11 A Short Story — The Broken Promise.
AN ORDINARY LIFE OF A SEVENTY-PERCENTER.
Interlude: A Short Story — The Broken Promise.
This story contains no connection to anything that happened in my life except, of course, that I wrote it!
I think I may have drafted the story originally while at home in the Headmaster’s House in Seven Oaks and attending School in Greytown. I was into writing at that stage (I also have a poem from that era) and the stamp-savings thing would have been fresh in my mind because I had cashed in my savings stamps collection, which I had started in Class 1, somewhere along the line, and probably put it toward the money the price of a Rudge bicycle (with Sturmey Archer three-speed!) which I bought in my Standard 9 year (I think!).
(That Rudge is a story in itself! I had long been eying it hanging from a hook in the A. Ross & Co. general dealers shop in Greytown with little hope of ever owning it. Then Toni and Tokkie (my sister and brother-in-law) called in at the school to say hello when passing through on their way to their farm in the Cape. As they were departing, Tokkie handed me two pounds and ten shillings which, added to the proceeds from the sale of the savings-stamps and another stamp album that Mr Nel, the Dipping Inspector, bought from me, I had exactly the twelve pounds and ten shillings required for the Rudge. What incredible joy I had watching the bike taken down from the hook, and me riding off down the road on it! I don’t think I ever had as good a feeling even when driving out from a showroom with a brand new car in later years.)
But it was only when Dorothy and I were settled in the flat in Riley Road in Durban that I typed the story out and submitted it to “The South African Woman’s Weekly” supplement to The Natal Mercury newspaper. It was accepted and published on January 23, 1958, much to my delight for now I had broken into print ! I submitted it with the title “Eye Wash” and it was the Editor that changed that to “The Broken Promise”. I was paid three guineas (a guinea was equal to one pound and one shilling), and considering that my salary at the time was probably twenty pounds a month or less, it was a useful contribution to our spending money. I wrote another story at that stage but with no success. I didn’t attempt any more short story writing after that until 1996 when Dorothy and I finally retired and moved to our present address in Cape Town.
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The Broken Promise
by H. J. Sutton
- Suddenly in the early hours of the morning the idea came to him — he made a plan for getting his revenge on the Old Man for breaking his word.-
He muttered and turned uneasily in his sleep, then sat bolt upright in his bed, still saying aloud now in his waking moment that one word which had been as a refrain in his dreams — “Revenge! Revenge!”.
Already he had a half-formed plan running through his mind — probably also carried out in his dreams. After all, the money was his by right and by promise.
What right had he, the Old Man, to hold out on a chap? Especially now, at this time, when Josie was relying on him. He had, after all, promised to do the right thing by her, and he liked to keep his promises. So why shouldn’t the Old Man keep his?
Revenge! He’d show the chap. He’d teach him not to break his promises. He’d fix it so he’d never do it again.
He heard the grandfather clock in the hall striking six. That would give him a clear half-hour. He had better act fast! He knew that you could set a watch by the Old Man’s movements. At half-past six exactly, the Old Man would come down the stairs and go to the bathroom. That was a dead certainty. A dead certainty.
Mentally he pictured the layout of the bathroom. There was a big clothes hook on the door, held in place by a bolt passing right through, with the head on the outside. He could remove that easily enough. It was almost exactly the right height from the floor, too. Especially for a tall man. And the Old Man was tall. That hole would be on a level with the Old Man’s eye. Good!
He had better act fast. He jumped out of bed and crossed to where his trousers lay on the chair beside the dressing table. From the pocket he took out the pistol, and from another pocket, a length of string. He always carried the string in his pocket for just such an emergency as this.
He crossed to the bedroom door, carefully opening it just a crack, and looked and listened intently for almost half a minute. Then he opened the door fully and crossed quietly to the bathroom, the door of which stood ajar. He went inside and closed the door behind him.
Just as he had pictured it. He saw that he could remove the nut by twisting the clothes hook. Excellent. That was the one thing that might have stopped him. He carried the bathroom chair over to the door. He couldn’t quite reach the hook without standing on the chair, because he was too short. He opened the door a little and listened once more — intently. There was no sound. He carefully began to unscrew the hook. It came off with no trouble at all. Everything was much too easy. The hook off, one smart blow with a shoe wrapped in a towel served to remove the bolt.
Now for the main part. He took the pistol and loaded it carefully. That done, he returned to the door, climbed onto the chair and forced the muzzle of the pistol into the hole where the bolt had been. It fitted nice and tightly and was held firmly in position with the point of the barrel not quite protruding from the outside.
Now the last part. He took the string, made a loop in one end and slipped it over the trigger. He took the string back round the butt and then horizontally across the door and over a nail which had been hammered in about a foot from the edge of the door — probably for extra hanging space. He then led the string down to the shaft of the door knob, where he tied it on tightly. Now everything was ready.
He tested his device by turning the door knob gently. The string tautened. It would work. He left the bathroom, closing the door gently behind him without turning the knob. It made a loud click which he was afraid would wake everyone. But there was no sound.
From the passage he could see the grandfather clock. It showed six 6.25. He went back to his room and pushed the door to behind him, leaving a slight crack through which he could see the bathroom door.
Presently the clock struck the half-hour. Now was the time. Now he was going to have his revenge. Now the Old Man would learn his lesson. He could hear footsteps on the floor above him. The Old Man was up.
He waited on tenterhooks. Wasn’t he ever going to come down? After what seemed an eternity he heard a door open upstairs and, presently, footsteps coming down the stairs. He closed the door almost fully as the Old Man passed his room, then opened it again to watch him at the bathroom door. He saw the Old Man put his hand on the knob and begin to turn it.
Heavens! What had he done? What was going to happen to him now? But, it was too late to think about that now.
The Old Man turned the knob. There was a loud hiss, and a stream of water shot out of the hole in the door and hit him in the eye. The water streamed down Mr. Ryder’s pyjama-front until he was soaking wet. He yelled a loud “Hey” and turned towards his six-year old son, John, standing in the doorway behind him.
He picked him up and gave him a playful smack and said, “You little rascal”. He hugged him tightly, lifted him high towards the ceiling, lowered him again and put him on his bed.
“You’d better get dressed, son, or you’ll be late for school. And Mummy told me not to get you that water pistol! Serves me right — I’m all wet. Hurry up, son.”
He turned towards the door, but paused with his hand on the handle. “I forgot to give you your pocket-money yesterday. Remind Daddy at breakfast and he’ll give it to you.” He went out.
Little John broke into song. He was happy. He would have his money and he could give it to Miss Josie at school in return for his bright savings stamps. Just as he had promised. He would do the right thing by her. He always liked to keep his promises.
Copyright: H J Sutton, Durban, South Africa, January, 1958
Word count = 1070