The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)
The Auckland Express
Night. A steel locomotive dragged its burden up the curving incline of a mountain, over deep, wooded ravines, and north across flat, rolling plains. All around hung a mantle of darkness, rendering the countryside meaningless. Had it been daylight, the landscape would have slipped past in an ever-changing panorama. But it was night. And raining. Crystal drops fell on the carriage windows, hesitated a moment, then slowly welled down the smooth glass, joining together like the tributaries of a river flowing to the sea. Occasionally a solitary gleam in the darkness spoke of a quiet, country homestead, or a blurred jumble of lights and letters marked the passing of a wayside station. The Auckland express roared through the night, carrying onward a human freight, strangers flung together for a few hours, perhaps destined to become friends, perhaps never to meet again. Where were all these people going? And why? Did they travel in happiness or sorrow, did they anticipate or dread their journey's end?
The commercial traveller opened his eyes and made a fruitless effort to frustrate a yawn. For the sake of comfort he had removed his shoes and encased his feet in carpet slippers. His long legs were stretched out at an angle so that they obstructed the aisle. The portion of rack on which he had established a monopoly was full of luggage, decorated with the coloured labels of a dozen hotels. A discarded evening paper and a yellow-backed novel lay beside him. He was tired of reading, unable to doze for more than a few minutes, and his restless mind wandered into the realms of business.
“Must get Jackson's order to-morrow,” he thought. “He ought to be good for five hundred gross. Even a thousand. Depends what sort of a mood he's in. Say five hundred—better not anticipate too much. That'll be enough to show the firm I'm still with them. Nice little cheque for me, too. Commission on five hundred gross would be ….” He worked it out without recourse to pencil and paper. So gratifying was the result that he increased the imaginary order and worked it all out again.
Only the aisle separated him from a rather attractive girl. Not exactly pretty, he thought, but a pleasant face which suggested an equally pleasant disposition. He wondered if she were with the man sitting next to her. They certainly didn't behave like lovers, for they had only exchanged a few words, and those might have been merely the usual pleasantries in which fellow-passengers invariably indulge. Perhaps they were brother and sister. The girl was aware that he was watching her. She turned to the man at her side.
“George,” she whispered, “that man across the aisle …”
“What about him?”
“He—he keeps looking at me. Do you think he's guessed that we've just been married?”
George smiled tolerantly. “Don't be silly, Joan. How could he guess? We're not behaving like a couple of love-sick doves, are we?”
“But what?” asked George, with the same tolerant smile.
“Perhaps we look newly-married. They say there's an indefinable something about honeymoon couples which makes them easy to detect. I should be so embarrassed if I thought all these people knew.”page 46
“Listen, darling,” said George in a soothing voice. “Didn't we plan this a month ago? Didn't we agree that it would be perfectly ghastly to be pelted with confetti at the station?”
“Yes, George,” she admitted.
“And didn't we tell all our friends and relations that we were going on a motoring honeymoon, which was only an excuse to run the car into the nearest garage and to board the train without having a crowd of howling lunatics telling the world we'd just been married?”
“Yes, George, you arranged everything wonderfully.” George preened himself slightly. “Well, I must confess that it was a brilliant piece of strategy.”
He felt for his handkerchief, drawing it out with a flourish. A shower of multi-coloured confetti shot into the air. Joan blushed scarlet. George gasped, and hurriedly brushed the evidence from his coat and trousers. They both took a quick, side-long glance at the commercial traveller. He was grinning broadly. They were compelled to laugh. Their laughter disturbed the occupant of a seat in front. He turned slightly, and for a moment his profile was visible. He was obviously very worried. He looked tired, perhaps disillusioned. Depression seemed to intensify the lines time had carved deep on his face.
“The laughter of youth,” he thought; “joyous, carefree youth. Why should'nt they laugh? They'll be caught in the maelstrom of life soon enough without meeting it half-way.” He took a typewritten sheet from his pocket. It was divided into two columns, ominously headed Assets and Liabilities. He tried to study it, but the figures danced before his eyes, and with a sigh he returned the paper to his pocket.
“I'm getting old,” he thought; “twenty years ago I'd have met a crisis like this and revelled in it. I'd have gone down fighting to the last ditch.” He ran a hand through his snow-white hair, and shaded his eyes a moment as if the light were too strong for them. “But I'm too old. Tired. If Blair won't back me to-morrow, I'm finished. A few years ago he would have put thousands behind me without hesitation. To-morrow he may force me into liquidation.” He shivered slightly. “Liquidation!”
The express glided into a station and drew to a standstill. So many people passed him in the search for refreshments that he thought he must be alone, but, on looking round, he found one other remained—a woman! She sat with her chin cupped in her hand, staring into space. Presently she roused herself, and looked at her wrist-watch.
“Bob will know now,” she thought. “It was his late night, but he'll have been home half an hour. He'll have found my note. He'll know I've left him!” Oblivious to everything, she lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply to steady her nerves.
“He deserved it,” she told herself. “How could he deceive me? How could he be so cruel? I loved him so!” A quiet voice within her asked a question.
“If you loved him, couldn't you have forgiven him, or was your love just a poor, weak thing—valueless?” It staggered her for a moment, that question. But she recovered.
“I couldn't forgive him,” she thought. “He's shattered my faith in him. It could never be the same again.
Her cigarette burnt unevenly down one side. She ground it out and leaned back in her chair. Strange thoughts came to her. Her subconscious mind awakened as though from sleep, bringing back memories. She remembered the day they first met. How flattered she had been when he singled her out of a whole crowd of people! She remembered their honeymoon, their first year together. Of course they'd quarrelled, stupid, little quarrels which started about nothing and ending in both of them admitting they were wrong. They were absurdly happy in those days. She shook her head fiercely, trying to thrust out of her mind the memories that haunted her. But they gave her no peace. Bob was ill. Pneumonia. The doctor said it was touch and go. She could see it all so plainly. How she had prayed that he would not die. How desperately she had bargained for his life. And he had lived. But suppose he was ever ill again. She would not be there to nurse him. He might—die.
She was panic-stricken at the thought. She gripped the arm of her chair to steady herself. Should she go back? All she would lose was a little pride. Was it such a sacrifice to forgive someone you loved? If she left the train now, she could catch the Limited to Wellington when it came through and be home in the morning. But she must hurry. The passengers were returning to their seats. A bell clanged loudly. Gates were shut. She got to her fect in a panic. Her gloved hand reached to the rack for her bag, reached, and inexplicably paused. The enveloping panic fell away from her. The moment of forgiveness had passed. Her heart hardened till it was cold and unresponsive.
“He deceived me!” she thought, and slowly sat down. She had fought the same battle many times since leaving Wellington. She would fight it again and again until love got the upper hand of pride, or pride ousted love definitely from her heart…
The Auckland express moved on. When everyone else had settled down, a youth entered the compartment. He was obviously on holiday. The look in his eyes spoke of freedom from bondage, his attitude was distinctly blase and he sported a most hectic tie. It is doubtful whether the firm of Spiller, Bates and Young would have recognised their junior clerk. Pausing a moment for effect, as it were, he made his way to his seat. He pulled up the slack of his trousers—how carefully his mother had pressed them—and opened a newspaper. He did not wish to read, but by holding the paper at a certain angle he could watch Her. Even though he had not as yet spoken to her, he page 47 thought of her in terms of capitals. Her figure was slim and subtle, she had red hair and tip-tilted nose. He thought he had never seen such wonderful eyes, he thought the long lashes which swept her cheeks were like strands of finest silk. She was everything demanded by his romantic complex. But he didn't like the woman sitting next to her. Not a nice woman at all. Rather teutonic in appearance. She was probably a martinet. And she kept looking at him suspiciously. Evidently she didn't like him! The feeling was mutual. He only hoped she wasn't the girl's mother. That would settle his dreams very definitely.
The girl with the red hair had an open film magazine on her knees, and she was gazing rapturously at a photograph of Ronald Colman. Curiously enough, her thoughts had no connection with the film star.
“That nice boy wants to talk to me,” she was thinking. “I like the wave in his hair, and he's a rather strong chin. I hope he doesn't think the old gargoyle in the next seat's with me.”
“The old gargoyle,” unaware of this disrespectful thought, was nevertheless acutely aware of the proximity of a flapper. Mrs. Kirkby-West did not approve of flappers. In fact, she approved of very little. Her life was spent in interfering with other people's business under the guise of social reform. Journeying to Auckland for a visit to her married daughter, she was thinking with malicious delight that her son-in-law would not welcome her in his heart whatever words he forced himself to say. She had never liked him, for the simple reason that her daughter had fallen in love with him without consulting her. She would not have been unduly worried if her daughter had left him, for then she would have been able to say: Well, I warned you, didn't I? But then I don't expect you to take any notice of me. I'm only your mother. She half-hoped her son-in-law wouldn't come to meet her or that he would be late. She could then adopt the role of martyr, would insist that no one wanted her, and that the sooner she died the better. That would upset her daughter dreadfully.
“Isn't he wonderful?” said the girl with the red hair.
(Photo courtesy S. Fahey, Palmerston North.)
Locomotive No. 2726, of the New York Central Railway, fitted with a unique type of disc driving wheel. The wheel centre castings, excluding the lead, weigh 14,890 1bs, a reduction of 7,200 1bs. over the usual spoke type wheel centre. The reduction in weight will lessen considerably the impact of the wheels on the rails, thus tending to lengthen their life and reduce maintenance costs.
“Who?” demanded Mrs. Kirkby-West with instant suspicion.
“Ronald Colman. I think he's just lovely.”
Mrs. Kirkby-West sniffed. “For myself,” she remarked, “I dislike public idols. They are inevitably shallow.”
Privately she thought, “Ronald Colman, indeed! I suppose she thinks I don't know she's making eyes at that young man in the horrible tie. Presently, she'll drop something and he'll pick it up. He's only waiting an opportunity. There—I knew it!” A ball of wool attached to some article the flapper had been knitting rolled off her knee and careered merrily down the carriage. The flapper gave a cry of consternation. (“Just in case he wasn't looking!” thought Mrs. Kirky-West.) The clerk jumped hastily to his feet and pursued the truant ball of wool, which was finally halted by a masculine foot.
“Thanks!!” said the clerk, delighted with the turn of events. He hardly looked at the owner of the foot, a rather insignificant little man who seemed to have shrunk into his seat until he was hardly visible. But the little man hardly noticed him. He was busy with his own thoughts.
“I hope she's all right,” he was thinking. “It's rotten having to leave her at such a time, but men must work and women must weep.” He was much given to quotations, and even reasoned with himself in proverbs. “I couldn't have had to go away at a worse time. A cog wheel. That's all a man is. Perhaps there'll be a telegram for me at the next station. I hope so. The suspense is driving me crazy.”
He was out of the carriage before the train stopped. The first thing he heard was “Telegram for Jackson.”
“That's me!” he said, lacking his usual grammatical care. He feverishly opened the telegram, smoothed it, and …
“A son; both well,” he read.
He heaved a great sight of relief. The second phase was one of elation. For a minute he had to hold himself in check lest he should dash up to the nearest individual and babble the news. Then slowly he calmed down. His chest expanded, his shoulders squared. He trod the platform boldly. He was the proudest man on the Auckland express.page 48