A “Burgling” Incident


Arthur Morrison

Published in The Melbourne Argus on 27 May, 1905

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Last updated Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 14:32.

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eBooks@Adelaide
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Snorkey, as described by Mr. Arthur Morrison in the “Pall Mall Magizine,” tells a very interesting tale of his experiences as a burglar. At the time he is interviewed he is anxious to be provided with means to pay a holiday excursion to the country, so as to be out of the way when two of his former “pals” get their discharge from gaol.

“‘Ginger Bates’ll be out in a day or two, an’ Joe Kelly too — both together.’”

Ginger Bates and Joe Kelly had experienced the misfortune, some months more than two years back, to be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude. By the ordinary operation of the prison system, with prudence and good luck they must soon be released.

“‘What’s this, then?’ I said. ‘You haven’t been narking, have you?’

“‘Me? Narkin’?’ Snorkey glared indignantly; and, in fact, the sin of the informer was the sole transgression of which I could never really have suspected him. ‘No. I ain’t bin narkin’. I ain’t bin’ narkin, but I don’t want to see Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly when they come out — not both on ’em together, any’ow. After a week or two they’ll split out after other things, an’ it won’t matter so much; but when they fust come out they’ll be together, an’ the fust thing they’ll do, they’ll ask after me. I don’t want to be at ‘ome just then.’

“‘Why?’

“‘Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly ‘ad got their eye on a nice place in the country for a bust,’ Snorkey proceeded, meaning thereby that his two friends had in view a burglary at a country house. ‘It was a nice medium sort o’ place, not too big, but well worth doin’, an’ they got me to go down an’ take the measure of it for a few days, them not wantin’ to show theirselves in the neighbourhood, o’ course. So they gives me a quid for exes, an’ a few odd sheets o’ glass in a glazier’s frame with a lump o’ putty an’ a knife on it, an’ I humps the lot and starts. O’ course, I was to take my whack when they’d done the job. Nothin’ better than the glazier caper, if you want to run the rule over a likely place. Buyin’ bottles an’ bones does pretty well sometimes, but you don’t get the same chances. It was very nigh two hours’ run out on the rattler, an’ then a four-mile walk; very good weather, an’ I put in a day or two doin’ it easy in the sun.’

“‘It was a furst-rate place — quite nobby. I had a good look at it from outside the garden wall, an’ I asked a few questions at the pub an’ what not. After that I went in by the back way, with my glass on my back; an’ I had luck straight away, for I see a pantry winder broke. So I ‘ad good look round fust, an’ then I went along, very ‘umble an’ civil to everybody, an’ got the job to mend that winder. More luck.’

“‘They let me do the winder — me offerin’ to do it cheap — an’ so I sets to work steady enough, with a slavey comin’ to pipe me round the corner every now an’ then, to see as I didn’t pinch nothink. An’ o’ course I didn’t. I behaved most industrious an’ honest, an’ you might ha’ made a picture of me, facsimiliar, to go in front of a bloomin’ tract, an’ done it credit, too. But while the slavey was a-pipin’ me, I was a-pipin’ the pantry — what ho! I was a-pipin’ the pantry with my little eye, and there was more bloomin’ luck; for if ever I see a wedge-kip in all my nach’ral puff, I see one fine an’ large under the shelf in that bloomin’ pantry! The luck I ‘ad all through that job was jist ‘eavenly.’

“‘Heavenly might not have been the appropriate word in the strictly moral view, but since by the ‘wedge-kip’ Snorkey indicated the plate-basket of the unsuspecting householder, I understood him well enough.

“‘It was jist ‘eavenly. I never ‘ad sich luck before nor since. So I finished the job very slow, an’ took my money very ‘umble, an’ a glass o’ beer as they sent out for me, an’ pratted away to the village an’ sent off a little screeve by the post, for Ginger an’ Joe to come along to-morrer night an’ do the job peaceful an’ pleasant. You see the new putty I’d put in ‘ud peel out on yer finger, an’ it only meant takin’ out the pane an openin’ the catch to do the job.’

“‘Well, I put up cheap at the smallest pub, an’ in the mornin’ I went out for a walk. Bein’ a glazier, ye see, ‘twouldn’t ‘a done for me not to go on the tramp like as if it was after a job. So off I went along the road, an’ it was about the ‘ottest stroll ever I took. It was a ‘ot day, without any extrys, but you don’t know what a ‘ot day’s like till ye’ve tramped in it with the sun on yer back an’ two or three thicknesses o’ winder-glass for it to shine through. I took the loneliest road out o’ the village, not wantin’ to be called on for another job, an’ not wantin’ to be seen more’n I could ‘elp.’”

The next stage of Snorkey’s story, though fully and picturesquely told by Mr. Morrison, must be disposed of in a few sentences. After a long tramp, Snorkey came to a lonely inn, and a travelling house van — one of the cabins mounted on wheels which are used nowadays in England by persons who wish to go touring without putting up at inns en route. The tourist on this occasion was an eccentric gentleman, driven by an old man, totally deaf. After the van had passed the inn, Snorkey followed it up, and, to his surprise, came upon the tourist, at a lonely spot, stark naked.

The tourist had got down to take a bath in a portable bath, which he carried in the van. While he was enjoying himself, the deaf driver had driven off absent-mindedly with the tourist’s clothes.

An arrangement was come to by which Snorkey should lend the tourist his coat, run after the house van, stop it, and make it return. Snorkey, almost breathless with a long-distance trot, caught up the van, and jumped into it by the back “door.” Once within, temptation proved too much for him. He possessed himself of the tourist’s best clothes, also his watch, chain, cash, and a handy kit-bag. Dropping out of the van, he found a retired spot off the lane, put on the tourist’s suit, hung his own on the hedge, and waited a good while till he saw the tourist come lamely along, with bare feet, sore from walking. Snorkey felt sure that the tourist, on seeing the garments on the hedge would make use of them; so, with a light mind, as he had by this time completed his own toilet and made himself look like a swell, he departed.

“I guyed off as soon as I could to the place where I put in the pantry winder, an’ I took the winder out again, just after dusk, an’ did the show for ‘alf the wedge in the kipsy — spoons an’ forks in my pockets, an’ the rest in the kit-bag. That was my new idea, you see. Then I come through the shrubbery an’ out the front way, an’ at the gate I met the very slavey as was pipin’ me while I put in the pantry winder! She looked pretty ‘ard, so I puts on a voice like a markis, an’ ‘Good evenin’! I says, very sniffy an’ condercendin’ as I went past, and she says ‘Good evenin’, sir,’ an’ lets me go. Oh, I can do it sossy, I tell ye, when I’ve got ’em on!

“I went all out for the station, an’ caught a train snug. I see Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly comin’ off from the train as I got there; but I dodged ’em all right, an’ did the wedge in next day for thirty quid an’ twenty-five bob for the photo-camera — ought to ‘a bin more, An’ so I pulled off a merry little double event. I never ‘ad sich a day’s luck as I ‘ad that day, all through. It was ‘eavenly!”

“And is that all you know of the affair?” I asked.

“All that’s to do with me,” replied the unblushing Snorkey. “But the toff with the van, ‘is troubles wasn’t over. ‘E was in the papers next day — locked up for ‘ousebreakin’. It seems they missed the stuff out o’ the plate-basket soon after I’d gone, an’ the slavey that piped me goin’ out gave a description o’ me in the nobby tweed suit, an’ somebody remembered seein’ jist such a bloke go past in a carryvan. It made a fetchin’ novelty for the ‘a’penny papers —‘Gentleman Burglar in a Travelling Van,’ especially when ‘e was found disguised as a glazier in my old clothers, an’ ‘is frame o’ glass discovered concealed in a ditch. That did it pretty plain fer ’im, yer see. ‘E’d turned up first like a glazier, and reconnoitred, an’ then he’d come dossed up to clear out the stuff. Plain enough. It was quite a catch for a bit, but it didn’t last — the rozzers ‘ad to let ’im go. But they didn’t let Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly go, though — not them. Them two unfort’nit spec’lators prowled about lookin’ for me for some time, an’ about twelve o’clock at night they sailed in to do the job without me. Well, you see, by then it was a bit late for that place. The people was up all night, listenin’ for burglars everywhere, an’ there was two policemen there on watch as well. So Ginger Bates an’ Joe Kelly was collared holus-bolus, an’ thereby prevented rainin’ unproper claims to stand in with what I’d scraped up myself. An’ now they’ve bin wearin’ knickerbockers theirselves for more’n two years, an’ as soon as they’ve done their time — well, there’s no knowin’ but what they may make it a matter o’ professional jealousy. What O-o-o-o!”

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005