A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand
Chapter XXI. Dolly's Story
Chapter XXI. Dolly's Story.
Just in the depth of the dreary winter, that happened, which I had hoped and prayed for all along,—
“At last, in the gloamin', Kilmeny cam' hame.”
One wild, stormy afternoon, just as I was lighting the lamp and getting dinner ready for Harry, who had not yet come in, the kitchen door softly opened, and Violet stepped across the threshold.
I did not feel surprised; only carried away page 206 with the excitement of the moment. I think I had always been expecting this.
I took her quietly by the hand and led her like a child into my room, placed her on the bed, and kissed her. It was like the old times come back again, for I was always used to wait upon Violet.
She put up one hand, and gently patted my cheek.
“Little Dolly,” she said, softly,” are you glad to see me?”
On her finger was her wedding ring, and a plain gold guard.
She was dressed exactly as she had been on the day when she disappeared; the same black and white camlet dress, the same long gray waterproof cloak. For a moment I could have fancied the whole blank space which lay between then and now had been a dream—but for the page 207 wedding ring; and but that all her clothes were soiled and damp and travel-worn. She had none of the fresh dainty neatness about her which used to distinguish all the details of her costume, however plain it might be; and her pretty hair, instead of being elaborately arranged as formerly, was tucked quite out of notice in a close black silk net.
I saw all this almost at a glance, and then I awoke suddenly to the necessity of telling Kate before Henry came in. I flew into the sitting-room, and with my arms round Kate's neck, whispered the news into her ear.
She got up with a cry.
“Where is she?” she said.
When I told her she ran to Violet's room and caught her in her arms, and we all cried together in a manner which would have alarmed page 208 any man who had unexpectedly entered on the scene.
Then I lit a candle, and we saw how thin and changed Violet had grown. Her blue eyes were as pretty as ever, but the deep hollows beneath them, were mournful to see; her beauty—oh, Violet!—it was the faded ghost of the past!
She must have walked a great deal, for her boots were cut quite to pieces; and her poor feet were covered with sores. I got warm water and bathed them, and we tied them up with soft linen, and put her on a pair of Harry's slippers.
I brought in a tray, with tea and bread-and-butter; and she ate like a starved creature. Then she lay down on the bed again and closed her eyes.
She had spoken very little, only answering a few ordinary questions about her journey, the page 209 last part of which she said she had managed on foot. It was evident that she was utterly wearied out.
I got a warm bath ready, and coaxed her to let me undress her, and bathe her, and put her to bed. She submitted languidly to everything I proposed, too worn-out to have any will of her own. And oh, what a pleasure it was to me to wait upon Violet once more!
While I was doing all this we heard Harry come in, and Kate, with little Fred in her arms, ran off to break the news to him.
I do not know how she managed to tell him, or what he said at first; but when Violet was lying at last quietly in her little white, bed, with her yellow hair falling over the pillow, Kate came to the door and asked leave for Harry to come in.
“Yes, yes,” said Violet, eagerly, and held out both her hands.page 210
The next moment Harry was kissing her just as if nothing had ever come between them, quite forgetting that he had vowed she should never again cross his threshold. His anger had vanished in a moment like a dream in the night.
But still I thought his manner somewhat strange. He said a few kind words to her, but asked no questions, and in a minute or two had left the room again.
A little while afterwards, hearing some slight sound in the verandah, I looked out, and saw Harry actually crying. He caught me by one hand, and grasped it hard.
“Dolly,” he said, “try not to grieve. Violet has come home only to die!”
His voice subsided into a sob. He flung my hand away, and went out into the dark night outside; and I stood where he left me, trying to hope that he was mistaken.page 211
I said to myself that Violet was worn-out now; in the morning light we should see a great change for the better after she had had a good night's rest. In my heart I resolved that it should go hard but I would nurse her back to health.
But when the morning came, we seemed to see the changes in her only the more plainly. Was it Violet, or only her wraith, that had come hack to us, after all?
The day after Alan came back from Melbourne he rode over to see us. I saw him in Kate's presence for a few moments, and we told him that Violet had returned.
After he had risen to go away, he lingered, looking at me for a few moments; but in the silence there was a faint call for “Dolly,” from the next room, and I hastened back to my charge. page 212 Could I leave her now in her helplessness, for any temptation whatever?
But every day Alan sent to inquire after Violet, or came himself. He used to write little notes, very formal and polite, begging our acceptance of a few comforts for the invalid, and reminding us that he might almost claim as a right to be allowed to do anything in his power for her pleasure.
The comforts were endless. From new music to cold turkeys, jellies, and blanc-manges, what did they not comprise?
Mrs. Barton was, we knew, an experienced cook; and if Alan's sitting-room was plainly furnished, the same could not be said for his dinner table.
Violet used to smile when she saw the things.page 213
“He is very fond of you, Dolly,” she said; “Richard told me so.”
And Kate wickedly added,—
“He is determined that Dolly shall not forget him.”