― 303 ―

16. Chapter XVI.

"I wonder if this is something further about the cave room," thought Victor, turning the telegram over, as he went into his own room with it. By Saturday's mail a letter had reached him from his uncle, telling him that instructions had been sent to Trevaskis to have the late manager's effects removed and afford the purser full scope to investigate the notecavity, on behalf of the company. The delay in answering Victor's letter had been caused by Mr. Drummond's absence in Tasmania. Within half an hour of the receipt of this, Trevaskis had come into the office with an open letter in his hand.

"I suppose you have had instructions about this?" he said, in a tone pitched at a deliberate calmness, yet with a curious vibration underlying it of strong emotion. Victor, in reply, read the portion of his uncle's letter which dealt with the matter.

"I can't possibly have the things removed for a day or two," said Trevaskis in accents which suddenly jumped by a note above the notediapasonnote of his usual voice. There was an odd smothered fierceness in his manner that made Victor suddenly look at him with inquiring wonder. It seemed as if the man had aged by years in the past few weeks. Perhaps, considering all the circumstances, the change was not surprising. For nine consecutive nights he had worked in the cave room, his eyes gradually getting worse. At the end of that time he was unable to stoop, or read, or walk in the sunshine, without torturing throbs of pain in notehis eyeballs. The doctor, whom he at last unwillingly consulted, strongly urged him to go away from the mine for a change. "Why, man, you'll blind yourself," he said two days later, exasperated into brutal frankness by the patient's obvious disregard of his instructions. At the words, a sudden cold dread shot through the manager's mind. For the next eight days and nights he rested almost absolutely. Once in the twenty-four hours he went below,

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and took a turn all round the mine. For the rest of the day he sat in his room with the blinds down. When solitude and enforced idleness became unbearable, he would go into the cave room and gloat over his bars of shining gold–each one worth close on nine hundred pounds.

Then he would pace about in the obscurity of the place, pausing at the spots where the great bottles of amalgam that were still untouched lay hidden.

"Oh, if Dan would only come! if Dan would only come!" he would sometimes say at such times half aloud.

He was not one who indulged much in the habit of addressing remarks to himself audibly; but the constant strain of anxiety, of harassing uncertainty as to whether he could after all secure this treasure, culminated at times in fits of such intense restlessness, that to walk about speaking to himself, in the solitude and obscurity of the cave room, afforded him a certain relief.

But Dan's coming was indefinitely delayed. He wrote to say that he had been stupid enough "to get upon the spree,"note and that when he was getting over this he had a feverish attack. He was now in the hospital and the doctors wouldn't tell him when he could get out, but he hoped he would soon be well enough to travel.

This might mean the delay of a few days or weeks. It might mean that Dan would not come till it was too late; for in a couple of weeks at the most Raphael Dunning would arrive to take possession of his brother's belongings, and once that was done, the last vestige of excuse for delaying the search of the cave room would be gone.

Trevaskis did not fail to grasp the weak points of his situation; but these, somehow, only inspired him with a sort of desperate, despairing resolution to use every possible and impossible means to secure the gold. If the worst came to the worst, he would secrete the bars, at least, in his own room. Could there be anything among Dunning's many papers that could give a clue to the treasure?

At the thought, Trevaskis instituted a rigorous search of all the letters, documents, and boxes which would be handed over to the late manager's brother. In one of the latter he discovered two duplicate keys of the strong safe for the gold. He regarded them curiously for some moments, wondering to which of his

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predecessors belonged the credit of having them manufactured. Webster most likely, so as to enable him to steal some of the amalgam, when kept for a night in the safe before it was retorted.

This discovery curiously enough lessened the accidental scruples which still visited Trevaskis from time to time, especially when his conscience was illuminated by the fear of detection. He thought, with something akin to indignation, of noteinnumerable "dodges" by which the majority of mining managers contrived to rob the people by whom they were employed.

"I wouldn't, and I couldn't, so help me, God! steal an ounce of gold or amalgam from the mine on my own account," he thought; "but to keep a treasure that you have discovered–ah! that is quite another matter. No one else has a better right to the gold than the one who finds it."

After all, the fact that a man's forefathers have fastened a lantern to a cow's head on a dark night by the seashore, so as to lead a casual trading smack to founder on the rocks for the sake of its cargo,note must impart certain distinguishing nuances to his conscience.

At any rate, after discovering these keys Trevaskis was more than ever upheld by the consciousness that his moral rectitude would never allow him to stoop to the base pilfering which had been so largely practised by other managers of the Colmar Mine. Yet, side by side with this, his determination grew stronger not to let any untoward circumstances cheat him out of the enjoyment of the fortune he had discovered in the cave room.

When his eyes became strong enough to bear the sunlight, his first care was to ride across to the weatherboard hut erected on the quartz claim which he had secured in the vicinity of the broken-down whim. It reassured him to prowl about this hut and reflect on the treasure that might soon be hidden there.

As he was riding back he finally determined that, as soon as ever Dan came, the best thing would be to take him fully into his confidence and secure his help in hiding the gold and amalgam in the hut, away from the mine altogether.

"I'll send a message to Dan on Monday or Tuesday, begging him to come on, even if he's half dead. If he became much worse at the little hut it would be a fine opportunity for me to resign

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suddenly. I'd just say that the company notehad better send another manager as soon as possible. "My only brother has been taken very ill all by himself; I must give him my whole time. In any case I noteintended to resign soon, as I find my health will not stand the climate here." "

He wrote these lines and several more, finding a certain relief in picturing this conclusion of his suspense.

"It is now some time," he reflected, "since Fitz-Gibbon and I had that barney. He has never said a word about the search since; I don't believe he even thinks of it. Ah, there's nothing like a good bluff sometimes!"

Such were the half-complacent reflections that passed through Trevaskis' mind on Thursday evening, after he returned from visiting his quartz claim. On Friday night he felt well enough to resume operations in the cave room. But by Saturday morning's mail came an official letter, written by the mine secretary at the dictation of the chairman of directors, instructing the manager to permit the purser to remove the late Mr. Dunning's effects from the cave room and institute a careful search of the place. For a short time after reading this letter Trevaskis sat perfectly motionless, staring hard before him. The meshes were closing round him; he was snared, and not only so, but he had been perfectly hoodwinked by this double-faced young Irishman.

The thought galled him almost as much as the prospect of losing the gold.

"But I won't lose it! I won't! I won't!" he muttered to himself, clenching his hands and teeth.

He had need of all his decision and energy to quell the rising passion that threatened to overmaster him.

When Victor, struck by the curious intonation of his voice, looked at Trevaskis, he saw that his face looked gray and lined. His eyes were uncovered. The space between them, as has been said, was unusually narrow; but now the pupils had lengthened in a curious way, so that they almost seemed to meet in a sinister glittering line, like the eyes of a cat in the dark.

The expression of his whole face gave Victor a certain shock. He concluded that Trevaskis was furious at having his objections

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set aside. Or was there, after all, some truth in Vansittart's conviction? The last surmise led Victor to answer with a certain reserve that, as soon as Dunning's things were cleared out, he was ready to begin his search.

On that, Trevaskis strode away without making any reply. For the rest of the day he purposely kept out of Victor's way.

"If this telegram is to hasten operations," he thought, as he opened the envelope, "the old fellow will certainly have a fit."

But the first glance showed him that the message touched him much more nearly than any event connected with the Colmar Mine. It was from Miss Paget, dated Saturday morning, from Albany, and ran:

"Left Colombo sooner than anticipated. Not going to Perth. Caught in a tornado three days ago; vessel almost foundered. Stay here till Tuesday to recoup. Expect to reach Adelaide on Friday next."

When the doctor, after paying his morning visit to Challoner, interviewed his second patient at Stonehouse and dressed his arm, he declared the young man had developed febrile symptoms.

"Why, both your cheeks look as if they were scorched, and your pulse is going nineteen to the dozen. You'll have to be careful, young man; that's a nastier burn than you think for. You'd better lay up for a day or two," he said solemnly.

But Victor, who was in his own confidence more than the man of healing, did not propose to take this advice seriously. He knew it was the prospect of his interview with Helen, which was now so near–the thought of the moment when he should be free to put his fortune to the touch and win or lose it allnote–that made his pulses bound and his temples throb. What would Doris say when he first uttered the words that had been the refrain of his thoughts and the burden of his dreams so long? Not so very long, perhaps, counting by the mere duration of time. But in periods of vivid emotion, when the hours he doles out are counted by heart-beats, and not by the clock, Time is found to be an old bankrupt, who has not the wherewithal to pay his debts.

"Doris, I love you! I love you!"

He was dramatizing the scene to himself, as noteis the manner of

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young lovers, sitting in the western veranda late in the afternoon, staring hard at an open book which he held right side up, just as if he were reading it page by page. Would the words startle her too much? Would the moist, radiant eyes look at him in troubled wonder? He had sometimes feared that she would hardly understand–that the guarded seclusion of her life and the dewy simplicity of her youth would make his words of love a strange tale which as yet could find no response in her heart. And now he began to recall all that had fed his timid hopes, and the unreasoning happiness that of late had taken possession of him, and then began to fear lest he had built too much on her candid friendliness, her unembarrassed pleasure at the prospect of his travelling with them. And yet was there not a great thrill of gladness in her voice as she said, "You have come"?

He was in the very heart of these reflections, when she came out with the hushed footfalls that so soon become habitual when there is illness in a household.

"I want you, please, to let down the curtains. I have made Mrs. Challoner lie down in my room, and I want to make it quiet and shady, so that she may have a good sleep while Euphemia takes care of her father," she said, with the gravity befitting one who has to look after many people.

Victor obeyed, and then drew forward a rocking-chair for her, saying:

"You have been going about working all day, I believe. Now don't you think it is time you rested?"

"I have not done nearly as much as I thought I should––"

"Oh, you ambitious child! Didn't you give Shung directions three hundred and twenty times, and beat up eggs, and put fresh water in all the flower-vases, and scold Bridget?"

"But you and Phemy helped me with the flowers. As for scolding Bridget, I only just remonstrated with her for carrying such dreadful tales as––"

She suddenly stopped short, and Victor, who had merely invented the accusation at random, said gravely:

"I suppose you gave it to her wellnote till she cried, and promised she would do so no more?"

But Doris had assumed a little air of reserve, which piqued Victor into saying:

"Was the tale too dreadful for me to hear?"

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"It was last night, you see," answered Doris, after a little pause.

"Last night when you were alone?"


"She came and frightened you with some ghost story?"

"Oh, it was much worse than any ghost story!"

"May I try and guess notewhat it was?"

She gave a shy little nod by way of answer, and then said, with a half-mysterious smile:

"But I don't believe you can guess in the least."

"Well, I think it will be only fair for you to help me, as we used to do when we played at hiding things indoors on a rainy day."

"How was that? I don't know any gregarious games at all."

The whimsically old and sedate words that Doris sometimes used amused Victor intensely, but he kept his countenance as he explained:

"The other noteyoungsters notego out, and you hide a penknife, or a big glass marble, or anything, in some secret place; then, when he tries to find the article, if he goes near it you say "Hot," if he goes away from it, you say "Cold." "

"Oh, very well."

"Bridget came and told you that she put salt-bush in the custard?"


"noteThat she broke a Sèvres bowl and buried the remains without an inquest?"


"That she wrote a spelling-book and dedicated it to the universe?"

Doris laughed outright.

"You are in the Polar regions," she said, gently swaying the rocking-chair backward and forward, in comfortable security that Bridget's bêtise note and her own foolish credulity were too much beyond the ken of a third person's unassisted speculations.

Victor looked profoundly dejected for a moment, but so far he had not an inkling that an noteincredibly happy revelation awaited him.

"She went to the township and said she met a dragon?"

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"Hot and cold."

"Ah! I won't come away from the township. It was last night when the fire broke out?"

"Hot," said Doris, in a tone of losing confidence.

"She came and told you some dreadful tale about the fire?"

Doris, who had so little practised the art of concealment that even the evasion of a question half offended her instinct of absolute sincerity, began to see that no alternative remained but to confess the whole story.

"I will tell you how it was," she said slowly. "When Shung told us about the fire last night he said some people had been hurt–he did not know who. Euphemia said she hoped you were not, and that made me feel so dreadfully afraid––"

"That I was hurt?" said Victor, a quick flush rising on his face as he leant over towards Doris, drinking in every word she said.

"Yes. I went round to send Shung down to see if you were safe, but he had just put out his light. Then Bridget came, and–you mustn't think I was very foolish for quite believing it–even now it seems terrible to say it––"

She gave a long, low sigh.

"Was it about me?" asked Victor, in a breathless sort of voice.

"Yes; she said you were burnt to death."

He could not for a moment utter a word in reply. Doris, glancing up at him, thought he looked strangely glad, and some undefined feeling made her heart begin to beat more rapidly.

"And was that what made you feel so ill, Doris?" asked the young man, in a low, shaken voice.

"Yes. I quite believed it till I heard you speaking, and–oh, I felt as if I would die!"

"Oh, Doris, my darling! you do care for me, then? I love you–I love you with all my heart and soul! but I have been afraid––"

She shrank back a little as he bent closer to her, and the look in her face was partly what he had conjured up half an hour before. Only with the wonder and timidity there was something of dawning comprehension, even of gladness; but she did not speak, and after a little time he spoke again.

"You are not angry with me, are you, Doris?"

"No–oh no!" she answered softly.

"And do you think you love me a little?"

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There was a long pause, and then, whether she knew all that it conveyed or not, she answered in a perfectly audible voice:

"Yes, I am sure of it."

"And do you know how much I love you?" he asked after a little, trying hard to keep down the rising torrent of his joy.

A vivid colour had risen in her cheeks, but Victor was quite pale, and his hand, as he placed it on the arm of the chair on which she sat, shook a little. Seeing him so pallid and agitated, a troubled look came into her face.

"You are not unhappy, are you?" she asked very gently.

"No; there is only one thing that could make me unhappy just now, Doris."

"What is that?"

"The thought that you could not love me as long as we both live."

"Yes, and when we both die," she answered very gravely.

And then he was more than content. Only one more petition would he make just then.

"Doris, let me hold your hand a little moment."

A smile parted her lips as she gave him her hand. It trembled like a little reed-warbler whose wings are suddenly pinioned as his lithe brown fingers closed over hers. Very gently, fearing to frighten her, yet unable to resist the impulse, he bent his head and imprinted one tremulous kiss on the palm of the imprisoned hand; and then he released it, hardly daring to glance at her, for fear he might see a look of trouble or displeasure in her face. But it was happy and serene, and he took heart of grace.

"One day this little hand will be given to me, Doris, and I shall place a plain gold ring on the third finger."

"Do you mean that we will be married?" she said hesitatingly.

"Yes, that is just what I do mean," answered Victor, with a low, glad laugh.

"But mustn't we be a good deal older and wiser first?"

"Oh no! We're wise enough at this moment, Doris, and we'll be quite old enoughnote in another year–perhaps in six months–as soon as I can see your guardian in London."

"Why will you have to see him?"

"Oh, to assure him that I have some money and come of decent people–that I am the very one to make you happy as long as you live."

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"He'll know that as soon as he sees you," said Doris, with a slow, thoughtful utterance.

"Oh, you darling!" murmured the young lover passionately.

And then he rose and paced up and down the veranda. The temptation to kneel down and enfold her in his arms rose too distractingly.

"Come into the avenue for a little walk, Doris," he said, after a moment or two.

They walked side by side, for the most part in silence. When Victor spoke, it was of indifferent subjects, for he saw that gradually Doris had become a little more agitated. When she turned to re-enter the house he said:

"Doris, before we part, tell me once more–do you love me?"

She looked up at him, her lips slightly parted, her eyes full of a soft, deep light, some luminous touch of emotion in every line of her face–all her young, pure beauty made more beautiful by the great enchanter.

"I am quite sure of it," she said slowly.

A kind of hushed awe had fallen upon her. What was this new divine influence that wrapped her round, making the thought of sorrow faint and far away, enclosing her as if in a new world? She had no word or phrase for it all. She could only feel it thrilling every fibre of her being–feel it keenly, physically, as one feels the touch of a hand, or hears the melody of a bird's song, or inhales the notepenetrating breath of the early violets; but more mysterious than any of these ecstasies of feeling, seeing that this new faculty of her nature embraced them all, and yet was centred in another. The consciousness of being so happy apart from all the influences of her past life, apart even from thoughts of her mother, struck her with a kind of amazement. She was glad to be in the silence and solitude of her own room that night to ponder over the strange wonder and beauty of it all.