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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 11 (March 1, 1929)

Riding Round

Riding Round.

Skinny, a comrade of our mug and bun days, suffers from engine trouble in the mental uptake. His grey matter is in no way defective, but his locomotive has left his mental tender fifteen years behind the march of progress. In other words, he has never grown up. Were it not that he fears the ridicule of his wife and his wife's children, he would still lash a pannikin round his neck and line up for the annual Sunday-school fracas. The conventialities, however, force him to seek adventure through other channels.

“Gave the new hand a searching look.”

“Gave the new hand a searching look.”

Skinny is what might be described as a “Garratt” engine on an A.B. wheelbase. Although he could almost test his weight on the grocer's scales, sags a bit in the middle, and wants relining and stiffening, his looking-glass invariably reflects, on his mental retina, the image of Hercules choking a pantechnicon, or some such fearsome pterodactyl. He is overproof optimism north of the æsophagus, and cuts his physical shortcoming dead in the street. In fact it might be said that he has divorced himself abaft the mizzen.

In the autumn of 1919 (as all the best adventure stories begin), Skinny placed his feet on the linoleum after three weeks of incarceration in his four-poster, and ignoring the corrugations in the upper reaches of his main trunk, and the fact that his head was floating three feet above his body, prepared to go forth and repair the family fortunes.

On a board before an employment registry bureau he read:—

Boy for pickles; must be strong.
Married couple; cook and do for themselves.
Refined young lady to wash.
Man to ride round sheep

The last appealed to Skinny. He was no centaur, but he could ride in a fashion. He thought that the job sounded romantically biblical—a “while-shepherds-tend their flocks-at night” sort of occupation.

“What you will have to do,” explained the job merchant inside, “is to trot round the paddocks, raising up any foundered sheep you find from the horizontal to the vertical. It's simply an errand of mercy.”

“I see,” said Skinny. “The job is really sheep-raising or lifting.”

“The terms are not synonomous,” said the professor of toil. “Sheep-raising is a legitimate occupation, but sheep-lifting—like shoplifting—brings its own reward—usually three years without the option.”

In due course the train dropped Skinny at Otane. The boss was scheduled to meet him with a car. Darkness was not far off and it had been raining. Otane was as devoid of cars as a Jewish banquet hail is of bacon rinds.

“Stranded,” muttered Skinny, and tossed up his last sixpence. It fell “heads,” and he bought a beer with it. Then he took a mental option on a nesting place under a hedge—and left the rest to Hoyle. He visioned himself indulging in some night travel by sleeper.

Shortly, however, a car drew up at the station and a figure strode down the platform, glancing to left and right. It glanced through Skinny the first time, but finding nothing more human in the vicinity, glanced at him incredulously.

“You're not the man for Waimana?” it said.

“I am,” said Skinny.

You am—er—I mean are,” said the boss of Waimana. He repeated “You are.”

I am,” said Skinny.

“O-h-h-h,” said the boss, and Skinny felt that he had been slighted.

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“Well if you are, shove that into the car.”

He indicated a sack of potatoes which stood about fourteen hands high and weighed about as much as Skinny and his eldest child combined.

It is a moot point whether Skinny carried the potatoes or whether the potatoes carried Skinny.

The boss gave the new hand a searching look, put in the clutch, and they bounded off the leash, so to speak. It was an open car and an open road—with knobs on. They touched “forty” most of the time and grazed mortal dissolution all the time. Skinny spent a good deal of time in the ether and the rest in locating the upholstery. He lost his hat in the first half mile, but hesitated to dampen the boss's enthusiasm by speaking about it.

“Skinny spent a good deal of time in the ether.”

“Skinny spent a good deal of time in the ether.”

Waimana possessed, among other live stock, the most complete private collection of Scots immigrants extant. The only words Skinny ever heard them utter were: “Fifteen twa, fifteen fower, and w-a-a-n f'r his kn-o-o-o-b.” They chanted this ritual night after night, while the cribbage board groaned beneath their horny fingers, and five million moths played with death about the lighted candles.

During the day the immigrants were as communicative as petrified lizards. Skinny enjoyed the first few days—except when the boss gave him one of his searching glances.

“Night travel by sleeper.”

“Night travel by sleeper.”

The nights were not so good. His chamber seemed to have been selected as an amphitheatre for a rodent's rodeo; his chaff mattress was a jumping-off place for lepidoptera; he had no pillow and only one blanket; and his only recreation was to lie in bed and study “The Storming of Sebastapool”; “The Coronation of Queen Victoria”; “President Kruger on the War Path”; “The Relief of Ladysmith”; and “The Big Frost of '84,” delineated in engravings, pasted on the wall.

After Skinny had enjoyed three days of sheep-raising the blow fell. Somehow he had suspected a catch in the business, and when the boss said, “Well men, the thresher will be here to-morrow,” he knew that the catch had been snipped. Suddenly those innocent-looking oat stacks that he had seen in the home paddock became a silent menace.

Skinny swayed on the top of a stack, forking up stooks while the mice raced up and down his calves and perspiration dripped into his boots. His back was dislocated in ten places, and every dislocation creaked when he moved. He reflected dully that a Prime Minister once received a telegram notifying him of his election to parliament, on a haystack. Skinny prayed that someone might bring him a telegram, a cablegram, a radiogram, a summons, an injunction, even a death warrant would not be unwelcome—anything to get him removed from the top of that stack.

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Oh, relief indescribable! The engine had broken down. Skinny promptly followed suit, and lay pantingly on his stomach, heedless of the mice that frolicked among his vertebrae, He wished that the engine had blown up instead of breaking down. Subsequently it went out of action four times, which was thirty-six times too few.

Skinny had read effusions touching on the joys of harvesting. Harvest moons, golden grain, happy harvest laughter—he decided that such things were the vain vapourings of poets and paperhangers.

For lunch he took nothing but large draughts of oxygen.

When the last stook had disappeared into the interior of the thresher, Skinny returned to “Little Caledonia” in the bottom of the dray, mixed up with a heap of fencing wire and hay forks—a beaten man.

When, next morning, the boss fixed what was left of Skinny with a searching look, Skinny said, “It's all right, I've resigned. As far as I'm concerned the call of the land is mere static; if ever I go harvesting again it will be under an anaesthetic, and the only riding round I will do from now on will be on a hurdygurdy.”

Formerly the beautiful island home of Sir George Grey, one time Governor of New Zealand. Mansion House, Kawau Island, the ever popular tourist resort, 30 miles north of Auckland.

Formerly the beautiful island home of Sir George Grey, one time Governor of New Zealand.
Mansion House, Kawau Island, the ever popular tourist resort, 30 miles north of Auckland.