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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 9 (December 2, 1935)

A Bush Christmas

A Bush Christmas

Old Barty was a wonder with a clasp knife. From a scrap of wood he could fashion anything you pleased — a Chinaman carrying a basket—a monkey to balance on the tip of your finger. Ships, birds, farm animals, all seemed to grow like magic beneath his gnarled fingers.

It was his custom to visit, at frequeht intervals, the children's ward of a big city hospital, and, unrolling a large red silk handkerchief, distribute his carven treasures among the youngsters who occupied the long rows of white cots.

When the handkerchief was empty, he would pass out of the ward on to a glassed-in balcony where, for many weeks past, had lain a lame boy named Jerry. Jerry and old Barty were very special friends, and for this reason old Barty never brought him anything in the handkerchief—but spreading it upon the floor to catch the chips, would produce his beloved knife and a piece of wood and whittle away while they talked together.

Their talk was not such as might have been expected between a man of sixty-five and a boy of eleven, but rather the talk of grown men of an equal age. Sometimes it was about the weather—a topic which led on to such interesting things as storms at sea and water spouts, and hailstones knocking holes in roofs. Then again it might be music and Old Barty would thump gently with his feet while he whistled “Londonderry Air” or “Shenandoah.” When pension day had come and gone it was usually the price of beer and tobacco they discussed.

At the end of two hours, for Old Barty was a privileged person who was allowed to stay while Jerry had his tea, he would stop his talk and his whittling, and hand to Jerry the result of his labours, and Jerry would examine it gravely, and then hold out his thin little fingers to shake Old Barty's hand.

It was the day before Christmas, that Old Barty produced his masterpiece. The main ward was full of visitors, and the ward porter, wearing a cottonwool beard and a red nightshirt, was playing the role of Santa Claus—a clumsy, loutish performance that somehow irked Old Barty, so that, seated beside Jerry's cot he whittled away in almost complete silence through the sultry afternoon. At length when he opened his hands it seemed to Jerry as though a cool breeze blew through the heated ward. A breeze that brought the scent of manuka and a vision of sun-shadows chasing across upland grass; for there stood upon Old Barty's palm a pony—not three inches high, but perfectly modelled. Head upflung, mane and tail rippling, saddled and bridled—he was all ready to gallop away. For once Jerry's reserve left him—

“Oh, Barty,” he cried, “it's alive!”

“No it ain't,’ said Old Barty with a grin, “but it would be alright if it was, eh ?—and you and me were somewhere where you could ride?”

Jerry nodded vigorously and taking his gift turned it this way and that.

“You would ride him, would'nt you?” Old Barty asked the question with a hint of anxiety in his voice.

“Why, of course—when I'm well.” Jerry changed the subject manfully. “What makes you ask that?”

“Why it just reminds me of something.” Old Barty began gathering up the chips into his handkerchief.

“Don't go,” Jerry pleaded, “tell me what it reminds you of.”

“Well—” Old Barty re-settled himself. “It happened a long time ago—to a youngster—Sam his name was, and his father's name was Sam, too. Big Sam and Little Sam they came to be known as afterwards—but at the time of which I'm speaking Little Sam had only just come to live with his Dad, all on account of Big Sam being a widower, and more or less living by himself on a pretty rough block of bush land.

“Little Sam, up to the time he was fourteen years of age, was brought up by his Aunty, who lived in town, and page 77 what she hadn't taught him in the way of book-learning and piano playing wasn't worth mentioning. Big Sam couldn't make him out at all and their life together wasn't too happy at first. I was a neighbour of Big Sam's, and I used to do what I could to smooth things over, and many's the time I come across Little Sam sitting on a stump looking as though the bottom had dropped out of things, after his Dad had gone off ranting about something he hadn't done or something he had done all wrong.

“One morning, Christmas Eve it was, I rode over to have a look at some of Big Sam's cattle, and I found the pair of them together in the stable yard. But they weren't alone, there was a mustard-coloured pony there too—one of the breed that used to be raised in those hills for stock work. Strong and active they were, and able to turn on a threepenny bit as the saying is. It seems he'd turned a bit too quick for Little Sam and dumped him in the yard, and Little Sam—who'd never ridden anything much beside a music stool wasn't over anxious to get up again.

“‘Tisn't that you can't ride,’ Big Sam was saying, ‘it's that you're afraid to.'

“‘Everyone's afraid of something,’ I chipped in, sort of peaceful like.

“‘I'll trouble you to tell me something I'm afraid of,’ Big Sam raps out.

“‘You ain't the party under discussion,’ I replied, ‘and anyway, I came over to have a look at those yearlings of yours.'

“So Big Sam, mounts the pony and we rode off together leaving the kid looking very ashamed of himself in the yard.

“‘You're too hard on the boy, Sam,’ I says as we go.

“‘He's a sissy,’ says Sam, ‘worse than that—he's ungrateful—I bought this prad for a Christmas present.'

“When we had finished looking at the cattle Big Sam tells me he intended going to town that afternoon because his old housekeeper wanted to get some things for Christmas dinner. The township was about twelve miles away and round about two o'clock I see him and the old woman going down the road in a gig—but Little Sam wasn't with them. I thought it kind of mean of Big Sam to leave the kid on Christmas Eve—but I soon forgot all about it with the work I had to do.

“Next thing, about two hours later, I hear a horse coming, and who should it be but Little Sam on the mustard pony, with both his stirrups gone and him hanging on to the pony's mane with both hands.

“My gate was open, and the pony turned in at it and away went Little Sam, end for end, like a clown in a circus. I ran to see if he was hurt—but there was no metal on the road in those days—and as soon as he had spat out enough dust to be able to speak he says, ‘Come quick, Mr. Barty, the place is on fire!'

“It seemed that the old housekeeper woman had left some linen airing or something. That flames were coming out of the kitchen windows, was the first thing Little Sam knew. Now a fire is a serious business any time—but in a bush clearing with dry grass and stumps all about to catch the sparks—a burning house is a menace to the community.

“Big Sam's place was two miles from mine and the next neighbour was a mile and a half further on, so I stuck Little Sam on his pony and tells him not to fall off before he gets there, while I head back towards the fire. There was no doubt about it being a real one, for I met the smoke half-way down the road and before half-a-dozen neighbours had, gathered, the house was burnt out and the grass ablaze and making its own wind.

“We had no time to think where Little Sam might have got to until we heard a ‘Locy.’ whistle.

“There used to be a tram line running back about sixteen miles from the township—it passed through Sam's place and skirted mine. Over Sundays and holidays they used to leave one ‘Locy.’ out in the bush by the hauler to come in with the first load. So when we heard the whistle we thought it must be the hauler driver, having seen the smoke, coming to help.

“Imagine my surprise when I got down to the line and found Little Sam in the cab.

“‘What's all this,’ I asks, ‘where's the driver?'

“‘He must have gone to town with the rest of them, I think,’ says Little Sam, ‘anyway there was no one out at the hauler and as the engine still had steam—I thought I'd better bring it down. You see, if we went on into town we could bring Dad and enough men back to fight the fire—its gaining on you, isn't it?'

“‘It certainly is,’ I replies, ‘and there seems to be some sense in that head of yours, after all.'

“With that I climb aboard.

“‘But what beats me,’ I says, ‘is how you came to be able to drive a ‘Locy.'

“‘I can't really,’ he says, ‘not properly, but I've read a lot about them, and I know which is the throttle and which is the injector—that's the two main points if you want to get anywhere.

“‘Anyway all I had to do was get her started—it's all downhill from the hauler—that wheel there on the tender is the brake.'

“‘This lever puzzles me a bit,’ said Little Sam, ‘it sets the valves you know—I pushed the end out of the hauler shanty before I started because I put her in reverse by mistake. Even with the pressure as low as it is I think we could get a bit more out of her—if I knew how.'

“‘You're doing all right,’ I says.

“We were in town in half an hour and a fine old rousting we got from the mill manager when he saw who brought his engine in. But when I tell him what's up and he realises his thousand acre block is in danger—he stops cussing and runs off up the street to the hotel, and pretty soon everybody in the place is making a bee line for the mill with the publican and page 78 his man bringing up the rear trundling a fifty gallon keg of beer for the gallant fire fighters.”

“It was just about breaking Christmas Day when we got the fire out.

“And then the publican picked up Little Sam and sat him astride the barrel, and said if it hadn't been for him the whole countryside might have got burnt.

“After that Big Sam gets up and he says, ‘I ain't going to make a fuss of you son, but I'm sorry about what I said yesterday morning. You did ride the pony didn't you?'

“‘And Little Sam said, ‘Yes Dad, and I left him at the hauler tied up with a bowline—like you showed me.'

“‘What? yells Big Sam, ‘left your Christmas present tied up all this time—spare me days—don't you know better than that!”

Old Barty mopped his forehead—and Jerry lay a moment in silence—his great dark eyes sparkling with excitement.

“That's the best yarn you ever told me Barty,” he said presently.

“Yarn nothing,” replied the old man, “it's true, every word of it.”

“What happened to Little Sam then?” asked Jerry, “did he go on living with you?”

“No, the mill manager took a fancy to him, and when he found he wanted to be an engineer took him into the mill repair shops as an apprentice; from there he went to college and then to South America where he became a great engineer—but they tell me that he never did learn to ride a horse!”

Contests for smokers are all the go in Belgium just now. Pipe Clubs, as they are called, have been established in connection with many of the Cafes, and a prize is awarded to the man who keeps his pipe going the longest. In one such contest sixteen of the contestants smoked steadily for upwards of an hour, without “striking a light” a second time, this being one of the rules of the game. But the champion kept his clay in full blast for an hour and thirty-seven minutes! He deserved his win!—and if he had smoked “toasted” he'd have doubtless done better still, because this beautiful tobacco being virtually free from nicotine (eliminated by toasting) can be smoked for almost any length of time without a break. There's no “bite” in toasted! And the quality is simply unequalled! There's nothing quite so good! Flavour and bouquet are glorious!—hence the popularity of the five genuine toasted brands: Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold.*