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The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XVIII

page 197

Chapter XVIII

Sidney had adjusted her mind to a renewal of their warm relation before she left on her summer vacation. She had been a bit worried at first lest anything should hold up the divorce. But she was only too glad to tell herself that she loved Arthur well enough to wait for him, well enough to share obstacles with him. Her relief as she lay awake the night of the explanation showed her how deeply her feelings were committed. It would not be long before she could laugh at the dreadful days that had preceded it.

But the knowledge that Jack Ridgefield knew, that perhaps Sophie knew, determined her to be very careful in the Puhipuhi. Not for worlds would she have forfeited their respect. She saw Arthur only once again before leaving for her six weeks' holiday. That sacrifice intensified the delight she felt in looking forward to the time they would have together in the summer.

Arthur had made good use of their last meeting. He turned her thoughts to the future. He painted alluring pictures of England, of trips to the Continent, of London. And she saw howpage 198 much he looked forward to seeing it with her, and to having her help him to forget the tragedy that had driven him from it.

She needed no stimulus to look forward to it. That magic phrase "the estate" conjured up scenes of rural charm and old-world atmosphere that in their secret hearts the most democratic of "far-flung" pioneers adore. And London! No Englishman is capable of feeling for London that concentrated reverence and yearning that comes to the dreaming colonist on a New Zealand hilltop or an Australian plain. To most of them London has the painful lure of the unattainable— "Perhaps I can manage it next," and of fearing the while that it won't be managed. But the illusion is hugged and fed and never allowed to die. There is always the prospect that something may happen— and one may really get there at last.

Almost the entire professional New Zealand world saves up for it. Doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, and the civil service see it in extended vacation dreams. Farmers see it in that happy future when their children shall be grown up, and the farm prosperous. Business men see it in the extension of their trade. Politicians see it in the High Commissioner's office. Miners see it when they get the windfall. The plain working-man sees it in his savings bank balance.

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No one can tell you what it means to him. It is just London, sung from the tongue, with a comprehensive smile, and something indefinable in the eyes.

Sidney already had her passage money in the bank, and it must be confessed that the vision of her future with Arthur took all the significance out of her first annual examinations, and rendered her strangely indifferent to the success of George Mackenzie, upon whom she had bestowed so much careful tutorship.

After two weeks in Auckland of friends who were not breathing the rarefied air of a secret passion, Sidney was thrilled to meet Arthur, and to learn that they were to go with a party on a cruise of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf. It was an entrancing trip that she had always wanted to take. They went on a large launch belonging to one of his friends, carrying provisions and tents. There were six men and six women, one of the couples being married to provide the farce of chaperonage that never chaperones.

The whole thing was rather breathlessly informal. Sidney had never experienced anything quite like it. But she was determined that she would live up to Arthur and not spoil sport. Also she was interested enough on her own account to be amused at it. It was a very clever and jolly crowd.

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The men were supposed to sleep on shore at night, and the women to occupy the cabins on the launch. Sidney had a suspicion that queer things happened to this arrangement. Very irregular hours were kept, and as little clothing as possible was worn with an air of superb naturalness. The men usually wore their pajamas to breakfast, to change afterwards into bathing suits, and did not dress till the night meal.

Arthur had a pair of blue silk pajamas that were the envy of everybody on board. They were a most unusual shade. Sidney was a little startled the first time he appeared in them, but he looked so adorable, and they were so obviously worn to fascinate her, that her mild scruples speedily vanished.

She told herself many times that Arthur was behaving beautifully. He paid her the subtlest kind of attentions and never for a moment allowed any other woman to claim him. It had been a carefully selected party. Only couples deeply interested in each other were asked. So there was no poaching, no friction. Sidney had her man to herself as much as she wanted him. And what can be more satisfying, more productive of a charitable point of view? She easily closed her eyes to some little things that were not quite up to her standard of ethics.

But she saw before the trip was over that shepage 201 and Arthur were faced with the problem of most engagements. One night as they sat in a nook by the sea, a mile away from their camp, Arthur forgot for a moment that he and Sidney were not the free unfettered lovers of an Arabian Night's tale. Disengaging his arms with a firmness not to be mistaken she got to her feet and walked a few yards away, and then stood looking out on the water.

Presently Arthur rose and came up to her.

"I'm sorry," he said simply, and taking out his pipe began to smoke.

She took his arm and they started walking in silence along the beach.

Sidney was not afraid of love, but she had set a standard for herself which in spite of the relaxing moral atmosphere of the launch party she meant to maintain. She could be humorous on the subject of unconventional love where others were concerned, but she did not intend it to become even a problem for herself. She just buried her head in the sand.

As she was wondering what she should say to Arthur, another couple that had been sitting on the beach ran down and joined them in the walk back to the camp.