The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 10 (February 1, 1930)
Our Women's Section
Out of the Night
The man trudged along—his shoulders slouching forward and his feet dragging heavily—still he walked on in a kind of dogged animal stupor. The night wind ruffled his black, untidy hair and drenched his brown face with a salty mist—his ragged coat flapped forlornly behind him—leaving his strong hairy chest bare to the breeze. On his back was a pack which looked heavy, even for his massive shoulders, and he clutched in his big hand a powerful notched stick.
There was nothing remarkable about this man who walked there through the night. He was neither tall nor short, neither old nor young—neither very ugly nor very prepossessing. He was quite an ordinary looking fellow—but in his very blue Irish eyes was a kind of fierce unconquerable misery—as though he were always fighting against overwhelming odds—and always losing. I have seen that very look in the dull eyes of an old draft horse pulling a load up a steep hill on a broiling day—a look of patient suffering and infinite sadness. But in these Irish eyes there glowed still the fire of youth—of hot blood and keen determination. His mother had never liked them—“Davie has kind of mad eyes,” she used to say—“they fair give me the creeps!”
He walked as if impelled by some unseen force—his hands thrust behind him—his eyes—those fierce, sad, animal eyes fixed upon the jagged horizon. Never once did he look to the right nor the left though the sun was setting in a stormy blaze of gold. The man began to hurry as fast as his awful weariness would allow him.
“Confound the night!” he said, for he was no lover of vivid sunsets, but merely a man with a goal to be reached as soon as possible—with a definite object before him. He reminded one of a dog who has been ordered home and is dead to the promptings of all instincts—the lure of all side tracks.
Night fell with that almost incredible swiftness so characteristic of New Zealand countrysides — night moonless, caressingly black and kindly, enveloping—a heavy impenetrable blanket.
Nothing ahead—nothing behind—nothing on either side or overhead, but something very solid beneath—the hard clay and the green grass. Our man—if he had known how to pray—would have offered thanks to Mother Earth. Instead, being very largely animal and child, he wanted to bury his face in the kindly soil and shut out the awful void of darkness. But on he walked and the hours slipped by as they always will.
Suddenly he knew that he was nearly there. Up went his head, back went his shoulders—he almost ran down the gently sloping hill-side. Ahead in the blackness he fancied he saw a page 54 page 55 faint and flickering light—fickle as a will o’ the wisp—tantalizing and mocking him—luring him onwards. His breath came in great gasps—the perspiration poured down his rugged face—blood hammered in his temples. He almost sobbed with relief as he stumbled against a broken-down gate. For a moment he leant there—utterly spent except for his eyes, which glowed like coals in the darkness.
Familiarly but gropingly — eagerly, he went up the overgrown path—sometimes waist high in brambles and tall, strange grasses. Then he came to the orchard and the moon broke timidly through the blackness—revealing the soft shining roundness of apples. In his ecstasy he seized one and kissed it passionately. We must forgive him for he had been long away, and just beyond the laden trees where he had romped as a boy lay the home of his childhood—“The Brow” as it had been called by the surrounding farmers because of its position on the hill. It had been a magnificent old homestead in the days when Gregory St. Clare had lived there and brought up his children within its kindly walls. St. Clare had bought his land from the Maoris “for a song” and established the wealthy station, built “The Brow”—married and settled there.
All that was many years ago—the family of St. Clare had quickly “gone to the dogs”—the land had been bought by an enterprising farmer who had built a bungalow there and left the old homestead deserted. One of the St. Clare boys, Gerald, he employed as a shepherd—the others had disappeared after spending the enormous wealth bequeathed to them by old Gregory. They had no love of the land and they cleared off as quickly as they could. The man whom we have followed through the night was John St. Clare—an utter failure in the game of life—who, “down and out,” had come to visit his brother Jerry—the shepherd. First he wanted to wander through the old rooms of “The Brow” before he went down to the bungalow and saw “old Jerry.” He thrust aside the greedy creepers and stood upon the rickety verandah in the darkness. The front door stood open — showing in the moon-light the wide hall half full of thistles and weeds and indescribable filth. He felt a swift pang of misery as he recalled its former lofty magnificence. Over the debris he crept among the shadows and moonbeams to the great staircase—rising into the blackness above. For a moment he leant wearily against the massive bannisters thinking of the days when he and his brothers had spent many an hour sliding joyously upon them. Then he began to climb—over the brambles, up—up. He wanted to see the nursery. Was that picture of “The Holy Grail” still on the schoolroom wall—how he had loved it! And the big window seat where Julian and Joan, the twins, had read their books by the hour. Julian and been killed in a brawl in a public house in Mexico and Joan—had disappeared.
Now he stood in the upstairs passage remembering how, as a little boy, he had been terrified by the rows of closed doors and how Jerry had sometimes accompanied him to bed although he was older and allowed another hour of noisy play in the orchard.
There was the nursery door—ajar at the end of the passage—John St. Clare stole in like a frightened child—trembling—eager. He could hear the shouts of Jerry behind the door—he could see Joan and Julian curled up in the window seat—and although the old room was quite empty he could see a crowded tea table in page 56 page 57 the middle of nursery. He sank down with his head buried in the ancient horse-hair sofa—sobbing wildly.
Next morning Jerry St. Clare—mustering sheep in a nearby paddock, fancied he heard a strange sound from the “Brow.” He dismounted—stood motionless on the verandah—paralysed with fear—for up above he heard shouts of wild laughter—peal upon peal.
They found John in the nursery, playing soldiers on the floor with sticks and laughing horribly. He had gone mad—“Poor chap,” they said, “the St. Clares were always a queer lot—bad eggs!”
A few years later Jerry died and the old “Brow” stands there still—weathering storm after storm—filled with shadows and echoes of children's voices.
* * *
Have they come to stay? Last year only the very “ultra” girl appeared in a high waisted frock with a much longer skirt—but now it seems that they are not only going to stay but are the thing for this summer. No more ugly knees! And very very few girls can afford to show them. The longer skirt is much more graceful and becoming—and for dance dresses is quite essential. Nothing looks more “unfinished” and awkward than a short and skimpy evening frock—you will all agree with me here. While you are dancing they have a habit of creeping up and up and when you are sitting down there are no divine fluffy billows to shake out round you—no alluring filmy flounces. Definitely dance frocks this season are long and flowing, sometimes even touching the ground at the back—while waists are rising. Some of the latest evening frocks present quite a Victorian appearance but they are wonderfully graceful and comfortable and make one scorn the wretched little short tight skirt of a year ago.
Our day frocks are also to be longer—two inches below the knees—dwellers in “Windy Wellington” will be glad to hear this—costumes and coats with longer skirts and more freedom as to width. Remember this when you are planning your wardrobe, for the winter—and although “black and white” is going to be the rage this season—consider that few girls can really wear black. If you are pale and dark don't even think of yourself in black—turn to the greens and reds and blues.
Growing your Hair
Everyone seems to be doing it now, but in my opinion very few will persevere because it is such a nuisance to grow. What is the benefit of long hair? Many (especially men) think that a woman shorn of her “crowning glory” is devoid of any attraction whatsoever. They shrug their superior shoulders and make the best of it, and now they hail with great joy the rumour that woman, the ever capricious—has decided to grow her locks once more. You will find that although a number of us are enduring the discomfort of a growing mane—yet the majority are still in favour of the shingle and the bob—and in my opinion always will be. Before you decide to be ahead of the fashion consider the question carefully. Perhaps you think that long hair really suits you better, but as a general rule—girls always look just as attractive with a shingle. And think of the nuisance of brushing and washing—of buying hats—of hair-pins! How antique they sound—reminiscent of crinolines and bustles. The girl with flowing tresses thinks twice about a plunge in the sea before dinner and we can't blame her. From all points of view the shingle and the bob are sensible, attractive and healthy. In this modern age we haven't a minute to waste—simplicity is our slogan and common sense and comfort our watchwords—the glory of a heavy mass of shining hair must be a thing of the past. But because we have made this sacrifice upon the altars of comfort and relinquished what has always been considered by the poets our greatest beauty—there is no earthly reason why our hair—or what we still have of it—should not be beautiful. The great temptation of short hair is to neglect it—a quick run of the comb and we are tidy and satisfied, while the brush which played such an important part in the toilets of our mothers—lies neglected on the dressing-table. We can't hope to have soft shining shingles and bobs if we are content with a hasty combing or if we are stupid enough to have our hair waved so that we are afraid to brush it. Far better to have beautiful straight hair than dull half-dead waves. This fad of the “water-wave” will soon die, and it is just as well. In my opinion if nature endowed you with curls, so much the better—but otherwise stick to your straight mop. Brush it thoroughly twice a day, don't wash it two or three times a week, and for goodness sake don't grow it. Perhaps in the years to be poets and painters will be worshipping deities with shining shingles!
“Breathes there a man with soul so dead” who can resist the lure of summer? Can anyone turn a deaf ear to the call of the seagulls—to the lonely cry of the more-pork—to the joyous chirping of the cicada and the cry of the bell-bird from the green depths of the forest? Is it possible that any human being can close his eyes to the coolness of the trees, the blueness of the waters—the stretches of golden sand, the calm pale stars in the blackness of the heavens? At this time of the year our eyes ache at the sight of magnificent buildings—the sound of the tram car makes us shudder and the smell of hot asphalt and dusty offices fills us with disgust. Originally we belong to the forests and the “wide, open spaces” and always there is in our blood a wander-lust—an unquenchable craving for a closer contact with nature—with whom we fought so keenly in our early civilization—whom we have almost conquered—but for whom we still yearn as a child longs for its mother in the appalling blackness of a stormy night. Haven't you often felt a wild restlessness in your blood—a longing to cast off the trappings and conventions of society and to live once more in a rocky cave? True the cave would be much more comfortable with electric light and water laid on—in fact we should demand this—but what I really mean is that deep down in our hearts is a desire to be closer to nature. Perhaps once a year we can satisfy this hunger for two or three weeks. We may be doomed to spend eleven months in a tidy, busy office on the fifth floor of a cool, clean building—returning to a little house in a neat row of little houses—but for a brief while we may escape from this comfortable mediocracy and pitch our tent “far from the madding crowd” by some chattering, sobbing stream in the heart of our country's glorious bush—or on the rugged, wild coast. We will cook our meals round the camp fire—we will eat heaps of dirt, drink smoky tea, burn our hands, cut our feet, suffer countless mosquito bites, and sleep, God knows where—but how happy we will be! We will feel like a prisoner when the doors are flung open and the world and all that it means rushes before him. Of course we have to go back again to the city where Smith differs from Jones only in that he takes sugar in his tea whereas Jones does not—and of course we are contented enough while we are there. As a rule we are too busy to be otherwise—but sometimes when the sad moon smiles down upon the sleeping city and the roofs of the closely-packed houses shine in the soft whiteness of her light—we feel a longing to be away from it all—out under the stars.
We pitch our tent beneath the friendly trees—we have a serious and prolonged discussion as to the best place for it—we finally come to a decision, and hey presto! there is our little home—cosy and inviting with our bed of piled-up manuka waiting to receive our weary limbs. We cook weird and wonderful things. A delicious fragrance mounts up to the night—the moths flutter round our fire—the ‘possums peer down—attracted by the smell and the sight of these queer creatures squatting round the warmth. Then we all light cigarettes and lie in the glow of the fire—talking softly while the owls cry in the distance and the winds rustle leaves overhead. This is the life!
As a shadow passes
Through the slender grasses
When the soft winds blow
So I come and even so I go.
As a ripple shivers
Through the laughing rivers
When the swift birds fall.
So I sweep and even so
As a dew drop poses
On the vivid roses
When the moonbeams die.
So I gleam and even so
As a shadow passes
Even so do I.