“No, I won’t put up with chains. I’ll carry a Spear,” she said, and tumbled down the ladder to dress ... tumbled because her feet were unsteady.
As she was dressing she became aware of sounds of violent scrubbing going on in the next room—she had often heard such sounds almost before dawn. She had noticed, too, the almost painful cleanliness of the rather bare, big house. She knew that no servants were kept; she never saw Mrs. King scrubbing; most of her time was spent in cooking and washing clothes. Mr. King had never, yet, put in an appearance.
Presently the scrubbing stopped and shambling steps came along the landing as someone slopped along, dragging his slippers into which he had merely thrust his toes. There was a scratching sort of tap at the door. Marcella opened it quickly.
A man stood in the doorway, a man with bent shoulders, grey hair and bent back. His face was yellow and unhealthy-looking; his eyes were filmed and colourless. He seemed half asleep as he looked round over his shoulder suspiciously.
“Missus—have you got a tray bit?” he whispered.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“A tray bit, missus—just thruppence—a mouldy thruppence to get a livener.”
“Oh, you want some money?” she said hurriedly, and realizing the impossibility of offering a grown up man threepence gave him half a crown. He shambled off without a word and she saw no more of him. Later, when Louis came down from the roof, he slid along the landing on the soap the scrubber had left there. When Marcella went down to the kitchen where Mrs. King was already busy ironing, the mystery was explained.
“My boss has gone off for the day,” she complained. “I went up into Dutch Frank’s room just now, and found the pail of water left there! He’d hardly begun his scrubbing. I don’t know where he got his money from.”
“Was that your husband?” cried Marcella, stopping short in her toast-making.
“Oh, he’s bin at you, has he?” said Mrs. King resignedly.
“I gave him—a little money. I didn’t know he was your husband,” said Marcella apologetically.
“I ought to have warned you, but there, you can’t think of every blooming thing at once. Don’t you worry, kid. I’m not blaming you. He would have been at you sooner or later. It’s all the same in the long run, but it means I’ve got to scrub the floors. And my back’s that bad—I do suffer with my back something cruel.”
“Where has he gone, then?”
“Oh, beer-bumming. He goes off every day, and comes in every night after closing time, shikkered up.”
“I’ve never seen him before,” ventured Marcella.
“He’s a lad, Bob is. We had a bonser hotel once, kid—a tied house, you know. He was manager, on’y he drunk us out of it. So then I took on this place on my own—got the furniture hire system, else he’d raise money on it, and sell it up under me. He’s no damn good to me, you know, kid—only I do manage to get a bit of scrubbing out of him, of a morning.”