A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand
Chapter XIV. Dolly's Story
Chapter XIV. Dolly's Story.
I cannot describe the strange sensation with which I realized that I held in my hand a part of a letter written by Violet herself. It appeared to me as if I had stumbled at last upon the first trace of her which we had any of us discovered since her disappearance.
The question was, when was this letter written?
The paper was damp as if with lying in the rain, and was torn through crossways, but the words upon it were still easily to be deciphered. page 135 It was evidently half of a torn-up note, which some one had intended to destroy and throw away; and this some one, whoever it was, had, fortunately, not succeeded in the intention.
I sat down among the wattles and blue gums, which grew thickly in this part of the garden, and, quite secure from observation myself, began to examine into the evidence afforded by this precious document at my leisure. I cast sharp glances in all directions to discover if possible the missing half of the note paper I held in my hand, but it was not visible anywhere.
Spreading out the thin pink waif upon my lap, I was rejoiced to find that the first words my eye rested upon were a date, clearly marked. Yes, it was dated the very day that Violet disappeared!
At the top was the gilt monogram “V. S.” page 136 quite perfect. A little beneath the words, “Dearest R., I shall expect you early. Don't forget …” The rest was torn away. Beneath came part of another line: “do not suspect …” Another blank; “my dear pearl locket which you gave me;” and last of all, nearly complete, the signature, “Your Violet.”
After decyphering this I felt more thoroughly perplexed in my mind than I had ever felt yet. I had hoped that this unexpectedly discovered relic of my lost sister might have thrown a clearer light than before upon her fate. It seemed to me as if it only increased the mystery which surrounded it.
Who was “R.?”—the “R.” whom it appeared she was expecting on the day we last saw her. The donor apparently of her handsome locket. Could she have been clandestinely engaged to some person in the neighbourhood? But, if so, why page 137 clandestinely—why not have asked Harry's consent openly?
Oh, if that mysterious letter “R.” had but been followed by the remaining letters of the word it represented!
Sitting and musing thus, I heard the latch of the little gate by which I had entered the garden click, and a man's footstep on the gravel. Some one was coming up the path towards me, whistling “Annie Laurie” as he advanced.
I felt suddenly like a detected spy; my cheeks burnt red as fire, and stepping hastily out from my hiding-place, I found myself, not face to face with Alan Ainsleigh, as I had half expected, but with Hugh Maberley.
He was caught at last, and could not avoid a meeting, and we shook hands, rather constrainedly. His sunburnt face had flushed up, and he still page 138 looked somewhat as if he would have run away, if he could. I thought, too, that he appeared unusually grave.
Of course I explained to him immediately how it was I came to be there.
His face did not relax, even when I said point blank, for I was determined to know what ailed him, “You have not been to see us for a long time, Mr. Maberley.”
“The truth is, Miss Dolly,” he said, “I don't think your sister treated me very well. I don't much care to be reminded of her at present. There—you have it all now, and you can be angry with me for saying it, if you please.”
“I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Maberley,” I said. “How did Violet treat you ill?” Then as a sudden thought struck me, I added, hastily, “Oh! for heaven's sake, if you have page 139 found out anything which we do not know, tell me at once, and put me out of this awful state of suspense!”
Hugh stroked his light beard, and seemed to hesitate. At last he said,—
“Is it possible that you have heard nothing of her, all this time?”
“Nothing,” I returned, promptly.
I drew the bit of pink note paper from my glove, where I had hidden it, and showed it to Hugh; telling him, at the same time, how it had come into my possession.
He read it carefully twice over; then returned it to me, and frowned as he did so.
“I cannot tell how it got here,” said he, “nor to whom it is addressed. But one thing is clear as daylight, Miss Dolly—your sister had some other attachment, which, for reasons of her own, she page 140 desired to keep a secret; and she only used me as a decoy, to throw you all off the right scent. I say it was treating me very badly, and I feel it.”
He ground the gravel on the path under the heel of his boot in his indignation. I had never seen his good-tempered face with so black an expression upon it before; but if the truth was as he imagined, he had certainly, as he said, been treated very badly.
“But I cannot believe it, Mr. Maberley,” I said, after pondering his words for a moment or two. “What proof is there of such deceit on my sister's part, except this vague note and that mysterious locket?”
“What proof, did you say? “Hugh flamed out. “Then I will tell you what I know at once. I hadn't been in Melbourne a week before I saw page 141 your sister, Violet, driving down Bourke Street in a handsome carriage. I looked into her face, and she looked into mine, and we knew each other!”