The troubles of a show secretary [short story by Jack Moses]

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

The troubles of a show secretary

I used to think that the man who wanted most patience and tact among all the people I have met, was the presiding genius at the inquiry window at the Central Station.

But what is the strain of the inquiry window of Central Railway Station to the woes of an agricultural secretary? Just listen for a while.

“Mother says if you don’t hang my picture in a good light I am not to show it.”

“All right, sonny,” said the Sec. “Tell your mother I’ll attend to it. My word, Tom,” turning to his clerk, “I’m stuck for judges. I don’t know what to do about the pigs at all.”

“Ask Isaacs,” replied Tom, with a grin.

“Oh, no, not me!” laughed the sec.

Here a lady interrupted the conversation.

“Mr. Secretary.”

“Yes, madam.”

“Will you kindly come into the pavilion and see the award in the plum-pudding section? . . . You see these puddings?”

“I do, madam”

“Well, in the schedule it distinctly says they must be boiled. Mine is boiled. Yet the steamed one has got the prize. How do you account for that?”

“How do you know it was steamed?”

“Why, can’t you see it is mould shape, and has a hole right through it? Besides, none of them have been tasted. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, Mr. Secretary. I’ll never show here again!”

Great row at the gate.

“Mr. Sec., I want to bring in my exhibit, Tiny, and the gateman wants to stop me.”

Oh, you can come in, Mr. Harris, with Tiny; but what about your two boys. They must pay.”

“I have brought the boys to mind Tiny,” was the answer. “Last show Bloggs’s dogs nearly ate him; you should sort out the savages from the quiet ones.”

“But one boy can attend to Tiny.”

“I know that, but I want one to stay while the other gets his dinner.”

“Oh, very well. Come in, come in,” said the Sec. as he turned to a new arrival.

“Well, Mr. Mason, what’s your trouble?”

“You know, Mr. Secretary, I am the last man in the world to growl when I am beaten. I take it in the spirit of a true sport, especially when I am beaten fair. Come over to the pavilion and look at these tomatoes. I have twelve in this competition, all sound, good colour, and marketable size. The plate that has beaten me is too pink, and one is rotten, so he hasn’t twelve, and should be disqualified; besides, they are coarse and unsaleable. I’ll never show here again! You ought to come down to Wattle Flat; they’ll teach you how to run a show.”

“I am very sorry, you are not satisfied,” was the response; “you had better enter a protest.”

Then as the Sec. entered his office again a short, aggressive-looking man started up.

“Mr. Secretary, I am the man that gave you the bullock for the pressing competition.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Whippem, and thank you very much for your gift.”

“That’s right, Mr. Sec., but I did not give you the beast to starve to death. He has had nothing to eat this morning, and has only a day or two to live; so send something along to him please.”

“Tom,” the Sec. called to his clerk, “get the bullock some corn.”

“Where shall I get it?” queried Tom.

“Oh, ask an exhibitor,” replied the Sec., continuing as a workman entered; “well, Bill, what’s the matter with you?”

“The rain is splashing in on the grand-stand seats, sir, and the ladies can’t sit down”

“Take a cloth then, Bill, and wipe them.”

“I can’t find one, sir,” was Bill’s response.

“Take this rag catalogue; that will do.”

“Thank you, sir,” and off went Bill, passing Tom at the door, who re-entered with, “I can’t get the corn for the bullock, sir.”

“Whom did you ask for it?”

“Mr. Jones.”

“Did he win the prize in that section?”

“Well, go to the man who did; he’ll give you corn”

Here an infuriated side-showman tumbled into the office, and struck a pugilistic attitude as he cried, “You’re the bloke that runs this show, ain’t yer? Well, me and my pals are going to deal it out to you the first time we get you on your own!”

“How dare you talk to me in this fashion?” demanded the Secretary. “Who are you?”

“I’m the bloke that’s just had his tent pulled down.”

“Well, I didn’t pull it down.”

“No, but some of your committee did. They said we were overlapping another fellow’s ground, and we wasn’t.”

“Oh, go and settle your grievance with them.” By this time the urbane Secretary was beginning to look worried, and was slightly less urbane.

Back came the owner of the guessing-beast. “That bullock won’t eat corn; he’ll starve first. I can’t go about this ground enjoying myself and see an old servant hungry. Get him hay, he has no corn-crackers.”

“Bill, get the bullock some hay,” directed the Secretary.

“Right, sir. I just wiped the seats in the grand-stand, and now they want some hessian put up to keep out the smoke from the steam merry-go-round, and you had better send a policeman along to stop the merry-go-round from travelling so fast. The President says some kid will be killed.”

At this juncture a jocular individual bounced into the office.

“Ha, ha! Good morning, Mr. Sec, How are you?”

“I’m well, Mr. Coats.”

“Ah, that’s funny of you, Mr, Sec. Did you mean that remark for a pun? I suppose you did, as I have a couple of coats on my arm. I want to leave them in your care. I’ll put them behind the counter, Coats, hat ha! That was funny, but not so funny as something that just happened at your gates. A man, with his wife beside him, drove up in a pagnel cart, and paid for themselves and trap. Just as they passed through, the band struck up, and out popped two youngsters’ heads from the back of the cart. The ticket-takers were astounded, and didn’t know whether to chase the cart or not. A policeman standing by said, ‘Oh, let them go; its too funny to punish.’ Ho! Ha! Ta-ta, Mr. Sec. Be sure to take care of those coats.”

“Mr. Secretary!” called a feminine voice.

“Yes, Mrs. Spurtem?”

“My butter has been put at the hot end of the building, and is running all over the place, and my jams have been left open and are smothered with flies. I’ll never show here again!”

“The Governor’s arrived! The Governor’s arrived!” exclaimed someone in great excitement.

“Put your hat and coat on, Mr. Sec.”

“Yes, yes, I must. Oh, my arm is in the wrong sleeve.”

“Brush the dust off your hat.”

“Thank you, old boy. Good Lord! Where is the President to receive His Excellency? Oh, that band! Tell them to change their tune and play ‘God Save the King.’ What’s the matter with your bullock now?” continued the badgered official as the bullock-owner hurried into the office again.

“He wants a drink”

“Here, Bill, give the cow a drink, and see if the President has got the Governor in hand.”

“Yes, sir, he has,” said Bill.

“He’s no cow,” interjected the disgusted Mr. Whippem.

“Well, he looks cowed. Oh, Lord! I forgot that rotten bale of ensilage in the pavilion. Tell Bill to move that out before the Governor comes in. What’s that group over there backed up against the iron shed, with a camera minding them?”

“That’s the Press photographing some of the show officials, and they want you over there.”

“Right I’ll be there, but I never knew I had so many officers before.”

“We are glad you’re here,” remarked the Press. “We want you next to the President Where is he?”

“I’m here,” came a voice four, behind the crowd.

“Don’t stand at the back, please. Come to the front,” directed the photographer. “Now, gentlemen, put your hats back, take your hands out of your laps. Steady. That will do. Thank you,” and away trotted the released Secretary, conscious of something accomplished, something done. But just as he entered the pavilion he was stopped by a lady with, “Do you know why I did not get the prize for my bottled fruits?”

“I beg your pardon, madam?”

“I say my bottled fruits did not get the prize,” she repeated with emphasis.

“Oh, yes, I remember. The bottles were not full, madam.”

“They were full enough for the judges at other shows. I have always beaten Mrs. Brown, who got the prize here. I’ll never show here again!”

Here Mrs. Clarke wanted to know where the judges were who gave her first for confectionery, “because,” she explained, “I want to thank them.”

“Someone satisfied at last,” muttered the official, adding, “I am very glad you’re pleased, Mrs. Clarke. I suppose you, at least, will show again?”

And so on. But there was no rest for the Secretary even now. A protest in the ring. It’s over the contest for all ladies who had never won a prize, and the girl that has won divided a prize somewhere else. One man rushed in to inform of it. Another arrival declared that there was great argument in the grain corner over a bag of barley and wheat. Some of the young farmers will have it that the skinless barley is Bobs wheat. There’ll be a barney over the red and the roan shorthorn bulls. The roan got the ribbon, but a lot liked the red. “I could tell the best beast if I could feel their hides. The roan’s a nice bull. He has a great milk vein, but the red, I think, would beat him in the hide. He seems more creamy, and has a great escutcheon.”

Before he could finish there arrived another breathless messenger with the declaration that “There’s a smashed over the water-jump. You must get a doctor quick,” and on his heels the man with the complaint that his beast was “burning off for the want of water. Bill gave him water, but it was a bucket, and he wants a tub. Who ever knew a bullock to drink out of a bucket?” And all the sarcasm the owner could command was thrown into his tones.

Ring at the telephone.

“Who’s at the ’phone, Tom?”

“Mr. Wilks, sir. He’s ringing up from the town, and wants to know why his little boy’s pony didn’t get a prize.”

“It wasn’t worth one, I suppose.”

“Will I tell him that, sir?”

“No, no. Tell him we ran out of ribbons. Try again next year.”

And in the evening at the show social, after many toasts are honoured and the President’s health is drunk, and he is congratulated on the success of the show and the marvellous way in which he has run it, I often wonder what complexion the tired-looking Secretary would put on it if he could get up and just tell the plain, unvarnished truth about the whole business.

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 39-45

Editor’s notes:
barney = argument; fight

Sec. = Secretary

trap = a general term used for any two-wheeled light carriage (or cart) with springing, pulled by a single horse or pony, and designed for two passengers; however, the term is also applied to similarly-built carts which are four-wheeled and designed for four passengers; in the early years of the development of motor vehicles, motorized traps were built

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
yer (you)

[Editor: Removed the second full stop after “out of ribbons.”.]

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