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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter II. How Adelaide repented of her Besetting Sin

page 240

Chapter II. How Adelaide repented of her Besetting Sin.

"Well, Aidie, have you come home for good already? Is he a monster, and won't you bear it any more, and are you going to tell Father?"

Adelaide was taking off her hat in front of the old-fashioned looking-glass in Mr. Borlase's bedroom, and showing every appearance of a prolonged stay, and while he jested, her Father was looking rather keenly at her. Beyond disproof, he saw the exaltation of the well-loved wife. Adelaide wore a new-blown matronly air, which suggested that Mrs. MacDiarmid was not just exactly the same person as Adelaide Borlase.

"Nothing nearly so interesting, Dad," she answered. "Dennis has gone to Roslyn, and I could not possibly have a meal all alone by myself, so I have come to take care of you, dearest darling."

"Oh, it's Dennis that has run away, is it? You don't look heartbroken, I must say."

"No one ever was so happy before, Dad." She spoke in beautiful earnest now. "You see, we remember each other so well. It isn't like page 241a strange man having all sorts of fancies about a woman he doesn't know at all, and then each of them thinking the other a fraud because they are both human."

Adelaide began arranging lunch for him and herself upon the side-table, with a slightly meditative air, suggestive to an experienced person of the fact that she was afraid of forgetting something. Her domestic accomplishments had the charm of freshness, and she played her new part exquisitely. She had brought over some peaches of her own preserving, and her father watched her with amused attention, not unmixed with pride, as she set them before him. Experience had taken most of the sentiment out of him, and what he had left lay back in the past. Adelaide was as near as he came now to living sentiment, and that was because she belonged to the smoother, brighter and more luxurious sphere associated with his own youth. He saw through all the artificialities of that sphere, but yet found a charm in them. He was not altogether in love with realities. Face to face with savage life and nature in the wilds, he had fought them so long that he sometimes felt as if he had had enough of nature, and would relish a little art.

"So you and Dennis always agree about everything, darling, do you?" he asked as she served the peaches.

"Oh no, that would be monotonous. But page 242when we disagree, you see, Dad," Adelaide began to blush, "it is only like the discords that composers put in the harmony to resolve into lovely concords."

"Oh, go home to your husband, Aidie, if you are going to talk poetry. I don't want to hear your honeymoon nonsense. What's Dennis gone to Roslyn for?"

"He is thinking of founding a club—I mean a company, of course," she corrected herself quickly. "They are going to have refrigerating plants, and freeze all the poor lambs in the district." Adelaide was inwardly uncertain whether "refrigerating plants" were animal, vegetable or mineral, but she would have liked to convey the impression that she did understand all about her husband's business.

"H'm. I think he's got rather a good thing on there," said Mr. Borlase, partly to himself. This latest project of MacDiarmid gave him more solid satisfaction than his daughter's bright face.

Adelaide did not stay at Haeremai so long as she had intended because a small M'Ilvride girl in a cotton sun-bonnet came running in, excitedly, an hour or two after dinner, to say that the Miramar carriage was just outside of the gate at Te Rama-Rama. So Adelaide went home in haste to entertain Major and Mrs. Brandon. They urged her to come over with Dennis and visit them on the following day. She promised for herself and her husband, and then wondered page 243by what possible means she could persuade him to go. While she was still wondering, she saw him at the door, and made some excuse for meeting him. He had been looking forward to having her sing and talk to him, and he was wroth to find her lavishing pretty smiles and flatteries on his neighbours. Indeed, he swore inaudibly within his beard, when she bade him present himself in her little drawing-room. Major Brandon was particularly anxious to see him and inform him that there was likely to be a bye-election for their district, and that he certainly ought to stand.

"I don't know what your politics happen to be, MacDiarmid," he said with a bluff good-humoured laugh, "but I'll back you whether you are Liberal or Conservative. There's not a halfpenny difference between the two in New Zealand, as far as I can see. The Liberals want to go faster than the Conservatives perhaps."

"Thanks. I have been spoken to about it once or twice. Scott asked me in Roslyn to-day."

"Oh, do get elected, Dennis!" exclaimed Adelaide lightly, and he looked at her a moment, but saw that she had not given a serious thought to the question.

"He can't refuse his wife, Aidie, not to speak of the mighty Mayor of Roslyn and my humble self."

"I'm not going to stand," said MacDiarmid slowly, like a traction engine grinding down page 244pebbles. "What's the use in letting the farm go to ruination while I humbug the district in Wellington?"

Mrs. Brandon was annoyed. "Oh, these Colonials!" she was saying to herself. "I'm very sorry for Adelaide. I hope he won't be in the next time I call." And she rose to leave. But Major Brandon's foible was to be a colonial with colonials, an Englishman with Englishmen, and the correct thing everywhere. He had an impression that he had discovered and patented MacDiarmid himself, and he took quite an inventor's pride in pushing forward his own invention. He could not give up this project.

"Seriously, you'll make a great mistake if you refuse to be nominated, MacDiarmid," he said as they parted, "you've got to think of your wife as well as yourself now. You must give her some position in society and here's your chance. Why, you don't know what a success that little girl of yours was in London, and the big people she had crowding round to get a few words with her. You mustn't let her pine away all alone in the Bush, you know. All right, Elinor, I'm coming. See you to-morrow MacDiarmid."

"No, he won't. D— his interference," said MacDiarmid, but inwardly he brooded over that speech.

"He means to be kind, Dennis. I like him very much."

"Well, I don't. What do you think of a page 245man who will be a Liberal or a Conservative, whichever I please?"

Adelaide secretly thought this was very nice of Major Brandon, and just what she herself would do. She was more than willing for Dennis to choose her politics. But she discreetly turned the attack.

"Dennis, you promised me not to swear."

"I'm sorry, darling." He thought for a considerable time about Major Brandon, and reflected that he really was fond of Aidie. "I believe he is rather a nice old humbug after all," he said at last. "But whenever he gets near me, I always feel as if I had got into a swarm of sandflies. He sort of raises lumps on me and slips out of my hands, and then I feel wild to squash him. I like Evelyn best," he concluded, "she is the only one that hates me out and out. Do give me a kiss, love, and hang politics and the Brandons."

"Will you get the buggy for me from Haeremai to-morrow, Dennis?"

"Of course I will. Allan M'Ilvride can drive you."

"O Dennis, you are going to drive me. It is quite a long time since we have been out together," said Adelaide with duplicity.

"I'll drive you anywhere else."

"Except where I want to go."

"You're rather hard on me, Aidie—but I'll take you and hold the horses while you go in.

"Please, Dennis, dear."

page 246

"All right, my little tyrant. Now come and sing 'Mary of Argyle.'"

When they arrived at Miramar, the groom immediately came to hold the horses, as Adelaide knew he would do. Dennis dismissed him, much to the groom's disappointment, for he had got to a particularly thrilling part of "Dracula," and was looking forward to an undisturbed hour of really enjoyable literature. Adelaide, not yet foiled, went in alone, but presently reappeared at the top of the steps with Major Brandon by her side, so that any exclusively conjugal remarks were out of the question.

"O Dennis," she said with superficial innocence on her face and tremulous guilt in her heart, "the groom will look after the buggy. Major Brandon wants to show you a Jersey cow with such lovely ears and the sweetest biscuit-coloured hair. It has a pedigree or a breed or a genealogy something like grandmamma's, hasn't it, Major Brandon? You really must see it, dear."

Dennis saw that he was entrapped, glanced with meaning at his betrayer, and left the buggy resignedly. When they came indoors from the paddocks, they found several guests in the drawing-room. Major Brandon, with his usual amiable solicitude for MacDiarmid, introduced him to three influential runholders, two of whom MacDiarmid already knew, and the third of whom he had a great objection to, page 247and had always hitherto succeeded in avoiding. Adelaide's conscience was restless, and all the more because her husband was quiet and quite himself, though she knew well there were few things he abhorred more than a tea-party of this kind. She thought he looked as if he could say a good deal to her "an if he would." He did not speak a word on the way home until they got out of the Miramar gates.

"Well now, what have you got to say for yourself?" he began.

"It was a sweet cow," replied Adelaide nervously. "I knew you would like to see it, Dennis."

"Oh! You and your 'sweet cows,' and their pedigrees. It's a bull, my child, but that's no matter. No wonder you're so fond of that old humbug. You're only a fraud yourself. But you won't take me in so easily again, my darling."

"You mean that I am insincere, Dennis?"

"What do you think yourself of all this manœuvring, Aidie?"

"I think you are punishing me too severely." She tried to look dignified, but only looked downcast.

"Oh, yes, I punish you, my Aidie, don't I?" He laughed melodiously, looking down at the graceful little lady by his side. "You're very frightened of me, I know."

But Adelaide was really hurt, because her conscience troubled her, and at night she cried page 248to him, "O Dennis, do say you don't think me a false society sort of person."

"You're trying to fret over what I said, Aidie? Don't you know I think my wife everything that's best in the world."

"I mean to be more sincere," Adelaide sighed repentantly, and he wondered, but forbore to ask, how long she would keep that up.