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The Bath
by [?]

The moral should be revived. Therefore, this is a story with a moral. The lower end of Bill Street–otherwise William–overlooks Blue’s Point Road, with a vacant wedge-shaped allotment running down from a Scottish church between Bill Street the aforesaid and the road, and a terrace on the other side of the road. A cheap, mean-looking terrace of houses, flush with the pavement, each with two windows upstairs and a large one in the middle downstairs, with a slit on one side of it called a door–looking remarkably skully in ghastly dawns, afterglows, and rainy afternoons and evenings. The slits look as if the owners of the skulls got it there from an upward blow of a sharp tomahawk, from a shorter man–who was no friend of theirs–just about the time they died. The slits open occasionally, and mothers of the nation, mostly holding their garments together at neck or bosom, lean out–at right angles almost–and peer up and down the road, as if they are casually curious as to what is keeping the rent collector so late this morning. Then they shut up till late in the day, when a boy or two comes home from work. The terrace should be called “Jim’s Terrace” if the road is not “James’s” Road, because no bills ever seem to be paid there as they are in our street–and for other reasons. There are four houses, but seldom more than two of them occupied at one time–often only one. Tenants never shift in, or at least are never seen to, but they get there. The sign is a furtive candle light behind an old table cloth, a skirt, or any rag of dark stuff tacked across the front bedroom window, upstairs, and a shadow suggestive of a woman making up a bed on the floor.

If more than two of the houses are occupied there is almost certain to be an old granny with ragged grey hair, who folded her arms tight under her ragged old breasts, and bends her tough old body, and sticks her ragged grey old head out of the slit called a door, and squints up and down the road, but not in the interests of mischief-making–they are never here long enough–only out of mild, ragged, grey-headed curiosity regarding the health or affairs of the rent collector.

Perhaps there are no bills to be collected in Skull Terrace because no credit is given. No jugs are put out, because there is no place to put them, except on the pavement, or on the narrow window ledges, where they would be in great and constant danger from the feet or elbows of passers-by. There are no tradesmen’s entrances to the houses in Skull Terrace.

Tenants and sub-tenants often leave on Friday morning in the full glare of the day. Granny throws down garments from the top window to hurry things, and the wife below ties up much in an old allegedly green or red table-cloth, on the pavement, at the last moment. Van of the “bottle ho” variety. It is all done very quickly, and nobody takes any notice–they are never there long enough. Landlord, landlady, or rent collector–or whatever it is–calls later on; maybe, knocks in a tired, even bored, way; makes inquiries next door, and goes away, leaving the problem to take care of itself–all kind of casual. The business people of North Sydney, especially removers and labourers, are very casual. Down old Blue’s Point Road the folk get so casual that they just exist, but don’t seem to do so.

One thing I never could make out about Skull Terrace is that when one house becomes vacant from a house agent’s point of view–there is a permanent atmosphere of vacancy about the whole terrace–the people of another move into it. And there’s not the slightest difference between the houses. It is because the removal is such a small affair, I suppose, and the change is, the main thing. I always do better for awhile in a new house–but then I always did seem to get on better somewhere else.