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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XIII. Dolly's Story

page 125

Chapter XIII. Dolly's Story.

Time went on. Many more days passed by without a single ray of light striking the darkness which enveloped Violet's fate.

There was a little stir and excitement until the death of the drowned man was duly inquired into and he was buried, then all subsided into a dead calm. If the police had hit upon any clue, they did not take us into their confidence.

Kate was the most hopeless of us, I think. One day she proposed to me to put on mourning, page 126 but Harry overheard her, and forbade us so decidedly even to think of such a thing at present, that the subject was never afterwards mentioned between us.

For myself I could not feel that Violet was dead. My old dream came back in slightly altered forms again and again. But always I stood in the bush; Australian shrubs grew around me; and always there was a veiled form, whose face I could not see. There was water, there was moonlight and trees all around, and I always felt the same miserable uncertainty whether the floating figure was really Violet or not.

I had never been in the Australian bush in my life, but in my visions of the night I wandered there again and again.

Kate's baby was a great comfort to me at this period. The little fellow grew so fat, and strong, page 127 and intelligent, and was a greater pet with us all than ever. It seemed as though a gap having been formed in our family circle, we all drew closer together that we might feel it less.

We almost grew to look upon poor Hugh Maberley as one of ourselves. He roamed the neighbourhood like an uneasy ghost. At last, in despair, he came to me. He always did come to me in his desponding moods, and when the hopeful fit was on him he went to Kate. He told me at last he could bear it no longer. He must go away. His brother would look after his affairs, and he intended to spend the winter in Melbourne.

“Perhaps when I come back in the spring I may have forgotten her a little,” he said, and looked up at Violet's photograph on the wall, and sighed.

I was very sorry for him, and I told him I thought that he had much better go.

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Then he shook hands with us both, and asked if he could do anything for us in Melbourne, and next week he went away.

It seemed as if all our friends were going away. What had become of the Ainsleighs? We never heard anything about them now.

Beautiful fruit and most lovely flowers were sent to us regularly from Fernyhurst. “Such was the order Mr. Ainsleigh had left when he went away,” Harry was told, and he had also given directions that all the new books and periodicals arriving by the mails were to be forwarded at once for my entertainment.

With one thing and another I was kept in mind of Alan very constantly, but where he was I did not know. Several times I felt strongly tempted to write to him and tell him of the great trouble that had fallen upon us, but I had literally no idea page 129 how to address my letter, and I shrank from asking any of our friends who were likely to know. Besides, could I, after all that had passed, send him what he might interpret as a summons to return?

Winter set in early that year, cold and damp. The mountains assumed their most glorious raiment; the giant maiden became a statue of alabaster on a colossal tomb.

With the first frosts of winter, quite unexpectedly to everybody, Hugh Maberley came back. He had been in Melbourne only a month. He returned to his old life and his daily work as quietly as if he had never been away. Had he found absence such an effectual anodyne, I wondered? After all his despair could he have forgotten Violet so soon?

We might have both thought so, for any sign page 130 he gave to the contrary; but one strange circumstance perplexed us—he never came to see us now. We had all liked him very cordially, and bound together as we all were by the links of a common trouble, we should ever have welcomed him, almost as one of ourselves. But he never came near us at all. More than that, Harry assured us that, meeting him accidentally once or twice in the street, Hugh had deliberately avoided him, and had even, crossed over the way to escape more than an ordinary greeting.

This seemed strange; and Kate and I felt hurt at the marked coldness which he continued to display towards us, until we charitably reflected that poor Hugh had certainly been through some trouble, and that perhaps we reminded him too painfully of former happy days with Violet for our companionship to be altogether agreeable to him.

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However it might be, we ceased after a while to wonder at the matter any more, having plenty of other and more exciting food for thought.

One day I set forth by myself for a walk to Fernyhurst. It was only about two miles from us through the paddocks, though nearly double as far by the road; although nothing of the place, nor even of the road to it, could be seen from our windows, owing to the sharp spur of a hill cutting off the view.

Not one of us had been near Fernyhurst since Alan's departure; and Kate and I had agreed that we must offer Mrs. Barton, the wife of the man who had the principal charge of the place, the civility of thanking her for the regularity with which she had executed Mr. Ainsleigh's orders in sending us the choicest fruits and flowers the garden afforded.

It was a charming day for a walk, fine and page 132 bright, and I could see the mountains before me nearly all the way. I felt delightfully snug and warm in my little sealskin jacket and hat, and I had been sensible enough to put on strong boots, for there had been rain in the night, and the ground was wet and slippery.

I entered the Fernyhurst garden by a small gate at the side, which I was acquainted with, intending to make my way round from there to the front of the house. Just as I closed the little gate behind me I saw a slip of paper lying at the roots of a laurustinus near me, as if blown there by the wind. I should not have noticed it twice, but that the paper was the pink colour which Violet had so much affected, and a large supply of which she had brought out with her, stamped with her monogram in gold.

The colour attracted me so much that I could page 133 not resist picking up the crumpled morsel of paper. Yes, it was certainly a scrap of Violet's very own writing-paper; and, more than that, there were undoubtedly words upon it in my sister's handwriting.