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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936

Bed and Bath

page 60

Bed and Bath

There had always been a bathroom baritone at the Kenna's but the end of the dynasty came when young Appleton was dismissed from his work, and had to seek cheaper lodgings or go back to Taranaki without gaining his much coveted degree. Two days later a wrinkled old man with a light brown overcoat, no hat and little hair, hobbled up the fifteen steps ("Count them carefully, dear; or you'll break your neck in the dark.") and presented himself before old Mrs. Kenna. He was a pensioner, very quiet; he said, and not a big eater. Could she reduce the rent a little? Mrs. Kenna had just heard that her next door neighbours had advertised their rooms for two weeks at a price two shillings below that charged by Kenna's, and yet had received no reply. So old Mrs. Kenna assented with little objection.

One night they heard him clamber up the stairs, switch on the light and enter the bathroom. A pause of five minutes and then he came down to ask for a match. Then commenced a sequence of events that through following years became ineradicably impressed into the memories of the Kenna-ites. Every Sunday night, Mr. Campbell would walk upstairs with the towel on his arm and soap in his pocket. Those below would hear him put two pennies in the meter and turn on the gas. Then would come an instant of anxious expectation for the people below as they imagined him fumbling unhurriedly for a match. A young explosion would follow as he opportunely cut short the flow of unlit gas, followed by divers splashings and rumblings as he filled the bath and tested the temperature. Then would come the splash. Those who heard it were firmly of the opinion that Mr. Campbell climbed nimbly on top of the caliphont and dived into the bath from that position. Old Mrs. Kenna's emotions would be best undescribed as she heard the water swishing merrily about the bathroom floor. Then to the delight of the flattites assembled for their evening entertainment, Mr. Campbell would begin slowly and ponderously to sing the Anvil Chorus in a nasal tenor, supplying the beats before the second stanza with beautifully timed thumps on the side of the bath, which would resound hollowly throughout the house. This finished, he would begin to wash his scanty hair, the soap would get up his nose, and he would sneeze sonorously until he crawled out of the bath.

But one night, after his celebrated dive from the caliphont top, they did not hear their accustomed song. They had grown to expect it, and were astonished to find that they were disgruntled because their interruption had failed them. "Shouldn't be surprised if the old beggar had swallowed the soap," ventured a student to the interested group at the dark foot of the stairs. And presently old Mrs. Kenna herself opened her door with a look on her face akin to dread, and trod courageously up the stairs.

She knocked; and those below heard no answer; no, not even the splash and gurgle which usually precedes a change to sitting posture. She knocked again, this time supplementing it by an urgent call in her high, weak old voice: "Are you all right, Mr. Campbell?" Still no answer, and she tiptoed down again, her face set. They all went to their rooms, more silently than usual. Something was wrong.

Half an hour later they heard Mrs. Kenna at the door again. "Mr. Campbell, are you all right? Speak, man, are you drowned?" Not a gurgle, not a splash. She came down again, pale with determination. "You'll have to break the door down," she said. The students welcomed any physical exertion, and without waiting for Mr. Deacon who picked holes in roads all day long, they flew to the door and shoved. "One, two, three," they panted, "—she's going." And they all fell head long into the room.

* * *

He was dead, of course, lying face down in the water. "Heart failure," said one of the students, "he was dead before he drowned." They looked at him with awe—death is strange to youth. He had just parted with the one little strand of life which had kept him animate, and now he lay, half submerged, like a wrinkled old apple, floating down the river. . .

But there are no bathroom baritones at Kenna's now. New boarders have the matter firmly explained to them, regardless of the protests of old Mrs. Kenna. Somehow, a jazz song between four walls which still echo the Anvil Chorus would sound out of place.