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5. Chapter V.

"Good-morning, captain! Have you been having a look at the new claim? I dreamt last night there was a tremendous heap of gold there. If that's true, you'll be forced to take it seriously, you know," said Victor.

Trevaskis could not afterwards recall what his answer was to Fitz-Gibbon's remarks, as they walked together across to the offices. He retained his wits sufficiently, however, to avoid the common intriguer's folly of over-reaching himself by elaborate explanations of what might be taken for granted. The iron passage and the underground room were in his charge–under his sole key; and the conversation that had taken place might naturally have led him to view them with more interest. "Whatever I do in this affair, I must always try to seem unconcerned and on the square," he thought.

"You are up very early to-day," he said, as they drew near the offices.

"Yes, I'm going for a notegood long ride. I couldn't sleep, somehow, once the daylight dawned this morning."

Anyone observing Victor would have noticed a look of curious preoccupation in his face. Now and then he seemed to be on the point of smiling, and then he would knit his brows and walk a little faster, as if pursuing a troublesome thought, which he was determined to bring down. He went into the office for his riding-whip, and when he stood within the threshold he looked around inquiringly. Was it only a few hours since he had gone out of this room and walked down to Stonehouse in the gathering twilight? As he rode through the fresh morning air, he went over all that had then happened for the hundredth time. He did not see the ashy plains lying in monotonous uniformity under the fresh blueness of the morning, nor the majestic sweep of the horizon all round where the gray earth seemed to be folded within the

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edges of the jewel-clear sky. He was going over the few simple events of the past evening minute by minute, word by word–nay, step by step–when, after leaving the office, he crossed the reef, not following either of the paths, but taking a longer route and approaching the house by the western entrance, instead of coming, as his wont was, by the southern end, where his own room stood with its separate door opening into the avenue that encompassed the house on every side.

The hope that led him to do this was fulfilled. Doris was on the veranda, looking towards the west, her face touched with that wistful inquiry which, since her mother's death, had come to be her more habitual expression when alone. It was the opportunity he wanted, because, as he told himself, it would be noteso intolerable to meet her before others, after that sad little first meeting and abrupt parting, without giving voice to something of the sympathy that had been pulsing in his heart ever since. There was no awkwardness in their meeting, for the moment Doris saw him drawing towards her, she turned to meet him with grave simplicity, without hesitation or embarrassment.

"I was so sorry, after you had gone on Saturday evening," she said, returning his bow and meeting his glance with the confiding notewide-eyed gaze of a child who has never known fear. There was no trace of tears now on the thick sweeping lashes; the sweet low timbre of the voice was not strained; and the pure soft oval cheeks were lightly touched with a faint peachy bloom.

"Not sorry on my account, I hope, unless because of my fearful stupidity," he answered. He tried to speak lightly; but he was so deeply moved that he was conscious of a treacherous unsteadiness in his voice. In the instant that her eyes met his, and that he heard the sound of her voice, he admitted to himself that, from the moment he had set eyes on her, he had been constantly thinking about her in one way or another, especially another,–that is, in roundabout, indirect, fugitive, unpremeditated ways.

"Your fearful stupidity? But when, then?" she said a little wonderingly.

"Why, when I wanted to say something to you so very much, that would make you feel a little better, and instead––"

"Ah, but, don't you know, sometimes nothing can make you

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feel better until you have cried all you want to," she said in a lower voice.

"But it is bad for one to grieve too much; and I am sure good and wise people can often say things that help one in trouble."

"What do they say?"

"Ah, you see, I am not one of them. I am not able to do more than feel I would do anything in the world to keep you from being sad."

"But what do you think they would say to you if you had lived all your life with your mother? You two together, and then––Ah, but you haven't–you came away from her, didn't you?"

"By George! she is not going to forget that against me," thought Victor, twirling the point of his moustache a little nervously.

"You see, it is because you are not a girl," Doris said half apologetically, feeling that she had perhaps reflected rather severely on her new acquaintance.

"But suppose good and wise people knew a girl," she went on, moved at the picture rising before her, and deeply in earnest in her inquiry––"one who had been with her mother day and night all her life, never away from her, and her mother was the noblest and notethe best and notethe dearest, always sweet and gentle, and doing everything that was good; and the mother was taken away, and the girl was left alone, and could never see her mother again as long as she was in this world; only sometimes when she slept her mother would come, and the girl would fold her arms tight so as not to be left alone again, but when she woke up they were empty? Oh, tell me what anyone could say to make the trouble less?"

Her lips were quivering, and there was an intensity of pathos in her voice which went direct to her listener's heart. Indeed, it is probable that this voice would have done that without the deep thrill that pervaded it. For a passing moment he feared that the keen edge of her grief would again overcome her. But he soon perceived that her sorrow was of that calm and pervasive kind which trains even the young and inexperienced into dignified self-restraint, which is swept away only by those flood-tides that arise when in solitude.

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What could anyone say to make the trouble less? Her great radiant eyes were raised to his face awaiting his reply. And he, instead of being able to make answer with some serene and lofty maxims culled from the sayings of saints or sages, was insanely asking how it was he had never before seen eyes anything at all like these, and then, where could these violets have grown, whose breath was around her with such delicate haunting fragrance? With an effort, he pulled himself together.

"I think they would say different things, you know, in different ages," he said, feeling acutely the abject lameness of his words. And then, a little inspired by the expectant look on Doris's face, he went on to say that in the old heathen world wise men bade people remember various things that should moderate human grief, but notethat Christians notedwelt on other thoughts, such as the happiness of those who notewere taken from us. "Not because they have left us, you know," said Victor, feeling acutely that he ought not to have ventured on a theme so little familiar to him.

Doris listened in grave silence, saying, as Victor finished talking:

"Ah! yes; that is what Mrs. Challoner and Kenneth say."

"Kenneth? Does he live anywhere near?"

Doris explained who her old friend was, and how they expected to see him on one of his rounds in the Colmar district in a few weeks. Then, after a little pause, inspired by a growing confidence in her new friend, whose voice and eyes were so full of gentle kindness, she said, a little hesitatingly:

"There is one thing, though, that often keeps me from being too sad: though mother cannot come back to me except in my dreams, I shall one day go to her–perhaps even soon."

She stopped, struck by the look of startled pain that came into Victor's face.

"Oh no; don't say that!" he cried imploringly.

"But, you know, we all must go away one day, just like the wood-swallows who used to come to Ouranie. To-day they would be in the trees singing and flying across the lake, with their pretty silvery breasts and wide dark wings, and to-morrow they would be all gone. One could never tell the reason why. The almond-trees would be loaded with blossom perhaps, the violets

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out thick, and the Indian doob grassnote would have lost the last bit of brown, down by the shores of Gauwari, where it grew so thick; and yet they went, because the day had come. . . . I do not believe you like what I am saying," she said, suddenly noticing that a wistfully pained look was still in his eyes.

"Yes; I would like anything you said. But I don't like you to think of such sad things; you are too young."

"But I am more than sixteen; and even little children often die–like that boy last week of poor Mrs. Doolan's."

"She was burnt out to-day. Did you know," said Victor, who, having escaped the notesnares of explaining how the good and wise administered consolation, was now anxious to divert Doris's thoughts from so grave a theme as that of departing from this world like a wood-swallow who forgets the secret of returning.

"Oh yes; Mrs. Challoner has had her brought here with her baby. She had only time to snatch it up and run outside. Would you like to see the baby?"

"No, thank you, not at all," answered Victor, with noteunnecessary fervour. It was not that he disliked babies more than the average of his sex, but there are moments when no noteinfantile charms can soothe the pain of an interruption.

"It is a very nice little thing; we are going to make clothes for it, and for the mother. It is not you who send men away from the mine, is it?"

"No. I just have to put down how many hours they work, and pay them, and help to clean up the gold, and so on."

"And which do you like doing best?"

"I like it best when the offices are locked and I come across to Stonehouse," said Victor, with a little smile.

"Yes, isn't it a nice house to be in this place?" said Doris, looking around, "and with trees round it! but they cannot get flowers to grow here. I sometimes feel as if I would be ill for flowers."

Victor's heart gave a sudden leap.

"What kind of flowers do you like best?" he asked, making a rapid calculation of how long it would take one of the best florists in town to make up a box of his rarest and choicest flowers to send on to the Colmar Mine.

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"I can hardly tell you; I think I like them all best in turn. If I said I liked roses best, I would at once think of violets, and then I would think of water-lilies–like those, with lovely waxen cups and saffron hearts, that grew in thousands on the edge of Gauwari. I like even orchids."

"Ah, then, you don't like orchids quite so much?"

"No, except, perhaps, white ones. All white flowers are so lovely. But I do not like any hot-house flowers as much as those that grow out in the sunshine, and in the light of the moon and the stars–where the birds sing, and the dawn comes red into the sky over the tops of the trees."

Doris paused suddenly, as if she had been betrayed into saying too much.

"Well, I never thought of it before," said Victor; "but now that you speak of it, how sickening it must be to be shut up with a thermometer and warm pipes, instead of being out where the dawn and twilight come! All the outlines become so visionary, and there is a faint, dreamy light. It is like a gentle swooning away, like things you half remember in a pleasant dream. I think these are the loveliest hours of all, especially in the woods."

"I am glad you think that," she answered quickly. "And have you noticed how there is always one bird that keeps on singing after the rest–very often a honey-bird, when the gum-trees are in blossom. Oh, do you know, I am really very idle," she said suddenly. "That poor woman who was burnt out," she went on in explanation, "has nothing left for herself and the baby. Her husband was sent away from the mine, and he is somewhere looking for work. She had two one-pound notes, and they were burnt too–everything gone. We noteare all doing some needlework for herself and the child."

A little later, when they were in the drawing-room that had been more especially set aside for Doris, the industry that prevailed was remarkable. Mrs. Challoner was changing one of her own serviceable dresses to fit the homeless woman; Euphemia was busied with another garment; and Doris worked with skilful, rapid fingers at a little pink dress. Challoner and Victor tried their skill one against the other at a game of chess. And always in the pauses during which his opponent studied the

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moves that might gain him the victory, the young man's eyes wandered round the room, noting some of the things that had before given its air of delicate culture and refinement to the Ouranie home. The rows of morocco-bound books in the dwarf bookcases of ebony, touched with gold moulding, ranged against the wall; the graceful antique vases; the rare china; the pictures; the delicately-carved fans; the brackets with their photographs of gently nurtured men and women; the soft, silken curtains that draped the windows; the branched candelabra of old massive silver, with their many-shaded candles diffusing a rosy light over the room, and above all, the exquisite young face with the heavy, upward curving eyelashes, casting a pathetic shadow under the radiant eyes–all these enchained Victor's eyes. It seemed like a dream, that a scene in such curious contrast with its outward surroundings should be found in the heart of the Salt-bush country, and closely neighboured by the Colmar Mine. Perhaps it was little wonder that once and again Victor came off second-best at chess on this evening.

"But still you have more skill than I have. I look for a beating the next time," said Challoner, as he gathered up the chessmen. Then, before going out to smoke on the veranda, he begged Doris to play a little. "You are just quite a Dorcas meetingnote to-night," he added, with his slow, benevolent smile. "So I'll only ask for that piece with the birds calling to one another."

On this, Doris put down the little pink dress and went to the piano. After a few preluding bars, she played one of those improvisations which her mother used to find so full of woodland charm. The flute-like warblings of the magpies as they sing, when the faint vapours that hover over the woods begin to swim out of sight in the clear dawn; the fan-tails' chorals of exceeding gladness; the sweet tinkling calls of the superb warblers,note first a solitary bird notetrilling its magical notes, then another and another, till all the air is rifted with ecstatic sounds–all were cunningly interwoven on a rippling accompaniment which Doris had transposed from an old cradle-song. Her mother had found delight in listening to her notereproduce these snatches of bird-songs, and this was the first thing the girl could bear to play after leaving Ouranie. She had played it over and over again,

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trying to fancy that it might somehow reach her mother's ears, and that it pleased her as in the old, happy days, till she had caught the keen, fluctuating nuances of bird-notes with marvellous precision.

Victor stood at the end of the piano, looking and listening as if spellbound.

"That was a little troop of singing honey-birds, I think, at the end," he said in a low voice, with a lambent glow in his eyes that was new to them.

"Yes; I was trying to remember how they called to each other when they first found our Murray wattlesnote in bloom down by the oleander bushes," answered Doris, in her gravely simple way.

"Do you know this bird?" she added, striking a few chords which made deep, re-echoing cries of hubuh huh! hubuh huh! with faint, hollow-sounding reverberations, very weird and solemn.

"Oh yes, I do," answered Victor eagerly. "Where did I hear them one Michaelmas vacation when I went to Mount Gambier? I remember now it was in the reedy marshes of the notedismal swamp.note That is the booming of the bittern. But I have never seen one."note

Doris, it turned out, had long watched for notesight of one by the shores of Gauwari, and after she had resumed her work, Victor sat on a chair near her to glean information as to the plumage and habits of the bittern. Rather a large bird, the neck very long, mottled chestnut-brown and black, with what avidity he learned these details! And then when the bittern was exhausted, his eyes fell on a chair-back bordered with the most grotesque little figures, outlined in light and dark crimson silks, others in pale and dark blue.

"What very strange-looking creatures these are!" he said, examining them closer.

A faint smile rose on Doris's face, and he guessed that the needle which flew so nimbly in her slender rose-tipped fingers was responsible for these funny little effigies in Chinese clothing.

"What can they be?" he asked, watching to see her look up.

"They are Gooloos,"note answered Doris, smiling more broadly,

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"and they used to live on the far side of the Wall of China."

"Most of them seem to be in great trouble. Are they friends of yours?"

"Oh, I do not like them very much; but I am sorry for them."

"Why are you sorry for them?"

"Because the poor little mites are always trying to do things they notebetter not."

"What sort of things?"

"To make shadows stay in the same place, to turn sunshine into fogs, to make the moon and the stars keep quite still, to teach the birds to count one, two, three, instead of singing."

"The poor Gooloos! And that is why so many of them are crying?"

"Yes, and because it is easier to hide their faces in their hands than to make them look properly sorry."

On this Victor laughed, softlynote saying:

"And yet, in all their grief, they have such lovely coloured robes."

"They must all keep their own colours,note you see; they belong to the crimson faith and the blue faith."

"What is their faith besides wearing pretty colours?"

"Oh, I think it is what they want other people to believe," answered Doris thoughtfully.

Victor smiled as he recalled it all. And yet, in thinking of Doris, even in solitude, the expression uppermost on his face was a deeply serious, appealing look. The austere silence of these vast plains began to insensibly colour his thoughts. Not even the cry of a bird or a breath of wind broke the stillness, which the golden sunshine, growing stronger and fuller, seemed to intensify–a stillness deep and breathless as that which broods over the landscape in the background of Raphael's "Vision of Ezekiel."note In such a scene, with an air so light and pure that one becomes unconscious of inhaling it, the mind which has not yet lost the freshness of youth is readily touched to finer issues than those that prevail in a grosser atmosphere.

What stores of buoyant fancies, what sunlight-enfolded thoughts, what radiant communion with Nature, the child must have possessed before the shadow of grief fell on her young life!

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But she would gradually noteoverlive this sorrow; she would laugh and be gay once more in the light of the sun. Happy the hours that would win her back to the unspoiled gladness of her childhood! So ran the thoughts of the young man; and then, in thinking of the maiden, a curious mood of exalted impersonal rapture grew on him–less keen than joy that is solely individual, but warmer and closer than the glow which comes at times with the onrush of thoughts as to the glad vague possibilities of life. The hunger which had at times gnawed at his heart, as if for wider and deeper emotion than he had yet known, was satisfied. And yet with this new-born felicity, the consciousness of disloyalty towards Helen, which had dismayed him in the tumult of his thoughts on first seeing Doris, was now absent. It was as though, in addition to all that he knew of good in life, he had suddenly come on a revelation of its ideal glamour and preciousness. The face and form, so exquisite in their beauty and innocence, seemed to him a type of that spiritual loveliness which man worships rather than dreams of possessing. He would see her from day to day; he would find out ways of serving her, of bringing the rare smile oftener into her face. He pictured her looking at the beautiful flowers for which she pined–white fragrant flowers. In two days from this he would bring them to her. His heart beat tumultuously at the thought.

Then, as he rode into Colmar and passed by the post and telegraph office, the thought struck him that he would save more than a day by telegraphing to the florist. The office would be open in half an hour. He left his horse in the stable of the Colmar Arms and went into the dining-room. He passed one or two groups of men in eager, excited talk about gold finds and diggings and large nuggets. But he was too much absorbed in his own thoughts to hear what was being said.