Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Alec, My Aloe by Ashley Sterne

Another droll story by Ashley Sterne, this time a reprint from the Australian newspaper Camperdown Chronicle (January 31, 1920).  Other stories can be found at the National Library of Australia's Trove site: http://trove.nla.gov.au

I care little for modern culture and the supposed benefits of modern social media, but I enjoy using the Internet to research the history and literature of the early 20th century.  It's a joy to unearth such light-hearted gems from Ashley Sterne.  (I don't count my own blog as an organ of social media because the communication is one way only.  My blog is more like nailing a broadsheet to a fence post in some deserted back alley of a tiny village.)  My younger son has similar interests and can often be found on the Internet researching woodcraft and metalcraft as practiced around the time of the Great War.  Call us electronic antiquarians.

[Note:  The story includes a reference to a man who had gone to Perthshire to shoot pibrochs. A pibroch is a style of Celtic art music principally performed on the Great Highland Bagpipe.  I don't understand the humor of this, unless it's just Ashley Sterne punning or otherwise playing with the sound of words in a Perelmanesque fashion.]

Alec, My Aloe

by Ashley Sterne

At the rear of the princely mansion where I live in splendor, debt and a suit of pre-war clothes, there is a small enclosed space.

Estate agents would doubtless call it a "quaint, old-world garden," but anyone less optimistic might be excused for calling it a back yard. At the same time, there is a patch of rich fertile soil in it, in which flourish lustily such "quaint, old-world" gadgets as sardine tins and jam jars, which exhale a delicate fragrance for the benefit of self and neighbors entirely free of expense.

But the great feature of the place is one of those amusing plants which look as if they were made of a lot of very sharp cucumbers tied together. It is, I believe, an aloe, and rumor hath it that it only flowers once in thirty years.

A few mornings ago I was awakened quite early—to be exact, at half past ten, just before breakfast—by a series of loud pops in the garden, like corks being drawn, and on putting my head out of the window to see who was opening my breakfast, I saw that the aloe was bursting into blossom.

I dressed hurriedly, and at once went out to look at it.  It doesn't do to miss a phenomenon that Methuselah himself could only have witnessed a few times—provided, of course, he also had a quaint, old-world garden, complete with aloe. I was so excited that I called Mrs. D---  my housekeeper, who was in the kitchen filleting some oysters for lunch, to come and have a look at it. And then she, too, got very excited, and fetched Vernon to see it.  Vernon, I might say, is a youth who comes in daily to cut my boots into strips and turn the edges of the knives. He occasionally helps in breaking some of the more stubborn pieces of china with which Mrs. D---  is not strong enough to cope. He also got very excited, and went back into the scullery and cut up the boots and turned the edges of the knives quicker and more thoroughly than he had ever done before.

It then occurred to me that possibly two friends of mine might like to see Alec, the aloe. Both are very keen botanists. Petherby specialises in sweet-peas and would certainly have won the prize for the largest sweet-pea which one of our enterprising journals offered some years ago if all the other competitors had not sent in bigger ones. Higgins goes in for hybridising flowers. His successful marriage of a sunflower with a toadstool is still the talk of his local horticultural society, who struck a special medal in solid putty to commemorate the event.

So I wired to Petherby, who had gone to Perthshire to shoot pibrochs, and to Higgins, who had gone to Cornwall to shoot the moon. Both wired back to say that they were traveling by the first available train. They arrived late the following night, but, eager though they were, it was, of course, much too dark to inspect Alec. However, I explained to them that he always got up early, and was usually to be seen blooming hard before breakfast and this pacified them. I then produced a couple of bottles of my grandfather's celebrated Waterloo port, in which we thoroughly toasted Alec until a late hour.   Then, having set my alarm clock for 6 a.m., we all stag—I mean went —to bed.

The next morning I roused my friends at eleven (my alarm clock is very unreliable when it's had a glass or two of Waterloo port), and after we had dressed I led the way into the garden—to find that somebody had picked Alec in the night! I strongly suspect Vernon; but who ever it may be, it was aloe-down trick.

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