The Heart of the Bush
Chapter IX. How Dennis came back to Adelaide, and of the Joy they had, and how True Love is likened to Spring
Chapter IX. How Dennis came back to Adelaide, and of the Joy they had, and how True Love is likened to Spring.
The tempest stopped, and the weather began to break, but in a sullen and grudging mood. Grey showers still descended fitfully from dull skies, as if the storm demon were not yet quite satisfied. Orchard and garden and the wide circle of paddocks and hills were mud and slush, and on the Flat and in the higher levels of the river bed were stranded branches and rotten logs, and the carcases of drowned sheep and cattle, tangled in grass and weeds.
Adelaide sat in her dining-room and waited for her husband, in a mood that she herself scarcely understood. She was physically exhausted, and her face was pale with suppressed suffering. She would die without complaining of the dull prose of her life, but her eyes seemed to wonder over it, and to ask for something unattainable. Adelaide did so keenly love bright, lovely things, and she had been so much a part of them all—fine fabrics and rooms of state, food served delicately in services of silver, all the romance of wealth and page 318high station, swift glad motion and musical sounds, and the light comedy of life. But she was a woman and a Celt, and she thrilled with the heroic joy and pride of sacrifice. With unbroken courage she could have borne the aching of delicate limbs, the quivering of sensitive nerves, and the heat and weariness of tired feet, that had always before been accustomed to rest at leisure. But even a martyr expects heaven, and so did Adelaide expect her heaven of love. It was nothing to fling everything away for Dennis, to cook and mend and even to clean for him, if only he would throw incense on her sacrifice and let it rise in perfume.
But when Dennis saw her exhausted, he was angry, and though his wrath was against fate, it struck back on his wife, and in his wrath his hand was heavy. Yet even these days when she served him were less intolerable than the meaningless blankness of his absence had been. What tried her now most of all was his silence. It was a dead wall of obstruction, against which even her love and tender pity were cast in vain.
"Some change must come and must come soon," she thought. "Our life must not be spoiled like this. God help us both." She sat and mended his socks and shirts, until she heard him in the porch at the back. At first a nervous inability to rise chained her down. When he opened the dining-room door, she would have page 319gone to him, but as he only looked at her without kiss or greeting, she changed her loving impulse into a movement to light the lamp. There was no service that he might not have freely, but if he wanted kisses he must woo her. Dennis had taken off his top boots and oil-skins, but he had neither changed nor washed, and now he threw himself into his armchair and sat motionless. Adelaide looked at him and thought that there was something pathetic about his eyes, like those of a sheep-dog in pain, and the tears came to her own. "Oh why doesn't an angel come and help us?" she thought, but felt herself powerless.
"Are you cold, dear?" she asked, and kneeling on the hearthrug, put on some wood and blew up the fire.
"Yes—no—not particularly. I don't know. Aidie, why can't Lena see to the fire for you?"
"Lena's influenza is worse, Dennis, and she wants to be nursed herself. Emmie has been here till an hour ago."
"Oh, — Lena! What the — did she get ill for just now!" Adelaide rose to leave the room.
"What are you going away for?"
"I cannot stop you from swearing, Dennis, but I need not stay to listen," Adelaide answered, with her half-proud, half-plaintive air.
He made a weary movement with one arm and let his head fall on his hand. "Aidie, I'm tired."page 320
"Yes, so am I," she thought, but only looked at him with restrained tears, hopelessly, not resentfully. Instead of going away, she took a chair near, too proud to court him, but too loving not to comfort. "Is anything wrong, Dennis?"
"Yes, pretty nearly everything."
"Won't you tell me, dear?"
"It's all this cursed weather."
"I wish you were not forced to go out into it. It's dreadful. You must get so cold and tired. And going through the water and the snow!"
"I don't care a rap about getting wet, you silly child. It's not that. And it's not the work either. But oh —, the weather! It's pretty well broke me for the time. And just when I wanted every penny to get these works well started. I've lost half the lambs and some of the best cattle, not to speak of all the corn being washed away. I've been round to-day reckoning up all that I've lost, and it's enough to take the heart out of any man. If there was anything I'd done wrong or neglected doing, I could curse myself for a fool and start again. But I've done all that a mortal man could do, and worked till I could drop to get the beasts off the flat and the hills. After a year's hard work, this storm comes without rhyme or reason and snatches everything out of my hand."
"I'm very sorry, Dennis, love. I wish that I could help you."page 321
"I don't care about myself, but it drives me wild to see you work as you do, and look thin and white and always tired, when you're only twenty-one, and you never did a stroke of work until you were my wife. Oh—the whole thing! Come here, Aidie. There, look at your pretty white hands. You've cut one of your fingers, and you've scalded your wrist."
Adelaide drew her hands away.
"It is nothing, Dennis. I am careless, and I get hurried and nervous."
"You've no right to be doing rough work and hurrying to get it done. If I were alone, I wouldn't mind living under canvas, and sleeping on a bracken bed."
"And I would live so and sleep with you, Dennis," Adelaide said, but in a shy and somewhat sad manner.
"Oh, you! The first rain would kill you," he answered literally. "You would go into anything because you don't know what it is. You didn't know what you were doing when you married me."
Adelaide was desperately hurt, and her heart throbbed with the undeserved wound.
"What a year you've had of it! You ought to have married Brandon," Dennis went on moodily.
She answered with the best look of "race," a fine high pride in herself, blent with the devoted and heroic loyalty of the Celt, "You dishonour me by saying such things, Dennis."page 322
Then she went into the kitchen where Lena was sitting muffled up. "Lena, couldn't you just serve the dinner?" she said. "I will do everything afterwards." Lena, with an inward record of the inhuman heartlessness of mistresses, went like a martyr to the range.
Dennis came to table, somewhat carelessly clad, and still moody, but subdued.
"I'm sorry I've been rough, dearie," he said.
"It does not matter. You must have been dreadfully worried." But Adelaide's expression was still a little proud and distant.
"I don't know how I'll meet all the Company's claims," Dennis went on. "There's a lot to pay out next month, and it nearly all falls on me."
Adelaide had picked up a few vague notions of business.
"Couldn't you get Mr. Willoughby and the Grants to pay back what you lent them?"
"No, Aidie, I can't come down on them now. I spoke to Willoughby this afternoon, and he's pretty well stone-broke, a lot worse than I am. Grant is only a poor settler, who does any odd jobs of fencing or shearing on the runs about here. That land he is on never was his own. It all belongs to the Bank, and their agent is as hard as nails. There will be a bad time now all over the Valley, and it falls so hard on the poor womenfolk and the children. I rode over to Grant's to-day. He was away up on the hills fencing Willoughby's land with page 323only a tent to shelter him when the storm came on, and he very nearly lost his life. I couldn't get away from Mrs. Grant. Poor woman, she used to look after the cows herself and pretty well kept the home up, and now she has lost one of her best beasts." Dennis looked steadily at his plate for some time and then glanced up. "The fact is, Aidie," he said shamefacedly, "I gave her some more money."
"My Dennis," Adelaide said softly, and did not look remote.
"Oh, it wasn't a bit generous. I hadn't it to give. It was only making free with other people's money. I'll have to come on you, my little girl, to pay off my debts."
"O Dennis, it is all yours," she answered with a beautiful expression. Yet she stifled some inward pangs. Her pretty dresses were nearly all worn out and this cut off all prospect of getting more. They had finished dinner now, and Adelaide left the room on some pretext, but in reality, as he well knew, to work in the kitchen. She was almost ashamed of feeling glad of these confidences, but Adelaide is not the first wife who has welcomed misfortune because it has made her husband turn to her. "Perhaps we will begin now to understand each other," she thought with an anxious hope.
Then the thrice-accursed Frozen Meat again stepped in to part them. When she returned to the dining-room Dennis had gone to his page 324office. "If it isn't clear to-night," Adelaide cried desperately to herself, "it never will be. I haven't the strength to go on any longer." And she did what she had not done for months—went to him. It had become an understood thing that he was not to be disturbed. Dennis was sitting at the desk that had been her Father's, deep in papers, and he looked up mechanically.
"What do you want, Aidie?"
"You," she thought, but answered with something tremulous in her voice. "I may as well stay here and look after your fire. I will not disturb you, Dennis," and sitting down she tried to go on mending. Dennis made no reply, but went on writing and reading. Half an hour later he said, without raising his eyes, "I am going in to Roslyn first thing to-morrow morning. I don't expect I shall be back for a fortnight this time."
Every hope seemed snatched away. "Will nothing ever bring us together?" Adelaide cried inwardly, and all her gentleness failed, and her breeding with it.
"Dennis, Dennis," she cried out. "You must not go. You shall not go away and leave me. I cannot bear it any more."
"Adelaide," he said rather wearily, "I can't make you out to-night. You seem to be in a dozen different moods. I suppose you're upset and worn out. Go to bed, there's a dear girl, do. I can't work with you in the room."page 325
Her pride came to the rescue enough to make her resume some appearance of calm.
"Very well, Dennis. Good-night."
His eyes followed her as she left the room, then he turned back to his papers; but nothing seemed to go well that night. Adelaide's cry had reached him and disturbed him vaguely. "I've brought all this misery on her," he thought, "when I would have done anything on earth to make her happy. I must be tired. I can't give my mind to business." He was scarcely conscious of any separation between them, but felt that there was a general cursedness about fate just then.
Adelaide had made such a desperate attempt to break down the barrier, and all was useless. "I haven't any power to move him in the least," she thought. "This is the beginning of the end of all happiness for us both." Without noticing or caring how time went, she sat in the dark in her bedroom. An hour or so later, Dennis came and opened the door quietly, so as not to waken her.
"Aidie! I told you to go to bed. Why didn't you?"
Then something very beautiful descended into Adelaide's soul, not exactly a mediæval angel with bird's wings, but a divine messenger of the God who is Wisdom and Love and Power. She came to her husband and put up her arms to him.page 326
"Because there is something I must say to you to-night, Dennis."
He stood still, greatly moved and not quite knowing why. Her cry had reached him and disturbed him vaguely.
"Tell me, darling."
"Dennis, I've loved you more than anything on earth, more than anything that God could give me after death. I've lived for you, thought for you, worked for you, given up all I once cared about for you. I bore the pains of death for you, and I will gladly again. What have you given me back?"
"Not much, poor child, but all I had to give."
"You have refused me, you keep on refusing me, all that I really want."
"What have I that you could want, Aidie?"
"Yourself, your dear self, Dennis," she cried with a soft cry.
He thought in silence. "I know my business has come between us, love, and I'm not much with you, but I work for you."
"For me? To buy me things? Which do I love the most, you or what money can get me? And while you are wrapped up in your work, do you ever think how I live without you?" She leaned against him and he bent down over her. "O Dennis, Dennis—think of what it has meant to me, to be forsaken so soon. Think of all my lonely days, my lonely nights. I made your home ready for you, and page 327you did not come to it. I cried in the dark and no one cared. I fainted alone and no one even knew. I was in fear of death and there was no one near to comfort me. Yet you had made me yours so utterly that I was no longer my own —." Adelaide paused, but Dennis only tightened his clasp. It was some time before he spoke, and then it was in a low voice and with uncertainty. "Aidie, my own love, I never understood. What else could I do? There was so much to see to."
"I never grudged the farm work," she went on; "that you had to do, and I had my share of duties too. But not to have any days, not even an hour together! Do you know what is my happiest memory of these last six months? The day when I was dying and you would not stir from me. Must I be nearly dead before you'll spare the time to love me, Dennis? The District? Yes, it's right that you should care about that. But haven't I a nearer claim? Haven't I any claim at all—not to a share in the profits—but to a share in my husband—in you, you, yourself, your thoughts, your time, your interests, all that I gave you up of mine?"
"You had, you have, love." He spoke with deep conviction. "The nearest, dearest claim of all. Don't go on, Aidie. I've made a big mistake. I've wounded the dear wife I love more than myself. But this is an end of it for ever. You forgive me, my sweetheart, I know."page 328
"There is no such thing as forgiveness from me to you. There's only love, but you can make it glad or sad, Dennis."
"You always were the sweetest little dear in all the world. Poor little love. Poor little wife. Come to the sitting-room. There's a light there still, and I want to see you." He went in and sat down by her on the couch. "I thought so. You've been crying yourself ill. How white you are! And I came home and scolded you, like the great rough boor I am."
"You mustn't abuse my husband, Dennis. You are the kindest man there ever was, but you are not quite so wise nor I so childish as you think."
Dennis mused awhile, then unexpectedly smiled and remarked.
"I feel like keeping out of Emmie's way for a bit. I wish she didn't always manage to be right. You understand, Aidie, that I can't drop this business altogether, there are other people in with me. But I don't need to run the whole district myself, and that's what I've been doing. I swear I'll find a way to give myself to you. You could come with me when I go to the township or to Dunedin, and I'll never shut myself away from you again. Aidie, I want to tell you why I have been worrying so much. I'd set my heart on sending you to Europe when St. Aubyn goes, to make you strong again and give you a few months' pleasure. It's dull for you here."page 329
"O Dennis, you dear, adorable, delightful, stupid Dennis!" Adelaide slipped down from the couch and knelt on the floor by him, clasping his knee in an abandon that had something passionate and primitive, and yet was civilised and restrained by grace and prettiness. "Do you think I would go away to Europe and leave my lover working here?"
"I might make you go, my Aidie."
"There are some things not even you can do, my Dennis, dear." He held her face in both his hands, and looked down with the laughter in his brown eyes once more.
"I do not. I know."
"Well, I believe you are pretty obstinate sometimes."
Adelaide answered softly, "So Dad told me when I would have you instead of Horace Brandon."
Dennis laughed outright then, and lifted her to his knees.
"There, I'll own you have got the better of me now. So you're really willing to stay in the Bush alone with me?"
"Oh, yes. But the question seems to be whether you are willing to stay in the Bush with me."
"I never thought of it that way," Dennis answered with simplicity.
"Yet 'sang' she Brignall banks are fair,
And Greta woods are green,
I'd rather rove with Edmund there
Than reign our English queen."
"You really would, you blessed child? Aidie, I think we'll 'rove' up the Pass the first fine day and look at the Alps again, and see if the mountain lilies are out yet. Why, Aidie, its worth losing a thousand pounds to see you look so bonnie. I won't let you tire yourself this time. I'll carry you down without asking your leave, and I won't be cast off at the creek."
Adelaide was lying back against his arm, and her lips trembled with a smile. For a few minutes neither spoke, then she unclasped her husband's arm and moving to the piano said, "Now, you may ask me to sing, Dennis. I want to."
"Do, darling. I don't believe I've heard you sing for months."
Dennis took both her hands off the keyboard. "That's not so anyway. Come, Aidie."
"What's this dull town to me?—(London, Dennis.)
Robin's not near,
What was't I wished to see,
What wished to hear?
Where's all the joy and mirth
Made this town heaven on earth,
Oh, they're all fled with thee,
"Though now thou'rt cold to me—"
So Dennis MacDiarmid threw away all his golden chances once again. He sold out most of his shares in the Farmers' Refrigerating Company to Major Brandon, and resigned his seat on the Board of Directors. When Willoughby heard this, he got into a passion, and called his neighbour a fool, and more than one canny Roslynite agreed with him. Lena was, for a Colonial maid, unusually respectful in the presence of her master and mistress, and as she condescendingly observed to Kate, "You couldn't help liking them somehow." But Adelaide would have been surprised at the humour expended over her and her husband in the M'Ilvrides' hospitable kitchen, on the evenings when Johnny Saunders and the maid from Te Rama Rama looked in and narrated how Mr. and Mrs. MacDiarmid read "poetry books" and "history-books" together, with a map of Europe and pictures in front of them; how they had picnics "all alone by themselves" in wooded gullies and up the mountains; how they went walks together, "as if they were sweethearts and not a married couple"; how they came home with their hands full of flowers and ferns; how Mrs. MacDiarmid could make Mr. MacDiarmid do anything "whatever," and how he could always make her. Which things are somehow or other humorous to the genuine unsophisticated rustic.
But MacDiarmid went his own way, and heeded not Willoughby nor Lena, nor Johnny page 332Saunders nor the M'Ilvrides, nor all of the Roslyn township. Adelaide began all her tyrannies again, and Dennis laughed under them. He was not afraid of himself; he could be as immoveable as a rock when he chose. The belated spring came in a swift rush up the valley. The high Alps, and the great mountains, and the little hills at their feet, rejoiced in sunlight and showers; and the Bush and all its streams were glad and made merry together.
"Of the place, that she had seen,
And the glories that lay in the world unseen."
He would have sworn that he enjoyed her tale better than he could have done the actual sight—only that "he never swore again,"—at page 333least not in her hearing. The Tohunga came down from the mountains, whenever he thought they were in the valley, and he followed Adelaide about and brought her strange offerings of crystals and quartz from the mines, and greenstone and Bush flowers. Dennis remarked, "You are much more of a witch than he is a wizard, though you look such an innocent little girl, my darling." Even Tane was overcome by her arts, and became her fawning slave, and the very owl winked at the caresses she took and gave in the shade of the palm lily; and he said no more about it to the Bush. The Rangatira and its sisters they were content to see at a distance. Adelaide made Dennis climb some peaks alone, but he came back declaring he was getting domestic or double-souled or something, and didn't so much enjoy exploring without her. Only once from the shoulder of a ridge they saw the Wainoni glacier far away at sunrise. Adelaide thought of their ascent from the crevasse in the pale dawn. At that minute something stirred and throbbed within her, and the life-blood ran fuller. When the night came, she told him a little tremulously that she must wait at home now for many months, and she asked him if he could be patient with her. At first he made no answer in words, but simply kissed her hands and her face and her feet, then he said that this time he would go to the Silver-eye for an example, and the rest of the flock might fly as page 334they pleased; he would stay by his mate while she wanted him.
The Farmers' Freezing Company and the Wainoni Flat Creamery both throve. On the afternoon when the dividends were declared, Dennis drove home with Adelaide from Roslyn. He was not quite happy, and she saw it, but said nothing until she was sitting by him at night in the firelight.
"You don't regret giving up money and getting happiness, Dennis?"
"No, it's not quite regret. But, O Aidie, I did so want to give my darling the best that's in the world."
"The best thing in the world, Dennis? Why, haven't I got that now?"page 335page 336page 337page 338