Smiles and a smell [short story, 16 February 1918]

[Editor: A short story published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918.]

Smiles and a smell.

The billet was a farm — one of those typical French farms, with the inevitable stagnant pool standing smellfully in the court-yard. Fortunately, after a bit King Frost sealed up the aroma, and we could skate with impunity over the frozen effluvium.

Besides having a nauseous pool, French farms generally have a maid-of-all-work. And she lives up to her title. She is usually a buxom wench, beclogged and with a fairly substantial grip on France.

The perpetual motion maid on “our” farm was a shrunken, sallow-faced mademoiselle who might have seen about twenty-two French summers. All day long she toiled also did she spin — usually a wheel-barrow — and even in the still, dark night, the clatter of her clogs could be heard in the cobbled cow-sheds.

The barns of the farm were situated in different parts of the courtyard, and Marie had to attend to all of them. One time she would pass, wobbling under the weight of a gigantic pot, laden to the brim with sliced mangel-wurzels. Then she would sally pigstywards, lightly laden with as much straw as she could embrace. But the journey was always the same — the drudging domestic had always to tour round Lake Lachrymatory.

On our arrival at the farm, the whole place was enshrouded in a Scotch mist, and the surroundings were much sodden. Marie’s spirits seemed quite in keeping with the atmosphere. Then the weather grew colder, the ground became hard, and the fetid filth froze over, and became a skating rink. The anaemic Marie then seemed to be of good cheer. There was much speculation as to the cause of this jubilation. Had the cold, bracing air banished her gloom? Or perchance she had a love affair with some amorous Aussie.

For about a week the delighted domestic drudged on with gleeful reticence. Then one day sounds of stifled laughter were heard coming from the precincts of the pool, and Marie was observed skidding the colossal pot like a curling stone over the pent-up pestilence. She parried on with the good work silently, until she gained terra firma. Then she glanced our way, her sallow face lit up with a smile like a melon with a slice cut out. “Tres Bon.” she exclaimed. “Plus facile travaille promenade sur la glace! Bon, eh? Beaucoup fatigue, promenade autour du cour. Pas bon pour moi.”

It was only then that it dawned upon us that King Frost on taking over from Jupiter Pluvius had harnessed a smell, and brought smiles to a girl.


Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918, page 11

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