The pessimist [short story by Jack Moses]

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

The pessimist

There can be no doubt that the “man on the land,” in pursuit of his daily vocation, has much to contend with, hardships to encounter that would break the spirit of the average man; and there is due to him a greater consideration in respect to his conditions than is usually meted out to him by the powers that be. I often hear the censure emanating from the man who enjoys all the comforts and conveniences of city life: “Oh, the cocky — he is always grouching!” — but it is only fair to admit that the “cocky,” as the city brother is inclined to dub him, is asked to “raise the dough” of the country, often under trying conditions. No wonder he is sometimes a grouch. Think of the droughts; recall the floods; dwell on the bush fires, the pesky fly, the heat, the dust, the bad roads, and the million-and-one worries and pests disturbing his peace of mind; and, by the way, talking of pests, don’t forget the overdrafts and the rabbits. These, of course, are the hardships he has to endure; these are the flames which harden the steel of his true manhood.

I sometimes think that if the city man could vividly picture these things he would be more generous in extending assistance to make the conditions of living a little more attractive for the man on the land, and primary production would be greatly assisted. To compensate for the pests, of course, he has his bountiful harvests; but despite the wonderful wealth of the great country, the little troubles referred to make him pessimistic.

In plying my wares through the country, I once met an old client out West, in the middle of a drought.

“Well,” I enquired, “what about a bit of business?”

“Business!” he shouted, “in the midst of this thirst of the land? Don’t you think you are asking for something? Don’t you see the dry spell has got the country by the throat? If,” he added apologetically, “a chap could see the other side of it, he wouldn’t mind talkin’ business.”

“Oh, well, I remarked, most resignedly, “I’ll give you another call after the rain.”

“Yes, that’s right,” he said rather joyfully, for the first time; “see me again when the weather breaks.”

Well, I came round after the weather had broken, and his farm looked a perfect picture; copious rain had brought forth fields of green and the land was as a land of promise.

“Now,” I said, “the drought has broken; we’ve got every indication of a record season. Your tanks are full; you have a bonzer crop. What do you think of that great rain, eh?”

“Rain, do you call it?” he queried.

“Yes,” I said, “beautiful rain, glorious rain, raindrops of wealth.”

“Oh, Lord,” he remarked, “we’ve had too much rain, and there’s a sign of rust through the wheat-crop!”

“Why,” I suggested, looking at the magnificent crop swayed by a gentle breeze in a glorious sunlight, “I never saw anything in my life look better from the road.”

“Oh, yes, it looks all right from the road,” he reluctantly admitted, “but you can’t see the grub nibbling the roots from the road. I sent a sample down to the Government Expert, and he said I might get all husk and no grain.”

“But,” I reminded, “I saw many crops as I came along the road, but I never saw a better crop than yours.”

“You put me in mind of a yarn I heard about a lunatic who ran away from the asylum.”

I wondered what the pessimist was getting at, and ejaculated a simple, “Yes?”

“Yes,” my friend answered; he was riding past the asylum in a train; a fellow-passenger, who was looking from the car window, saw the asylum through the trees, just at sunset. ‘My word the asylum looks lovely from the train!” he remarked.

“The lunatic pulled his coat and grinned. “You ought to see the train from the asylum, mister.’”

“Oh!” I remarked feeling somewhat rebuked for my audacity in expressing an opinion of the crop from the road.

“Anyhow,” continued the pessimist, “I’ve been up with the kid all night; I’ve a horse down with the gripes; the lynch-pin from the dray is missing; the binder is out of order; I can’t get the expert chap to fix it up, and the wind might come and spill the lot before I bag it.”

“Oh,” I cheered, “all your troubles will disappear. Every cloud has a silver lining. Now, what about a bit of business?”

“Business!” he replied gloomily, “don’t talk to me about business! Look at this Labour Party.”

“What’s the matter with the Labour Party?” I said casually, dreading a political controversy.

“Well,” said he, “the cows want to cut the size of the bags down to ——”

“But,” I suggested, “you’ll get ten bags to the acre out of this.”

“I know very well I will,” he admitted. Then having caught a glimpse of the sunlight, he added, “Look what it takes out of the land!” And, strange to say, the sun at this moment smiled on the dreary pessimist.

A few months later I read that he had taken all the first honours for wheat at his local show — and had obtained a record yield.

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 23-25

Editor’s notes:
binder = a machine used to bind or tie grain into bundles or sheaves (can be used as an attachment for a harvester or reaper)

bonzer = (Australian slang) excellent (also spelt as “bonza”)

car = an abbreviation of “carriage”

cocky = (also spelt cockie) a farmer (the term was used to refer to poor bush farmers, from having land so poor that they were jokingly said to only be able to farm cockies, i.e. cockatoos, a type of bird; however, it was later used to refer to farmers in general)

Labour Party = the Australian Labour Party, a democratic socialist party, was formed in 1901 (although there were several Labour organisations in the Australian colonies prior to 1901); the spelling of the party’s name was changed from “Labour” to “Labor” in 1912

rust = wheat leaf rust, a fungal disease which can be devastating to crops of barley, rye, and wheat

Speak Your Mind