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7. Chapter VII.

When the mail-coach came in on Thursday morning, it was crammed with passengers, all bound for the new diggings.note Half an hour later a large American waggon drawn by four horses, also crowded with people bound for the same place, passed by the Colmar Mine. Then, all during the day vehicles of various descriptions were seen rumbling slowly on their way to this new Golden Jerusalemnote of the Salt-bush country. It turned out that over four hundred men had reached Nilpeena that morning by the early train, all bent on being notefirst in the field. Most of those who had money clubbed together and hired all the vehicles available in the township to convey themselves and their impedimenta to the gold-fields. Many of these were well equipped with tents, tools, and a couple of weeks' rations. But the larger proportion were men who, on getting out at the railway station, tramped it on foot, with neither purse nor scrip,note with a shovel rolled up in the blue blankets slung on their backs, carrying in one hand a "billy," black with use and a rigid absence of outer scouring. noteBesides the pick or shovel there was perhaps a loaf in the swag, certainly a modicum of tea, sugar, and tobacco.

They tramped on in a long straggling line, their route marked here and there by columns of smoke, where some alone, some in groups of from three to five, halted to boil a billy of tea and smoke a pipeful of the strong fig tobacco which Bushmen habitually use. Many were found among them who were without even these elementary necessities for tramping it to an unknown gold-field. But when they were in company with others who were better off, the more destitute ones were not left in need. Nor was any surprise felt at the faith, or recklessness, of men who had neither tea nor tobacco, nor food nor tools nor money to buy notethem–thus swelling a rush in which to the uninitiated a store of some at least of these would seem to be the only safeguard against

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starvation. But a rush in quest of gold is a species of gambling that has many queer features. The man who has a little knowledge and experience, and the one who even without these has brawny arms, and is not afraid of work, has without money or tools a better chance than the men who lacking these come with stores of noteanything else. Many of the men who have most experience in alluvial gold-diggings are chronically hard up. Whether they make hundreds of pence or of pounds in any given rush, they are equally likely to be penniless a month or two after it is over. They are invariably ready to start at an hour's notice when the rumour of a fresh hunting-ground within a practicable distance reaches them. There is sure to be many a "tender-foot" and greenhornnote who will be glad to give food, and find tools, in return for work, or a "wrinkle" or two in pegging out a claim.

The amateur element was stronger than usual in the Broombush Creek rush by reason of being less than two days' journey from the capital, and within thirty miles from a railway station. All day the long irregular procession straggled on. After the mail-coach and the four-in-hand, as the American waggon was styled, came horsemen, bullock-drays, trollies, spring carts;note even the one vegetable-cart of which Nilpeena boasted, drawn by a sturdy donkey, was there, piled up with the swags and shovels of half a dozen men, who walked before and after the rickety little machine, which in ascending the gentlest eminence, creaked as if its last moment notewere near at hand. And in advance of the vehicles, side by side, and after them, came the men, who notehad walked with light or heavy burdens, some with none at all. Even at this early stage, those who had adventured the rush without money or baggage began to ascend the social scale. They were paid in money or kind by the more heavily laden to help them with their burdens. Already, too, some of those who had put their hand to the plough looked back.note Though there were no scrubby heights to scale, or unknown deserts to cross, the arid, waterless nature of the country, and the unexpectedly large number who were making for the untried diggings discomfited the less hardy spirits.

Before noon, twenty men came asking for work at the Colmar Mine.

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"Not much danger, 'pears to me, of our 'aving to shut up shop on haccount of the new diggings," said Roby with a chuckle.

"Well, when you come to figure it out, eight or ten bob a daynote sure, is better than the 'ope o' turnin' gentleman by Hact noteo' Parlyment, with the chance o' perishing by starvation thrown in," observed an old miner.

All the men who had worked on the night-shift were standing at the doors of their huts and tents, or down at the Colmar Arms, where the bar-room overflowed with dusty noteswagsmennote quenching their thirst, and listening with greedy eyes to the landlord's frequently repeated narrative of the fabulous swags of gold, that had dazzled the eyes of all beholders in his bar-room three nights ago. No tale of enchantment or adventure was ever listened to with such devouring interest. In the bar and elsewhere nothing was to be heard but talk of claims and pegging out, of pockets and gutters and nuggets of gold; of half-forgotten reminiscences of old diggings, and tragic stories of lucky diggers. There was an electrical thrill of excitement in the very atmosphere. Even Trevaskis, who had so many grim problems of his own to solve regarding gold, was in a measure carried out of himself, by the wave of eager expectancy which stirred the place, as to the experiences that awaited the mixed multitude, hurrying in search of fortune to Broombush Creek.

But one at least among all this gold-fever hubbub was occupied with far other thoughts. The mail-coach that had brought the first instalment of diggers had also brought Victor the flowers for which he had telegraphed on the Monday morning.note There had been a delay of two days in sending them, because of an error made in transmitting the message from the Colmar office. But here they were at last. As soon as Victor had the office to himself, he cut the cords and opened the boxes to sprinkle the flowers with water. His eyes sparkled at notesight of their loveliness, and thoughts of the pleasure they would give Doris. He counted the moments till he could bring them to her. Yet he purposely delayed going with them till it was close on seven.

He had observed that after sunset she almost invariably sat for some time on the western veranda, watching the dying light in the sky above the immense landscape, into which the feverish

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seekers for gold had been hurrying all day. This evening the after-glow was unusually vivid, spreading notefar up to the horizon in waves of pure fire-colour,note embracing the most delicate nuances of tint, from a broad line of deep carnation low down on the vast horizon, to a faint silvery pink far overhead. As soon as he crossed the reef and began to descend towards Stonehouse, Victor saw the slender, dark-robed figure clearly outlined in the warm evening light. Spot and Rex, a young kangaroo dog,note bounded to meet him with the animation of dawning friendship. Their mistress also greeted him with a smile.

"You are quite loaded, and yet Rex ran to meet you! That shows he quite approves of you," she said, as she patted Rex on the head.

"Doesn't he like people who carry things, then?" asked Victor, putting his boxes on the little wicker table that stood near.

"No; because, you see, most of the people he used to see with any kind of load were sundowners."note

"Perhaps he knew somehow that these boxes hold something for you," said Victor, colouring a little as he bent over the boxes, undoing the strings.

"For me?" said Doris, with a little note of incredulous surprise in her voice.

"Yes, if you will kindly accept them."

And now the lids were off both the boxes, and the light layer of white cotton-wool removed. And lo! in the first box at which Doris looked there was the most enchanting array of white fragrant flowers: feathery sprays of white lilac, clusters of white Indian musk noteroses, of the white fairy and exquisite Niphetos roses; white heliotrope and picotees,note tuberoses with their perfumed waxen buds, clustered sprays of stephanotis with their delicate yet penetrating fragrance. In the centre there was a group of magnificent orchids, pure white petalled, with yellow and mauve labellum. The flowers had been skilfully packed, their stems wrapped round in wet moss, so that they bore little trace of their journey. But a drooping petal here and there made Victor apologize for not having brought them to Stonehouse as soon as the mail came in.

"I will bring up the next lot the moment they come, and then they will last longer," he said, eager to say something that would

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carry off the keen emotion visible in Doris's face. She had seen no flowers since she had left Ouranie, and the sight and perfume of these, awakening so many chords of memory, moved her almost too much for speech.

"You got these lovely, lovely flowers for me! They must have come hundreds of miles," she said in a tremulous voice when she could trust herself to speak.

"Oh yes, it is really nothing, you know. You just mention to someone in town you want a few flowers," said Victor with a tincture of mendacity of which he was not often guilty. And then he took the folds of cotton-wool off the flowers in the second box, talking so as to give Doris time to recover herself.

"These are not so fatigued-looking; you see they have more colour. I really know hardly anything about flowers, except roses. These are the Catherine Mermets. I know them by the sweet scent; my mother notelikes them very much. This, I suppose, is an orchid."

It was a Cattleya with deep rosy crimson labellum and pink petals. This second boxful was little less lovely than the other. The La France, Malmaison and Gloire de Dijon roses were superb. There was a wealth of daphne pouring its poignantly sweet fragrance on the air, and a great crowd of pansies, carnations, and yellow Austrian briars.note

"Shall I go and ask Shung-Loo to get some basins and water for you to put them in?" said Victor, who, after seeing Doris stealthily kissing a plume of white lilac with quivering lips, cast about for some excuse to leave her alone with the flowers.

"Oh, please do not trouble! I can ring for him after I have looked at them a little longer," she answered, taking up one flower after the other, with a caress in every touch and look. Then, after a little pause: "I cannot say how grateful I am for your kindness! I have been longing for flowers more than I can tell; it sounds foolish to say thank you––"

"Yes; because the pleasure they give is more notethan thanks enough!" said Victor eagerly.

"But I hope they are not all for me," she said a little hesitatingly.

"Yes, certainly; to do what you like with them."

"But I would sooner you gave half to Mrs. Challoner and

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Euphemia. We can divide them;" and with that Doris began to mix the white and coloured flowers.

"You are too unselfish; you know you like white flowers the best," said Victor, who stood watching her.

"Well, you see, I am keeping a larger share of the white lilac," said Doris, who fixed a spray of these flowers at her throat, and then made an equal division of the rest. "When I wrote letters at Ouranie I used to date them by the flowers that were coming out. If I were going to write a letter to-night, I should date it "the day of all the flowers." Now, I am going to tell Mrs. Challoner and Euphemia that there is something too wonderful–as if a fairy had come–only you are rather too big for a fairy."

"Yes, I'm afraid my weight is against me in that line. You had better say a sundowner–one of the kind that a dog of good sense, like Rex, can tolerate."

Well, whatever name might be applied to the giver, there could be no difference of opinion as to the extreme pleasure the flowers gave. Mrs. Challoner, who was easily moved to enthusiasm for her kind, found a depth of friendly thoughtfulness in the offering which increased the goodwill she already bore towards Victor. Even the placid Challoner was moved to unusual enthusiasm, when, on being invited to spend the evening in the drawing-room, he saw the lovely multitude of flowers, set out in the old china and fine cut-glass bowls, to the number of a score or so. They were ranged on the bookcases, the little tables, the piano, and mantelpiece, giving the room that air of notegrand tranquillity which it is the privilege of beautiful flowers to impart.

"I must sit where I can look at these roses, my dear, while I am waiting for you to let me checkmate you," he said to his wife as they sat down for their usual notegames of chess, while the young people played, Victor accompanying Doris on his violin in some of Moore's melodies, with which they were both familiar. Then, when Euphemia went away to finish one of those endless letters to her brother and "a friend," which she seemed always to have on stock,note Victor, noticing a reversi-board,note ventured to ask Doris if he might play a game with her. But though the game was entered upon with much seriousness by Doris, the contest very

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soon lagged. In fact, no two-handed game has yet been invented whose rules prevent this, when the one who humbly asks another to play does so for the express and perfidious purpose of an uninterrupted talk.

"I have been wondering," said Victor, after a few moves, "whether you know anything more about the Gooloos than you told me the other day."

A wistful little smile passed over Doris's face.

"I used to fable a great deal about Gooloos and other queer little people, when I was a child. But, of course, it is foolish when one is grown up."

"I wish you would fancy that I am not grown up."

"I can hardly do notethat, seeing I have to look up when I speak to you. I might, perhaps, fancy that you are not too wise to care for such things."

Victor laughed involuntarily, then checked his mirth, and said:

"Who are the other queer little people?"

"Oh, Shapes and Yangs. Shapes are always flying and changing; but Yangs would sooner die than change, and they never wish to fly. They just want grass, and the sun on their backs. If they went into society, perhaps you would call them pigs. No, I don't think I shall tell you any more, I can see you think my little people very silly," said Doris, noticing that Victor was trying in vain to repress the amusement afforded by the characteristics of the Yangs.

"I don't think them silly at all; they are very amusing. I wonder how you came to think of such things."

"Didn't you make up stories to yourself when you were little?"

"No, not much. I used to read other people's stories, and play a great deal."

"Ah, you had other children to play with; I had no playmates but myself. I used often to play at having a brother. He was so grand and brave. He was a great soldier, and used to go to the Holy Landnote and make the infidels give up the prisoners. When we went out driving I used to ask my mother to let the ponies go very fast, and then I used to fancy that I was Richard, on his Arab horse, chasing notedragons and going after savage people."

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"Then, was he always away at the wars?"

"No, he sometimes came home and told me where he had been, and what strange things he had seen. I used to live under a nectarine-tree in the garden, and watch for him to come across the sea–that was Gauwari, our big lake; it bordered the garden on one side. But I used to like best to ride and drive in the direction of the great plain. I could fancy always such wonderful things about that, for it was like a great strange sea–so gray and wide and quiet. Mother and I always called it the Silent Sea; but now that I am in the midst of it––"

She ended with a little sigh.

"It is very bare and desolate, and nothing very wonderful in it, except that it is such a huge plain and reaches so far," said Victor, who was listening to these revelations of a solitary childhood with the keenest interest.

"I am afraid things are often like that," she responded thoughtfully. "When we used to visit Mrs. Seaton, the girls had a brother, and he was not in the least noble or chivalrous. He was greedy about tarts, and sometimes pulled his sisters' hair."

"But, on the other hand, there are many things quite as beautiful as we can imagine them."

"Ah, yes! The "Arabian Nights" are quite poor compared to what is going on all the time. Even among the grass, where a tiny brown seed swells and pushes up a thin little green lance; and by-and-by it is a feathery tassel, shivering if you even whisper near it. . . . Often when Kenneth used to speak so much about heaven, and say it was a great deal more beautiful than this world, I used to wonder whether there are corners there where the violets come out early, and where one might put down an old fairy-book with its face against the canary lavender, to watch the white-eye-browed swallowsnote when they come the first day."

There was a wistful thrill in the girl's voice, but she spoke more rapidly than was her wont, and with the animation a deeper tinge of colour stole into her cheeks.

"I do not believe you were lonely at all, though you had no playmates," said Victor, after a little pause.

"I did not want anyone else when I had mother," she answered in a very low voice.

And then there was silence between them for a little. The flowers poured their sweetness on the air, and through the open

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windows, with the curtains half drawn back, the moonshine was visible lying over the great Silent Sea, that hemmed them round with that mystic light which gives a magic of its own to the barest landscape.

"We are not getting on very well with our game, are we?" she said after a little, and on this Victor tried his best to lose his notepawns.note But it was little he could think noteof just then, except the sweep of those heavy lashes and the wonderful eyes they revealed when they were uplifted; the sweet cadence of her tones, and that enchanting mixture in her talk of bright, noteaerial fancies and direct childlike simplicity. Altogether, that evening was formed of those supreme, fugitive hours which, once flown, noteseldom have a to-morrow.