A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand
Chapter VI. Dolly's Story
Chapter VI. Dolly's Story.
“Over the grass we stepp'd into it,
And God, He knoweth how blithe we were!
Never a voice to bid us eschew it,
Hey the green ribbon that show'd so fair!
Sing on! We sing in the glorious weather
Till one steps over the tiny strand,
So narrow, in sooth, that still together
On either brink we go hand in hand.”!
Violet had stepped over the little brook, and day by day it was becoming harder for us to walk “hand in hand.”
One day I found her crying; the sight filled me page 66 with dismay, for I could scarcely ever recollect seeing Violet cry. She had never known a real trouble, and had ever been the petted darling of us all. In her bright happy girlhood, what had tears to do with her?
In vain I begged and entreated to be taken into her confidence, and told what was the matter; I got only an evasive answer in return.
“It's nothing,” she said, hastily drying her eyes and her cheeks; “only I have a headache and feel a little out of spirits. Don't tell Kate.”
Then she kissed me, and I promised not to tell. Ah, Violet, not many more kisses were to pass between yourself and Dolly!
About this time two incidents varied the somewhat monotonous life we were then leading. Violet and I each received on the same day an offer of marriage.page 67
It was at a large picnic, given by the bachelors of the neighbourhood, that these interesting events took place. We were, with two exceptions, the only unmarried ladies present. Madelaine Ainsleigh had, we heard, declined the invitation sent to her.
“She never goes anywhere, I believe,” I heard one man say to his neighbour. “Something wrong about the upper story, perhaps.”
“There can't be a doubt about it,” the other answered.
“Pleasant for Ainsleigh, I should say.”
“Oh, she ain't dangerous; only cranky, and requires a little looking after. He won't let her visit, that's all.”
“More's the pity while ladies are so scarce. Even a cracked one would be better than none at all.”page 68
Violet was standing near me, and had overheard this bit of dialogue. Whether Madelaine's sanity was a doubtful point with her or not I did not know, but I noticed that she flushed up hotly for a moment, and the hand she laid upon my arm was trembling.
Both Violet's admirer and mine were men farming their own land, within a circuit of ten miles from us. Both were well born and well educated. Mine was rather the handsomer, hers rather the cleverer of the two. Both were so unfortunate as to have their offer declined.
But there was a difference in the manner of the refusal. My own was unhesitating and decided, Violet's left the ground open for future hopes.
I had seen for a long time past that Arthur Lacy would have to be dismissed some day. No looks or actions of mine, however pointedly rude, page 69 could stave off the evil hour. “No,” in capital letters, I knew it would have to be, and “No” it was.
But Violet blushed and hesitated as she dismissed Hugh Maberley, and did not speak as decidedly as she intended to have done. Therefore, though he accepted his dismissal for the time, he received it with the understanding that he was at liberty to renew his offer at some future period if he thought fit. I speak from after knowledge of what took place, given me by the people most nearly concerned.
Kate and I really believed that, in her secret heart, Violet had a decided liking for good-tempered little Hugh, and that only her girlish wish for a longer period of liberty had prevented her accepting him at once.
“Violet knows she is pretty, and wants a great page 70 deal of courting,” said Kate to me, à propos of the subject.
I agreed with her, and was more friendly than before with Mr. Maberley, feeling that I might probably some day have to welcome him as a brother. He himself, I know, looked upon it only as a question of time and perseverance.
Somewhere about this time, I became a most unwilling eavesdropper to a conversation never intended for my ears. It was one evening in the dusk, about two months after Kate's little baby was born. I had the little fellow on my knee, and had just coaxed him off to sleep, after a rather trying afternoon; for he was ailing and fretful, and Kate had as yet no experience in baby management.
I was sitting by the dining-room fire, not page 71 daring to stir, for fear of waking the baby. Kate was lying down in the next room, her bedroom, which had a door of communication with the one which I was in. This door was supposed to be shut; but, alas! it was not. In the twilight it was standing ajar; no one noticed it, and hence came all the mischief.
I heard Harry come in. He went into the next room, to his wife first, as usual. He had been caught in a heavy squall, and was wet; and while he changed his wet clothes for dry ones, Kate and he were talking. I heard what they said, without listening: I was thinking about the baby: he moaned in his sleep, and moved his hands, and I was afraid every moment that he would wake again.
The first words that entered my understanding were to the effect that Harry had dined that day page 72 with Mr. Ainsleigh, at Fernyhurst. The name had become of sufficient importance to me by that time—I may say it now, when it is all over—to catch my attention, whenever, or by whoever spoken.
“An excellent dinner,” I heard Harry say; “and very well served.”
“Did you see his sister?” asked Kate.
“No,” replied Harry.
There was a pause. I don't know why, but my heart began to beat.
At last Kate said, in a low, almost awestruck whisper,—
“Harry, I don't believe in that sister.”
“Nor I,” he returned promptly.
“The question is,” Kate went on, “is she really his sister at all, or not? If she is not his sister, who is she?”page 73
Harry apparently had no answer ready; at all events he made none.
“I have sometimes thought,” Kate proceeded, still in the same mysterious tone, “that there was insanity in the family, that she was deranged and he was her keeper. Can that be the mystery?”
“I think he lets her ride about too much, and gives her too much freedom for that,” Harry answered.
“Some mystery I am sure there is,” Kate said—“some family secret. When you come to think of it, how little we really know about the Ainsleighs; we do not know where they come from, or who any of their relations are, or anything about them. The other people we meet out here talk freely of their friends, and show us photographs of the places they have lived at at page 74 home, but the Ainsleighs are as silent as the grave about all such matters.”
“It is odd,” returned Harry; “I have noticed it.”
“It is odder still,” Kate said, “because I am quite sure that, wherever they come from, they are very wealthy people; and Alan Ainsleigh has had no ordinary education and lived in no ordinary society.”
“Madelaine is vulgar enough for both, however,” remarked Harry.
A pause. I hoped they had finished. The baby was again sleeping quietly, and I dreaded to disturb him.
All at once Kate resumed the conversation.
“If she were not a respectable girl,” Kate said, “I can scarcely think that Mr. Ainsleigh would let her come here like she does; but one thing is page 75 clear, we must discourage the intimacy, Harry, as far as possible, and keep the girls away from both Alan and his sister as much as we can.”
“Ainsleigh admires Dolly,” returned Harry.
Oh, Harry! why couldn't you stop!
“I know he does,” said Kate.
“And I like him,” Harry went on. “He is a right down good fellow. Perhaps we are making mountains out of mole-hills; remember we know nothing against them; all is our conjecture. So I think we had better let matters stand as they are for the present.
“I suppose we must,” she said, “and all the more because Alan Ainsleigh is a man who will have his way. He has a strong will, and if he chooses to see Dolly, depend upon it he will find page 76 some means of doing so, as long as she does not herself send him away.”
I could bear it no longer. I got up, gathered the sick baby in my arms, and began to walk up and down the room with him that they might become aware some one was there. The movement woke the little boy, and he began to cry.
Kate was by his side in a moment, and too full of his troubles to think of anything else. I do not believe it ever occurred to her that I must have heard all she had said. And I do not think it occurred to her either that there is such a thing as shutting the stable-door when the horse is stolen.
“No backward step, ah, no returning!
No second crossing that ripple's flow!”