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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter VI. How Birth and Breeding Always Show Themselves in an Emergency

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Chapter VI. How Birth and Breeding Always Show Themselves in an Emergency.

Mr. Borlase could not quite manage it, so one morning, impatient and fighting against fate to the end, he had to give in to the last enemy and lie still. He had made a preternatural effort to rise, gasped out "Em!" but before she could rush to him, had breathed his last. Emmeline was left bereaved. In his affectionate companionship and his exacting dependence, he had been husband and child as well as father to her. It was not just common loneliness that she felt, but having no one to look after. There could have been nothing more pathetic than Emmeline, sitting still in the house with idle hands, wondering what she should do next, or if there were anything worth doing any more. It was a relief when Dennis came in. He kissed her and looked steadily at her. "I wish you would cry, Emmie," he said. "It would do you good."

"I can't, Dennis—Does Aidie know?"

"No. I met Dr. Meares, and he says I had better keep her out of the way. I'll go to Miramar after—I want to see him now, Emmie."

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Dennis looked down on his dead chief, and thought how like he was to Adelaide asleep.

"It will kill her," said Emmeline stonily, as she stood by his side.

"I won't have you say that, Emmie. Do you forget you're speaking of my wife?" He spoke in his overwhelming manner.

Then he galloped to Miramar, and was shortly conscious in a vague manner of a large room and of a fine, clear, precise voice, and of words that reached his ear not very coherently, "Poor dear Adelaide—how sudden—how sad, what a shock to her—and to you too, Mr. MacDiarmid; please accept our sympathy."

"All right," he said brusquely. "Can Adelaide stay with you while I bury her Father?"

They would have been so glad to have dear Adelaide, but just at the present time did he think it was wise for her to be away from her own home? It was not at all that they were wanting in sympathy. They could not tell him how much they felt for her, but the risk to her health was so great. This was chiefly Mrs. Brandon. The Major, to do him justice, seemed to agree against his wishes, and said in an undertone, "Poor Aidie." The cultured voice began again, "Anything they could do for him or for her, he had only to let them know."

"Oh, I'll let you know, of course," MacDiarmid said, and strode out of the house without saying goodbye.

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"What an eccentric man!" remarked Mrs. Brandon, taking up the latest English novel, and cutting the leaves.

"Perhaps he is upset," hazarded Major Brandon.

"Perhaps. But it is very ill-bred to show it in that manner. Still of course we ought not to expect anything else from a man of his antecedents. It is always in an emergency of this kind that race and breeding do show."

"I suppose we could not have Aidie here for a few days?" inquired Major Brandon.

"Impossible. You know the Vaughans come to-day, and they will expect to be entertained. How Mr. MacDiarmid could think of Adelaide staying with us just now I cannot imagine. Such bad taste on his part. At a time when she might be in danger herself."

"No, I suppose we can't," acquiesced the Major, with a resigned sigh which annoyed his wife.

"She might actually die here. We are bound to consider the possibilities. The most extraordinary suggestion. You have done too much for Mr. MacDiarmid, and there is no limit to what such people will ask." And she fell to reading her novel.

Dennis galloped straight back to Emmeline and told her of his reception and laughed aloud. "That's what they're worth," he said.

"The poorest settler in the valley would not have refused now."

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"Not one of them. Never mind, Em, we'll get our darling through without them." Then he broke down a moment. "Oh God, my love! And I've got to tell her!"

Emmeline roused herself. "Yes, you must tell her," she said, "but I'll go over and stay with her now. He doesn't need me any more," she ended pathetically.

They sat down hand in hand without trying to speak for a time. Then Emmeline broke the silence. "I'll nurse Adelaide, Dennis, and then I mean to go out as companion or something of that kind. We've been in your debt a long time, and the farm ought to be yours." For some years Emmeline had known rather more of her father's pecuniary affairs than he did himself, and she knew that Dennis had been drawing a nominal salary as manager, and using his own money to pay off the mortgage and back debts.

"You'll do nothing of the sort," he answered. "Do you think I'll rob the hand that's fed me, now it's cold? I owe more to him and to you than any money will ever pay. What's the use in reckoning up favours, one side or another? You've helped me and I've helped you, and that's all there is in it." He kissed her again. "You're my partner now. You'll stay in your own home, my dear, and I'll work for you as long as I live."

Dennis went home to his wife. Adelaide was tired and was lying on the couch, and her page 291eyes were closed. He stood in the doorway looking at her, and it struck him that her face was ethereal and white, as if she were already in the mists and twilight of the unseen world. Then she heard his step and looked up startled, with a faint apologetic smile. "I was asleep, dear," she said, and would have risen.

"Don't move." He came and put his head down by her, and her hand wandered over his face and beard, lightly, too lightly, with a touch like the wind's.

"You love me, Aidie?"

"O Dennis, isn't it I who ought to ask you?" she said, trying to be playful. "Do I ever leave you?"

"No, don't. Don't ever leave me, my Aidie. We are all the world to each other, aren't we? If I think of love, it means you to me."

"And you to me. You know that, Dennis."

"Then nothing matters so much. Not if we lose all other friends, does it,—Aidie?"

"Nothing so much." Adelaide closed her blue eyes a moment, then surprised him by opening them wide. "Is my father dead?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, love, yes. He died suddenly this morning. But you—you won't leave me too, my Aidie? Stay with me and let me have my child and you together. I have no joy on earth if I have not you. It is different with other men and their wives, girls they pick up page 292one week and are sick of before the honeymoon is out. But you, my child, my babe, my love of twenty years, you've grown into my life. You'll have to be brave and live, Aidie."

"I will." She lay back, almost swooning with the effort, before she spoke again. "I must go to him now. Dad, dear dad, I must have one kiss." Adelaide raised her head, but he laid it back gently upon the cushions.

"You must not, love. It is the thing he would least of all have wished. He was very anxious about you. Doctor Meares says you should not go near the house."

"I will do what you all think best."

"The doctor thought you would be better away from home."

"Oh no, you will not banish me now, Dennis?" She clasped her arms around his neck. "I need you—all that you can spare me of yourself."

MacDiarmid went to the Roslyn churchyard to bear his chief to the grave, and the sunlight was not bright to him that day, and the clods of earth were cold. There was a large gathering, and all along the street men stood bareheaded as the First Settler passed for the last time. Colonials of the backblocks, especially where there is much Scotch blood, still love a good funeral. The flags were down at half mast, and the bells of the Anglican church tolled out the number of his three-score years and five. As page 293the mourners were turning away, M'Ilvride shook his head dismally and said, "It will no be verra long before we'll be seeing another Borlase carried here, I'm thinking." He was considerably startled when MacDiarmid turned round and remarked in a matter-of-fact manner, "I'll throttle any man who says that in my hearing again, M'Ilvride."

"Preserve's, Mr. MacDiarmid. It's no decent to talk that gait in the verra kirkyard," the scandalised M'Ilvride exclaimed, but he judged it advisable to make off in another direction.