"Now, listen, Em'ly!" said George Alfred Applecrop, proprietor of the "Home From Home" guest-house deep in the big gum country. "Listen here now, Em'ly, bad backs is tricky things, an' if -"
But Mrs Applecrop had the floor, and meant to keep it till she was done. She was a diminutive and rather slatternly lady who, in some inexplicable manner, bore a remarkable resemblance to a tireless and extremely busy black ant. Rarely, in her waking moments was she still; and even now, while she upbraided her malingering mate, her hands could not be still as, with much overplay of energy, she polished a metal tea-pot.
"Bad backs," said George Alfred - as his lady paused briefly to breathe on the tea-pot, "bad backs has got to be youmered. Now, when -"
But his wife inhaled rapidly, and, in her querulous, sing-song treble, too up her theme, the purport of which seemed to be that is a bad back permitted a man to stoop and pick up coins in a day-long session of pitch-and-toss, it should permit him likewise to stoop and pick up a little kindling wood when required.
George Alfred sprawled in a deck chair, listened with a martyr's patient air. At intervals, he cast pathetic glances of appeal toward the only other occupant of the sunlit verandah, his friend and confidant, Mr Julian Budd.
Mrs Applecrop was really a lady of infrequent speech; but, when she had a thing to say, she said it to the bitter end. So that now, having reached her peroration, she flapped away hurriedly on heelless slippers before her husband could voice his plaintive reply.
"If I was n't philosophic, Budd," said the martyr, "I would be hurt at the present moment far beyond the hope of forgettin' or forgivin'.
"Wot with winter comin' on an' that, the last of our payin' guests 'as jist departed with a silly grin on his face an' thirty-bob of mine in his pocket.
"It was the first time he seen the great virgun bush an' wot he seen of it he never had no time for excep' chewin' wot he said was good for his catarrh.
"So, after he'd chewed about ten bushel of gum-leaves an' begun to smell like a eucalyptis factory, I takes pity on him an' suggests a friendly game of pitch-an'-toss down in the wood-shed wot has its back to the kitchen winder, an' he jumps at it.
"Fancied himself at it, he did; but I ain't too bad meself. So bein' eekil like, the game turns out dead monotonis. One day I'd be up tuppence, nex' day he'd be in a penny; an' son on, an' so on, right up to a coupla hours ago.
"The mail-car was waitin' with his luggage aboard, an' he was dressed all ready in his Sund'y-go-to-meetin's an' we was havin' a partin' game in the woodshed, me bein' thruppence in.
"Then the mail-car starts hootin' for him; an' he ups and sez, 'Aw, this is no good to me,' he sez. 'A man can't win or lose. Tell you wot I'll do,' he sez. 'I owe you thirty bob for board. Toss you double or quits, sudden death. Just one toss, an' if you win I pays you three quid. If I win we're all square.'
"Now, I'm an observin' man, as you know, wot uses his brains. An' I've noticed that, nineteen times outer twenty, when a man calls he calls 'heads'; so quick as lightnin', I flips a coin tail up on the back of one hand an' covers it with the other.
"'Right,' I sez. 'I'm on. Your call. Heads or tails?'
"He looks at me a second out of his skinny eyes an' then he sez, soft-like, 'Wot's a dawg got?'
"Well, I was fair flummoxed. Course, I had to show him it was tails, an' he sez, 'Good enough,' he sez. 'Now we're all square. An' thank heaven,' he sez, 'there's another man can make money outer the bush besides Ned Kelly.'
"Then he streaks for the car with me after him tryin' to wok up a corjil grin of farewell wot looked nacheril. Em'ly was there.
"Well, he got in an' the driver was jist chuckin' her into gear when a great bright light breaks in on me all of a sudden.
"'Here, hold on,' I sez. 'A dawg's got a head as well as a tail, ain't it?'
"'Sure thing,' he sez. 'That's the big idear. Step on it,' he sez to the driver an' off they buzzes, him with that silly grin on him."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|