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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter I. How Dennis was being Civilised

page 227

Chapter I. How Dennis was being Civilised.

How after all would it turn out, the marriage of the leisured and the labouring class, of art and nature, of civilisation and barbarism? Would the first settler's experience of real life count for nothing in comparison with the power of love? Was Emmeline Borlase a sentimental baby in her belief that love was all-sufficient? Or was Evelyn Brandon a cynical fool, when she prophesied that Dennis MacDiarmid would either break Adelaide's heart in a year, or else reduce her to a nonentity? As it fell out, they were all of them more or less right, and all of them more or less wrong.

The honeymoon, they agreed, was not to count. It had been ecstasy dashed with wandering isles of night. They could not live permanently up to the height of the Alps. The prelude was over, and now the real play was to begin. They must settle down to everyday married life, and must adore each other only within reasonable bounds. Not indeed that they had been absorbed in love-making. Camping out in new country is an occupation in itself, though an idyllic one, both page 228for the man who explores and provides, and for the woman who does the primitive housekeeping, or rather the tent-keeping. Love had taken them back into their childhood, and they took as fresh an interest as children in the simplest thing,—their food, their bed at night, the clouds, the weather, the birds, their horses and their dog, the day's adventures and each other's caresses. Adelaide thought she had seen into the depths of her husband's nature and knew the whole of him now, and that there would be no more difficulties. She made up her mind to be sweet but sensible. The sweetness at least came spontaneously.

They had still another fortnight of holidays, aud this they spent at home, making their house beautiful and laying out an orchard where flowers were to grow in the future. At present all that the common eye could discern was a ploughed field planted with rows of potatoes and bristling with labelled sticks, but Adelaide did not see these things nearly so often as a beatific vision of perennial orchard blossom and leaf and red-streaked apples, and below the trees, violets and daffodils in bloom. Dennis worked under his lady's directions, and enjoyed himself working out her poems into tangible realities. Adelaide trained native clematis round her verandah posts, and, not to waste any time, she began training Dennis too. The evening before their wedding he had promised to do his share of page 229the obeying, but added, "Don't you be too hard on me, Aidie, will you?" Adelaide remarked that she was going to promise without making any reservation, and that this showed her trustful disposition. He said it showed her knowledge of their characters. A few days later he told her that he liked being ordered about, and he only laughed when she proved by examples that he gave the most orders.

Each found the differences attractions just then, as travellers in a mood to be pleased find new and surprising virtues and beauties in foreign lands. Adelaide built up a pleasing sentiment around Dennis, as son of the soil, imagining some close relation between the mountains and his free nature, with its tranquillities and its outbursts. As she did not examine the prosaic details of pastoral toil, she found a poetry in the thought of his peasant ancestry, and of his own open-air life spent in the culture of the earth and the tending of animals. Even his roughnesses of manner and speech were dear when the heart and will were so kind and warm. The voice, full-toned and singularly soft for a man, gave a pleasant meaning to words that in themselves were often brusque. On his side, it never entered his head to grudge Adelaide the romance of her descent and her associations with the unconceivably splendid and magical illusions of luxury and art. He never took these things page 230quite in earnest; they were all parts of that Midsummer Night's Dream which Aidie and Aidie alone could have played so exquisitely; he would as soon have grudged her the fine silky texture and the fragrance of her garments, the dear soft flesh and delicate curves of cheek and lip and breast. They were all part of the delightful, adorable miracle that was his Adelaide.

Dennis preferred taking things as they came, Adelaide liked adapting them. She meant to adapt Dennis. Sometimes he was very easy to manage, sometimes very difficult, indeed impossible to move. Sometimes he swept her off her feet. Whoever ruled and whoever was ruled, they were both supremely happy. They presented the unusual spectacle of a bride and bridegroom who were much more in love after marriage than before, and for whom disillusion was only a jest. They were greatly amused with each other, and still more delighted, he with her arts and conventions and manifold graces, she with his large simplicities and disregard of all conventions. She began reforming him in the matters of whisky and tobacco, and language known as "strong." It was not at all on old-fashioned grounds of morality that she objected to these indulgences, but merely as matters of good taste. Indeed, she offered to let him down gently on wine, cigars, and such well-authorised expressions as "rotten." Dennis rejected these paltry makeshifts of an page 231effete aristocracy. "What a little tyrant you are!" he said admiringly. "I think I'll make you give up coffee and sweets and London slang."

"Very well, I will," Adelaide answered with the elusive smile that was one of her witcheries, a smile that flew into her eyes and touched her lips, and was away almost before you could see how lovely it was. "Will that make you any happier, dear?"

"No, it won't. I like you to enjoy yourself."

Even that did not melt her. "I want to worship you, Dennis," she murmured, and wafted herself upon him. "I don't want you to have any faults." He began disarranging with his large hand all the artistic coils of her hair, and she had not a word of impatience. While he looked down at her, a remembrance gradually came. "You have given up a lot more than those things for me, you blessed child—and never spent a thought on them."

"Don't, Dennis," she answered in angelic reproach.

Dennis confessed he had no right to use the disputed language in her presence, but said he could not get on without it in the yards and woolsheds, because the dogs and sheep and cattle did not understand unfortified English. However, he did thenceforth improve even amongst the animals. As for the whisky, he remained a total abstainer all the rest of the summer, but when the cold days came he not page 232unfrequently backslid. His pipe Adelaide gave him leave to smoke in a room which he used as a study and office and workshop, and which was to be held outside her sovereignty. Here he occasionally retired into seclusion, but Adelaide soon found her solitude in the drawing-room more unsatisfactory than he found his. She had never been "smart" enough to smoke cigarettes, again not because she objected on high moral grounds, but because she was very careful of her apple-blossom complexion, and much preferred it to the most artistic "make-up." Not having this consolation, if ever Dennis stayed in his office more than half-an-hour, she always found it imperatively necessary to seek him out and ask or tell him something. For some reason or other, she generally sat on his knee to explain her object in coming, and he was then very willing to lay aside his pipe.

When the honeymoon month was over, the harvesting began. Dennis scolded Adelaide for getting up at four o'clock in the morning to prepare his breakfast—"As if he couldn't make tea for himself!" and carried her straight back to bed. But she thought his behaviour in the evening inconsistent and in very bad form. She had the dinner waiting an hour after dusk, and was admiring her own patience in saying nothing about his unpunctuality, when he said, "Tell Lena to get a bath ready for me, Aidie." Adelaide was going, too polite to show page 233displeasure, when he called after her, "Put some clean clothes out for me, darling. And bring me my slippers, I never know where you put them." Adelaide gave him an expressive look then, but he was too dense to understand. All the evening he sat quite still, and when Lena brought her coffee and his tea in—Adelaide indulged him with a most capacious cup—he said, without moving, "Won't you hand it to me, Aidie?" She looked at him a moment with her delicate brows a little more visibly arched, and then her blue eyes began to dance. "I will," she said, and when he had finished stood by him with an Elizabethan-Stage air. "What is your will now, my lord?" she inquired. "Shall I play to you, or sing, or read? Or will you bid me discourse? I wait to learn my lord's good pleasure." Dennis contemplated her with the serious expression he had when he was reading a difficult passage. "I don't quite follow you to-night, Aidie," he said with simplicity. "I am a bit tired."

"O Dennis love, I will do anything for you, whether it is good form or not. I forgot this isn't London, and we don't belong to the leisured class." But he persisted in the first train of thought. "I suppose I have not been treating you well," he concluded at the end of his meditations. "You treat me beautifully," said Adelaide, "only sometimes it seems a little, just a little—original, dear."

"I expect Emmie spoiled me," he continued page 234good-humouredly. "I'll be more attentive now."

Adelaide's jealous heart took fire. "O Dennis, don't say Emmie did more for you than I would do."

"My dear little girl, I can't make you out to-night." He got up to put his arm round her. "Don't you think I know the difference between you and Emmie? You're my little chieftainess as well as my wife. I want to make you happy more than I want anything else on earth."

"I am happy." She closed her eyes blissfully to shut out everything but bliss.

"Well, don't you ever do anything for me that you're not inclined to do," he said, giving it up as beyond a husband's comprehension. She opened her eyes a moment.

"'Inclined'?" she was saying inwardly, and keeping down an extravagance of passion. "If that were all—oh, in the name of Love, what is there that I'm not inclined to do for you?"

The Haeremai harvesting was all over in a few days. It was chiefly the oat crop for the farm animals. There was no harvest home, only a royal dinner at the old homestead for the harvesters. But when the sun was close upon the mountain's rim, Dennis stood watching the loaded waggon slowly dipping down the glen to the threshing paddock, and, as he watched, he held a heartfelt thanksgiving on his own account. There had been no rain or blast to beat down its ripeness, and he turned home-page 235wards in the full content of having seen the work of his hands prospering upon him. In fact he was so self-satisfied that he retrograded in every possible way. At the door he wished to salute Adelaide while he was still unwashed and half-clad, but was very properly denied. He came into her drawing-room with nothing on but his trousers, and a dusty flannel shirt covering his chest, and with his sleeves rolled back, said, "Phew, it was thundering hot," and, throwing himself into his armchair, began to inhale the evening breeze.

"Are you tired, Dennis?" Adelaide asked with the clear enunciation that signified disapproval. "If he is, I will forgive him everything," she thought.

But he cut that refuge from under his feet. "Not a bit," he answered cheerfully. "We got through two hours earlier to-day." Then immediately he became so absorbed in his own contemplations that he seemed oblivious of his bride. Adelaide herself was very tired. Lena had been away half the day helping Emmie at Haeremai, and Adelaide had been on her feet too long; it was very hot, and Dennis took no notice, and was misbehaving sadly. She had on a dainty muslin tea-gown, and she had carefully obliterated all traces of work or fatigue, so that his primitive undress was all the more conspicuous. It was a very pretty room too that they sat in, and sweet scented with the soul of Adelaide. She embroidered a tray-page 236cloth and glanced at her rude barbarian with a little flicker of the eyelashes that would have made any civilised man wince. Dennis sat facing the sky of evening primrose, yellow and sweet-briar pink, motionless in serene repose, with a thoughtful expression.

"It will be dinner time in less than an hour," remarked Adelaide, but he seemed to find that remark unanswerable. She wondered what he was thinking about, or if he was thinking about anything. He had begun by reflecting that it was a good harvest, and that things were going well with him, and then he went off into a speculation which was connected with the fact that his Boss thought Aidie had been sacrificed by marrying him. Then his mind wandered into more poetical regions, and abode with Shelley and Keats and Wordsworth, and many old legends and ballads. Meanwhile, he was not altogether unconscious of Adelaide's presence, any more than he was of the cooling breeze and the colour of the sky; he was only sub-conscious. Presently the comedy of it reached Adelaide. Her lips trembled with a smile, and she came over to him and, sitting near, quietly unrolled his sleeves. He turned his head a moment to look at her, and the sleeping love began to waken in his eyes, then he turned back to the sky. The right sleeve was torn, she began to mend it while he still sat immovable, and at first by chance and then not by chance she touched lightly the muscular page 237and sun-browned flesh. The smile grew more tremulous, and she bent and put her lips to the thick blue vein. The love woke up then.

"What's that about, Aidie?" he asked, and would have held her but she slipped away, and standing at the door, looked back a moment to say, "Do go and make yourself decent at once, Dennis. It's nearly dinner time."

"Oh, it's ridiculous," she said to herself, laughing and breathing quicker in her own room. "It's Philistine to be so disgracefully in love with my own husband. I'm afraid I'm more in love with him than he is with me. Well, if I am—," her pretty lips took a rather stubborn curve, "he shall never know it." She went to choose a dress. Sometimes she enraptured him by wearing her loveliest Paris gowns in the evening. He was her world and her society now. There was a gown of pale rose pink, of fine gauze and rippled folds of chiffon, stuff vaguely known to Dennis as "gossamer," which he particularly admired. She took it out now. "I will make myself enchanting," she said, "and then I will talk Colonial politics all the evening and see how he enjoys it." She coiled her hair in elaborate masses of pale shining yellow, wave meeting wave, above her half-moon forehead, and fastened it with pearl ornaments, and put carmine carnations between the curves of her breasts. "I am not going to let him even touch me," she said. "I will go on mending that page 238lace after dinner and tell him he must not come near and tangle it. He deserves to be punished." She looked backwards once again at her image in the mirror before opening the door, and knew that she was bewitching. "I'll be sweet," she said, "oh yes, I'll be very sweet. But I will punish him this time."

Then the door opened and she found herself instantly overwhelmed in Dennis's arms. He lifted her up and, carrying her to the couch in the sitting-room, held her there with her little head laid back upon his arm. She just saw faintly that he had made himself unusually presentable, and thought what a magnificent man he was even to behold, and then she saw him bending over her and looking down—oh, with such a look! She closed her eyes to feel it. Perhaps they were not nearly so beautiful as each thought the other, or perhaps they were, and the truth was not revealed to anyone else. There are hundreds of girls as pretty as Adelaide, but only their lovers have discovered their loveliness. For Dennis there never had been any other girl in the world except Adelaide, and she meant all that love can mean to a single-hearted, loyal lover. Yet even at his fondest he never lost his head and became foolish, which is the one unpardonable sin. Dennis was by no means an ascetic, but he was temperate, as healthy, hard working men generally are. He had always the cherishing sentiment towards his wife, and it redeemed page 239his passion from any risk of grossness. Sometimes there came a mighty upheaving of emotion, not spasmodic, but pulsing evenly, like the great heart of nature, and then she lay quite still, drowned in love and Dennis. She was such a marvel to him, and his wonder was poetical. For some time now he was content to hold her securely, and to watch with strong delight her girlish beauty. He was always finding some new charm, and now his eye fell on a slight incurve, not quite a dimple, of the blush rose flesh, where the rose tint ever so slightly deepened just at the sitting of the round young neck and soft shoulder, and he kissed it once or twice. But the dearest wonder of all was her love—to feel her heart give back throb for throb to his own, and to watch her breath come and go with the breath of his own being, and the blood quicken in every vein beneath his hand, beneath his glance.

Dennis looked at the rippled folds of the gown he most admired, and he thought of the kiss upon his bare and unregenerate arm, and he said, "You're very good to me, my Aidie." Adelaide smiled with a half-submerged sense of humour. It was not worth while explaining that he was making a little mistake, and after all he was let off his punishment, for she did not talk any politics that evening nor did she mend any lace.