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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 11 (June 1, 1930)


It hung there on the wall—sometimes bathed in a flood of sunshine—sometimes mysterious in the shadows of night. It was the portrait of a young girl in a summer frock. The half gay, half sad and wholly childish face looked down upon the boy as he lay there day after day in his long chair. It seemed to call to him in the silence of the sick room—a clear call of youth and health, of sunshine and green fields. All the things that had been denied him because of his infirmity were in that portrait of an unknown girl with wide questioning eyes and a smile of friendliness and sympathy. Sometimes Guy would hold long conversations with the picture—although he would have been terribly ashamed to confess to such romantic folly. He would call her Isobel—because that was his favourite name—he would tell her about the books he had been reading—would imagine that he was racing over the hills with her in the wind or dancing with her to the lilting music of the “Blue Danube” which floated through the house from the gramophone downstairs. She would tell him of many things—of the bright gorse on the hillsides—of her dreams and the beauty of the starlight on the waters. “Poor old Guy”—his brothers' friends would say—“Tough luck for him, poor chap, lying there all day with a crippled leg!” They sometimes rushed in to see him—jolly boys and laughing girls—invited to the house by his sisters. They talked merrily of dances, the latest “hits,” Edgar Wallace yarns. He tried to be interested and amused as they obviously wanted him to be, but he looked at the portrait on the wall and in his heart there grew up a great love, fostered by his infirmity and his loneliness. He wanted to leap up from his bed—to be strong once more—so that he could win the world. Then he would seek everywhere for his girl of the laughing eyes and heap all his treasures at her feet. Guy was only twenty at the time and being a cripple shut away from the rushing world he still cherished many illusions—he belonged to the days of Sir Galahad—to the days of chivalry and old world romance. In reality it was just before the Great War—the momentous year 1914.

Ten years have passed, ten years full of the most terrible and devastating experiences known to mankind. In one short decade boys have become old men; jolly girls sad-eyed women—and Guy Maitland, the crippled lad who used to lie in his chair and weave fanciful dreams about an unknown girl—what has become of him?

At the outbreak of the Great War Guy was a cripple—a fractured hip owing to a fall from his pony had robbed the boy of all the joyous activity which is the birthright of youth—had turned him into something of a dreamer and in his way into a rather cynical young philosopher.

In the year 1915 a very skilful operation was performed—made possible by the increased scientific knowledge necessary to patch up hundreds of distorted limbs on the fields of Flanders—and Guy found himself once more as other men—strong, active and burning with desire to “do his bit.”

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We will not follow him on his weary journey through the trenches—let it suffice that during those two ghastly years our dreamer became a practical hard-headed man—terse of words, prompt in action, but cherishing always in his heart a deep and youthful love for the girl who still smiled down from the wall of his old room. Some day, somewhere he would find her, and it was this thought which kept his soul gay and fresh among the sordid realities of war.

1925! London in a yellow, suffocating fog. Guy Maitland was walking along the Thames Embankment among hundreds of other shadowy figures, coat collar turned up, hands deep in pockets, mind far away. The yellowness all around him carried him back to the trenches—to clouds of suffocating sickly gas. He threw back his head and longed to breathe once more the freshness of the fields—to see once again the blaze of gorse upon the hillside of his New Zealand home. He had almost given up his mediaeval search for the girl of the picture. He felt on this miserable choking afternoon a heavy sense of disillusionment, loneliness and isolation from his fellows. Tomorrow he would leave all this behind him—his passage was booked and he would journey home once more to New Zealand with his unwritten love story buried deep in his heart.

Guy sat down wearily upon one of those historic seats, although the sordid day was closing in. Far away he heard the shrill scream of the news boys; one by one the lights came out, glowing through the fog. His last night in England!

By and by he became aware of a figure in the shadows and he heard a gay whistle, “It's a Long Way to Tipperary.” “Some one from Over There,” thought Guy, and obeying an impulse he hailed the stranger: “Who goes there?” “A brother Boche,” came the reply in a girl's clear voice. “Help me, if you can, to crank my car, for old times' sake. Something has happened to the self-starter.” The voice out of the fog was singularly sweet, low and gay. Guy, always susceptible to sense impressions, sprang to his feet to confront a slim mackintoshed figure—the face he could not see. “Righto! where is the car?” he asked, and together they strode off through the fog.

In the darkness Guy had some difficulty in starting the engine, but finally succeeded. He stepped to the side of the car while the girl at the wheel leant out and thanked him for his services. “Can you possibly give me a match—I am a frightful nuisance, aren't I?” said the voice, rather husky, but very sweet to the ears of the lonely man on the kerb. He produced his box, leant forward and struck a match—sheltering the flicker in the hollow of his hand. Then the world seemed to change for Guy—to sway and stagger. The fog lifted—he was looking up from the pillows at a picture on a bedroom wall. “Isobel,” he gasped. “You at last. Oh, my dear, I have searched for you all the world over!” The words were out before he had time to think. A pair of surprised brown eyes stared into his. He had a glimpse of a little pointed chin and a soft round cheek. “Sorry, old thing,” said the girl, “you've made a mistake, my name is Cecil—Cecil Alloway.” “It doesn't matter a bit,” said Guy. “You are and always will be Isobel to me—my picture—my childhood's friend. Why, I have known you for years. You have changed quite a lot since the days when you used to tell me fairy tales—but your eyes are just the same!”

At first Cecil thought her cavalier was mad—a man who cranks your car in the fog does not usually seize you by the shoulder and insist on calling you Isobel. However, she yielded to his ardent persuasions to have some coffee with him at a “jolly little place” he knew of—banishing from her mind the horror of her family at the idea of their only daughter picking up a perfectly strange man on the Thames Embankment as unconcernedly as if he had been a stray puppy dog. Indeed he reminded her of one. Anyhow it would be an adventure.

Sitting at a little table in a quaint Italian restaurant, he told her about Isobel of the laughing eyes, and she listened in silence, touched at his devotion to an ideal. He found that she was not, of course, the girl in the picture—but she had the same soft curls—the page 58 page 59 same half sad, half gay smile—and the same wide questioning eyes. The friendship—begun in such an unorthodox way—strengthened quickly. Guy did not sail for New Zealand for nearly six months, and then he was accompanied by Cecil Alloway. That night in the London fog had been the fulfilment of his dreams. People often wonder why Guy calls his wife Isobel.

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