The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936
The sun was just about to rise, and all the hills and valleys of the Tararuas were lost in a pink suffusion, leaving only the thin outline of the range against a sky of exactly the same colour.
George, the farmhand, removed the Pompadour's left rear foot from the soft toe of his gumboot and murmured something secular. The cow looked round at him and leered as he reproved her.
"Hoped to get it in the bucket, eh? Better luck next time."
His foot tingled as he went on milking. Glancing again at the mountains, where the edge of the sun was just showing, "Hills are looking pretty this morning, aren't they?" he remarked chattily.
"Never mind the bloody sunrise," said the boss from the next bail, "we've got to catch that lorry."
The Pompadour finished, Yum Yum, Buttercup, Ingy, Google and Tinribs (a philosophical cow who always came in last) were milked and wandered out.
The farmhand got the cream cans to the gate as the lorry came into the side road and covered the last half-mile at amazing speed, drawing up with a clatter. In view of the damage heavy cream lorries do to the roads, a sticker on the windscreen announces a speed limit of 19 miles an hour. No driver can obey the law and keep his job.
"Beat you this morning," observed George as he took the receipts.
"Time somebody did," said the driver, "I've had to wait five minutes at every bally place."
* * *
Few farmhands eat in the owner's house. Mrs. Farmer would have to wash their clothes too often, they would waste valuable time making themselves presentable, and they would probably bring in vermin anyway . . . .
George usually had twenty minutes for breakfast, but this morning the boss looked into the whare after five minutes and said:
"Jorgensen's bought that little white boar. He 'phoned me and says will you bring it early because he's going to town. So if you wouldn't mind hurrying with your breakfast—?"
The boss was apologetic, coaxing, oily. That meant there was dirty business brewing. Endowed with a natural low cunning and a meanness caused by years of stunted living on a farm that would never pay, he deemed himself a shrewd, hardheaded business man of the old school. A minute later he was back at the window of the whare.
"Here comes Stan with the pig now. Better leave your tucker, hadn't you? I'll get the missus to leave you something to eat when you come home."
George could have demurred, but refrained. He had risen at four; it was now half-past seven and he had eaten nothing. He gulped his tea, crammed his mouth with bacon, and went outside.
"How will I take him?" he inquired.
"There's no time for the dray. I'll put him in a super, sack and you can take him on your bike. Oh, it's easy enough. The last joker that was here used to carry pigs that way. An' I did it often when I was a youngster. Should a saw some of the pigs I carried."
"But it's four miles to Jorg—"
"Well, you can bike four miles can't you? Not a cripple are you? You fellers nowadays are too soft."
This miserly weasel calling him soft! Because it was so dirty, he did not bury his teeth in the man's throat. Indeed, by a mighty effort of will, he did not even rend him in pieces. Instead, he replied calmly:
"I was thinking of the pig."
"Aw, he'll be allright, I reckon. Here Stan, shoot him into this bag."
Argument was useless. He started off with Herr Goebbels (George named all the animals, and this one he fancied had a Teutonic demeanour) slung in a sack over the handlebars. The road was loosely metalled and the bicycle was hard to manage, swaying horribly as cars dashed past in a cloud of dust. But after a mile or so he was becoming used to the loose metal, the troublesomeness of the bicycle, the halt every chain to adjust the sack, and the thought of the probable sufferings of Herr Goebbels inside it. It was an early summer, and the little boar had been so indiscreet as to get painfully sunburnt. The sack was old and rotten—the mean old cuss was afraid of losing a bob on a good one.
"Which end up are you, mein Herr?" he wondered.page break
Another car whirled past like a young tornado out for a frolic, so filling the air with dust that he could not see a yard before him. His bicycle lurched, a ripping sound was followed by a thud, and the thud by a squeal. The little pig, suffocating, had bitten a hole and landed on the gravel.
The subsequent chase in the dusty tall fescue and toi-toi on the roadside exhausted them both, and the pig was bleeding from its crash. The bag was hopelessly torn, and there was only one thing to do. He wrapped the bleeding, swearing, struggling pig in the sack and took it under his right arm, wheeling his bicycle with his left. Motorists smiled, a bus full of picnickers hailed him gleefully. He was hungry, thirsty and miserable, the sun was baking hot, he barked his shins against the pedals, and he blasted the wretched sunburnt shoat as it kicked and wriggled under his arm.
Came a party of hikers, happy carefree civil servants, three youths and three girls with pink legs. He had refused a job like theirs to realise his dream of being a farmer. As they drew nearer their conversation stopped, but their grins widened. Only one looked sympathetic, a nice girl with red hair and lapis lazuli eyes. Merciful Allah, 'twas Doris! and he remembered his college days. She did not recognise him though, and he blessed the week's growth on his face. He had wiped the dust off one temple, and the cheerful hikers did not see how red that dustless portion was as the farmhand averted his face, and walked by with forty pounds of squealing pork under his arm.
* * *
Before milking that afternoon, he fed Minerva, a large black sow. She was sleeping in a wallow she had made in a corner of the sty, but when she heard him coming she rose and stood upright in the trough, her forefeet on the wall. He hesitated, wondering where to pour the kerosene-tin of curdled skilly. The sow stood looking at him, with that curious expression a pig has when it looks upward. Then, deliberately and distinctly.
"Chump!" she said.
"I beg your pardon, madam!" replied the farmhand, "A very offensive remark, surely?" —and he poured the milk over her head. She opened her jaws and chopped at it, swallowing as he poured. Then she shook her ears, splashing him with the sour and smelly fluid, and attended to the trough.
"But I confess you are right, milady," he continued, rubbing the curds and whey from his shirt. "To-night I give notice, and intend to be a drain on my country until I get a job in town, where I work 40 hours a week instead of sweating my soul out for 80—where I receive a little respect from my employer and a regular holiday; where I can eat a decent meal and sleep on a bed whose mattress is not made of Scotch thistles and rat-infested hay. Your lot, madam, is heavenly compared with mine, for you have time at least to reflect in your wallow on life around you. When you have an idea you may cogitate upon it; when you have a flea, you have time to scratch it on yonder rusty nail. The beauty and poetry of life are not for pigs alone."
The trough was empty, and the sow looked up.
"Oaf!" she remarked.
George bowed his head.
"Please don't rub it in. Minerva. Tonight I shall give the boss the comprehensive dressing down he's been waiting for. and you shall have an extra mangel. Give me the bright lights and gilded shams of the city—I'm through with the wide open spaces."