Other formats

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


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Passionate Puritan

Chapter XXVIII

page 295

Chapter XXVIII

During the week Sidney received a note from Mana.

"Dear Miss Carey, I have not seen you for a long time. Could you come up on Saturday?"

At first she told herself she could not go. She wondered if Arthur had asked Mana to send the invitation; if he would be there. Then she saw he would never do that. She reviewed her feelings as to Mana. She did not hate her now, but she felt she could not see her yet. She wondered what they could say to each other. And then she began to be curious as to what Mana knew of the whole situation. She saw she could test Arthur's statements by what she would say. She still had doubts. By Friday morning she meant to go.

But Mrs. Jack Ridgefield became ill that day, and late in the afternoon the Whangarei doctor arrived. The baby, a boy, was not born till five o'clock on Saturday morning after an awful night. Jack Ridgefield spent it pacing the path between his house and Bob's, cursing the ways of nature,page 296 and vowing it never should happen again. Sidney sat in their kitchen all night waiting on the nurse and the doctor who stayed on till the middle of the next day.

Sophie was so low in the morning that the mill was closed so that she should not be startled into death by whistles or the screeching of the circular saws. She was a little safer by night, better on the Sunday, surprisingly better on the Monday, and then got on splendidly.

The happiness of this household meant a great deal to Sidney; indeed, she was astonished to see how much. She looked at Jack, seeing him with new eyes as a man struggling with inner demons, moved by his concern for his wife, and his first indifference to the queer little infant feebly squeaking its entrance into the world. As it was her first experience of childbirth, the pain, the danger, the emotional upheaval were a considerable shock to her. And she saw it was all a considerable shock to Jack.

He was touched beyond expression at the anxiety of the village. The faithful Bob had sat up with him, tried to calm his ravings, had answered questions for him, and had spread the glad news when the danger was over. On Monday morning the whole place felt nearer to its boss than it ever had before. And all day long parents greeted him with a glow of secret understanding.

page 297

Jack thought with astonishment of the men who had been through all this before him, and of the women who had faced death as Sophie had, not once, but many times.

Later on word went round the village that anyone who wished was invited to call upon the little Jack, and women who had never set foot in the Ridgefield home, and who never expected to, went to see Sophie, and were later visited by her. One touch of a first baby will do more for democracy than all the theories of all the economists.

In the middle of the week Sidney sent a note to Mana telling her she would come the following Saturday if it were convenient.

She had not heard a word of Arthur, and was beginning to be hurt. At least he might have written, she said to herself. She had forgotten that it was understood when they parted that she was to make the next move. She expected him to make it.

As she rode up to the Joyous Valley she wondered if she would hear of him from Mana. What were they to say to each other? They had not met for over two months.

She paused, as she always did on the top of the ridge, to look down upon the little farm sparkling in the clear winter sunlight. She knew that if she had brought hostility with her she would have had to leave it there upon the ridge.

page 298

As she stepped onto the verandah Mana came out to meet her, her usual ease clouded by an air of uncertainty.

"I am glad you came," she said, looking doubtfully at Sidney. "There is something I wanted to tell you."

Sidney was surprised that she could begin as easily as that.

"I am glad to see you, Mana."

She could not have said it truthfully two weeks before. It was not the undiluted truth now, but it contained sufficient veracity to carry it.

"I hope you are quite better."

She followed Mana into her front room.

"Yes, thank you, Miss Carey. How is Mrs. Ridgefield?"

Sidney sat down in the rocker by the window.

"She's getting on well now, but it was pretty serious for a while."

"Yes, an anxious time with a first baby," said Mana softly.

"Yes. I didn't know it could be so harrowing," answered Sidney.

Then they looked at one another for a minute. Sidney saw that Mana's courage was ebbing.

"You wanted to tell me something?" she said, trying to make her voice encouraging.

"Oh, Miss Carey, I—I wanted to tell you not to be jealous of me—about Mr. Devereux—it waspage 299 all over long ago, and you—you must have made a mistake about the baby."

"A mistake," repeated Sidney blankly.

"Yes, Miss Carey. What baby did you see?"

"Why, I saw it here, on your verandah in the pram."

"When, Miss Carey?"

"Why, I rode in one Saturday afternoon, after you were sick. Rangi told you I came on the Monday, I suppose, and there was nobody about. I came to the verandah and saw the baby, and— I rode right away."

There was a flicker of a smile in Mana's eyes, and Sidney seeing it had a queer feeling that something awful was coming.

"That wasn't my baby, Miss Carey. That was Mrs. Allen's baby. She came over from the camp to see if I could spare some fresh eggs. Her husband was very ill. My baby was asleep inside, and I put hers in the pram on the verandah while we went to look for the eggs. So that is what it was? We wondered how you could possibly have found out after it was all over. I had been so careful——"

She stopped, because Sidney had jumped from her chair and strode outside.

For some seconds Sidney used language entirely unbecoming to a lady. Then she threw back her head and laughed a harsh and bitter laugh at thepage 300 scurvy trick Fate and her own suspicions had played her.

Poor Mana sat very uncomfortably, not knowing what to do. And she hardly dare look up when Sidney walked in again.

"Mana, I want to get all of this out of my system now, so I'm going to ask some more questions. You have evidently seen Mr. Devereux since I saw him last. He must have told you also about the pajamas, his blue pajamas. I saw them on your line two or three weeks ago."

Mana blushed under her tawny skin.

"I was wearing them, Miss Carey," she said, in great confusion. "I—I kept them for a keepsake—I liked the colour—I know I ought to have sent them back——" she paused, looking at the floor.

As Sidney stood watching her a flame of shame crossed her own face.

"God! What a beast I am," she said to herself.

She had never given a thought to Mana, or what she might have felt. Had she felt? She had never given a sign. If what they both said was true, Mana must have suffered in seeing Arthur go from her. Even if her code was an easy one she must have had some sad moments. But she had never shown that she had.

Mana looked up.

page 301

"Please, Miss Carey, forget all about it, and forgive him."

"Forget and forgive!" she retorted. "Is it as easy as all that? Are you finding it easy?"

Mana looked away.

"It is never easy. But it can be done. And if you don't forgive men you will only lose them. And it is hard to lose them."

Sidney set her teeth, and told herself she hated Arthur afresh for what he had done to Mana.

"Men are not like us," went on Mana, with the finality of fatalism. "And we have to take them as they are or go without."

Though Sidney had heard this profound remark a thousand times, it struck her as a piece of news coming from Mana, who infused into the words a sinister warning.

"Go without," was a menacing phrase.

Sidney walked back to her chair, sat down and looked at her.

"The thing I hate about men is the calm way they dance into our lives and dance out again. Now I can forgive Mr. Devereux for what he has done to me much more easily than I can forgive him for what he has done to you. If I had only known in the beginning——"

"Why, Miss Carey, he hasn't done anything to me. He has been fine to me. Please don't think about me. I knew it was—that it was justpage 302 for a while—I never expected it to last. And it was my fault——"

"I don't believe that," cried Sidney sharply. "Has he been telling you what to say to me?"

She leaned forward, scanning Mana's face.

"Oh, no. Certainly not."

"What did he tell you?" she asked curiously.

"He just said you knew, Miss Carey, that we had lived together, and he asked me about the baby and the pajamas."

"Did he ever tell you we were engaged?"

"Oh, yes, a long while ago."


"Last year, in the spring."

"You are sure?"

"Yes, I am quite sure. And we stopped living together."

Sidney knew she was speaking the truth.

"So you can forgive him," repeated Mana softly.

Sidney saw why men would always want to live with women like Mana, soft comfortable women who would give much for little, forgive charmingly, forget easily, and begin again hopefully. She knew she would never know the whole story, never get at what it had meant to Mana.

In a flash of illumination she saw also that it must have been very hard for Arthur to breakpage 303 with her. Indeed, she now forgot herself and began to think about their end of it.

"Oh, Mana," she cried impulsively, "I have thought of nobody but myself. And gosh! what an idiot I have been."

She dropped her head into her hands, the thought of her ridiculous mistakes overwhelming her. But for them they would all have gone on peacefully, and she need never have known. And she saw now that she did not have to know, and that she wanted Arthur anyway, and would have had him whatever he had done.

Now she dreaded to think of the weapon for retaliation that she had put into his hands.

Thinking of it, she groaned.

"Oh, do forget it all, Miss Carey," said Mana, in distress. "It never does any good to think about unpleasant things."

Sidney raised her face with a harsh little laugh.

"I wish I could be like you. But I can't. However, I'm going to try to forget it. I'm glad you sent for me. It would have been awful if you hadn't. And I can never tell you how much I appreciate you—what you have been——"

With a mist over her eyes she held out her hand.

Mana brightened at once.

"Let me show you my baby," she said. "You haven't seen it."

page 304

It lay in the fatal pram in the back yard, a perfectly authentic Maori cherub, properly fathered by Mana's husband. It was the cunningest little soft thing, opening its bright brown eyes at Sidney.

"You see it is all right," said Mana, "though I wouldn't have minded if it had been his. But it was a funny mistake." She dared now to smile. "And the pajamas, I will send them back——"

"Oh, damn those pajamas!" groaned Sidney. "They will haunt me all my life. I'll never be able to endure the sight of blue pajamas again. For heaven's sake keep them if you want to, Mana. And let's forget the whole darned mess. I am so sick of it."

As she rode home she wondered how she was ever to face Arthur again.

For days she put off writing to him and then was surprised to get in her mail an envelope in his writing addressed from Auckland, She did not know he was away.

Inside she found a card on which, against a black background, were painted a pair of blue pajamas hanging on a line, and an aggressively white baby sitting in a pram, while a mocking red devil grinned at them from the right hand corner. The thing was well painted and drawn, and was obviously done by an artist.

page 305

Below the objects were printed the words "Intuitions. Beware! They are not what they seem."

There was no other word.

But Sidney kissed the absurd thing, and laughed and cried over it, and surrendered.

By the return mail she sent to Arthur's Auckland address a post card saying simply, "Recovered: a sense of humour."

The next week was her winter vacation, and she wondered if he would be in Auckland, and whether she would see him, as they now had there mutual friends.