Nate Fraser's Ordeal

Submitted into Contest #76 in response to: Write a story told exclusively through dialogue.... view prompt


Historical Fiction

“Five days, the old fool was out on the road begging all and sundry for a lift to Waverley,” Mrs Fraser declared to Mrs Muggeridge.

“Good Lord,” Mrs Muggeridge tut-tutted as she stood over the back fence of the Frasers’ Manutahi Hotel. “He could’ve walked there and back in that time.” 

“Clearly nobody wanted a bar of him, or someone would’ve obliged,” Mrs Fraser concluded, then added, “Then he graced our threshold and insisted my Nate drive him down to pick up his money. Evidently, he had it stashed in a shoebox in the bedroom of the boarding house he was staying in.”

“Why on earth did he insist on your Nate driving him down to retrieve it?”

“He said he wanted to stay at ours so he could paint at the Manawapou. What could Nate do? Old Tom Walls with his foul temper could’ve roughed up the place, my husband included if he hadn’t taken him.”

“Yes, isn’t that the truth? He made a right mess in the Williams’ hardware store when he was three sheets to the wind up in Hawera last Thursday fortnight. Did you hear? He kicked a mattock in anger. The mattock hit a spade, which fell forward and knocked a hammer through the window.” Mrs Muggeridge said. “All because Glyn Williams wouldn’t sell him a screwdriver for fear of what he’d do with one in the state he was in. And,” she added, “I have to say, I can’t imagine Tom Walls sitting still long enough without a pint, just to paint, at the Manawapou, can you?”

“Well, I’ve seen none of his work. And he didn’t come with canvases and easel that I could see. It was the Friday after the hardware hurtling that he came to us and asked for a room,” said Mrs Fraser. “And now my Nate’s up in front of the magistrate accused of pinching his money and supplying him with liquor.”

“It astonishes me Nate was charged.  Everyone knows a little hair of the dog is the only way to keep Old Tom and his temper out of trouble. The magistrate himself has been known to imbibe at the Manutahi, so even he’s witnessed that,” Mrs Muggeridge said.

“Aye, that’s true, though the emphasis here should be on ‘a little’ hair of the dog, but I’m not sure Tom can do anything in moderation,” responded Mrs Fraser. “As for Nate, he put Tom’s money in the till for safekeeping. He was keeping a chit of Tom’s pints. My Nate wouldn’t diddle a bloke, especially a patron. And Old Tom’s a good customer, as long as he stays out of trouble.”

“Tom told my Sam on Saturday he had £2 on him. By ten that night Tom was tanked and bragging about the £40 16s 6d he had squirrelled away in Waverley,” Mrs Muggeridge revealed.

“Did he, indeed?” said Mrs Fraser. “Well, when he registered with us, he paid up-front for his room, then it took him from Saturday to Tuesday to drink the rest of his £2. I wasn’t going to stop him finding a ride to Waverley, though I didn’t imagine it’d be Nate that would give it. I didn’t fancy having him at our place if he was going to go through the best part of £40 16s 6d in the bar. I hoped he’d find accommodation elsewhere.”

“But the advantage of him staying with you is that you would have a regular income for the duration,” Mrs Muggeridge offered.

“Oh, my giddy aunt, Mavis. Imagine the mess I’d have to clean up if drank to excess every night and brought up his dinner and a few bob’s worth of our good Dominion draught with it.”

“Yes, well, you’ve got a point there.”

“Fancy the old fool accusing Nate of stealing his blessed money. He gave it to Nate to mind because he knew if he drank, he’d forget where he’d put it,” Elizabeth Fraser said. “Oh, I’ll admit it was going into our register bit by bit, of course, but, as I said, we kept a tally. The bulk of the cash was in a cubby-hole under the Notes drawer and when Tom ordered a pint, Nate took out a ten-shilling note, gave it to Tom to give back to Nate to pay for the pint and then Nate gave him his change. Neither Nate nor I begged the old fool to drink. He did that on his own,” she added.

“I thought there was a prohibition order taken out on him after the last time he went on a bender,” Mavis Muggeridge said.

“There was. That was at the Marine Retreat in Wellington. But clearly, he lacks discipline, or the ability to recall obligations, or he simply ignores conditions placed on him when he’s flush with cash. I wish Nate had avoided taking him to Waverley.” 

“What on earth will happen if your poor husband gets locked up,” Mavis wondered out loud.

“I’ll have to muddle along on my own, I suppose,” answered Elizabeth.

“I suppose the prosecution will have to prove that Nate knew Tom was drunk when he poured him his last pint,” said Mavis.

“That’s a bit hard with Tom. It’s not obvious he’s had a few until he hits the night air,” replied Elizabeth.

“Thankfully, you have that chit that shows where his windfall went,” said Mavis. “And witnesses to vouch for Nate.”

“If they’re brave enough to come forward. They might be fearful of finding their own places roughed up after the trial if they cross Old Tom.”

“Oh, Lord, what a mess, Elizabeth. All because a grumpy old buzzard can’t hold his drink and mind his own cash.”

“I know. Surely the fact that he complained to Constable O’Brien will go in Nate’s favour. O’Brien came straight to us to inform us Tom had accused Nate of stealing his cash, and Nate was able to show him the chit and the money under the Notes drawer.”

“I’m sure Old Tom is a sandwich short of a picnic, Elizabeth,” said Mavis Muggeridge.

“Well, Constable O’Brien did say he was irascible and unpredictable. I just hope that comes out in the trial.”

“How will you know the outcome?”

“If Nate has to go to gaol, Harry Hall will drive down from Hawera to tell me.” Then, just as Elizabeth finished speaking, there was a crunching of gears at the bottom of the yard. “By crikey, what on earth is that?” Elizabeth uttered as a Model T Ford hurtled up the drive and stopped within a whisker of the outhouse.

“It’s Eileen Hall,” said Mavis, as she hitched her skirts to climb the steps to the stile and scramble over the fence. “Are you all right? I didn’t know you could drive,” Mavis called out.

“Haha, nor did she until this morning, the truth be told,” called Elizabeth after her.

“Keep that to yourself, Elizabeth Fraser. It’s for you, I’m here”, Eileen said good-naturedly. “Sam would’ve driven Nate’s car back had the outcome been unfavourable, so I had to drive ours. Harry, Nate and Sam have gone to the races. They’ll all be back tonight in Nate’s car.”

“Good Lord, where are our mens’ priorities. They should be home with us after that ordeal. But since they’ve all gone to the races, the outcome must have been favourable for my Nate. What happened, Eileen?” Elizabeth pressed.

“His honour said that upon the evidence presented he believed Old Tom was not in his right senses and his actions were those of a man under the influence. His honour gave him a proper talking to, but he fined Nate £5 14s 6d for hanging on to Tom’s money.  And he had to pay 9 shillings court costs.   But he’ll be coming home tonight, Elizabeth, that’s the main thing.”

“He’d better be home tonight. Where is the sense in going to the blessed races after a close shave like that? Hasn’t it cost us enough money?  I can tell you one thing for certain. Old Tom Walls won’t be welcome back at the Manutahi in a hurry.”

“G’night, Sam, my man,” said Nate, and then similar to Harry as Fraser dropped them at their respective homes later that night. 

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m half-crazy all for the love of you,” Nate sang as he rattled up the drive to the Manutahi, stopping more than a whisker away from the outhouse and finishing his song “on a bicycle built for two”. 

“Lizzy, Lizzy, my girl, where are you?”

“What are you on about? For goodness’ sake, what a racket. Are you drunk, Nate?”

“No, my girl, he beamed as he picked her up and spun her in the passage, just missing the potted palm. I won £135 at the races.”

Rhonda Valentine Dixon


Hawera—small town in the South Taranaki region of New Zealand

Manutahi—smaller settlement in the same district whose hotel bears the same name

Manawapou - river in the same province

Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two) song lyrics by Henry Dacre

January 09, 2021 23:56

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