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The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XIII

page 132

Chapter XIII

They had not ridden down because of the difficulty of changing clothes at the hall. They agreed it would be much more interesting to walk back to the top of the ridge above the drop, and brake themselves home on a truck to the mill. This was the usual way of getting home from Whakapara at night when one did not ride. There were usually trucks left on the little siding for the purpose. This night there were several for the use of the first people who came along to claim them.

Braking a truck was a simple business, Arthur said. He had often done it.

A full moon filled the valley with light. The night was cool, but there was no sting in it. It had been a friendly winter, exceptionally warm. There was a heavy dew.

Sidney and Arthur set out with a swing, glorying in it. It was about one o'clock, and as the dance was to last till four they were the first to leave. Even the bush workers would stay to the end and get back to go straight to work. But as it was a Saturday morning they did not mind. Men accustomed to fighting fires for fifty hourspage 133 on end thought nothing of giving up a night's sleep for a dance.

Before they had gone far Arthur took out his cigarettes. Sidney lit hers from a match in the hollow of his hand, and was conscious that his fingers touched her cheek. Then he filled and lit his pipe and they went on, speaking only when the spirit moved them. They did not go by way of the drop, but by the longer road zigzagging up the ridge. It was fringed with bush, and had beautiful outlooks upon the valley below. Now and again they stopped to look down. The night was so still that they could hear the music in the hall and the dancing feet.

As they walked on Sidney pondered over the fact that Arthur Devereux never offered to assist her over obstacles. Every man she had ever known lost no chance of taking her arm or gripping her elbow, and assuming generally that she was a feeble creature. But he paid her the supreme compliment of recognising that she was a sure-footed sylph, as able as himself to jump ruts and dodge roots.

As she had not yet reached the stage when she wanted excuses for physical contact with him, she was interested in his apparent lack of any desire to avail himself of his privileges as an escort. He never offered her his arm all the way up the long hill. And she was quite satisfied that hepage 134 should enjoy her company, as he so obviously did.

They took a cut into the tramway a little before they reached the top, and when they broke from the bush at the crest of the hill they cried out together. One of the sights of a lifetime made the world a dream of magic about them.

Every tree round the clearing, every foot of fern and trampled grass was veiled with diamond wheels that glittered in the moonlight. Millions of spiders' webs caught by the dew shrouded them. It looked as if every spider in the country had gathered for a celebration, and as if the moon had collaborated to make it unforgettable.

"God! What a sight," said Arthur, half to himself, after a few minutes. "Incredible if one didn't see it."

Though Sidney said nothing her silence spoke forcibly for her.

He turned to her with the first bit of personal impulsiveness he had shown.

"Do you know, little girl, it's fine to have you like everything as I do."

The "little girl" took her by surprise and startled her into answering lightly, "Of course I enjoy everything."

However, she knew she was blushing again, and he knew it too.

They stood a few minutes longer absorbingpage 135 that fleeting beauty into their souls. Then they walked on to the trucks.

The one nearest the mill happened to be small, with only room for two. Sidney grew excited as she thought of the ride. Arthur helped her to arrange herself so that she sat firmly. When he got on beside her they saw they would have to sit as closely as they could to each other to avoid having their clothes caught by the wheels. He tucked her cloak carefully under her legs.

"Don't let that flop over. If the wheel catches it you will be pulled off," he said.

He took the rope of the emergency brake in one hand, and pushed the other with his foot. As they were on the incline already they began to move without a push, and in a minute they were off.

They gained speed as they went, and presently they were tearing through the night. Arthur put his left arm round Sidney and held her firmly against him. He did not look at her to see how she took it. His face was set, and his eyes keenly on the lookout, for a stone on the line would have wrecked them, and there was always the danger at night of a wandering pig or a cow.

It was impossible for Sidney to tell how necessary it was for him to hold her, so she could not judge of the significance of his action. And she did not care to speculate about it. That strongpage 136 arm round her back gave her a thrill above anything she had ever known. She wished it might last for ever, and that was all she cared to feel then. The excitement of racing like that through the dead of night, with the wind they made stinging their cheeks, and the clatter of their going disturbing the peace of the still valleys, made for her an experience that shook her right out of the accustomed smoothness of her ways.

She hated that it should come to an end, which it did all too soon, for it took only ten minutes to do the two miles, even though the speed acquired on the slopes dissipated considerably on the flats.

Arthur braked the truck to a standstill by the stables, where he had left his horse and clothes. At once he withdrew his arm from Sidney, stretched himself and jumped off.

"Wasn't that sport?" he asked gaily, giving her his hand.

"Glorious," she cried, looking frankly at him. "I have enjoyed it all. Thank you so much."

"Oh, I'll see you safely to your gate," he smiled.

They walked along the track in silence, enjoying the deep stillness of the village.

It was an alluring night on the ghostly flat, and the stumps looked more reminiscent than ever as they raised their smooth tops to the moon.

page 137

They both realized they did not want the evening to end. When they stopped at her gate they had their first moment of hesitancy. But Arthur diagnosed it at once, and was not to be caught now by that kind of impulse.

"Good night, Miss Carey. You've given me an awfully jolly evening. We'll do it again."

She lightened at once.

"I've just loved it," she said warmly. "And I thank you."

For a few minutes after he had left her she wondered if he had enjoyed it all as much as she had, and if he had felt the same regret at the end.

As she undressed she felt that in accordance with all her preconceived notions of the creature, Arthur Devereux was that greatly-to-be-desired rarity—a thorough gentleman. She approved of the whole evening, of the things he had left undone even more than of the things he had done.

She did not sleep for hours. For the first time in her life she indulged in the exciting pastime of projecting herself into a future made for two, and was amazed when the dawn stole in upon her visions.

Arthur Devereux thought about her a good deal as he rode home. He told himself he must not drift into an affair with a girl of her type. He acknowledged that apart from delighting inpage 138 her company he was becoming more and more stimulated by her physical attractions. He was not by any means a woman hunter, but when women turned up as she had done he could not help looking into the future.

He was not yet in love with Sidney, and did not know whether he ever would be. He did not speculate about marriage as he rode. But his thoughts wandered far as he tried to decide how sophisticated she was.

"I wonder if she ever would," he said to himself.