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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter IX. Te Rama-Rama.—the Bride comes Rejoicing—Let the Bridegroom Rejoice

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Chapter IX. Te Rama-Rama.—the Bride comes Rejoicing—Let the Bridegroom Rejoice.

Even the leaves of the wild myrtle have some beauty and fragrance of their own; but the quintessence of beauty and fragrance is the blossom. So Adelaide began to think, and she grew tired of leaves alone, and wanted the season of flowering. The spring days passed, and she wandered about the bush in the evenings with Dennis, or sat in her father's home and read and sang and talked to him. The first thing that disturbed her was the shade of her grandmother fitfully haunting her conscience. Adelaide knew that her conduct, though delightful to herself and Dennis, would not stand the criticism of correct society. Now Lady Bohun was Early Victorian, and, secure in her Cornish castle, thought scorn of the Smart Set and its ways and liberties only the more because the Smart Set flouted her dowdy black dress and her unimpeachable descent and her dowager greatness. What she would have said to her granddaughter if she had had her under her own eye was beyond that young lady's power to imagine, but, to everyone's surprise, she proved quite gracious about the marriage, page 130because she did not understand it in the least. It was Colonial, the colonies had been "blasted" in her young days, and blasted and unintelligible they remained to her. All the more, Adelaide, remorseful, and not quite easy in her conscience, tried to propitiate her ghost. Dennis, on the other hand, saw no particular reason for coming under the sway of his future grandmother-in-law. He was a peaceable man on the whole, but he was quite unbroken, and he could not stand the curb. Adelaide banished him the house, very prettily, very nicely, merely referring to the fact that of course he would not be staying there now. Dennis looked her straight in the eyes. "That's Lady Bohun, is it?" he asked, and made her nervous. "What a shameful idea to put into such an innocent girl's head! You don't want a chaperon to protect you from me, love." Adelaide's face had just the faintest pucker of perplexity as if she were saying, "I am sure I am in the right," and adding, "But aren't I?" Dennis's own expression grew very kind. "The settlers are a very decent lot about here, and they'll think no harm of me, nor of you either, Aidie. But I'll go." Then he thought he would change the subject. "Come and give me a lesson, my little girl."

"That is what I have been trying to do," Adelaide said to herself, and to him as near petulance as good manners would allow, "You turn the world upside down, Dennis."

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"Your world is upside down to me," he answered. "Don't try to train me for a drawing-room, Aidie. You can't do it, and you wouldn't like me if you could."

Dennis's lessons—oh, call them not lessons, but spells and sorceries!—were enthralling beyond the power of ink and paper to describe. Adelaide tried him first with much that is new and choice and late, but he seemed impervious to Maeterlinck and the resuscitated Pater and Twentieth Century Hellenics and Gaelic Renaissances. Then she herself began to feel that there was nothing in nor out of fashion in the Bush, nothing new and nothing old, but all things changeless and tideless, as all things were in the days of Sappho and Theocritus, of Surrey and of Sidney, and of Wordsworth and Tennyson, immortal, like old folk songs and legends and ballads, and like love and home, and toil and the fruitful earth. She read to him from Malory and Tennyson, and often laid the book down on her knee, and in her own words raised up scenes that now had changed into visions for her, and that were a thousand times more strange and enchanting in this rude solitude than they had ever been while her bodily eyes looked on them. She talked of lone Tintagel and of Bude, of Lyonnesse, the "land of old upheaven from the abyss," where once Lancelot and Guinevere rode through the budding woods, and where King Arthur fought that "last dim weird battle of the West"; and page 132she told him how she had seen the close and death-white mists sleeping over the land, and then it had all been to her ages and ages old. She talked of the Cornish coast, where the Atlantic waves are shredded into thin fleeces and tossed up to the windy air; of the "great vision of the guarded mount"; of ancient barren moors with granite posts and blocks and farms and Druidical stones; of legends and old tales that still hang about the caves and sands and seas; of smugglers and wreckers and giants and witches. Most of all Dennis liked to hear about her own life; the castle hidden in the misty glen where a tunnelled rock juts out into the sea; of her garden wall, smothered in red and purple fuchsias: of the old strong tower of granite with the glittering spiral staircase, the inscriptions on the old hall of state; the mysterious niche within the stone; and the slits for shooting arrows; and high above all the yellow lichened battlements from which old Tudor knights might watch their foemen creeping up to the attack. While she was speaking her eyes spoke or sung more than her lips told, and he sat as still as he sometimes did on fine evenings under the spell of the clouds and the mountains. The low ceiling and the shadowy walls and the homely chintz-covered stuffed sofa and armchairs all vanished, and he saw a visionary land, and in the centre of it his little witch with the blue, blue eyes. This is how Adelaide taught her big bronzed lover.

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Sometimes he read to her while she wrought embroideries, but while she drew the threads of silk and fine linen she began to fret secretly more and more. She wanted to spend those hours making miracles of fine needlework for her home and her wedding garments. But Dennis never made the slightest reference to the prospect of their ever being married. While she was returning the Miramar visit, Major Brandon asked when his duties were to be performed, and though she made a gay, evasive answer, she thought with a pang that she knew no more than he. Adelaide began to be more and more distant with Dennis, but he only looked at her, kindly, inquiringly, and said nothing. She knew that her state of mind (or of heart) was shockingly uncivilised. She knew perfectly well—her grandmother had often signified to her—that nice girls always sit still without a wish in their hearts or an idea in their heads, and let their lovers do all the wishing. And yet do what she would, she could not help longing to be Dennis's wife and not to wait indefinitely. She wanted to be nearer and dearer even than now, to reign and to serve and to love without even her grandmother's ghost disapproving; to have him for her own and hers alone. It filled her with envy when Emmeline waited on him and baked him scones and tea-cakes, and made his tea exactly as he liked it, and she could have cried with jealousy when he handed Emmeline, and not her, his coat to page 134mend. These disgracefully plebeian emotions, worthy only of a kitchenmaid, overcame her with shame and mortification, but in no way could she attain cultured serenity. Adelaide had expected a fervent lover—"And oh, he is that," she cried to herself, remembering one night—she had expected him to urge their speedy union and she had intended to put him off prettily or pretend to, and then to have her excuses swept aside and her will overborne into doing exactly what she had set her heart on doing. Adelaide had a way of arranging her life as if it were an opera of which she was both the heroine and the author.

Dennis, however, had not got up his part in her play at all, and so far from urging her to anything, took no notice when Emmeline gave him a very plain hint. Adelaide began to get pale, and sometimes irritable and sometimes piteous.

When Dennis had gone on placidly doing nothing for a month, he said in the most casual manner after tea, "Come up the hill with me, dearie, and tell me exactly where you'ud like the house to be."

Adelaide tried not to flush, but she was both glad and angry. "What house do you mean?" she asked with fairylike severity, and withdrew her hand from his.

"Why, our house to be sure. I want to start the men on it before the shearing begins, and page 135then we can be married any day you like in the Christmas fortnight."

"Oh, Dennis!" She gave a little laugh, but never before had felt so much inclined to scold. "Don't you think you might ask me to settle when the wedding is to be?"

"Well," Dennis answered seriously, "I don't suppose you can get married without me, can you? And I can't possibly get the time before then."

It was too provoking. Would he never remember that Adelaide ought to be wooed?

"It might be after Christmas," she said distantly.

"No, it might not," Dennis replied, and looked down at her with his brown eyes, not quite so serious this time. "The harvesting will have to begin in February."

Adelaide had not a word to say.

"You've been vexed with me lately, Aidie," Dennis said. "What have I been doing this time?"

"Nothing at all." Adelaide's look still suggested that she had withdrawn into misty altitudes, and that if he wanted her he must follow.

"Now tell the truth, Adelaide, or I'll make you." He did not mean anything very brutal, but only that he would down with Lady Bohun, and take his love to himself, and then she knew she could keep nothing from him any more than he could from her.

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The mist was scattered in a light breeze. "It's what you haven't been doing that is the matter, Dennis." Adelaide answered with a laugh, and a blush and a tear. "You made me ask you to tell me that you love me, and now you have settled when we are to be married without saying a word to me."

"Come and tell me where you want that house," was the only answer he made.

They arranged to have it on the western slope between the bush and the cleared paddocks. Dennis told her that he was to be her father's partner in the whole estate of Haeremai, and that all the arrangements were to be completed to-morrow, and then he said in a low voice that made amends for the wasted opera and the three weeks fretting, "And now, this land that will be for our own home, my Aidie,—I want it to take in your old playground with the tree ferns and the hill where my love came back to me. I must keep that for myself and you. What will you call your house?"

"Te Rama-Rama," said Adelaide. They walked through the bush together, and he picked a branch of myrtle and gave it to Adelaide, and said, "You mustn't go trying to misunderstand me again, love." Then they were at peace with one another and with all the world.

When MacDiarmid showed the Boss the ground he wanted to reserve, Mr. Borlase drew up his bushy grey brows. "Are you page 137moonstruck, MacDiarmid?" he asked. "What the mischief do you want with a wedge of rough bank and creek cutting into my ground? Why don't you take some more of the cleared land round your house and make your orchard larger?"

"I want it, Mr. Borlase, and you don't, and that's good enough for a deal, isn't it?"

"Oh, take it, by all means. Much good may it do you—you and that lovesick girl of mine. Or rather of yours."

"I'll have the land now," said Dennis calmly. "And I'll take my Adelaide at Christmas. And she'll be just as much your daughter as she ever was."

"Have a whisky," replied Mr. Borlase unsentimentally. "Emmie, Emmie! Bring us that deed and some whisky."

So Adelaide and Dennis were married at Christmas in the fulness of the year. The corn stood high and golden in the fields, and waited for the reaping machine and those that guide it, and the settlers' hearts were glad as they saw it, and thought of the days when the iron should cleave through its strength and toss it off for the binding and the lords of the harvest should enter into the possession of their heritage and of their toil. It was a semi-civilised, semi-barbarous wedding. The bride shone and glistened like a fairy princess, like page 138Alpine snow and ice, like the lilies that adorned the Miramar chapel. But the bridegroom refused to wear correct wedding garments, and as it was obviously impossible to cast him into outer darkness on that occasion, Adelaide granted him a dispensation. He had a rooted objection to sitting behind the horses, unless he held the reins, and he had wished to drive her to and from the chapel in an open buggy, but he yielded at the sight of her alarm and dismay, though for his own part he did not see why such a proceeding need prevent her appearing in bridal state. No one was more enraptured than Dennis at the apparition of Adelaide passing up the aisle under native palms to altar rails all white with myrtles and lilies, and wearing a trained gown of satin covered with the fine lace Lady Bohun had sent, and veiled like early morning, and carrying the white mountain lilies and myrtles. The flowers were his own and only gift—except himself. Major Brandon liberally bestowed Adelaide on her Dennis, and was agreeably conscious of his own generosity towards that rising young man. It was observed that the bridal pair murmured some tender confidences to each other as they came from the vestry. What they really said was this:—"You won't make me go through this performance every ten years, will you, Aidie?" To which Adelaide murmured back, "You know you like it, Dennis." And he, "Perhaps. Once page 139in a way. But I think this will about do." At the church porch they were met by a group of settlers and their young families. The children strewed marguerites all the way to the carriage, and Adelaide royally kissed the first small girl. The settlers from all the district round, headed by the men of Haeremai, presented a casket of greenstone and Colonial gold by the hands of M'Ilvride, who explained at some length that they had worked with MacDiarmid and they had worked under MacDiarmid, and a better mate and a better master they didna' want to meet, and they could mind Mr. Borlase's daughter when she was a bonnie bairn, and they were proud to see her there the day, the bonniest bride there had been in the province or would be for many a long year. And they wished them both joy. To which MacDiarmid, still bare-headed and with one hand on the carriage door, replied laconically, "Thanks, boys. I hope you married ones are only half as happy as we are going to be, and those of you that aren't married, I wish you the pick of New Zealand—what's left after to-day." Then he took his seat by Adelaide and suffered himself to be driven away while the settlers and shearers gave three ringing cheers. It is astonishing how popular a happy bride and bridegroom can be.

The breakfast was at Haeremai, and was presided over by the Boss in person. As there were only the family and two little bush page 140girls who had played at being bridesmaids, formality was dispensed with.

"You got through beautifully, Dennis," Emmeline remarked encouragingly. "You were not nearly so idiotic as I expected you to be."

Dennis looked up gravely—he had been interesting himself in cold turkey—and answered, "I could have got through much better if the parson hadn't been there. Adelaide coached me up in the marriage service long ago, didn't you, Aidie? And I've rehearsed it now and then to myself, bits of it."

At the "Miramar" dinner table, a small family party discussed the prospects of the newly-wedded pair. Major Brandon expanded genially when the soup had disappeared.

"I always liked MacDairmid," he said. "There's a good deal in him and he'll make his way now. That little girl of Borlase's can do anything with him. He is not nearly so dull as you and Horace suppose, Evie. He fought the Road Board and the Government too over that railway bridge scandal and beat them hollow. And he's immensely popular with the settlers round about here. We shall see him in Parliament at the next election, and in ten or twenty years he'll be in the ministry—get knighted perhaps. 'Sir Dennis MacDiarmid' sounds rather well, doesn't it?"

Evelyn was depressed. "Adelaide will not live to see that day, Uncle. She is very page 141delicate, and she has always before lived in civilised surroundings. Emmeline Borlase has just kept her alive by waiting hand and foot on her, and now she has gone to live alone in that little cottage with her husband and only one servant. The ploughman, or whatever he is, will soon stop petting her, and will treat her as ploughmen do treat their wives. He will roar at her. He looks capable of roaring. Adelaide will be heroic, and he will not notice until some day he will wake up and be astonished to find that she is dead. For about a month he will think that he is sorry. Then he will get a wife at the Matrimonial Bureau and live happy ever afterwards."

"Oh no, not so bad as that," said Mrs. Brandon gently, though she laughed. "Adelaide is partly Colonial and easily moulded. She will adapt herself and become like Emmeline, not quite so plump and rosy, but matronly. She will be a model wife, and will be absorbed in her husband's interests."

"Yes, he will absorb all her vitality. He is that kind of person. He will become a prominent patriot while Aidie is losing all her charm and refinement. He will get into the House as a Labour Agitator (Evelyn thought this was a recognised Parliamentary title). He will rant about 'social pests' while he is drawing his income from the land. Aidie can't get quite common, but she will become purely negative. She will coach him up and then pretend to page 142quote 'my husband.' They will have ten children—everyone does in this district—"

"Evie, Evie, I cannot allow you to be so graphic." Mrs. Brandon rose, and added as they went into the drawing-room, "Fortunately Adelaide cannot both die next year and also live to have such a very inconvenient family."

The bride and bridegroom for whom so many varieties of fortune had been predicted sat alone in the home he had built for her on the western hill, and, with the lamps unlit, they watched the afterglow pass into dark loveliness. It was the blossoming time of myrtles and the room was sweet with them. The mountains communed with the bush and sent down the breath of their winds into its heart, and the bush stirred and gave up its secrets to the spirits of the mountains, in the whispering of dark leaves and the trembling of slight ferns and the falling of little waters. Dennis was better pleased to listen to his bride just then than to say much himself. She talked about the future and then about the earliest memories that they shared, and as she talked she became plaintive in the height of ecstasy as the lark does when it sings in the highest. She spoke of her girl-mother coming to her home in the bush, and said if she herself should die young, and she thought it might be so, he was to re-page 143member she had had her full share of happiness, and she asked if he would lay her close to her mother on the hillside. Dennis laughed, but there was a throb in the laugh, and said, "No, I won't. I won't bury you anywhere," and holding her strongly to him, "I'm not going to let you die."

Then even the presence of the mountains and the bush was shut out, and there was solitude and loving silence except for a murmur of water and of leaves. "Aidie, my wife, my joy, the desire of my heart," he called her in the glad darkness of the night, and she thought he would hold off death.

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