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A Strange Friendship: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter VIII. Dolly's Story

page 87

Chapter VIII. Dolly's Story.

I felt his heavy moustache on my cheek for a moment, then I pushed him away, and rose slowly to my feet. I was trembling violently with the shock of my fall, and partly at his manner. For a minute or two we stood looking at each other, and there was a dreadful silence between us.

Then Alan spoke, making a desperate effort to steady his voice,—

“I have acted like a brute,” he said. “Dolly, are you hurt? Can you stand?”

page 88

“I am not hurt at all,” I answered—“only shaken; and I can stand very well, but I think I should like to sit down for a few minutes before I get in the saddle again.”

Our horses were quietly eating the tussock grass by the side of the road. Alan had his waterproof strapped to his saddle. He unfastened it, placed it on a bank close by, and made me sit down upon it.

“I wish I had my hunting-flask, with some brandy in it,” said he.

“I don't require anything of the kind,” I returned.

By this time he had seated himself by my side. The sun had set long ago, and the night was coming on apace. The road was quite quiet and lonely; the only living creatures to be seen were some sheep in a paddock opposite to us, which page 89 pressed themselves against the wires, and gazed at us with wondering eyes.

Alan bent his head, and said, with his moustache very near my cheek again,—

“Dolly, you knew I loved you.”

I sat perfectly still, and after he had waited a moment, and received no answer, he said,—

“And You knew, too, that I was going to ask you to be my wife?—you must have known.”

I shook my head.

“But I was,” he said, with emphasis. “I have been intending it almost ever since I knew you. Don't you believe me, Dolly?”

I did believe him. In my secret heart I knew that it was true. He had taken my hand, and I had allowed him to do so.

“But”—he hesitated a moment, then went on—“there is something—I cannot tell you now—I page 90 must ask you to trust me, Dolly, there is a painful secret connected with our family, and I am living here under an assumed name.”

I felt myself turn cold suddenly, as Kate's words flashed upon my memory.

“Mr. Ainsleigh,” I said, “I must ask you one question in my turn. Is Madelaine your sister or not?”

He did not answer, but looking up, I saw that he had grown very pale, and that his lips had formed the word “No.” I snatched my hand from his and drew myself further away from him. I felt as if I heard him speaking in a dream. My heart seemed to cease beating for a moment, then to go on again with a bound. The ground appeared to slip away under my feet.

“I cannot explain it to you now,” he was saying. “I can only ask you to trust me. In a few months I can tell you everything. Once I page 91 gave a promise to a dear friend, and it binds me still. But in a few months I can make all plain. Oh, Dolly! only wait, and try to love me a little in spite of it.”

There was an agony of entreaty in his voice. I hear it still sometimes in my dreams. It was not an ordinary love scene; and in the pain I was enduring, with the pathetic voice and eyes of the man I loved pleading to me as if for his life, I felt all my girlish shyness pass from me, and leave me quite calm and collected.

“You know,” I said, “things can't go on as they have done any more.”

“I know it,” he answered. “I meant to have waited till I could come forward, and ask you openly and honestly, with no mystery between us. But I could not help myself. Oh, Dolly!” with a sudden panic as my meaning struck him; “you page 92 won't tell me to go away, and not to see you again!”

Yes, that was what I meant. What I felt then was,—

“All that we two only know
I forgive, and I forego—
So thy face no more I meet
In the field, or in the street.”

Alan read my determination in my eyes.

“It is shutting me out of Paradise, “Dolly,” he said. “And the world outside is so dreary.”

“But it can't be helped,” I said firmly, determined not to give way. “You must not come to see us any more. And you must not meet me when I am out riding.”

This had hitherto been a favourite manœuvre of his.

“Until when? “he returned.

page 93

“I cannot tell,” said I, feeling suddenly ready to cry, and dreadfully afraid lest he should find it out; for then, perhaps, he would not keep to the agreement. For I knew that if he went away I should miss him; and, perhaps, I might never see him again.

“I understand,” he went on. “Until I can clear my good name. Never fear, Dolly—that time will come before long.”

Was I very weak, I wonder? I believed him. In spite of all I had heard, and every suspicious appearance against him, I believed him. His eyes and voice were so honest, and he made me feel that he spoke the truth.

“Now you must put me on my horse again,” I said; “and I must get home as quickly as possible. It is almost dark, and how frightened they will be about me.”

page 94

We rode home as fast as the roads and the gathering darkness would let us.

When Alan had opened the gate of our paddock for me, I held out my hand and said “good-bye.”

“May I not come in?” he asked.

“No,” I returned inflexibly.

“Won't you shake hands?”

I did so, and felt that I had done it for perhaps the last time. He had kissed my riding-glove, and when I was safely shut in my own room, I took that glove off and hid it away in a box with a rose he had given me one day, and locked them up carefully. And that night I cried myself to sleep, for who could tell what would be the end of it all?