The Tale of the Windy Mule
‘Twas back in 1924. I thought the time had come
To fight me battles on me own, and make the break from Mum.
Me mateys all agreed. Some said I’d left it far too late.
But me? I say I judged it right. I’d just turned 28.
I sought for ways to prove myself an independent being,
And then a brilliant notion knocked me flat. Why, I’d go skiing!
For at that time were precious few who’d ventured up the mounts,
And the weather that they’d struck was mighty cold, by all accounts.
Me mum caught wind of all me plans. “Go to your room!” she ordered,
But I snuck out at midnight, and the northbound train I boarded.
And as I sat, with all me gear, a-hurtling down the track,
I shivered with excitement, for there was no turning back.
Me fantasies and fears were whisked away with morning light.
Within a further quarter hour, the train pulled in at Bright.
The day was warm, my body strong; the universe felt great
As I gave my one-way ticket to the chappie at the gate.
But after half an hour or more, my shirt with sweat was drenched.
My back ached, and I had this thirst just dying to be quenched.
I faced the fact (although be sure, it deeply hurt my pride),
To reach the top, I’d need a beast of burden by my side.
So I headed for the nearest farm and staggered up the path,
And I squinted at the sign on the veranda, ‘House of Garth.’
The hour was barely eight, and so I knocked quite gingerly,
For I had no wish to interrupt Garth’s morning cup of tea.
The door swung open violently. The sight before me took
A moment’s getting used to, and you know that I’m no sook.
For the giant man was naked, save his undies, somewhat soiled.
His hairy chest was flecked with egg, inadequately boiled.
Beneath the milk and corn flakes on his chin, a beard was growing,
And his teeth all needed filling, and his nostrils needed blowing.
He called on his rural charms, then “Who are you?” he growled.
If looks could kill I’d say I’d have been promptly disembowelled.
But I looked him in the eye and told him straight my situation.
I said, “I’ve humped my skis and boots and woollen clothing from the station,
“And I’m heading for the mountains, where I plan to tackle skiing
(“‘Cos I aim to show my Mum that I’m an independent being)
“But already I’m half stonkered, and they say the journey’s cruel.
“If I’m going to reach the flamin’ top, I’m going to need a mule!”
He scratched his head, then looked a look I’ll never trust again,
And snapped his fingers, cried “I’ve got the answer. Come here, Ben!”
Then round the corner rolled old Ben. By Geez, that mule was wide,
And by his mere existence, Nature’s laws all seemed defied,
For scrawny legs and bloated girth waged battle quite profound.
With knees locked straight, his navel hung six inch above the ground.
“Why, I’ve more chance of climbing by myself!” I turned and grinned.
“Ben’s all right,” said Garth. “It’s just his belly’s full of wind.
“Just cast your eyes around, my friend. It’s pretty green, this grass
“But once he’s warm and walking fast, be sure the load he’ll pass.”
“Express all that as wasted air? Well that’s a clever stunt.
I think I’d best make sure that I’m a good way out in front!”
But Garth was not amused. He gave a most unfriendly glare,
Said, “Give me four pound ten. I’ll give you Ben. We’ll call it square.”
Well, I only had a fiver and, well, Garth, he had no change,
But he said five quid for Ben was quite a reasonable exchange.
With not a second thought that I might like him to assist,
Garth went back to breakfast with my fiver in his fist.
Alone, in desperate straits, I wracked my overheated brains
For ways to use this monster, with no saddle and no reins.
Then I found a length of rope and tied my luggage to his back
And, with a handy piece of timber, poked him slowly down the track.
Well, Ben soon got the message, and his pace was pretty good,
Though he needed frequent nudges from my handy lump of wood.
Later on I puzzled at the mule’s distended belly,
For though I’d walked behind for miles, not one pace was smelly.
Well, then we started climbing, and the speed we made was slow,
And we stopped to catch our breath ’bout every quarter hour or so
But, while I gulped down air in silence, suffered on my own,
The mule spread his legs out wide, and made this awful groan,
And as the track got real steep and muddy, me and Ben
Would climb ten minutes, rest for five, then climb another ten.
But every time we stopped, the beast, he groaned so loud and long,
It made me think he wasn’t tired, but something else was wrong.
We climbed a little further, and the ground, it turned to sludge.
The mountaintop was in full view, but Ben just wouldn’t budge.
I scanned the beast from front to back. It seemed a trifle queer,
And then from out his backside came a flood of water clear,
And then, of course, it hit me why had this this swollen tummy,
And a wave of passion took me. Ben was going to be a mummy!
Well, then this tiny head appeared, and Ben commenced to wail,
And he gradually produced a body, legs, and then a tail.
But I came back down to earth, because I saw my situation,
And a foal up in the snow fields is no cause for celebration!
There was only one solution, ‘cos the air was getting colder,
And I set off down the mountain with the foal upon my shoulder.
After several hours we reached the bottom, tired and weak,
And we stopped for some refreshments by a welcome mountain creek,
And I met this ancient fella who was panning there for gold,
And before he’d even asked, my tale of woe, he had been told.
But I got no words of kindness. Why, his body heaved and shook
With laughter, and the tears rolled down his cheeks, and I got crook.
Then he pulled himself together, and he said I was a fool,
And he told me then why Garth was keen to sell his windy mule.
It seemed that Garth grew strawberries, and liked collecting prizes,
For his berries tasted real sweet, and grew to mammoth sizes,
And it seemed that once a foal had kicked the gate and sprung the latch,
And trampled on his precious beds and chewed the flamin’ patch,
And from that day to this it seemed (or so this fella said)
A foal within a quarter mile sent Garth right off his head.
I thanked him for his helpful words, and left him to his pan,
And moved on down the valley while my mind devised a plan.
I headed for the House of Garth, arriving after dark.
My soul was set on vengeance. I’d resolved to leave my mark.
I crept up to his strawberry patch, unlocked the solid gate,
Locked the foal inside it and decided not to wait,
But on the heavy farm-house door a simple note was pinned:
“I’ll keep the mule. It’s thinner now. I’m leaving you the wind.”
© Stephen Whiteside 1980