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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941

Portrait of a Gentlemen

page 49

Portrait of a Gentlemen

Economics was Larry Hendrick's long suit, but he trained for school teaching. He knew enough about economics to know that they couldn't be relied upon to give him a living. When things were O.K. he could always get a job as financial adviser to someone or other who had surpluses to invest; but in depression times nobody had any use for planned economy. But with teaching it was different. People still had kids, even if it was unfashionable to have more than one or two. And funnily enough the community, who didn't seem to care a damn whether they were educated or not, insisted that they go to school when they became too great a nuisance in the home. Larry's sense for economics told him that there was money in teaching, and no risk, unless it was of contaminating the child mind.

But Larry wasn't content to let things take their course. Larry was shrewd. He'd studied the figures for so long that he knew what was coming even before the bookies had worked it out. He could chart a depression before the Minister of Finance thought it necessary to start it off. And Larry was determined not to be caught in the trough when the wave came.

That's where his genius and flair for household economy came in. He had worked it out on the graphs of production and exchange, which covered his pillowslip like the excretions of surreptitious insects, that in ten years time his less intelligent cousins would be shifting bits of ground from one side of a paddock to another for two bob a day. He wasn't going to be in on that; and having had plenty of warning he was able to take every precaution. He wasn't leaving anything to luck, even if school-teaching was pretty safe.

Larry, like Lenin, planned well ahead all right. First he went to the Education Dept. and looked up all the regulations on sole-charge schools. Then, with much forethought, he placed an ad. in the matrimonial column, worded as follows:

Intelligent gent. wishes meet well-knit female;
prepared to live out-back. Reply Sure Thing.

And from the answers that rolled in he selected one whose closely written sheet 6 by 4 inches indicated financial shrewdness and a closed mind.

The next step was easy. Larry put his plan into action. Before long his small domicile reeled nightly to the squawks of young Hendricks, who came in illimitable profusion, and came to stay. He'd got their vitamin charts worked out so thoroughly that his losses were light: compared to the great Victorian families the mortality rate was insignificant. And Mrs Larry bore up under the strain remarkably. The whole thing worked like a charm.

Meanwhile the course of depression was beginning to get under way. Before the page 50 pinch came Larry did his stretch of 9 to 3 plus in the village school. But gradually they started to skimp. He'd notice that when a teacher got sick, or when the numbers went down and they'd shift one to some other place, they wouldn't do anything about rectifying it later. When the teacher got well there just wasn't anything for him to come back to, and when the numbers went up again they let them. And then Larry knew that it was about time to put the Great Plan into operation.

He selected the place with the meticulous precision that characterised all his actions—a steep hill-top, way back in the Tararuas; a good five-hours march by pack and pony-track from the nearest pub or P.O. One side was scrub, the other rock; back of this was a small lake, and in front bush a hundred feet high.. When he had built his house out of tent-flap, corrugated-iron and manuka, there wasn't room enough for a respectable out-house, let alone anything else.

Then with the aid of one or two cronies he had picked up on his building expeditions he moved his family: Maggie, his wife; Dorah, aged 12 and 1 month (she really came before the plan), Harroll, 11.3 (indeterminate), Joanie 10.2, Gerry 9, Stan 8.2, Vera 7.2, Larry Junior 6, Little Hilda 5.1, and all the little ones under school age. One way and another he fitted them all in: mostly in bunks, one above the other.

Then as senior parent in the district he undertook to form a Parents' Association. Maggie was the only other member. He acted as chairman himself, but though she was nominally the hon. sec. he took over all that part of the business himself. He wrote in to the Education Dept., saying that there were eight children of school-age in the district, with more coming up the lift, and what were they going to do about it.

The reply came back that they would advertise in the Gazette; that the position was a little out of the way, but in view of the depression they were pretty sure to get someone soon.

He wrote back reminding them that there wasn't a school in the place, but that as a parent himself he'd be prepared to let them use the biggest room in his place, and did they think £1 per week was a reasonable rent.

At first sight there seemed to have been a slip somewhere, when the job was advertised, and it turned out that one of the applicants had better grading than Larry. But Larry, in his capacity as Chairman of the Parents' Association, pointed out that there was no board available except at the Hendricks, and they were full up. So there was really nothing for it except to appoint the applicant who already had residence in the district.

During the depression years Maggie saw to it that the school quota was kept up. As the eldest kids passed school-leaving age the young ones filled the desks. And Larry was pleased as punch. And why not? What with the £1 a week for rent, an extra £50 a year married allowance, and another £50 for country service he didn't do so badly after all.

But when he'd worked out that things were due to boom again he came out of the back-blocks. They went to the movies, and to the Majestic Cabaret, and got raided in a drinking joint; and altogether had a hell of a good time. Until the figures on the pillowslip told Larry that things were going to pinch again. 'I'll give it another eight years, 'he said to Maggie,' and then we'll have to start thinking about how to keep out of the depression we're heading for.'

page 51

But that's where Larry reckoned too much on Maggie's placidity. For when he woke up the figures were there all right, sprawled over the pillow like the excretions of surreptitious insects. But Maggie had fled.