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The Constable Speaks
It was a very cold night; and I should
not have gone out at all, but that my dog protested he was bored and wanted a
change. So I put on an overcoat and went forth for his sake, and that is why I
got into conversation with the policeman. For it must be admitted that my dog
was not muzzled in exact accordance with the regulations, and the policeman,
having remarked that it was a very cold night, remarked this as well.
He leaned genially over the gate, and said he was particularly interested in dogs, because he had one of his own; do everything but talk, that dog could; yes, he could smell him (for my dog was sniffing the official calves); curious things, dogs. Lucky dog, too, this one, not having a muzzle on, strictly speaking. And it was a bitter cold night, when you came on at ten and went off at six. Lonely, too. Well - thank you, it wouldn't come amiss. He looked this way and that way, and in no long time the door had closed behind the dog, the constable, and myself.
He nursed his helmet in the crook of his left arm, and said it was wonderful what a dislike dogs have to muzzles; he, personally, did not hold with the regulation at all, only he was allowed no voice in the matter. Yes, he would have some soda-water with it, but a very little, and rather less whisky. You were always sure of getting a drop of good stuff in a private house, and a constable must be careful to keep a clear head. Not like the stuff you get in publics, especially in the publics over that way.
The constable jerked his head towards the back window, through which you might chuck stones in the direction South London.
'You can't be sure you haven't got more in your drink than you reckoned,' said the constable.
'You mean it may be fiddled,' I said.
'Fiddled, I mean,' said the constable.
'Do you know Larnbeth?' I asked.
'I was stationed there two years,' said the constable.
'Then I suppose you know something of the Hooligans?'
The constable implied that he knew all about them that was worth knowing.
'I wonder if you ever came across a young friend of mine who does something in that line,' I said.
'The constable set down his glass.
'Begging your pardon, sir,' he said. 'Meaning the young feller I see going away from here the other night?'
'You know him?'
'I was intending to ask you if you knew the sort of young feller he is. I've known him since he was that high.'
The constable indicated a point at about the level of his waistbelt.
'There's a many of his sort about here,' continued the constable. 'But down Lambeth way they're - well - they're a treat. And that young feller was about the warmest I ever did come across. Sneak anything he could see, that boy would. Cheeky, too. My word!'
The constable nodded reflectively.
'I remember seeing him hanging round a fish shop one day, and so I says to him, "Be off now," making like as if I was going to cuff him. Catch him? Couldn't get near him. And then he looks back with his hands stuck in his pockets, and says, "None of your bleedin' interference, constable, cause I won't tolerate it." Those were his very words. Not four foot high, he warn't, at the time. Not that. Well, so long as you know the sort of young feller he is, there's no harm done.'
'I don't think he'll try to burgle me,' I said.
The constable thought he must be going. No; he would not take any more. A drop of something didn't do you any harm on a cold night, but you had to be careful, and you were always sure of a good drop of stuff in a private house. Not like what you got in publics. Ah, getting drink from publics was how more than one of his mates that he could mention had come to grief.
The constable put his helmet upon his head, and went down the steps into the night. I had one or two questions to put to young Alf at our next meeting.