An averted horror [short story, 18 January 1918]

[Editor: A short story published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 1, 18 January 1918.]

An averted horror.

When the war began Rupert Robinson (original style Heinrich Schmidt) had been trading in Sydney for about quarter of a century. During all that period he had played the part of a Good Citizen. That is to say, he paid his rates and taxes, obeyed the laws, and, in general, was all those things which are necessary to avoid prosecution. The first effect of the War was to develop in him an inexpressible pride in the Fatherland’s might. To trusted friends he confided the naked facts of the situation. The British Empire was Finished! He left it at that for a while, but as the weeks and months drifted by, and the happy cataclysm was delayed he grew restive. The blatancy of his Prussianism became obvious to all. Gone were his 25 years of Australian citizenship; gone the remembrance of an earlier and less dignified epoch in his career when the garrison officers of his native town used to kick him off the side walk on the rare occasions when he had carelessly omitted to get into the gutter beforehand. There came a time when he could think only of Germany; of the ruthless way in which she had been denied her place in the sun; of the English, and of the miseries one was suffering as the outcome of English greed and selfishness.

It was in this frame of mind that he came to make his Great Resolve. He had been reading in an old newspaper of the blowing-up — allegedly by a German-Canadian patriot — of the Capitol at Ottawa. It struck him as an admirable idea. He was inspired suddenly to emulate that masterstroke of Germandom, and he decided to blow up the New South Wales State House — if possible while in full session — even if it involved the sacrifice of his own life. It will be seen that Heinrich had all the humourlessness of his race.

It was 4.30 p.m. a week later. Rupert Robinson, some time of Blischenheim, Prussia, walked briskly up the steps of the doomed building. And then a disconcerting thing happened. Towards him surged tempestously James Henry Pugwith, M.L.A., the silver-tongued orator of the Northern Suburbs. The statesman recognised Robinson at once as a past supporter and a useful committee man. He was experiencing, at the moment, that Ben Adhem-like benevolence and love of all the world which so often accompany the primal stages of insobriety. He wrung Robinson’s reluctant hand. Then he stood off and scrutinized him with a bleary admixture of admiration and warm regard. He next grasped his shoulder, partly for support, partly as an indication of friendly esteem, and supplied him with a whisky-laden address on the political situation.

“A credit! A credit!” said Robinson, as the torrent of verbiage ended. “Andt now I must avay be getting.”

“Away! Nothing whatever!” shouted Pugwith, in his heartiest electioneering manner. “Why we haven’t met for years! You’re coming along with me this minute to have a drink at the Imperial.”

Robinson liked alcohol. He was of a convivial turn of mind, and circumstances had made him a lonely man of late. He fingered the hand-bag with which he was burdened, and reflected that its dreadful contents would keep. He told himself that it mattered little after all if he perished for the Fatherland now or later on. Yielding his unoccupied arm to Pugwith, he suffered himself to be towed in the direction of the Imperial.

In the bar they met Pougher and Dadgeworth, friends of Pugwith. Their manner towards Robinson on hearing the accent in which he named his drink, became frigid. The orator decided to put things straight.

“Friends,” he said, his hand on Robinson’s shoulder, “We have here, despite his country of origin — a country whose every deed and thought, I may say, he loathes, spurns and despises — one of the whitest Australians on God’s green earth. For 25 years he has laboured in our midst, breathing in our free pure air, dwelling in the breadth and glory of our untrammelled democracy, absorbing, like some vast sponge, the beauty and manliness of our institutions and conventions” — and so on for about quarter of an hour, when the speaker, being thirsty, forced himself down from the heights sufficiently to suggest that in the interests of harmony, the topic of the war had better be dropped.

Robinson was relieved. “Andt now,” he cried gaily, “Andt now I gif to all a toast — Vooman! Lofly Vooman! Gents,” raising his glass, “ter girls!” A fresh round was called for, and yet another. But now a storm began to brew, its centre being Pougher. Pougher was one of those whom alcohol renders nasty. Mutterings about the indignity of drinking with German spies became audible; also covert sneers at the Teuton’s shyness in the matter of dispensing hospitality. The fact was Robinson had come away from home without any money, as was reasonable seeing that he meant to leave his remains amid the ruins of the Legislature. Pougher’s injurious reflections on his solvency maddened him on the commercial side.

“Vaiter!” he cried fiercely, “Come!” A waiter appeared. “Go quick to ter office and say I vish a cheque-form. My cardt!”

Robinson was known at the Imperial and in a few minutes five pounds were in his grasp. “Andt now gents,” he said bitterly, “You drink at my payments! Hein? But not viskey! Not beer! No sirs! Champagne of ter finest and most expensive. Vaiter! — magnum of ter best and mit it sandwiches fresh andt good.”

Pougher had meant to refuse to drink with the loathly alien, but the lure of the wine was too strong. He let his glass be filled, and continued for a while a clumsy masquerade of geniality. Shortly afterwards untoward events began to occur. Pugwith, while walking to greet a friend, fell heavily, and was unable to rise. Dageworth, his face pale and an icy sweat upon his brow, subsided into a sort of a cloud, death-like in its intensity. Robinson did not notice the doings of his friends. He had bowed his head in the sandwiches and given way to tears. The heart-breaking thought had come to him that he was to die presently for Germany, and that no one would ever know. He would pass away an anonymous martyr. He wished now that he had left a written account of his intentions. He wished also and with an intensity of yearning that was almost unbearable, that Pougher was a M.L.A. How he detested Pougher! While on the subject of Pougher he began to question whether the Faderland might not be immensely advantaged by the bombing of the Imperial. What a destruction of enemy wealth! What a holocaust of insulting, Teuton-spurning Pouchers!

At this stage the offensive sentiments of the persecutor were heard. “A rotten old German spy. That’s what I put him down as. Robinson! Rupert Robinson, mark you! A Britisher! Imagine the beer-chewing old Hun singing ‘God save the King!’ I ask you.” And the speaker laughed in a hollow and sneering manner. It is annoying at any time to be laughed at. In all the circumstances it stirred Robinson to a sort of frenzy. He staggered to his feet.

“You wish dat I sing God save ter King!” he howled. “No! But I oblige with another and a more better song.” Whereupon, throwing his head so that his dripping soup-catcher moustache faced the ceiling, he broke lugubriously into “Deutschland uber Allies.” So petrified was the company that he had got to the first lines of the chorus before Pougher said weakly: “The swine’s singing the German National Anthem!”

Robinson stopped. Methodically opening his bag he produced his bombs. “Ve have tonight,” he said, with graveyard playfulness, “a high explosive time-fuze bomb, best home-made quality, designed originally to blow up the Eastern Portion of the Parliament House.” He dangled his hideous property by its fuze, and the hearts of those present congealed within them. “He will now be put to even better employment. In three minutes I light and place him on the floor near Mr. Pougher. Yes, Pougher, to you the post of honour. Whoever does escape, you shall most surely die. In my left hand,” he resumed, “I have a very powerful bomb which explodes on percussion, you understand, on ter hit. I dash him at ter feet of Pougher. Zzippp! Pougher is a ghost, a spirit. Andt now, Ghents all, to bizness.”

At this stage most of the male portion of the hotel staff cast itself on the speaker from behind, concentrating reverentially on his bombs, and bore him to the floor, and so off to one of those resorts which he should have entered some years earlier.

Pougher spent a month in bed suffering from alcoholic poisoning and shell-shock, and emerged to claim that he alone had brought about the Prussian Desperado’s capture. The Imperial put feverish notices stating that in future no person of German origin whether naturalised or otherwise would be allowed within the precincts. Pugwith who had slumbered through the more horrifying part of the evening, argued afterwards that the whole affair had been a good deal exaggerated by the press for political reasons; and he still stands up sturdily, both in and out of the House, for the complete freedom of action of those naturalized Germans who happen to be his supporters.

Lieut. John Dalley.

Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 1, 18 January 1918, pages 6-7, 9

Editor’s notes:
Ben Adhem = in the poem “Abou Ben Adhem” by James Henry Leigh Hunt (of England), Abou Ben Adhem spoke to an angel and described himself as “one that loves his fellow men”, after which his name was put at the top of the list of all those who loved God

fuze = an alternative spelling of “fuse”

M.L.A. = Member of the Legislative Assembly

Prussianism = militarism, as attributed to the militaristic culture of Prussia (the dominant kingdom of the German Empire, before and during World War One)

[Editor: Corrected “icey” to “icy”.]

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