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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter II. The River Gates

page 157

Chapter II. The River Gates.

Though Adelaide went straight home on her bridal day, she did not mean to do without a honeymoon. Hers was to be different from other people's and much lovelier. She would go away with Dennis into the mountains, into the very heart of his kingdom, where there was no Society and no Art and no Civilisation, only Nature; he was to show her all its wonders, palaces of clouds and temples of Alps, cathedrals of pine-forests and of rocky gorges and peaks. There she would find him, his own self, in his own element. She wanted to reach out of herself into him, as love always does. In truth he was in her own home a little trying, or at least unexpected, but among the mountains his most uncivilised ways would be appropriate, and there the prelude to their married life would be perfect.

These were only flying ideas and impulses that visited Adelaide in her bed just before she slept, until one delicious summer evening when her wedding day was near at hand. The parlour window was open, and they heard the ceaseless murmur of the Wainoni over its page 158rough pebbles. Dennis's soul had opened, as it occasionally did, and he became eloquent as he talked of the river and the Alps, of days he had gone camping out and exploring, of flying cataracts and of the ice-falls and of crumbling rocks, of perilous adventures and escapes. Then he told her about a valley that a very little girl had longed to see; he asked if she remembered his wickedness in taking her up as far as the gap to look into it by moonlight, and he went on to say that while she was away in England occupied in forgetting him, he had gone camping out on purpose to explore it, and he had been thinking all the time about his wee little sweetheart, and wondering if he ever would show her the valley. Adelaide had half forgotten, but the memory came back vividly, and she knew by inspiration that it was in that valley that their honeymoon was to be. They would go back into the days of their childhood, when they wandered through the bush together and looked for fairies and magicians, and made love whenever they were not thinking of other things. "What! Are you going to take me there?" Dennis inquired, but looked well pleased.

"Dennis, it is you that are going to take me," she reproved him. Adelaide was making a miraculous silk wrap—a shawl, he called it, for her head, and Dennis, sitting near and taking it up now and then to admire, was not inclined to refuse her anything. "I expect you page 159think you can do pretty much what you like with me just now, don't you?" he asked with a smile; "but mind, its just about as rough as—as your lover is."

"Then it will be all right," answered Adelaide, and her blue eyes flashed on him a moment, as only such blue eyes can.

They made a compact, which they were not destined always to keep, that on this bridal journey each should do as he or she pleased. In this way they would find out all about each other, and if there was anything that they thought required improving, they would leave it until they got home.

So after the wedding Adelaide and Emmeline and their maids baked cakes and loaves of bread. The farm hand cut up a lamb, and they roasted the fore-quarter of it, and they boiled the home-cured ham. Then they took the remains of the marriage feast, and they put all these provisions into cloths and bags. Early in the summer morning, when the valley was still in dew and shadow, and the sun lit only the high hills, Dennis rose and loaded a pack horse, and he put on it his gun and a fishing-rod and a canvas tent. Then he went to look for his bride, but she was putting on her veil and her gloves. "You have forgotten your card case," said he, "you are certain to want it up in the Alps."

"Dennis," she remonstrated, "do you think that is quite kind? You don't want to see me page 160burned to a cinder, do you?" He vowed he did not.

Then splashing through water and slipping over grey shingle and over grassy tracts, they rode out into the unknown to find the secret valley that they could not enter when they were children. In the freshness of the morning Adelaide felt as if even the valley would not satisfy her. She would like to go up and up into the very height of the mountains, she would like to see the great peaks and the glaciers, and look down on all the land far below them; her desire flew upwards to reach the cradle of the river, to see it at its source and birth. There was a fillet of cloud making level the tops of the intervening range, and she thought it would really be better than heaven to sit on a high summit above the clouds and to look down on them.

Dennis listened thoughtfully, and when she paused he examined her and said, "And how do you think you will climb up moraines and mountains, Aidie? Look at your little shoes—and your gloves! Were there ever such ridiculous wee bits of hands in the world before?" Adelaide looked at him, undecided whether she liked this speech or not until he went on, "It's a palace of marble you ought to have, my dearie, and I wish I could build you one." Adelaide told him nature built the loveliest palaces, that it was his world she wanted to see, the mountains and everything he loved; the page 161mountains belonged to him or he to the mountains, and that was why she was going amongst them.

So with lovers' talk they rode on mile after mile through the freshness of the morning. But the track was stony and the sun rose higher and began to get hotter and hotter. Adelaide grew weary and, instead of coming nearer, the visionary valley seemed farther away. They crossed the stream once, and crossed it twice and three times and over again, until she thought it was coiling itself round and round them. The higher up they went, the louder and wilder the waters sounded in her ears. About noon when the sun was hottest they came to some rapids. They crossed just below, and the waters here were in tumult and swirled to right and to left. Dennis rode in front to show her the way, but she looked nervously at the foam, and while she was looking she forgot to see where his horse had trodden. So she called, "Dennis, do stop or I shall be drowned." He looked back and laughed. "You have lost your nerve my little girl, that's all. Come! be brave." Adelaide rode another pace and stayed again, and put on a doubtful expression. She wished to be brave, but she still more wished not to be drowned. "I think, Dennis, the horse seems to be rather frightened," she said in a clear voice. "Oh, the horse. To be sure," he answered, but he spared her anything more. "Take the poor page 162creature back then, Aidie." He rode over, leading the pack-horse, then waded back, but just as he got near Adelaide she let her horse stumble, and the next thing she knew clearly was that they were on the bank, and that she was pressed rather too closely against the coarse woollen shirt that Dennis wore on this journey. Adelaide was not altogether displeased, but she was ashamed to have lost her dignity, so she moved her head back, and putting her hand to her cheek, remarked, "Your shirt is a little rough, dear. Let me go. Now I will ride across."

"Indeed and you won't," said Dennis. "I am going to carry you across." And he stooped down to take her.

But she drew away and vowed she couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't be carried.

"Are you pretending I never carried you over a river before?" he asked, and looked like her boy-sweetheart, very like but not quite the same.

"Oh, but then I was only a child." Adelaide took another step further from him, holding her skirt daintily, and he thought it was a play.

"I seem to remember carrying you through the bush not many years ago, my Aidie," he said, and coming near he sat himself down below where his bride stood and put his hands on her feet and kissed them.

"Oh, but," murmured Adelaide in her lowest bird notes, "that was at home and in private."

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"And this," said he, "is public." And he looked around on the river and the untrodden mountains, then took her completely to himself. But Adelaide really felt as if the river were talking about them, and the sun watching overhead and the placid mountains looking on. Her heart beat in an ecstasy, but whether from fatigue or the newness of her marriage, every nerve thrilled with self-consciousness. Her bridegroom was such a barbarian sometimes, and she felt as if he were literally bearing her straight out of her civilised sphere into his kingdom. He put her veil back and bared his chest to press her face against it. "My shirt is too rough, love, isn't it?" he said; then asked, "Are you very unhappy?" Adelaide made no reply. She was most extravagantly happy, and excessively ashamed of herself and of him. Out of the open sky a lark sang shamelessly all the secrets she was hiding in her heart—music, sweetness, love, life, ecstasy and marvel. Yes, she knew what every note meant. These secrets should not be told so clearly, and the barbarous sun should not shine with such unveiled light upon lovers.

In the middle of the stream Dennis stopped and said, "Look up the river, sweetheart. Do you know where you are?"

Adelaide looked along the leaping pathway of the Wainoni, and saw two rocky cliffs, one on each side, and at the base of one was a rock where the water fell gurgling and dripping into page 164a pool. Beyond the gorge was a serrated range now clear of mist, and at its foot were tranquil waters, blue with the sky; they overflowed into a marsh starred with Alpine blossoms. Behind the range she could see the tops of one or two peaks, white as clouds, but immutable and unvarying in colour and in shape. "Our valley," Adelaide exclaimed.

Dennis lay along the bank, his arm upon her knee as she sat. "Isn't it getting late?" she asked, but he answered, "It is never late nor early in this valley, and there isn't any time here, only day and night. Now give me a kiss, Aidie, for taking you over." At that moment there was a harsh outcry at the edge of the bush, and Adelaide involuntarily rose to her feet. An owl flew out of a native birch on to a nearer branch. There he sat blinking solemn disapproval and propriety, closing one eye in disgust, but leaving the other open to see if they might not do something worse, and every now and then he ejaculated to himself that such things were never done in his young days, and he wondered what the bush was coming to next.

"There, didn't I tell you, Dennis?" said Adelaide. "Oh no, I couldn't think of such a thing just now, not with that frightfully respectable owl watching us." And she led her horse to a rock.

"I'll shoot the creature," said Dennis. "Nonsense, Aidie, what's an owl anyway?"

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"This one seems to be a maiden aunt—a gentleman maiden aunt," she corrected herself. She sprang lightly into the saddle without his aid, and cantered on while he got the other animals. Her fatigue had gone, and a breeze that had touched the snow breathed upon her. It struck her that her bridegroom had been rather too supreme at the gates of the valley, and that as a change she would like to recover her own self, at least for a time. They had lingered some time together by the cliffs, but she rode the first half-mile into Eden in front of him, looking back now and then with a smile that was half challenge and half excuse, as if she said, "You may not come too close just now, but don't misunderstand me, will you?"