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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XX

page 199

Chapter XX.

I have been to Melbourne, and have failed in what I undertook to do. I write this at Fernyhurst, on the evening of my return home; and I have not yet had time to learn anything that may have happened in my absence.

I have not been able to ascertain anything about Richard and Violet. After steadily and persistently following up my inquiries for several weeks, with my own only too familiar knowledge of Richard's tastes and habits as a guide, I am page 200 persuaded that they are not at present in Melbourne at all. Somewhere in Australia they may be—most probably they are; but it is useless to attempt to trace them farther.

So I have come back to Fernyhurst to wait patiently for events. My old experience assures me that Richard will only stay away as long as his money lasts. When that is exhausted he will be sure to come to me.

I was puzzled at first as to how he had obtained his funds for this escapade at all, until I discovered that he had tampered with the lock of my desk, and helped himself to a few hundred pounds in notes. If that were the only mischief he had succeeded in, it could be easily passed over; but the fellow is a cur at heart, and makes misery wherever he goes.

I have heard nothing all this time of Dolly, and page 201 as I cannot easily go over there to-night, I think I will invite Mrs. Barton into the sitting-room for half-an-hour, and try if I can discover from her gossip whether anything of importance has happened in my absences.

* * * * *

Mrs. Barton has been and gone again. She tells me that Somerset's affairs are reported to be in a bad way, that they have dismissed their maidservant, and Miss Dorothea is said to be wasting away with all the hard work she undertakes.

“The bonnie lassie has grown that pale and thin I would not have known her,” she said, “only her face is as sweet as ever. But she looks like the shadow of what she did when she was here two or three months ago.”

“Here!” said I, in amazement.

So then she told me of what I had not known page 202 before—Dolly's visit to her in the autumn to thank her for the fruit and flowers from the garden. I only wish I had happened to be at home at that particular day.

Since Mrs. Barton went away, I have been walking up and down the room in restless bitterness at the crookedness of things in this world. “The times are out of joint” truly with me tonight. Here am I, with wealth accumulating every day, and there is Dolly working herself to death a few miles off, and I dare say she would not let me give her even a pair of gloves if I tried. She spoke with icy coldness to me the last time I saw her. Ah, well, I must endeavour to be patient and to remember my old favourite lines,—

“Wait; my faith, is large in time,
And that which shapes it to some perfect end.”

page 203

Doubtless we shall each have, in the words of that grand Bible Verse, our “expected end.”

* * * * * *

I think on the whole it is well that Richard is not within my reach to-night. I am quite sure that there would be hot words, perhaps more than words, between us two. Thinking of all the entanglements which his cursed rascality has caused, makes me mad to-night. It is well he is away.

There is another subject of uneasiness pressing heavily upon my mind. I feel persuaded that Somerset's house has been built upon far too low an elevation, and too near to the creek. The winter so far has been, though cold, unusually dry. Should we now, however, enter upon a change of weather, and have a flood of any real violence, I shudder to think of what might happen.

page 204

In any case I feel I cannot leave this neighbourhood again, at present. I must remain here, and watch the course of events, and be ready to render assistance in case anything should happen.

As for Dolly, I must and will win her sooner or later, and carry her off for my own especial care and keeping. I register the vow here. Dolly, you shall marry me. In spite of all that has happened, I will take no denial; but I will have you before long for my wife.