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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter IV. Alan's Story

page 43

Chapter IV. Alan's Story

In the utter dead weariness which lies upon me to-night—blank darkness within and without—weariness of mind so great, that whether it is only of the mind or of the body, too, I scarcely know—I have taken up my pen to try to write some almost necessary letters home. It is of no use; I cannot carry out the intention at all.

I have been out now for this two years, and borne this intolerable martyrdom, which presses upon me at times with a weight almost too great page 44 for endurance all that time. It wants still almost a year to the blessed moment when the period to which my promise extends will have elapsed, and I shall be free once more.

Free? Yes. But of what use will my freedom be to me then? I have no object in life. Except that I shall no longer be a living lie, what shall I have gained?

Yet a vision of something that might have been rises before me as I write. If I had met her earlier in my life … or if I had not been heartbroken by the time I was thirty, striving to keep nay promise to the dead.

But I have kept it; to the letter and to the spirit. Do you know it, Eleanor, I wonder? If the ghost of your sad pale face could rise before me now, in the gathering darkness, I could meet its eyes as fearlessly as ever. I promised, and page 45 whatever it has cost me, I have kept my word.

These people avoid me here—they don't suspect, not one of them, that I am not what I seem. They think (if they think about me at all) that I am a man struggling with poverty. The carefully chosen shabbiness of my surroundings; the fact that I keep no manager, but transact all my own Business myself, leads them naturally to this impression. I intended them to think so. It makes our secret—our hateful family secret—more secure. It throws them off the scent.

And what is it to them if all the money I spend on this New Zealand Station, be the losses what they may, is of trifling importance to the yearly income of Carewe of Curtis Knowle.

My old name—my real name—how odd it seems Writing it once more! The other day when I page 46 offered Miss Somerset a book from the shelf, I saw my name in full inside—“Alan Carewe, Curtis Knowle. The gift of Eleanor Carewe,” and the date.

It seemed to flash on my eyes at that moment like a forgery. I tore the leaf out; and then stood like a fool, without the sense to make some plausible excuse for my apparent rudeness.

But Dolly took no notice; like a thoroughbred little gentlewoman as she is. It is some weeks ago since I saw her first.

I heard a great deal of talk going on among the fellows round about, concerning the Somerset girls, and at first I had intended not to make their acquaintance at all. But Madelaine was unusually trying; vowing that if I would not come, she would go over herself and seek them out.

page 47

So, at last, one evening, saying nothing to her of where I was going, I rode over to Somerset's place, determined to judge for myself what quality of womankind they were of.

When Violet Somerset came first into the room, my instant thought was, that she certainly possessed unusual beauty. The next, that she did not improve upon acquaintance; the third, that she had been greatly overpraised.

She had beauty, it is true, but almost entirely of colour, not of form. Her hair is of a rich golden colour, but the shape of her head is ungraceful; her eyes bright blue, but hard; and she is also too tall and too thin for my taste.

But after her there glided shyly into the room and endeavoured to conceal itself in a corner a little figure which raised again the credit of the family in my eyes. A demure little pale face, soft page 48 and round, with dark eyes both sweet and merry, darker hair than the other girl's, but quite as much of it, and a figure just the height I most admire, with just the requisite roundness of outline.

This was Dolly. “Our Quaker sister Dorothea,” as Violet Somerset called her, and laughed.

She did not come forward at all except to make the tea. She kept almost entirely in her corner. I dare say she never knew that I looked at her once.

But her face haunted me after I had gone away. I saw it before me in the darkness all the time as I rode home that night, and I caught myself wondering again and again what it was that constituted its especial charm.

“Sweetness and light.” Yes, it had both of these, and in a certain honesty of expression page 49 offered such a marked contrast to the false and evil face waiting for me at home.

Ah, well! it might have been once, but not now. Once I might have been a happy man, if I had met with Dolly Somerset earlier in my life; now it is too late. Could I ask her to marry me with that fatal family secret hanging like a millstone round my neck—with a lie in my right hand?

I hear Madelaine singing in the next room as I write. Apparently she is in a very good humour to-night. She does not like Dolly; she told me so plainly, but she calls Violet Somerset “a nice little thing.”

As long as Violet humours her I have no doubt they will get on well together; but, if otherwise, let her beware. However, I must be on my guard that this friendship does not go too far.

On my guard I must be, too, against myself, page 50 It will not do for me to go to that house too often; better, perhaps, if I never went again at all.

But I think such stern self-sacrifice as that amounts to is scarcely necessary. There is no harm in my seeing her sometimes—no harm even if I were so weak as to allow myself to love her, so long as it does not affect her happiness at all. For anything I know to the contrary she may be engaged already, nothing is more probable. And, in fact, the truth is, I don't think I could keep away from her now if I tried.

Madelaine is certainly an admirable rider. Today, as she cantered off, her figure swaying easily to her horse's stride, I was tempted—oh, how awfully tempted!—to wish that it might stumble and throw her, and rid me of the evil genius of my life at a blow.

It is best not to write about this any more.