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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter X. Dolly's Story

page 99

Chapter X. Dolly's Story.

The next thing that happened was, that the Ainsleighs went away from Fernyhurst.

Two days after that memorable night when I was thrown from my horse, I was busy in the kitchen with Lizzie as usual, when there came a knock at the door. Lizzie, opening it, saw a man on horseback outside, who placed in her hands a small parcel, a large parcel, and a letter, and immediately rode away. All these were addressed to me, and I had learned by this time to recognize the decided upright handwriting.

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The not was short, and guardedly cool and courteous. Mr. Ainsleigh informed me that he was on the point of starting for Auckland,82that he had sent me a small parcel of mine which had fallen from my saddle when my horse threw me, and which, in the confusion of the moment, he had picked up and then forgotten. He had also sent me some books which he had received by the last mail83 , and which he had thought might interest me. He hoped I should let him know if there were any commissions he could execute for any of us in his travels, and remained, “very sincerely mine, Alan Ainsleigh.”

So he had gone, and perhaps I should never see him again; perhaps he had already repented of his promises the other night, and gone to forget them in other society. My heart ached a little that day.

The small packet contained Violet's green page 101 ribbon and white muslin, which she and I bad both bemoaned as hopelessly lost.

I carried it to her as she sat trimming a new hat in the sitting-room, and very pleased she was to get it. She cut off a piece of green ribbon with her scissors, and slipping a locket from her 84 on to it, tied it round her neck, and looked prettier than ever. The colour suited her so well.

It was a very pretty locket of plain gold, with small pearls set in the form of a V upon it.

“That is a very beautiful locket, Violet,” I said; “something quite new. Where did it come from?”

“Where did it come from?” she repeated, indifferently. “Oh, Hugh Maberley, of course!”

“Then it is settled, is it, Violet?” I asked. “And you are really going to be married to him some day?”

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She turned her head a little, and looked me in the face; then seemed to wake up suddenly with a start.

“Oh, married?” she said. “No, not just yet, I think. But little Hugh is very useful, and I really like him very well on the whole.”

I felt shocked, for a moment, at the thought of Violet accepting presents from a man she had not decidedly engaged herself to; but I said nothing, having learnt by this time that my sister and I did not always see things in the same light.

And now I am coming to a part of my story so drearily, mournfully sad, that my heart dies within me as I write.

It seemed as if with Alan all the glory and the brightness of my life had passed; and the shadows grew thicker and drearier every day. page 103 About a week after the Ainsleighs' departure there came a day never to be forgotten, every trifling incident of which seems cut with a chisel on my memory.

It was lovely weather, fair, clear, and sunny. The mountains appeared in their robes of softest lilac; there was no snow upon them as yet. Kate was singing gaily as she dressed, and played with her baby. Little Fred was growing into a fine, strong boy, and was the darling of the household. Violet, who was sewing her white muslin into a Garibaldi,85 joined in the song.

The only incident of the morning was, that as I was making pastry and custards in the kitchen, a man came to the door, and asked for a drink of water.

Lizzie handed him, some water in a small tin pannikin.86 Like most colonial kitchens,87 ours boasted a supply of these useful articles. While page 104 he drank the water—and he was some time about it—I remarked that his eyes glanced keenly all round; and as he returned the pannikin to Lizzie, he asked her to tell him the way to Mr. Ainsleigh's station, adding that he was going to work there for the present. Lizzie gave him the best directions she could concerning his road, and he presently walked off.

I happened to have noticed that he was an unusually handsome man, in a fair, somewhat effeminate style, and that, unlike the majority of men seeking employment, he had with him no “swag”89 of any description.

We all dined together at one o'clock on boiled chickens and ham, and cherry tart and cream, which was Violet's favourite dish. The cherries had been sent to us from Fernyhurst, in accordance with orders left by Mr. Ainsleigh with the page 105 married couple, who had been placed in charge of the house and garden.

Violet had a brilliant colour, and her eyes shone and sparkled. She wore a pretty black and white camlet dress, which suited her, and round her neck the pearl locket fastened to the long green ribbon.

Kate mentioned during dinner that she expected Mr. Maberley to tea that night. And Violet gave her head a saucy toss, and said,—

“Poor moth, let him burn his wings!”

Kate shook her head reprovingly, but did not remonstrate, knowing it to be of no use, and believing, as I did, that Hugh Maberley's ease was by no means a desperate one.

After dinner Violet and I were left alone together. How often have I pondered again and again in my memory every little look and word of that last interview. We spoke of our friends at page 106 home, of the people and the places where we had grown up together. No one could come between us, when we talked of the past, for we had been all in all to each other then. At last Violet got up and walked into the verandah. I went to put on my hat, for I was going across the paddock and over the creek with a little basket to fetch our butter. It was a walk I enjoyed.

When I came out of my room Violet was still in the verandah.

“Good-bye, Dolly,” she said.

I went to her, and she put her arms round my neck and kissed me.

“Come with me, Violet,” said I.

But she shook her head.

Not to-day,” she answered.

Good-bye, then, till tea-time,” I said, as I went out.

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She did not reply, and I noticed that her face was turned away.

When tea was on the table that night, Kate asked me to call Violet.

“She went out,” Kate said, “soon after you did. But she must long since have come home, although I have not heard her.”

I went to Violet's door, first knocked, then gently pushed it open and walked in. The room was empty. Her hat and her long grey waterproof cloak were gone from the place where they usually hung; her work—the white muslin Garibaldi—lay just where she had thrown it down on her bed; her little blue slippers were on a chair.

“She can't have come home yet,” I said to Kate. “I wonder where she has gone to.”

“We won't wait tea,” Kate returned. “She can have some made for her when she comes in.”

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Hugh Maberley came in to tea as we expected. He looked blank on finding that Violet's place was empty; and, after loitering as long as he could—for business obliged him to be home early—he was at last compelled to depart without seeing her.

I think we did not get uneasy about her till it became quite dark, and then, alarm seemed to strike us suddenly, like a blow. We sent Harry and the men to look everywhere in the neighbourhood for her, but without any result. Shall I ever forget that long miserable night, or the dreary dawn that followed?

“If she should have gone down to the creek and have fallen in!” sobbed Kate.

There was a deep hole not very far from the house, and the ground about that part sloped sharply away, so as to be quite hidden from the house or any of the farm building's.

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Kate and I would have run down to the creek at once, but Harry interposed and went instead. He could see nothing, but remarked on his return that he fancied the grass about the edge of the creek had a rather trampled appearance.

When morning came, and the next day slowly wore itself out, without any news, we were obliged to look the strange and wonderful event in the face. Violet had disappeared!

82 The largest city of the North Island of New Zealand situated between the Hauraki Gulf and the Manukau Harbour. Auckland was founded in 1840 by Captain Hobson on 18 September 1840. In the 1800's Auckland established its position as a financial and industrial centre. See: http://www.teara.govt.nz/

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

83 A vital point of communication in the early colony. The New Zealand Post Office was set up in the 1840s, but until the 1860s services were infrequent because poor roads made it difficult to carry mail to settlements. Horses and horse-drawn coaches transported mail until the 1920s. See: http://www.teara.govt.New Zealand/en/rural-services/5.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

84 Routine mending was not only a servant's task.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

85 A form of jacket worn in the Victorian period, the 'garibaldi' was named after the Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi who visited England in 1863.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

86 OED definition states: 'a small pan or drinking vessel of earthenware or (now usually) metal; the contents of such a vessel, a drink. Also in extended use, a small type of canister'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

87 Household supplies were widely advertised in local newspapers, see North Otago Times 1800's. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

89 A colloquial term for carry bag common to Australian folklore. DNZE definition states: 'a blanket-wrapped roll or bundle of possessions and useful articles, which when carried by a traveller on foot, was usu. held by straps to the back or shoulders, or laid around the neck like a horse-collar'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]