GEYSERLAND GUILD OF WOODWORKERS
A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)
Eventually he was chosen to attend a boy scout jamboree a big event for a lonely country boy. The ten lone scouts who went to the Blockhouse Bay jamboree were billeted in a bunkhouse together, ate in a communal marquee tent and washed in the slow moving deep flax lined creek which wound its way past the camp.
Stumpy didn’t get on too well with his fellow lone scouts. They all came from the fringe towns of Auckland, Pukekohe, Papakura and the like. They mostly knew each other and only Stumpy was a stranger. At first he was a curiosity to the others, but this soon turned into contempt. He had never played cricket or even rounders as they all had.
They disbelieved his claims to have hunted wild pigs and deer, to have fished for eels and trout or to have tramped and camped in the bush alone. He was soon branded a liar and named a country hick.
Stumpy had seen eels in the depths of the flaxy creek but his offer to take the group fishing for them, to prove his truthfulness was declined with contempt and caustic comment. He knew there were no fish hooks in the camp, so what point in fishing?.
Stumpy’s misery was noted by the leader of the troop, a quiet thoughtful man. He knew from where Stumpy had come and had noted the well worn, stained sleeping bag with its sour smell of wood smoke and horse sweat, quite a contrast to the clean new bright coloured bags on the other bunks.
He spoke quietly to Stumpy asking what troubled him, so heard the sad story of distrust and taunting. Stumpy told of his offer to go fishing and confided to this man that eels could be caught without fish hooks. The leader told Stumpy to go ahead and prove himself, catch an eel if he could, it would be cooked for the troop and all would be well.
That evening Stumpy cadged a potatoe bag from the cooks and a piece of raw steak. He did not attend the evening campfire sing song, but went down to the creek. He cut a tea tree stick four feet long and a long leaf of flax. He scraped the green off the flax leaf with his knife leaving only the white fibres. He treaded pieces of steak onto the lengths of fibres and bound them in a bundle to the end of the tea tree stick. He had made an eeling “bob” as he had made so many times before. He positioned his “bob” at the bottom of the still water and was astounded at the result. He had never seen so many eels!
As soon as he felt one biting for the steak he would whip the stick up and over his shoulder, the eel with teeth caught in the flax fibre coming with it. They were all small eels, none over three feet, not like the huge silverbellys he was accustomed to catching, but eels all the same.
He soon filled his bag,so returned to the bunkhouse, pleased with his catch but full of hate for his tormentors. They returned from the campfire soon after, and as the boys climbed into their bunks for the night their chatter turned, into screams of fright when the eels hidden in their sleeping bags were discovered.
Leaving large gouts of mucus like slime they slithered out and about the floor of the bunkhouse, while Stumpy watched the fear of his tormentors with passive contempt. Finally recognising the culprit, they pulled Stumpy out of his bunk and gave him the hiding of his life. Only the arrival of the leader stopped it.
The following day, the last day of the camp, the closing ceremony began with the raising of the Union Jack. The lone scout troop was given the honour to raise the flag , and the boy chosen to do this was Stumpy,, After all, he was the lonest of the lone scouts, wasn’t he? It was a proud moment for him, split lip and all.
Upon his return home he never told of the miserable time he’d had, nor did he explain his bruises and split lip; his parents had struggled to send him, he had no wish to spoil their pleasure. For years after, his mother wondered why Stumpy never showed any enthusiasm to attend another jamboree.