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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter VII. Dolly's Story

page 77

Chapter VII. Dolly's Story.

After what I had heard Kate say I shrank from-Madelaine Ainsleigh with a stronger repulsion than ever. My antipathy to her which had existed from the first was always to myself somewhat inexplicable, but truly sincere in spite of that.

Once, as she was taking leave of us, the girl stooped—she was taller than I—and kissed me on the cheek. I think the sensation it caused me, was more like that of involuntarily touching page 78 a snake, or some loathsome insect, than anything else I can compare it to. I turned faint for a few moments, and had to go out into the open air.

Violet would certainly not have been affected in the same manner. Madelaine and she played and sang together constantly; they had both some 71 talent, and Madelaine had a fine, though uncultivated contralto voice. They walked arm in arm round the garden and paddocks; they corresponded in short notes when apart. Certainly 72 did not display any signs of weakness, or eccentricity of intellect. They were perfectly clear and well expressed productions, though her handwriting was somewhat stiff, and almost unnaturally angular.

Suddenly Madelaine's visits ceased, abruptly and entirely. Afterwards I knew that her brother had interfered, and forbidden them, with a deter- page 79 urination there was no opposing. But that was after knowledge. At the time we were puzzled, all of us, at least, except Violet. But Madelaine and she continued to correspond clandestinely,73 in spite of 74 or against formal social proprietaries., though neither Kate nor I suspected it then.

Hugh Maberley came often, and seemed to make good progress with his suit. Violet's spirits, which had been variable for some time, suddenly revived; and became as joyous as possible. She declared she thought the colonies far preferable to England; and only wished we had come out a few years sooner.

Alan Ainsleigh I saw much of just then, and what I saw of him I liked. Everything seemed flowing very gaily and smoothly on the surface; but the waters were growing deeper, the undercurrent was beginning to glide more swiftly, and page 80 when I was not prepared for it my own little boat was shipwrecked on a bidden shoal.

One lovely morning Harry and I set off to ride into town. We had both many commissions to execute for Kate, and Harry had business to look after; while I was to dine with some friends of ours, who had kindly offered a welcome to both Violet and myself whenever we had any shopping to do.

There had been heavy rain the day before, and the roads were bad, and the creeks higher than usual. Kate did not half like my going. But some of her commissions were for the baby, and she could not trust Harry's masculine judgment, and I longed for the ride, so she consented.

“Be sure you are home before dark,” she said, as she kissed me for good-bye. “I shall get so uneasy if you are not.”

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I promised to be back as early as possible, and looked round for Violet. But sue was not to be seen.

“I think she is writing in her own room,” said Kate. “Never mind. She asked me to tell you to get her five yards of pale green ribbon, and three of white muslin, and, that is all she wants this time she says.”

So I set off. I rode, in those days, a bay mare called Rebecca, and very fond I was of her. We had a pleasant ride into town, in spite of the roads. I finished everything I had to do, dined with Mrs. Fortescue off roast beef and apple pudding, and waited long for Harry to come to take me home.

He had much business on hand, however, and the afternoon waned, and still he did not come. I remembered my promise to Kate, and began to page 82 be uneasy. We had a ride of ten miles before us, and some of it must be done slowly, on account of the rough road.

I sat by one of the windows which overlooked the street, watching for Harry to make his appearance. Kind Mrs. Fortescue had ordered tea for me before I set off on my homeward way, and I had long since taken a cup of it, and eaten a morsel of bread-and-butter, and still no sign of Harry.

At last I saw him walking rapidly towards the house. I sprang to meet him in the verandah, and reminded him that we were very late.

“I know we are,” he said, and with a hurried farewell to our hostess, we set off.

As we walked quickly down the road towards the stables where Harry had left the horses, he said, “I have not nearly finished yet all that I have to page 83 do. I cannot leave town for another couple of hours, but Kate would be wild with anxiety if you did not appear before dark, so a friend has offered to take charge of you on the way.”

There was no time to inquire who the friend was. We turned a corner sharply, and there, holding my horse and his own, stood Alan Ainsleigh.

Coming events cast their shadows before. A shadow of the future seemed to fall upon me as I looked at him, and I trembled. He had no objection on his part to the charge he had imposed upon himself, as was evident by his face.

Harry mounted me, and with as little delay as possible we set off. We spoke little till we were clear of the town, and felt well launched on our way home. Then as the road grew lonelier and page 84 lonelier we began to talk, and to ride more slowly. Never once did we mention Madelaine's name in any of our conversations. Mr. Ainsleigh's sister, and everything connected with her, seemed a subject tacitly ignored between us.

As we rode we could see the mountains before us almost all the way. The night was slowly glooming up in heavy clouds behind them; the giant maiden lay in dusky grandeur in the declining light.

The wind changed suddenly, and from being in a warm quarter came in chill gusts against our faces.

“We had better try a canter here,” I said, turning to Alan. “The road is worse still further on, and my sister will be sure to imagine something has happened to me if I am not home soon.”

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“Ride carefully,” he returned, as his horse broke into a quick trot beside Rebecca's long easy stride. “I wish we had left town sooner.”

The words were on his lips when Rebecca slipped on the road, or put her foot in a hole, I am not sure which, and fell on her side in a moment.

Before I clearly realized what had happened, she struggled to her feet with such a violent jerk, that I was thrown clear from the saddle, only my riding-habit caught one of the pommels and held me helpless. But in an instant Alan had jumped off his horse, and was at my side and set me free.

The whole thing was so sudden and confusing, and the shock75 I had received was so violent that I staggered to the side of the road and turned deadly faint. And when I came properly to page 86 myself Alan had caught me in his arms, and was kissing me frantically, while he cried in a tone of agonized inquiry,—

“Oh, Dolly, are you hurt, my darling?”

71 The drawing room piano was a common decorative item imported to New Zealand by colonists.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

72 References to letters are a common feature of sensation writing.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

73 Meaning hidden or secreted away from sight.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

74 What is thought of as forbidden

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

75 An element of sensation writing.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]