[Editor: A short story published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 3, 8 March 1918.]
Shaw’s sure thing in the kidstakes.
I hopped aboard the leave train, managed to collar a corner seat, and settled myself down to enjoy a “Gold-flake” and the latest Aussie, I had a squint round the carriage and noticed that everybody wore the seraphic “off-to-Blighty” smile, except the chap sitting opposite.
“What’s the matter, old cock?” I asked. “You look as though you were going to the dentist’s instead of on leave.”
“So’d you have the blues if someone had pinched your Blighty tart,” he answered.
“Never take your love-affairs seriously, my son. I’m Shaw — Number 607, Private George Burnet Shaw — and I’ve made a study of women since childhood. What I don’t know about the other sex never was, so just tell me all about it.”
“Well, it’s like this. I went on my first leave eight months ago and met a snifter girl at Orange-Peel House — she’s a waitress there — and we’ve been corresponding ever since. Of course I was expectin’ to have a slashin’ time with her next time I went over, but blime if one of our sergeants don’t come back from Blighty only this morning with the tale that he’d been takin’ her out, and she’d simply done her nut on him. He thinks it’s a hell of a joke — been and told a pack of bleedin’ lies about me, and reckons she says I’m nar-poo now as far as she’s concerned. What a lamb I was to ever tell the blighter anything about her!”
“Huh! is that all?” said I. “And what did you say your name was, digger? Brown. Hum! Well I’ll tell you what. We’ll knock round together for a few days in the big village and you just leave things to me and I bet you twenty francs you’ll be takin’ her out the night after we lob in Blighty. I’ll put in a bit of kidstakes and it’ll be a dead cert.”
“Righto!” said my new cobber, looking a bit more cheerful. “I’m not much of a ladies’ man myself so I’ll put the matter in your hands, but I don’t think I’ve got much hope now the sergeant’s chipped in, flashin’ his bleedin’ stripes about.”
The following day we took part in the usual rag-time march round to Horsesmelly-road, and then taxied to a flash hotel recommended to me by the mob.
Next morning, after we had partaken of a sumptuous breakfast, I deemed it advisable to commence operations, so I said to Brown: “Now, what about this tabby of yours. Is she long or short, dark or fair, and what name does she answer to?”
“Name’s Vera — Vera Collins: she’s a beaute — medium height; got lovely blue eyes, and golden hair,” said he.
“Humph!” said I. “I know, they’re all beautes when you’re dead gone on them. Anyhow, I’m going round to that Orange-Peel House now to interview the fair Vera, and incidentally to boom up your lost reputation a bit. Compree?”
He seemed rather doubtful, so I buzzed off and left him, promising to be back again in a couple of hours’ time.
It took me half an hour to get to the beastly place. I strolled in, and cast my optics round for a ginger girl. I spied one waiting on a table at the far end. She seemed the only bit of skirt in the room whose hair could, by even the wildest stretch of imagination, be called golden. There was a vacant chair in the corner, so I plonked my frame into it, and fell to wondering how I was going to attract her attention. Just then I got one of my brilliant inspirations. I put on my best air of “utter dejection,” and buried my face in my hands, like they do in the pictures. Presently I heard the rustle of skirts and a girl’s voice, with a touch of sympathy in it, asked if I was in trouble. I told her I’d just lost a tenpound-note, and was all on my own because my friend, Tommy Brown, had gone out to Bayswater to take a lost dog back to its owner.
“I’m awfully sorry to hear that you have lost so much money, but why didn’t you go to Bayswater with your friend and the dog? Don’t you like animals?” murmured the fair one (or rather the ginger one).
“Like animals!” I cried, “Why, I just love them, ’specially dogs, but Tommy had to walk all the way because the bus-people won’t stand canines, and I’ve got a beastly sore heel. Brown’s mad on animals, too,” I added.
“Your friend must be a nice boy to go to all that trouble over a poor lost dog; but how did he know who the owner was?” she asked.
“Oh! the mong — I mean dog — had the name and address on its collar.
“And your name’s Miss Collins, isn’t it?” I added, switching off the doggy subject.
“Who told you?” she asked.
“Brown did, of course. Why, he’s a great friend of yours. Don’t you remember him?”
“No, can’t say I do: so many soldiers come in here, you know.”
Huh! thought I, it’s the old feminine gag — they always pretend they forget all about a man.
“Brown’s some boy with the bayonet, too,” I continued. “They had his picture in the ‘Daily Stunt’ last week, when he captured twenty Huns single-handed.”
“Really,” said she, “I do admire brave fellows like that!”
“Well, what about going to a show with us to-night?” I suggested. “Can you rake up a girl friend, as pretty as yourself for the occasion?”
“Well, I did intend going to — but wait a minute, I’ll see,” she answered.
After a whispered conversation with a dark-haired maiden a few tables away, she came back and said they’d meet us near Trafalgar Square at 7.30 p.m.
“Tres beans,” said I, elated at the thought of such an easy victory.
I then lapped up as much breakfast as I could manage, for the sake of appearances, and went off back to meet Brown again.
“Everything’s right,” said I, giving him a punch on the back that made him stagger, “I’ve worked the oracle, and we’ve a meet on to-night at half-past seven with the sweet Miss Collins and another tart.”
“What did you say to her?”
“Oh! just put in a bit of bluff, you know — easiest thing I ever did. Come along, old son, and we’ll book seats for ‘Chew Tinned Chow.’”
The tarts turned up about twenty to eight. Brown looked rather embarrassed on coming face to face with the golden-haired creature, but I thought this only natural, so pretended not to notice. We got round to the Show, and in the interval after the first act I suggested to Brown that we could do with a smoke. I’d decided to put the hard-word on him, when I got outside, to blow in the twenty francs he owed me in drinks. But, as soon as we got away from the girls, he burst out:
“You blithering idiot! You’ve gone and got hold of the wrong tart! I never set eyes on that horrible ginger piece in my life before!”
R. O. Snape.
Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 3, 8 March 1918, page 14