Other formats

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


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XXII

page 231

Chapter XXII

Sidney had seen the first time she went to visit Mana that she, too, was going to have another baby. There was an epidemic of babies that autumn. Mrs. Mackenzie told Sidney she had noticed that it often happened that way.

When Arthur had returned at the end of the summer she had told him, and said she supposed they could not now go together to sing there, and he had agreed that probably Mana would prefer not. She had ridden up herself several times, for her delight in Mana and her music had never waned.

Mana's baby was born two weeks before Bessie jumped into the dam. Sidney had not yet seen her since the event, and the week that Arthur went back to Auckland she told the children to tell her she would ride up that Saturday or Sunday. But as Mrs. Jack was very unwell Sidney stayed with her most of the two days, and did not set out for the Joyous Valley till the Monday afternoon.

She took her horse as usual to Mana's stable. From the end of the building there stretched apage 232 line of washing. Sidney's eye was caught by the garments nearest her.

Every scrap of colour left her face as she stared at them. They were a pair of fine blue silk pajamas, of a most unusual shade, and she knew only too well where she had seen them before.

She stood with her mouth open as if she had been stricken by an angry god. At last she staggered back, fearing someone might be watching her. She drove her fingers into her temples, setting her teeth till her gums ached. In a minute she was so nauseated with pain that she thought she would be sick. She felt she could not go to the house, she could not face Mana.

She remembered her baby was only about a month old. The facts of the situation repulsed her to an overwhelming disgust. Her one idea was to get out her horse and fly from the whole thing. To go madly somewhere, anywhere, so that she could stop thinking about it.

She was forced to make a desperate effort at control by the sight of Rangi coming towards her through the garden.

Fortunately Rangi was one of those comfortable people who see only objects, and never the qualities or moods of objects.

"Oh, Miss Carey, I saw you ride down," she began when she was some yards away. "Manapage 233 has been sick since yesterday. She ate something that did not agree with her, and she was up most of the night. She's asleep now, and I don't like to disturb her."

Sidney was so relieved she could have cried.

"Never mind, Rangi. I could not have stayed long. Mrs. Ridgefield has been ill, too. I've been up with her." She meant this to explain her white face. "Tell Mana I came, and that I'm sorry she's ill."

Her voice sounded calm, and she was sure Rangi noticed nothing. She made a remark about the long autumn, turned to the stable, got out her horse, gave one quick look at the fatal pajamas, and with a good-bye to Rangi, rode off.

Sidney thought before, when she had heard Arthur was married, that she had plumbed the depths of human misery and despair, and that never again could she go through such mental agony.

But the thought of losing him then was nothing to the knowledge that she had to cast him off now, for since the first renunciation she had added to him a vast number of things that she was to get with him, and how much those things meant to her she had had no idea till now.

But in the first hours it was the deception that stunned her, the insult of the long-lived lie. She told herself she had been right in the beginning,page 234 that she should have gone by her own suspicions and intuitions. She was terrified by the deception, terrified that she had been taken in to this extent. What had become of her knowledge of character? She still thought it was what she called character that prevented people doing such things. How was she ever to trust anyone again? What did she have to guide her?

Her vanity was stung to death, her egoism bruised beyond repair. And her jealousy was aroused to a frenzy of which she had never dreamed. She hated Arthur. She hated Mana. She could have killed them both. She was appalled by her own anger.

She rode on and on, her passion growing. She had told Mrs. Mackenzie she might not be home. She was thankful that she had hours ahead of her, hours in which to rage.

Everything about Arthur now rose up to witness against him. What a fool she had been to trust that easy tongue! She saw that his very responsiveness was a poison spot. Of course he would be a fool in the hands of any woman. Hadn't he shown her how easily he would have succumbed to her?

Here a horrible thought confronted her. Had she driven him to Mana because she would not yield? Then she told herself that if he were that kind of man the sooner she knew it thepage 235 better. She was thankful she had found it out in time. In a year or two from now she would have got over it. But married to him she would have had to face it for ever.

She told herself she would never see Arthur again. She would write and tell him what she had found out. She could not see a glimmer of excuse for him. Her reaction was simply one of fury, jealousy and disgust.

It was not until she had been in bed for some time that the horror of self pity was added to swell the strenuousness of her emotions. She thought one by one of the things she was going to lose with Arthur, and the sight of them filing away into shadows in her mind was too much for her. Her anger broke into tears of desolation.

She woke from a doze in the morning, at first unable to realize what had happened to her. Her head ached dreadfully, her eyes were swollen, her limbs stiff. Then remembering, she buried her face in the pillow and wished she could die. She wondered if she could not stay away from school. But she knew that would bring an avalanche of inquiry down upon her. Even if she did not go to the Mackenzies' as usual for breakfast she knew someone would come at once to see if she were ill. She could not escape the eyes of the village.

page 236

Mechanically she got up and looked at her face in consternation. She saw at once she would have to be ill with something. A night of toothache and neuralgia would have to be her ally. She was thankful that no one would have the least idea what was the matter with her, not even Jack, she told herself.

Her toothache went unquestioned. It agitated almost the whole village. Every remedy known to the inhabitants had been left at her house before night. Jack and Bob insisted that she take the afternoon off. Mrs. Jack made poultices which she could not refuse to take. Mrs. Mackenzie was sure she had an abscess, and said she ought to have a doctor. Sidney had to laugh that night as she surreptitiously emptied out parts of the various bottles that had been lent to her. It was the one glimmer of humour in the cimmerian darkness of her dull despair.

She dragged through the next days as people do who know they have nothing to live for and who curse the useless instinct that keeps them going. More than anything she was filled with a fear that this kind of thing would happen to her again. As she became more able to think about it she could not see how she could have avoided this horrible disenchantment. She refused to give up her illusions that there were wonderful men somewhere in the world whopage 237 would never behave as Arthur had done. She was sure Jack Ridgefield would not.

As the days passed she did not write to Arthur. She felt she wanted the satisfaction of telling him face to face what she thought of him. But there were times when she was afraid to meet him, when she feared he would explain this away, that he would talk her round. Telling herself she would never get the truth from him she made a sudden decision on the Saturday morning that she would go up and face Mana that afternoon with her discovery and see what she had to say.

The sunlight shone as happily as ever upon the Joyous Valley, but Sidney saw nothing but gloom in it as she stopped to open the gate. As she did not intend to stay long, she decided to leave her horse there. She walked on down the path seeing and hearing no one. Mana's children had driven with Rangi to the mill store for groceries. There was not a sound about the cottage.

Sidney hoped Mana was not asleep. She had come screwed up to ask questions that she wanted answered then and there. Her one idea now was to shake this thing off and be done with it.

Nothing moved as she neared the house. On the verandah she saw the new baby's perambulator. As she had never seen a tiny Maori baby she stepped curiously up to it, and moved back the cover.

page 238

Then she started back as if she had been shot, and everything went black around her.

She had no need now to see Mana, no need to ask any questions. Her answer was there. She forced herself to look at it again. There was no mistaking it.

The baby was white.

Sidney staggered off the verandah and through the garden, praying that no one had seen her. She heard no sound as she walked on to her horse. Nobody had seen her.

Until this moment she had had some vague submerged hope that something would explain away the pajamas. She had considered that there might be more than one pair of pajamas in the world of that peculiar blue, and that by some chance some one of Mana's male relatives might own them. And even while she had told herself that this was a thousand times improbable she had still cherished a shred of a notion that it was possible.

Now she knew. And her future with Arthur was an empty dream. He was the father of Mana's child. He was living with her again. For a year his life had been a piece of the cleverest deception and all his words to Sidney false and meaningless. It hurt her afresh to think she could not now look back with pleasure on a single hour spent with him. If he had died shepage 239 would have had warm memories, but now every minute was blackened with perfidy. She was stunned again by this revelation of duplicity.

She determined now to write at once. On no account would she ever see him again.

Arthur had been away two weeks. He had written to her twice in that time; at first a long and entertaining letter glowing between the lines with his feeling for her, and then a shorter one asking why she had not written.