The Patriot

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

In the early 1940’s, the war years, the community of Murupara held a “Patriotic” dance on the first Saturday of each month. In this way funds were raised to send to “the boys” overseas, food parcels and warm clothing. These dances were always well patronised, attendance was expected as part of the war effort.

They were held in the Marae hall of one of the local Pahs, a local band supplied the music and the women folk the supper. Whole families would walk to the dances for there were few cars in the area, besides at the time petrol ‘was closely rationed, again for the war effort. Old Jock always attended the “Patriotic” dances. He was the district representative on the county, one of the most successful farmers at the adjacent Galatea settlement, he had status, it was his duty to attend.

He, in keeping with his status, usually travelled in his car which was convenient, for Jock liked his whiskey, always snuck a bottle along to the dance and was rarely capable of walking anywhere at the end of the evening. Jock had a big mouth to begin with, which grew bigger and louder in direct proportion to his drinking habit.

But he was also generous, sharing with his male friends at the dance, his liquor. The men would sneak out of the hall to gather under the big macrocarpa trees and only scolding wives short of dance partners would entice them back inside.

Jock saw himself as an example of patriotic fervour, a trend setter, so one night arrived at the dance in a horse and gig, in order to save petrol, his wife sitting up there beside him. He, was saving petrol! What a stir that caused with patriotic Jock the centre of attention, he had brought a couple of extra bottles of whiskey with him, so it was little wonder the group under the trees got quite large and noisy.

Stoogie, and Huru and Stumpy all in their early teens had watched the menfolk in the hall wink and nod and sneak out the door as usual, so they too sidled out from under the watchful eyes of mothers to watch the “boozers” antics.

This habit always livened up a dull old dance. This time they had the added interest of having a close look at the horse and gig. The horse was tied to the fence under the Macrocarpas not very far from the roistering men.

The boys were not strangers to horses and gigs, the rabbiter used one all the time and they had helped him harness up many times. The boys watched the bottles doing their rounds, Jock was dominant in the group of men, big and portly and jocular, as he drank his voice became louder and his arms began to wave aimlessly about. The boys then had a look at the horse and gig. Stoogie came up with the idea.

“Old Jock will be quite legless by the end of the dance, so let’s fix him good.” Under Stoogie’s guidance they unharnessed the horse, then walked it down the fence line and through the gate into the Marae enclosure. They then pushed the shafts of the gig through the wires of the fence and re-harnessed the horse, thus leaving the horse on one side of the fence harnessed to the gig on the other.

When the dance ended, everybody enjoyed the joke, though no one knew who had set it up. That is everyone except old Jock and his missus enjoyed the joke. Jock was too drunk to help himself but that did not stop his missus from giving him the tongue lashing of the century.

His friends finally sorted the horse and gig out, sending it off in the direction of home followed by ribald laughter and comment. Patriotic as he may have been, Jock never came to a dance in the gig again. He wasn’t that stupid, and the boys were careful never to tell their secret for fear of retribution.