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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter XXIII. Dolly's Story

page 223

Chapter XXIII. Dolly's Story.

It was wild weather the day they buried Violet. All the desolation and dreariness of the winter had culminated at last. Storms of rain fell at short intervals. It was as if buckets of water were emptied upon the roof, and the damp chillness of the atmosphere seemed to penetrate to your bones. Kate begged hard to go, in spite of the weather, to the funeral, and Harry at last consented. The difficulty was to know what to do with me. I was not well enough for the long drive, and they did not like to leave me quite alone.

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At last it was settled that Mrs. McLeod, the wife of Harry's shepherd, and a very good, respectable woman, should be asked to come over and keep me company during the day, and Kate and Harry were to return as early as possible. Little Fred, well wrapped up, went with his mamma.

I was so utterly exhausted with all that I had lately gone through, that I lay all day, in a half-conscious state, upon the sofa, and Mrs. McLeod had only to keep the fire in and bring me some tea and chicken broth from time to time. I never got up to look out of the window at all; if I had, I might have grown uneasy at the state of the weather, for in the afternoon the creek began to rise very rapidly.

As the day darkened to a close, Mrs. McLeod began to “weary,” as the Scotch say, after her baby, which she had left in her husband's charge, page 225 and, as it seemed unlikely that Kate and Harry could be detained much longer, I readily consented to her returning home. She offered to send her husband over shortly, to see if I was all right.

I was left quite alone in the house. The consciousness that I was alone, and dependent upon myself for everything, made me shake off a little of my languor. I got up, and, going to the window, looked out.

The prospect outside was very discouraging. The sky was of a monotonous leaden colour, the creek was very high. The thought suddenly occurred to me, suppose Harry should be prevented, by the sudden rising of one of the creeks between us and the town, from getting home at all that night?

I felt my heart beat; the thought of a night page 226 quite alone in the house in such weather was not very agreeable.

To try to put the fancy out of my mind, I began walking slowly about the room. I might have been bidding them all farewell, for it was farewell, though I was not conscious of it at the time. Through those rooms, as they then stood, neither I nor any one else was ever to walk again.

I stooped and brushed a little dust off Violet's piano. There were so many things scattered about the house which reminded me of her. I did not enter her room at all, I had not the heart to do it then; and so I never saw it any more. It passed out of existence with the one to whom it had belonged.

But I went into my own room, and into Kate's, and looked at myself for the last time in Kate's large toilet glass, meeting the reflection of a pale page 227 face seeming whiter than ever as it rose from a deep black dress, and eyes that had lately wept. I turned away from, myself as from a stranger, and noticed, as I remembered afterwards, all the little trifles lying scattered on the toilet table.

The baby's coral and bells lay there, and a pair of his small socks; some pretty bottles of Bohemian glass, holding eau-de-cologne and rose-water, a pincushion with muslin frills laid over a pink lining; besides all these there was a small photograph of Violet, taken when she was a child in short frocks, with long golden curls falling over her shoulders. Kate had been crying over it that morning, and had laid it down the last thing before she went away.

I took the little portrait up and kept it in my hand. I have it now. That and one other treasure were the only things I rescued from the page 228 doomed house. The other was the little Bible which my mother had long ago given to Violet and myself. It had our names and hers traced on the fly-leaf in a faint shadowy handwriting. Between the leaves I had placed a long tress of Violet's hair, cut off as she lay peaceful and beautiful once more in death.

I laid the photograph by the side of the hair, closed the little book, and placed it in my pocket. That action of mine explains the cause of its preservation when everything else was lost.

I fancied that I heard a noise at the back of the house, and, hastening to one of the windows, I looked out, hoping that Harry at all events had come home. But I could see no one, only the increasing waste of waters; and I could hear nothing but the steady beat of the rain upon the roof.

The kitchen fire was burning red and the kettle page 229 was boiling. Our favourite cat was purring on the hearth. She was a kind of companion to me then, better than none at all; so I made myself some tea and drank it sitting by her side.

After that I lit the lamp, and went back again to the sofa in the sitting-room, to wait as patiently as I could and try not to be afraid. If you think me faint-hearted remember that I was at that time far from strong.

As I lay there I became certain that some noise had broken the stillness, other than the patter of the rain upon the roof, but whether it was in the house or outside I could not determine. Then came upon me a sharp, sudden consciousness that I was not alone in the house; and, as I lay there listening intently, a man's figure emerged from the gloom of the hall and stood a moment framed in the doorway of the room.

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I knew the face immediately, though when last I had seen it it had assumed another character than that it now wore. But it was the same bold, bad face now as then; bolder and harder than ever now that it was unsoftened by its feminine disguise, the face of the only person in the world whom I both feared and disliked, whom I looked upon as an enemy.

Remember all that had come to my knowledge of this man's past actions, and then it will be clear that it was not the pleasantest situation in the world to find yourself shut in alone at night in a desolate house with Richard Carewe.