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´╗┐Title: Back to Back - Night Watches, Part 1.
Author: Jacobs, W. W. (William Wymark), 1863-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Back to Back - Night Watches, Part 1." ***

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NIGHT WATCHES

by W.W. Jacobs



BACK TO BACK

Mrs. Scutts, concealed behind the curtain, gazed at the cab in uneasy
amazement.  The cabman clambered down from the box and, opening the
door, stood by with his hands extended ready for any help that might be
needed. A stranger was the first to alight, and, with his back towards
Mrs. Scutts, seemed to be struggling with something in the cab.  He
placed a dangling hand about his neck and, staggering under the weight,
reeled backwards supporting Mr. Scutts, whose other arm was round the
neck of a third man.  In a flash Mrs. Scutts was at the door.

"Oh, Bill!"  she gasped.  "And by daylight, too!"

Mr. Scutts raised his head sharply and his lips parted; then his head
sank again, and he became a dead weight in the grasp of his assistants.

"He's all right," said one of them, turning to Mrs. Scutts.

A deep groan from Mr. Scutts confirmed the statement.

"What is it?"  inquired his wife, anxiously.

"Just a little bit of a railway accident," said one of the strangers.
"Train ran into some empty trucks.  Nobody hurt--seriously," he added,
in response to a terrible and annoyed groan from Mr. Scutts.

With his feet dragging helplessly, Mr. Scutts was conveyed over his own
doorstep and placed on the sofa.

"All the others went off home on their own legs," said one of the
strangers, reproachfully.  "He said he couldn't walk, and he wouldn't go
to a hospital."

"Wanted to die at home," declared the sufferer.  "I ain't going to be
cut about at no 'ospitals."

The two strangers stood by watching him; then they looked at each other.

I don't want--no--'ospitals," gasped Mr. Scutts, "I'm going to have my
own doctor."

"Of course the company will pay the doctor's bill," said one of the
strangers to Mrs. Scutts or they'll send their own doctor.  I expect
he'll be all right to-morrow."

"I 'ope so," said Mr. Scutts, "but I don't think it.  Thank you for
bringing of me 'ome."

He closed his eyes languidly, and kept them closed until the men had
departed.

"Can't you walk, Bill?"  inquired the tearful Mrs. Scutts.

Her husband shook his head.  "You go and fetch the doctor," he said,
slowly.  "That new one round the corner."

"He looks such a boy," objected Mrs. Scutts.

"You go and fetch 'im," said Mr. Scutts, raising his voice.  "D'ye
hear!"

"But--" began his wife.

"If I get up to you, my gal," said the forgetful Mr. Scutts, "you'll
know it."

"Why, I thought--" said his wife, in surprise.

Mr. Scutts raised himself on the sofa and shook his fist at her.  Then,
as a tribute to appearances, he sank back and groaned again.  Mrs.
Scutts, looking somewhat relieved, took her bonnet from a nail and
departed.

The examination was long and tedious, but Mr. Scutts, beyond remarking
that he felt chilly, made no complaint.  He endeavoured, but in vain, to
perform the tests suggested, and even did his best to stand, supported
by his medical attendant.  Self-preservation is the law of Nature, and
when Mr. Scutts's legs and back gave way he saw to it that the doctor
was underneath.

"We'll have to get you up to bed," said the latter, rising slowly and
dusting himself.

Mr. Scutts, who was lying full length on the floor, acquiesced, and sent
his wife for some neighbours.  One of them was a professional furniture-
remover, and, half-way up the narrow stairs, the unfortunate had to
remind him that he was dealing with a British working man, and not a
piano.  Four pairs of hands deposited Mr. Scutts with mathematical
precision in the centre of the bed and then proceeded to tuck him in,
while Mrs. Scutts drew the sheet in a straight line under his chin.

"Don't look much the matter with 'im," said one of the assistants.

"You can't tell with a face like that," said the furniture-remover.
"It's wot you might call a 'appy face.  Why, he was 'arf smiling as we,
carried 'im up the stairs."

"You're a liar," said Mr. Scutts, opening his eyes.

"All right, mate," said the furniture-remover; "all right.  There's no
call to get annoyed about it.  Good old English pluck, I call it.  Where
d'you feel the pain?"

"All over," said Mr. Scutts, briefly.

His neighbours regarded him with sympathetic eyes, and then, led by the
furniture-remover, filed out of the room on tip-toe.  The doctor, with a
few parting instructions, also took his departure.

"If you're not better by the morning," he said, pausing at the door,
"you must send for your club doctor."

Mr. Scutts, in a feeble voice, thanked him, and lay with a twisted smile
on his face listening to his wife's vivid narrative to the little crowd
which had collected at the front door.  She came back, followed by the
next-door neighbour, Mr. James Flynn, whose offers of assistance ranged
from carrying Mr. Scutts out pick-a-back when he wanted to take the air,
to filling his pipe for him and fetching his beer.

"But I dare say you'll be up and about in a couple o' days," he
concluded.  "You wouldn't look so well if you'd got anything serious the
matter; rosy, fat cheeks and----"

"That'll do," said the indignant invalid.  "It's my back that's hurt,
not my face."

"I know," said Mr. Flynn, nodding sagely; "but if it was hurt bad your
face would be as white as that sheet-whiter."

"The doctor said as he was to be kep' quiet," remarked Mrs. Scutts,
sharply.

"Right-o," said Mr. Flynn.  "Ta-ta, old pal.  Keep your pecker up, and
if you want your back rubbed with turps, or anything of that sort, just
knock on the wall."

He went, before Mr. Scutts could think of a reply suitable for an
invalid and, at the same time, bristling with virility.  A sinful and
foolish desire to leap out of bed and help Mr. Flynn downstairs made him
more rubicund than ever.

He sent for the club doctor next morning, and, pending his arrival,
partook of a basin of arrowroot and drank a little beef-tea.  A bottle
of castor-oil and an empty pill-box on the table by the bedside added a
little local colour to the scene.

"Any pain?"  inquired the doctor, after an examination in which bony and
very cold fingers had played a prominent part.

"Not much pain," said Mr. Scutts.  "Don't seem to have no strength in my
back."

"Ah!"  said the doctor.

"I tried to get up this morning to go to my work," said Mr. Scutts, "but
I can't stand!  couldn't get out of bed."

"Fearfully upset, he was, pore dear," testified Mrs. Scutts.  "He can't
bear losing a day.  I s'pose--I s'pose the railway company will 'ave to
do something if it's serious, won't they, sir?"

"Nothing to do with me," said the doctor.  "I'll put him on the club for
a few days; I expect he will be all right soon.  He's got a healthy
colour--a very healthy colour."

Mr. Scutts waited until he had left the house and then made a few
remarks on the colour question that for impurity of English and strength
of diction have probably never been surpassed.

A second visitor that day came after dinner--a tall man in a frock-coat,
bearing in his hand a silk hat, which, after a careful survey of the
room, he hung on a knob of the bedpost.

"Mr. Scutts?"  he inquired, bowing.

"That's me," said Mr. Scutts, in a feeble voice.

"I've called from the railway company," said the stranger.  "We have
seen now all those who left their names and addresses on Monday
afternoon, and I am glad to say that nobody was really hurt.  Nobody."

Mr. Scutts, in a faint voice, said he was glad to hear it.

"Been a wonder if they had," said the other, cheerfully.  "Why, even the
paint wasn't knocked off the engine.  The most serious damage appears to
be two top-hats crushed and an umbrella broken."

He leaned over the bed-rail and laughed joyously.  Mr. Scutts, through
half-closed eyes, gazed at him in silent reproach.

"I don't say that one or two people didn't receive a little bit of a
shock to their nerves," said the visitor, thoughtfully.  "One lady even
stayed in bed next day.  However, I made it all right with them.  The
company is very generous, and although of course there is no legal
obligation, they made several of them a present of a few pounds, so that
they could go away for a little change, or anything of that sort, to
quiet their nerves."

Mr. Scutts, who had been listening with closed eyes, opened them
languidly and said, "Oh."

"I gave one gentleman twen-ty pounds!"  said the visitor, jingling some
coins in his trouser-pocket.  "I never saw a man so pleased and grateful
in my life.  When he signed the receipt for it--I always get them to
sign a receipt, so that the company can see that I haven't kept the
money for myself--he nearly wept with joy."

"I should think he would," said Mr. Scutts, slowly--"if he wasn't hurt."

"You're the last on my list," said the other, hastily.  He produced a
slip of paper from his pocket-book and placed it on the small table,
with a fountain pen.  Then, with a smile that was both tender and
playful, he plunged his hand in his pocket and poured a stream of gold
on the table.

"What do you say to thir-ty pounds?"  he said, in a hushed voice.
"Thirty golden goblins?"

"What for?"  inquired Mr. Scutts, with a notable lack of interest.

"For--well, to go away for a day or two," said the visitor.  "I find you
in bed; it may be a cold or a bilious attack; or perhaps you had a
little upset of the nerves when the trains kissed each other."

"I'm in bed--because--I can't walk-or stand," said Mr. Scutts, speaking
very distinctly.  "I'm on my club, and if as 'ow I get well in a day or
two, there's no reason why the company should give me any money.  I'm
pore, but I'm honest."

"Take my advice as a friend," said the other; "take the money while you
can get it."

He nodded significantly at Mr. Scutts and closed one eye.  Mr. Scutts
closed both of his.

"I 'ad my back hurt in the collision," he said, after a long pause.  "I
'ad to be helped 'ome.  So far it seems to get worse, but I 'ope for the
best."

"Dear me," said the visitor; "how sad!  I suppose it has been coming on
for a long time.  Most of these back cases do.  At least all the doctors
say so."

"It was done in the collision," said Mr. Scutts, mildly but firmly. "I
was as right as rain before then."

The visitor shook his head and smiled.  "Ah! you would have great
difficulty in proving that," he said, softly; "in fact, speaking as man
to man, I don't mind telling you it would be impossible.  I'm afraid I'm
exceeding my duty, but, as you're the last on my list, suppose--suppose
we say forty pounds.  Forty!  A small fortune."

He added some more gold to the pile on the table, and gently tapped Mr.
Scutts's arm with the end of the pen.

"Good afternoon," said the invalid.

The visitor, justly concerned at his lack of intelligence, took a seat
on the edge of the bed and spoke to him as a friend and a brother, but
in vain.  Mr. Scutts reminded him at last that it was medicine-time,
after which, pain and weakness permitting, he was going to try to get a
little sleep.

"Forty pounds!"  he said to his wife, after the official had departed.
"Why didn't 'e offer me a bag o' sweets?"

"It's a lot o' money," said Mrs. Scutts, wistfully.

"So's a thousand," said her husband.  "I ain't going to 'ave my back
broke for nothing, I can tell you.  Now, you keep that mouth o' yours
shut, and if I get it, you shall 'ave a new pair o' boots."

"A thousand!"  exclaimed the startled Mrs. Scutts.  "Have you took leave
of your senses, or what?"

"I read a case in the paper where a man got it," said Mr. Scutts.  "He
'ad his back 'urt too, pore chap.  How would you like to lay on your
back all your life for a thousand pounds?"

"Will you 'ave to lay abed all your life?"  inquired his wife, staring.

"Wait till I get the money," said Mr. Scutts; "then I might be able to
tell you better."

He gazed wistfully at the window.  It was late October, but the sun
shone and the air was clear.  The sound of traffic and cheerful voices
ascended from the little street.  To Mr. Scutts it all seemed to be a
part of a distant past.

"If that chap comes round to-morrow and offers me five hundred," he
said, slowly, "I don't know as I won't take it.  I'm sick of this mouldy
bed."

He waited expectantly next day, but nothing happened, and after a week
of bed he began to realize that the job might be a long one.  The
monotony, to a man of his active habits, became almost intolerable, and
the narrated adventures of Mr. James Flynn, his only caller, filled him
with an uncontrollable longing to be up and doing.

The fine weather went, and Mr. Scutts, in his tumbled bed, lay watching
the rain beating softly on the window-panes.  Then one morning he awoke
to the darkness of a London fog.

"It gets worse and worse," said Mrs. Scutts, as she returned home in the
afternoon with a relish for his tea.  "Can't see your 'and before your
face."

Mr. Scutts looked thoughtful.  He ate his tea in silence, and after he
had finished lit his pipe and sat up in bed smoking.

"Penny for your thoughts," said his wife.

"I'm going out," said Mr. Scutts, in a voice that defied opposition.
"I'm going to 'ave a walk, and when I'm far enough away I'm going to
'ave one or two drinks.  I believe this fog is sent a-purpose to save my
life."

Mrs. Scutts remonstrated, but in vain, and at half-past six the invalid,
with his cap over his eyes and a large scarf tied round the lower part
of his face, listened for a moment at his front door and then
disappeared in the fog.

Left to herself, Mrs. Scutts returned to the bedroom and, poking the
tiny fire into a blaze, sat and pondered over the willfulness of men.

She was awakened from a doze by a knocking at the street-door.  It was
just eight o'clock, and, inwardly congratulating her husband on his
return to common sense and home, she went down and opened it.  Two tall
men in silk hats entered the room.

"Mrs. Scutts?"  said one of them.

Mrs. Scutts, in a dazed fashion, nodded.

"We have come to see your husband," said the intruder.  "I am a doctor."

The panic-stricken Mrs. Scutts tried in vain to think.

"He-he's asleep," she said, at last.

"Doesn't matter," said the doctor.

"Not a bit," said his companion.

"You--you can't see him," protested Mrs. Scutts.  "He ain't to be seen."

"He'd be sorry to miss me," said the doctor, eyeing her keenly as she
stood on guard by the inner door.  "I suppose he's at home?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Scutts, stammering and flushing.  "Why, the pore
man can't stir from his bed."

"Well, I'll just peep in at the door, then," said the doctor.  "I won't
wake him.  You can't object to that.  If you do--"

Mrs. Scutts's head began to swim.  "I'll go up and see whether he's
awake," she said.

She closed the door on them and stood with her hand to her throat,
thinking.  Then, instead of going upstairs, she passed into the yard
and, stepping over the fence, opened Mr. Flynn's back door.

"Halloa!"  said that gentleman, who was standing in the scullery
removing mud from his boots.  "What's up?"

In a frenzied gabble Mrs. Scutts told him.  "You must be 'im," she said,
clutching him by the coat and dragging him towards the door.  "They've
never seen 'im, and they won't know the difference."

"But--" exclaimed the astonished James.

"Quick!"  she said, sharply.  "Go into the back room and undress, then
nip into his room and get into bed.  And mind, be fast asleep all the
time."

Still holding the bewildered Mr. Flynn by the coat, she led him into the
house and waved him upstairs, and stood below listening until a slight
creaking of the bed announced that he had obeyed orders.  Then she
entered the parlour.

"He's fast asleep," she said, softly; "and mind, I won't 'ave him
disturbed.  It's the first real sleep he's 'ad for nearly a week.  If
you promise not to wake 'im you may just have a peep."

"We won't disturb him," said the doctor, and, followed by his companion,
noiselessly ascended the stairs and peeped into the room.  Mr. Flynn was
fast asleep, and not a muscle moved as the two men approached the bed on
tip-toe and stood looking at him.  The doctor turned after a minute and
led the way out of the room.

"We'll call again," he said, softly.

"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Scutts.  "When?"

The doctor and his companion exchanged glances.  "I'm very busy just at
present," he said, slowly.  "We'll look in some time and take our chance
of catching him awake."

Mrs. Scutts bowed them out, and in some perplexity returned to Mr.
Flynn. "I don't like the look of 'em," she said, shaking her head.
"You'd better stay in bed till Bill comes 'ome in case they come back."

"Right-o," said the obliging Mr. Flynn.  "Just step in and tell my
landlady I'm 'aving a chat with Bill."

He lit his pipe and sat up in bed smoking until a knock at the front
door at half-past eleven sent him off to sleep again.  Mrs. Scutts, who
was sitting downstairs, opened it and admitted her husband.

"All serene?"  he inquired.  "What are you looking like that for?
What's up?"

He sat quivering with alarm and rage as she told him, and then, mounting
the stairs with a heavy tread, stood gazing in helpless fury at the
slumbering form of Mr. James Flynn.

"Get out o' my bed," he said at last, in a choking voice.

"What, Bill!"  said Mr. Flynn, opening his eyes.

"Get out o' my bed," repeated the other.  "You've made a nice mess of it
between you.  It's a fine thing if a man can't go out for 'arf a pint
without coming home and finding all the riffraff of the neighbourhood in
'is bed."

"'Ow's the pore back, Bill?"  inquired Mr. Flynn, with tenderness.

Mr. Scutts gurgled at him.  "Outside!"  he said as soon as he could get
his breath.

"Bill," said the voice of Mrs. Scutts, outside the door.

"Halloa," growled her husband.

"He mustn't go," said Mrs. Scutts.  "Those gentlemen are coming again,
and they think he is you."

"WHAT!" roared the infuriated Mr. Scutts.

"Don't you see?  It's me what's got the pore back now, Bill," said Mr.
Flynn.  "You can't pass yourself off as me, Bill; you ain't good-looking
enough."

Mr. Scutts, past speech, raised his clenched fists to the ceiling.

"He'll 'ave to stay in your bed," continued the voice of Mrs. Scutts.
"He's got a good 'art, and I know he'll do it; won't you, Jim?"

Mr. Flynn pondered.  "Tell my landlady in the morning that I've took
your back room," he said.  "What a fortunit thing it is I'm out o' work.
What are you walking up and down like that for, Bill?  Back coming on
agin?"

"Then o' course," pursued the voice of Mrs. Scutts, in meditative
accents, "there's the club doctor and the other gentleman that knows
Bill.  They might come at any moment.  There's got to be two Bills in
bed, so that if one party comes one Bill can nip into the back room, and
if the other Bill--party, I mean--comes, the other Bill--you know what I
mean!"

Mr. Scutts swore himself faint.

"That's 'ow it is, mate," said Mr. Flynn.  "It's no good standing there
saying your little piece of poetry to yourself.  Take off your clo'es
and get to bed like a little man.  Now! now!  Naughty!  Naughty!"

"P'r'aps I oughtn't to 'ave let 'em up, Bill," said his wife; "but I was
afraid they'd smell a rat if I didn't.  Besides, I was took by
surprise."

"You get off to bed," said Mr. Scutts.  "Get off to bed while you're
safe."

"And get a good night's rest," added the thoughtful Mr. Flynn.  "If
Bill's back is took bad in the night I'll look after it."

Mr. Scutts turned a threatening face on him.  "For two pins--" he began.

"For two pins I'll go back 'ome and stay there," said Mr. Flynn.

He put one muscular leg out of bed, and then, at the earnest request of
Mr. Scutts, put it back again.  In a few simple, manly words the latter
apologized, by putting all the blame on Mrs. Scutts, and, removing his
clothes, got into bed.

Wrapped in bedclothes, they passed the following day listening for
knocks at the door and playing cards.  By evening both men were weary,
and Mr. Scutts made a few pointed remarks concerning dodging doctors and
deceitful visitors to which Mr. Flynn listened in silent approval.

"They mightn't come for a week," he said, dismally.  "It's all right for
you, but where do I come in?  Halves?"

Mr. Scutts had a rush of blood to the head.

"You leave it to me, mate," he said, controlling himself by an effort.
"If I get ten quid, say, you shall have 'arf."

"And suppose you get more?"  demanded the other.

"We'll see," said Mr. Scutts, vaguely.

Mr. Flynn returned to the charge next day, but got no satisfaction.  Mr.
Scutts preferred to talk instead of the free board and lodging his
friend was getting.  On the subject of such pay for such work he was
almost eloquent.

"I'll bide my time," said Mr. Flynn, darkly.  "Treat me fair and I'll
treat you fair."

His imprisonment came to an end on the fourth day.  There was a knock at
the door, and the sound of men's voices, followed by the hurried
appearance of Mrs. Scutts.

"It's Jim's lot," she said, in a hurried whisper.  "I've just come up to
get the room ready."

Mr. Scutts took his friend by the hand, and after warmly urging him not
to forget the expert instructions he had received concerning his back,
slipped into the back room, and, a prey to forebodings, awaited the
result.

"Well, he looks better," said the doctor, regarding Mr. Flynn.

"Much better," said his companion.

Mrs. Scutts shook her head.  "His pore back don't seem no better, sir,"
she said in a low voice.  "Can't you do something for it?"

"Let me have a look at it," said the doctor.  "Undo your shirt."

Mr. Flynn, with slow fingers, fumbled with the button at his neck and
looked hard at Mrs. Scutts.

"She can't bear to see me suffer," he said, in a feeble voice, as she
left the room.

He bore the examination with the fortitude of an early Christian martyr.
In response to inquiries he said he felt as though the mainspring of his
back had gone.

"How long since you walked?"  inquired the doctor.

"Not since the accident," said Mr. Flynn, firmly.

"Try now," said the doctor.

Mr. Flynn smiled at him reproachfully.

"You can't walk because you think you can't," said the doctor; "that is
all.  You'll have to be encouraged the same way that a child is.  I
should like to cure you, and I think I can."

He took a small canvas bag from the other man and opened it.  "Forty
pounds," he said.  "Would you like to count it?"

Mr. Flynn's eyes shone.

"It is all yours," said the doctor, "if you can walk across the room and
take it from that gentleman's hand."

"Honour bright?" asked Mr. Flynn, in tremulous tones, as the other man
held up the bag and gave him an encouraging smile.

"Honour bright," said the doctor.

With a spring that nearly broke the bed, Mr. Flynn quitted it and
snatched the bag, and at the same moment Mrs. Scutts, impelled by a
maddened arm, burst into the room.

"Your back!"  she moaned.  "It'll kill you Get back to bed."

"I'm cured, lovey," said Mr. Flynn, simply.

"His back is as strong as ever," said the doctor, giving it a thump.

Mr. Flynn, who had taken his clothes from a chair and was hastily
dressing himself, assented.

"But if you'll wait 'arf a tick I'll walk as far as the corner with
you," he said, quickly.  "I'd like to make sure it's all right."

He paused at the foot of the stairs and, glancing up at the palid and
murderous face of Mr. Scutts, which protruded from the back bedroom,
smiled at him rapturously.  Then, with a lordly air, he tossed him five
pieces of gold.





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