Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XIV

page 139

Chapter XIV

The next day Sidney began a critical investigation of her feelings, and the situation generally. As she was not yet in love with Arthur she was able to think rationally about being in love with him. Though her vanity was pleased with his attention she had no illusions about mere attentions from men. She had always had their attention. She was clear-sighted enough to see that so far Arthur had given her no sign that he cared for more than her company. And she was proud enough and strong enough to keep her feelings down until she was sure what a man meant.

In considering the subject of marriage she had always been very sure of what she wanted. She believed she would always be able to manage her feelings so that she would not fall in love with an undesirable man. She was not ignorant of the ways of men. She had read scientific sex books. She had been the confidante of friends who had been horribly disillusioned. And she was determined that she would never make the mistakes they made. She was sure she could trust her own judgment, and more, she was sure that if shepage 140 found herself deceived she could pull herself up and be glad she was saved in time.

Sidney was tolerant of moral lapses in others. She had always said on hearing of them, "Well, I'm not dead yet myself," but while lightly uttering that profundity she had always meant to keep clear of emotional messes. She was young enough and inexperienced enough to be sure she could not love a man who would not be faithful to her. That was her first requirement in a possible husband. Exactly how she was going to be sure of faithfulness she had never asked herself. She took it for granted she would be.

Now, in considering Arthur, she realized she knew nothing whatever of his past, of his code about women, and she told herself very firmly that though his company was delightful, she could not allow herself to drift into anything serious with him until she did know more.

Fortified by this, analysis she met him coolly for their next ride, ready to frustrate any advances he might make. But noticing some subtle difference in her, and fortified also by his own resolutions, Arthur was as impersonal as the merest acquaintance.

Then Sidney went to Auckland for her winter vacation and in a week of mild dissipation almost forgot him.

On her return she found a short note from himpage 141 saying he hoped to meet her as usual the following Saturday afternoon. While they were riding away in the hills it began to rain. Arthur suggested they should make for his cottage, which he said was a mile or two away.

Sidney looked round the sky, seeing it would not clear for hours, and answered lightly that she would get wet anyway and that the sooner she reached home the better.

Arthur had not had any deliberate motive in making the suggestion; that is, he told himself he had not, but he wondered if she thought he had. He did not leave her to go home alone, but rode with her to their usual halting place on the road a mile away from the mill, and made light of getting wet.

One soft night in the early spring Sidney rode out alone.

Her horse was always kept in the stables or in a little field close by. She had never had to get it for herself, no matter when she wanted it, for Bill Hardy seemed to live, eat and sleep with the horses. He was now her devoted slave. He got her horse for her, and groomed it as if he were performing a religious rite. If he wondered where she went on Saturday afternoons, or thought the nocturnal rides she now began to take were funny he kept his opinions to himself.

From Bill Sidney learned all there was to knowpage 142 about horses. He could not talk of anything else, and when he talked of them his sad eyes glowed. She liked to think that life had given him this great compensation, and that between him and the animals he loved there was a real understanding.

She was able to come and go to the stables unnoticed, as what she called her track to the tramway was hidden from the village by the school and the timber stacks. She could be seen leaving her gate only by the Ridgefields, but the houses were so situated that they could not tell whether she went to the school or beyond it.

She had never hesitated for a moment about going out with Arthur, but she was determined to keep her jaunts with him to herself. She could not have endured for a moment the kind of curiosity the village would have had about it, or the familiar banalities that the more privileged of her parents might have ventured upon the subject. Indeed, with her own friends she would have been fiercely reticent. She had no fear that Bill would suspect, for Arthur never rode in to the mill with her.

This night she went off up the main road toward the ranges. She had a fine sense of freedom out there alone with the stars. She had discovered much more than the wind in the Puhipuhi. The place had taught her to love her own com-page 143pany and explore her own mind in a way the city had never given her a chance to do. She walked her horse and smoked in intense enjoyment of her independence.

When she was not far from Mana's road she heard a rider coming towards her. But the horse did not come on. It turned off, and the sounds of its hoofs died away. Sidney knew the only track anywhere about led into the Joyous Valley. She wondered who it was that had ridden in there. Then she suspected who it was, and asked herself why the suspicion should disturb her.

But it disturbed her so much that she wanted to be sure. When she got to Mana's road she stopped her horse. Then she told herself she was a fool. Of course Arthur visited Mana, and there was no reason why he should not. It was early in the evening (she had the common illusion that hours were significant) and, of course, they were going to sing together.

She rode on for some time before turning homewards. On the way back she stopped again at Mana's track. She found the impulse to ride in irresistible. At the gate on the ridge she stopped to listen. She despised herself for thus playing spy, a thing she had never done before, and told herself that she would learn nothing by knowing that it was Arthur who had ridden in. It was no business of hers if he had. But when shepage 144 heard the piano and his voice floating up to her she found that some inconvenient emotions inside her took it seriously.

She would have liked to wait there to see how long he stayed, but taking herself sternly to task she turned her horse and rode out and homewards. She told herself she had no grounds for suspecting that the relations between him and Mana were anything but friendly. And supposing they were, what difference did that make to her? She could go on enjoying his company. For that she had no business to pry into his private life. And she could break off the acquaintance any time she chose.

As she had never yet had to sever any human relation she supposed it would be easy. Action had always meant yes or no to her. And so far her decisions had left no inconvenient trails of indecision behind.

She had herself well in hand the next time she went riding with Arthur. He knew she had retreated, and he speculated concerning the reason, feeling his interest in her sharpened. It stimulated him to his best in conversation. He talked to her about the British Empire, that inexhaustible subject of inspiration to wandering Englishmen who flutter about it criticising other Englishmen who are its props. He talked of Africa, and the native problem there, of Canada and thepage 145 French-Canadian problem, and of his favourite topic, India.

She loved to listen to him, though she knew he played with the problems of nations as a philosopher does with ideas. He was a dilettante, dabbling in events. He refused to take even the British Empire too seriously.

"We're doomed, like Greece and Rome, and Austria and Spain," he said lightly to her. "It's America's turn next. We've lost our grip. When the native races are organized and educated we're done."

Having more of a feminine interest in the present Sidney could not take the prospective fall of the British Empire seriously. But it entertained her vastly to listen to him, as she did this evening. When he was tired of the problems of the Empire he began to recite poetry. He gave her bits from Homer and Ossian, rolling the rich words off his tongue with a passionate delight in every syllable, that communicated his love of them to her.

She felt more than ever after she had left him that evening that she would hate to lose his company.

Their next meeting was at Mana's.

At the end of the evening Sidney told herself she had been a fool to suspect them. She had been unable to detect a sign of any secret relationpage 146 between them, and she was sure she would have sensed something if it had been there. She felt she had been unjust to them both. And for penance she was resolved to be even more responsive than she had been.

The following Sunday morning an Auckland curate, a friend of Arthur's, held the first Episcopal service in the school. Mrs. Jack Ridgefield and the Bob Lindsays were Episcopalians, and about the bush there were a number of Englishmen belonging to the Church.

Sidney decided that having stayed away from all other services, she would have to stay away from this, even though Arthur had asked her to go. She sat behind her curtains watching, and was astonished to see the number of people who arrived. Word had gone round that the curate was a good speaker, and that Arthur Devereux would sing.

More than a hundred men from the bush and the mill gathered there, and most of the village, for the Nonconformist section had no prejudices about hearing any brand of doctrine. They were only too glad of a diversion. There was not half enough room for the congregation. Almost every man had to stand, and they packed the school-room right up to the little platform on which the curate stood at Sidney's desk.

She felt, as she sat at her window watching, page 147.that she was missing something, that she could have let her consistency lapse for once. But she had the feeling that her going would have been too significant, too much of a tribute to Arthur's powers of persuasion.

When she heard his voice rise above all others in the opening hymn she was curiously thrilled. In the sweet fresh morning it rang out and reached her, enhanced by the short space between the buildings. She tried to turn her thoughts to something else, but she sat on listening for it again.

Arthur sang two solos that the men wanted to encore. He told Sidney afterwards that he had never sung to a more appreciative audience than that curious collection of individuals. The curate said it had inspired him also. Altogether it was a unique service. She was always absurdly annoyed that she had missed it.

She was also hurt to think the Ridgefields had not asked her to dinner with Arthur and the curate. She knew they had very little room, and she knew she had made scornful remarks in their hearing about churches and clergy in general. But still she was chagrined to be left out. She had the poor satisfaction, as she watched them go by after the service, of seeing Arthur glance once or twice at her house.

Then she went on to listen as pleasantly as shepage 148 could to the Mackenzies gush about the fine sermon and Arthur's wonderful voice.

It amused her to discover that she hated to be left out of something. She realized the pressure behind those people who are smitten with the fever for being in the swim.

After dinner she determined to compose her mind. She had just decided she would go for a ride when she saw Arthur and the curate coming to her front gate. In a minute she was keenly aware how glad she was to see them.

As she opened her door she remembered that Arthur had never yet been inside her little house.

"Of course a heathen like you does not deserve the beguiling influence of the clergy," said Arthur, after he had introduced his friend. "But as it is always good for the souls of the clergy to meet the people who cannot be misled by them I've brought Carruthers to be stimulated by your unbelief."

"Then I'll promise to be the most ungodly soul he has met for a long time," she laughed.

"Thank you, Miss Carey. I do need the value of contrasts, I assure you," smiled the curate, and with this understanding beginning they began.

"Carruthers, we are in the presence of the cleverest woman in Auckland," said Arthur solemnly, looking round at Sidney's books.

page 149

Indeed, for the first time, he understood one of the things that had made her such a sympathetic and stimulating listener. If she had read all her books she was already familiar with most of the things he talked about, he told himself. And, to his surprise, she had things he knew nothing about.

The curate picked up that book of remarkable drawings by the Australian artist, Norman Lindsay, who has captured from the storied pages of Petronius and recreated in cool black and white the many-mooded hot voluptuousness of Roman hedonism.

In his wanderings Arthur had somehow managed to miss the peculiar genius of Australia. He had heard of the Sydney Bulletin, of course, but thought it rotten taste, and left it there. He had heard of Lindsay Gordon, of Rolfe Boldrewood, and Henry Lawson. But of the clever modern school of Australian cartoonists, etchers, painters and sculptors he knew next to nothing, and he sat back and listened humbly while Sidney and the curate talked of people he had never heard of.

This gave him leisure to observe her in the setting of her interesting room.

Sidney had made the place speak for her with no uncertain voice. Fortunately for her, she had always had artistic friends, and she had beenpage 150 given fine things collected by a cousin who dealt in Oriental goods, so that her possessions represented a taste that had had hothouse cultivation, as it were. Also, she had a sense for colour, and for placing things so that they preserved friendly relations as to size and tone.

Arthur saw Sidney from a new angle as he sat watching her and listening to her. He saw that when she got a chance she talked well, even though, from his point of view, she took herself too seriously. And she had social ease and a grace of movement in a room that attracted him immensely. And besides her polish she had an eagerness and spontaneity that had survived the rigours of pruning for the social mould.

"Of course she wouldn't. What a fool I am!" said Arthur to himself, à propos of something known only to himself.

A knock at her back door interrupted the tête-â-tête between Sidney and the curate.

She found Jack and his wife standing there with two trayloads of food.

"We thought you might like to keep them to tea," said Mrs. Jack, in a whisper, "and I thought you might not have enough food."

"Well, you are bricks," she said, forgiving them instantly for not having her to dinner.

"It was my wife's idea," said Jack, who scorned to take credit for anything he did not do.

page 151

He put the trays on her scullery table.

"I will tell the Mackenzies you will not be there to supper," he said.

Then Sidney asked the two men to stay to tea with her.

"That's awfully good of you, Miss Carey," began Arthur, "but I half promised Mana we'd go there." He saw a fleeting shadow cross her eyes. "Still, we can have tea with you and go there later. And you could come along too, couldn't you? Carruthers is going home with me afterwards. Our horses are at the stable. Let's do that."

Sidney was annoyed that the mention of Mana had upset her, and she agreed quickly to hide any possible change m her manner. As it was a lovely afternoon she asked if they would not prefer to walk, and suggested the gully.

The two men were enchanted with it, and the glade and the hidden waterfall, and the exquisite bit of forest. Sidney easily forgot Mana, for she was really enjoying herself immensely. And when they got home she made her visitors help with the meal as if they had been her brothers.

She was fully aware that Arthur was watching her, but she did not guess that his attitude of mind towards her underwent a somersault that afternoon. Something she had never felt beforepage 152 stimulated her to pay much more attention to the curate than she did to him.

They reached Mana's just at dusk. She had expected them to tea, and her hospitable table was spread in readiness. When she heard they had eaten she gave no sign of the quick disappointment she felt. But Sidney sensed it and felt very mean.

"Let's turn it into late supper, Mana," she said. "I gave them a very light meal, and they will be hungry again soon."

She turned to see Arthur's eyes fixed upon her with an eloquent look. He, too, had sensed the situation, and her kind intention. Feeling that she was about to blush she turned quickly to the curate and led him up to a rare piece of Maori carving.

Mr. Carruthers and Sidney openly flirted for the entire evening. It is true that they forgot each other while Arthur and Mana played and sang, but they seemed otherwise to take up every available moment as if they found it to be the kind of moment they had been looking for for years.

"She can flirt, after all," said Arthur to himself. "Is it for my benefit, I wonder?"

At ten o'clock they all did full justice to Mana's supper.

The two men rode most of the way home withpage 153 Sidney, and afterwards the curate bored Arthur to death with his praises of her.

At the end of that week Sidney was surprised to get a letter from Arthur, written from Auckland, saying he had gone down with Carruthers, and expected to be away some time. It was an absolutely impersonal letter, so much so that she thought it cold, and wondered if she had offended him by flirting with the curate.

That disturbed her, and she felt also that she would be very lonely without him. As he had given no explicit address she could not write, and felt hurt to think he did not care to hear from her.