Works in the Herald 1933

"A man can never tell." This, I find, is a favorite phrase in the mouths of Australian sportsmen who "follow the game" more or less as a regular habit. It indicates a mildly philosophic mental attitude that is commendable, and a state of fitting humility before the gods. A man -- a mere man never can tell.

I commend the sentence now to the notice of those countless thousands of amateur sportsmen who, shortly after the publication of these words, will be suffering all the slings and arrows of a faith betrayed, and bearing fardels of confidence misplaced. I refer to those myriads who backed a loser in the race for the Melbourne Cup.

But who would fardels bear when the slogan of the true sport is available to all as a solace and a shield against the barbs of vain regret? "A man can never tell."

Yet those doleful losers, even at the moment, possibly, when these lines swim into their ken, are already imagining vain things and painting in absurdly glowing colors ridiculous pictures of vanished might have-beens.

But, believe me, a man never can tell. And to such jaded Jonahs as these -- also the joyless Jeremiahs and lamenting Lears -- I here offer these few soothing bromides to lay, as unction, to their aching souls. (I am not sure that this is the orthodox manner of applying bromides, but it really doesn't matter much.)

Yes, my fellows in adversity. The phrase betrays me; for I fear greatly that I, too, will very soon be counted amongst you. I have risked my paltry all upon the chances of a horse named James Aitch because he seemed to offer the richest rewards. But even at his stage strange misgivings begin to assail me. But let us to our cases.

Take that of my friend, Selwyn X. Shad, who won 300 in Manfred's year. The efficient chief accountant of a prosperous city firm, Selwyn had long nursed in secret the desire to possess a business of his own. That 300 helped him to realise his ambition, and he rejoiced. At the end of two years, Selwyn (a far better servant than master, as events proved) failed in business, and now, after humbling himself greatly, fills a minor position at reduced salary with his old firm. Whereas, if he had not backed the winner -- But, of course, you apprehend.

Behold my bosom pal, Peter A. Fittlebrush, painfully propelling homeward his fevered feet after losing his last lone sixpence at a bygone Cup meeting.

Upon his painful pilgrimage he enters a secluded suburban street. A gaily garbed little girl dandles a doll by the edge of the road. Suddenly a baker's careering cart dashes dangerously around a corner, swerves and side-slips straight upon the beautiful babe. Urged by an inflexible will, Peter propels fevered feet aforesaid with sudden speed, snatches, in the nick of time, the babe from beneath those horrible hooves.

From where a palatial pile stands in its own gorgeous grounds near by, sounds first a woman's shriek, then a strong man's hoarse cry of horror. The mother and father rush into the street to receive from Peter's trembling hands their cherished child - unscathed. Peter, whose only good suit, foul with the gutter's grime, is ruined beyond repair, is urged to come within. Here a touching scene ensues. The beauteous babe throws adoring arms about Peter's neck and cries that her preserver must never leave her.

Who today does not know the magic name of Peter A. Fittlebrush, the marmalade magnate, who once saved from dreadful death the youngest daughter, and subsequently wedded the eldest daughter of the millionaire manufacturer whose right-hand man and partner he is today? Yet, had he backed but one winner --. Need I elaborate?

But, as I write, the Melbourne Cup is yet to be run and won; and still I toy with the lingering hope that perhaps this James Aitch may -- Ah well; a man really never can tell.

Herald, 7 November 1933, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002