Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ashley Sterne Hikers Hit or the Biters Bit

Another comic sketch by Ashley Sterne.  This was published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland), 12 March 1932.  A poem by Robert Louis Stevenson was quoted in the sketch.  The poem is provided below.

Or the Biters Bit

"Come along in!" said Julia.  "Beggars can't be choosers."

"You'll pardon me," I protested, "but that's just what beggars can be.  They have a wider scope for exercising the take-it-or-leave-it alternative than any other class of the community I can think of.  Karl Marx once said -- "

"Never mind what any of the Marx Brothers said," interrupted my wife.  "Let's get in out of the rain.  Do you realise that we're at least three miles from the next nearest civilisation?"

"Mrs. Livingston, I believe?" I murmured, lifting my cap.  "Yes, I appreciate the difficulty.  But that doesn't make me love this disreputable looking pub any better.  When I undertook this week-end hike, at your instigation, I didn't anticipate being benighted -- or, to be strictly accurate, be-eveninged -- in the middle of a Surrey moor, and having to be be-bedded in a ramshackle hostelry which looks little better than a Bad Pull-Up for highwaymen."

"Well, I refuse to go any farther in this depressing drizzle," said Julia firmly.  "I'm going to chance the 'Stag' wherever you choose to go.  The trouble with you is that you're too finicky for a hiker.  Why, one of the most famous hikers of all time craved nothing better than a 'bed in the bush with stars to see.'"

"Poets license for the 'Bull and Bush' and 'Three Stars,'" I remarked.  "All right.  Let's go in.  I'm not an unreasonable man, and if I'm fated to die of rheumatism it may as well be here as anywhere."

We rose from our seat in the porch where we had been sheltering, and went in.  Yes, the Widow Cripps, licensed to sell wines, spirits, and beers to be consumed upon the premises, had a double room to let (to be slept in on the premises).  What?  Most certainly the sheets were aired.

"And the pillows?" I asked.  "I'm a martyr to stiff neck."

But mine hostess had already started upstairs with Julia.  I followed.

"It's nice and roomy," said the landlady, flinging wide the door.

"It's the function of a room to be roomy," I observed.  "If a noun can't live up to its own adjective – "

But Julia looked broadswords at me, and I subsided.  "The bedding looks very rumpled," she said, turning to Mrs. Cripps.

"Well, o' course, airin' 'em rumples 'em, as I dessay you know, ma'am."

"Are you quite sure they're clean?" pursued Julia, doubtfully.

"Clean?" echoed the landlady.  "You could eat off 'em."

"It looks as if somebody has already," I whispered.

"Shall you be wantin' supper?" asked the landlady, as though anxious to change the topic.

"Yes," I replied.  "Two.  That is to say, one each.  And as soon as possible, please."

The landlady bustled off.  When she had gone, Julia whipped off the counterpane and examined the bed closely.

"These bed clothes are not clean!" she cried.  "If those aren't lipstick or rouge marks on the pillow, you can eat your hat.  And look!  Here's a large cigarette burn on the undersheet.  I'm going to raise Cain!"  And she strode to the door.

"No, don't summon him, he could not help us." I said.  "I've a better idea.  Look!"

I had peered into the door of the wardrobe and spotted upon the top shelf a complete set of fresh bed linen.  "They seem quite dry," I said, feeling them.

"Good!  Now for a quick change act!" Julia exclaimed; and in something under five minutes the bed had been stripped and reclothed, and the suspected linen refolded and deposited in the wardrobe.

"What a paltry try-on!" said Julia, making a rapid toilet.  "But it's all right now, and we've saved a possible row."

"Quite!" I agreed.  "It doesn't do to quarrel with your bread and butter -- I mean bed and bolster -- on a dirty night like this when the nearest competitor for your custom dwells a good league hence."

"Buck up!" urged Julia, two minutes later.  "I'm as hungry as a hawk.  What on earth d'you want to part your hair again for?  Saturday's not Gala Night at the 'Stag.'  I'm going down to rattle that supper along."

I followed a few moments later, my hastily-completed parting resembling Romeo and Juliet's -- a sweet sorrow.

The supper proved excellent -- cold roast goose, apple pie, and cream galore.  I was glad it hadn't been necessary to make trouble about the bedding.  That would probably have produced nothing better than a weary and superannuated ham and the rind of a patriarchal cheddar.  At ten o'clock Julia yawned, beating me by a short lip, and we decided to retire.

The first thing we noticed on reaching our room was that somebody had changed the bedclothes back again.  A quick scrutiny revealed all the blemishes we had previously noted.  Julia again expressed her intention of seeing what Cain could do for us when there was a rap on the door.

"Excuse me, ma'am," came the landlady's voice, "but I thought I'd tell you I've had the gel change your sheets, as I remembered they wasn't changed after my last party left this mornin', them not bein' sure whether they was comin' back or not to-night."

"Thank you," Julia managed to gurgle.  "Good-night."

"Don't worry," I said, confidently moving to the wardrobe.  "There is no linen-basket in the room, and you know what the instinct of a kitchen wench would be in the circumstances -- to put 'em in the first convenient place."

But the cupboard was bare.  So was the chest of drawers.

"We can't ring and explain now without giving ourselves away," said Julia; and I nodded in dismal agreement.  "We shall have to lump it."

"Let me see – how many lumps to you like -- three or four?" I asked, carefully feeling the bed all over.

*          *          *

"I've charged you ten shillin' extra for the bed-clo'es you sp'iled," announced the landlady severely as she handed me our bill after breakfast the next morning.  "Those marks on the pillow may or may not wash out.  I'll risk that.  But that sheet with the big 'ole burnt in it -- ruined it is, and the blankit scorched besides.  I can't afford to..."

We went quietly. 

The Vagabond

From Songs of Travel
(To an air to Shubert)

Give to me the life I love,
  Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
  And the byway night me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
  Bread I dip in the river --
There's the life for a man like me,
  There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
  And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
  And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
  Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
  Biting the blue finger;
White as meal the frosty field --
  Warm the fireside haven --
Not to autumn will I yield,
  Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
  Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
  And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope, nor love,
  Nor a friend to know me.
All I ask, the heaven above
  And the road below me.

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