[Editor: A short story about a “chat” (a louse). Published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918.]
Autobiography of a “Chat.”
All day an obsession of oncoming evil has oppressed me. The constant recurrence of fatalities of a revolting nature throughout my family of late has inspired me to anticipate death and leave to posterity the story of my life.
I am sorry for the wild excesses of my youth, and for the gluttony of myself and my family which now, with the premonition of a sudden fate hard upon me. I believe to be the main cause of the merciless punishment to which our family has succumbed.
There is nothing I fear, unless it be the approach of death before I bring this terrible history to an end and voluntarily lay aside my pen.
My family has been always in close association with military life, ever knowing but the seamy side. Not for us the idle comfort of an inactive life, but a glorious tradition of the constant struggle for livelihood, not ceasing night or day; though yet, in justice, I claim that distinguished blood has filled our veins, and memoirs of our family are replete with splendid associations.
A forefather of whom my father often spoke was for a time the bosom companion of a great soldier, who died in exile. Of the former’s ultimate fate my father knew not.
I will now speak of my closer blood relations.
By the union of my father and mother there were many children, but to all of my brothers and sisters robust health was not given. Some of us were under-developed, as were others over-exposed. Health without good fortune is not truly to be desired, for I alone of a numerous family remain uncrushed by grim adversity, though now indeed desolate.
In my childhood, with my brothers and sisters, I learnt both at school and from my father, a man of caution and experience, the arts of discretion and concealment, which should have saved us from this succession of tragedies. Time and again, I remember, he warned us against the sudden dangers of informal chatting.
Our school headmistress, having evidently achieved the reputation of an authority on the art of concealment, closed her career with a brilliant exposition of it.
Being children, our astonishment at her complete disappearance turned to panic, and, trembling with excitement, we hurried home — my own eagerness carrying me to the fore. Thus was I destined to learn before the others and from my weeping mother that, in our absence, my father had, whilst quietly lunching, been caught without warning between two shining convex surfaces, which, coming together suddenly, had crushed him beyond recognition.
I could trust myself to utter but a few words to my bereaved parent, and turning away overcome by feelings of pity, resentment, rage and impotence, I walked from her — anywhere; knowing scarcely where to go. Unable to find comfort thus, I retraced my way towards home, to offer there as the eldest son what protection and comfort I could afford.
On the threshold of my home despair pierced me at the sight of my youngest sister gazing distractedly into a pool of blood.
“Where is mother?” I asked, afraid of her answer, but not knowing why.
Her small eyes turned towards with as with a convulsive effort these words faintly escaped her lips: “Gone! Gone! All have gone!”
Rushing forward I perceived she was unable to move, being badly crushed, and, indeed, herself bleeding. Tenderly I watched her last few breaths, until internal hemorrhage swamped her lungs and her eyes closed, whilst came to me the realization in all its tragic significance that I alone remained.
Of my mother, brothers and sisters I found no trace.
Perhaps some day I may again be with them though before ———
* * * * *
[There the tragic narrative ends. We can but guess at the fate which overtook the writer of the foregoing strange and incomplete history.]
Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918, page 9
chat = a louse (World War One slang; lice were a particular problem for soldiers during wartime)