The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)
The Grey-Eyed Lady
It was a hot afternoon in January—one of those still, burning days that make the traveller in New Zealand imagine that he is in the heart of the African veldt. The little dusty red station lay panting beneath the pitiless sun. Across the plains stretched the silver thread of the railway track—away towards the cool mountains rising in the distance. A perfect stillness reigned, broken only by the occasional bark of a dog and the melancholy bleating of sheep.
Dick Kinross leant across the gate and gazed with unseeing eyes into the deserted street, cursing himself—cursing everyone—the fate that had compelled him to bury himself there in the heart of the plains—the failure, complete and tragic, of his thirty-five years. He looked down at the half-obliterated plate on the verandah post and smiled bitterly. “Dr. Richard Kinross, M.D., F.R.C.S.“—what irony lay in those magic letters! How he had dreamed in his student days—philanthropic youthful dreams of a life devoted to the suffering of mankind—and now—the drunken doctor of Wai-waka—scorned by the few white inhabitants and adored by the Maoris, whose ills he healed with a magic hand, still cool and steady—still the hand of a surgeon.
He sat down on the unswept verandah and sighed. His had been the usual story—he had loved a girl, worked slavishly to win her—obtained his F.R.C.S. at Edinburgh, and rushed back to New Zealand, eager and successful. She had married his brother, there seems very little of the tragic in this—yet to Dick his life was over. He congratulated them, hid his misery, and drank heavily. Now he was almost forgotten—buried away in the little township of Wai-waka—living, untidy, dishevelled and savage, among Maoris and drovers—hating all mankind, and especially all womenkind.
He was sitting there hopelessly on the dirty verandah, head down, half asleep, in the burning sun. Suddenly the sound of hoofs clattering along the street roused him from his reverie—a Maori lad sprang from his trembling, sweating horse, flung the reins over the gate-post, and called “Where is the white doctor?” Kinross slouched down the overgrown path. “Hallo,” he said, “what do you want, sonnie?” He had grown to love the Maoris, and his eyes softened at the sight of the panting brown lad, covered with dust, evidently worn out from a hard ride in the scorching sun. “The doctor,” gasped the boy; “Boss very ill. The missus say ‘Nepi—ride like the devil—fetch the white doctor from Wai-waka!'” He sank down on the pavement. “Come quick—the boss he die,” he panted.page 52
Kinross lifted the dirty little figure gently, carried him into the untidy room and placed him in his own shabby arm-chair. “Nepi, my son,” he said, “drink this, and tell me what is the matter with the boss.” He bent down and managed to gather from the somewhat incoherent and picturesque description of the young Maori that his master was in the last stages of delirium tremens. “Him scream, curse like the devil—hit missus plenty hard,” said the boy. Kinross packed a few things hastily in his bag, meanwhile calling orders to his servant in the kitchen to saddle two horses. “Come Nepi, I'm afraid you'll have to go with me. I haven't way idea of the way. How far is it?”
“‘Bout thirty miles,” answered the boy, jumping up and tossing the matted hair from his-dark eyes. “Me ready.”
“Good lad,” said Kinross, “we will have to ride like two devils to get there before dark.”
The sheep station lay at the bottom of a wide valley on the coast. Great trees hid it from view, and to Kinross there seemed something almost sinister about their screening shadows. Perhaps it was the moonlight, perhaps the thought of the raving man lying there, perhaps merely a fancy; but it seemed to him that a tragedy lay there behind those trees. Down the valley he rode with the Maori boy, over the turf wet with dew, towards the station. They were greeted by a veritable uproar from the dogs who leapt round them as they rode along the uneven track and into the spacious yard. Darkness prevented Kinross from forming any clear idea of the place, but his first impression was of an old rambling farmhouse, numerous sheds and outhouses, trees, trees everywhere, and the sighing of the wind.
A man in shirt sleeves helped him to dismount, and called a boy to take his horse to the stables. He was a tall, lean fellow, brown, curiously ugly. with a pair of the bluest eyes in the world—evidently a shepherd. “Thank God you've come, doctor,” he said, leading Kinross into the kitchen, where several men sat at a long table playing cards or smoking in silence. Everyone rose awkwardly as Kinross entered—perfect silence fell upon the company. It seemed that the arrival of a stranger was an absolutely outstanding event for these shepherds, living away in the hills, far from the civilised world.
“Tell the missus the doctor is here,” ordered the man who had met Kinross in the yard, with a significant glance towards a tremendous giant who sprawled in a corner. He shuffled out reluctantly, and the men began to mutter together, casting curious glances at the doctor, who stood impatiently waiting, utterly weary. He noticed an atmosphere of gloom about the whole place, even in the cheery kitchen, where a huge fire blazed—it seemed that the shadow of death lay there. After quite a quarter of an hour Kinross began to be annoyed. “Why the devil do you send for a doctor, make him ride like hell, merely to watch you play cards?” he said, angrily. “Where is the boss?” The men regarded him curiously.
“Much better let him die, the drunkard!” growled one.
“Johnson!” Everyone turned quickly towards the door. “How dare you speak like that about your master!”
Often afterwards Dick Kinross would think of her as she seemed to him then, standing in the doorway, imperious, icy and terribly tired, cowing a roomful of rough shepherds with her cool eyes and husky voice. “Where is your husband?” he asked curtly. Even now he could hardly bear the sight of a woman—much less of a beautiful one. She did not answer, but stepped back into the dimly lighted passage. Kinross followed, closing the door carefully. Even in page 53 the half-light he was struck by the immensity of the place—numerous passages, closed doors, signs of wealth everywhere. His mysterious guide, without troubling to glance round, walked in front of him in silence, opened a door, and said coldly, “Here is my husband!” Dick, accustomed to misery, heard the anguish and despair behind those words. Suddenly he felt an immense pity for this woman—a pity which was to increase during that dreadful night, which was to be his salvation.
A dim light cast fitful flickers on the walls of the room. It seemed to Dick to be full of shadows and nameless whispering shades. There, on the bed, lay the figure of something that had once been a man—now a pitiful and ghastly wreck. Dick started back, shielding his eyes from a sight in a manner ill-befitting a doctor. He seemed to see himself lying there, raving and cursing all men. The woman stood silently in the shadows, watching. Dick did what he could for his patient, and pulling up a chair sat down by the bed, to watch the life ebb slowly away from a fellow creature. Often the man shrieked wildly, and tried to leap from the bed. She, the silent lady, came over and covered him again, smoothing the tumbled sheets always coldly, without a flicker of compassion for the suffering man who lay there.
As the night crept on, she brought a chair and food for the doctor. Dick watched her silently as she bent over her husband, while he cursed her, and felt again a sudden wave of great pity. There was, after all, someone else in the world who had suffered far more than he had—this cold and beautiful woman, who had watched her husband drinking himself to death—who had endured years of hell alone with a man, whom Kinross heard afterwards, had been notorious for his brutality. During that night, as they sat by the bedside, listening to the rain on the leaves, and the ravings of the dying man, Dick learned something of her life, something of its tragedy, for words were unnecessary.
Suffering forms a bond of intimacy more quickly than joy. She had met David Armstrong in England, after two weeks had married him, and come to live upon his sheep-station in New Zealand, full of hope and eager to begin a new life. Fragile, exquisite, and wealthy was the wife whom Armstrong brought back, and jealously guarded from the world—he seemed to take a delight in very slowly and very surely breaking her heart.
Just at dawn, as the storm died down outside, and the world became quiet, David Armstrong died. Dick rose very wearily, but in his soul was a great happiness. “You must go to bed at once,” he said to the girl, and her tired grey eyes smiled for an instant into his. “Thank you—for everything,” she said and held out her hand to him. Dr. Richard Kinross, F.R.C.S., grasped it, and in doing so set his foot once more upon the ladder which leads to success and happiness.
He rode away up the valley with Nepi, the Maori lad. At the crest of the hill he took off his hat. “Good-bye, my grey-eyed lady,” he said, for Romance does not die even in the dark souls of Life's “failures.”
A few months afterwards they were married, Dick and his lady of the cool grey eyes. The shadows lay far behind them, and ahead stretched a path bright with sunshine.
* * *
This evening saw I o'er the town
A mist, lovely and frail
As a cloud of incense.
And stars, in pity pale,
Looked dimly down.
Calm as benediction.