A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand
Chapter XXIV. Dolly's Story
Chapter XXIV. Dolly's Story.
I Rose slowly to my feet and stood looking at him. For some moments we faced each other in silence; it was the lull before the storm.
He was still standing just upon the threshold of the door. The light from the lamp, which I had placed upon the mantelpiece, fell full upon his face, which was brought out in strong relief against the darkness behind him. There was as evil a look upon it as I ever saw or imagined in my dreams.page 232
But as we gazed steadily into each other's eyes, I felt my fear pass from me and change slowly to contempt. I was only a weak girl, and he was a bad and desperate man; but he was a coward at heart, and in spirit I was the stronger of the two after all.
At last he advanced into the room.
“You're glad to see me, aren't you?” he said. “I'm a charming visitor on a wet night in the country, don't you think?” and he laughed.
I made no answer. I was not sure if he was aware that there was no one else in or near the house, and I was determined, if not, that he should not find it out the first from me.
“Well,” he went on, “if you're not glad to see me, anyhow there is one who will be. Dolly Somerset, where is my wife?”
“She is not here,” I returned.page 233
He kicked one of the logs on the hearth out of its place, and swore a little, but under his breath, and I do not think that he intended me to hear it. He had still some of the varnish, of his education and bringing up about him, though it had grown very thin.
“Here have I come all the way from Melbourne into this blackguardly neighbourhood, at the risk of my life, to find her,” he said. “And you tell me she is not here!”
He walked up and down the room impatiently, evidently chafing at his disappointment.
Suddenly he stopped, threw back his head, and listened; but there was no sound except the cease-less beating of the rain upon the roof. It was quite dark out of doors by this time.
“It is a very nasty night,” he said, resuming his walk again. “I almost wish I had not come here at all.”page 234
“The creek is very high,” I said, rather enjoying his uneasiness.
He became perceptibly paler, and, going to the window, tried to gain some information as to the state of matters without. But the darkness baffled him, and he came back again.
“Do you know where my wife is?” he asked at last, coming nearer to me than he had ever done yet.
I had been expecting this question every moment—I was prepared for it, and answered “Yes,” as shortly and coldly as possible.
“Then you will be so good as to tell me,” he went on. “Don't refuse, and don't give me any false information. I know we are alone in the house, and I swear I'll have the truth.”
“You might have spared yourself the trouble of threatening me,” I answered, “it was not necessary. The truth is that your wife is far beyond your reach for ever—she has gone home.”page 235
“Home?” he returned, looking bewildered. “To England?”
“No,” I said. “Home—to Heaven.”
Richard sprang up as if he had been shot.
“Violet is not dead?” he gasped out. Then he seized me by the shoulder, and shook me violently in his excitement. “It can't be true. Say it is not true!”
“It is true,” I said, “she is dead!”
Then my voice choked, and, for a moment or two, I could see nothing for the tears which filled my eyes.
When my sight became clear again I found that Richard had loosed his grasp of my shoulder and turned away and covered his face with his hands. I was not in the least afraid of him now.
“She was buried to-day,” I said, more softly than I had yet addressed him.page 236
“Dolly always spoke the truth,” he said, as if to himself. “Is it true?” there was anguish in his voice.
The next moment he dashed himself on the ground, and lay, writhing to and fro and moaning, with his face still hidden in his hands.
“Dead!” he repeated again and again. “Dead! and I am just too late!”
He seemed quite unconscious of my presence. At last I touched his arm gently, for it was dreadful to see his despair.
He sat up suddenly, looking white and wild.
“If there was a knife within my reach now,” he said, “I would cut my throat!”
“Hush,” I said, speaking as authoritatively as I might have done to a child. “Don't let me hear you say such a thing as that again.”
He crawled to my feet and hid his face in the folds of my black dress.page 237
“Dolly,” he said, “I loved Violet. Oh, how I loved her! She is the only woman who ever really found her way to my heart. I have come back here and put my head into the lion's mouth to find her, and I'm just too late!”
I felt nothing now but pity for him. Truly, and from my heart, I pitied him at that moment.
“Richard,” I said, calling him by his name for the first time. “Don't despair, you will see her again some day if you choose.”
“Dolly,” he answered, still clinging to me like a despairing child, “I've been a very bad fellow; you don't know half that I've done—you can't know. I don't know how to pray. And if I don't take care I shall never, never see her again. Take pity on me, Dolly, and pray for me—now, while I'm here.”
I hesitated. It was a strange turn that our page 238 conversation had taken. I was bewildered, and could scarcely credit that he was in earnest. But he looked up at me entreatingly, and then I saw that his eyes were full of tears, and I hesitated no longer.
* * * * * *
I am glad now from the very bottom of my heart to think of that prayer. Richard crouched rather than knelt at my feet, with his face hidden as before. But he repeated after me all that I said. And when I stopped, he added a few words with much earnestness himself.
“Thou hast promised to save,” he said. “Intercede for me, and let me see my Violet soon.”
Though we did not know it, it was the prayer of a dying man; and I truly hope and believe it was heard.
A long silence came after this, and we both page 239 awoke to the desolation of the lonely house, and the wildness of the storm without. The fire was dying out upon the hearth, and the room had turned cold.
Richard got up.
“Shake hands with me once, Dolly,” he said, holding out his hand, “as a sign that we are friends at last.”
We shook hands cordially, and were certainly not enemies any longer.
I was still in hopes of Harry's return, and I went through the kitchen to the back door and opened it and looked out. As I did so, a blast of wind extinguished my candle.
Some one outside dashed up, caught me in his arms, and without a word fled for dear life towards he granary, which was a strong stone building on a higher elevation than the house. There was page 240 a roar of waters behind us, and I remember nothing more.
The creek had risen ten feet in as many minutes, and the house, with Richard Carewe inside, was swept away like a straw upon the raging waste of waters.