Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter III. Dolly's Story

page 33

Chapter III. Dolly's Story.

Violet proved to be quite correct in her judgment. Miss Ainsleigh saw our approach before any one else, and came to meet us at the gate.

She was dressed in dark blue serge, and wore a large plaited chignon, as on the day she made our acquaintance. She received us most graciously, and after the first general greeting was over drew Violet's arm through her own and walked her off to make a tour of the garden and orchard.

page 34

Harry and I went in, to be welcomed by the master of the house, who was lying on a sofa in the sitting-room, smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper.

He threw the paper on to the table and the cigar into the fire as we entered, and then turned to me with an apology. Did I mind the smell of tobacco? Would I allow him to open the window, or would I prefer to have my chair moved into the verandah?

I declined both proposals, and was forthwith seated in a very luxurious easy chair by the fireplace; it was the only handsome piece of furniture in the room, and evidently the seat of honour.

My host was opposite to me. He appeared cordially glad to see us, and though I never met him without an impression shaping itself in my mind that he was rather blasé of young ladies in page 35 general, he really tried to make himself agreeable to me.

On this third interview I decided conclusively to myself that he was by far the most distinguished-looking man of my acquaintance, and his manner, with its easy patrician grace, appeared to me more and more attractive every time I met him.

I fear I cannot say much in praise of his sitting-room. It was very plainly, almost scantily furnished. Had I not already lost many of my English ideas of luxury, I should certainly have pronounced it to be exceedingly shabby.

Certainly our own newly-completed dining-room eclipsed it in every respect, and there was an utter absence of the small feminine knick-knacks and embroideries which made ours look so home-like. If Miss Ainsleigh often honoured the apartment with her presence she left no traces of her sojourn there.

page 36

There was no carpet on the floor of the room, only a square of cocoa-nut matting; upon this stood a common deal table, covered with a cheap kind of table cloth. A few painted chairs, roughly-put-together sofa, and the one handsome and comfortable easy chair in which I was seated, made up the entire furniture of the room.

Yet there was one or two details noticeable, on a second glance, not consistent with the strict economy which had apparently been studied in the arrangement of the whole. On the mantelpiece stood two costly Venetian glasses filled with beautiful bouquets from the garden; the sofa had several magnificent opossum rugs and bear skins thrown across it; the curtains looped back from the window were of the finest satin damask; there were some shelves of beautifully-bound volumes in one corner.

page 37

Taken altogether it was a strange and careless medley of elegance and coarseness. Two-thirds of Mr. Ainsleigh's surroundings might have been taken from a kitchen, the remainder from a handsome drawing-room in some stately mansion.

The flowers upon the mantelpiece, however, once seen, engrossed all my attention. I had scarcely had a flower in my hand since we had landed. Following the direction of my eyes, it seemed suddenly to dawn upon Mr. Ainsleigh that we had as yet no garden.

“Would you like some flowers, Miss Dolly?” he asked. “If you will come out with me, I shall be delighted to gather you any you please.”

We stepped through the glass door which opened on to the verandah, and walked out into the garden. In the distance we caught a glimpse page 38 of Madelaine Ainsleigh and Violet, sauntering slowly together among the trees. Once or twice Madelaine's laugh sounded, clear and loud. They seemed very merry.

My companion stopped to listen a moment; then coloured through the sunburnt brown on his face, and threw away a verbena he had just gathered with an impatient gesture.

A minute after I thought the pathos of his dark gray eyes more strongly defined than I had ever seen it yet. They seemed to glance at me with a mute appeal. I could have fancied that they were saying,—

“Don't hold me responsible for all my sister says.”

My hands were full of flowers by this time, and I was conscious of an odd anxiety that Violet would come in, and that we might shorten our visit. She was not to be seen, however, at present, page 39 and Mr. Ainsleigh took my flowers from me to fasten them, as he said, to my saddle for safe transit on the ride home.

“I know which horse and saddle are yours quite well,” he said, with a smile on his lips. “I have seen you out riding before now.”

It was a very quiet remark, yet I felt clearly conscious that he had paid me a compliment; and, somehow, the knowledge was not unpleasant.

When Mr. Ainsleigh came back, he found me studying the titles of the books on the shelves with interest; I was too shy to take one down to look at.

“Do you see any that you like, Miss Dolly?” he said. “I know you are a bookworm, and any that I have are at your service.”

I put out my hand eagerly for a volume of the Cornhill Magazine, and Mr. Ainsleigh reached it page 40 from the shelf—it was rather a high one—immediately.

As he opened it for a moment at the title-page, a name and a few words written on the fly-leaf caught his eye. In an instant, with a muttered exclamation beneath his breath, he had torn out the page and crushed it up in his hand.

Of course I did not appear to notice the action, and he also ignored it. But he did not at that time offer me any more books. Perhaps he wished to make sure first that they had not any secrets written inside.

Violet and Madelaine did not come in from the garden until the very last moment, and then they took an affectionate leave of each other. When I shook hands with Madelaine she crushed my fingers as before with a rather too cordial squeeze.

page 41

After we had ridden off on our homeward way, my first discovery was that my bouquet, which was fastened to my saddle with great ingenuity, was reposing in a very handsome holder of silver filagree.

“Mr. Ainsleigh must have put it there—what shall I do with it?” said I. And then involuntarily I added, “Oh, Harry! do you think he is as poor as he seems?”

“I'm sure he is,” said Violet. “That poverty-stricken apartment leaves no doubt of it. Of course the bouquet-holder is a remnant of better days—you must be sure to keep it, Dolly. I think it was a very delicate attention of his to put your flowers in it.”

“It's all stuff about his being poor,” said Harry, decidedly. “I'm pretty certain he is nothing of the sort. I was talking to him to-day about a page 42 matter of business, which he and I have both an interest in, and I could see that he did not care a straw whether he gained or lost by the transaction.”

And then, Harry, too, added, as Kate had done, “I wonder who the Ainsleighs are, and what part of England they come from!”