St. James’s Gazette, October 2, 1902
What the Hooligan is to East London, the “chaap” is to the small Cornish village. With this difference, however, that he is a more harmless, better-natured, and, in a word, a more rustic individual than the East Londoner. The “chaap” is in a transition stage. He is too old to rank as a “laad,” and a great many years must elapse before he reaches an age of discretion, and settles down to become a pillar of the local church. In the meantime he lives in his own reckless way, a thorn in the side of the vicar, and a fearful joy to the police force (which consists, as a rule, of one constable to every five parishes), to whom he offers with one hand physical hurt, and with the other the only chance he is likely to get of rapid promotion. The country policeman’s life may be described as a series of internal struggles. He thirsts for promotion. The way to promotion is clear. Any Sunday evening will find one or more “chaaps” engaged in removing the vicar’s gate from its hinges, or performing some other humorous but criminal act, and to arrest the culprit in the very deed will undoubtedly bring the stripes closer. But together with this thought comes the reflection that, after serving his term of imprisonment, the accused will collect a score or so of his light-hearted friends, and make matters exceedingly unrestful for the representative of the law, a thought which not unnaturally gives him pause, and leads him in an emergency to other and safer parts of his extensive beat.
In justice to the “chaap,” however, it may be said that his excesses are in the main confined to jokes of a crude and practical order, such as the removal of the vicar’s gate referred to. As a general rule, let him remove something from the place where it is and ought to be, to another spot, where it is not and ought not to be, and he will be contented, and ask no more. As an example of a pleasantry which is neither above nor below the average as regards humour and destructiveness, the following may be cited. A farmer of æsthetic tastes had a set of new red wheels attached to his cart. As Cornwall constructs its carts more with an eye to utility than to ornament, these wheels achieved something of a reputation in the neighbourhood, and their owner was proud of them. Unhappily for him they caught the roving eye of a “chaap,” and that desperado, calling around him certain friends, broke into the stable where the cart had been put up, detached the wheels, and carried them to the river, finally burying them as deeply as possible in the mud. And so to bed. The farmer subsequently heard the whole story with the exception of two important details—first, the names of the culprits; secondly, the exact locality of the buried treasure. When he drives along the river side now—in a cart with serviceable but quite unornamental wheels—he eyes the bank in a wistful and speculative manner, and is evidently thinking very hard indeed. He has a deposit in that bank.
But occasionally the “chaap” puts off childish things and blossoms out into the genuine Hooligan, even to the extent of shooting with revolvers. In nine cases out of ten drink is at the bottom of it when he acts thus, as in the following instance. A farmer and a friend were driving home peaceably one evening, thinking of anything but danger, when at a bend in the road they happened upon a “chaap” very intoxicated. Words passed. What exactly was said will never be known, each of the principal witnesses giving a different account. At any rate the “chaap,” growing tired of the discussion, whipped out a revolver and fired, the bullet grazing the farmer’s forehead. “That’s a bad ’un,” said he; “I’m shot—that’s a bad ’un!” “Never, to be seure!” observed his companion with mild interest. Your true Cornishman, even in moments of the keenest excitement, rarely loses control of himself. In the end the two alighted, and after overpowering the marksman, who had meanwhile emptied the remaining chambers of his revolver into the hedge, under the impression that it was the farmer’s body, conveyed him, with gyves upon his wrists, to the police-station, where the force, happening to be at home, took him into custody. When the “chaap” comes out of prison, there will be more trouble, and the last chapter of all will be a feud, carried on as untiringly as, if with less deadly results than, a Corsican vendetta, and enduring to the third and fourth generation, and further still. A Cornishman seldom forgets an injury.
It is a serious matter for a farmer if he become unpopular with the “chaaps.” A miller once found a girl lying unconscious in the road. She had offended the “chaaps,” and been waylaid and stoned by them. Being a man with pity and good feeling in him, he carried the girl to her home on his cart. Instantly the “chaaps” declared war on him. They had acted, they felt, from the best motives in stoning the girl, and what right had he to interfere in a private quarrel? One morning, accordingly, he awoke to find his water supply cut off, and his mill useless. The enemy had dammed the stream above him. He removed the obstruction. It was placed there again. Once more he removed it, and so the matter went on. From time to time his favourite trees were cut down, and other steps taken to annoy him, against which he was powerless.
The “chaaps” are no respecters of persons. Even the “passen” is not too lofty game for them to fly at. One clergyman was compelled for a week to carry a revolver with him on his rounds in consequence of a rumoured feeling against him in the parish. His prayer for the Church militant on Sunday of that week is said to have been impressive to a degree. But as he was not molested, and as the rumour rested on no stronger foundation than the statement of his house-keeper, a Cornishwoman with a taste for exaggeration, it is possible that in this case the “chaap” was maligned. But the fact remains that he is a dangerous character, distinctly a menace to the public, and needs considerably more than one policeman in a radius of five parishes to confront him. Even three to every ten would hardly be excessive.
Printed unsigned in the newspaper; Wodehouse entered this item in Money Received for Literary Work.