The Redwood Pub and the Claw-Foot Tub
© Will Moody

Winner, 2015 Man From Snowy River Festival Humorous Section, Corryong Victoria.

In a Redwood hotel (it was old you could tell by the ceiling boards high overhead)
in the front entrance hall, framed and hung on the wall, was a newspaper clipping that read:
   “The original pub was burned down to a nub in the winter of Nineteen and Ten
   when the lure of the gold long ago had gone cold...there was barely a town left by then.
   Local gossips agreed that a dastardly deed caused the death of Bartholomew Green,
   for the rumour-mill said that the fire had been fed by some deftly applied kerosene.”

...So why don’t we return on a fanciful journey, to fill in historical gaps?
Back to Nineteen and Ten...to that fateful night when we will see just what happened, perhaps?

   There she stands the old girl, neither ruby nor pearl, just your typical back-country job.
   Timber framed, timber lined with a front bar designed for a hard-drinking, beer-swilling mob.
   The now-tatty top floor has a room with a claw-footed bath for refined clientele
   who’d been cashed up and flush at the height of the rush when the hotel was doing quite well.
   But in these leaner days it seems prudent to raise five and sixpence a month from the rent
   of those lodgers who care (or in winter who dare) to partake of this weekly event.

(No hot water up here for a bathtub, it’s clear, takes a great many buckets to fill.
And that’s probably why, to the publican’s eye, only five and six goes on the bill.)

   Now Bartholomew Green, long-time lodger, is keen to be seen to be clean once a week.
   Yes this clean-living gent deems it money well-spent...’coz it’s more than two mile to the creek!
   Now, in winter the chill is a damned bitter pill for a lodger who longs to stay clean
   and this winter, in fact, holds the record intact for the coldest that they’ve ever seen.
   But this crafty old codger and clean-living lodger has been once or twice round the block,
   so an antifreeze brandy before-hand is dandy in order to lessen the shock.

It’s the night of the crime and it’s Bartie’s bathtime and he gingerly takes to the tub.
Though the mid-winter chill is quite evident still, he submits to his ice-water scrub.

   A sad state of affairs in the front bar downstairs...not a soul to be seen in the place.
   As he sheds bitter tears over bankruptcy fears, there are scowls on the publican’s face.
   His one final resort is the ‛fire cover’ bought when the bar trade was lively and brisk.
   Sense and reason depart! He’s convinced a new start with the pay-out is well worth the risk.
   On an impulse that’s rash, after stashing the cash from the till, he now splashes about
   kerosene from each lamp ’til the whole place is damp. Strikes a match and then hot-foots it out.

(Having never a thought for the criminal court or the menace to life and to limb
of poor Bartie up there in the tub, unaware of the imminent danger to him).

   For he’s quite nodded off in his cast-iron trough from the brandy that flows through his veins
   and it’s fair to think some of his bits are quite numb, not excluding some parts of his brains.
   Now the fire’s taken hold on dry timbers and old chairs and tables downstairs in the bar.
   As the heat and flames rise Bartie wakes in surprise from the torpor induced by Three Star.
   In a bit of a daze, with the room full of haze, he’s aware that this isn’t the norm,
   but distracted somewhat by a feeling he’s got that his bathwater’s pleasantly warm.

In the thickening haze, he defers and delays any chance he might still have to flee.
For he’s thinking “High time! After all these years I’m getting value for my monthly fee!”

   As the minutes tick by, he continues to lie back enjoying his sauna-cum-spa
   unaware in his bliss of the crackle and hiss of the holocaust down in the bar.
   His oblivious state is the key to his fate...Bartie need not have perished that night.
   For a soberer man might have worked out a plan to get himself out of this plight.
   With a crash and a roar the tub falls through the floor. Any hope of escape disappears.
   Bartie’s last fuddled thought: “That’s a bargain well-bought. It’s the warmest that I’ve been in years!”

Now the case is resolved—there was arson involved and it did for old Bartie, of course.
But he still might have flown (and some common sense shown!) if he hadn’t been hitting the sauce.

   Had he not been seduced by the rapture produced by the warmth that was lapping his loins,
   Bartie might have survived and have even contrived to arrange for some change from his coins!
   But his ghost lingers yet ’round the pub, wringing wet...so the casual visitor’s told
   and might give them a fright on bleak winter’s night, when old Bartie is feeling the cold.
   They installed a hot-tub in the yard of the pub to induce the old spectre outside...
   but the plan was a dud...see, he’s still in the nud...and even a ghost has his pride.

So we’ve now traced the path from the fire to the bath and the reason that poor Bartie died
was the thrill that he got from a bath, nice and hot...it was pleasure-induced suicide.


---

RETURN TO AWARD WINNING POETRY INDEX