Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
 
Postal Facilities at Thrums
By J. M. Barrie (1860–1937)
 
From “Auld Licht Idylls”

A RAILWAY line runs into Thrums now. The sensational days of the post-office were when the letters were conveyed officially in a creaking old cart from Tilliedrum. The “pony” had seen better days than the cart, and always looked as if he were just on the point of succeeding in running away from it. Hooky Crewe was driver; so-called because an iron hook was his substitute for a right arm: Robbie Proctor, the blacksmith, made the hook and fixed it in. Crewe suffered from rheumatism, and when he felt it coming on he stayed at home. Sometimes his cart came undone in a snow-drift; when Hooky, extricated from the fragments by some chance wayfarer, was deposited with his mail-bag (of which he always kept a grip by the hook) in a farm-house. It was his boast that his letters always reached their destination eventually. They might be a long time about it, but “slow and sure” was his motto. Hooky emphasised his “slow and sure” by taking a snuff. He was a godsend to the postmistress, for to his failings or the infirmities of his gig were charged all delays.
  1
  At the time I write of, the posting of the letter took as long and was as serious an undertaking as the writing. That means a good deal, for many of the letters were written to dictation by the Thrums schoolmaster, Mr. Fleemister, who belonged to the Auld Kirk. He was one of the few persons in the community who looked upon the despatch of his letters by the postmistress as his right, and not a favour on her part. There was a long-standing feud between them accordingly. After a few tumblers of Widow Stable’s treacle beer—in the concoction of which she was the acknowledged mistress for miles around—the schoolmaster would sometimes go the length of hinting that he could get the postmistress dismissed any day. This mighty power seemed to rest on a knowledge of “steamed” letters. Thrums had a high respect for the schoolmaster; but among themselves the weavers agreed that, even if he did write to the Government, Lizzie Harrison, the postmistress, would refuse to transmit the letter. The more shrewd ones among us kept friends with both parties; for, unless you could write “writ-hand,” you could not compose a letter without the schoolmaster’s assistance; and, unless Lizzie was so courteous as to send it to its destination, it might lie—or so it was thought—much too long in the box. A letter addressed by the schoolmaster found great disfavour in Lizzie’s eyes. You might explain to her that you had merely called in his assistance because you were a poor hand at writing yourself, but that was held no excuse. Some addressed their own envelopes with much labour, and sought to palm off the whole as their handiwork. It reflects on the postmistress somewhat that she had generally found them out by next day, when, if in a specially vixenish mood, she did not hesitate to upbraid them for their perfidy.  2
  To post a letter you did not merely saunter to the post-office and drop it into the box. The cautious correspondent first went into the shop and explained to Lizzie how matters stood. She kept what she called a bookseller’s shop as well as the post-office; but the supply of books corresponded exactly to the lack of demand for them, and her chief trade was in knick-knacks, from marbles and money-boxes up to concertinas. If he found the postmistress in an amiable mood, which was only now and then, the caller led up craftily to the object of his visit. Having discussed the weather and the potato-disease, he explained that his sister Mary, whom Lizzie would remember, had married a fishmonger in Dundee. The fishmonger had lately started on himself and was doing well. They had four children. The youngest had had a severe attack of measles. No news had been got of Mary for twelve months, and Annie, his other sister, who lived in Thrums, had been at him of late for not writing. So he had written a few lines; and, in fact, he had the letter with him. The letter was then produced, and examined by the postmistress. If the address was in the schoolmaster’s handwriting, she professed her inability to read it. Was this a t or an l or an i? Was that a b or a d? This was a cruel revenge on Lizzie’s part; for the sender of the letter was completely at her mercy. The schoolmaster’s name being tabooed in her presence, he was unable to explain that the writing was not his own; and as for deciding between the t’s and l’s, he could not do it. Eventually he would be directed to put the letter into the box. They would do their best with it, Lizzie said, but in a voice that suggested how little hope she had of her efforts to decipher it proving successful.  3
  There was an opinion among some of the people that the letter should not be stamped by the sender. The proper thing to do was to drop a penny for the stamp into the box along with the letter, and then Lizzie would see that it was all right. Lizzie’s acquaintance with the handwriting of every person in the place who could write gave her a great advantage. You would perhaps drop into her shop some day to make a purchase, when she would calmly produce a letter you had posted several days before. In explanation she would tell you that you had not put a stamp on it, or that she suspected there was money in it, or that you had addressed it to the wrong place.  4
  I remember an old man, a relative of my own, who happened for once in his life to have several letters to post at one time. The circumstance was so out of the common that he considered it only reasonable to make Lizzie a small present.  5
 
 
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