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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter VII. At the Boss's Levee

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Chapter VII. At the Boss's Levee.

"For love would still be lord of all."

When they came to the verandah, and the lamplight fell on her from the uncurtained window, and she heard movements within the house, shyness and strangeness woke in Adelaide, and her conventional self strove to shield and cover her natural self again. She was young and fragile for such a might of passion, and she had been so well brought up. As they said good-night, she leaned lightly against her lover, and appealed for what she had been.

"Oh, not again, Dennis. You are tempestuous. I never saw you so before to-night."

"You didn't know much of me till to-night, my Aidie. But tell me what you want and I'll do any mortal thing for you."

"Dennis, don't kiss me so, don't hold me so again. Not yet awhile." Her face was hidden in the curve of her arm against his chest.

"Aidie, I haven't touched you against your will! You gave yourself up to me, and don't you think I knew it?"

"I wouldn't undo this night for all that is in page 103the world. But afterwards it makes me almost ashamed. Oh no, no, not of you—but to be so glad, to love you so dreadfully. Oh, Dennis, let me be myself a little longer."

"I can't promise not to kiss you, Aidie. I'm not made of starched shirt front. But you'll find I can be quiet enough. Well, good-night, love. Don't cry to-night."

"My scarf, Dennis, please."

"No, I'll keep that scarf. You've plenty of others. Go in, sweetheart, or I shall take another kiss."

Adelaide went into the house and sat down for a few minutes to recover herself. Then she walked into the kitchen and there found Emmeline ironing. She had a pernicious habit of ironing on the same day that she washed, which kept her at work from five in the morning till ten or eleven at night. Emmeline's unconsciousness was even more supernatural than at tea. "Well, Aidie," she said, "have you had a nice walk?" as if a three hours' conference with Dennis at the slip-rails was part of the ordinary day's routine. She looked out through the open window and added, "What a lovely night!"

"Emmie, how could you take my letter?"

"What letter?" asked Emmeline, still blankly innocent. "Oh that! it was flying all over the place while I was dusting the room. It's all right. I saw Mr. MacDiarmid somewhere on it, so I gave it to Dennis, and he's got it now."

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Then they both tried not to laugh, and Adelaide said, "I can never trust you again, Emmie, and I never shall forgive you."

"Oh yes, you will," cried Emmeline, and hugged her sister to her ample breast. "I'ud do ten times worse than that to see you so happy, my darling."

Emmeline took upon herself to break the news to her father when she went in to help him dress and move to his armchair in the morning. He was always particularly irascible during these processes, and this always made her particularly tender because she knew it was his way of expressing resentment at his own helplessness and discomfort.

"Dennis wants to see you this morning, Dad," she said, studiously not looking at his face, while she handed him his dressing-gown.

"Well, suppose he does," said Mr. Borlase, "there's nothing mysterious in that, is there?"

"Oh no—I think it's about Adelaide, that's all." She stroked him soothingly as she put the gown on.

"Adelaide—what's he got to do with Adelaide?" sharply. "Don't pat me any more, Emmie. I want to get up."

She drew on his socks and slippers with loving hands, then moved to arrange the pillows and the footstool.

"I think Adelaide is engaged to Dennis," she said in a subdued manner.

"Adelaide engaged to MacDiarmid!" Mr. page 105Borlase roared in a tone that made her tremble, then said more quietly, "There's a lively young lady for you! She was engaged to Horace Brandon yesterday, and they're the only two young men she has seen this week."

Emmie helped him tenderly into the armchair, which he reached with difficulty, increased by agitation.

"Dad dear, be kind to her. She never loved that Brandon." Emmie wrapped the rug around his knees and surreptitiously caressed them.

"'That Brandon' will make her a much more suitable husband than MacDiarmid."

"She always has been fond of Dennis."

"Always! Why she hasn't seen him more than a fortnight, and she has been snubbing him the whole time."

"She was fond of him," replied Emmie sagaciously, "but she didn't think he admired her enough."

"Admire her! The little minx with her airs and her graces. Dennis is worth three of her."

"Indeed, he's not!" retorted Emmie. "Father, how can you? Dennis isn't half good enough—Oh yes, he is though," she corrected herself, perceiving her partizanship toppling dangerously. "They're just about right for each other," she ended comfortably.

"I'll see if I can't prevent it."

"Father!" She held her head down and page 106cried as if it had been her own bridal in danger. "Adelaide loves him."

"Stop blubbering this moment, Emmie, you great baby." But Mr. Borlase did not speak very severely that time. "All this has been going on while they wouldn't even look at each other, has it? I might have known it was not all above board. Now, who's been confiding in you? Not Dennis, I'll swear. Aidie been gushing—"

"I have eyes in my head, Father, and I don't need to be told anything when I see my little sister after Brandon has left her frightened and as white as a ghost, and then she goes out with Dennis and comes back looking like a rose, and so happy she doesn't know what to do with herself."

"Poor little dear!" He sighed, and sat sunk in thought for a while, but roused himself when Emmie gave him some medicine, and then stood by him considering if there was anything she could do for his comfort before leaving the room. "I wish Dennis would take you," he said rather cruelly, "you are much the best of the two, and he could have you and welcome."

Emmie shook her head. "No, don't care about that sort of thing for myself. I like seeing other people in love. Besides, Dad, you're quite enough for me."

"Yes, I'm a fair-sized handful." Mr. Borlase found his handkerchief, dried the last traces of her tears and patted her on the shoulders. page 107"We understand each other, old girl, don't we?" he said affectionately, then added with a twinkle in his blue eyes, "But I'll eat my boots, Em, if you're not at the bottom of this somehow."

MacDiarmid came in a few minutes later, but he did not stay long. It did not please him to ask the Boss for permission to marry his daughter, and he soon saw that Mr. Borlase was not pleased. He nodded in the Back Country style, not meant to be disrespectful, but suggestive of a desire to get through the salutation without waste of time.

"Better this morning, Boss? Glad to see you up again." Then he fell into one of his long silences because words were not handy.

"Well, MacDiarmid?"

"Adelaide is going to be my wife, Mr. Borlase."

"So Emmie has been hinting." Mr. Borlase's tone was the reverse of encouraging.

"I wish Emmie would let me manage my own affairs," replied Dennis, with base ingratitude.

"So do I. But she won't." He still remained in cheerless meditation. "Won't you wait awhile and let Aidie get decently over this affair with Brandon?"

"No." Dennis spoke in a heavy traction-engine manner of his. "That's what I won't do." Then with feeling, "I am not going to let my little girl be coerced or frightened any more."

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"Pooh." But Mr. Borlase's tone was indecisive, and his eyes were on the floor. "She doesn't know which of you she does want."

"She knows her own mind now as well as any girl under the sun."

"I'll hear what she's got to say for herself. You don't know what that child is to me, Dennis. She and her mother—." He pulled himself up short.

"I'll take care of her, Boss."

MacDiarmid held out his hand boyishly, awkwardly, but with some of his great warm heart in it, and gripped the hand of his chief.

"Send her in to me."

Adelaide came to her father, and kneeling by him, put her pretty head down on his knee. He kept his heavy lifeless hand upon it, and seemed sad at heart. For a time neither of them spoke, then he said, "Horace Brandon and Dennis have both spoken to me, Aidie. You won't hear of Brandon?"

"I couldn't marry him, Dad. Not any more than I could be another girl. I shouldn't want to live. Dennis and I always have belonged to each other, ever since I can remember. The love was always somewhere deep down in me, only so many things had covered it over."

Mr. Borlase moved his hand impatiently. "All very nice and pretty, Adelaide, all very well for a few months. Of course you'll look at it now entirely as a matter of sentiment. But you're only twenty, and you're more than half a page 109child. I'm not a mercenary father, trying to make a great match for my daughter; don't get that idea into your romantic little head. But there are other things beside sentiment in this world, and so you'll find to your cost. It's the suitability of the thing I'm thinking of. I haven't a word to say against MacDiarmid. He is a good, straight fellow. I've known him all his life, and there's not a bit of vice in him. He has been a brother to Emmie, and she is almost as idiotically fond of him as you are. I don't mind telling you, Aidie, I am under a great obligation to him. It was a few years back when things looked pretty bad in this district for sheep farmers and this cursed illness was creeping on me. I told him he'd better take his chance and buy me up, but he chose to be my manager and put in all his own money. He bought some good stock and started this connection with the Roslyn Dairy Factory, and that pulled us through. He has a sort of Highland loyalty to me, and has always looked after my interests rather better than his own. But for all that, it doesn't follow that I'm bound to give him my Ada's only child. Dennis is the son of my ploughman, and all his forbears were crofters and fisherfolk. Your mother's family have intermarried more than once with Brandon's people. Horace is a gentleman."

Adelaide flushed, and the distinct, cultured voice rang clear and emphatic, "Dennis is a man, Father, and that is more."

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Mr. Borlase looked half-tender, half-amused. "What's got into you, Aidie? You used to be such a gentle little girl. Aren't you going to listen to your old Dad?"

"If you won't say anything that reflects on Dennis, Father."

"Oh, ho, you've come to that pass, have you? You were in quite another tune last week." He laughed too boisterously for his physical state. "Dennis has all the virtues now and Brandon none worth mentioning. Let me tell you, Aidie, you've not treated Brandon fairly, and he couldn't have behaved better than he has done over it. He is more concerned about your sacrificing yourself than about your dismissing him. No need to resent that, child. It is a big sacrifice, and it's no use blinking the fact." He had grown as depressed now as he had been lively before. She inherited her fluctuations of temperament from him. "You've been brought up to every comfort and luxury, and you've never known what it is to work and to bear hardships. For two years you've had nothing but pleasure and amusement and society, and every kind of refinement. It's no use thinking you won't miss all this, even if Dennis turns out to be the archangel Gabriel. You're made of very fine stuff, my little Aidie, and you're not fit for any other sort of life than the one you have been leading. I know what I'm talking about and you don't. You have only a very small income from your mother. Emmie's page 111not disposed to marry, and I'll have to leave the farm to her, if there's anything but debts to leave. You can't dress as you do on Dennis's money, and amuse yourself riding and driving and painting. He'll do what he can for you, I trust him for that, but it won't amount to much. You don't know what you're going into—a struggle for years before you can even take your proper place in the colony, a lonely, lonely life on this bush farm, with not one of your friends and acquaintances near, work all the year round, and then perhaps only loss and ruin at the end of it all. I sent you to England on purpose to keep you out of the Bush, and now you haven't been three weeks back when you are so desperately in love with my manager; you want to tie yourself down to it for the rest of your life. Brandon can and will give you all that you have been accustomed to, all that this world has to give."

The clear, emphatic voice struck in quickly, "Except love and sincerity and happiness"; then it became lighter, "I do enjoy art, Dad, and everything artistic, but I enjoy nature more."

"You won't have much time for what you mean by nature, my child. Look at Emmeline. She never gets beyond the gate more than once or twice a year. It may be all right at first, but wait till the children come. I like MacDiarmid as well as any man I ever dealt with, but if I could stop your marriage at once page 112I would. Bush life isn't fit for any gently nurtured lady."

Adelaide had changed her position, and was sitting now on the floor beside her father's chair, looking not at him but away into the future, and seeing things no more pleasant and easy and amusing, seeing sacrifice instead of enjoyment, and welcoming it. "I am glad I have so much to give up for him," she thought, then said to her father, "There were many of the first settlers' wives who were ladies, gently brought up in England, Father. They came out into the Bush when everything was much rougher than now, and there were no roads, and not even proper food and clothing."

"Yes," he answered more heavily than before. "They did, Aidie—the wives of the pioneers. I was a first settler in these ranges myself. After Emmeline's mother died, I went back to the Old Country, and there I met your mother. You know the home she came from before I brought her into the backblocks. She was just such a girl as you, Aidie, but lovelier and more quiet. Her people were dead against her marriage, and Lady Bohun most of all. It was a poor match for Adelaïda Bohun; the best in the duchy wasn't too good for her. Well, she came to this wooden cottage, and there was no one to help her but Emmie and Dennis's mother, Noreen. She never complained. She was one of the saints of the earth. The second baby came too soon, and page 113there wasn't a doctor or a nurse near her. When I got back from Roslyn it was all over." He paused awhile and then went on. "You know that cemetery on the hill above the township? Half the older graves are the graves of young mothers and their infants. My Ada's lying there, and my son who never drew the breath of life." And after another silence. "Now you know what I want to save you from, Aidie."

Dennis and he were dragging the poor girl through strong experiences, and she blanched and her eyes grew startled. Mr. Borlase thought she was yielding when she rose and clung to him, partly to comfort him, partly herself. "Dad, I don't think mother was ever sorry for having chosen you any more than I shall be for having chosen Dennis. One day she was showing me some pictures of Tremayne, and when I said how much she must want to be there, she said the happiest days of her life were out in the bush with you, and that she could never hear your step without trembling for joy."

"My Ada!" His thoughts wandered to his dead wife, and then returned to her daughter. "And you feel that way for Dennis, my pet?" he asked, with a slightly incredulous smile. Not being in love with his manager, he could not understand why Dennis should inspire that sort of emotion, and he could not suppose that his daughter's love affairs were as serious as his own had been.

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"I want to be as happy as mother was, if it is only for a few years. If I knew I must die here in the bush soon, or else marry Horace, and live in England, I'ud rather stay with Dennis." Not heroically said at all, but in her most plaintive bird-notes. Dennis should have been there to hear that voice, but he was nowhere near; he was putting on the gate up in the clover paddock.

"Good little lass, brave little lass." Her father's voice was unsteady. "You'll be your mother over again—but, my God, what a sacrifice!"

Then he gave in. He was tired of the mental strain, and tired of sitting in the same position, and he began to want his dinner. These facts helped him to reflect that it would be easier to direct the wind than a girl in love.

"Well," he concluded, "Dennis has beat the favourite this race by a good many lengths, and I hope he appreciates his trophy. Get up, get up, child, and don't look like Juliet. I'm not an irate parent, and, if I were, I shouldn't have a show in this household. MacDiarmid is about as tractable as a bullock stuck in a mudhole, and I've had Emmie blubbering, like the over-grown infant that she is. And you, my little Aidie, though you look like all the flowers of the garden, there's a deal of Cornish granite about you too. Yes, my darling, you're a chip of the old block." He was giving and receiving page 115a good many kisses as he spoke, and the colour was on her cheeks again. "Now, bring me my dinner. And there, give Dennis my blessing or whatever it is he wants from me. He'll take my daughter, that's certain, so he may as well have my leave."