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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XVII. Dolly's Story

page 165

Chapter XVII. Dolly's Story.

He was by my side almost before I was aware of it. I stood looking at him like a person in a dream. But when he held out his hand, which he did doubtfully, as if uncertain whether I should accept it, I recoiled from him with a start.

He stood looking at me wistfully across the fence, and for some minutes neither of us spoke a word.

The dusk fell softly round us, everything was very still. The horse jerked the bridle out of Alan's hand, and began to eat the short grass by page 166 the fence; he let the reins fall as if unconscious that he did so.

As I stood there looking at him, my eye took in, as a woman's eye is used to do, every little detail of his dress, his attitude, his look, the heather colour of his shooting-coat, the pattern of his watch-chain, photographed themselves upon my memory for life; the quiet patrician ease of his gestures, the intellect and the power of his face, all smote me then with an additional pang; for I knew that I loved him with all my heart and soul, that I should never love any one again as I did this man—“there he stood, my king!” And my love lay at present under a cloak so dark, that it was the greatest misery of my life—yes, greater by far than even the loss of my sister.

At last I said, trying to speak very coldly and indifferently, as if to a stranger,—

page 167

“Good evening, Mr. Ainsleigh. I am surprised to see you here.”

He made no answer to this. I heard him say softly,—

“How pale she is, and how much thinner she has grown—my little Dolly!”

Then addressing me directly, he said,—

“Don't you hate us both now, Dolly—both my brother and me? Will you forgive me far enough to listen to what I have to say to you?”

I opened my hand and showed him the photograph I had held tightly clasped all this time.

“Is this your brother?” I said.

“My half-brother, Richard,” he replied.

“And what, then, is your real name?”

I felt contemptuous at the remembrance of the deceit that had been, practised upon us, and I am sure that I spoke with contempt in my voice.

page 168

“Before I answer you,” he said, “I want to know if you will let me tell you everything. Not half the story, but the whole truth from beginning to end.”

“The truth?” I replied, more scornfully than ever. “Are you sure it is that you intend to tell?”

It was such a cruel speech that I hated myself for it the moment afterwards, and he shivered suddenly as if I had hurt him. He took a thick sealed envelope from his pocket and laid it in my hands.

“Read that to-night,” he said, “and then pass sentence on me when you please. But don't do it till you have heard my defence.”

He moved a little away as if to go, then stopped and stood looking at me again, wistfully.

“You are so pale,” he said. “When did you page 169 get that anxious look in your eyes, Dolly? It will haunt me.”

“My looks are of no consequence now to any one,” I replied, coldly; “don't trouble yourself about them. But before you go, I should like to know your brother's real name, as I suppose he will no longer try to pass himself off as Madelaine Ainsleigh.”

“His real name is Carewe,” he returned.

“Then Richard Carewe is the name of the man to whom I owe an undying grudge, of the villain who has robbed me of my sister?” I threw the bitterest emphasis in my power into the words.

“And Alan Carewe is the name of the man who will never cease to love you as long as he lives, however much you may despise him,” he answered, and with that he caught up Ms horse's bridle, raised his hat to me, and sprang into the saddle.

page 170

I could just see the figure of one of the men in the yard in the dusk, and knew what had cut short the interview.

“Thorpe,” I said, “be so good as to open the gate to Mr. Ainsleigh.”

And then I knew that Thorpe would see him on to the road, and that he would have no excuse for lingering. But almost before he was out of sight I was crying bitterly, with my cheek against the rough bar of the fence; and I felt at that moment as if the very darkest hour of all my life had come upon me.

That night, alone in my room, I opened Alan's letter.