The Heart of the Bush
Chapter II. Mountain Lilies and Mountain Mists
Chapter II. Mountain Lilies and Mountain Mists.
Being at home is not quite the same thing as coming home. It is only once in a lifetime that you can come home as Adelaide did, but you can live at home continuously, and what you do continuously can hardly be rapturous. Adelaide kept her sense of pleasure, but it began to be dashed with some wandering isles of night. The first morning after her arrival she was wakened by a chorus of bush birds, and went to the window, with only a silk wrapper on, to look out. It was early morning with a sky so blue and so still. The bush was waking all around her, and letting its nightdress of white mists fall in coils at the feet of the trees while it clothed itself above with light. A dear little fantail, Piwakawaka, came fluttering from a ngaio tree in through the window, flying with wavering impulses of confidence and hope and alarm. Then recognising in the silk-clad figure with the wooing voice a kindred spirit, it flew above her head for some moments, settled on her outstretched arm, and then, both terrified and glad at its own audacity, it fluttered back into the bush to tell all the other birds what it had seen. This episode delighted Adelaide, page 27and braced her up to endure many privations. It seemed there was no morning tea unless she went into the kitchen for it, an inconceivable experiment on that first day. Neither was there fire nor hot water. She bathed heroically in cold water, and rather enjoyed it. Then she put on a simple morning costume, exquisitely made, and all of one fawn colour; she never wore blouses and skirts of two colours, she was too slight and symmetrical not to require uniformity. She had a silver belt, and she stuck some bush blossoms in it. As she could not expect any stranger to see her, there was no apparent reason for spending an hour over her toilette, coiling and uncoiling her hair till her arms were tired, and coming back to give a parting look at herself just before leaving her room. But that is what Adelaide did do.
She had no more doubt now how to hold herself towards MacDiarmid. He would have to be taught their relative positions. Adelaide had only to remain at the serene and lofty distance of the genuine aristocracy and the thing would be done.
So she came tranquilly into the sitting-room, where Emmeline greeted her warmly, waited on her, and said, "You'll have to tell me everything you've been accustomed to, Aidie, and I'll do it." Adelaide inwardly vowed to do no such thing. She was much too well-bred not to be uncomfortable at having her sister to wait on her, and submitted to it only on account of a page 28new sensation of being rather helpless and dependent. MacDiarmid came in to breakfast. He evidently lived in the house. Adelaide gave him a coolly-gracious "Good-morning," in the style of Lady Brandon when she meant to signify that a common person had been trespassing on her own uncommonness. She had thoughts of making some remark about the weather, but he did not seem encouraging, so she gave the idea up, and kept up a running stream of conversation with her father, chiefly about her grandmother, old Lady Bohun, and about her cousins and second cousins and cousins once and twice removed. MacDiarmid got up as soon as he had finished breakfast and left the room, and as he left she could not resist meeting his quiet eyes. There was no amusement in them now, but something else. "What was it—contempt?" she asked herself, hot and wounded. How could Dennis—or rather, how dare MacDiarmid—Adelaide, in some confusion, dropped the thought, whatever it was, that she was beginning to think. After all, it was not of the slightest importance what opinion such a person formed of her. Of course Dad wanted to hear about Mother's people, and if they did go to Eton and Oxford, or sit in Parliament, and shoot in Scotland; well, there are other people in the world beside farm labourers. MacDiarmid turned at the door to ask her father about a ram hogget and some other creatures—some of those improper male and page 29female animals whose names she had been diligently taught in school, and ever afterwards forbidden to mention. But he seemed in a hurry to get away.
At the mid-day dinner he was absent, and while her father and Emmeline fidgeted, Adelaide began to have compunctions. Of course she had not meant to hurt him or drive him out of the house, but only to prevent undue presumption. If he came in to tea, she would smooth it all over. She came into the dining-room, an irresistible vision of pinkness and fragility, in fine muslin and exquisite lace.
Emmeline remarked, "You'll cost your husband a fortune to keep, Aidie."
"Oh, my husband won't think this dress expensive, Emmie," said Adelaide airily. "I will show you some evening gowns after tea." Horace Brandon would not endure to see her a shade less exquisitely dressed than she was. MacDiarmid, who had not waited, was again leaving, when Mr. Borlase said, "What the mischief has come over you, Dennis? Stay and talk with Aidie. You're not frightened of her, are you?" He stopped awkwardly, she thought, but said in a good-humoured open manner, "I rather believe I am."
"Please don't go on my account," Adelaide said. The boor sat down by her, only saying, "I'll take you at your word for once." Adelaide floated down gracefully to his level. She said it was so sweet of her father and him not to page 30destroy the bush around the house. "Oh, it's sweet of us, is it?" he said, and looked at her with eyes so shockingly like those of the boy she used to know that she very nearly called him "Dennis." She talked about the birds, and told him of her morning visitor, which really seemed to interest him. She asked the names of native wild flowers, and identified some from memory. The delight of last night in returning to her childhood came back, and her cheeks were pinker than her dress, and her eyes made him think of a bird flying up to the clouds. He listened with a pleased attention, which gratified her.
"If you'd like a ride to-morrow," he said, "I'll take you up the mountains and show you something prettier than you'll find about here—a mile of mountain lilies and any quantity of mountain daisies and gentians."
Adelaide was thrown back again from the glow into the coolness. She did not approve of his offering "to take" her, and answered with distant sweetness, "Thank you, I will see if I have any other engagements," and appeared to muse over a contingency so highly probable in the Bush, while in reality she was considering the suggestion. Mountain lilies and daisies and the Alps themselves were too delightful to be resisted. Besides it would give her a chance of putting things on their correct footing with MacDiarmid. Finally she announced her acceptance. It was received with a disconcert-page 31ing lack of gallantry. "Don't put yourself out if you don't care about it," MacDiarmid said shortly. He really had no nice feeling and no tact. Adelaide said in a clear distinct tone, "I have said that I do wish to go, Mr. MacDiarmid."
They had a morning of breeze and sun. Adelaide's heart sprang upward to the summits before ever they started; she had dreamed in the night of snow and snow-white lilies. MacDiarmid began by being gruff when he brought round the horses, but no one could have stayed cross with Adelaide that morning. Dennis at least could not, as he helped her to mount, and made her put her small and dainty foot upon his hand, and saw her eyes when she leaned down to take the whip from him, eyes that made him think of a lark poising itself a moment in its flight. Dennis read a great deal of poetry and was very intimate with Shakespeare and Burns and other antiquated text books.
"You ought to have stronger shoes," he remarked pleasantly. "You'll get these cut to pieces on the hills."
"Oh, it won't matter," Adelaide answered lightly, "if only they don't look too frightful before I get back."
"I was thinking about your feet more than your shoes," he said, and Adelaide blushed, but forgave his crudity.
They rode fast, the horses were fresh and so was Adelaide, and the blood sang in her veins. If he had been a gentleman, MacDiarmid could page 32not have been more attentive and careful of her. At the ford he dismounted to shorten her stirrup, and on the other side to put it right again. He never once touched her unnecessarily, nor with a touch too long or close, yet every time she felt his hand it sent warmth through her. They got amongst the mountains and rode some miles through the pass. Adelaide thought she would put off setting things on their proper footing until they were going home. Nothing indeed was on any footing that morning. Everything was flying, floating, sailing in mists and clouds and wind, and Adelaide's soul was borne on with them. She mounted up into the clear high light and air that lie above the clouds, and saw white peaks rising out of the mists, and a wide river of turquoise rolling unsullied out of a glacier, and a sea-gull from the wild western fiords flying far inland, and she felt the wind blow pure off the snow. Then she saw a mountain side all hung with thousands and thousands of immaculate white lilies. Dennis wanted her to stay on the road below while he gathered the flowers for her, but Adelaide imperatively waived the suggestion. Her fancy rioted amongst those flowers, and he was surprised how lightly and swiftly she climbed up and up an almost invisible track of rolling stones and bare rock until she stood breathless among the lilies, perplexed with the multitude and with desire of more than her hands could possibly hold. Dennis had given her a good page 33deal of assistance up that mountain, but only as an excellent guide would do, and she knew well how to receive necessary attentions. At the top he persuaded her to rest. "Don't overdo it," he said, "you've got to get back, you know. I don't believe you've thought of that." Adelaide had not, and she did not want to just yet. They had lunch together, which meant his sitting not very far off, and taking it from her hand—that fine, slender artist's hand, quick to feel and to respond—and they drank the milk in turn. Foolish Emmie, to put in only one glass. She talked about mountain lilies, and she upbraided him for saying they were really buttercups and forbade him ever to make such a prosaic remark to her again. Lilies they were and lilies they should be as long as Adelaide was near. She saw a snowdrift up in a hollow under a rock and took some snow in her palm, admiring the miracle of its whiteness and played with it, letting it fall bit by bit through her fingers. She wanted to feast on it, but her guide would not let her, and said, "Now that's enough. It's not good for you," and as she had travelled in Switzerland before, she knew one must never disobey the guide.
Adelaide sat high up and looked at the sky over her head and then at the white and shining clouds rolling up the gorges below her feet, and she looked at the summits of snow rising out of the mists around her. Then she looked at Dennis MacDiarmid. He sat bare-page 34headed on a rock a little way off. She thought he would make a good subject for an artist, and the mountains would form a natural background, Or better still than a picture, a statue of bronze would do justice to head and trunk and limb, so large and massive and barbaric. Regarding him solely from the artistic point of view, she saw that his hair and beard in the sunlight were rather magnificent, and that his eyes were quite beautiful—Irish eyes, made up of laughter and an immense gravity. Judged by every civilised standard, Horace Brandon was incomparably the finer man of the two, but he would have been most incongruous amongst the mountains and the clouds where Dennis was quite at home. He was "a son of the soil," but there was something pleasant about that—soil of this great, free, fragrant land. Adelaide had been very fond of the boy Dennis long ago, had imagined that she loved him better than anyone else in the world. Had she been treating him badly since her return? She hoped he had not been wounded. It was ill-bred to ignore the past. Of course he must understand that the old intimacy could not possibly be renewed, but still they might be friends in a distant sort of way. This seemed a good opportunity of putting him in his proper place, so gently and amiably that he would hardly know what was being done to him.
"Mr. MacDiarmid, "she began, with a pretty expression, "I hope you have forgiven me page 35for not remembering you the night I came home."
"Well, I expect I've altered a good bit since you left."
"I was only a little girl then."
"I think you are only a little girl now, Aidie."
Adelaide turned pale with the wound to her dignity. She rose and said it was time to go, but, determined that MacDiarmid should not imagine he had power to disturb her, she merely gave him one glance of surprised inquiry and began to descend. It was much harder work getting down that mountain than it had been getting up, and she refused his arm except when absolutely forced to take it. As they rode down the Pass, the mists had begun to roll all the high Alps out of sight, and they clung round her and chilled her. Adelaide was not accustomed to such rough roads nor such long hours in the saddle, and now that her excitement had gone, a mental collapse set in, and she quivered with the effort of concealing it. The man had got it into his stupid head that she was simply cross from over-tiredness, and ought to be humoured in silence. As he helped her to the saddle he said, "Tired? I wish I hadn't taken you up that mountain; I knew you'ud do yourself up, and now you have."
"Taken her!" "I went of my own accord, Mr. MacDiarmid."
"You couldn't have gone without me."
This was true, but irritating, and Adelaide page 36declined to pursue the conversation farther. She thought he was treating her like a servant girl out for a holiday. No doubt that was the sort of girl he was accustomed to. There was no reserve, no delicate suggestiveness about this man. He was not even taking the trouble to woo her, but assuming that she would only be too glad to renew the old intimacy. She was not a dairymaid, she was Adelaide Borlase. He needed to be kept at a distance, and she had somehow failed to do so. Yet she had said nothing that might have disgraced any drawing-room. Adelaide had been so well brought up by her grandmother. Not all her life would she forget the hour when Lady Bohun, after disposing of Dennis's remarkable letter, had taught her once for all that she owed a duty to Herself and to her Family and to Society. Even old ladies always spoke of her as "a nice girl." She was accustomed to delicate flatteries and pretty compliments, but she had learnt how to receive them. She flirted in the same way that she danced and shook hands, a little way off, and with grace.
The ride in the fog seemed interminable, but at last they got into the bush.
"Do you remember the creek, Aidie?"
MacDiarmid's voice, breaking the long silence, had something in it that made Adelaide desperately angry, and she used all her will to keep her answer calm and distinct.
"Mr. MacDiarmid, you have no right to page 37take advantage of anything I did or said when I was a silly child. That has nothing to do with either of us now."
It was a speaking silence that followed, but Adelaide could not tell what it might be saying. When he spoke—he had such an irritating way of replying a quarter of an hour after one had spoken—his voice seemed to come out of the mist and to be far away.
"You mean that?"
"Of course," haughtily.
"Very well. I won't trouble you again."
Adelaide felt ten miles more tired than before. It was dreadful. It was final. It was like killing things. All she really wanted in this world was to behave prettily and to please and be pleased. The creek? Yes, indeed she did remember that creek. Dennis used to carry her over. It was a trick of hers when she was five or six years old to pretend she could not cross alone. Sometimes he would put his arms behind his back and tell her she could easily get over by herself and tease her till she nearly cried, but it always ended in his lifting her up and setting her down on the other side with a kiss. She could almost remember the clasp of his strong safe arms; they had been close to her many times to-day. It was shameful, it was outrageous to have to remember such things. Indeed, she could not possibly have remembered them if she had not been so demoralised by fatigue. It was she who had page 38wooed him in their childhood. It was she who had arranged their bush wedding. He had told her to "wait a bit." "Wait a bit!" for him to pick up or leave at his pleasure. Was he thinking of that now? Was that why he would not pay her even proper deference? Of course it was all childish nonsense. It was monstrous that a lady should be held responsible for a foolish child. Yet somehow, re-entering the scenes of her childhood gave her the sensation of being the same child again, or rather of being two distinct persons who did not agree with each other. All day long she had been seeing the boy Dennis in the man MacDiarmid, and now that the bush idyll was dead and gone, she could not help feeling a romantic interest in it.
Was he badly hurt? Or did he not care in the least. He kept an exasperating silence, and Adelaide thought what a tactless and ill-bred thing silence might become. The long, low house came in sight and then Adelaide said—
"Of course, Mr. MacDiarmid, there is no reason for us to be on anything but friendly terms. My father thinks so much of you. But I am sure you must see—"
"Don't explain. You've made yourself clear enough."
Then a few minutes later, "Do you want me to help you down, or will you get down yourself?"
It was barbarous insolence. To be sure Adelaide had sprung from her horse unaided page 39the first night he brought her home, but then it was under special excitement, and now she was utterly weary. If it had not been for her duty to Herself she could have cried.
"I must leave that question to you, Mr. MacDiarmid."
He helped her boorishly, and took the horses to the stables. Agitated and mortified, Adelaide went into the house, and with a revulsion of delight found Horace and Evelyn Brandon waiting for her. Ah, these were the people that really understood her. Horace was chivalrous and courtly and said many charming things. They sang solos and operatic duets together and discussed their latest news of London friends, weddings and travels and the stage. Adelaide's colour glowed with the touch of snow and mountain air. She had changed into an evening gown of pale pink crêpe de chine. Her young and delicate arms glistened beneath the fall of transparent pink, and her white throat was visible beneath the lace. MacDiarmid came in during the evening in an absolutely unembarrassed manner, as if he were quite at home, took up a book and sat down in a roomy arm chair. Horace Brandon smiled a gay inquiry at Adelaide which said, "Is this the sort of thing you do in your country?" so plainly, that she answered in an undertone, "Contrasts are half the charm of life, Mr. Brandon. That is why nothing is tame or flat in New Zealand."page 40
"No, there certainly is not much tameness. And one of the contrasts in this room is very charming to-night."
"Non obbliar che un occhio tutt' ardor
Ad ammirarti e intento
E che t' aspett' amor."
Both he and Adelaide enjoyed this light wooing through love songs, significant of inexpressible sensations but relieved from sentiment by a touch of operatic gaiety. It was the most perfectly decorous and sublimated form of courtship, and also for Horace the least troublesome. He liked to have even his emotions prepared for him by unleisured authors and composers, just as Piccadilly lovers like those ideal buttonholes which Solomon prepares for them.
The parlour was a long and low-ceiled room, where shadows would linger in corners and nooks, and the end, where MacDiarmid now page 41occupied rather too large a space, seemed very far away from the piano with its candles, and from the lady in bright-hued draperies, and her immaculate admirer and her English friend. Emmie dismissed Mrs. M'Ilvride, and soon came into the room with the whitehaired, red-cheeked baby in her arms and sat down near M'Diarmid. The graceless babe, as soon as he saw him, stretched out his chubby hands and chuckled, "Mon! Auntie Emmie na, Mon, Mon!" Dennis took the infant Alec on his knee, gave him his watchchain to play with, and when he fell asleep kept his arm round him and went on reading, without further disturbing himself. Adelaide passed him once, and glancing down saw that his book was Milman's History of Latin Christianity. The man, the baby, the book, were all so hopelessly out-of-the-world that she felt a slightly satirical mirth. Her resentment against him fled. What could one expect of such a man? She was ten thousand miles away from M'Diarmid in her own sphere of grace and lightness and gaiety.
Emmie sat, absorbed in her sister.
"What a lovely colour Aidie has to-night!" she exclaimed. "Isn't she pretty, Dennis?"
He glanced up and then down again at his book. "Yes, very."
"Have you two quarrelled?"
"You and Aidie."
"No. She has only been telling me to page 42remember that I am her father's hired man and that she is Lady Bohun's granddaughter, Miss Adelaide Borlase. Don't interfere, Emmie."
Emmeline got redder than usual.
"Dennis." She laid her hand on his knee and lowered her voice under the current of music and laughter at the other end. "Don't let her marry that man. He was talked about with a married woman. Evelyn Brandon is shocked at my speaking about it, but she doesn't think the thing itself matters. Lady Brandon wants to have him married to Aidie and the talk hushed up."
"Look at him now, bending over her and smiling into her eyes. How can she like him? I never could endure smooth men. He is all pink and white, like a Christmas cake. And look at his figure! I believe he wears stays."
"Do leave me alone, Emmie. Here, take the little man from me. I'm going out for a gallop to get over that (he used a rude word) crawl this evening."
MacDiarmid did not gallop far, and when he came back he went to the slip-rails where the little girl in the pink gingham frock and the white muslin pinafore used to wait for him ten years ago. He leant on the slip-rails and forgot even to smoke. "Little girl in the waving silk and gauze, with the delicate vivid face and the eyes of my little sweetheart, what have they done to you over there in England?"