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1. Chapter I.

Victor had several times before this spent an hour or so with the Challoners, but always in the evening, between eight and ten o'clock. On these occasions he had become acquainted with all the occupants of the house but one: the host and hostess; Euphemia, the host's stout, rosy-cheeked daughter, placid and silent, and much given to blushing; Shung-Loo, who had learnt the secret of swift and noiseless action; and the cheerful noisy Irish general servant, whose good intentions were far in excess of her performances. He had heard Miss Lindsay named from time to time, and building a theory on some of those inferences, too vague to be called thoughts, concluded she was a middle-aged lady, probably something of an invalid. His intercourse with Mr. and Mrs. Challoner had been from the first on a pleasant and friendly footing. They had invited him to spend his Sundays at Stonehouse any time he felt inclined. But hitherto he had spent them with the noteUniversity chum he mentioned in his first letter to Miss Paget, at Wynans, the rabbit-infested station.

On this afternoon he chatted with Mr. and Mrs. Challoner for some time, and then went into his own room to write. As he was going there, Mrs. Challoner told him that if he felt inclined to sit on the western veranda at any time, he would always find a comfortable chair there. After writing several pages to Miss Paget he availed himself of this invitation. Taking a book and a cigar with him, he went round to the western veranda. The curtainsnote were all drawn. Before his eyes had grown used to the semi-gloom, he heard a sound that startled him strangely. It was the sound of one sobbing in bitter grief. A young girl, in an armchair, at the open French window, her face buried in her hands, was within a few paces of him. She had not heard his approach, and he tried to steal away without attracting her attention. But he could not for a moment withdraw his eyes from

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the slenderly rounded, graceful figure, from the exquisite head, with its wealth of deep amber hair, bent low in an abandonment of sorrow. And thus trying to do two things at a time–a performance against which we have all at one time or another been warned–he stumbled heavily over a chair.

Doris, hastily wiping away her tears, looked up. Their eyes met.

"I am awfully sorry," began Victor, and then he stood, colouring deeply, unable to take his eyes off the face upturned to him, to look away from those wonderful eyes, radiant even in their sorrow.

Doris got up as if to go inside. There was a little wicker table by the chair on which she had been sitting, covered with crayons and water-colour sketches. She began to gather them up.

"Pray do not let me disturb you. I will go back to my room again. I did not know there was anyone here," said Victor, coming nearer to her.

"Oh no, don't go away, please," said Doris softly. She tried to look at him, but the great tears were again rising in spite of her, and she half averted her face.

"I am afraid you are hurt, or in pain. I am so sorry–so very sorry–to see you in distress."

There was so much kindness and heartfelt sympathy in his voice that Doris felt constrained to make some response.

"You must think I am very foolish."

"Oh no, no! I am only sorry I cannot do something for you. I am afraid you have had some bad news."

"No–not news; there is nothing more that could happen to me," she replied, speaking in a very low tone, so that her voice might not utterly break down.

"I–I did not know of your coming; I had not heard," said Victor; and then he suddenly paused, asking himself why he made so sure that Shung-Loo's mistress was an invalid middle-aged lady? Had anyone ever said so? Had anyone, in fact, said anything beyond speaking of Miss Lindsay? But how was one to imagine that this represented a beautiful young girl with an air of distinction and refinement rare anywhere, but little less than astounding in a spot so isolated from the higher graces of civilization. These thoughts passed rapidly through his mind, ending with the reflection that he had made a most foolish and

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inept reply to the pathetic words the girl had uttered. He had in truth lost his head, and–he had better noteclear.

"I am so vexed I disturbed you," he said. "Would you like me to raise the curtains before I go?"

"Oh, but you must not go; you came to read. You are Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, I think; I have heard Mrs. Challoner and Euphemia speak of you." It seemed to Victor a distinction conferred on him to hear his name spoken by that softly modulated, musical voice. There was something too irresistible in her direct simplicity, her clear, candid gaze.

"I shall be only too glad to stay if I do not disturb you," he said, and on that Doris resumed her seat and took up a chair-back on which she was outliningnote figures in pale and dark blue.

Victor rolled up the curtains, and sat in the chair over which he had stumbled, and took up his book, but the words danced before him and the lines ran together. Then he perpetrated felony with his eyes. Still holding the book before him as if he were reading, he stole glances at the girl who was sitting barely six feet away from him. She was in a thin black dress, relieved only with narrow white lissenote at the throat and wrists. She began to sew, her long thick lashes downcast, and as he looked he saw a great tear roll down her cheek, and then another. He felt choked with compassion, yet when she had spoken of her trouble he had made so imbecile a reply. There was something infinitely touching in the grief of one so young, and so much alone in the world. If he could only say something–something to distract her thoughts! He rustled the leaves of his book and cleared his throat. Doris furtively wiped her eyes and bent a little lower over her work, and the silence remained unbroken.

Then Shung-Loo came notein in his usual noiseless way with a white silk shawl. "It neal sunset now, Miss Dolis." She took the shawl from him with a little smile of thanks, and put it over her shoulders. "Oh, Miss Dolis, you have clied, you must not," he said in an impressive whisper.

"No, Shung; I am not going to again," she said humbly. Then Shung-Loo disappeared as noiselessly as he had come. As soon as she was alone again–she felt satisfied that Mr. Fitz-Gibbon was buried in his book–Doris took up the corner of the shawl

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and held it to her lips, and her tears flowed afresh uncontrollably.

"Miss Lindsay, I ought not perhaps to speak to you when you are in such trouble; but you kindly asked me to stay–and–and I cannot bear to see you cry."

Victor had put down his book and drawn his chair closer. His voice vibrated with emotion, and, in fact, his eyes were moist.

"Oh, I thought you were reading," she said brokenly. "Everyone tells me I ought not to cry, and I seldom do."

"Would you find it very hard to tell me why you are so sorrowful? But don't if it hurts you; only––"

"It is because my mother has left me. She is gone; she can never come back to me." She did not sob, but the tears were falling as fast as raindrops, her filmy laced handkerchief was soaked, her lips and hands were quivering.

"I would give the world if I could say something to comfort you," said Victor, speaking little above a whisper.

"But you cannot–no one can," she said through her tears, vainly struggling for composure.

Even in the midst of his distress, Victor felt a half-inclination to smile at the uncompromising sincerity of this little speech. It was evidently hopeless to trot out any of the serviceable platitudes that people use to bridge over those depths of grief in which they have no personal share. Still, even to make her talk a little helped to stem the tears which gave him so horribly uncomfortable a sensation in the throat. This constrained him to make another effort. "You know, everyone feels badly hurt at some time," he said lamely enough, keenly conscious, even as he uttered the words, that any small efficacy they may notehave ever possessed in binding up a broken spirit would be now ruthlessly weighed in the balance and found wanting.note

"Has your mother died, too?" asked Doris, looking up with tears trembling on her lashes.

"No–oh no! She was quite well when she last wrote to me."

"Then you came away from her? You left her?" said Doris, a little shade of mistrust creeping into her manner.

"Oh, well, you know, young men nearly always do," he explained.

"Don't they love their mothers as much as girls do, then?" asked

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Doris. She glanced up at Victor, her lips slightly parted, a look of dawning interest in her face, as if the incongruities of his sex were for the first time brought home to her.

"Oh yes; I think most of them do–only, you know, there is a difference," he replied, anxious, he could not say why exactly, to make her believe as well of his kind as possible. "Girls, of course, mostly stay with their mothers till they marry––"

"I would never have left my mother, never–never," she answered with slow emphasis.

"What a pretty place this is!" he said, picking up one of the water-colour sketches which had fallen noteto the ground. He felt all the absurdity of this abrupt change. But he wanted above all things to lead the talk away from dangerous topics.

"That is Ouranie, our old home, where I was born, and where maman and I always lived together," she answered softly.

Then she turned over the rest of her mother's sketches and showed him the shadowy corner in the garden where the violets used to carpet the ground, and the tangled banks of Gauwari, with the tall trees growing overhead. Doris had by a great effort recovered her composure, but her grief had been too suddenly arrested, and the pictures of her old home awoke too many tender memories; fearful that she might again break down she rose, saying:

"If you would like to see them, I will show you some more of mother's drawings another time;' and then, with a grave little bow, she went into her own room through the open French window.

She had been for some time that afternoon looking over notethese too well-remembered scenes, the last her mother had sketched and painted, till it seemed to her as if her mother notewere quite near. "Oh, maman darling, it is sometimes so very strange without you!" she said. Then she had fallen asleep, and in her sleep she dreamt a dream dear and beautiful as the innermost circle of heaven could have been. Her mother came to her with the old tender smile and words, the old caressing touch. But in the moment that her heart was throbbing for exceeding joy,note she awoke to find herself alone. In the cruel reaction, she was overcome with a grief keener than that of the first days of her

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bereavement. It was then that Victor had come. When he was left alone, he sat for some moments looking blankly at the sketch he had first taken up, and which Doris had left behind her.

"Well, I was a fearful jackass! I might have known that these were probably the very things that made her cry so. Poor little darling! . . . Well, she is notelittle more than a child. . . . What wonderful eyes, what a perfect face altogether! . . . It is curious, but it seems as if I had often seen a face like hers in my dreams. . . . The expression is just that of the beautiful little Virgin in Titian's picture of the Presentationnote–that serious dove-like innocence."

These and divers other thoughts, more or less confused, passed in rapid succession through the young man's mind. He looked at the sketch a long time, taking in all the details of the tranquil home where this beautiful young girl had probably lived all her life, with the mother she would never have left.

"She seemed to be a little suspicious of me because I had left my mother," he reflected, smiling. "If I had only known what to say! . . . It must have been dreadful for the poor dear child to lose her mother. . . . To think I have been notefor so many nights under the same roof with her, without knowing it. . . ." Then he reflected with immense chagrin that he had declined to spend the evening at Stonehouse because of 'Zilla'snote blue-ribbon meeting. He felt half inclined to go to Mrs. Challoner and ask her to let him come, after all, as it did not matter so very much about playing a stupid little melody to a lot of rowdy miners.

But when he played his stupid little tune an hour later in the small school-room, crowded with the miners and their families, and a large proportion of the inhabitants of Colmar, "Norah Creina"note was so rapturously encored that he had to play again. It was a rough assembly with several larrikins in the back seats who joined in the choruses when there were any, invented parodies on certain recitations, and called out to the performers by name to cheer or depress them. This latter was especially the case if anyone gave a reading of a didactic cast.

"That's hawfully dry 'ash!"note one would cry out.

"But, then, 'tis to do your immortial soul good, Jack," another would respond.

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"We didn't come 'ere because of our bloomin' souls; we come 'ere to 'ave a lark," would be shouted out if the unfortunate reader still persisted in the reading with a purpose. But no musical performer, unless very obnoxious to the crowd, was ever interrupted.

"Angkore! angkore! go it, young un! you knows 'ow to handle the fiddle!" "Give us another chune, Mr. Purser! they're worth twenty tractses." On being thus adjured, Victor played from memory Beethoven's "Adelaide" with variations.note The melody, weighted with impassioned yearning, swept him into hitherto unsuspected depths of feeling: The winds of evening in the blossom-heavy bowers, May's silvery lilies of the valley, streams in their leafy channels, nightingales pouring out their souls in ecstasy, all whispering and breathing and murmuring and fluting the beloved name: A–de–la–i–de! A–de–la–i–de!

What had given such unaccustomed skill to the young man's fingers? what had suddenly kindled his instincts and imagination and heart with such swift intuition of the inner meaning of the great musician's masterpiece of a lover's incommunicable rapture and sorrow? The applause of the audience at the close was noisier than ever, the room more stifling. Victor was glad to get out under the starlit sky, cutting short Roby's profuse thanks and big words about "valyable 'elp in a good work."

On leaving the township, he walked back to Stonehouse by a circuitous route. He approached the house by the western veranda. There was a light in one of the windows; he stood looking at it for some time. Then, with a profound sigh, he went round to his own room, and there was his unfinished letter to Miss Paget staring him in the face.

He ought to finish it to-night, so that it might be posted to-morrow, and reach town in time for the outgoing mail-boat. But what an age it took him to write a page and a half, and how stiff and fragmentary the close of the letter seemed on reading it over! He decided it would be better not to write at all when one felt so incomprehensibly stupid. As he reached this conclusion, he found himself staring hard into vacancy, recalling the sweep of heavy golden-brown lashes wet with tears. And this made him ask himself the question why he had made no mention of an event that had interested him so deeply. He went on with a sort of wrathful catechism, with eloquent blanks by way of answer.

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He lay long awake that night, and the upshot of his night vigil was that, instead of spending part of Sunday at Stonehouse as he had thought of doing, or going across to Wynans as he had half promised Maurice,note he went for a solitary ride towards the north-west.

After going four or five miles from the mine in this direction, the country became more diversified. There were numerous low reefs, ridged in places with dead-white, milky-looking quartz, and others with innumerable ironstone "blows."note Water-courses, too, were much more frequent than in any other part of the district–water-courses with wide shallow beds, filled with gravel and red dust, with broken pieces of hungry and crystalline quartz, mingled in places with fine specimens of glassy six-sided prismatic crystals. The region was full of experimental shafts and the remains of small alluvial diggings. Challoner's run verged on the western side of this auriferous tract,note the boundary between being marked in one spot by a large broken-down whim,note the massive posts bleached white with the fiery suns of many summers. Behind this whim was an abrupt blackish rock, that gave weird echoes of any sound that broke the silence. It was a desolate spot, speaking eloquently of the drought that had ravaged the district four years before. Striking off from this in a northerly direction, Victor rode towards Broombush Creek, which was four miles off. This creek took its name from being near its rise densely lined with that shrub.note It was the largest water-course in the district, with wide gravelly reaches, closely neighboured by innumerable little reefs and rises, with a water-worn, denuded aspect.

"There ought to be alluvial gold here, if anywhere," thought Victor as he struck the creek. He had heard it was seldom found without a lonely prospector here and there prowling in its vicinity. There was evidently one not far off now, for as he rode on, following the sinuous windings of the water-course, he saw a film of smoke ahead of him, rising in wavering fragments till they were lost in the blue air. The sight gave him a feeling of pleasurable excitement. Perhaps he was going to come on the early beginnings of a great gold-field. As he went on, he noticed innumerable trenches and small pits, now partly choked up, most of them evidently of old date. They were on each side of the wide shallow water-course, some on the face of the banks and in

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the bed of the creek. Two or three of the latter were quite recent. Near one of these he noticed a broken shovel. Half a mile beyond he came in sight of the spot from which the smoke ascended.