It was a warm, summer evening, in the little town of Austral Flat, in the year 19--. Upon a western hill, at the back of the town, five giant gum trees were sharply silhouetted against the blood-red sky. Three or four men leaned idly upon the railings of the town reserve, watching a score of schoolboys playing football; while upon the calm, still, evening air floated the strains of "Rule, Britannia," played upon a tin-whistle by Mat the Musician. From down the street came the rhythmic ringing of a blacksmith's anvil, where the German smith, known locally as "Old Berlin," worked at his forge; and, anon, the voices of Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Phillip rose and fell, as they argued, over the back fence, about a brindle cow. A spring-cart rattled down the uneven main street, as old man Brimble drove away from the local pub, with a large, heavy jar. On the hotel verandah, the local policeman leaned against one of the posts, and argued about prize fowls with the landlord, who reposed against an empty beer barrel. In the town pound, Mrs. Dolittle's three milch cows lowed mournfully.
The Mayor of the little town, Alderman Billjim, J.P., sat in his back yard, overlooking a Chinese garden at the rear, and scanned the sporting columns of the DAILY GURGLE, while his wife swept the back verandah. Suddenly the mayor raised his head.
"By gum!" he said. "I never reckoned that Sliprails would get a place in the Grand National. I've watched that 'orse carefully, too".
"You'd be better employed," replied his wife tartly, "if you watched that back fence of ours. It's a disgrace to the neighbourhood. And you the mayor, too! Pretty mayor, indeed."
"Aw right, me dear, aw right," said the mayor, somewhat impatiently. "I'll see to it when I have time to think to get some nails and a 'ammer."
"Nails, indeed," retorted the lady. "Why don't you get 'em at once and be done with it? Some day, one of those wretched pigs of Ah Foo's will get through and bite some of the children. You know what savage brutes they are."
"Aw right, me dear," replied Billjim, preparing to return to his reading. "Father promised to let me 'ave the loan of one of his dawgs if I wanted it. I'll see about it in the mornin'."
It was a muggy summer evening in the little township of Austral Flat, five years later. Upon a western hill three giant gum-trees showed black against a lurid sky! A small group of lusty youths and men sat upon the reserve fence, watching half a dozen small boys shooting at birds with "shanghais," while the strains of "Soldiers of the King," played upon the mouth-organ by Mat the Musician, were borne upon the gentle breeze. Now loud, now faint, came the voices of Mrs. Phillip and Mrs. Jackson, as they disputed, over the back fence, about a black and tan dog; and up the street rattled a spring-cart, as old man Brimble drove towards the pub with a large, empty jar. Upon the hotel verandah the local policeman leaned against the wall, and argued about the cause and cure of warts with the publican, who sat on the edge of the pavement; while, from across the road, came the tinkle of an anvil, as "Old Berlin," the blacksmith, hammered away industriously. In the town pound Mrs. Dolittle's only cow lowed plaintively.
In his back yard, overlooking a Chinese garden, and piggery, the mayor, Alderman Billjim, newly re-elected, sat upon an upturned bucket, reading the football reports in the MORNING MEGAPHONE.
Suddenly, Biiljim looked up and smacked his thigh.
"Six goals in the last quarter!" he exclaimed. "By crikey! I wish I'd been there to see it."
"You'd be better employed," snapped his wife, "attending to that back fence. It's an eyesore; and it's not safe, as I've told you a score of times."
The mayor looked hurt.
"Why, Susan," he said, "didn't I put three new palin's on it only the week before last! Don't be unreasonable."
"Three palin's!" retorted his wife, with bitter scorn. "What's three palin's? What you want, really, is a good stone wall. If those pigs of Ah Foo's get in and harm the children!' I shall hold you responsible, mind. You know what vicious brutes they are."
"There, there, me dear," said the mayor soothingly. "I'll see about gettin' one of father's dawgs."
"You know very well," replied his wife, "that your father said he wanted those dogs up at hisown place. If you'd knock off that silly old paper for a few months, you might be able to buy a good watch-dog for yourself. I've no patience with you."
"There, there, dear," repeated Billjim, still more soothingly. "I'll see if I can get a couple more palin's in the mornin', or nex' week, or sometime." And, after yelling at one of Ah Foo's pigs that was snifling at a crack in the fence, he returned to his reading.
It was a sultry summer evening in the little town of Austral Flat, some three years later. The western hill stood bare against the fiery sky, lit by the spreading rays of the setting sun. A dozen men leaned against the reserve fence, watching four small cadets at drill. Mat the Musician had been killed the year before. Now loud, now soft, as the gentle breezes rose and fell, came the voices of Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Phillip, as they disputed, over the fence, about a speckled fowl. Down the dusty street, past the hotel, rumbled the funeral procession of old man Brimble. On the hotel verandah, after the funeral had passed, the local constable leaned back against the window-sill resumed his discussion on the exact locality of the solar plexus, with the publican, who lolled in the doorway. In the town pound Mrs. Dolittle's goat bleated pathetically; while the tapping of the German black-smith's hammer went on incessantly.
Suddenly, from down the street, in a direction of the mayor's residence, came a woman's shriek, then a hubbub of voices. A boy, pale with excitement, and panting with terror, came running up the street towards the hotel.
"Quick!" he panted, as he came within speaking distance. "Quick! Police! Mister Leaner, you're wanted. One of Ah Foo's pigs has killed Mister Billjim's baby!"
The constable slowly straightened up.
"Spare me days!" he said. "What can I do? If the youngster's dead, the Lor can't do it no good. S'pose I'd better go and see, though." And he leisurely accompanied the boy down the road.
"Old Berlin," the German smith, attracted by the hubbub, came, hammer in hand, to his smithy door, and learned the news.
"Serf him righat," he said brutally, "Serf him righat, der lazy dog? Vy he don't mend dot fence of his? I haf no sympadies. Puddy sort of mayor you've got, ain't it? If I vos der mayor I do things better as dat. Vat?"
"Listen to 'im," said the publican, to a small group of loungers that had assembled. "Listen to 'im. Fancy we see ourselves with a bloomin' Dutchy fer a mayor. Not much! Billjim's all right, if 'e'd only get a move on. 'E reely ort to mend that fence of 'is, an' get a dawg or two. Come an' 'ave a drink, boys, it's give me a bit of a turn."
"Old Berlin" stood at his door and watched them enter the hotel.
"Don't be so sure, Mister Publinghause," he said. "Ven I do some more work an' make some more moneys, p'raps ve see."
Then he returned to his shop; and the evening calm was broken only by the steady, persistent ring of his anvil.
"C. J. Dennis"
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|