The Passionate Puritan
Two weeks later he wrote again from a Rotorua hotel. He was there, he said, with a friend from England who was visiting New Zealand for the first time. He gave her an entertaining description of tourists and the unique atmosphere of the colony's famous resort. He said nothing about his return to the Puhipuhi, but he did say he should be pleased to hear from her.
Sidney was more than glad to hear from him. She was finding the place blank without him, blanker indeed than she cared to own. She spent more time tutoring George Mackenzie, who was now studying feverishly for his scholarship, and eager for all the attention she could spare him. And so it went to her spring vacation.
On her return she spent the Saturday in Whangarei with a friend who happened to be there, sent her bag up by the guard in the morning and caught the late night train. She had no fear of the walk at midnight, and hoped there would be nobody she knew who would think it his duty to escort her. On the way up in the train she wondered if Arthur were back. Shepage 155 had not heard from him since he had left Rotorua, two weeks before.
When they reached Whakapara she hurried out of the carnage round to the back of the waiting room to let a crowd of drunken bush workers get ahead of her. She had not gone many yards away from the platform when she heard steps behind her.
"Hullo, Miss Carey. Where did you get to? I looked everywhere for you. How are you?"
And Arthur grasped her hand and looked to see if she had anything to carry.
She had been feeling very tired on the train, but now she was suddenly alive and ready for anything.
"Why, when did you get back, you uncommunicative and secretive person?" she demanded, as if she had a grievance against him.
"I came on Wednesday's boat. If I had only known that you were coming last night I would have waited."
"Indeed! Well, if you had been an ordinarily decent correspondent, and had displayed the slightest interest in my movements, you might have known."
Though she spoke lightly he saw she had felt his apparent indifference.
"I know. I forgot your vacation. Forgive me," he said with flattering seriousness.page 156
"Did you come down to meet me?' she asked wondering.
"I did. At the store this evening Bob volunteered the information that you were expected up to-day, and that, as you had not so far arrived you must be coming on the late train, and that Jack had said somebody would have to come down for you. I took the hint."
"I thank you," she laughed. "But I do wish they would get over the idea that I can't look after myself."
"That's not quite the idea, is it?" he asked, as they swung along the road. "I think Jack's notion is that life may be more pleasant for women if they don't hear the kind of language that drunken bushmen are liable to use. I'm no sissy, but I assure you there can be something pretty nauseating about the way these fellows put sounds together. I was haunted once for a week by a dose I got. That crowd ahead now. You really would not like to hear what they are saying."
"I suppose not But I didn't propose to."
"Well, you never know, Miss Independence."
"I'm not that, really," she said half laughing.
"I know you're not, I've punctured that veneer," he retorted.
"Oh, you have, have you?"
She could not tell why, but she felt there waspage 157 something warmer about his manner than there had been in the past, and she wondered if it were merely because he was glad to see her again.
"Of course," he answered. "Nobody is independent."
They swung along in great good spirits.
"Did you know Mrs. Bill had deserted Bill again?" he asked presently.
"Why, no. When?"
"This week, so Bob said to-day. Went off with one of the bush hands, quite a decent chap, quiet, a good worker."
"Heavens! How can they do it?" she exclaimed. "Poor Bill."
"You needn't waste any sympathy on Bill. I should say he was glad to see her go."
"Perhaps," she said.
"Let's cut into the tramway and get ahead of the men, if you can hurry," he said. "There are only two trucks up at the top, so we must get there first or walk the whole way."
She would not have minded that, but she said she could run if necessary, so they quickened their steps and turned into the bush. Arthur lit the track with a flashlight till they came out upon the line. Then without a word he took her hand and led her into a slow run, stepping from sleeper to sleeper. She did not attempt to talkpage 158 as they trotted thus up the slope, for it took her all her time to keep up with him.
When they could hear the drunken laughter of the men at a safe distance behind them Arthur slowed down. As they were breathing too hard for conversation they went on silently. But he still held her hand.
At the trucks they stopped and stood to regain their breath. Then he moved the truck on a little so that it would run when the brake was released, and they got on together.
He put his arm firmly round her and they started off. He drove faster than he had the previous time, and she caught the infection of something reckless in his mood, an abandonment that he had never shown before. She was sure something had altered him. She felt now something come out of him to clutch her.
The excitement of it was over all too soon. But it had stirred them both. When they got off the truck at the stables, he took her hand under his arm, and turned with her along her track, talking nonsense all the way.
At her gate he stopped and showed no disposition to linger.
"Good night, little girl Do we go for a ride to-morrow?"
She tried to be casual.page 159
"I'm afraid I can't," she said. "I have too much to do."
"All right. Good night."
He raised her hand to his lips, and laid it for a moment against his cheek with a most beguiling gesture.
Then he turned quickly and left her.