent respirators, ’n’ lookin’ wise, but it couldn’t do nothin’ towards solvin’ ther problem, so after measurin’ ther density iv ther smell with scientific hinstruments, ’n’ takin’ its longertude ’n lattertude, ’n’ selectin’ some samples fer analysis, it went down, ’n’ gave Spats legal notice t’ have ther tincture iv fiends removed frim his premises within three days, ’r suffer ther hextreme penalty iv ther law.

“Well, that smell got inter ther papers. Ther evenin’ organ was quite excited erbout it, ’n’ spoke iv it ez er marvellous fernomenon, goin’ on t’ say how Spats was evidently ther centre iv some new manifestation iv natural forces, ’n’ callin’ on ther Govment t’ pass er Act iv Parliament without delay. Er perfessor writ er wonderful letter, sayin’ proberly the eruption was due t’ er earth fissure under ther buildin’, what was lettin’ ther fumes iv er suppressed volcaner leak out He said it was er most curious ’n’ interestin’ subject, but gor blime, he didn’t ’ave t’ live in it!

“Erbout here ’n’ now, Apps ’n’ Winterbee, ther plumbers, had their perfeshional curiosity excited, ’n’ they come erlong with er offer iv ther loan iv their boy Sniff et er quid er time. It seems this ’ere boy Sniff ’ad er gift. He was a hexpert smeller out iv things, ’n’ was ther firm’s greatest treasure. Spats was asked t’ take pertickler care iv him. When Apps ’n’ Winterbee was called in ter ferrit out er gas leak what ’ad defied all ther other firms in town, it put Sniff on ther job, ’n’ Sniff was never known t’ fail. He was sent inter all sorts iv dark ’n’ dusty places, over ceilin’s, ’tween walls, under floors, up channels, anywheres, ’n’ he went gaily enough, like er bally foxie after er rat, ’cause it was his speciality, ’n’ he was proud iv his great erbility. Sniff was what yeh’d call or hinfant progidy, sniffin’ out mysteries was his big hit. ’E was a genius at it, but he didn’t look it.

“T’ see Sniff, you wouldn’ think he was er champion in his class. He was erbout fourteen, ’n’ very small for his age. They kep’ him small with gin ’a’ ’ard trainin’, I think, so’s he could creep inter any kind iv er rat ’ole in pursuit iv his callin’. He had er dull eye, ’n’ er vacant face, ’n’ no chin, his face jist slippin’ off where his chin should iv come in, but ’e had er bonzer nose. He’d fair run t’ nose. You never see such er nose on er ’uman face. ’Twas habnormally over-developed, so t’ speak. Lookin’ et that nose, you was sure Sniff wouldn’t live long. ’Twasn’t in ther nature iv things he could go on sustainin’ sich a snich.

“Sniff was turned loose on ther fact’ry flat, ’n’ ’e went over it like er tradesman. Other folks was turned end on be one gust iv it, but I think Sniff was ’appy. He was in his helement. He sorter prowled erbout all ther mormn’, gettin’ ther lay ’n’ drift iv ther varyis currents ’n’ odours, ’n’ makin’ his plans; but after lunch he got goin’, ’n’ how did he ’unt! Nothin’ could ’old ’im. He was full iv er sort iv artistic frenzy, ’n’ ’e chased trails with his long nose feelin’ ther way before him fer all ther world like er ’ound after er ’erring. In two hours he’d run down four gas leaks, three old rats, ’n’ two escapes frim ther pickle mill nex’ door. Then ’e got out after ther King odour, but that puzzled him. He’d come up agin ther brick wall with er bunt every time, then he’d listen t’ ther tick-tackin’ fer er bit, ’n’ get back on his tracks, ’n’ chase her agin. No use, she alwiz brought him up short agin ther bricks in ther ’aunted corner.

“After ther fifth run he stayed there, studyin’. He went down ther wall, ’n’ up ther wall, ’n’ then er glad light broke over him

“’Bring er ladder!’ he sez.

“Ther ladder was brought, ’n’ Sniff went up it, hot on ther trail. Ther top iv that wall was jist er wide, flat shelf iv brick, on which ther big tye-beams rested. Ther roof over-shot it. On this shelf, back agin one iv ther rafters, was er parcel what couldn’t be seen frim below. ’Twas erbout ther size iv er candle box ’n’ ther wrapper was ther tin lining out iv er case, ’n’ this tin was polished like silver with ther paws iv ther ten thousan’ famished rats what had been spendin’ ther brightest years iv their lives, tryin’ t’ get in. Would yeh believe it, that tin was tickin’ like forty watches, ’n’ when Sniff stirred it, you’d think it was full iv live dried peas, ’n’ was rattlin’ on its ace.

“Sniff pulled ther tin parcel out, ’n’ he let her drop, ’n’ she bust open on ther floor. Boys, I’m done! Here’s where I fail. Mother iv Murphy! how did that parcel fogue! Ther volume iv smell smashed ther winders, it rattled ther town, clocks stopped, ’n’ trams bolted, fire brigades was called out, ’n’ perlice were sent fer in all directions. Ther hinstruments up et ther hobservatory recorded er earthquake iv great vi’lence, ther Lord Mare resigned his office, ’n’ all ther cats left town. Shrieks ’n’ cries was heard in ther streets ’n’ people ran ’n’ hid in ther cellars, thinkin’ ther end iv ther world was come. Benno fell down in er fit, ’n’ I had ter drag him frim under be ther legs. I was a bit ratty meself fer seven days, ’n’ beer ain’t never tasted ther same ter me since.

“’N’ after all ’twas on’y er cheese, er good-sized, fat, New Zealan’ cream cheese, what some one ’ad pinched frim ther produce stores in Egg Lane, ’n’ wrapped up in tin ter keep ther rats off, ’n’ hid on ther top iv flier wall, till er good charnce come t’ mooch with it. I suspect er lad name iv Creegan—Nipper Creegan—what got ther sudden jerk fer punchin’ ther boss er clinker in ther whiskers. He got fired so prompt he ’adn’t time t’ shift his cheese, ’n’ it was lef’ there t’ ripen ’n’ rot, ’n’ set up er storm centre iv cyclonic odorif’rousness what knocked ther street out iv plumb, ’n’ redooced unimproved land values t’ nex’ t’ nixie.

“Oh, ther tickin’? That was ther cheese mites what bred ’n’ mustered in that cheese, on’y these wasn’t mites, they was monsters, ’n’ it was ther tin wrapper what we’d bin hearin’ fer weeks. When ther package broke loose on ther floor, ther ball iv mites bust, ’n’ went skippin’ erbout ther flat like er flight iv ole man kangeroos. They was fearsome things t’ meet in ther dark, I’m tellin’ yeh, pale, dreadful grubs ez big ez concertinas, with long grey hair, ’n’ no features exceptin’ two dead black eyes. They could jump five yards, ’n’ had er ’ide on ’em like er blonde pig. They was turnin’ up, fright’nin’ ther paint off ther girls fer weeks after, ’n’ we ’ad t’ set rabbit traps ’n’ lay poisoned bate for ’em all over ther place.

“Ther remains iv ther cheese was removed be divers in full dress, ’n’ Sniff got ther Ryle Humane Society’s medal fer ’erosim, ’n’ was rewarded with er public subscription. There’s still er flavor iv that cheese lingerin’ in ther fact’ry t’ prove what I’ve bin tellin’ yeh’s gorspel.”

Feathers lifted up his empty pewter, looked into it, knocked it on the counter in an inverted position, as if to shake out the dust of dry days, and then said reproachfully to the Aberdeen engineer off the donkey engine on the wharf, whose turn it was to “spring”: “Blime, cobber, er yer givin’ ther barmaid er per petual ’oliday ’r what?”

The Golden Shanty - Contents

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