A COLLECTION OF MARGARET BRITT'S SHORT STORIES
Most of these stories were inspired by an incident or a brief
casual meeting with one of the many characters I met during my time in the bush.
The Minnamulla Monster,
for instance, came about as a result of my sighting in the distance of what I
thought was a large creature and that evening the arrival of two travellers who
happened to be geologists. During the dry season quite a lot of people passed
through on their way to and from the Gulf, and many called in, some welcome and
some not. But there were many long days and weeks when there were no visitors at
There was no television, only a scratchy battery wireless
and, if the creeks weren’t up, a weekly mail truck bringing supplies and a few
welcome books from the library on the coast. So really, with a cook and a
housemaid to do the household chores, there was nothing much for me to do except
write about something that someone had said, or something that had happened.
Only McGregor is
fact and The Opal partly fact, both
set in Scotland during the war years.
Mother Love is
something usually bestowed on a mother’s child, but not always a child... and as
for Alfred’s Legacy... is that truth
or fiction? Perhaps a bit of each.
To weave a story around anything heard or seen is what makes
In Store Price: $21.00
Online Price: $20.00
Ebook version -
Number of pages: 146
Cover: Clive Dalkins
By the same author:
Pardon my Boots
Waiting for the Storm Bird
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2015
It was over six months ago, but I remember as if it was yesterday how I opened
the front gate and walked down the grassy path to the house. The old man had
been raking the garden; there were heaps of brown leaves to be collected in his
rusty old wheelbarrow. I remember how I called his name at the back, waiting for
him to appear at the top of the three concrete steps. He had had a rail
installed recently to assist him in getting up and down but even then he had
fallen twice. That was what had given me the idea, you see. I wondered if my
voice sounded any different, or if it was the same as when I had called out over
the last two years.
At the last moment I hoped he would not answer. He was getting very deaf. I
called again. His name was Alfred Hemming, but I had only lately, at his
insistence, called him by his first name. It still didn’t feel right. There was
still time to leave, or abandon my intentions, but then I heard his voice and
the shuffling of his approach.
He stood at the top of the steps, smiling. I was someone to talk to, to break
the lonely monotony of his days. Someone who sometimes dropped in with a
newspaper, gave him a lift into town to the bank, shopped for him occasionally.
I had always enjoyed my visits with him, sitting in one of the three ancient
cane chairs on the verandah. I would talk about the morning news, politicians,
the unions, greenies, how people these days don’t know how to work, or want to
work. Alfred had worked hard all his life, farming, fencing, painting, buying
another farm, investing the money. He enjoyed telling me about his investments,
his shares, the dividends, then re-investments and profits.
He lived on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ as the saying goes. Bread, cheese, a meal
twice a week from one of the organisations for helping the elderly. Half of the
meal he would freeze for another time. No smoking, no drinking. He congratulated
himself for having saved five cents at the supermarket, on an extra quarter of
one per cent on the interest on one of his term deposits. Sometimes there were
gifts from financial institutions with which he had renewed investments − a nice
paper knife, a quartz watch, a propelling pencil. They were all proudly shown,
then wrapped and put carefully away. He was worth millions, according to
somebody who knew somebody else who was a distant relation. It was not difficult
to imagine this.
Once, while we sat chatting and gazing out at the garden, he had thanked me for
what I had done for him and told me how much he looked forward to my visits.
Then, out of the blue, he told me he had added a codicil to his will and would
be leaving me something he hoped would help me out. For he knew that I had very
little income. Embarrassed, I murmured something about there being no need to do
that, and changed the subject. It had never occurred to me that, skinflint as he
was, he might consider repaying me for all I had done.
Later in the week, when I called in with a newspaper, he called me into his
little office, no bigger than a small bathroom, where an old Laminex table did
duty for a desk. There was a kitchen chair with stuffing protruding from the
grey vinyl seat and, in the corner, an impressive-looking great iron safe. There
was a liberal coating of dust on everything except the papers on the table.
Spiders rested undisturbed in looped webs.
‘There …’ Old Alfred pointed to a long white envelope lying with other papers.
‘That’s it − signed, witnessed and sealed.’
I murmured something humble, like ‘thank you’, or ‘you shouldn’t have done it’.
‘Must have a good turn out here. Burn some of these papers. If I die no one will
be able to find anything.’ He gave a croaking laugh. ‘Not that I intend dying
yet even if I am rising ninety.’
Hitching up his old St Vinnie’s trousers round his skinny hips he led the way
from the room. I glanced back at the envelope sitting there, wishing I could see
At first I thought very little of my potential nest-egg but over the next few
weeks, as the telephone bill came, then the rates notice and a few other
unwelcome missives, I began to wish I already had what I should be getting in
the near future. Near future? I started to take more interest in the old man’s
health. He caught a heavy cold and was taking antibiotics but slowly recovered.
In no time he was back in the garden, digging in his vegetable patch. Then he
fell down the steps, skinning his arm and leg. When I called in a day or two
later he was on deck, though rather shaky, his elbows and knees adorned with
rather grimy patches of sticking plaster, glad to sit down in his creaking
chair. Carefully I watched him for signs of delayed shock or concussion. There
were none. That was when the handrail was installed.
Then he fell down again, even with the rail. The lady who brought his Meals on
Wheels found him and called an ambulance. He spent two days in hospital. I
visited him. He was fretting at what it was costing and as there was nothing
wrong with him except for a few bruises he was allowed to go home.
My hopes faded. Things were back to normal. My legacy was a distant dream. Mind
you, I didn’t know how much it was. Should I get twenty, ten, five? Even a
thousand would seem like riches. Alfred had two daughters in Melbourne and
naturally they would get the bulk of the estate, the house and the land.
Naturally, his two daughters.