12 August 2017

The Man Who Forgot, Part I

Bonnie BK Stevens
with B.K. Stevens and Leigh Lundin

I can’t mimic an Australian accent and Leigh’s sounds even worse than a Cockney Kiwi in Botswana, but we conspired to bring you a little crime story from out back. I mean out back in the shed where Rob keeps dusty tales in orange crates. Okay, all three of us conspired but Leigh and I are divvying up this folksy story, presenting half today and half tomorrow. Fix Australian accents in your head, mates (pronounce it ‘mites’), and let’s have at it…


The Man Who Forgot

from 1896’s

While the Billy Boils

by Henry Lawson

Part I
“Well, I dunno,” said Tom Marshall― known as ‘The Oracle’― “I’ve heerd o’ sich cases before: they aint commin, but― I’ve heerd o’ sich cases before,” and he screwed up the left side of his face whilst he reflectively scraped his capacious right ear with the large blade of a pocket knife.
They were sitting at the western end of the rouseabouts’ hut, enjoying the breeze that came up when the sun went down, and smoking and yarning. The ‘case’ in question was a wretchedly forlorn looking specimen of the swag-carrying clan whom a boundary rider had found wandering about the adjacent plain, and had brought into the station. He was a small, scraggy man, painfully fair, with a big, baby-like head, vacant watery eyes, long thin hairy hands, that felt like pieces of damp seaweed, and an apologetic cringe-and-look-up-at-you manner. He professed to have forgotten who he was and all about himself.
The Oracle was deeply interested in this case, as indeed he was in anything else that ‘looked curious’. He was a big, simple-minded shearer, with more heart than brains, more experience than sense, and more curiosity than either. It was a wonder that he had not profited, even indirectly, by the last characteristic. His heart was filled with a kind of reverential pity for anyone who was fortunate or unfortunate enough to possess an ‘affliction;’ and amongst his mates had been counted a deaf man, a blind man, a poet, and a man who ‘had rats’. Tom had dropped across them individually, when they were down in the world, and had befriended them, and studied them with great interest especially the poet; and they thought kindly of him, and were grateful― except the individual with the rats, who reckoned Tom had an axe to grind― that he, in fact, wanted to cut his (Rat’s) liver out as a bait for Darling cod― and so renounced the mateship.
It was natural, then, for The Oracle to take the present case under his wing. He used his influence with the boss to get the Mystery on ‘picking up’, and studied him in spare time, and did his best to assist the poor hushed memory, which nothing the men could say or do seemed able to push further back than the day on which the stranger ‘kind o’ woke up’ on the plain, and found a swag beside him. The swag had been prospected and fossicked for a clue, but yielded none. The chaps were sceptical at first, and inclined to make fun of the Mystery; but Tom interfered, and intimated that if they were skunks enough to chyack or try on any of their ‘funny business’ with a ‘pore afflicted chap,” he (Tom) would be obliged to ‘perform.’ Most of the men there had witnessed Tom’s performance, and no one seemed ambitious to take a leading part in it. They preferred to be in the audience.
“Yes,” reflected The Oracle, “it’s a curious case, and I dare say some of them big doctors, like Morell McKenzie, would be glad to give a thousand or two to get holt on a case like this.”
“Done,” cried Mitchell, the goat of the shed. “I’ll go halves!― or stay, let’s form a syndicate and work the Mystery.”
Some of the rouseabouts laughed, but the joke fell as flat with Tom as any other joke.
“The worst of it is,” said the Mystery himself, in the whine that was natural to him, and with a timid side look up at Tom― “the worst of it is I might be a lord or a duke, and don’t know anything about it. I might be a rich man, with a lot of houses and money. I might be a lord.”
The chaps guffawed.
“Wot’yer laughing at?” asked Mitchell. “I don’t see anything unreasonable about it; he might be a lord as far as looks go. I’ve seen two.”
“Yes,” reflected Tom, ignoring Mitchell, “there’s something in that; but then again, you see, you might be Jack the Ripper. Better let it slide, mate; let the dead past bury its dead. Start fresh with a clean sheet.”
“But I don’t even know my name, or whether I’m married or not,” whined the outcast. “I might have a good wife and little ones.”
“Better keep on forgetting, mate,” Mitchell said, “and as for a name, that’s nothing. I don’t know mine, and I’ve had eight. There’s plenty good names knocking round. I knew a man named Jim Smith that died. Take his name, it just suits you, and he ain’t likely to call round for it; if he does you can say you was born with it.”
So they called him Smith, and soon began to regard him as a harmless lunatic and to take no notice of his eccentricities.
Great interest was taken in the case for a time, and even Mitchell put in his oar and tried all sort of ways to assist the Mystery in his weak, helpless, and almost pitiful endeavours to recollect who he was. A similar case happened to appear in the papers at this time, and the thing caught on to such an extent that The Oracle was moved to impart some advice from his store of wisdom.
“I wouldn’t think too much over it if I was you,” said he to Mitchell. “Hundreds of sensible men went mad over that there Tichborne case who didn’t have anything to do with it, but just through thinking on it; and you’re ratty enough already, Jack. Let it alone and trust me to find out who’s Smith just as soon as ever we cut out.”
Meanwhile Smith ate, worked, and slept, and borrowed tobacco and forgot to return it which was made a note of. He talked freely about his case when asked, but if he addressed anyone, it was with the air of the timid but good young man, who is fully aware of the extent and power of this world’s wickedness, and stands somewhat in awe of it, but yet would beg you to favour a humble worker in the vineyard by kindly accepting a tract, and passing it on to friends after perusal.
to be continued…
Henry Lawson

Crime? What crime, you ask. As Little Orphan Annie said, tomorrow… tomorrow…



Henry Lawson (1867-1922) became a fondly revered Australian writer and bush poet. Among the best-known Australian poets and authors of the colonial period, he is often considered Australia’s greatest short story writer.

7 comments:

Velma DiVine said...

Bonnie sends her apologies. She enjoys engaging readers, but because of unforeseen circumstances (which has nothing to do with Australian annoyance we snipped a favorite story in two) she won’t be able to answer comments and questions today. Please pick on Leigh instead.

Robert Lopresti said...

Lawson was a man of many moods. His poetry tends to be sentimental and somewhat Kiplingesque. In the last fifty years a lot of it has been set to music by folkies.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjdAmR3J2d4

A lot of his stories are examples of naturalism like Stephen Crane or Hamlin Garland. "The Drover's Wife" is a great example of suspense. "The Union Buries Its Dead" is a merciless observation of life going on in the face of death.

R.T. Lawton said...

It should be interesting to see where this story is going.

Eve Fisher said...

Bring on the next installment!

Leigh Lundin said...

Rob, I was thinking a little of James Whitcomb Riley. He had a way with dialect and argot.

RT and Eve, you’ll be pleased to know Lawson has already finished the story and been paid by the publisher.

ktford said...

:)
Will be tuning in tomorrow for next installment..

Leigh Lundin said...

Hey thanks, KT! It's on-line now.