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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)

Our Women's Section

page 57

Our Women's Section

The Coward

It is strange, perhaps, but I cannot pass No. 4 without thinking of my old friend Hargreaves. Not that he ever actually lived there, far from it, but because an incident, which robbed me of the friend of my youth and the girl I loved, occurred within those prosaic walls.

This afternoon I was walking along the avenue in the late Autumn sunshine, and, as usual, I glanced up at the windows of No. 4. A bright chintz curtain hung in Monica's old bedroom—I hated its gaudy happiness. The house seemed smiling, and gave out an atmosphere of healthy middle-class prosperity and cheer. To me it will always be a glaring conspicuous affront—a mockery of what might have been. My thoughts drift back to July, 1914—that ominous month when we laughed and talked carelessly—unconscious of the sword above our thoughtless heads. I will tell you what happened at No. 4.

To begin with, Jack Hargreaves and I were great pals; we had munched peanuts together in a dingy fourth form room, played together for the school at Rugger, “swotted” together for our degrees. There was a bond between us which it seemed impossible to break—although I never really understood him. He was a queer reticent fellow—son of an Anglo-Indian colonel and a French mother, from whom he inherited a great love of the beautiful in all things—a passionate temper and a hopeless lack of British common sense. Old Jack was an unorthodox soul in those days, always wrapped in thought (of what no one on earth knew). In fact, he had a tendency to write rather good poetry, although his reticence on this subject was extreme. He had also a great hatred of noise, amounting almost to a morbid dread.

His father and mine had determined that we should be soldiers, and we accepted their decisions while still in our early teens, although in different ways, according to our vastly different temperaments. I am a very ordinary fellow, and saw nothing in the life of a soldier save a certain amount of excitement, a chance to see other lands, and a very vague idea of fighting for my country.

Jack Hargreaves at seventeen was immersed in Byron, talked of Greece till we threw books at him—and dreamt his romantic dreams unknown to us. To him, a soldier was a man set apart by God, a man obeying a high and noble call. I might mention here that once he confessed to me he could not bear the sight of blood—the sight of a fellow cut about on the football field at school had made him physically ill—and suddenly he had renounced football completely, although he was the best back we had. I am ashamed now to own that I had called him a coward, as most people would. We did not understand the fellow at all, he often showed extreme and reckless courage, yet he was afraid of blood. I suppose it was one of those peculiar “phobias” which psychologists stress so much to-day.

However, we went up to Sandhurst together in 1912, both very young, very fit, and seemingly very keen to master the details of our profession. Jack's father expected great things page 58

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from him—the son of a colonel—and I think he was quite happy then, drilling, riding, and marching under the English sun in a happy and peaceful England. He seemed to have forgotten, or grown out of, his boyish fears and horror of noise. I thought he had read too much at school, and that a life of intense physical activity was what he needed to counteract an over-thoughtful mind and an ingrained tendency to dream.

At the end of 1912, Hargreaves and I fell in love with the same girl, each in our own characteristic way. Her name was Monica Lissington, and she lived at No. 4, the house I was looking at this afternoon; eighteen years since she used to talk to us on the front steps in the twilight.

I was the usual lover—tongue-tied and adoring—very obviously badly smitten. I even used to dream of a fireside in a lovely English cottage, with Monica, although I was most practical and unromantic—a phlegmatic Englishman.

Jack, on the other hand, behaved like a Spaniard or a mediaeval knight. He talked brilliantly to Monica, who, being a very English, lovely orthodox girl, it must be confessed, scarcely understood him. Sometimes I was amazed at his eloquence, when we sat there on the steps of No. 4. He would point into the twilight as though he saw visions there unknown to us; his voice was tremulous and eager; his young face on fire with enthusiasm. Once he even read his poems to her. Some of them were addressed to her, words which no girl could resist. We used to go to dances together, Jack, Monica and I. Sometimes he would be strange and silent, disappear for two or three days, with no explanations, ignore her very existence. I believe that Monica loved him even then, although she seemed torn between us. For her I represented comfort, companionship, security and common-sense—all qualities which she was English enough to appreciate—while Jack spoke of things unknown, of romance, mystery, genius. Also, he was extremely good looking, in a moody rather foreign way, whereas I had sandy hair, a snub nose and green eyes. My readers will easily understand that Monica inclined towards my chum and rival. The idea of Hargreaves as a husband was inconceivable to me, who knew him better than anyone else. He simply wasn't destined for an ordinary life—one of the wanderers and the pieces of drift wood. A lovable brilliant, tempestuous genius—something like his hero, Lord Byron. The year 1914 dawned. and affairs were somewhat involved.

I loved them both very dearly. I knew that Jack could not possibly make her happy, that she would never be able to understand him; that he would probably grow tired of her; also, that he wanted her at the moment more than anything else on earth. She liked me tremendously; knew that I would always stick to her; that she could jump on me if she had wanted to —could talk to me as a friend. But I think she loved Jack. Anyhow for us both she meant everything in the world. The situations was decidedly awkward. Then came the war.

We had dined at No. 4— Monica, Jack and I. He had been at his best that night—brilliant, amusing, and simply radiating his inimitable charm, which no one could resist. A ring on the telephone for me, and the voice of a Sandhurst pal, “Have you heard the great news, old boy? War with Germany!” “Hurrah!” shouted I—foolish, innocent young ass.

I rushed into the dining room, stirred from my phlegmatic calm.

“Jack, Monica—war!” I blurted out. “Old boy, our chance has come!” He seized my hand, his face glowing. We turned to Monica, standing dazed by the fireplace.

“Jack,” was all she could answer—adoration in her blue eyes. Then she turned to me— “Dick, I'll knit you some warm socks at once, you know how cold your feet get in the winter!”

It was typical. I smiled my thanks, but would have given worlds for the look which she had given Jack.

Four months later we are again in the dining-room of No. 4—in full uniform, off for France the next day. I will never forget the scene—the three of us at dinner. A great deal of laughter and talk—Jack looking superb in khaki. His face suddenly struck me as being rather strained; thinner than a month ago, lines of nerve strain round the eyes, and a persistent twitching of the lips, which I had noticed lately. “He's living at too high a pitch,” I thought, “and he hasn't the sense to take care of himself,”

After dinner we went to the theatre. Jack became rather moody and silent, and I felt anything but cheerful. Of course I was awfully keen to go “out there,” but Monica looked so page 60 sweet, and I loved her. It was far worse for Jack; he had always felt things so keenly, such an adventure must make a deep impression on his sensitive, highly strung disposition. “No wonder he looks like that,” I thought, as we stood for the last time at the door of No. 4. 1 did not like the misery of his eyes, even the parting from a girl he loved did not seem to justify that ghastly haunted look. My thoughts flew back to the football field at school — “Coward!” I had scoffed—and he had looked just like that. “My God!” I thought. “He is afraid to go, and he can't help it. Poor old chap, he can't bear the sight of blood; it will be ghastly for him, the poet and dreamer.”

However, he seemed suddenly to cheer up. “Bye-bye, Monica,” he said gaily, with his heart in his eyes. “I'll be back with the jolly old V.C. soon! Cheerio, dearest,” he whispered, and with with a bound was down the steps and gone in the darkness. He had always had a sense of the dramatic.

“Jack! Jack! Don't go yet,” called Monica desperately, but her words were swallowed up in the darkness. “Take care of him for me, old thing,” she whispered to me. “You know that I love him?”

I nodded dumbly — “That if anything happened to him it would break my heart.” I knew then that Jack had never spoken, out of loyalty to me. I promised to take care of him and bring him back to her. She kissed me, and called me a “darling old boy,” and was gone.

The story is told. No. 4 still stands there; the war is thing of the past. It sounds incredible, but I never saw jack Hargreaves again; but I have a letter which I will always keep, as a memory of a proud and brave man.

He simply never appeared next day—vanished off the face of the earth in London, 1914. I went to France. One day I received a note, in his familiar scrawl. “I am in Constantinople,” it said: “I couldn't do it, Dick. Don't think too hardly of me. I should merely have gone mad trying not to show that I was a coward. Look after Monica always. Yours, Jack.”

I heard the other day that he had died somewhere in Australia, down in a mine, trying to save a collier when a shaft had collapsed. “Conspicuous bravery,” said the newspaper. Poor old Jack.

Old Times Dances

This winter there is to be a great revival in the dancing world—a reversion to the quaint old dances of bygone days, so different from the modern hectic whirl of “heebie - jeebies,” “Charleston” and saxophone. There is fashion in dancing as in all things, and its recent phase has been inevitable, because it is in dancing that man expresses his mood of the moment.

I have heard everywhere that new things are approaching, or old things being revived under an altered mein. Even last season the popularity of the waltz was growing, and that of foxtrot waning. This winter it will be even more apparent.

The new dance frocks, with their billowing fluffiness were not destined, obviously, for the Charleston! They are grace and dignity itself, and suitable for the swaying, dreamy movement of the waltz, with its atmosphere of Vienna before the war, of Court Balls and delicious haunting melody.

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It would be great fun, this year, to institute an “Old Time” if you are thinking of celebrating a twenty-first birthday, a wedding, or any other excuse for a party. Of course the days of chaperones cannot be recalled, and we will have to abandon several of the quaint but rather boring customs of the days of Victoria. But there is a great charm which we can give to our dances, if we delve long enough among the lavender and old lace of the past.

We can take from it just the atmosphere we want, and discard what is cumbersome and useless. Let us hail the waltz to our ballrooms, and it would be great fun to “tread a measure” in 1930 to the time honoured tunes of the “Lancers,” the quadrille, and Sir Roger. Perhaps we could even (with a little practice, and surely with not so much effort as was required to master the eccentricities of the Charleston!) revive the stately minuet, minus the powder and patches, but not necessarily bereft of charm. It is rather difficult to picture the modern youth in his prosaic evening dress executing a courtly and cavalier bow over his lady's hand, but it is not impossible nor yet improbable.

We have not succumbed completely to the wiles of jazz; in fact some of us are rather tired of it, and are anticipating new things this winter. I have even heard it whispered that fans are to be an essential part of the dance dress, and will be once more employed for the rapping of knuckles and the screening of bashful faces—if such things exist. Dame Fashion is capricious, and we are her slaves.

“Thine are the hours and days When both are cheering and innocent!”—Byron. (Govt. Publicity photo.) A Maori child in a hot pool, Rotorua, New Zealand.

“Thine are the hours and days When both are cheering and innocent!”—Byron.
(Govt. Publicity photo.)
A Maori child in a hot pool, Rotorua, New Zealand.