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5. Chapter V.

Solomon Olsen's general store was a great resort for the miners' wives on Saturday afternoons. On these occasions the weekly bills were paid, and supplies for the coming week were bought. Those who had young babies nourished them with frank unreserve, sitting by the counters on each side of the store, and giving their orders after a very leisurely fashion. They filled up the pauses between their purchases with such gossip as the Colmar Mine afforded them, after they had exhausted the more engrossing events of a domestic nature.

"And did you hear that Jack Teague was sent to the right-aboutnote because 'e missed two shifts through illness?" one would say. "Yes, when 'e went back at 'leven at night, the cap'en said to 'e, "'Ump your bluey and clear." But 'tis not so easy clearin', I think, wi' a wife and mother-in-law and three youngsters."

"The manager be getten' more and more onreasonable," another would respond. "There's my boy Jan, as hard-workin' a chap as ye'll find. And the cap'en 'e come along t'other day. "Jan," sez 'e, "thee beest a pretty man for an 'ammer. Thee beat'st just like a thing.note Can't note'e thump better 'n that?" " and so forth.

On this special Saturday afternoon, however, the great theme was the conduct of Dr. Magann, the mine-doctor, as he was generally called, being in point of fact almost entirely supported by the miners, who, since he settled at Colmar, were pledged to pay him so much weekly out of their wages. A few days previously a woman had been taken suddenly ill, but the doctor, when sent for, was found to be too unwell to leave his bed. So the patient had died "without the help of no doctor," as the people phrased it.

"Mind you, I don't say as he'd do she a mossel o' good," one voluble woman explained. "But it don't seem right to 'ave a

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post-mortor affair on a decent female in noteher own 'ouse, as if she was notean unbeknown tramp, as died through the wisitation o' Gord A'mighty through bein' drunk four week on end."

"And what is this deep larned complaint the doctor said at th' inkwest she died of?" said another, who had opened the weekly paper she had called for at the post on her way to the store.

"noteHannererism,"note said a neighbour, peeping over her shoulder. "Who'd a-thought that 'ad anything to do with the 'eart. It's just wonderful 'ow them doctors notefind things out, and calls 'em by names as nobody would think of."

"Indeed, as for that, Mrs. Penlevin," said the woman who held the newspaper, "I notethink they inwents diseases, the same as they does pills. It don't seem reasonable as they can tell so many things from another as goes on quite inside o' folkses."

"Well, but that's why they cut open frogs and corpses, Mrs. Piersen, so as to find out the proper nateral name o' hillnesses," returned Mrs. Penlevin slowly.

"Indeed, then I can't believe as 'ow the karkiss o' a toad, be it iver so wise as some people says, can learn them so much about the inside o' a Christian," said another sceptic. "An' if we're to be cut hopen, and put in the papers for dyin' peaceable to 'ome, I don't see much good in paying for a doctor. Why, Miss Lindsay, as comes about to us, does three times more good, wi' 'er flowers, an' jellies, an' sweet looks."

"Oh, she's a hanjull, she is, and no mistake!" said a dark-faced little woman, who was nursing a two-months-old baby near the open door. "And there she is a-comin' at this moment," she added, looking out.

Doris had alighted from the pony-chaise and given the reins to Shung-Loo. When she came into the store she stood speaking to one and all of the women assembled there. Mr. Olsen was at one counter, his wife at the other. Solomon Olsen was a large, thick-set man, with a swarthy complexion, a big hooked nose, black hair and whiskers, a retreating forehead, and restless black eyes swimming in fat. He had a loud, voluble utterance and an invincible self-assurance. He looked as if his whole heart and soul were perpetually engrossed in small, mean plots for making

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more money than he ought out of his fellow-creatures. Yet on entering the little sitting-room behind the store, the first object that caught the eye was a faded picture on a parchment, hanging on the eastern wall. Above this was inscribed, in half-erased Hebrew characters, the words "From this side blows the breath of life."note It was a picture of Jerusalem, that wonderful old ruined city, which has so long lain desolate in the sight of "all that passed by,"note and yet towards which, through the long ages, so many wistful eyes are turned from far-separated and alien lands in prayer, and at the hour of death, looking for the fulfilment of the words that were traced under this picture, also in Hebrew: "Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate; I the Lord have spoken it, and noteI will do it."note

It was opposite this curious old-world picture, with its mystical inscriptions, that Doris waited for Mrs. West, who was making a very slow recovery from the nervous illness which had followed the shock of her husband's terrible death and the total destruction of her home and all that it contained.

Doris had been to see her several times previously. The last occasion was five days before this, and Mrs. West had then expressed a great wish to accept her brother's invitation to stay with him for some time at the Halfway House, the inn which he had opened midway between Colmar and Broombush Creek. But the passenger van was always so crowded with rowdy men, and she and Dick were so weak and easily shaken, that she could not yet undertake the journey. Poor little Dick had an attack of low fever hanging about him, which did not lay him up quite, but grew worse and better from day to day with lingering tediousness.

"He's laying down just now, and don't seem quite hisself, poor little man!" his mother said, as she came into the sitting-room. "He keeps on talkin' o' the fire, and the smoke being in note'is heyes. I'm most sure if I could get him away the change 'ud do 'im good."

"That is partly why I came to-day," said Doris. "I know of a good way to get you over to your brother's. An old friend of ours, Mr. Kenneth Campbell––"

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"The old man as sells awful religious books, and carries on so about people's souls and the Sabbarth day, is it, Miss Lindsay?" said Mrs. West, with a slight accent of alarm.

"Yes, he sells books, and often gives them away," answered Doris, who hardly recognised Kenneth under this description. "The day before yesterday he took poor Mick Doolan, and another man who had been very ill of fever, across to the hospital at Broombush Creek. He has a nice roomy waggon, covered in, and when I told him about you and little Dick, he said at once he would take you to your brother's."

"I know 'e's very good and kind like, and always ready to do things for everybody as is in trouble; but it just seems to me as if I couldn't bear the thought of being spoke to about my soul, and what's to become o' me in the other world, Miss Lindsay," said the woman tearfully. "You see, I'm so hard put to just now in this one, and it's so dismal about notepoor West, for if it's all true ole Campbell says, my pore man 'ud 'ave a bad time of it altogether, for I know he wasn't very sober. But I do think as the Lord 'ud take into account 'is notebein' burnt to death, and not go on at 'im with the same like––"

"Oh, don't think about such dreadful things, please don't," said Doris in a pained voice. As she had never been taught anything regarding eternal torment, and had read very little on the subject, she had but a vague comprehension of Mrs. West's meaning.note "Poor dear Kenneth would never think of talking in a way that would worry you. He is ready to take you to-morrow afternoon."

"An' bein' Sunday, too. Oh, Miss Lindsay, 'e could never keep 'is tongue off o' me."

"Well, I will come with you; you'll see that poor old Kenneth is just the soul of kindness," said Doris, half laughing and half vexed.

Mrs. West's face brightened at once.

"Oh, if you come, Miss Lindsay–but isn't it a deal too much, a young lady like you to come in that waggon, and all for me? Poor little Dick 'ull be that pleased; but it's just too much trouble."

"It's no trouble at all. I thought of taking you over in my pony-trap before, but Mrs. Challoner did not like me to go with only

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Shung to take care of me–the working men are so rude to the Chinesenote–and I want you and Dick to be safe away before we leave. Yes, we are to go a day or two after Christmas. Mr. Challoner is well enough to travel. The change to a cooler climate will do him good, and he wants to see his brother before he sails."

Mrs. West was incoherently voluble as to the sorrow that would be felt at Doris's departure, and, indeed, noteof all the Stonehouse household. Then, as Doris rose to go, she said with sudden animation:

"There, now, I was as near as could be to forgettin' agin to ast you about Mr. Fitz-Gibbon. I've noteheered so many rummers. Is it true, Miss Lindsay, as he went right off in a wool or wheat ship to England or the Cape?"

At the mention of Victor's name a quick tinge of colour mounted in Doris's face; but there was no perceptible change in her voice as she answered:

"Yes, it seems he sailed from Port Pellew two weeks ago to-day."

"And never said nothin' to nobody about it?"

"He spoke about the ships at Port Pellew to the manager the day before he left; but we think he could not have known then, and that it may have been some sudden message he got on the way."

"Well, it may seem conceited, but I can't believe some'ow as he meant to go like that, when he started without saying a word to me. I don't know as you knew him much, Miss Lindsay. He was boardin' at the Arms with us till we was burnt out; and, of course, you know as he saved poor little Dick from the flames. A nicer, notekinderhearted young gentleman never lived. Not a day after the accident but he come in to see me and Dick. Last Wednesday was a fortnight the last time he come. "I'm going to town for a few days," sez he. "Can I do anything for you, Mrs. West?" he says; and then he turns to Dick, and Dick climbs up on 'is knees. Blesh you, ma'am, that little chap was friendlier with him the first day he come to the Arms than ever he got to be with 'is own poor par, who 'adn't what you might call a sweet temper at no time. And we was out of a cook, and the way he would put up with everything, and smile and be noteso pleased! . . . "Well, Dick," he

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says that Wednesday, "what shall I bring you from town?" "A little cock to crow in the morning," says Dick; and then Mr. Fitz-Gibbon says: "Is there jam on your fingers, Dick? No, there isn't; nor butter, nor treacle. You're a wonderful young man this afternoon. Now, here's a noteletter for you; hold it tight in your hand so, and don't open it till I'm gone, and give it to your ma to take care on." I just thought it was his pleasant way to amuse the child, but what do you think it was, Miss Lindsay?"

Miss Lindsay admitted her inability to guess, but she was listening with a look of vivid pleasure.

"Well, it was a five-pound note inside o' a little henvelope. No, I'm sure he never knowed he was going that there journey, and why should he? I don't know whether it's on account o' hillness and bein' notenervous through notemisfortunes, Miss Lindsay, but several nights since I hear this tale I've lay awake hours and hours, wonderin' if nothin' hasn't gone amiss, or if it isn't one o' them strange things as 'appens sometimes." Mrs. West's voice sank mysteriously as she said this.

"I think it is perhaps because you are feeling ill," said Doris, after a little pause. "What we think is, that he got a message from someone at Nilpeena; that he was wanted at the Cape of Good Hope, and that, as he knew a wheat-ship was going there direct, he went by it. He posted a letter to the manager from Port Pellew, and very likely he sent some others that went astray. I know several of our letters were lost at Buda."

Doris was going over in detail the laboured explanation that had been arrived at by several people in succession, in face of an inexplicable event. A loss her mother had sustained of some important documents, through the carelessness of the local postmaster, whose children were found to have amused themselves with opening and tearing up letters, was fresh in Doris's recollection. Some similar catastrophe appeared to her to be the clue to Victor's strange silence, when, instead of going to Adelaide as he had arranged, he went and took ship to England or the Cape of Good Hope, no one was quite sure which.

A few days after Victor's supposed departure, before anything had taken place to make it apparent that his plans were not

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carried out, Trevaskis had gone to Stonehouse to ask after Challoner. In the course of conversation with Mrs. Challoner, he had casually mentioned that it appeared Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, instead of going to Adelaide, had taken a trip to Port Pellew; that he had received a letter from him, posted from there.

"Perhaps he'll take a trip to the Cape or to England from there," he added, half laughingly.

Mrs. Challoner asked him what made him think so.

"Oh, it just struck me, when I got his letter posted from there, enclosing some papers without saying a word as to his altered arrangements. The day before he went away he said something about these sailing-ships. . . . But, at any rate, I'll know in a day or two, for there was something I wanted to find out, and I sent him a letter, in notecare of the principal hotel-keeper of the place."

Trevaskis all through maintained an easy, unperturbed tone, as if there would be nothing after all to surprise or alarm one if Victor had taken this extraordinary course.

Three days later the manager again called at Stonehouse.

"It is as I thought about Mr. Fitz-Gibbon," he said, after a little talk on indifferent subjects. "I got a letter from the landlord of the principal inn to-day. The young gentleman who had stopped a night at his place sailed on Saturday last by one of the ships, and in his room he had found a little packet, which he enclosed to me. That little packet held three of Mr. Fitz-Gibbon's letters and two of his visiting-cards. So there's notenow no doubt of it. I hope he'll have a pleasant voyage."

"But why should he go like that, without telling any of us? Did Mr. Fitz-Gibbon say anything to you girls about going to England shortly?" said Mrs. Challoner, turning to Doris and Euphemia, who were sitting near her and listening to all that passed.

"He spoke of going about the same time that we did to meet his mother," said Doris, after a little pause.

A sudden light came into the manager's face.

"Ah, that's it, you may depend. Perhaps she came as far as the Cape, and, who knows? he may have written letters that have gone astray. I expect his uncle may know more. I've written to him all I know, and sent him the landlord's letter, and the only

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one that came to my hands from him."

So the evidence had been gradually built up. In the midst of the perplexity that often overcame Doris when she thought over this strange, sudden voyage, this firm conviction was her stay–Victor must have written to her, to explain all, and the letter must have been lost. She had not at any time been actively unhappy, but within the last two days a moral and physical languor had fallen upon her. She ate very little, her head often felt heavy, her sleep was uncertain and full of disturbed dreams. On the previous night she had been in a curiously clairvoyant state. The night was warm and the wind high, swaying the avenue trees around Stonehouse ceaselessly with weird melancholy sounds that awakened vague misgivings of she knew not what indefinable ills. She fell asleep and woke up, again and again, repeatedly dreaming evil dreams. She saw things as they actually were in life, without any of the haze or uncertainty of visions. Faces and tones floated round her of all the people she had ever known–a strange zone of foreboding sounds, of countenances averted, and fixed on someone who was lying motionless on a low couch underground. She could not get near this couch, and she did not see the face of the one who was lying on it; but gradually the conviction grew upon her noteit was Victor. And when she awoke, feelings of dread and uneasiness for the first time took possession of her. They were now revived by Mrs. West's apprehensions.

"I can't think as 'ow everythink should 'appen together like that," she said in answer to Doris's supposition about letters having gone astray. "Do you know, Miss Lindsay, whether he was taking any gold with him to town?"

Doris had heard nothing of his doing so. Why should such an event, if it had occurred, have any significance?

"I dunno," said Mrs. West slowly. "There's so many wicked things done for the sake o' gold.note When my brother-in-law Olsen told me as Mr. Fitz-Gibbon 'ad gone off secret like and sudden, I up and said at once, "There's suthin' at the bottom of this as isn't right. Perhaps someone is makin' believe in the matter because of some wickedness or another." "

The words kept ringing in Doris's ears as she drove slowly

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back. They so completely engrossed her thoughts that it was not until she had been in the house for some little time she remembered that she was to have called to see Mrs. Connell's elder little girl, who was now convalescent, and who looked forward to her visits from day to day with eager expectation. Doris could not bear the thought of Norah's disappointment. As it was now close on sunset, she could not stay any time, but she hastened down with a little coloured picture-book, which made the child very happy.

As Doris was returning, Spot behaved in a strange way. He ran up and down alongside the iron passage sniffing and barking, and absolutely refusing to leave it. Doris went out of her way and followed Spot along the passage for a little time, trying to coax him to follow her. She came opposite to one of the little square windows. At this Spot jumped up and began to bark with noisy joy. Doris looked in. At the same moment someone rushed to the window violently and drew down a blind. But not before a sight met her eyes so strange and incrediblenote that her brain grew dizzy and her eyesight failed her.