That was the moment Arty realised something was terribly wrong as he was about as excited as a bank teller on Monday.
Despite Worzel being as slippery as an eel wearing sunscreen, I had taken a bit of a shine to him. Being a soft touch I lent him some traps; I think it was 20. That was 15 years ago; I’m sure he fully intends to return them one day.
My visit to Worzels camp had messed up my day, and I didn’t make it back to my camp before dark and ended up spending a night in the bush. Fortunately, it didn’t rain, and I had a swanni in my pack. It was not a comfortable night, but I slept fairly well as the previous night's antics had worn me out.
The following day was a write-off, and the rest of the week was taken up with possums, eating and sleeping. I did intend to go back and visit my neighbour, but you know how it is, life just gets in the way sometimes.
One afternoon I got back to camp to discover Worzel bending over my stove.He didn’t hear me coming and did his startled hare impression when I said “Hello.”
“Hang,” he said, “you’ll end up giving a man a heart attack, you should of given me a bit of warning.”
His cheek had me lost for words.
“I cooked us a feed, where’s your plates?”
I dug out a couple of plates and some eating irons. Worzel served up the concoction he had brewed in my pot; I think it had once been bacon, eggs, baked beans and sardines.
And yes all the ingredients were courtesy of me.
Still, I was hungry and decided to let it go.
And then he started to eat, it was so repulsively fascinating that I forgot my meal, captivated by his disgusting display of gastronomy. Somewhere along the line he managed to slurp half a sardine onto my plate without even noticing. I gave up all thought of eating about then and put the billy on.
“Aren't you going to eat that?” Worzel's mouth was so full of food; I have no idea how he got the words out.
“No, I’m full,”
“You're a wasteful hound, don’t you like me cooking?”
“Just not hungry.”
He tipped my plate into his and slurped and belched his way through what was left of our meals.
Mercifully he finished, and after a loud rumbling burp, patted his stomach.
“Is the tea made yet?”
I was still a bit lost for words, and thought I’d make the best of a bad situation.
“So, that story you were telling me about Arty, you never got to how he blew himself up.”
Worzel shook his head, looking mournful.”
“Poor old Arty, it was like he had a disease, you’d have liked him, you know.”
“Probably would have, though I’m not keen on poaching.”
“Nah, a bit of a mug's game that. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen to a word I said.”
“You got to the bit where you parted company, what happened after that.”
“Quite a lot, I’ll need something wet to keep me lubricated, I couldn’t find your beer, grab us a bottle will ya?”
“You didn’t find any because I don’t have any.”
He could tell he’d pushed the boundaries about as far as they would go.
“Well, Bryan, he wore out his welcome and had to leave the district, next thing I heard he was working as a guide over in Alaska, but he ended up getting the sack.”
“Why’d they sack him?”
Worzel looked at me as if I wasn’t all there.
“After that I didn’t see or hear hide nor hair of him until I read his death notice in the Herald. All it said was he’d died through misadventure over in the States. Felt terrible I did, he was me mate. So I got in touch with his brother to find out wot happened, and this is wot he told me.”
Arty had been a hunting fanatic for as long as he could remember. He devoured hunting books like popcorn and was a walking encyclopedia on anything to do with the subject.
He shot his first sparrow when he was 6, rabbit at 7 and fallow deer when he was 11. By the time he was 16 he owned several rifles and had shot over 40 deer. He didn’t have many friends as he was always up in the hills and couldn’t be bothered talking about any other subject.
By the time he teamed up with Worzel he had become an expert deerstalker and very rarely came home from a hunt empty handed.
And then it happened.
He was hunting with Worzel up in the Ruahines during the roar, chasing a stag with an exceptional head he had seen in velvet on their last trip,(unusual for the Ruahines!).
Sure enough, he tracked it down; the velvet was gone and the head was even better than he remembered.
The stag was preoccupied with his harem, and Arty was able to stalk to within 50 meters of the wiley old fellow. This was no small undertaking as there were hinds all over the show and the wind was starting to shift.
The stag was partially obscured from Arty’s view by a totara, so he carefully manoeuvred himself until the stag filled his scope, before squeezing off a shot. The stag dropped to the ground as if pole axed.
That was at the moment Arty realised something was terribly wrong as he was about as excited as a bank teller on Monday. The joy of the hunt was gone.
Seeing I was caught up in his story, Worzel gave me a hopeful look.
“Telling such a tragic story soon dries a man out.”
“Would you like me to get you a glass of water?”
The look he gave me would have killed a cat.
“Well, I’d better be getting back to camp then, no need to thank me for tea.”