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2. Chapter II.

A celebrated Greek philosopher was of opinion that women were only created when Nature found that the imperfection of matter did not permit her to carry on the world without them.note It is possible that some might demur to this; but most of us would be ready to admit that letters are written chiefly because of the imperfect development of our senses. And yet there are certain communications which one might prefer to make in a little note, even if telepathy were an assured and exact science.

Of this kind was the announcement that Victor had to make to Miss Paget. He had put away the thought of their actual meeting as often as it had arisen; but now that he was to set out on the morrow, and the hour was drawing so near in which his story must be told, its awkwardness came home to him more and more.

He reflected how very frequently he had found Mrs. Tillotson installed with Helen for the afternoon or evening, how often she was summoned by her father into the library, and, still more embarrassing, he thought how very foolish he would feel when it gradually dawned on Miss Paget that he had come, not to woo,note but to make a confession and ride away. Yes, on the whole, it would be better to write a little note–one which, without going into tedious details, would put Helen en rapport with his position. This he would leave at Lancaster House personally as soon as he reached town, leaving a message that he should call an hour later. He had almost succeeded in persuading himself that his mother's suggestion was true–that Miss Paget had fixed a term of probation not so much to test his fidelity as to let him down gently without too abrupt a refusal. But as he sat at his desk to write his little preparatory letter after Trevaskis had left the office, certain recollections arose which made his task a difficult one.

He wanted to find words that would put the matter adroitly and delicately, but all the finer nuances of expression seemed to escape from his pen. After writing half a sheet he stared at it

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discontentedly, and then sat resting his head on his hand. The day had been sultry and airless. He had been at work from five in the morning, and it was now nearly seven. The pen slipped from his hand. He did not fall asleep, but he went off into a waking dream. Some lines he had read in an old poet came back to him:

"Open the temple gates unto my love;
Open them wide, that she may enter in."note

A look of beatitude overspread his face. Suddenly he was startled by the sound of a dull loud report, speedily followed by a second and a third. He thrust his unfinished letter into the drawer of his desk and went to the outer door of the assay-room. Roby stood talking to the mine blacksmith a few paces away.

"What are these reports, Roby? Are they making another grave?" asked Victor.

"Ah, Mr. Purser, in the midst o' life we are in death!"note answered Roby, with the strong nasal accent habitual to him when giving expression to any serious sentiment. Then he explained that one of the Connell children had died of fever that morning. The father and another miner were now employed in blasting out a grave in the little cemetery, which was within half a mile of the mine, where the ground was so adamantine that it could not be dug out in notethe ordinary way. Victor had recognised the sounds, having heard them on a few occasions previously. This process of forcing a last resting-place from the blue clay slate rock had always seemed to him a rather horrible preface to being buried. Just then, when he was lost in blissful waking dreams, the thought of death struck a sudden chill to his heart. He was turning impatiently away from Roby, who seemed inclined to improve the occasion, when Michael reached the door of the assay-room with a message for the purser. It was to the effect that Circus Bill's trap with passengers from Broombush Creek was going to start at daybreak, so as to reach Nilpeena in time for the early train to town.

"I thoht, as ye were going, sor, to-morrow, ye moight loike to start early, so as to save the waiting at Nilpeena. 'Tis a sthrange droiver, Circus himself being laid up at Broombush wid a touch

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av sunsthroke. It's glad oi am he washn't tuk wid the same on the way from Nilpeena, for the sake av the lady that come to Shtonehouse."

"Has a lady come to Stonehouse?" asked Victor. "At what time? Have you heard who she is?"

Michael, who spoke of the new arrival solely because he divined that anything which related to Stonehouse was of passing importance to the young purser, was not surprised to find the eager interest with which he received the news. He, however, knew nothing beyond the fact that a lady had arrived by Circus Bill's trap half an hour before the mail-coach came in. As soon as Victor had despatched the little man to ask the driver to secure a seat in the early trap, he went across to Stonehouse. When he reached the house he found an air of unusual bustle pervading it. Shung-Loo was flitting about the place with as near an approach to a smile as his face ever wore. Bridget was hurrying in and out between the kitchen and dining-room; Euphemia had a large basket of flowers in the veranda, which she was arranging in vases on the little wicker table. When Victor joined her she had a great deal to tell him. Her aunt, Mrs. Murray, had come from Ouranie, Doris's old home. She had all at once made up her mind when she found that Mr. Challoner's illness was likely to be a lingering one.

"She has come to stay and help noteto nurse father, and see that mother gets plenty of sleep, and that Doris does not do too much. Aunt thinks notethat she is looking rather too pale."

"But there is nothing wrong with her. She was well this morning," interrupted Victor anxiously.

"Oh yes; she isn't ill, you know," answered Euphemia placidly. "But she went to see Mamienote Connell–that little girl who has been so ill–and found she had died. Then aunt came and brought a lot of things from Ouranie. . . . Doris is in her own room now, reading over and over a little noteold book that belonged to her mother. You can always tell when she thinks of her mother . . . she sits so still and her eyes get so large and dark."

A summons to dinner put an end to Euphemia's confidences. As the patient had fallen into a sound sleep, all the household assembled at this meal. Victor was duly introduced to the

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new-comer–a bright, active little woman, who treated her journey of over two hundred miles to the Salt-bush Country as if it were an afternoon drive.

"You all look as if you needed twelve hours' sleep on end," she said, glancing at her sister and the two girls. "I think I had better send you all to bed in an hour after dinner."

But there was a general outcry against this. One who had come off a long fatiguing journey could not be allowed to sit up on any pretence.

"It is you who must go to bed soon after dinner, auntie, and in my little room," said Euphemia.

But Doris objected to this proposition. Her room was much larger; besides, there was a couch in noteit on which she herself could sleep very well. On this Victor joined in.

"I know it is not notein human nature to sleep in three rooms at once; but as my room will be empty, I think it ought to have the honour of Mrs. Murray's presence."

He went on to explain that as he intended to start by Circus Bill's trap, which was going to Nilpeena in the small hours of the morning, it would be more convenient for him to sleep on the bunk in his office, where he would be nearer Scroog's place, from which the trap started. As Victor made this announcement he met Doris's eyes with a half inquiring, wistful little look in them, which made him thrill with pleasure.

"Tell me, Doris, are you sorry I am going away for a few days?" he asked a little later, with all the egotism of a young lover.

They had adjourned to the drawing-room, where Mrs. Murray, instead of taking it easy, as behoved a wearied traveller, began to write a long letter to her husband. Mrs. Challoner had returned to the sick room, and Euphemia was engaged in rifling the numerous vases she had recently filled of some of the white flowers they contained.

"Yes. I am a little sad even when you go away to the mine in the morning. I always look after you, though you do not see me."

"Oh, you perfect little darling!" murmured the young man in a voice made tremulous with joy.

"How strange it would be," continued Doris, "if one of us two died like that little––"

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"Oh, don't, Doris–don't speak or think of anything so dreadful!" said Victor, in an imploring voice.

She was silent for a little time, and then said softly:

"But, Victor, you must think of it one day. Even if we lived here a hundred years, what a tiny speck of time it is notecompared to the thousands and thousands that have come and gone! Everything and everyone goes away after a little time. That is why I try so often to think what the other world can be like."

"But, my own Doris, is not this world enough for you just now? Why think of any other?"

"I must think of another, because notemamma is no longer here," she answered, fixing her noteeyes, wide opened, on his face. Then, after a little pause: "Did you ever lose anyone that you loved very much?"

"No. I can hardly remember my father."

"Ah, that is the reason that you like to think only of this life. If you had lost anyone that you loved as I noteloved mother, you could not help trying to imagine day by day where she is, notewhat she is doing or saying. You could not help feeling oftentimes that she still thinks about you. Oh, how much I notewould like to know whether the flowers that she loved so much grow there, and whether "the river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God,"note looks to her like the waters of Gauwari! Perhaps you do not like me to talk like this to you?"

"Oh yes, Doris. Only–I know I am a selfish wretch–I would rather that thoughts of me pushed nearly all others out of your mind."

"So they often do–all but mother. And to-day, more than ever, I keep thinking of her all the time. First, when I went down to see little Mamie Connell, and found that she had gone away in the night––"

"Gone away?" repeated Victor wonderingly.

"Yes; that is what really happens, you know, when people die. The mother was crying in a loud way. I don't know why, but it made me feel almost unkind to her, when she made such a noise. She kept on sobbing because there was no priest. As if that could

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matter, when the poor dear child went home to God!"

"Oh, you little Protestant! You must know that I am of Mrs. Connell's way of thinking. If I were dying I should be very uncomfortable if there were no priest to look after me. Not that there need be the same fear for poor little Mamie."

"But why should you want a priest?"

"Because he would, I hope, help to make things a little straight for me."

"Wouldn't you feel sure that you were going to heaven?"

"No–not at all."

"Then what do you think might become of you?"

"Dearie, I would rather not say. I am awfully weak in theology. Besides, I want to hear you talk. I want to hear about the rest of your day."

"When I saw Mamie she made me think so much of darling mother. I felt as if I wanted to go to her that moment."

"Oh, Doris! didn't you think of me?"

"Not just then; I could only think of mother. As I stood at the door of Mrs. Connell's house, telling her I would bring some of the flowers that Mamie used to like so much, a trap passed by quickly, with a lady on the front seat. I thought she looked very much like Mrs. Murray, only I couldn't be sure. Then when I reached home here she was. She brought a boxful of things from Ouranie: some of the early fruits; flowers from the garden, and grasses from the banks of the lake; pictures and books. One of them is full of little old French rhymes that mother used to sing to me when I was a small child."

"Tell me some of them, if you please–that is, if you remember any."

"Oh yes; I shall never forget them. They are old berceuses with words strung together that have a sleepy sound, like this:

" "Som, som, som, bèni, bèni, bèni, bèni,
Bèni noted'endacon,
Som, som, bèni noted'endacon." "note

Doris crooned the words in a low, monotonous voice.

"That sounds very dreamy and wise," said Victor. "Perhaps I should not ask what "Som, som, som," means."

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"It is like asking sleep to come. They are not all nonsense-words; they are chants to make you happy and good. "Come, Sleep," say some of them, "and keep the child safe and quiet. Mother has to work, and father has to go into the woods." Often these little chansons note come to me when I am asleep, just as mother used to sing them. Sometimes the little "Som, soms" promise to give a good child towns and villages–even Constantinople."

"That ought to make any right-thinking baby fall fast asleep, I should think."

Doris smiled, and then said:

"The one I like best begins, "Dors, dors, doux oiseau de la prairie." "

"Say it in English, like a good child."

" "Sleep, sleep, gentle bird of the plain; take thy repose, red-breast, take thy repose; God will awake thee in His good time. Sleep is at the door, and says: "Is there not here a little infant–a little infant sleeping in its cradle–a little infant swaddled–a little infant reposing on a blanket of wool?" Here––" "

"Doris, do you think there will be enough to make this cross for Mrs. Connell?" said Euphemia, approaching the two with a basketful of white flowers, chiefly moss roses, marguerites, and jasmine.

"Yes–more than enough, I think," answered Doris; "only I hardly know how to make it. Mrs. Connell said she would like the flowers made into a cross," she said, turning to Victor, who sat looking at Euphemia, wondering whether any providential circumstance would arise to call her away.

On hearing Doris's explanation he, of course, volunteered his help. He went out into Mr. Challoner's workshop, and soon returned with a cross formed by nailing together two small flat boards, fashioned according to the proportions of a small gold cross which he had on his watch-chain. He watched Doris covering this artless wooden cross with flowers, fastening them by the stems with a narrow white ribbon, while he handed her the flowers and Euphemia looked on.

"Sing me another little "Som, som," " said Victor, after some moments, half resenting Doris's absorption in this pathetic little task.

Then in a low, half-mysterious voice Doris crooned the words:

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" "Dedans le bois, dedans le bois,
Savez-vous ce qu'il y a?
Il y a un arbre
Le plus beau des arbres;
L'arbre est dans le bois.
Oh, oh, oh, le bois
Le plus joli de tous les bois!" "note

At last Victor was forced to go and pack his portmanteau. When he returned to say good-bye Mrs. Murray's letter was finished and she sat talking with the two girls. Doris had completed her last offering to the little one who had "gone away" so early that morning. It lay on the table, the great symbol of renunciation, wreathed with soft snow-white blooms. Doris held it up for Victor to see; but he hardly looked at it–his eyes were fixed on her face.

There was no further opportunity for speaking to her alone; but as he bade her good-bye, she held out both hands to him, her face irradiated with an expression of confiding love, which made him feel that it was worth while to go away for the sake of such a look.

It was after ten when he reached his office. He had to write up some entries in the cash-book. He began to nod over this, and it was with difficulty he kept himself awake till the work was finished. At last the books were put away, and merely removing his coat, waistcoat, and boots, Victor threw himself on the bunk with a travelling-rug over his feet.

But just as he was falling asleep, he recollected that he had the manager's key, and that he would be gone hours before Trevaskis returned. With an effort he roused himself to consider how he should leave it in a place of safety. He relit the lamp, put the safe-key in an official envelope addressed to Trevaskis, locking it in the right-hand drawer of the table at which he habitually sat. Then he wrote a memo. to say that he was taking advantage of Circus Bill's trap going so early, so as to save waiting at Nilpeena; that he had locked the safe-key in the drawer, and that the key thereof was enclosed in this memo. He took both to the manager's office, going to it through the intermediate store-rooms. He took his bunch of office-keys with

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him, expecting that he should have to unlock at least two of the three doors which intervened between his own and the manager's office; but they were all unlocked, and feeling sure that Trevaskis must have left them thus for some reason of his own, Victor left them as he found them.

This excursion wakened him up so thoroughly that it was close upon twelve when he dozed off again. Before he could be said to have fallen asleep he was roused by some movement; but he was so loath to get up the second time that he did not move till he distinctly heard the sound of a key being thrust into the lock of the safe.