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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter III. Adelaide's Bower of Bliss

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Chapter III. Adelaide's Bower of Bliss.

So these two lovers entered into the visionary paradise of their childhood. Adelaide felt, it must be confessed, some visitings of human hunger and thirst, heat and fatigue, but these earthly weaknesses were forgotten when at evening, just as the live blue flame of the sky began to die out into the unheating glow of amber, they rode side by side into a grand corridor of forest, where straight columns of rimu and matai rose a thousand feet in the air. Turning aside from impenetrable bush, they passed into a bowery glade, the undergrowth gemmed with berries of transparent ruby and dark purple amethyst, festively looped with wild vines and decorated with the pale gold and downy silver of tree-orchids set in high branches, and the ground was soft with delicate ferns. Here a Maoriland God of Love was holding high court, while a chorus of birds sang to him and to each other; wrens and tits, white-fronted robins, chorister tuis in velvet, and wooing fantails. In a sunlit space outside the grove a bell-bird rang a distant wedding peal from a flax bush, where he clung, sucking honey from the blossoms in the intervals of his song, while the page 167river sounded in undertones. Unalarmed, the birds welcomed their human visitors with a clear chorus of elfin trumpeting and piping and ringing, and they flew over and round Adelaide while she called and cooed to them. She told Dennis that they were her kindred; she was descended from a bird and not from a monkey, and had inherited longings to fly and to sing, to live amongst green leaves and in the clouds, and to see strange lands. She must rest here, she said, in honour of the birds, and with daintily alluring lips and questioning eyes she invited him to lift her from her horse. But Dennis thought it was his turn now and he would let her woo him. So he helped her down as if she had been Emmeline, and answered in great good humour, "All right. You stay here while I take the horses on and choose a camping-ground."

"Very well, Dennis." Adelaide's tone was polite but not lively.

"Why, there's nothing the matter, is there?" said Dennis, and he stayed and leaned against a giant matai, adding in a rather different tone, "Haven't you been showing me how well you can do without me?"

"It's unmanly to nurse a grievance," said Adelaide with a little laugh.

"Are there any owls in this part?" inquired Dennis.

"You might see," suggested Adelaide.

And the birds sang lower.

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There was starlight in the torn wavelets of the river when they reached its banks, and Adelaide, tired out into dreaminess and passivity, was conscious chiefly of its tumultuous voices, of the pure darkness overhead and of the subalpine fragrance of earth and moss. Dennis hewed down a young tree and made props and a ridge-pole, and set up a tent taut and trim and pegged it down stoutly. Then when he had carried into the tent the load from the pack-horse and fed his beasts and hobbled them, he gathered manuka and bracken and dry fern and made a bed for his love. The night was cold at this height, so he lay down by her and held her close and kept her warm. The ceaseless rushing of the Wainoni sounded on, but Adelaide heard it only a few dreamy moments before she fell into the deepest and happiest sleep of her life.

The sun rose on their first morning of Eden, but still Adelaide slept on. Dennis rose from the bed of bracken, but he could not leave Adelaide at once, so he crouched down on his knees and bent over her watching and adoring her, the little stray curls, the fine slender hands lying so still, the soft young throat that showed above the ruffled lace and muslin, the half-hidden outline of her limbs beneath the rugs. "All mine, and so glad to be, my little lady," he said inwardly, and felt the humbleness of love. "And I'm hers and she can do what she likes with me. And doesn't she know it, page 169the darling!" But he would not disturb her by the slightest touch. He took his gun and rod and whistled to his dog Tane, who had followed close at the horses' heels, and he showed him his lady sleeping and bade him guard her strictly until she woke. Tane sat up on his haunches and yearned with his mouth; he spoke with reluctant slow moving tail and with watering eyes and said, "Oh, that I might follow you and scare wild birds. But your will shall be done, for who am I but the dog of my master?" MacDiarmid went out singing and whistling, and he plunged into the icy torrent, where it ran deepest, then tramped by marsh and bush and woke long echoes with his gun.

The sun was two hours old when Adelaide opened her eyes, and looking out of the tent door saw a wonderfully still light and in it a palm lily; its foot was dipped in a dark pool, and on its head was a tiara of yellow rays of blossom, and from the heart of it a bell-bird sang a clear reveillé. This was her first morning in the wilds where Nature was supreme. "Yes," thought Adelaide, "Nature is much better than Art," and she began to search for her hand mirror, and discovered to her dismay that it was badly cracked, and that she would have to do her hair by instinct. Then she put the tent in order and picked up Dennis's night-shirt. He would wear a night-shirt and not pyjamas. This had given her pangs of laughter in the page 170very thrill of poetical exultation, and now she held the calico half critically, half smiling, then dropped her head and buried her pretty pink face in it. If he had not been so utterly unconcerned, many of his ways would have been a ludicrous trial to her, but as it was, being enamoured, she secretly doated on everything he did and on the very clothes he wore; and loved the mountains and the bush where he walked. And yet forgetful of the charms of simplicity she vowed to civilise him—in the future.

In varying moods Adelaide went out to find her primitive bridegroom, and soon saw him more primitive than usual. Dennis was leaning against a rock in the stream fishing. His trousers were rolled back and his legs showed bare above the knee, his sleeves were rolled back from his thick brown arms; across the chest he had only the navy-blue knitted shirt, open at the throat; the wind was in the magnificent masses of his hair and beard. Adelaide stood some distance off and looked at him with divided mind. "My husband, my barbarian," she said to herself, "oh what am I to do with him?" Still looking, she thought with heightened colour that he was a grand type of man, and she compared him to the statue of Poseidon, a resemblance which might not have occurred to a stranger, and next said he was a kind of river god. "At least, to me." Then she quieted her conscience by adding, "Of course page 171I shall have to tame him when we begin married life in earnest."

With a quick step she went towards him. Dennis did not see her at first, and when he did he gave her one look and went on fishing; he had just hooked a trout. Adelaide forgave him even that. It was much too joyous a morning for a lover's quarrel. She only said, "Oh, Dennis, isn't it beautiful, a new-born earth all made of air and sunlight and mountains and water. And only just you and I, all alone in our own world."

"How long would you like that, love?"

"Dennis, how can you be prosaic this morning?" Then she asked, but not severely, "Haven't you finished dressing, dear?"

"Don't you like me this way, my darling?" he asked, taking in his line. "I've just been making a bath for you."

He had heaved back a boulder in the stream and thrown out stones, and there was a crystal pool where the water threw pearly tints on the sand at the bottom. Here she might bathe at noon when the sun was hottest. Then Adelaide vowed in her heart that he should dress or undress as he pleased, and it should always seem poetic to her. Her king could do no wrong in his own kingdom. Nothing matters much or long when one is camping out.

Dennis took from the stone near him two wild pigeons and some fish upon a string of green flax.

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"How shall I cook them?" asked Adelaide in some trepidation, and she wondered how anyone could cook without a range.

"You are not going to cook them at all. I will," he answered, and told her he was going to be her patient logman in this valley, and he called her his little fairy and his dear little goddess. Then with the axe-head he scooped a hole in the earth and laid stones in it, and kindling a fire of twigs he made the stones red hot. Adelaide spread a damask cloth upon a flat stone, and decorated it with clusters of Alpine daisies and lilies. She brought out her stores and china and arranged them prettily, and her spoons and her forks were of silver. Her dress was a summer fabric of white with blue silk threads in it, and so light the breeze played with it; she had a cluster of white lace-bark blossoms like cherry blooms in her hair and another cluster at her waist. This first breakfast in the wilderness ought to have been their wedding breakfast, she said, and she was sure there never was such a flavour before in bread or fish or bird. There was no human being near, no creature to molest them. There were no living animals except Tane, and the horses placidly munching grass. Two wekas, the thievish imps of the bush, who are feathered and winged but cannot fly, prowled about shamelessly for what they could steal; and an owl like the editor of a morning paper, dozed and dreamed of wisdom all day until the even-page 173ing woke him up. He was the censor of bush morals, and Adelaide declared, certainly the same as he who had criticised them so severely at the river gates.

This was the manner of their life for several days. Dennis shot birds and caught fish and cooked them, and at night he made a big fire and watched the branches and the smallest twigs glow into living scarlet and pyramidal flames leap up and down, and the red sparks scatter in the profound shadows of the ranges. After the second day the bread became stale, and he noticed that Adelaide ate little of it, and after many hours mountaineering, she owned that she greatly longed for fresh milk. So he used to ride away sometimes out of his kingdom into the other world to the East that did not belong to him and his wife. There the settlers and runholders gave him whatever he wanted, and took no money, for they said heartily, "You would do the same to us, MacDiarmid." While her husband was away Tane followed Adelaide closely, more for company than for fear. There were no serpents in that Eden, no devouring beast, and nothing that tears or destroys the life of man. Adelaide got green fans of tree ferns fresh each day and set them at the corners of the tent. She hung trailing lycopodium from the ridge-pole, and strewed the floor thick with moss and little white stars of manuka. Then she called the tent her Bower of Bliss.

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"Wasn't that rather a dissipated accommodation house?" asked Dennis.

"Yes, but all the correct palaces in Spenser are so dull, and the incorrect gardens are delightful. Just listen now!" Adelaide lifted her own head. "All the music is here, the choir of birds and the bass murmuring of the waterfall and the gentle warbling wind. The silver sounding instruments—," she paused, "Oh, they will do for the river where it divides over the rocks. It has a lot of different notes."

Only one mortal dread afflicted Adelaide, and that was lest she should get sunburnt, for which reason she sedulously sought the shades of bush or hill or tent from early morning until the sun was low, while Dennis rode bare-headed and often bare-throated and bare-armed. The sun had got into his composition from his infancy, and it could burn him no more. Sometimes Adelaide was celestially happy. Sometimes there were summer clouds in heaven. Occasionally Dennis was too imperturbable, and did not think about wooing her. Once or twice he stayed just a little too long away; sometimes she distantly invited caresses and he did not respond. Then would come a look or tone, a word or two, or more often some deed done for her comfort and happiness, and then for the next hour she would go singing love songs softly to herself as she decorated the tent or prepared their meals, or sat embroidering his initial on his substantial handkerchiefs.

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If he came back at noon from shooting or exploring or getting provisions, he always found her waiting for him in the shadow of the tent, if in the evening, he looked for her by the blueflaked marsh. This marsh was Adelaide's Alpine garden, though she could only sit on the edge of it and lean over from a rock to look at the flowers and the flakes of blue water in amongst them, and watch the grey cygnets, and listen for the loud whirr of black swans rising from the raupo reeds. Here there were snow-white lilies and daisies much larger and purer than any that grow in lower regions; no worm or fly crept over them, and they bloomed as if they did not know decay.