Digger Smith/Before the War

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"... e's jist your kind.
Not quite so 'an'some, p'r'aps, nor so refined."


Before the War


BEFORE the war," she sighs. "Before the war."
Then blinks 'er eyes, an' tries to work a smile.
"Ole scenes," she sez, "don't look the same no more.
Ole ways," she sez, "seems to 'ave changed their style.
The pleasures that we 'ad don't seem worth while—
Them simple joys that passed an hour away—
An' troubles, that we used to so revile,
'Ow small they look," she sez. " 'Ow small to-day.

"This war!" sighs ole Mar Flood. An' when I seen
The ole girl sittin' in our parlour there,
Tellin' 'er troubles to my wife, Doreen,
As though the talkin' eased 'er load uv care,
I thinks uv mothers, 'ere an' everywhere,
Smilin' a bit while they are grievin' sore
For grown-up babies, fightin' Over There;
An' then I 'ears 'em sigh, "Before the war."

My wife 'as took the social 'abit bad.
I ain't averse—one more new word I've learned—
Averse to tea, when tea is to be 'ad;
An' when it comes I reckon that it's earned.
It's jist a drink, as fur as I'm concerned,
Good for a bloke that's toilin' on the land;
But when a caller comes, 'ere I am turned
Into a social butterfly, off-'and.

Then drinkin' tea becomes an 'oly rite.
So's I won't bring the fam'ly to disgrace
I gits a bit uv coachin' overnight
On ridin' winners in this bun-fed race.
I 'ave to change me shirt, an' wash me face,
An' look reel neat, from me waist up at least,
An' sling remarks in at the proper place,
An' not makes noises drinkin', like a beast.

"'Ave some more cake. Another slice, now do.
An' won't yeh 'ave a second cup uv tea?
'Ow is the children?" Ar, it makes me blue!
This boodoor 'abit ain't no good to me.
I likes to take me tucker plain an' free:
Tea an' a chunk out on the job for choice,
So I can stoke with no one there to see.
Besides, I 'aven't got no comp'ny voice.

Uv course, I've 'ad it all out with the wife.
I argues that there's work that must be done.
An' tells 'er that I 'ates this tony life.
She sez there's jooties that we must not shun.
You bet that ends it; so I joins the fun,
An' puts 'em all at ease with silly grins—
Slings bits uv repartee like "'Ave a bun."
An' passes bread an' butter, for me sins.

Since I've been marri'd, say, I've chucked some things,
An' learned a whole lot more to fill the space.
I've slung all slang; crook words 'ave taken wings,
An' I 'ave learned to entertain with grace.
But when ole Missus Flood comes round our place
I don't object to 'er, for all 'er sighs;
Becos I likes 'er ways, I likes 'er face,
An', most uv all, she 'as them mother's eyes.

"Before the war," she sighs, the poor ole girl.
'Er talk it gets me thinkin' in between,
While I'm assistin' at this social whirl. . . .
She comes across for comfort to Doreen,
To talk about the things that might 'ave been
If Syd 'ad not been killed at Suvla Bay.
Or Jim not done a bunk at seventeen.
An' not been 'eard uv since 'e went away.

They 'ave a little farm right next to us—
'Er an' 'er 'usband—where they live alone.
Spite uv 'er cares, she ain't the sort to fuss
Or serve up sudden tears an' sob an' moan,
An' since I've known 'er some'ow I 'ave grown
To see in 'er, an' all the grief she's bore,
A million brave ole mothers 'oo 'ave known
Deep sorrer since them days before the war.

"Before the war," she sez. "Yeh mind our Syd?
Poor lad. . . . But then, yeh never met young Jim—
'Im 'oo was charged with things 'e never did.
Ah, both uv you'd 'ave been reel chums with 'im.
'Igh-spirited 'e was, a perfect limb.
It's six long years now since 'e went away—
Ay, drove away." 'Er poor ole eyes git dim.
"That was," she sighs, "that was me blackest day.

"Me blackest day! Wot am I sayin' now?
There was the day the parson come to tell
The news about our Syd. . . . An', yet, some'ow . . . .
My little Jim !" She pauses for a spell. . . .
"Your 'olly'ocks is doin' reely well,"
She sez, an' battles 'ard to brighten up.
"An' them there pinks uv yours, 'ow sweet they smell.
An'—Thanks! I think I will 'ave one more cup."

As fur as I can get the strength uv it,
Them Floods 'ave 'ad a reel tough row to hoe.
First off, young Jim, 'oo plays it 'igh a bit,
Narks the ole man a treat, an' slings the show.

Then come the war, an' Syd 'e 'as to go.
'E run 'is final up at Suvla Bay—
One uv the Aussies I was proud to know.
An' Jim's cracked 'ardy since 'e went away.

'Er Jim! These mothers! Lord, they're all the same.
I wonders if Doreen will be that kind.
Syd was the son 'oo played the reel man's game;
But Jim 'oo sloped an' left no word be'ind,
His is the picter shinin' in 'er mind.
'Igh-spirited! I've 'eard that tale before.
I sometimes think she'd take it rather kind
To 'ear that 'is 'igh spirits run to war.

"Before the war," she sez. "Ah, times was good.
The little farm out there, an' jist us four
Workin' to make a decent liveli'ood.
Our Syd an' Jim! . . . Poor Jim! It grieves me sore;
For Dad won't 'ave 'im mentioned 'ome no more.
'E's 'urt, I know, cos 'e thinks Jim 'urt me.
As if 'e could, the bonny boy I bore. . . .
But I must off 'ome now, an' git Dad's tea."

I seen 'er to the gate. (Take it frum me,
I'm some perlite.) She sez, "Yeh mustn't mind
Me talk in' so uv Jim, but when I see
Your face it brings 'im back; 'e's jist your kind.

Not quite so 'an'some, p'r'aps, nor so refined.
I've got some toys uv 'is," she sez. "But there—
This is ole woman's talk, an' you be'ind
With all yer work, an' little time to spare."

She gives me 'and a squeeze an' turns away,
Sobbin', I thort; but when she looks be'ind,
Smilin', an' wavin', like she felt reel gay,
I wonders 'ow the women works that blind,
An' jist waves back; then goes inside to find
A lookin'-glass, an' takes a reel good look. . . .
"'Not quite so 'an'some, p'r'aps, nor so refined!'
Gawd 'elp yeh, Jim," I thinks. "Yeh must be crook."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1938, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.