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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XI. Dolly's Story

page 110

Chapter XI. Dolly's Story.

Harry rode round to the houses of all our neighbours, groping blindly for some light to be cast on the mystery. No one had seen Violet anywhere. The Ainsleighs had left home nearly a week before. Poor Hugh Maberley was wild with terror and grief. He galloped backwards and forwards, looking for her in every place he could think of, and lamed one of his best horses with his hard riding. Kate cried over her baby the greater part of the day. For myself, a vague restlessness had taken page 111 possession of me. I could not remain still for many minutes at a time; whenever I sat down I began to think, and thought made my anxiety almost unendurable, so I flitted ceaselessly hither and thither, almost without motive or design.

At one period of the day, I remember, Kate and I hastily examined Violet's room, to see if anything we could find there would throw a light on the mystery. But our search was quite fruitless.

Nothing was missing except the hat, cloak, and boots, which she had put on when Kate saw her go out on that last walk. At last—

“The long, long, weary day
Had pass'd in tears away,”

and, as evening came on, I found myself still possessed with the same miserable restlessness. Standing in the yard at the back of the house, I was utterly unable as yet fully to realize what had page 112 happened, and, as I stood there, I half expected to see Violet herself walk up to me in the gathering evening” shadows.

Just then one of Harry's men, of the name of Thorpe—one of the upper class of “New Zealand working men—came up to me, and begged me in a low tone to follow him a little way from the house, as he had something of importance to say to me.

I knew Thorpe well; I had often lent him books and been astonished at his self-education. He was one of those men who are sure to rise from the ranks sooner or later. I followed him when he asked me, marvelling much at his manner, but without the slightest hesitation.

A few paces further from the house he paused, and I came up to him and stood by his side. A little sunset-light still lingered over the mountains page 113 and touched the giant maiden's breast and billowy hair with blood. The granary on our right stood out sharply defined against the darkening sky of night.

“I have been down to the creek, Miss Dolly,” Thorpe said, in a subdued tone, “and I found this.”

He placed in my hands what seemed at first sight a stained and faded strip of rag, with something glittering at one end of it. At the next glance I knew it for the green ribbon that Violet had worn round her neck the afternoon she disappeared, with the locket still attached to it.

Yes, there could be no doubt about it, it was the very same—muddy and damp as the green silk had become, and though the locket was scratched and bent, and had apparently been trodden upon; for one of the small pearls which formed the letter V page 114 upon its face had been forced out of its setting and was gone.

I looked at Thorpe, I am conscious, with wide, horror-struck eyes as the full meaning of this discovery gradually dawned upon me.

“You found it by the creek?” I said, trembling so much that I could scarcely stand.

“Half hidden in the mud at the very edge of the creek, almost in the water,” he replied; “and I brought it to you, for I thought it might be a clue, and perhaps, as Mrs. Somerset is but delicate, she had better not see it, poor thing!”

It was quite evident what conclusion the man had come to from this awful piece of evidence, and what other could I come to myself, however I might still try to cling to hope?

I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, and told him he was quite right in his conjecture, the page 115 locket did belong to my sister Violet. I could not bring myself yet to speak in the past tense, though it was fearfully probable that to say it “had belonged” to her would have been more correct.

The next thing I remember is trying to walk back to the house, and feeling my way along by the fence, like a person groping in the dark. The cool night air blowing on my hot forehead revived me, and seemed to clear my mind and give me fresh strength.

Hope sprang up again, and showed herself not dead as yet. What was the discovery of the locket and the ribbon but a piece of circumstantial evidence with nothing so far to follow it up? My heart rebounded against the cold despair that had oppressed it, and I said to myself that the thing was too horrible to be true.

I saw Harry ride into the yard at that time. I page 116 beckoned to him, and he came to me at once. When he saw the locket, and heard the story, he said to me,—

“Don't tell Kate, and to-morrow, as soon as it is light, I will set the police to work.”

That night I had a strange dream. I was so utterly exhausted with anxiety and watching the night before that I fell asleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow. And this was what I dreamed:—I thought I was in the heart of the bush. Strange trees and shrubs, never beheld by me before I left England, grew on all sides of me. I stood on the bank of a creek, which formed itself at my feet into a clear shallow pool. The moonlight poured through the boughs of the trees on to the water, and on to a white motionless figure, which floated just before me, so that I could not see the face.

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In my dream I was possessed with the fancy that it was Violet's form. The words “Drowned! Drowned!” seemed to ring in my ears. I followed the windings of the creek; the moonlight always shone through, the foliage, and always there was the floating figure with the hidden face.

I cried, “Violet! Violet!” I wrung my hands. The figure slowly raised itself on the water. The face was—not Violet's; it was the face of the man who had asked the way to Mr. Ainsleigh's station the day that Violet disappeared.

I awoke with a sensation of relief, as if a load had been lifted from my mind; but the moon was shining through the window, and in its light something on the dressing-table sparkled; it was the locket, which had been placed there the evening before by Harry.

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A fresh spasm of dismay overcame me as I recognized it, and I could only hide my face in my pillow and pray. After that I slept quietly for the rest of the night, and was troubled by no more feverish visions.