I’ve got a book called “The Downland Post”. It’s a compilation of the 1924 contents of a monthly magazine of the same name and as the title implies it sets out to celebrate the glory of Sussex and the South Downs.
A regular contributor is Gordon Volk who I am certain must be related to the Brighton inventor Magnus Volk, of electric railway fame. Gordon’s column is called “Tales from a Sussex Windmill” and carries amusing stories as related to him by an affable miller who is never actually given a name.
The April 1924 issue contained the following tale told by the miller that delighted me and I hope does the same for you:
Some people I tell this story to think that I invented the name “Stickels” but it is the man’s real name. Now everybody in the village knows everybody else and so everybody knew Stickels. He’d been a farm labourer and, having got too old for that, was working on the roads, which is the last thing you do before you go into the workhouse.
In the village lived a very nice old lady. Mrs. Brown was house-proud and kept her place spotless and her pantry was a picture with dishes of cream and butter and shelf upon shelf of home-made jams and pickles.
One day Mrs. Brown went into the pantry and bless me if she didn’t see a great big rat scamper across the floor and disappear behind some baskets and heaped crockery. Now Mrs. Brown wasn’t a timid sort but you know what women are about rats and mice. And for this rat to be in her pantry, of all places! So she gets a rat-trap with a spring and clamp and sets it on the floor.
Next morning she hears an awful clatter in the pantry and goes in to find the rat dancing about like mad with the clamp hanging on to its tail. She was scared to tackle the rat herself, so she goes out in the garden and there, on the other side of the hedge was old Stickels, messing about with the road. “Ah” she said, “Mr Stickels, if you’d be so kind as to step into my pantry and kill a rat for me, I’ll give you a pint of beer.”
“Why I will do that most certainly, m’am” said Stickels. The poor old chap was pretty well bent over as he walked into the garden. From a big pile of faggots, he pulled out a good heavy stick and followed Mrs. Brown into the pantry, where the rat was still kicking up a deuce of a clatter.
“Stand a-one side, m’am” said Stickels, “I’ll soon settle ‘im.” And with that he took aim and swung the stick up as if he was going to pole-axe a bullock. And what do you think happened? Bless me if he didn’t knock a big jar of pickles off a shelf! It made a terrible mess, of course, and I expect the poor old chap thought that there’d be no pint of beer now.
Well m’am” he says, “I’m real sorry that should happen.”
But Mrs. Brown, standing back by the door, with her skirts tucked up, only said, “Never mind the pickles, Stickels, kill the rat!”
Funny that, eh? Pickles and Stickels. Anyway, the old boy said he would kill the rat right enough if he only got half a chance, and he had another go but he must have put his foot on a pickled onion and lost his balance - and what do you think he did this time? He put out his hand to save himself and over went a pot of cream!
By now he was more nervous than ever and the rat was getting a bit excited too while Mrs. Brown was wishing she’d got a terrier for the job instead. She was a good-natured woman but fairish independent with her own ideas about menfolk. She said, “Tut tut!” Followed by “Dear me!” Then she made clicking noises with her tongue and I believe that, if she hadn’t been stood right in the doorway, old Stickels would have walked straight out, there and then, rat or no rat. But Mrs. Brown meant to see it through now and told Stickells to kill the creature, for goodness sake.
So Stickels fixed his tongue in cheek and raised the cudgel again and there was blue murder in his eyes. He brought the stick down with a vengeance this time … and now what do you think happened? The blow caught the spring of the trap and released the rat! ‘Pon my word it did. And off went the rat straight for the door without stopping to thank him.
Mrs. Brown jumped aside and screamed and it’s a good job she did, otherwise she would have heard what poor old Stickels said. Scare over, Mrs. Brown followed the footprints of the rat - which was quite easy, seeing that he’d been through the cream, across the kitchen floor and out into the garden.
Returning to the hapless old man, she said “Never mind, Stickels. You shall have your pint of beer all the same. If you didn’t kill the rat you most certainly taught him a good lesson, I will vouch for that.”