The Case of Mr Scroggins

 

Henry and Ho-Ho were having their morning orange juice under the damson tree when Patrick the policeman arrived.

“I’m collecting old junk for a jumble sale,” said Patrick.  “Henry, would you please ask your mum to leave out any old stuff she doesn’t want any more and I’ll collect it later.”  Henry was intrigued.

“What is a jumbly sale?” he asked.

“Well” said Patrick, “a jumble sale is when people bring their old rubbish that they don’t want any more – stuff like old clothes, old furniture, picture frames and the like and other people buy it all.”

“Why do they buy it if it’s all rubbish?” asked Henry.

“Because,” explained Patrick patiently, “rubbish for one person may not be rubbish to another – like if you had an old pram and the baby had grown up, or a bird cage and the bird had flown off, or a….”

“What do you do with all of the money?” interrupted Henry.

“There’s a lot of poor children around these parts,” said Patrick shaking his head, “…poor children who can’t afford a holiday.  With the money we make from the sale, we take them to the seaside.”

Henry thought this was a splendid idea and tried to think how he could help.  “That’s really nice” he finally said, “I wish we could help in some very special way for a thing like that.”  Ho-ho grunted in agreement.

“I know”, said Henry jumping up excitedly, “let’s get Ho-Ho to give people rides on his back and charge people money for it!”

Patrick brightened; “Yes”, he said “that is a good idea!”

“And we’ll go and tell everybody about the jumbly sale and get everyone to give things for it.”  Patrick smiled; Henry was certainly full of enthusiasm.”  “And the first person we will go and see is Mr Scroggins.  He has lots of rubbish and he will give us a lot of things and his farm will look a lot tidier!”

Patrick began to laugh – just a little at first and then a great big belly laugh holding on to his big stomach.  Henry looked puzzled:  “Why are you laughing, Patrick.  Mr Scroggins has lots of rubbish.”

“Yes indeed he has” said Patrick smiling and shaking his head, “but that man is a miser, Henry; he is so mean that he wouldn’t even give you a piece of coal!”

Henry looked quite down-cast.

“I’ll tell you what,” continued Patrick, “if you can get Bill Scroggins to give you anything for the jumble sale, I’ll buy you a……..”

He struggled to think of something he could buy the two friends who were already nodding at each other, as they knew what to have:

“A bucket of ice cream!” exclaimed Henry. 

“A bucket of ice cream it is!” said Patrick and the three friends all began to laugh.

 

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Mr Scroggins lived in a big remote farm; in fact his only neighbours were Henry’s family.  He had chosen such a place quite deliberately as he was not very friendly with people at all; in fact he was very suspicious of just about everybody, thinking that they were trying to steal things from him.

As Henry and Ho-Ho climbed the hill to see him, they couldn’t help but be impressed by all the things Mr Scroggins had collected: there were telephone boxes, telegraph poles, piles of tyres, a bus stop, an old mangle and even a old dentist chair.  The land was ringed by a very impressive barbed wire fence and Mr Scroggins was, as usual, on patrol with his shot-gun under his arm.

“Oh it’s you” he said leaning on the gate and looking from Henry to Ho-Ho, “what do you want?”

“We’ve just come out for a walk” said Henry, telling a little white lie, “and we thought we’d call and say ‘hello’.”

“Hello” said Mr Scroggins with little interest.

“We were just admiring all the things you have as we came up the hill, all those very valuable things and wondering where you managed to get them from.”  Mr Scroggins stared back.

“For instance there is that wonderful old mangle and Ho-Ho and me have never seen one like that before and we wondered where you got it from… and the old dentists chair… I’ve never seen one like that, it must be very valuable.”

Mr Scroggins hardly ever spoke to anyone, but he did wonder if people knew how hard he worked to collect all his valuable possessions.  He had always thought that Henry was a particularly smart child… maybe at last there was someone to confide on… and confide he did.  For two hours Mr Scroggins told Henry and Ho-Ho about how he had aquired all his strange ‘valuable’ things from junk shops to rubbish tops, from auction houses to dust-bins.  Ho-Ho started snoring at one point and Henry had to gently kick him to wake him up.  In fact Henry quite enjoyed the talk; when someone was very interested in what they were saying they usually made Henry interested too.

 

Finally it was time to go, and Henry still hadn’t mentioned the jumble sale.  There was no time for tact so he just asked right out if Mr Scroggins would give some of his ‘less valuable’ stuff for the jumble sale.

Mr Scroggins went purple.

“No one has ever given me anything in my entire life,” he declared, so I’m certainly not going to start this ‘giving things away’ thing now.”

“But what about your friends?” asked Henry.

“Friends! Friends!” cried Mr Scroggins raising his voice and going an even deeper shade of purple, “what on earth would I ever want with friends?”

Henry suddenly felt very sorry for the lonely old man.  He felt a little tear start in his eye and reached over and touched Mr Scroggins on his gnarled old hand, “we’ll be your friends… you just see!”

 

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It was Thursday night and Henry could not get off to sleep.  On Saturday was the jumble sale and although all was going well, Mr Scroggins would certainly not be giving anything to help the children.  Ho-Ho would not get the bucket of ice cream from Patrick… and yet in a funny way, it was poor Mr Scroggins who Henry felt most sorry for.  Everyone would be at the jumble sale having fun, laughing with their friends and poor old Mr Scroggins would be lonely and unhappy… if only there was something he could do.  Henry looked from his window in the direction of Mr Scroggin’s farm feeling so sad for the poor old man.

Then he saw it.  At first he couldn’t be sure but then he was.  There was a fire at Mr Scroggins farm – definitely.  Mr Scroggins was too careful with money to have a telephone and if there was a fire it could be terrible.

He quickly called out to Ho-Ho and soon the two friends were rushing in the direction of Mr Scroggins farm.

 

Mr Scroggins was beside himself.  He didn’t know which way to turn.  The fire was spreading to the pile of tyres, and once they were ablaze, all of his possessions would be up in flames.

In a flash Ho-Ho knew what to do; he rushed down to the well and sucked up gallons and gallons of water into his trunk and racing back to the fire squirted the lot onto the flames and though the fire raged on it was only a matter of time before the determined elephant had emptied half the well onto the flames and put the fire out.

Henry helped too of course, beating down the flames with a piece of wet carpet and shouting encouragement to the charging elephant.

The three of them sat in silence, strange smells and smoke coming from the freshly put-out fire.

“I always pays me debts” said the old miser, “Yes Arthur Scroggins always pays his debts… now what will it be that you want?”

Amongst all the ‘valuables’ was an old ice cream van and Ho-Ho eyed it longingly, but is had long since stopped having ice cream in it.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting me to give you some of my valuables for your jumble sale eh?”

Somehow that didn’t seem quite right to Henry; you should give things because you want to give them, not because you thought that you had to.

“We really don’t want anything at all” said Henry, “we just did it to help, and Ho-Ho and me really enjoy helping our friends, don’t we Ho-Ho”  Ho-Ho nodded, with the most wonderful serious expression on his face, hot and covered in black smoke; he looked incredibly funny.  Henry began to laugh… a happy infectious laugh.  Ho-Ho joined in as usual and the two friends were soon helpless.  Then came the miracle… farmer Scroggins began to laugh for the first time in 35 years.  It wasn’t easy at first but eventually the three friends were completely out of control.

 

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The moon was full as Mr Scroggins walked down to the gate with Henry and Ho-Ho… it had been a very strange evening.  As he was about to say goodbye at the gate he said:

“Now listen, young Henry, Arthur Scroggins always pays his debts – always has and always will.  You will now tell me what I have to do to make it up to you and I will… Arthur Scroggins is a man of his word!”

Henry looked at the poor old man.  He just didn’t know what to say.  After what seemed like an hour he finally whispered:  “What you must do is know that we are friends.”

Henry and Ho-Ho turned and walked into the night, but the moon caught the slow tears shining down an old man’s face.

 

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“I really would have bought that elephant of yours a bucket of ice cream” said Patrick, “but I knew old Scroggins would never part with a thing, so don’t be too disappointed.  Anyhow everyone is really enjoying the jumble sale.”

Then came the strangest sight Patrick had ever seen; it was an old farmer driving an ice cream van, towing a cart loaded with the most amazing ‘valuables’ they had ever seen.  No-one to this day knows how Mr Scroggins managed to start the van, or fill it with ice cream or even managed to drive it down from his farm, but it certainly brought a very large cheer from the crowd.  In fact it was a day for cheers; they cheered when the children rode on Ho-Ho’s back and even more when Mr Scroggins had a ride, but the biggest cheer of the day – and the  most laughs – was when one hot and heroic elephant made an incredible mess trying to eat a bucket of ice cream.

 

©bernard shevlin

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