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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XIX. Dolly's Story

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Chapter XIX. Dolly's Story.

The winter grew colder and drearier. We had much wet weather, and the roads became in some places almost impassable; so I gave up riding. The creek never rose high enough to alarm us, though we all agreed that Harry's new house—when it was built—must be placed in a much higher situation. When it was built!—but there seemed to be no immediate prospect of that.

Kate and I both knew that Harry was worried at this time by money troubles, and it seemed page 184 cruel to add to them by telling all that had come to my knowledge concerning Violet; besides, he had forbidden us ever to mention her name to him again.

In this difficulty I broke the ice first with Kate, and she repeated the story to Harry in my presence. He walked about the room impatiently while she was speaking. His face wore its sternest expression, very unlike the good-tempered Harry of old. Violet had angered him, it was plain, almost past forgiveness; but his first words were not, as I expected, a passionate outburst of indignation against her; instead of that he walked up to me, and stood before me, looking down at me steadily.

“Dolly,” he said, “when this Ainsleigh, or Carewe, comes back, and asks you to marry him, shall you, after all that has passed, accept him?”

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It was not a fair question, but at that moment I dared not tell him so. Kate, however, glanced at my face, and then answered for me,—

“There is no doubt that she will, Harry,” she said.

He groaned to himself, and walked to the window, and stood looking out, with his hands in his pockets. It was plain that, if I did accept Alan, it would not be with his consent.

Kate took my part, however—dear Kate! she always did so—and she changed the subject, which I was not troubled with any more.

Harry, no doubt, had much to contend with at that time. Nothing had prospered with him lately, as he expected. Inexperience in the class of work which he had undertaken had told sorely against him; and, unfortunately, he had no friend to whom he could go for advice on an emergency.

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Kate and I saw matters, of course, from the woman's point of view, and did not know what particularly troubled him. But one thing was only too palpable to us all—we were growing poorer every clay.

One day, after I had been carrying little Fred about, and playing with him half the morning, I found Kate crying bitterly over her sewing in the sitting-room. She dried her eyes when I went in, and tried to look as if nothing was the matter.

But I would not allow of this. With my arms round her neck I coaxed her gradually into telling me her trouble. It appeared that she was in want of some little things for the baby, and had no money to get them with—nor did Harry know when he could give her any.

How could I suffer our little darling to want for anything while I had the means to supply it? I page 187 ran directly to my desk, which stood on, a table in my own room. I had still five pounds left from, my last instalment of pocket-money; this I put into Kate's hand, and closed her fingers on it firmly.

She thanked me many times over, and kissed me on both cheeks. “I can soon pay you back, you know, Dolly,” she said. We had not yet given up being hopeful at that time.

From, that day dated my own especial poverty, which meant simply that I had no longer one penny in the world. Violet and I had always been quite dependant upon Harry, who on his part had ever been a very liberal brother in the matter of pocket-money. Now, of course, he could be so no longer, and I did not expect it.

I had two stamps still left in my purse. After those were used I gave up writing English letters. page 188 My friends at home might think me idle, unkind, forgetful, or what they pleased; I knew myself that it was stern necessity which had cut short my correspondence.

Harry parted with all his men but Thorpe and one other; he could no longer afford to keep them. He worked hard himself. We on our side sent Lizzie's successor—Lizzie herself was now married—away, and did everything for ourselves and the baby with our own hands. Maid-servants at 30l. a year are expensive comforts in the colonies, and we find it out then, to our cost.

Kate was not strong, and could do little, though her will to help was not wanting; I began often to get very tired. But it was the same for all, and we looked bravely forward to the future, and tried to be patient during the present.

One day as I stood by the kitchen table with page 189 the baby tied into his little chair by my side, trying to keep him good and to iron his pinafores at one and the same time, Harry passed through the room on his way to Kate.

He stopped a moment by my table, touched my hot cheek, and said I looked tired.

“You work too hard, Dolly,” he said. “By and by, when you are a rich woman, you will look back and wonder at all you are doing now.”

He spoke lightly, and I knew what he meant; but I did not choose to let him see that I did.

“When Ainsleigh comes back,” he went on, “he won't let you do this any more. You know he's anything but poor, don't you, Dolly?”

I did not answer this either, and he stood by my side for some moments in silence. At last,—

“Do go away, Harry,” said I. “I am too busy to talk to you at present.”

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He woke up from his musing, and sighed.

“I shall have to give you up to him after all,” he said; “and I can see that it will be much the best for you, in spite of everything. Only when you are married, don't tell your husband that your brother worked you like a slave.”

This was too much. I set down my iron, and laid my hand on his arm.

“Harry,” I said; “all that I am doing is done willingly for you and Kate. I have no wish to be a fine lady, while you have to work so hard. And don't speak of my marrying, for it is not likely that I ever shall.”

And at that moment I did not feel as if it were. Alan had been away some weeks, and we had heard nothing of him or of Violet. It was getting to the depth of winter; the weather was wet and dreary in the extreme. I was not page 191 well, and the prospect on all sides looked very gloomy.

After Harry had gone away, I sat down in a corner and cried. But no one saw me, except the baby.

Kate and I had fortunately brought out good outfits, and did not at that desolate time want for any kind of clothing. It was well, for we could not have bought it if we had.

Nobody need starve in New Zealand; and mutton and tea are to be had by all; but we could no longer afford all the small luxurious accessories which made our plain meals agreeable; and I became quite an expert cook, with trying to evolve dainty dishes out of something almost as unsubstantial as my own inner consciousness.

Our dinners were certainly not like what they used to be in the days when we delighted in prac- page 192 tising hospitality; and once I felt especially sorry for this, because Hugh Maberley came over to dine and spend the day. He visited us often now, but seldom remained long at a time.

To-day he asked me to walk with him down the garden. I half fancied he might have gained some further information about Violet, and consented with alacrity.

This seemed to please him; but when we had walked to the very end of the half-cultivated wilderness we called a garden—which was fated never to be completed, if we had only known it—he did not appear willing to enter on the subject at all. In fact, he avoided it when I gave him an opportunity to discuss it, by remarking that his visit was quite like old times.

“I do not want to think about the old times any more,” he said.

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His tone sounded strange to me, and I felt puzzled. I looked at him more attentively than I had done yet, and noticed for the first time how very carefully he was dressed. He had even gold sleeve-links at his wrists, and his scarf was fastened with a new and elegant pin, in the shape of a little gold-digger leaning on a tiny coral spade.

I could not think of anything else to say; and there was a dark cloud just hurrying up which looked like rain. I cast a longing eye back at the house, and waited for my companion to make some further move.

At last Hugh said abruptly,—

“I have forgotten your sister, Miss Dolly, as if she had never been—for me, at least; and what I came for to-day was to ask you if there was any chance of your ever coming to like me a little.”

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He meant it for a proposal, but it was a very strange one, and very oddly expressed. It was the last thing I had ever dreamt of, and when his meaning dawned upon me, I was literally too appalled to reply, and stood looking at him, in—I am confident—a very silly manner, as if stricken dumb.

“Perhaps it strikes you as odd,” he went on, as he took in the amazement of my face. “And I think I must be a fellow who does not know how to please a girl with his love-making, for you see I did not succeed with her, and I'm afraid now I shan't succeed with you. But I have come to the conclusion for some time past, that when I ran after Miss Violet I had passed by the real diamond, and taken up with the false.”

This simile was, no doubt, flattering, though farfetched. But I was extremely sensitive then about page 195 my sister; I knew she deserved blame, and yet I could not bear the slightest stone to be cast at her. I was always longing and hoping that she would come back to me again.

Could Alan have been aware of this? I do not know, though I think he read my thoughts more clearly than other people; but, however it might be, I had noticed and been grateful to him for the fact that while in his letter he had lavished abuse on his half-brother, he had never said or even hinted one word against Violet.

I answered Hugh Maberley with coldness.

“I am very sorry,” I said, “that you have come to that conclusion at all.”

“Then you won't have me?” he returned, with most outspoken plainness of speech. “Think better of it, Dolly. I'm not half a bad fellow when you come to know me, and I would be as page 196 kind to you as I know how. Besides, I really love you very much.”

I think poor Hugh was right. He did not know how to please a girl with his love-making. But I am sure he meant it all very kindly, and was a man whom one could esteem heartily, if not love.

I answered him much more cordially this time.

“Don't think about it any more,” I said. “Such a thing could never, never be. I am very sorry you dreamt of it for a moment.”

Poor Hugh looked really sorrowful.

“I suppose I'm too late in the day,” he said. “I ought to have found it out sooner, instead of wasting my time running after some one else. But you see, Miss Dolly, you have really been working for your sister, and behaving in such a very”—he hesitated for a word—“magnificent page 197 manner, that a man must be a fool not to admire you.”

I could scarcely help laughing. A vision of myself, in an old print dress, with my face hot and floury, crossed my mind, and caused me to remember what a far from beautiful object my glass had often depicted me.

“I am sure there must be plenty of fools then in the world,” I said, as gravely as I could.

But Hugh did not reply to this.

“I can't think how it is I'm so unlucky,” he remarked, with a sigh. “Miss Dolly, are you quite sure you can't give me a little hope?”

This was said so piteously, that I felt there was no help for it. I must say something to decide the matter at once. I stopped, and looked steadily at him while I spoke, and I felt my face grow scarlet.

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“Mr. Maberley,” I said, “I will tell you a secret. I do care about somebody else. There now, don't say another word to me on the subject, and please come back with me to the house directly.”

I marched him up the garden path in silence, opened the verandah door, and placed him safely in Kate's custody. Then I escaped to my own room, and when I came back he was gone.