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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 12 (April 1, 1930)

The Story Of Anne

The Story Of Anne

The girl leant back against a friendly boat and gazed out across the sea, already vivid with the flame of an autumn sunset. The little bay was almost deserted—a few fishermen mending their nets for the morning; a group of brown children splashing in the shallow pools, a small excited terrier racing along the sands.

Anne was suddenly conscious that she was tired—too tired to gather up her paints and easel and go back to the diminutive hotel for tea. All day she had been sitting there, until she had become part of the landscape to the curious village folk—and until she had transferred the vivid beach to her canvas. She was literally daubed with splashes of crimson and blue, and for the first time for years she felt a thrill of happiness in her blood—the happiness of a day under the blue skies, busy and alone. Her little flat in the city seemed to belong to another world; her hosts of artistic friends and enemies to have vanished into a past life.

The first day of her liberty had been, for Anne, a fantastic day dream. In fact she had painted in a kind of trance, intoxicated by the sleepy murmur of the waves, the caressing warmth of the sand, and her sense of secure isolation. Gradually night wrapped the quaint little fishing village in her kindly mantle of blackness, and chiselled cold stars appeared. A breeze stirred the untidy wisps of Anne's dark hair, reminding her that she was stiff with cold, frightfully hungry, and in reality quite a normal human being, desirous of food and warmth, not some dream wraith from the realms of fancy, as occasionally she imagined herself to be.

“Sausages!” murmured Anne ecstatically. “Tomatoes and coffee. Ye gods! I'm half starved.” Rising abruptly, she stretched her stiff arms, gathered up her painting material, and with a backward glance towards the inky expanse of waters, she walked rapidly along the twisting little street, past the huddled, squalid cottages of the fisherfolk, where gramophones and ukeleles cried out a welcome to the wanderer, and on to the “Mermaid's Charm”—a decrepit hotel ‘on the point—where she was the only and much honoured guest.

Anne Wentworth had taken her life very seriously, believing that in painting she could satisfy her craving for the beautiful, her desire to create, express her strange and rather remote personality. She had been a dreamy little girl, always slipping away from her noisy friends to read tremendous books which she only half understood. To her jolly brothers, Anne was an enigma. “She's a queer kid,” they would say good humouredly, “and a little devil, too!” At school she had never distinguished herself—a hopeless duffer at mathematics, extremely shy, and no good at games—therefore, necessarily not popular. However, she had been termed “interesting” even then—a tall slim girl with a squirrel-coloured plait, scowling black brows, a rather sulky mouth, and marvellous wide, grey eyes. At eighteen she had solemnly dedicated herself to Art, and had persuaded her indulgent father to send her to Paris to study. Three years in the Latin Quarter, and Anne page 58 page 59 had not lost her youthful dreams. To the gay, dissipated art students she seemed a strange creature—a “faery child” one imaginative Irish lad had laughingly called her, and had begged to be allowed to paint her. Somehow, carelessly, he had caught a part of her wayward charm—her eyes from another world, full of visions unknown to mortals. With that picture he had made a name for himself—risen from semi-starvation into sudden glorious fame, and disappeared as rapidly; a meteor in the void of Life.

Anne, curiously enough, had fallen in love with Terence O'Neil, with his shock of red hair and his friendly grin. He had protected and teased her, criticised her work, and stolen, in his care-free Celtic way, her remote and childish heart.

That night she sat in the “parlour” of the little seaside hotel, and ate a hearty meal, thinking of Terence—although it was two years since he had worked and laughed with her. Drawing a massive armchair to the fire, she lit a cigarette, puffed thoughtfully, and wondered why she couldn't forget him. Why, she would have loved to see his tall, ungainly form leaning against the mantelpiece, and hear his husky voice talking didactically on everything—from metaphysics to toffee-making. When he had left Paris she had been acutely unhappy, and had stifled her misery in work, being something of a philosopher. Success had followed. Her name was famous from one end of England to the other. Her pictures were talked of everywhere; her photograph, attired in a smock, had appeared in several magazines. “Anne Went-worth, one of England's most celebrated women artists, in her studio. Miss W. is original (how she hated that word), and is believed to be a man-hater!”

Indeed, she was now twenty-eight, six years had slipped away since she had drunk that last cup of coffee in a quaint Bohemian restaurant, Rue Montmartre, with Terence O'Neil—six years which had engraved a permanent line between her brows, and given a perpetual droop to her beautiful lips. The newspaper reports were justified. Anne scorned all attempts made by artistic eligible young men who aspired to her friendship; she buried herself resolutely in her studies, and hoped thus to find Happiness.

At present she was bored and tired of it all, and had rushed off, without any forethought, to this little fishing village—miles from reporters and photographers, society and fame.

The ancient timepiece in the hall wheezed out nine. “What on earth shall I do?” said Anne to the tabby cat who shared the warmth of the fire with her. “Good heavens, I am becoming a really orthodox old maid, cat and all!” Outside, the waves lapped the beach almost viciously, and gulls cried sadly to one another. Inside, the girl looking into the restless flames, trying to see visions of the Future.

“I think I'll go for a walk, old thing,” she remarked to the cat. “Coming?” But tabby stretched luxuriously, and seemed to say, “Human beings are devoid of common sense.”

Anne mounted the narrow stairs to her half-attic bedroom, put on a warm leather coat, took a walking-stick, and creeping down the stairs almost guiltily, in fear of meeting an inquisitive landlady, she strode out into the darkness.

Had she been a “faery child” she would have noticed that the Blue Bird of Happiness was even then winging its way above her, but being only a dreamy and disappointed mortal, she went to absorb a little comfort from the eternity of ocean before her.

Down on the rocks a group of men were fishing, she recognised them as holiday-makers who had arrived that night, and who were taking advantage of the still darkness to test the waters. The sound of low voices, and an occasional laugh, attracted Anne's attention. She suddenly felt very lonely and much in need of human society. Somewhere she had read that man is a gregarious animal possessing a “herd instinct,” and to-night, in her voluntary isolation, she felt its truth. Leaning on a rock in the shadows, she was near enough to hear the sound of their voices, and the splash of their lines.

Suddenly, across the darkness, floated a plaintiff whistle from one of the fishers.

“‘Tis the most disgraceful country
That ever I have seen,
Where they're hanging men and women
For the wearing of the green.”

“Shut up, you ass,” came a deep voice in the gloom. “Little fishes don't appreciate your vocal efforts any more than we do!”

Anne's heart stood still. Closing her eyes, she saw again her little studio in the Rue des Anges, smelt the fragrance of coffee and toast, heard a step on the stairs, and the sound of a whistle mounting upwards.

“Where they're hanging men and women
For the wearing of the green.”

“Hurry, Terence, supper is ready, and I'm starving!” She heard again her gay young voice, six years ago, saw the little kerosene stove, and Terence's red hair and jolly grin. Standing there in the darkness, with the waves swirling at her feet, she felt a stab of pain at her heart. She had pretended valiantly, even page 60 page 61 to herself, “not to care twopence,” and now, after all those years, she felt faint at the sound of a whistle.

“Confound that beastly song!” said Anne, hurriedly rising, conscious of acute misery. “Why can't people be quiet at this hour of the night?”

She was modern and femininely unreasonable and illogical. With a scowl towards the quite oblivious fishers, she turned towards the hotel, and the landlady was surprised to see her lady guest rushing past her in the narrow passage without so much as a “good evening,” and a face “as black as thunder.”

“It's these artistic ones, ye know,” she remarked to an interested neighbour. “Never know where ye are with 'em, that's wot I says; give me a homely girl like our Emma.” This young female, making a new frock in the kitchen, was decidedly the happier of the two. We are inclined to agree with Mrs. Jones that the artistic temperament has its disadvantages. Anne dreamt that night of red-haired criminals who were hanged because they persisted in wearing green suits.

Next morning she came down to breakfast early—easel and brushes in a bag on her back—attired for another day on the beach. Sitting down, she opened the paper, and began, in an abstracted way, to munch toast and marmalade. Suddenly the door opened, and the three young men of the evening before came in, bringing an atmosphere of sunshine and sea breezes, jolly voices, and high spirits. Anne did not even glance up; they annoyed her, and she did not want to show the slightest interest in them. However, breakfast at the same table in a small hotel demands a certain amount of civility, and she was forced to desist from the contemplation of the news to pass the butter. Across the table—again that horrible throb of her heart—she was suddenly aware of a shock of red hair appearing over the top of a newspaper. Its owner was evidently interested in the affairs of the world, as she had been, and as determined to ignore her existence.

“Would you mind passing the butter?” asked Anne sweetly, in her curiously attractive voice. The paper was lowered slowly, reluctantly, and she looked straight into the eyes of Terence O'Neil. His face, once boyish and radiant, was now lined and thoughtful; the face of a man who had suffered, who had expected too much from the world and had been disillusioned.

“Anne—little Anne!” Sublimely unconscious of his companions, he seized both her hands in his impulsive Irish way. “Where have you been all these years? And what on earth are you doing in this little hole?” Anne was speechless.

Later on in the morning, two figures could be seen clearly defined against the vivid blue, deep in a discussion over a combination of sky and sand and water, and a whistle, gay and clear, floated across the bay:

“‘Tis the most disgraceful country
That ever I have seen,
Where they're hanging men and women
For the wearing of the green!”

A Scenic Gem In The South Island. A party on the world-famed Franz Josef Glacier, South Westland, New Zealand.

A Scenic Gem In The South Island.
A party on the world-famed Franz Josef Glacier, South Westland, New Zealand.