Short story: Fair Exchange - How an Unwanted Present Proved Its Value.

By Thorpe Clarke

Published in The Kookaburra, Volume 1, Number 26

Friday 11 March 1932

"That's a great truck you've got," Sandy told his pal admiringly. "Bet your father made it!"

Bill eyed his possession, made from a wooden soap box and three pairs of somewhat rusty wheels, complacently.

"Yes, Dad's pretty good at it. It's better than the last one. Like to coast down the hill with me?"

Sandy didn't bother to answer, but squeezed as much of his anatomy as possible into the soap box, letting his legs dangle over the side, while Bill sat on the front edge and grasped the stout rope that guided the craft. Then he pushed off with his boot.

Tower Avenue, where the boys lived, was a blind street which swept steeply down from the main road, so that coasting down its smooth surface brought joy to the soul.

"It guides well," shouted Sandy in his friend's ear as the truck leaped dangerously towards the gutter, changed its mind and continued a crazy course down the road. "Better than the other one." The other one wouldn't have changed its mind, but would have piled them in a heap at the curb.

"I wish my Dad could make trucks and things!" said Sandy sadly, when they reached the bottom, "but he doesn't know how. He only likes collecting stamps."

"Trucks are easy to make," Bill pointed out. "Didn't your Dad have one when he was a boy?"

Sandy didn’t know. He had no idea what his father might have been like when he was a boy. He only knew that now he thought of nothing but his stamp collection, which was considered one of the finest in Australia, and which, incidentally, kept him poor.

Sandy disliked stamps; he had a grudge against them. They claimed his father's attention when he should have been engaged in making trucks for him.

"You ought to ask your Dad to make you one," Bill went on. "They don’t cost much if you get the box from the grocer."

Sandy sighed. Getting the box from the grocer or anybody else wouldn’t make much difference to his father. Then his face brightened. "It's my birthday to-day," he explained, "and Dad usually gives me half-a-crown, but he said last night that as I was nine and growing up, he had a special present for me, so maybe he'll give me so maybe he’ll give me five shillings. I reckon I could spend some of that on a truck. S’pose you wouldn’t care to sell it to me for a shilling?"

Bill's eyes sparkled. "If you get five shillings," he said, "I’ll sell it to you for one-and-six."

Sandy went home with joy in his heart. He had never possessed a truck, and the prospect was alluring.

Birthday presents were always given during the evening meal, and Sandy gave his face and hands a special scrub before coming to the table. His father was always insistent on clean hands, and to have that present curtailed a shilling or two just for a little extra care was not to be thought of.

Besides buying the truck, he might be able to induce Eddy Jones to part with the old gun that had been his father's and which, though it wouldn't fire, still looked enough like a gun to bring joy to its owner's heart. Then there were those pigeons that Eddy's brother owned, and for which he wanted sixpence each – maybe he could buy two of those.

His eyes sparkled as he thought of these possibilities, and he almost forgot to notice that his mother had made a special jam roly-poly for his benefit, and that there was a cake (plain because currants weren’t good for children) with nine candles, in the centre of the table.

His mother's present came first. It was a neat tie, something like father's new one, that he could wear to Sunday School, and on high days or holidays, according to his mother's direction.

He thanked his mother by kissing her dutifully while it passed through his mind that the girl next door whom, at odd moments, he considered rather pretty for a girl, might look at him five times during the Sunday School lessons instead of four, which had been the rigid rule up to date.

Sandy waited expectantly for his father to dip into his pocket and draw out the special, present and, as the minutes passed and nothing happened, he began to feel alarmed. P’raps he hadn’t washed his hands quite clean enough. P’raps there was a dirty smudge on his nose.

The fears became a panic when the tea-hour passed and dishes were washed and put away, and the special present hadn’t materialised.

He had got to the point where he was convinced that his father had found out about that broken chimney pot or that stolen swim in the river, and was about to give up all hope of any present at all, let alone a special one, when his father produced a parcel, an oblong parcel that was mystifying.

"My son," he said, as the boy took possession, "seeing that you're getting quite past the baby stage, I am giving you a present that should set your feet on the treasure hunt, too. Every man should have a hobby, and I’ve decided that you shall follow in my footsteps."

Sandy undid the string slowly, and it was quite two minutes before he spoke. A small, though beautifully bound stamp album met his gaze. Its pages were all mounted with perfectly arranged and set-out stamps, and was a miniature collection to delight the heart of any philatelist.

But Sandy wasn't a philatelist. He was a plain ordinary boy without the plain ordinary boy's usual liking for a dog-eared album. He had seen too much of stamp-collecting to be interested.

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Scanned article.

Fair Exchange! How an Unwanted Present Proved Its Value, The Kookaburra, 11 March 1932.

Cover page of the magazine.

Front page of "The All-Australian Comic", The Kookaburra.

"That's a small beginning for you, son," his father went on with the enthusiasm of the fanatic. "I'm reputed to have one of the finest private collections in Australia, but maybe, if you start early enough, you'll have one of the finest collections in the world."

Sandy agreed that he might, and with a dull ache in his heart and the album under his arm, he sallied forth, leaving his father rather bewildered and somewhat hurt.

"Sandy didn't say whether he liked his present," he told his wife, "and I had expected him to be so very proud of it." He sighed; he sometimes wondered just where he failed to please his son.

It was a summer evening, and daylight had not quite faded when Sandy reached the street. Bill was waiting on his truck at the curb, ready to complete the deal.

"Well," he said, "how much did you get?"

"This," and Sandy thrust the album on to Bill's knee.

"Stamps! Full of stamps! Gee! That's great!"

"Great! How can I buy your truck or Eddy's gun or Eddy's brother's pigeons with stamps? They might as well be a lot of match boxes or peach stones or–or–anything!"

Sandy was so disappointed that if he hadn't been nine and growing up he might have let a few tears trickle forth. Instead of which he closed his lips tightly and looked as though he wanted to hit somebody on the nose.

Bill turned over the pages delightedly. Unlike his pal, he possessed a collection that, though dirty, torn and unpresentable, was still a collection. Actually he knew a little more about stamps than Sandy.

"Say," he said, "this is a bonza blue one of Russia. Jim Thompson was telling me to-day that he only wanted a blue one like this to fill his page for Russia."

Sandy didn’t answer. He wasn’t interested. The only thing that worried him at the moment was his vanished dream.

"Say," Bill went on, "did you see the frog Jim had at school to-day? Gosh! If I had this stamp he’d most likely swap me for the frog." His eyes brightened. "Here what about this deal?"

"What deal?"

"About the truck."

"But I haven’t got the money."

"Well, I was thinking that I’d give you the truck for some of these stamps – say this page full of Russia. Dad can easily make me another truck.