He came upon the wettest day of the recent wet spell, and to me he seemed the wettest thing in that sodden landscape. His absurdly long, thin tweed overcoat flapped forlornly about his well-worn boot heels, and his under-size "boxer" hat, green with age, glistened like a helmet.
From one shoulder hung a ridiculously inadequate swag; under his arm was a small parcel wrapped in oilcloth, and he carried a walking cane so light as to be wholly ornamental in intent.
He came confidently to the front door as one privileged above ordinary wayfarers, and, as I watched through a window, I remarked in anticipatory imitation, "Could you spare a bit of tucker, Boss?"
But I had missed my guess.
He set his stick and bundles upon the verandah table and pressed the bell with the air of one who bore good tidings.
When I opened the door he raised his hat with extreme gravity, and his glance held all the confident quality of an equal, if not a superior, as he said:-
"Greeting, good sir and -- I take it -- the householder?" When I nodded, he replaced his hat and turned to remove the oiled wrapping from the bundle.
"Sir and honored mister," said he. "In happier days I was a prosperous tuner of pianofortes; but the march of progress, with its gramophones and its wireless, intruded, alas until Othello found his occupation gone.
"I did not despair, sir, and -- as I observe -- landed proprietor -- but turned my attention to other means of livelihood. And today you see before you an itinerant writer of 'In Memoriam Verse.' Allow me to submit some samples."
I hesitated a little, and he immediately withdrew his offering.
"Ah," he said, "I take it there is no bereavement in your family. Accept my felicitations. But I am prepared for that emergency. Births, deaths and marriages, sir and honored mister. Those pregnant words were my inspiration. I am armed for all occasions. Perhaps you would like me to read a few examples."
He regarded me for a moment with a disappointed eye. "It is rather a pity," he said, "in a way, that you have no parent to regret. For think, think, sir, how this gem might have fitted the case:-
'We have lost our dear Dad who was resident Of this district - a wise man and strong, He was mourned by the shire councillors and president; And his funeral cortege, with innumerable floral offerings, was half a mile long.'
"Think, dear sir and respected mister," he continued, "how that would look, with a suitable black border, in the local press. But wait."
He raised a deprecatory palm as I sought to interrupt.
"I am not alone the harbinger of gloom. Others have forestalled me in that field. Death, ah where is thy sting? I have yet left 'Births and Marriages.' I woo the muse in other moods. Listen a while to these."
But at this point I called a halt; for I was already shivering with cold in that doorway and I strove to come down to brass tacks. But, to my astonishment, the offer of a snack and a cup of tea was scornfully refused.
And still he strove, hopefully at first, at last, with almost piteous pleading, to have me recognise his muse.
Finally, we came down to barter, as all sane men should, and I obtained a sheaf of his remarkable effusions in exchange for an oilskin coat.
Here are a couple which prove, at least, that my strange visitant keeps abreast of the times:-
"FOR A BIRTH No matter in what field of life May this, our little nipper field. Let us all hope he'll face the strife Like a Bradman or a Chipperfield."
And the other:-
"FOR A HAPPY MARRIAGE" Now in these bonds we are united, Respectable and decently, Let's hope they are not troubled by any blighted Hitlers or anything that's happened in Europe recently."
Twirling his absurd little stick, he strode away down the garden path, the wettest thing in all that sodden landscape. His recently acquired oilskin flapped forlornly about his well-worn boot heels. From one shoulder hung his ridiculously inadequate swag, and under his arm was a precious parcel wrapped in oilskin.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-03|