Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ashley Sterne Look Before You Leap

This short sketch was published on 15 May 1920 in The Journal (Adelaide, SA). 

There is an artful use of the subjunctive in the paragraph below that begins “Of course, you will think this a very drastic measure to take…” Read slowly and savor it.

The word “parti” in the final paragraph sent me scurrying for the dictionary.  The word, chiefly used in England, means an excellent match.


[By Ashley Sterne]

I always get frightened when leap year comes round. I feel as if I want somebody to hold my hand, ply me periodically with sal-volatile, old liqueur brandy, Milton, Stilton, or other, approved stimulants and whisper, "Courage, mon brave" (or the same thing in English would do) into my ear at intervals.

This year I am more frightened than ever before: frightened, I must explain, not that damsels will refrain from proposing to me, but frightened that they may. In fact, I feel sure that already more than one maiden has her eye on me, especially a certain one whom I encountered at a dance the other night.

When I was first introduced to her, just after I had got my elbow entangled in her back hair during a fox trot, I thought I was being introduced to a set of freckles, but subsequent investigation showed that she really had got a face concealed behind them. I asked her if she'd ever tried rub them out with pumice-stone, and thinking doubtless that I really took an interest in her facial structure, my remark apparently gave her an excuse to get intimate with me.

Among other things I gathered that she had worked very hard at an engagement all last summer, but that the victim had escaped by being taken back into the army on compassionate grounds. It isn't every man, you know, who can thoroughly understand freckles and appreciate them at their face value.

I carried her shoes home for her after the dance, and next morning she called round to express the hope that I was not too fatigued after my exertions of the previous evening, though whether she was referring to the labour of carrying a pair of size nines for a mile and a half, or to my frantic struggles at the buffet with men much older and bigger than me in order to procure the 17 meringues she consumed during the evening, is a moot point.

My next move is to call and see her parents and demand to know what their daughter's intentions are, for if they are matrimonial I am going to leave the neighbourhood secretly, on tiptoe, with muffled oars, the very next dark night.

Of course, you will think this a very drastic measure to take merely to avoid a proposal. You will probably wonder why I don't let the proposal buzz along in due course, and then just turn it down with kindly courtesy and promise the wench to be a brother to her, a second cousin german, a step-uncle, a solicitor — anything else she likes, in fact. But you have probably forgotten the fact that if a lady propose in leap year and be rejected it is a point of honour with the gentleman to present his disappointed suitress with a silk dress.

Now this silk dress business is going to be a costly affair with prices at their present high level and a 42-hour week for silk worms, and I am not at all sure that it wouldn't work out cheaper in the long run to accept the proposal and have the lady for keeps. A husband is not legally bound to clothe his wife in silk.

However, I think I shall be able to protect myself against any serious financial loss with the aid of my widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Danks. A man who is already engaged is certainly at liberty to refuse other proposals without forfeit, and I have therefore decided to procure a legally drawn-up agreement with Mrs. Danks to the effect that for a small monetary consideration she shall be betrothed to me for the year 1920 only.

And this device will, of course, not only protect me from the assaults of the freckled damsel, but from those of other adventuresses who may have already marked me down as a desirable parti. it is pretty well known in my neighbourhood that I have a whole War Savings Certificate, which has only three more years to l run before I come in for One Pound Sterling, and there is a persistent rumour that I have got several lumps of sugar saved up. I shall not long remain unsought after.

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