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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1923

Last Interviews

page 26

Last Interviews

I.—The Junior Partner.

I climbed up his winding stair rather tremulously, for though I had met him before in his free unstudied moments of leisure, this was the first time I had visited him since that decisive step in his career which had made him more than a mere drop in the legal ocean of our too legal city. I, of course, was still only a reporter—a reporter on "The Spike," it is true—but still a reporter. Who was I that I should dare to raise my ryes to his distinguished face? The reader will understand my hesitancy. I dragged my nervous feet to the top of his eccentric stairs, and paused irresolutely—which floor? That to the right was obviously the safe, and 1 could not conceive of him spending his days in the safe; through another I could see busy ranks of clerks and typists driving and clicking away with their pens and demoniac machines. Ah! what was this signboard? "Mr.—." It pointed an imperative finger to the left. At the same time I heard a sudden burst of sound, as a hearty voice leapt into song. "Take a pair of sparkling eyes!" it carolled (or, should I say, bellowed? I know then that I was on the right track. Who else could render Gilbert and Sullivan with such rare gusto? Evidently he was engaged on a breach of promise case. I tapped timidly. "Come in!" shouted the hearty familiar voice, and I entered. I got down on my hands and knees and bowed my forehead to the dust. "Good morning!! he replied kindly to my salutation; "take a pew. Now, about this divorce of yours. It will first be necessary to obtain a decree nisi, which in time may be made absolute. I anticipate no difficulty in this—"

"Excuse me," I managed to break in. "I am not married, and therefore you may experience more difficulty than you anticipate. Moreover, you appear to have made a mistake. I am not seeking a divorce, I have come to interview you on behalf of 'The Spike.' "

He rose to his feet, and brought his hand to the salute. "This," he said solemnly, "is the proudest moment of my life."

"Notatall," I replied, inadequately emulating such magnanimity. "Now, will you please tell me something about yourself?

"With pleasure," he said. "But first let me apologise For my error. My list of briefs is unfortunately very large, and my clients tread very rapidly on one another's heels. However, I rarely get mixed," he added, brightly.

" I understand you spent several years at V.U.C. I interrogated.

"That is so. Those were, I think I may say, the happiest days of my life. That is, of course, till recently. I pursued a very successful course of study there, and filled all the official positions open to me with great ability. I was at one period President of the Stud. Ass., and was even asked to join the Christian Union."

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I was breathless with admiration. "You accepted?" I cried.

"I did not feel myself worthy. Besides, I had even then decided to become a great lawyer. Can I be a lawyer and a Christian too? I said to myself (I suppose every young man faces the same question at some time in his life). No! Then give up Christianity. I gave it up, and spent my Sundays with the Tramping Club."

I understand that you are a great sportsman as well as a great lawyer?" was my next query.

"Well," he answered modestly. "I have met with my meed of admiration at the Easter Tournaments. I have always been fond of the great out-of-doors; the illimitable open-air, the—the—what shall I say?—the—"

"I quite understand. Can you give me some details?"

Well, at a Sunday-school picnic I once won the egg-and-spoon championship. And then there was the three-mile cross-country race in which I beat the editor of ' The Spike.' Of late years, however, I have taken to golf and mountaineering for relaxation, which I find very necessary alter a long gruelling day at the office. Golf is a very good game: it is played with sticks, called golf-Sticks, and a ball, called a golf-ball. It can very conveniently be played by two persons. But I may say that my greatest successes, outside my legal practice have been in the region of mountaineering. This is a sport which only the most hardened and determined men can take up. And some women, too. I have often bad the pleasure of taking the Tramping Club for a bit of a stroll on Saturday afternoons—thirty miles or so. But they are so confoundedly slow. I will not mention my ascents of Mt. Cook and the Matterhorn, which will doubtless seem child's-play to you, but I do think f put up a good showing on the Wireless in the last vacation. you have no idea of the difficulty of this peak, added to which the weather we experienced was simply diabolical. I broke several ice-axes even on the lower slopes. However, I should undoubtedly have got to the top had it not been for one of my party, who crocked up after the first two days of the ascent, and could go no further. It was a great disappointment to me. However, I hope to get to the summit some day yet."

"Too bad!" I murmured sympathetically. "And who was your companion, may I ask?"

"Sammy Turner," he said; and bowed me out.

II.—The Secretary of the Athletic Club.

(We should explain that the following interview took place some time ago, and the "Spike" must therefore apologise if in any way distorts or misrepresents the present views of its subject.—Editor)

"And what," I queried, with my pencil poised in the air above my eager notebook, "are your views on Woman?"

"Ah! the Woman Question," he said, meditatively, and became silent for a while. He leant back in his chair; and I thought, as I gazed on that fine brow, supported by those strong hands, those page 28 noble eyes half-veiled by the thoughtfully drooping lids, of some primal Intelligence brooding over the void and infinity of untreated chaos. What, I thought to myself, may not emerge from that brain? Here is no dilettante mind, facile and frivolous, liable at any moment to be swept off its feel by the idols of the theatre and the market-place; this man has drunk deep of the twin founts of Science and Law, holy sisters; no superficial fluency will content him. I had always admired him from the days when, two young men together, we bad, in attenuated harriers' costumes, roamed the hills of Wadestown and Karori discussing the deeper problems of life; I was now deeply impressed.

"Well," he said at last, in tones of judicial mastery, "I don't know. I think they're an insoluble mystery, these women. Like Abraham Lincoln, they belong to the ages. I have met many women In my time. Like the Sphinx or Mona Lisa, you gaze at them and they gaze at you, and who is the better for it? Some, indeed, are like the basilisk—you gaze at them and are turned to Stone. Take the women up here now." I gathered he referred to V.U.C) "When I came here first they used to be quite a decent lot; they had sense, understanding; but look at them now—look at—, for instance. She's—er—silly, if you know what I mean? I told her so, but it didn't seem to make any impression. I don't know; there may be an improvement in the future."(We are glad to reflect that this is apparently so.— Editor)

"Thank you," I said, "your remarks will, I am sure, be of great use to the readers of 'The Spike,' many of whom are at an age when the words of one who has experienced much and meditated deeply must be of the utmost use to them. And now, tell me —I understand you occupy a position of considerable importance as Secretary of the Athletic Club, and are yourself an athlete of no mean prowess—can you give our readers any points in this respect?"

"I have been privileged to pull off one or two small events at odd times," he answered modestly. "Nothing very great, you understand. And as I have often told you before, the only way to do these things is, stick to the man in front. There's nothing in it, really. Stick to him, even if you have to bite a piece out of his back. I have lately taken up dancing, myself; I find it is very good for stiffness of the joints. The late nights are a draw back, however, A man also needs generally to summon up all his self-command in the supper-room. One cannot run on a diet of meringues and American ice-cream soda."

"I have seldom had an opportunity of getting near the meringues myself,' I murmured."However, I shall bear your advice in mind. Is there any other statement you would care to make for publication?"

"Well, no," he said. "I am an aging man, and have lately had to carry an umbrella with me on extended journeys; however, if there is any point upon which you may be doubtful at any time, and which I may perhaps be able to elucidate for you, do not hesitate to approach me. By the way," he added with some alarm, "I understand you meditate joining the Tramping Club."

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Be reassured," I said. "I am bound with triple brass. I know the girls, and I love them all—like sisters."

He clasped my hand, and we parted in tears.

III.—The Chairman of the Tramping Club.

Modesty is his prime characteristic. I had great difficulty in getting an interview with him at all. He was exceedingly unwilling to talk of himself, and deprecated my leading questions with a gentle and unassuming wave of his hand. I fell rather in the position of a castaway on a desolate island, face to face with an exceedingly polite and perfectly courteous, but impregnably ungetattable oyster. Not that he would not speak. In that respect, indeed, he was an improvement on the oyster. If modesty is the main, affability is the second factor in his make-up. I have seldom met a man whose frank and disarming smile sooner won a way into the calloused—shall I say, somewhat cynical?—heart of the hardened journalist. Not even the jovial laugh of P.M.-S.—but more of him hereafter. He was exquisitely attired when I met him—indeed, I understand his appearance is the pride of the Club of which he is Chairman, when returning from a long and arduous, not to say muddy, trip over the week-end; and, in contrast, I myself gazed with a shiver of repulsion at the eccentric crease—one of many—which wandered its drunken way down the leg of my trousers. I felt, with a touch of what Freud so felicitously defines as the inferiority-complex, that I was in the presence of One of Nature's Gentlemen. Summoning all my courage, however, and endeavouring to adjust my clothes to folds of a more Roman simplicity, I managed to draw him out upon one or two subjects of some importance.

"I do not wish to labour the point unduly," I said, "and I think I am authorised to state that humour on this subject, as on the Library, will for some years to come be excluded from the pages of 'The spike,' but I understand that there are various strange rumours in circulation, and (I believe) jokes (I do not know of what calibre) are frequently cracked about the Club which you adorn with so much grace as Chairman. Is there any substance in or foundation for these remarks, this ribald mirth?

"None," he answered, "and I do not know personally to what you refer. It has certainly been remarked that when a man falls into a creek with a girl, that is the inevitable prelude to an engagement. This, however, is a principle of undoubted validity, and can hardly be described as a rumour or a mere joke. I will give you instances—"

"It is unnecessary," I replied. "I believe you. I have observed many such cases myself. I am glad to have the point cleared up. And now can you tell me anything about your hobbies? Tramping, I understand, is almost a business in itself. Golf, the theatre, books, music—?"

His face shone. Here, at last, I felt, I had touched a sympathetic chord. "Ah!" he said, enthusiastically, "now you are talking. What more enjoyable after a long grinding day at the office" (I could not help thinking of the words of the Junior Partner—what page 30 workers these lawyers are!) "than a visit to the theatre—what more fascinating than to lose oneself in a dreamland of fairy creation, or to gaze enthralled at the working-out of some mighty problem-drama of the present age? Yes, I have spent many happy hours at Fuller's."


"Well, I have studied the poets somewhat. What are those noble lines of Swinburne's—or is it Wordsworth?—

'Life is earnest, life is real,
And the grave is not its goal'—

'Let us then be up and doing!' does it not go on? 'Footprints in the sands of time'—it always reminds me of Robinson Crusoe, somehow. And then music! You must hear me play the pianola sometime. I have also been practising hard at my mouth organ lately, not entirely, I hope, without success. And Saturday afternoon often finds me on the links at Berhampore."

And here I made a blunder. I forgot that even the most cultured of golfers are particular about how one speaks of their religion. Even as I spoke the thud of my faux pas rose up and filled the air with its noisy horror.

"And what," I asked, "do you find the best—a mixed foursome or a mashie ?"

He threw me out of the room.

IV.—The President of the Stud. Ass.

I could hear him running up and down the scale in a robust tenor as I approached the door. I stalked the portal warily, and leapt forward to inflict a short rat-tat on the panel in an interval between the fulsome oo-aa-ee's.

Silence reigned.

Then: "Come in," he bellowed, "or stay outside if you'd rather. I'm having a bath."

Vigorous splashing bore testimony to the fact. I applied my mouth to the keyhole and shouted.

"'Spike,'" he answered. "Oh, yes, I've been expecting you all the week. What do you want to know—my opinion of the Arts course or the form of the Sydney football team? Of course, you know, I'm a modest man; I never bath in public, and I haven't led a Community Sing in my life. Yes, it was an unexpected honour they did me, but perhaps not altogether unexpected. I always was a few seconds slow in getting up to decline nomination, something happened to my joints when I was young. But I'll bear up under it, and be absent from Wellington as often as possible. I expect to tour with the "B" rep. team, anyway.

"No, I didn't form any attachments in Australia; or, at least, not more than usual. I delivered no addresses, was sober most of page 31 the time, and only once present at a party which didn't disrupt till two in the morning. Naturally, I shan't keep the same hours here; the Wentworth is too far away."

He gave an emphatic denial to the statement that Sydney 'Varsity girls are prettier than those at V.U.C.

"I ask you," he said, "can you expect a man like me, who has always been worshipped by the women, to endanger his reputation by agreeing with a statement like that?"

"I'll tell you this, though," he added brightly, "more of them wear silk stockings."

On the matter of College politics he refused to commit himself.

"I occupy a responsible position now, and have to be careful how I express my views. I can't cling to my old radical opinions and maintain this post with the dignity which is consistent with it. So it' you want my opinion on the Ruhr or the Treaty of Versailles or the Welfare League or any other evils, let me know professionally, and I'll give you a considered one. That will cost you five guineas. Might as well make something out of my LL.B"

We had reached an impasse, for my next question was to have dealt with one of these very things. I shouted a query which was drowned in an uproar from the bathroom. He was practising again.

"Aw-oh-oo!" he bellowed as he pulled the plug and through the mighty roar of released bath-water his voiced soared strong and free. He had just remembered the approaching hour of a singing lesson, and I gave the matter best.