Cruiskeen Lawn


MYLES NA gCOPALEEN:He usually reserved his more outrageous puns for Keats and Chapman, but Myles himself would be led astray by a piece of word-play, as in this gothic murder tale from Fin de Siècle London.

The “Tay Pay” referred to is TP O’Mahony, long-time nationalist MP and journalist, who is credited with inventing the political gossip column. – FRANK McNALLY

YEARS AGO when I was living in Islington, a cub reporter in the service of Tay Pay, founder of that modern scourge, the “gossip column”, I had great trouble with my landlord. The man was a vulgar low bowler-hatted plumber who tortured me exquisitely by

his vulgarity of dress, talk and aspect. The situation rapidly became Russian. Evenings in the yellow gaslight, myself immersed in a letter to George Harris or painfully compiling my first novel, the gross plumber audibly eating tripe in an armchair behind me. The succession – the crescendo of “Greek” emotion – irritation – anger – loathing – then hatred. And then the quiet grey thought – I will do this creature in. I will do for him, gorblimey, if I have to swing for it!

It is funny how small things irk far beyond their own intrinsic significance. The way he sucked at his dirty pipe, too lazy or stupid to light it. The trick of never lacing his boots up completely. And his low boasting about his drinking. Forty-eight pints of cider in a Maidenhead inn. Mild and bitter by the gallon. I remember retorting savagely on one occasion that I would drink him under the table. Immediately came the challenge to do so. “Not now,” I remember saying, “but sooner than you think, my good friend.” That is the way we talked in those days. Possibly it was just then that I first formed my murderous resolution. But I digress.

When I had finally decided to murder this insufferable plumber, I naturally occupied my mind for some days with the mechanics of sudden death. I was familiar with the practice of homicide fashionable in the eighties, and I laid my plans with some care. I took to locking my bedroom so that the paraphernalia of execution could be amassed without arousing the suspicions of the patient.

The chopper was duly purchased, together with a spare hatchet in case the plumber’s skull should withstand the chopper. I attended a physical culture class to improve my muscles. Alcohol and tobacco were discontinued. I took long walks on Sunday afternoons and slept with the window wide open. But most important of all – remember that I speak of the gaslit eighties – I purchased a large bath and the customary drums of acid.

I was then ready. The precise moment of execution did not matter so much. It would coincide with some supreme extremity of irritation. And it did. One evening, re-opening the manuscript of my novel, I discovered traces of tripe on the clean copper-plate pages. The wretched plumber had been perusing my private documents. I went upstairs whistling “The Girl in the Hansom Cab,” came down cheerfully with the chopper behind my back, and opened the ruffian’s skull from crown to neck with a haymaker of a wallop that nearly broke my own arm. The rest was simple. I carried the body up to my room and put it in the bath of acid. Nothing more remained but to put things in order for my departure next day for a week’s holiday with my old parents in Goraghwood, my native place.

When I returned to London, I went up to the bedroom with some curiosity. There was nothing to be seen save the bath of acid. I carried the bath down to the sittingroom and got a glass. I filled the glass with what was in the bath, crept in under the table and swallowed the burning liquid. Glass after glass I swallowed till all was gone.

It was with grim joy that I accomplished my threat that I would drink this plumber under the table. It was the sort of thing one did at the turn of the century.