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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

“An Ill Wind—”

page 28

An Ill Wind—”

(By Ngaire E. Morton).

“Prudence slipped away to Hughie's room … when Dorothy ran In after her.”

Prudence Vincent sat comfortably in her favourite armchair in front of a dwindling fire, her eyes gazing pensively into the flames. It was a bitter winter's day with the angry swish of wind and hail to justify her thin hands a further rest from knitting and an extra hugging of the fire.

The sales would all be starting soon, then there would be more wool for a pullover for Ralph, one for Hugh, and she did want to make Dorothy a new jacket. Prudence rubbed her hands and held them closer to the fire; surely the coal would come soon, how she hoped it would arrive before Ralph returned. Unless, of course, the lad had found work and then Prudence mused humorously that it would hardly matter to Ralph then, if there were a block of ice in the grate.

Suddenly she sat up in her chair and listened, as a gentle padding of feet sounded down the hall. Surely that couldn't be Hughie up out of bed! Prudence recalled the doctor's words concerning her small grandson that measles must be taken care of, and that he needed to stay in bed for three weeks. Hughie had endured a fortnight without undue complaints, but he rebelled vigorously now and rushed into the sitting-room, almost falling on to Prudence's knee.

“Gran, I've nothing to do!” he wailed, great tears of boredom streaming down his cheeks.

Prudence loved the child and clasped him with all the ardour of a devoted grandmother. “But what about your Donald Duck book, Hughie, and your scrap book, surely you haven't become tired of them?”

“I've read them over and over again, and there's nothing left!” wept Hughie. “Mum won't let me make a dough boy either, because all the cakes are ready to go into the oven, so I have to go back to bed, but it's dark in there. Gran, and I don't like the rain beating so hard.”

Some of Hughie's tears fell down Prudence's neck and she was wondering how best to comfort him, when the back door opened and she realized that her son Ralph had returned. Oh, when would that coal-man come; Dorothy must be needing coal badly for her cooking and the fire in the grate was a poor welcome to a lad so wet and cold. She could sense by his voice that Ralph was in a heavy, cheerless mood. Alas! that meant no work yet, but surely it would come soon, and she cuddled the boy on her lap more closely. Presently Dorothy slipped into the room, and sat on the arm of her mother's chair, one soft arm about her shawl.

Prudence's face was a study in gentleness and kindly enquiry as she squeezed her daughter-in-law's hand. “Nothing for Ralph yet, dear?” she asked.

Dorothy shook her head. “Poor Ralph, Gran, he's tramped for miles in this beastly southerly and he's drenched to the skin. I have just given him a bowl of hot soup to warm him through and I thought we might have a little treat of Patty cakes to-night, but there is no more coal, dear, and the oven is cooling rapidly.”

Poor Dorothy, they did promise to bring her coal early too. For a moment. Prudence's blue eyes rested on the pastel shades of her knitting. That bit of knitting had brought her much happiness to-day, in spite of the rain. After all, it wasn't much when you looked into it, but it was something of interest to do. Then with a flash of her usual impulsiveness and thought for others, Prudence decided to brave the weather and tramp into the city, for something must be found for Hughie to brighten his long hours in bed.

The south wind cut through Prudence like a knife as she left the shelter of the in-going tram for the chill of the city streets. However, her heart soon warmed to the air of cosiness created by brisk passers-by clad in thick overcoats and dashing scarves. Many of them threw her a cheery smile, which Prudence returned, for she was feeling as young as they did.

A dainty piece of lingerie caught her eye in a shop window, white with tiny specks of apple green. Wouldn't that be sweet for Dorothy and it would brighten the child up. Part of the wool could wait until next pension and Prudence soon found that she had the little parcel safely tucked into her shopping bag.

page 29

Upon crossing the road, Prudence stood outside Paton's huge warehouse, and paused to consider. “Was it right? Wasn't it perhaps a little deceitful after all?” But surely such inspirations didn't come from the wrong place, and Prudence's misgivings fled like the mist. She straightened her lavender scarf, and with a firm step, walked boldly into Paton's.

“Dining-room wall-papers, please, gay, but not too pricy,” called a brisk voice. “Mr. Henry, will you attend to this lady please?”

Prudence's discriminating eye wandered over numerous attractive wallpapers. Seeing that his client was elderly, the assistant suggested that her preference would be more for the delicate pastel tones.

“Oh, dear, no,” laughed Prudence, “gay, floral patterns if you please, we are all very fond of colour at home.”

Mr. Henry's eye twinkled with good humour, and he set out to please Prudence by placing on the stand for her admiration half a dozen of the most hilarious wall-papers they had in stock, and to his enjoyment the gaudier they were, the more his unusual customer enthused over them.

Prudence meekly asked if she might have patterns of them all, and on leaving the shop, such was her feeling of elation that she didn't even dispose of the parcel in her bag, but held it tightly in her hand.

Feeling that she had accomplished quite a good afternoon's work, Prudence set out to cross the road and catch the first tram home. As she stood in the middle of the road, her hat was whisked from her head by a fierce gust of wind, and went sailing down the tram line. With unseeing eyes, Prudence rushed to rescue it, quite unheeding an oncoming grey roadster which she nearly collided with. Owing to the driver's presence of mind, she just brushed the mudguard, but it gave her a nasty jolt and she felt rather faint.

A small boy came running up with her hat, as John Enderby jumped out of the car, apologising for having upset her and hoping that she was in no way hurt.

“It was so silly of me not to look where I was going,” admitted Prudence a little nervously. “I'm so sorry to have given you all this trouble. There was a small parcel—I think it was in my hand—then she noticed something small and brown that lay sodden in a pool of water. On examing it. Prudence was genuinely distressed, and John Enderby wondered that the loss of a few pieces of gaudy wall-paper should cause such apparent disappointment.

“Do let me take you somewhere for a cup of tea,” he suggested kindly, and Prudence was not sorry to find herself gently guided into a smart little tea shop.

“You must let me make amends for that small parcel that fell into the water,” declared Mr. Enderby, good-naturedly.

“Oh, it was nothing,” relied Prudence, smiling over her cup of tea. “Just a few patterns of wall-paper that I was taking home, there was nothing of any real value.” Then as John Enderby's steady eyes encouraged her to continue, Prudence found herself telling him the pathetic little story of her mission to town and her inspiration to find Hughie some gay wallpapers so that he could learn to make paper beads to employ his long hours in bed. “We went to no end of trouble to make those paper necklets when I went to school,” Prudence assured him, “and it was the pride of every little girl to have one round her neck.” “You see Hughie is my small grandchild and as my son has been out of work for nearly twelve months, we haven't been able to provide him with his usual share of toys lately. The poor child is bored for the want of something to occupy him.”

A sincere, touching little story, thought John Enderby, nodding sympathetically, and after their cup of tea, he hastened to obtain a fresh supply of wall-paper patterns, also a large box of paints for Hughie, including a tinting book, gay enough to delight the heart of any child.

“Now, if you have finished shopping, I will run you home, Mrs. Vincent,” said John Enderby, for it was still teeming with rain, and the trams were crowded.

Prudence felt immensely grateful for such kindness, and was reluctant to take advantage of further hospitality, but her objections were soon swept away and she was glad to step into the cosy shelter of the grey roadster.

“You're sure 8I Stanley Street isn't taking you too far out of your way?” asked Prudence.

“Not at all, only too delighted, Mrs. Vincent; so your son lives at 81 Stanley Street, does he?”

A queer little smile hovered about John Enderby's lips for a second, but Prudence was enjoying her drive so much that it quite escaped her.

Dorothy's eyes opened wide with surprise at seeing her mother return home with a stranger whose hands were filled with parcels, and on Prudence's describing her adventures, Dorothy added her thanks to her mother's.

John Enderby seemed pleased when Ralph entered the room, and further introductions stemmed the tide of their praise, the conversation becoming more general.

Prudence slipped away to Hughie's room with the precious packages, and was enjoying his childish delight, when Dorothy ran in after her.

“Oh, Gran!” she cried, “I was dying to tell you, but couldn't in front of Mr. Enderby. Ralph had a letter from the Placement Office this afternoon, telling him to call on the manager of Lonsdale Ltd. and they think Ralph may get a position that's vacant there. Wouldn't that be wonderful!”

(Continued on page 32.)

“A small boy came running up with her hat.”

“A small boy came running up with her hat.”