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The Passionate Puritan

Chapter IX

page 81

Chapter IX

But it took Sidney days to shake off her preoccupation with Rosy's death. She forced herself to go to the Hardys' on the Sunday, not knowing what on earth she could say to them. She was disgusted with herself for being unequal to the situation. She had always supposed she would be able to cope with any situation life brought to her.

She was wise enough to see that the Hardys needed to be told what to do rather than what to feel, and she gave Mrs. Bill some good advice about nursing to distract her attention. The doctor arrived that morning to give the death certificate, and besides him and Jack Ridgefield Sidney was the only person to go near the house. Sophie told her afterwards that she had wished to go, but that her husband would not let her.

The whole place heard that Sidney had been, and regarded her as a saint for so doing. They hoped Mrs. Bill would not trade upon her good nature as a result, and voiced their fears freely. But their prophecies were not fulfilled. Sidney never had any trouble with Mrs. Bill.

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After this, seeing that she might be needed, and glad of something else to think about, Sidney was determined to add to her knowledge of illness and accident, and sent to doctors and nurses she knew for books. For a time she had a notion that she would start a first-aid course in the village. But when she mentioned it casually to Jack he threw so much cold water on the scheme that she gave it up.

It surprised Sidney that no one in the place seemed to worry about death. She learned there were occasionally bad accidents in the bush that put the place under a cloud of solemnity for a few hours, but otherwise no one was concerned with it. In talking to Mrs. Mackenzie she found out that that calm little woman had seen a dozen people die, and appeared to think nothing of it. Of course people died, she said.

But Sidney walked for hours back and forth in the gully moralizing as she never had before.

The next Saturday afternoon she went to the store for some candles. It always amused her to go, for the store was a cosmopolitan place, and she was likely to see there men from all parts of the Puhipuhi. Jack had once suggested that she give himself or Bob Lindsay a list of the things she needed so that they could save her the experience of being stared at. But Sidney was determined that she would not be kept in cotton woolpage 83 that way. Much as she admired Jack Ridgefield, she was not going to let him dictate to her as to where she should go about the place. She had recognised his right to forbid women going into the mill, but the store was a public place, and she meant to go there.

It was built beside the tramway close to the mill, and on the side nearest the main houses. Outsiders reached it by a road running between the timber yard and the first line of cottages. Sidney could never see anyone pass along this road because it was hidden from her by the school and timber stacks.

As she neared the store she was surprised to see tethered to one of the hitching posts a fine bay horse, well groomed and saddled, guarded by two splendid game dogs. As she had seen nothing like them there before she wondered who the rider was.

She was somewhat prepared, therefore, for the sight of a stranger. But the back of the man she did see the minute she stepped inside was so much of an apparition that she stopped and looked inquiringly at Bob Lindsay's assistant who was talking across the counter to him.

The spectacle of an English riding suit complete with fine boots and a silver-headed crop was even more than the horse and dogs had sug-page 84gested. The wearer happened at that moment to be the only customer.

Seeing that someone had come in, he turned. His tweed cap came swiftly off his dark head, and his brown eyes lit up with flattering interest.

"Miss Carey, Mr. Devereux," said Bob Lindsay from his desk.

"Oh, I've heard of you," he said, taking her hand, which went out impulsively. But he did not say when or where.

"Of course," she said ruefully. "Everybody has. I wish there might be somebody who hadn't."

"As bad as that?" he asked, instantly comprehending the nature of her complaint.

"Yes. It's awful to be one of the village sights. I can see the strangers nudged as I go by, and hear the whisper 'The teacher.'"

"Yes, that's pretty bad," he agreed. "I doubt if too much public inspection is good for the soul. Getting into the window bleaches the colour out of one. But you like the place?"

"Oh, yes, I love the place. And I have discovered the wind."

"Ah, that is something of a discovery, isn't it?" His eyes lit up charmingly. "I've never been able to live without the wind. It has a wonderful effect upon the mind, once you have realized it.

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Have you found that you always want to face it?"

"Why, yes, I believe so," she smiled.

"And if you turn your back on it you catch cold. It's a synonym for life. That's why it is so intoxicating."

For a minute they stood looking at each other, oblivious of Bob and his assistant.

"Where have you dropped from?" she asked impertinently.

"Why, I belong to the place. But I have been away all the summer. You haven't heard of me? And I flattered myself I was a celebrity! What's the matter with my friends?" and he glared at Bob.

It was true. Nobody had mentioned him to her.

"Well, you see," she explained, "I'm only supposed to be interested in parents—to have official affiliations merely. If you were a parent I should have heard of you."

"Distressing limitation," he exclaimed. "I'm not a parent. Does that cast me into the outer darkness? Is there no hope for the future?"

Sidney laughed gaily. She thought him exceedingly diverting.

"The future is the special perquisite of the hopeful," she replied.

"Then here's one man who commandeers the future," he retorted.

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They had to stand aside to let three men get to the counter. At once Arthur Devereux held out his hand to her.

"I shall see you again soon," he said, dropping his voice a little, and then, turning to take the package of things he had bought, he nodded to Bob and went out.

Sobering instantly Sidney turned to him to order her candles.

"He's a great chap," Bob began, divining her interest.

And she answered at once lightly, "How funny to see that kind of a get-up here!"

"Yes. I thought he was awfully affected at first. But he isn't a bit. He's just like a kid. And he's got a glorious voice. I must have him down soon so that you can hear him sing. Funny he likes to live alone. He has a little place back in the Puhipuhi. Grazes some cattle. And prospects for silver. Doesn't do much. Must get money from home."

The stimulus of meeting Arthur Devereux exhilarated Sidney for some hours. She could not help thinking of his good looks, his fine athletic build, his rich speaking voice, his freshness and vitality. She was familiar with many of the types of wandering Englishmen who pursue mysterious ways through the colonies, but he was more than a cut above any she had met. In no sense waspage 87 he going to seed as so many remittance men did. That is, if he were a remittance man. She wondered what explanation would explain him.

She was amused that anyone like him should have turned up in the Puhipuhi, and she began to look forward to seeing him again.