The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)
The Call of the Snow. — “Thousands Of Feet Above Worry Level.”
Noel Devlin glanced in the bag he had packed; everything seemed to be there; it had been quick work. There was a grin on his handsome young face, and a jauntiness in his stride as he proceeded to his taxi, for by nightfall he would be far away from Dunedin, in the paradise, “thousands of feet above worry level,” the Hermitage, Mt. Cook.
The taxi stopped at his direction in front of Dr. Cain's residence; for the beautiful Donna Cain was coming too, with some of her girl friends. Strange the way Donna and Noel always happened to be at the same place— almost too often for coincidence.
As the taxi sped to the station, Noel glanced at Donna's profile while she busied herself with a puff and handbag. Aquiline nose—aristocratic. Firm delicate chin—determination. Luminous wide, blue eyes—affection. Broad forehead—intellect. Ensemble—divine. Thus Noel soliloquised. He determined it would not be long before Donna was his betrothed. He had been holding back because—well, it's rather an appalling responsibility, but, now his salary had been raised, there was no excuse. He would ask her during this week-end perhaps—in the romantic setting of the snow-clad mountains. Noel smiled with anticipation. Life was sweet.
Noel seemed bored with the rest of the party in the train. As soon as he saw Donna alone he sauntered up and murmured: “Donna, come with me.”
They were soon comfortable in a bird-cage which Noel had the foresight to reserve.
“Bright idea of yours, Noel,” she taunted.
“Yes, I like a little quietness—especially with you; we don&t see each other much in town—just we two—alone.”
She ignored his remarks. “Don&t you love this sensation of freedom—getting away from everything like a convict escaping from prison. Every puff of the engine pulls us farther and farther from home and office and ties. It's wonderful!” Her eyes sparkled as she gazed out at the sea below.
“You've said it, Donna,” he replied flippantly, “but I prefer the sensation of being alone with you.”
“Don&t be stupid,” she remonstrated. “You're spoiling my holiday.” She stamped her dainty foot.
Noel laughed outright. He loved annoying her; usually she could take his banter; but to-day she seemed aloof. It hurt him.
At Timaru, after a hearty lunch, the party was driven inland in a powerful service car. The peaks grew nearer. Donna and Noel spoke little; they were watching the changing scene; it was their first trip here. They were delighted with Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. The air became rarer and colder as they wound along the gravel plains. They seemed to have entered a huge basin guarded by snow-capped mountains. In contrast to the city they had just left, this grandeur was inspiring.
They reached the Hermitage at dusk, rather weary; but a convivial dinner restored their flagging spirits. On the morrow, an early start would be made for the Ball Hut.
Next morning, Noel awoke with the sun streaming in his window. From his bed he could see Aorangi in all its majestic whiteness. He was elated—must be the air, he thought.
He breakfasted at Donna's table; he was eager to hasten her away to the equipment room.
“You'll want rucksack, boots, sunglasses, face-cream, skis, sticks,—“ he rattled off.
“One moment,” she interrupted. “Hadn&t I better write it down?”
Noel looked daggers. “Now do hurry, or we'll miss the bus.”
At length, when the skis were strapped on, and the party were seated, the bus started off down the gravel flat. They followed the narrow twisting road around the foot of a spur, coming out onto a steady grade up the Tasman morraine. There was snow on the road here. Here and there a Chamois goat was to be seen on the scree slopes. The guides pointed out the peaks and glaciers and other features of interest.
They stopped at the garage with the Ball Hut nestling in the snow, hundreds of feet above. The gear was unpacked and had to be carried up the zig-zag track. Some keas impudently came along to watch.
Setting out together, clumsily lifting their feet, they reached the steep slope; they gathered speed; they lost control; with waving arms, they both fell sprawling into the soft snow. They sat up and laughed at each other. Nothing daunted, they got to their feet after an ungainly struggle, and made another attempt—and another—until they reached the gentler slopes of the valley below. Here they paused for breath, watching the others. Some of the efforts were ludicrous.
“Exhilarating—isn&t it? said Noel enthusiastically.
Donna nodded. She was watching a slim figure in a scarlet sweater, speeding down from above, turning this way, turning that way, sticks poised, with a wake of snow flying behind him.
“Oh, Noel, just look at that!” she cried.
“And he's smoking a pipe!” exclaimed Noel, dumbfounded. “We'll have to do some practice before we can do that, Donna.”
They found they could now make a straight run without a spill. However, on approaching an obstacle, the only way they could stop was to fall over.
Noel stripped off his sweaters and went away by himself, bent on mastering a turn. It was difficult. He did not seem to have any idea. One of the guides showed him how to stem first and then turn. He tried that with a little success. Perhaps he would get it in time. By jove, there was Donna with the man in the scarlet sweater; he was showing her the turns—and she was shaping well. Good for Donna. But Noel vaguely resented the attention this expert bestowed on her.
Next morning Donna and Noel set out early for the Ball Glacier, just over a spur. Here the slopes were gentle, and the frost had made the surface good. They took a run together. It was glorious, the crisp air, the bright sunshine.
“I'd love to be able to do all those complicated turns,” said Noel.
“Roy is coming over soon,” Donna ventured. “He can make it seem so easy.”
Must have done a lot of ski-ing,” grunted Noel.
“I'll give you an introduction if you like,” Donna offered.
“Don&t want one,” he replied savagely. “You can have your Roy Lambert —I'm through.” And he was away. He heard her mocking laughter; it went through him like a sword.
Thereafter, Noel took more than a friendly interest in Rene King, who, attractive and desirable though she was in other circumstances, was hopeless at sports. He helped her up after her falls; he disentangled her skis; he showed her how to stem and turn, but it was pathetic to watch her. Rene was delighted.
Late in the afternoon, the bus left for the Hermitage; Noel with Rene sat as far away from Roy and Donna as was possible in that small space. Rollicking choruses sung heartily by all, made the trip seem very short. Now and again a look of defiance passed between Donna and Noel.page 28 page 29
There was a dance in the lounge that night. Donna found Roy an exquisite dancer, and she was embarrassed though pleased by his flattery. It annoyed her, however, to see Rene captivating Noel. The air was electric.
After breakfast, next morning, Noel thought everyone seemed in a hurry to get their things into the service car—there was plenty of time. He went to his room and packed leisurely. Going to his window, he gazed at the scene before him; it was beautiful—comforting–inspiring. It had been a wonderful week-end, he reflected–but for Donna. He realised now that she meant everything to him–and she was not, as he had imagined, waiting to fall into his arms; but he was not going to let her know he cared—that would be fatal.
The blare of a horn below interrupted his thoughts. They must be waiting. As he came down the stairs, he saw Donna just ahead of him in the lounge. She was late, too. He was almost beside her as she stepped into the car. She was the last person he wanted to encounter. There was only one double seat left at the back. Donna occupied the half next to the window, from which she idly viewed the landscape. Noel thought furiously; in looked as if it had been planned; or was it fate? At any rate he did not want to make a fuss. Resignedly he took the seat beside Donna, and lit a cigarette. The car moved away.
Half an hour later as the car swung round a bend, their lips met.
And we're coming back here for our honeymoon,” pleaded Noel.
“You haven&t changed a bit, Noel,” murmured Donna, as she snuggled against his shoulder. “You're still taking everything for granted.”