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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter VII. How Dennis MacDiarmid fought with Death for the Soul of Adelaide

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Chapter VII. How Dennis MacDiarmid fought with Death for the Soul of Adelaide.

When MacDiarmid got back from the funeral, he knew that his home was a house of mortal agony. Lena, red-eyed, went to the door before he reached the doorstep, and said with that hushing air that chills the life within, "Mrs. MacDiarmid is very ill, sir."

He put her aside almost roughly, and went towards the room where a faint low moan was heard. Emmeline tried ineffectually to remonstrate with him. "When did you send for the doctor?" he asked, and on her reply, looked at his watch and said, "Two or three hours at the soonest," and then, "Go into the next room, Emmie, and leave me with her." Then he went to the bedside, and sat there with his wife's hand in his, the thin white fingers locked around his own. Adelaide was floating in a thin, wild, windy air with no hold on earth, a region sounding with stifled cries and voices, now cold with deadly chills and now tearing her young flesh with fierce electric flames. Her dead father was drawing her over towards death, and her spirit longed to go page 295to him and to rest. MacDiarmid looked down on her and said, "You know me, Aidie?"

The blue eyes fixed themselves on him.


"You must stay, love. Do you understand me?"

"Yes—, I will," in the voice of the dying.

He had not any theory about mind and matter. It was sheer love and strength wrestling with death and overthrowing.

Then he went to the door. "Now you may come in, Emmie. But if you say one word about my leaving her, I'll turn you out yourself, my dear."

When Dr. Meares arrived, MacDiarmid became temporarily sane. "I must come to her if there's any danger," he said.

"Perhaps—in extremity," said the old doctor, and began to search his memory for precedents, "But no need to think of that yet."

It was such a long, long travail, by night and by day. Adelaide lay seeming to wonder if her torn spirit would ever be released, but was so gentle the doctor himself made use of his handkerchief once or twice. The delay made him rather impatient, of course, still he was not a city doctor with scores of cases, and the whole district took a pride in "that bonnie Mrs. MacDiarmid." MacDiarmid sat in the dining-room with his head bowed and his hands clenched, until the doctor began "livening him up."

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"Come, come, MacDiarmid, my friend, this won't do. We doctors see a lot of this sort of thing. All women go through it, and forget all about it soon. Not half so bad as it seems. Not a disease, you know. All in the course of nature. How do you think the world would get populated without?"

MacDiarmid remained stupidly indifferent to this profitable field for speculation, and still with bowed head and the eyes of a dumb animal said to no one, "My little girl, my little girl."

"I think we'll get your wife through," said the doctor. "She is a brave little lady. If we don't, it can't be helped. We can't expect to save the baby."

"I don't care a straw about the baby," answered Dennis, who, until yesterday, had been delighting himself with the thought of Adelaide's child and his. Then he looked up, but it is doubtful if he saw the doctor. "I wish I'd never married her," he said.

"Oh, nonsense, nonsense. Exaggerated sentiment, my dear sir. You're imagining that women feel pain as much as men do. They are not capable of suffering to anything like the same degree."

MacDiarmid regarded him for an instant with mild and childlike curiosity. "How do you find that out?" he asked, but his attention wandered, and the doctor's reply reached him only in incoherent scraps;—"matter of science page 297—physiological causes—lower nervous organisation—inferior development of the brain," then one coherent sentence, "They get over it so easily."

"Except when it kills them," thought MacDiarmid, but let the doctor drone on unregarded and sat silent, until they heard one low cry that Adelaide could not quite stifle, and then he said in a monotonous tone, "Poor, gentle, loving girl, why must she suffer so for me?" It was no use reasoning with this man, he had such an illogical mind.

Then a man came riding post-haste from Roslyn. "Sorry to disturb Mr. MacDiarmid, but it was most important. Could he possibly attend a meeting of the Farmers' Refrigerating Meat Company?" No, he possibly could not, and he certainly would not. Then would he go to Te Puhi to give his instructions to Mr. Willoughby? He had no instructions. "Go, go," said the doctor, "it will not make the slightest difference to your wife. I won't hear of your seeing her." "It's imperative, Mr. MacDiarmid," said Laing.

MacDiarmid had not risen from his chair to greet his visitor, but now he made an impatient movement.

"Go away, Laing, there's a good chap, and don't bother me," he said. "You would all have to do without me if I were dead. I have no more notion of giving instructions just now than I have of writing an epic poem."

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Then he got up and went out of the house, unable to stand the teasing of these mosquito bites any more. But for them, he would have stayed at the door of the torture chamber, to hear his wife's soft moans or catch some word about her from those allowed to enter. There was even in her agony something of Adelaide, sweetly and tenderly young, gently and finely brave.

He sat on the brae by the sliprails and looked first at his home against the Western hills, and then at the creek and the tree ferns. Here, after ten years' exile from her arms, he had gathered his love to himself again. While he sat there in the dusk, it was as if the glamour had fallen on his eyes, and he saw the door of the homestead open and the black coffin of the lady of Haeremai carried out, and a ghostly procession in black following, and at its head the man whom he had buried that day, rigid and stern as death, with his eyes fixed on the ground. "'Another Borlase?' No, by the love that gives and fosters life, the love that made our hearts one in fact and not in word alone, by the life that is strong in me and has no worth without hers." The night fell, and the stars came out, keen in the bitter cold of Alpine skies, and he rose and looked up to them, like a deep-souled Hebrew tossed with the tempests of God, and he cried without a sound to the strength of the mountains, and the dark heaven above, and to whatsoever page 299power made and shaped them, to give back to him the body and the soul of his wife, safe and released from torment.

The sky grew black and a sudden storm swept across the earth, but he stood heedless of the weather until he heard his name called, "Dennis! Dennis!" and he knew it was Adelaide. It was not the cry that comes from the lips to meet the ear; it was the very life crying straight to the life that it loved.

Then he said within himself, "It is I that must save her. Nothing on earth shall keep my love from me while she is struggling with death. I must go to her."

He went into the house. The doctor was in the middle of a good dinner. MacDiarmid, who had fasted all day, stood a few minutes to eat and drink, then said, "I am going to my little girl now, doctor. I know she wants me."

"Altogether contrary to professional etiquette," said the doctor decisively, while MacDiarmid went to the door. "Mr. MacDiarmid, do you understand?" He raised his voice. "As physician in charge of this case, I refuse permission."

"Sorry," said MacDiarmid, "I shall have to do without it."

Dr. Meares rose in incensed authority. "Then I'll drop the case."

Dennis turned and smiled at him. He had absurdly beautiful eyes for a man. "No, you won't, Dr. Meares," he said, "because you are page 300a very good fellow, and you don't want my Adelaide to die, and after all the trouble you've had saving her till now. We'll keep it dark between ourselves and—the etiquette of the thing. You take it out of me some other way."

"Blarney," muttered the doctor, but he sat down to finish his dinner. "You don't get over me that way. If I do stay, it will be for her sake and her father's, not yours. And if she dies, I'll have you up for manslaughter." This last idea somehow soothed his feelings, and seemed to afford an honourable compromise.

"All right," answered MacDiarmid in a friendly manner, "I'll give you leave to hang me then."

When Dr. Meares came into the room, Adelaide was lying on her husband's arm, with her head thrown back, and her eyes looking up to him with a question and an appeal and a submission to pain all in that look. After MacDiarmid saw her face, he saw nothing else, was conscious of nothing else but her for hours. She must not die, he could not let her go, she was so young, she loved the earth so much, their life was one; these thoughts and these alone possessed him, and he saw only the image of the chill terror holding out pale hands to draw his darling from him and to leave him desolate.

The doctor, with authority grown to awful and supernatural dimensions, sternly ordered page 301the obedient Emmeline about, and sternly ignored the refractory MacDiarmid.

In the dark midnight, while the wintry showers fell outside, Emmeline Borlase, by the flickering light of a candle, with one kiss laid in its cradle the tiny, wan, light body of Adelaide's dead babe. No one else gave a moment's thought to it. The two men stood on opposite sides of the bed, watching intently. Suddenly the doctor cried, "She is going fast." But her husband called her, "Adelaide! Adelaide!" and she saw him and came back.