Only middlin’ [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

Only middlin’

The “mail” by which I travelled was timed to pull in at Queensvale platform, at 6 a.m.

Although it was generally pretty bleak at Queensvale at that hour, I made a point to pop my head out of the carriage window with the hope of passing an early morning salutation to my dear old friend, Mr. Lord, the “Squire of Queensvale,” who always greeted the morning mail to pick up his evening paper, or to talk sheep, cattle, or wheat with a kindred spirit aboard.

Friend Lord, despite his chronic grouch, was a fine old chap in many ways, and a hard and solid worker, but he could never see the humour in the slogan “Smile, blast you, smile!” and to him things were always “only middlin’.”

On this morning it was particularly fresh, but this did not lessen my desire to pay the usual courtesies to the Squire.

“Good morning, Mr. Lord,” I saluted brightly as the old gentleman passed up the platform. “How are you?” “Middlin’ — only middlin’,” was the rejoinder of the Squire, as he stopped at the window of my carriage.

“But you look fresh and well,” I commented.

“Well, my looks belie my feelings,” he grunted. “I’m only middlin’.”

“Then I’m sorry to hear it,” I said in sympathetic tones.

“I’m trottin’ along the road of life,’ he continued, “and I feel the uphill pinches. They let me know I’m within the three-score range and only middlin’.”

Looking across the fields and getting a glimpse of a paddock of golden wheat I remarked:

“The recent rains have brushed up your property, Mr. Lord, and you have a fine tank full of water over there, I should think.”

“Oh,” he replied as he casually looked across to the paddocks, “only middlin’.”

By way of a change in the topic of conversation I remarked, “I see you’ve got the morning paper.”

“No,” he said, “that’s last night’s. I get two sheets of civilisation a day here.”

“Not too bad,” I approved, “for 240 miles from Sydney.”

“It’s only middlin’,” he squeaked.

Just as the train was about to pull out I asked him, in view of George’s Coronation, what he thought of our new King.

“Not much — not much,” he grumbled. “The grass is up now, green and tender, and the blasted rabbits won’t eat the poison so —” “Things is only middlin’,” added a voice from the next compartment as the train pulled out.

When will we cease to grumble?
When will we start to smile?
Truly, heaven has a handful
With the “groucher” all the while.

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 37-38

Editor’s notes:
middling = medium, moderate, or about average in quality, quantity, or size; mediocre, ordinary; used in the phrase “fair to middling” (commonly used regarding being mediocre in health)

[Editor: Corrected the seventh instance of “middlin” (after “paddocks”), from “only middlin.’” to “only middlin’.” (moved the apostrophe) in line with the other instances.]

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