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Volume I.




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1. Chapter I.

As Miss Paget left the library after seeing that her father's armchair was in the right position and the Venetian blinds adjusted according to the morning light, she glanced at the huge bronze clock that stood on a huge bronze stand in the hall, and saw that it was only half-past nine. At ten she expected a visitor, and ever since she awoke at half-past five she had been so preoccupied with the thought of his arrival that more than once before this she had made quite sure the hour was at last about to strike.

Seeing that she was in error, the lady went back to the library. It was a handsome large room, lined with dark oaken bookcases from ceiling to floor, relieved at intervals with arched recesses lined with mirrors, before which stood vases containing small palms and other evergreen shrubs. This was an arrangement that, like many others which characterized the house, had been carried out according to Miss Paget's own design after she became an heiress and bought Lancaster House.note All the people who visited this mansion thought it was a happy contrivance to relieve the severity of so learned-looking a room with the comparative frivolity of mirrors and foliage. Miss Paget shared the opinion, and often had the shrubs changed, so that the effect did not sink into one of notethese foregone conclusions that after a time make no further claim on the eye. But neither the æsthetic nor the intellectual aspects of the chamber drew a glance or a thought from her at this moment. She had merely returned to see whether there was anything more she might do to anticipate her father's wants. She did not wish to be called away at a critical moment from an interview to which she looked forward with more anxiety than she was willing to admit even to herself. For


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some time back her father had got into the habit of depending on her to guard his notes from straying and his authorities from being misplaced, in addition to exercising a sedulous care as to his physical well-being.

Mr. Paget was an ex-professor of the dead languages, and a man whose mental horizon was bounded by illusions. Thus, he firmly believed that he was of a painfully sensitive temperament, and that he was devoting the leisure which now embraced his whole life to the cause of unendowed research. In reality his sensitiveness went no deeper than an excessive antipathy to everything he found disagreeable. As for his studies, they were very versatile; and resulted now and then in one of those compilations that are widely reviewed, sometimes bought, and occasionally read. It is well known that in Australia an M.A. of Cambridge can always pass for a man of great erudition, as long as he refrains from explaining wherein his learning consists. As most of the people with whom he comes in contact are profoundly indifferent on the point, there is not much temptation for him to take society into his confidence in the matter. And thus it was that Mr. Paget was invariably spoken of as a man of colossal parts, of profound research, of wide and disinterested learning. As a matter of fact, he was a man of wide reading and some culture, with the smallest modicum of original capacity and a constitutional disinclination to real effort.note

But the reality of things has often no perceptible influence on the masquerade they cut in the tragi-comedy of life. And so it behoved Miss Paget to take her father and his beliefs as seriously as her own identity and the vagaries of the climate to which she had returned after travelling with him for nearly two years in the Old World.

"It is Egyptology that papa is so much interested in just now. . . . He will like to have these big German booksnote near him," she thought, placing certain volumes on the pedestal table. Then she consulted the thermometer that stood upon it, and seeing this registered only 69 degrees,note she thought it prudent to ring for the housemaid and ask her to put a little more coal on the fire. After that she went into the drawing-room and took a strip of crewel-work out of a little Eastern basket full of soft bright skeins of filosellenote and balls of pale yellow floss silk. She sat on a low rocking-chair, threaded her needle, and put a tiny silver thimble


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on her white tapered finger. As soon as she was equipped in this way for serious and sustained industry, she dropped the strip of crewel-work in her lap and leant back in an engrossing reverie. It is not easy to render a reverie into speech. The best and most that can be done is to give a free translation of the thoughts that follow one another in swift or slow succession.

"A girl–no, a woman of twenty-nine and a bit–and a young man notefive months short of twenty-one.note It is a story ready made for old gossips and old friends–one of the situations for which the comedians lie in wait–and yet how little I would care if I were only sure. . . . But don't I know well how it was from beginning to end?"

Arrived at this point in her musings, a slow smile broke over Miss Paget's face. It all came up before her like a picture, the first time she and her fellow-passenger of less than twenty-one summers had spoken to each other. It was the third day after leaving Plymouth, and she was half reclining on a couch in the big saloon full of gilding and mirrors and velvet-covered impossible chairs.note Enter a tall young man with coal-black hair and dark blue Irish eyes, searching for some missing object.

"Is it this book you are looking for?" she asked, holding up a volume of poems.

It was, but he begged her to keep it if she had been reading it.

"I never read poetry," she answered, and the next moment she was sorry for having told the truth. He looked so undisguisedly amazed. She remembered having glanced languidly at the title-page, and seeing "V. Fitz-Gibbon, from his mother," written in an elegant hand. "A boy of this age always thinks a woman who is quite different from his mother must be a monster," she thought.

"Not on board ship, I suppose you mean," he said, drawing near her. Then he added, not waiting for an answer: "I hope this rough weather has not made you ill, like most of the other ladies."

"No, I notewould be quite well," she answered, "if it were not for the magnificent mummies of Dehr-el-Bahari."note

He opened his eyes wide, and then laughed the ready, ringing laugh of a light-hearted boy. He had half an hour before overheard an impressive description from her father noteon this


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subject for the third time since coming on board. Miss Paget hardly expected that he would understand the allusion or take it all in so quickly. She spoke, as she rarely did, on the spur of the moment, finding some relief in a spontaneous confession from the strained feeling of irritation the subject had begun to produce.

"You see, it is really a very important discovery, and papa is so much interested in these things," she said apologetically.

"Yes; and these noteare in family groups of from six or seven, each mummy with a valuable MS. inside him," said the young man, his eyes dancing with merriment.

"Oh, for Heaven's sake! don't you begin, too!" she said, raising her hands imploringly. They were good friends from that moment. He declared she was malingering by stopping in the saloon, when there was such a fresh breeze blowing and the sea one mass of immense green waves fringed with foam. They found a sheltered corner in which they established their deck-chairs, and when they were tired of talking they watched the waves. The weather was very rough till they got into the Mediterranean. During this time Mr. Paget was mostly in his own cabin. With the exception of his daughter, hardly a lady was to be seen on deck. All conspired to make the new acquaintances into intimate friends. Miss Paget was slightly acquainted with the young man's mother, though oblivious of his existence till they met on board the Mogul.note

And then an unparalleled event in Miss Paget's history took place. She fell in love, absolutely and heartily, with the young man whom she had from the first treated as a boy, to whom a woman of her age could talk with the frank kindliness of an elder sister. For a time she resisted the conviction with wondering incredulity. Even now she tried to make herself believe that her affections were not so very deeply pledged.

"I always liked nice boys," she mused. "Their faces are not spoiled by cynical airs of knowingness, or of being used up, or any of the disagreeable tell-tale lines that make the faces of male creatures disagreeable to look on as they advance in life. . . . And what fun and good talks we had in notethese long charmed nights, flooded with white moonlight, as we glided through the


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Mediterranean and up the Red Sea. . . . And then the delicious excursions together at the ports of call,note among the crowds of Arabs, Mahommedans, and Parsees, and rascally traders. Shall I ever forget the king cocoanut we drank in the fruit-market at Colombo, and the furious rush back to the quay, notein a double 'ricksha, laden with white ivory elephants? White elephants–were these a good omen?note Then came the last evening, when we sighted Kangaroo Island. I felt the tears rising fast noteto my eyes. . . . I suppose they got into my voice as I said: "I am so sorry the voyage has come to an end!"

" "Are you really sorry?" he said, bending so as to see my face better.

" "But, of course, we need not give up being friends," I added. I should not have said it.

" "Are we to be only friends, then?" he said; and hardly waiting to think what I said, I answered:

" "Why, what more could we be?"

"Still less should I have said that. . . . And yet it was an exquisite moment, come what may, when he told me that he loved me . . . that he wanted a deeper and a firmer bond than friendship. I can always recall him as he looked then . . . the sort of lover that girls dream and rave of in their teens. . . . Yes, he looks young, even for his age–not a line in his face, not a blurred contour; the perfect mouth, and white sculptural lids.

"It isn't, of course, such a very unheard-of thing for a woman to marry a man nine or ten years younger than herself. Only, when men are insignificant or commonplace, when they have plebeian noses and small pale eyes and sandy whiskers, what does it matter how young they are? . . . But Victor, with superb good looks and boyish youthfulness! It isn't that I feel old."

Miss Paget rose and looked at herself with a keen scrutiny in one of several square panels of mirror that were let into an ebony cabinet near her. Notwithstanding her twenty-nine years and a "bit," her appearance was exceedingly attractive. She was over the middle height, with a slender upright svelte figure. She had dark eyes and hair, and well-formed features. Her forehead was rather low; the mouth a trifle wide. But she had such exquisite teeth, that this was hardly a defect, more especially when she


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smiled. In talking she often did so, the predominant expression of her face being humorous. She had beautiful hands and feet, and was always extremely well dressed.

There was a knock at the door, and a servant announced "Mr. Victor Fitz-Gibbon." If Miss Paget had seen her own face as she turned to meet the young gentleman announced, she would have perceived that after all one's face in a tête-à-tête with noteitself is never seen at its best. We may love ourselves sincerely–some of us are happy enough to do so–yet the sight of our own cheeks and eyes never makes them flush or brighten as they spontaneously do at the sight of even a foe.

Needless to say, this was no foe who stood holding Miss Paget's hands and looking at her with a bright smile.

"It is good of you to let me come so early, Helen!"

"And it is good of you to want to come."

"Oh, as for that, my visit is not so very disinterested. You have not forgotten why I asked leave, when we parted, to come this morning?"

"But then, you know, it is two days since we parted on the Mogul."

"Well, what of that?"

"And two days on land, away from the shoreless waves and moonlight on the waters––"

"You are going to say something horrid–I see it in your eyes. Don't, Helen!"

"Well, I will not. But I have been sitting here for ages, going over it all. . . . Oh, Victor, it is better not. Don't tempt me."

"But that's just what I will–all I know. Helen, can you say honestly you don't care for me?"

"No, I cannot. I care for you a great deal–but––"

Suddenly, in spite of her apparent efforts to keep them back, the tears rose in Miss Paget's eyes–rose and overflowed, so that she was forced to wipe them away repeatedly.

"I am an ungrateful cat to cry at you in this way," she said, smiling through her tears.

"You are not crying at me, Helen. . . . You are crying because something troubles you. Won't you tell me what it is?"

"I would in a moment–only it is too ridiculous."




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"But, you know, we agreed many times on the Mogul that we liked ridiculous things better than gold, or wisdom, or fine society, or good books."

"Yes, when they are ridiculous things about other people. . . . But . . . well, we were always good comrades–I will tell you: I cried because I am so old."

"So old? How absurd! Just look at yourself."

They were still standing where they met, in front of that ebony cabinet whose mirrors afforded so many opportunities for seeing the reflection of one's face and form. But Miss Paget shrank from the ordeal. She resumed her seat on the rocking-chair, and motioned Victor to an armchair near her.

"Is it that you think I'm too young to know my own mind, Helen?" asked the young man.

"You may know it just now. . . . But in a year–even in a few months––Oh, Victor, I am afraid!"

There was real emotion in the lady's voice, yet her looks and words were not free from calculation. She knew that her upward, appealing glance, her bright dark eyes dimmed with tears, her doubts and hesitation, would not really rebuff her noteyoung suitor. And her consciousness of having purposely led him on to make a declaration of love rendered her all the more anxious to make him feel that she was not too lightly won.

"Then I'll have courage for both of us," said Victor.

"Yes, reckless courage belongs to early youth."note

"I promise you on my honour to grow older every day," returned the young man buoyantly.

A wistful little smile on the lady's face warned him this argument was a two-edged weapon, and he hastened to add:

"And, faith,note I'll grow wise faster even than I put on years."

"Let us talk of something else for a little, Victor. How does it feel, getting back to enter on a kingdom?"

"It feels as if Uncle Stuart and I would fight like the Kilkenny catsnote if we have much to do with each other. . . . But, Helen, do you remember my telling you of an old house notein North Terrace with a beautiful garden round it that my mother used to be so fond of?"

"Oh yes–Lindaraxa.note Mrs. noteSedley,note my old friend Mrs.


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Tillotson's youngest daughter, lived in it at one time."

"Well, it is to be sold: I want to buy it for my mother, and tell her nothing about it till she returns. I wish you would come and have a look at it with me––"

There was a sound of voices at the door. The handle was turned, and a large matronly-looking lady, something more than middle-aged, bustled in.

"My dear, I felt sure that if I came early enough I should find you at home," she said, kissing Miss Paget in an emphatic way. Then she made a rapid descent on Victor, seizing both his hands.

"My dear boy, how delighted I am to see you! I have a thousand questions to ask you, and to congratulate you on your good fortune–though, of course, it was a dreadful pity you were not in time to see your poor dear uncle Shaw. noteWhere did you get the sad news?"

"Not till I reached Albany."note

"And your dear mother, how long is she to stay in England?"

"Probably for six months."

"Well, and she'll find you with quite a fortune of your own. My dear, I'm afraid you'll turn all the young ladies' heads, and, really, don't you think it's time you stopped growing?"

"I haven't grown any for two years, Mrs. Tillotson," said Victor, colouring, half vexed and half amused at the imputation.

Miss Paget, though as a rule very self-possessed, also showed slight signs of confusion. Mrs. Tillotson, however, was one of those who go through life much too immersed in affairs to see what is going on under their eyes.

"Not for two years, my dear boy?" she cried, looking at Victor with beaming eyes, while she drew off her tight-fitting pale blue kid gloves, pulling them off like the skin of a banana, and disclosing very white plump hands, each finger loaded with costly rings up to the first joint.

"You see, my dear Helen, I mean to stay for a good long chat this time; we had only a few seconds together yesterday afternoon, and there is something I want to consult you about." This was in a sort of half-aside to Miss Paget; then, as if there had been no interruption in her discourse with him, Mrs. Tillotson turned to Victor, saying:




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"You surely don't mean that you were over six feet high at seventeen?"

"You are figuring me out nearly two years younger than I am," returned Victor, twirling the points of his young moustache.

"Oh dear! with what alarming speed boys and girls grow up! Haven't you noticed that, Helen?"

"But they are much more interesting grown up; don't you think so?" answered Miss Paget, smiling and trying to look unconcerned.

"Well, I don't know. They are safe over measles and chicken-pox; but then they begin to fall in love, and that's just as bad–often more dangerous."

"But don't you think it's rather pleasanter?" asked Victor, smiling, though mentally he decided that Mrs. Tillotson had the most infatuatednote tongue of any old woman in the universe.

"Now, Victor, tell me the truth," said Mrs. Tillotson solemnly. "Did you leave the Mogul, in your motherless condition, without getting into some sort of entanglement? Helen, do look how the boy blushes!"

Miss Paget, instead of looking, stooped to pick up her crewel-work and restore it to the basket.

"You know," continued Mrs. Tillotson, "the Mogul is noted even among the P. and O. boats for the number of engagements that get made on her. To be sure, very few of them come to anything."

Victor glanced at his watch and rose to go.

"Must you leave us?" cried Mrs. Tillotson; "and I've heard so little of your dear mother. I kept thinking of her as I walked across the square, and then, when I came in, here were you! Isn't that what they call theosophy,note or something occult?"

"Oh, I should call it friendship!" returned Victor good-humouredly.

At last he extricated himself from the embarrassing coils of Mrs. Tillotson's random talk. As he was leaving, he said to Miss Paget with unblushing gravity:

"By the way, may I look at that picture in the dining-room we were talking about?"

Miss Paget looked at him inquiringly. As her eyes met his a charming blush overspread her face. Then she asked Mrs. Tillotson to excuse her absence for a few minutes. When


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they were fairly in the dining-room she turned on Victor with laughing eyes.

"Now, you brazen boy, what picture do you mean?"

"You," he answered boldly. "Did you think I was going to be cheated out of even asking when I might see you again? Look here, Helen, can you come and look over Lindaraxa with me to-morrow?"

"Yes, I can."

"At what hour?"

"Oh, morning will be the best time. It is my day at homenote to-morrow. Say from eleven to twelve."

"Thank you so much; and in the meantime you will make up your mind to give me a definite answer to-morrow?"

note"Hark, that is a summons for me!" cried Miss Paget, as the shrill sound of an electric bell was heard.

Victor looked at her in amazement.

"Appuyez sur le bouton de sonnette deux fois pour la femme de chambre,"note said Miss Paget, laughing. "My father often wants me in the library about one thing or another, and when he rings for the parlour maid it is nearly always the prelude to my being summoned," she explained; "so, dear boy, I must go. Yes,note I promise. I will give you an answer noteto-morrow."

"And, Helen, will you notepromise that no dreadful old woman will turn up?"

"Oh, poor Mrs. Tillotson! you must not be cross at her; she is my habitual Providence,note when I want an unexacting companion."

note


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2. Chapter II.

Mr. Paget did not long detain his daughter in the library. But when she was disengaged, instead of hastening to join her old friend, Miss Paget went back into the dining-room, and stood looking out on the lawn in front, with wide-open, unseeing eyes. Outwardly she was calm; but, in reality, she felt more deeply moved than she had ever been in the whole previous course of her life. Often notehad it seemed to her that, in leaving the most impressionable years behind her, without ever having experienced any absorbing affection, a premature atrophy of the heart had fallen on her. But now?

Her girlhood had not been a happy one. She was Mr. Paget's only daughter by a second wife. When he married the second time he was a Professor in the Sydney University, with three daughters of a party-going agenote by his first wife. The three young ladies bitterly resented the intrusion of a step-mother. They were eager for amusements, for elegant dresses, and for all the forms of social distinction which cannot be enjoyed without money. And the new wife had very little of her own, beyond expectations from a wealthy grandfather. But he belonged to the hardy old stock of pioneers who live for ever. The young step-mother did not, however, live long to be an encumbrance on the family resources. She died a few months after Helen's birth, entrusting the bright-eyed little baby to the special charge of her eldest notestep-daughter–then in her eighteenth year! Perhaps none of the step-sisters were purposely unkind. Yet Helen's first conscious reflections regarding herself were that she was somehow one of the failures of life, and that she had entered it without any reasonable pretext. And as she reached the dividing-line between girlhood and womanhood existence for a time became


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harder. The family for the first time fell into money straits. Mr. Paget quarrelled with the noteCouncil of the University of Sydney,note and in a sudden access of wounded vanity he resigned his post. For four years he maintained his family as best he could, by private tuition.

The change from an assured position worth over a thousand a year,note to that of an unsuccessful coach, earning a few precarious hundreds per annum, was a sufficiently bitter one. To make matters worse, the ex-Professor's elder daughters were still all unmarried. Without money and without prospects, without minds to cultivate or amiability to fall back on, with thwarted ambitions and with a well-developed taste for the good things of the world, this stagnant period of straitened means was marked by sordid discomfort, discontent, and bickerings. And this crisis embraced Helen's life from seventeen to twenty-one–the most keenly susceptible and receptive years of a girl's experience. To be shabbily dressed; to go to parties and sit notevery often without a partner, watching other girls dancing; to see happiness only in the eyes of others, when Nature's blossoming time has come, and the physique is most exquisitely alive to enjoyment–this was Helen's notelot.

Then the fortunes of the family changed with a rush. Mr. Paget was successful in his application for a professorship in the Adelaide University.note A few months after settling there, the eldest Miss Paget rapturously accepted an offer of marriage from a wealthy man well advanced in years. His hair was white, and his pedigree unknown.note He had acquired the art of writing late in life, but had never learned to spell. There were many who gladly testified that he had been coachman to one of the few people who kept a carriage thirty years before, that he had established a small secondhand shop in one of the streets before it was made.note Be these matters as they notemay, one thing quite certain now was that he had seven thousand a year, and a handsome residence near town, adorned with pictures which never failed to excite in him a certain respect for art. He could not get over the notefact some of the smallest of them were the costliest.

The other two sisters married in less than a year afterwards–


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one a broker, the other a lawyer: both rather elderly, and both in prosperous circumstances.note

Two noteyears after these marriages, Helen's great-grandfather died, at the ripe age of ninety-seven, and her share of his wealth was £3,000 a year. Oh, if it had only come to her earlier! This was the first and most vivid feeling which the news of her fortune awoke. How it would have redeemed her youth from those haunting, miserable memories, which no later gifts of fortune could ever efface!

It is to be feared that neither a course of poverty nor a sudden access of riches is a phase of experience likely to raise an observant human being's opinion of mankind. Miss Paget had been subjected to both ordeals, and it cannot be denied that her nature had suffered from each extreme. Perhaps, if her training had been more delicate and loving, or if her disposition had been less noteegoistic, her estimate of the meanness and vanity and unscrupulous self-seeking that underlie society would have been less unsparing–her mistrust of her fellow-creatures less profound. And even as it was, her first impulses, after coming into her inheritance, were unselfishly generous. She resolved always to be kind and helpful to others–to abjure self-seeking, to be readily touched to action and sympathy by the tragic element in other lives. It needed but little persuasion to make her father give up his professional work and devote himself to those leisurely pursuits which figured in his imagination as laborious study and research. Thus, at notetwenty-fournote years of age Miss Paget found herself with a great deal of money to spend, servants to rule, patronage of various kinds to bestow, and with a father, a pseudo-sensitive bookish man, to shield from too promiscuous contact with a society whose less unselected contingencies had, in his estimation, a vulgar trick of being either wearisome or futile–often both.

Miss Paget took up the rôle of mistress of a household maintained on an opulent scale of expenditure, with vague longings for remoteness from the commoner aims of life. Her position increased her sense of individual responsibility, but lessened her opportunities for cleaving to ideal values. How can one reconcile


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theories of self-sacrifice with the careful supervision of dinner-parties embracing a score of courses and costly delicacies out of season? As mistress of a household of which her father was the head, her most intimate relations were chiefly with elderly friends rather than young people of her own choosing. Of course, elderly people really govern the world; its surface belongs to them; they make its laws and preach its sermons; endow its charities and order its dinners. No doubt this is as it should be, seeing that calm notedays and the processes of digestion, and the question of a future life are naturally of more moment to them than to the young. It is the instinct of man as he loses the ardour of youth to guard himself against enthusiasms and surprises, to become more acquiescent and prudent; and yet somehow it may be questioned whether to live much with old people is a good moral tonic for the young. At any rate, in Miss Paget's case the plan did not on the whole turn out a success. She became too wise for her years, notea little too consciously superior.

She had not been long at the head of a large establishment when she was preternaturally alive to all the small deceits and compromises, deepening into cant and duplicity, that enter so largely into the intercourse of average society. She was shocked when she saw women, who had not a good word for each other apart, rush on meeting into one another's arms; indignant when she realized how noteentirely in her circle hospitality was based on the give and receive principle. She became noteTimonesque,note and recorded her impressions notemuch too incisively.

But she was early taken to task and admonished as to her duties and obligations.

"You know, Helen, a girl at the head of a house like yours and papa's has to be as careful as if she were a married woman," her elder sister said to her solemnly, after some too vivacious speech regarding the perfidy of mankind in general.

"But she need not tell quite so many fibs–having the future of no baby-girls to think of–and surely she need not be as credulous as a married woman," returned the younger sister, with a little temper.

None of her brothers-in-law seemed to her very admirable


  ― 21 ―
apart from their faculty for making money. Indeed, most of the husbands she observed with her relentlessly keen eyes, at this period, were to her as figures in a melodrama, devoid of the more delicate and interesting nuances of human beings.

Nor did the unattached men of her acquaintance appear much more attractive. She was perhaps too much engrossed with her own individuality to be able to get at the best side of others. She was certainly too apt to give expression to her scornful estimate of people in general to become very popular. Yet she enjoyed balls and pretty dresses and expensive forms of noteamusement. But the contrast between the homage she now received and the neglect that had been her portion when she was much younger and more eager for pleasure poisoned her noteenjoyment; but she attributed her dissatisfaction to more impersonal grounds. In the midst of noteentertainments she liked to fancy herself haunted with a sense of anxiety for the greater happiness and morality of the race, to believe that it was the negation of living selfishly in luxurious ease, in a world crowded with lives paralyzed by poverty, which cast a shadow on her noteenjoyment, and gradually the more abstract motives really moved her. noteThese were days in which her thoughts were permeated with a strong feeling of responsibility for the welfare of others; especially after reading some tale of everyday suffering in the newspapers, or a vehement Socialistic pamphlet,note her whole mind would be possessed with the spoiled conditions of society.

At such times, everything around her furnished examples of the reckless waste of those who enjoyed without working; of the cramped, colourless lives of those who worked without enjoying. But how to take away power from despots, and gold from capitalists, and sorrow from the lives of women and children? Or, without aspiring to anything great or vague or general, how to rob even one social form of enjoyment of the mortifications of neglect, the stings of disappointment, and the barbs of social inequality?

When overtaken with these moods of rebellion against the existing order of things, it seemed to Miss Paget as if there was


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no form of recreation or pleasure known to her in society which had not some subtle elements of inequality that poisoned for many all the springs of enjoyment.

At balls and dances she hated to see the way in which girls who had finer dresses or danced better than others, or who were prettier, or wealthier, or enjoyed more social consideration, took full advantage of their good fortune without considering the residuum, who looked on with mingled feelings of humiliation and anger and scorn. Ah, how well she knew the situation!

"If men ask each other to dinner, they are careful to provide the very best fare. But girls ask one another to parties often only to be humiliated," she would sometimes say on the very scene of action. At other times she would point her moral afterwards.

"Did you notice the Ryerston girls the other evening at their fashionable cousin's birthday ball? They sat in a row like plucked pullets nearly the whole evening without dancing or conversation. They came in from the country, and were introduced to no one. . . . I do believe girls are often meaner than men, if that is possible."

Such speeches as these–and Miss Paget made many of them during the first year or so that she most frequented Adelaide society–do not endear a girl to either sex; they seldom make her popular with those she attacks, never with those whose side she takes.

At first she had a certain pride in saying that she did not get on well with young people. She would often notesit half an evening without accepting any of the partners that came round her for dances. "There are always some wallflowers. I want to take my proper share of the system," she would say; and from that she gradually passed on to the neglect of dancing, and devoted a large share of her time and thoughts to works of charity and self-improvement.

She threw herself into movements for social regeneration with the ardour of a neophyte who regards every effort for the moral improvement of society as a sort of root that infallibly promotes the growth of wings. But gradually she found that the "mutable rank-scented many,"note who are chosen with such pathetic belief as the most fitting noteobjects for the adventures of philanthropists,


  ― 23 ―
were for the most part impervious to ideas, and capable of being converted many times with little improvement in their social condition, and no change of morals. Gradually she was overtaken by something of that lassitude of mind, that notesemi-indifference to wide questions, which often falls on women whose ambition and capacity of thought are in advance of their power of action.note The pathos and struggles of other lives touched her less keenly. She lost her faculty of quick, generous anger against injustice and wrong-doing. It was all very funny and mixed up, she said; but what was one to do?

In the meantime she developed into the most charming of hostesses. In other matters she still retained the strain of an ambiguous nature. She was moved by the same influences to conflicting issues, according to the mood of the moment; but in social matters she became impeccably consistent. She had unbounded toleration for all the little wiles and hypocrisies and acted falsehoods that used at first to fire her with scorn. From toleration she insensibly passed on to the same practices. Agreeable little falsehoods and polite impositions, simulated enthusiasms and make-believe friendships, entered into the daily current of her noteexistence, till at times she could hardly tell whether her sentiments were real or imaginary.

"Ah, but this is real–this is my life!" she cried in a low voice passionately, and the unbidden tears rose in her eyes. "But will it come to anything?" she asked herself with that mistrust of happiness which notecomes so readily to those notewhose early years are marked by privation and absence of affection. "And, after all," she said, "what right have I to look for a happy ending? Other people lie to me, and I lie to them; but at any rate I can be honest to myself. I know Victor would never have proposed a word of love if I had not led him on with all the arts at my command. And yet I know that in time he may love me well–and who is there on the whole earth that would be a more devoted wife to him than I? But, oh, the endless cackle of foolish women, who have nothing better to do than talking of their neighbours' affairs!"

Here Miss Paget recalled all Mrs. Tillotson's speeches; and at


  ― 24 ―
the recollection her heart hardened against her old friend, and she purposely delayed rejoining her for some minutes longer. When she at last returned to the drawing-room, Mrs. Tillotson wore a half-resentful, half-resigned air, something like a parrot in a cage, who does not like it, but has got used to it in the course of time. She was a lady of large means but uneasy investments. Since her widowhood her life had been one long panic as to the safety of good mines, modified by high dividends from risky ones. When she was alone there was generally a mine in the unknown regions of Australia round which her thoughts played with varying emotions. And failing this, there were her two sons-in-law–one of them unsound in finance, the other in his lungs. But on this occasion her usual subjects seemed to have failed her.

"It has just come into my head, Helen, that I interrupted you and Victor in some important business. You are both people of considerable means. You have learned to know each other well on the passage. You were, perhaps, buying or selling shares." Mrs. Tillotson spoke with a long pause between each sentence.

Miss Paget laughed, in spite of herself.

"My dear Mrs. Tillotson, I have not been talking to Mr. Fitz-Gibbon all this time. I have been in to my father, and––"

"Oh, is that it, dear?" said Mrs. Tillotson, her manner thawing at once. "Well, I should like to have talked a little more with Victor. It is odd, the sort of manner boys get when they come to be nineteen or so. They seem just as smiling and friendly as ever, but, somehow, they don't tell you things as they used to. Now, I did want to know exactly how much a year he'll have when he comes of age. The Masons say he'll have about £2,000 a year. The Sedleys notesay, No–about £1,500. Well, what a pity it seems that his uncle should have kept it from them all this time! Poor dear Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon! she was one of those women that like elegance, flowers, and china and old lace, and silver things with old monograms. But what a fight she has had with the world! And her brothers never forgave her marrying that wild, handsome young Irishman–though, indeed, others thought he was rather a catch for Mary Drummond, being a captain of the Life Guards, and the Governor's nephew and aide-de-camp,note and all."




  ― 25 ―

Mrs. Tillotson fairly talked herself out of breath. But Helen, instead of allowing her thoughts to play round far different subjects, which was her usual plan when her old friend took up one of her wordy monographs, drank in all she said with eager interest. She knew that Victor, after taking his B.Sc. degree at the Adelaide University, had gone abroad to study metallurgy at Freyberg, with a view to becoming an assayer,note and acquiring a good knowledge of general mining. His uncle, he told her, had been an enthusiast about gold-mining, which he regarded as the most important industry of Australia. It was the old gentleman's wish he should make a special study of this subject, but not until the week he started back to Australia, on receiving his uncle's hasty summons, having been away only five months in all, did Victor know he meant to make him his heir. Miss Paget feared that he had, perhaps, a large fortune left to him. It was with a thrill of pleasure she learned that his income was a good deal less than her own. "At least, people cannot say that it was his notemoney that allured me," she thought. And then she began, for the hundredth time within the hour, to plan what her answer should be on the morrow. "A mail-boatnote engagement!" How well she knew the shrugs and sneers and endless grimaces–each one an insinuation–with which the words would be spoken; carried from house to house–from one coterie to the other! No, she would not allow the engagement to be made known for some time to come.

"There is such a discrepancy in our years. . . . Let there be a time of probation," she would say to him; "say, four or six months–a probation of which no one but our two selves will know anything."

"My dear, I have been forgetting what made me come so early, so that I would be sure of seeing you," cried Mrs. Tillotson. "Do you remember anything of the Mrs. Lindsay who stayed at the Seatons' place three years ago?"

"I remember seeing her with a lovely young girl–her daughter, I think," answered Miss Paget slowly.

"You don't remember the name of her station,note or her postal address?"

"No, I haven't the least idea. There is nothing wrong, I hope."




  ― 26 ―

"No, but you know the Seatons went away in a great hurry, and I promised Mrs. Seaton faithfully to write to Mrs. Lindsay and explain to her–and now I've lost the address. Of course Mrs. Seaton will write as soon as she gets to England; but that will take so long."

"Does Mrs. Lindsay always live in the Bush?" asked Miss Paget, more for the sake of making conversation than because of any strong interest in the subject.

"Yes, my dear, and she must have plenty of money, too. But her husband had the oddest notions. He quite turned the cold shoulder to my poor Willy, because he helped to float a mine that had no gold. As if Willy had anything to do with it beyond putting it on the market, and leaving it to Providence and the other brokers! Perhaps he wished his widow to bury herself in the Bush; but her daughter must be growing up now. Why, she is sixteen past!"

"Sixteen past!" echoed Miss Paget with a curiously wistful intonation in her voice. She had not hitherto found girls of that age very interesting. She thought them for the most part vain, self-centred, and exacting. But just now she felt that she would give all she possessed for the power of putting back the dial-hand of time. . . . Oh, to be quite in the morning of life, and to walk in that enchanted garden of love's young dream,note which comes then or not at all! For with the clasp of her lover's hand warm on hers, and with the strong tumult of emotion which had suddenly made her pulses throb, had come the knowledge that love had come to her too late for that unreasoning, credulous, absorbed happiness which it brings to the young. Rather it brought to her anxieties, and doubts, and a horde of restless questions that she could neither answer nor gainsay. She had entered on a game in which the first stake she played was serenity of mind–nay, of conscience itself. Could any noteplay be worth playing at such a cost? Alas! she had no longer notethe power to abide by the cold dictates of reason. She realized with a sudden sense of suffocation that she had been caught in one of those currents which sweep lives on to full consummation or to disaster. . . . And yet–and yet–to disentangle herself from these hopes and fears, these swift, importunate emotions of a hitherto unknown


  ― 27 ―
passion. . . . At the thought a strange famine of the soulnote seized her, in which for the first time she recognised the pallid negation of her previous life. Its monotonous round of small formal duties, the dull interchange of visits with dull women, the surfeit of tiresome details without aim or compensation–all lay before her in the cold light of remorseless disenchantment. . . . Better the tumult of emotion, better suffering, better even irretrievable disaster, than to reach the limit of life without having really lived through all the years. . . . And, after all, why should she give way to fear? Was it not possible that Victor's affection would strengthen rather than wane as the days went on? From this out she must strive to cast fear from her. . . . Above all–above all–she must never let Victor guess the tempestuous unrest into which the bare thought of his defection threw her. . . .

"Now that I think of it, I do believe the Max-Gores would know Mrs. Lindsay's address. I think, my dear, I'll walk across there and see. . . ."

If Mrs. Tillotson had said anything else before she rose to go, it was to unheeding ears. How curious, when one comes to think of it, is this double drama which goes on notewherever two human beings are together! The one so carefully selected–usually commonplace, spoken and acted with robust obviousness. The other silent, inward, searching into the depths of notethe heart, seldom communicated even in part, never wholly revealed to any living soul.




  ― 28 ―

3. Chapter III.

Though it was still early in August, many of the noteearly rose-bushes round the house known as Lindaraxa were covered with blooms. The tremulous shadow of white-stemmed young birches over the roses and countless marguerite bushes made a fascinating picture.

"But the house looks rather old," said Miss Paget as the two surveyed it from the front.

"Yes, but the garden, Helen, and the name," replied Victor. "Lindaraxa–doesn't it call up pictures of dark-eyed donnas stepping out on balconies in the moonlight?"

"But your mother would not live in the garden?"

"She would in the spring and summer, all the autumn, and most part of the winter," said the young man recklessly.

He was in very high spirits, and broke out every now and then into snatches of song.

"And just here," he said, pausing at the end of the house where there was a large window half buried in foliage, starred with the white convolvulus, "what a notenook of loveliness!"

He paused abruptly, looking round with an air of startled wonder.

"What have you discovered?" said Miss Paget, half amused at the sudden change in his face.

"Why, Helen, I have seen this spot in my dreams over and over again. Not the window itself, but what you can see from it."

He was now standing with his back to the window, looking at the little orange grove opposite to it, and all the shrubs around, with minute scrutiny.

"What did you dream about it, Victor?" asked Miss Paget with growing interest.

They had met at the gate but a few minutes before, and the momentous question of their engagement had not yet been


  ― 29 ―
approached. It suddenly occurred to Miss Paget that if Victor had seen in visions of the nightnote the spot in which perhaps her reply would be given, it might be a sign that this, after all, was the turning-point in his life. That it would be the central epoch of her own she could not for a moment doubt.

"Well, you know, it was one of those foolish, aimless dreams that stick to the mind, and yet seem to have no meaning," answered Victor. "I just used to see these trees in a sort of semicircle, with a lot of blossoms on them; there isn't much now, you see."

"No, they're not fruit-bearing; they are a late kind just coming into bud. Well, and then?"

"Well, I just used to see them and a heap of shrubs in flower, some lying across the path; and that and the room I stood in was all the dream. By the way, I wonder if the room is like––"

He turned to look, but the blind was drawn down.

"Tell me what the room was like, and then we'll compare your dream with the reality when we go into the house," said Miss Paget eagerly.

"It was a long, narrowish room and rather low, with a wide fireplace and deep recesses on each side of it. There was another window beside the one I looked out of, and that's about all I remember. You see, I didn't go into upholstery in my dream, perhaps because I never notice it when awake."

"Let us notecome in and look at it now," said Miss Paget, adding mentally, "If the room is like the one in his dream, I shall take it as a good omen."

They rang at the front door, and in a few minutes the caretaker, a small hump-backed woman with large, pathetic eyes, let them in. She seemed a little surprised as she looked from one to the other.

"Have you come for Mrs. North, ma'am?" she said hesitatingly to Miss Paget, the three standing in the hall.

"For Mrs. North? No," answered Miss Paget wonderingly.

"There is a notice that the place is to be let or sold. We want to have a look at the house, if you please," said Victor.

"Oh, hasn't the board been taken down? It's let, sir, on a two years' lease to Mrs. North and her daughter, the lady doctor.note I


  ― 30 ―
thought as perhaps you was Miss North, ma'am," she said to Miss Paget.

"No; but she is a friend of mine. When did she return from India?"

"Two months ago, ma'am. The climate tried her terribly, but she's getting on nicely now, I hear. I've only seen the mother; Miss North has been to the place twice, but I was away, and it was John that showed her over the house."

"Excuse us for having troubled you," said Victor, slipping half a crown into the caretaker's hand.

Now that Lindaraxa was out of the market, he felt surer than ever that it was the place which, of all others, would have best pleased his mother.

"Would you mind letting us look at the sitting-room with the large window on the western side?" notesaid Miss Paget, as the caretaker curtseyed her thanks.

She instantly noteopened the door, and when they entered, the room corresponded in each particular with the details of Victor's dream. The shape of the chamber, the fireplace with the wide recesses on each side, the second window, which opened into a small conservatory–all were there. Miss Paget was agreeably excited; but Victor thought his dream more foolish than ever.

"If I had been able to buy the place for my mother, there would have been some sense in it; but just to dream of orange blossom, which I cannot stand, and a room in a house taken by people I don't even know!" he said, drawing up the blind and looking out discontentedly.

"You think if you see a room in a dream something should happen in it?" said Miss Paget, smiling. "Well, who knows? perhaps you'll be one of Miss North's patients."

"And have an arm taken off when the orange-trees are in blossom. That would be charming!" said Victor with a smile. Then he thrust his hand into his breast-pocket.

"Helen, I have brought you a little souvenir of the East. Do you remember the gem-store where we bought the moonstones in Colombo? Here are some of them in a bracelet–not so nicely set as I should like, but I didn't give the jeweller much time."




  ― 31 ―

"Oh, how lovely!" cried Miss Paget, her eyes sparkling with pleasure as she looked at the large lustrously gleaming stones, whose soft, dreamy light was enhanced by the keen, incisive sparkle of Brazilian diamonds.note She clasped the bracelet on her wrist, and then with a sudden impetuous motion bent her head and kissed the stones.

"Helen, tell me," said Victor, drawing closer to her, "is it because you are so fond of these moonstones that you kiss them?"

"Yes; and because––"

"Well, because?"

"You gave them to me." A quick wave of colour rose in her smooth, soft, olive-tinted cheeks as she spoke.

"Ah, now you are going to give me an answer, Helen."

"Would you, perhaps, like to see the rest of the house, ma'am?" said the caretaker, appearing at the half-open door. The two started guiltily apart. They declined the offer, saying that this room was all they wished to see.

"Come home with me, and I'll tell you there," said Miss Paget in a low voice as they went out at the gate. On the way to Lancaster House, which stood in the midst of its own grounds on a rise beyond the Torrens, about a mile to the north-west of the city, Victor spoke of the probability of his joining a prospecting party that was spoken of as likely to start for the MacDonnell rangesnote in a few weeks.

"It would notegap over the time till I come of age," he said. "If I noteam in town I noteshould of course be in the warehouse; and if there's one thing in the world I hate, it's being stuck on a stool all day like a sick ape."

"Then I suppose, when you are your own master, you won't remain in partnership with your uncle Stuart?"

"No; I think not. For one thing, I don't believe we should ever agree."

"I dare say Mr. Drummond is rather wroth that you are your uncle Shaw's sole heir."

"Oh, I think not; in fact, I don't suppose he even thought of it in that way," returned Victor.

Miss Paget half smiled, and repeated the words to herself, "Oh,


  ― 32 ―
youth, youth! more beautiful than truth."note His boyish, whole-hearted belief in almost every human being with whom he came in contact was one of the most marked features of Victor's temperament. "That sort of confidence in mankind departs with one's early years, and never, never comes back again," was a thought that had often occurred to her during their intercourse on board the Mogul. The same thought came to her now, for she knew Mr. Stuart Drummond to be a hard, avaricious man with two spendthrift sons and several grown-up daughters.

"You see, Helen," continued Victor, "it's partly a question of race, I expect. An Irishman, in Uncle Stuart's eyes, is always a disagreeable blunder."

"But you are partly Scotch."

"Ah, but you don't know how Irish I become when I'm with Uncle Stuart," said Victor, in a half-penitent tone which made Helen laugh.

"It's the truth I'm speaking," said Victor seriously. "Only last night, I know, I drove him half wild with rage."

"How was that?"

"Well, it began about my advancing two hundred pounds to O'Connor."

"The violinist?"

"Yes–and my old music-master, who plays Irish melodies in a way that would make a millstone sob."note

"But was it wise to advance him so much?"

"As a business investment, perhaps it was a trifle weak," replied Victor, with a twinkle in his eyes. "But you know the sort of chap poor dear old O'Connor is about money. As long as he has any, the very crows are welcome to it. This time he had put his name to a billnote for over £150, not dreaming anything would go wrong. So, for the luxury of signing his name to a dishonest bit of paper, he was going to be sold up, Cremona violinnote and all, with his wife ill in bed, and seven youngsters wailing on his bosom."

"Poor old man!"

"Yes, what could a fellow do but come between him and his signature? But you should have heard Uncle Stuart. By Jove! the old man can slang when he gives his mind to it. Anyone would think that to give money away was the blackest crime on earth. Whereas, when you come to think of it, what is the good of money until it is spent, somehow or other?"




  ― 33 ―

"Perhaps you asked your uncle that question?"

"No. I didn't cheek him in the least when he was talking of the O'Connor affair. I was as meek as the Prodigal Son.note I listened till he was quite at an end about hereditary extravagance–that was me; and an idle, good-for-nothing fiddler–that was O'Connor, etc., etc. And then I said, "Look here, sir! it would be downright ingratitude on my part not to help a fellow-creature in distress. Here am I, without doing an ounce of work for it, coming into a lump sum of £10,000, and over £1,500 a year, as soon as the clock strikes nine on the morning of the 31st of next December." "

"That would annoy him!" said Miss Paget involuntarily.

"How do you know it would?" asked Victor, with some astonishment.

"Well, you know, an old man doesn't always like to see a young one step into so much unearned wealth at one bound," answered Miss Paget, almost vexed to find herself returning to that theme again.

Victor was silent for a little.

"I wonder if that can be the reason," he said thoughtfully. "I thought it was uncle's liver. I know he has suffered from it badly sometimes. He got into an unaccountable scotnote when I said that. He said the 31st of December had not come yet, which was too obvious to call for remark, and that there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, which is often true. But when he went on to say that I had better not make a pauper of myself before I knew whereabouts I was, I couldn't figure out his meaning anyhow."

They were by this time walking up through the wide plane-tree avenue that led to the border of the lawn which fronted Miss Paget's home.

"Was all your uncle Shaw's money in the partnership?" asked Miss Paget.

"Nearly all of it–except some in mines. I think he owns the twentieth part of the Colmar Mine, which is paying grand dividends at present. But, of course, Uncle Stuart has always been the managing partner of the warehouse, and much the wealthier of the two."

"It may be––"

"Well–why do you stop, Helen?"

"Perhaps I shouldn't say it."

"You should say anything you have a mind to."




  ― 34 ―

"There may be a crash coming––"

"And me left a penniless spalpeen,note after all!"

"You would not be penniless as long––"

Miss Paget checked herself.

"Look here, Miss Paget," said Victor, turning to her with laughing eyes; "I'll have to take you to sea again. You never mutilated your sentences in this way when we paced the deck of the good ship Mogul. You've lost all confidence in me. . . ."

"No. I have not . . . but–well, you wouldn't be penniless as long as I had any money."

"Helen, that is your answer!"

They paused in the shelter of the trees, and he possessed himself of her right hand.

"But if I thought there was any danger of my becoming penniless, you know, Helen––"

"We won't consider that just now, Victor. . . . And after thinking it over, I am sure it is better there should be no hard and fast engagement for a time."

"Not till I am twenty-one; that is nearly five months.note Surely that is long enough for anything?"

He held her hands in his, looking into her face with frank, affectionate eyes. It was with a strong effort that Miss Paget kept her emotion under control as she replied:

"Until after December no one must know anything of this. . . . After that, Victor, there may be nothing to know. Only if so, our own two selves will always remember that one of us was young enough, and the other foolish enough, to dream an impossible dream."

Though she struggled hard for composure, her voice vibrated with intense emotion, and tears forced themselves into her eyes. Victor was suddenly and deeply moved. It is true that he was entering on this weighty compact with a heart too little under the influence of the deeper feelings of which his nature was capable. His youth and inexperience and impulsive friendliness had led him too far. But his generosity and good feeling stood him at this crisis in the stead of a more profound affection. He could not realize all that affected Miss Paget, but when he saw her so deeply moved he became conscious of an uneasy apprehension lest he should fail her in some way. A heavier sense of responsibility fell on him. For a little time they were both silent, and then


  ― 35 ―
Victor found relief from a vague mistrust and discontent notewithin himself by making a resolution which he knew would entail some sacrifice.

"Dear Helen, I am not half good enough for you," he said; "you are ever so much wiser than I am. Now, don't begin to speak of the disparity in our years. It isn't that so much as that you were born wiser."

"But I've suddenly come to the end of my wisdom; it's a case of arrested development," said Miss Paget, smiling. "While you are going to get sager every day–wasn't that what you said yesterday?"

"I'm afraid you have a dreadfully retentive memory," he said gaily; and then, suddenly relapsing into seriousness: "But noteI tell you what, Helen–I won't go away prospecting; I'll go into the warehouse for the next five or six months, and try to understand the business, and be a door-mat to uncle rather than have rows with him. I think that will be more appropriate for an engaged man."

"Yes; the liveliest door-mat on record, I should think," said Miss Paget, laughing. The announcement made her very happy.

They were strolling across the lawn, when one or two little decorous shouts and calls behind attracted their attention. It was Mrs. Tillotson, hurrying up the avenue as fast as she could. She was of such an intensely social disposition that she could not bear the sight of two talking in full view of her, without straining every effort to join in the conversation. People who have this vivid partiality for their fellow-creatures seldom pause to inquire whether the feeling is reciprocal.

"I'll say good-bye now, Helen," said Victor, before the new-comer could reach them. "This will be a good time to find uncle in his office to talk over my new plan with him. . . . I don't think I could stand another dose of your "habitual providence" just now, but may I come soon again?"

As he lit a cigar and walked into the city, one of the impressions which Victor drew from the history of that morning was that, after all, dreams were an awful fraud. Why had the special view from that special window at Lindaraxa come to him again and again in his dreams, and why, before he had ever seen it, was the


  ― 36 ―
form of that special room imprinted on his memory?

"When the mater talks solemnly about "presageful" dreams after this," he thought with a smile, "I'll bombard her with this sham one of mine."

And yet, though life, like an unskilful notedramatist, is crowded with details that explain nothing,note and full of seemingly significant beginnings that lead nowhere, this foolish dream came to have strangely significant associations.

"Oh, my dear," panted Mrs. Tillotson after she had warmly embraced Helen, "it is so good of you to take such an interest in Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon's boy! But he is nice–now, isn't he? Something so boyish and genuine about him! I am afraid the girls will run after him dreadfully–though it would be like infant-stealing, till he is a few years older. I expect some of them did their best to set their caps at himnote on the Mogul? But you would be a sort of protection for him. He seems to have quite taken to you. But, my dear, I hope he doesn't bore you by giving you a little too much of his company."

There was something so cold and strained in Miss Paget's tones, as she replied, that even Mrs. Tillotson noticed the difference. She paused on the lawn, saying:

"Perhaps I had better not come in. I just ran notein, in passing, to tell you that I have found Mrs. Lindsay's address. I was afraid you might be giving yourself anxiety in making inquiries. You always take so much trouble for your friends."

Miss Paget, who had not given the matter a thought, felt a little conscience-smitten, and insisted on Mrs. noteTillotson staying for notelunch. The lady responded by saying:

"Well, my dear, though I had to put everything on a more economical footing since the last fall in silver,note I'll never stint my friendships. Thank goodness! I need not give up my friends, though I put down my carriage;note and I know you always enjoy having me–we have such delightful chats!"




  ― 37 ―

4. Chapter IV.

The lady whose address both when lost and when found had led Mrs. Tillotson to make an early call at Lancaster House was at eleven o'clock on this sunny August morning deep in the perusal of a letter which had that day reached her from an old friend and relative who, like herself, was a widow, and was then living with two young daughters in Mentone.note

"I am well, dear friend, only that oftener than before I am overtaken by hours of cold, insurmountable languor and indolence in which I can do nothing but remember. Memory, like an implacable little inquisitor, forces me to go down to those soundless deeps of life in which happiness is lost and the soul jeopardized, and the faith with which we consoled ourselves is resolved into beautiful cradle-songs that have lost the power of lulling us to sleep.note Do you know those days in which the rain beats perpetually on the roof, and the wind rises in hollow moans, and we are crushed between two infinities–the days that are dead and those that are to come?note

"But no–you are one of those who, in the face of the bitterest assaults of fate, find a sure standing-ground, a peace which the world can neither give nor take away.note . . . All this morning I was rummaging among old papers and letters. Yours I read in their order one year after the other, and suddenly the story of your life lay before me as if for the first time. We are so blind, mostly going through life half asleep, waking up now and then when there is a noise or a great flash of light, and the reality of things comes home to us only like half-remembered dreams. As I thought of your history, dear Margaret, left almost alone in the world, with the terrible memories of the Indian Mutinynote shadowing your youth like a nightmare–of the long years of nervous prostration that followed, those in which our friendship began and the great happiness of your life notecame to you–and then pondered over


  ― 38 ―
your sudden cruel bereavement, my heart was very wae.note I came on the first letter you wrote after Doris was born."

Here Mrs. Lindsay put down the letter and looked fondly at her daughter, a lovely girl notepast sixteen, who sat near her engrossed in copying the border of an illuminated missal.note After a few moments the mother resumed her reading:

"Ah, what a tender rapture breathes through this little letter! Baby was four weeks old; already she began to notice. "When we put a finger within hers she closes them over it quite fast. . . . Oh what tiny morsels of rose-leaf fingers! Richard looks at them for twenty minutes at a time. "Think of that third little left finger with a wedding-ring on it one day!" I say to him gravely, and he looks at me reproachfully, as if I were already intriguing for a son-in-law. It is all so exquisitely absurd we laugh till the tears come." "

"Mother, dearie!"

Mrs. Lindsay gave a little start. It was now her turn to be looked at. Her daughter's eyes were fixed on her with puzzled inquiry.

"I have been watching you, and you are almost laughing and crying at the same time. I wish you would laugh only. Is it something sad or merry in that letter, mammy?"

"Perhaps a little of both, dear: not merry exactly, but something that was so long ago."

"And why isn't it now, mother?"

"Oh, my dear––" the delicate sensitive lips quivered and the voice fell.

The girl came and knelt by her mother's side and stroked her cheeks.

"Mother, I noteshould like to know the sort of things that make you merry one time and sad another."

"When you are older you will understand, Dorrie."

"Oh, is everything to happen when I am older?" said the girl with a slight accent of weariness.

"No, my child," said the mother with a little smile; "you are my own good Doris without waiting for more years."

"You cunning little mother! Do you know, that is a way of petting and scolding one at the same time! Is it because you are


  ― 39 ―
as wise as Nan Konote that you do two things at once so often?"

"Nan Ko? My dear, has Shung-Loo been telling you about a fresh Mongolian hero?"

"Yes, mamma–one who wrote the story of the "Purple Hair Pin"note in forty volumes!"

"Oh, Doris!"

"Yes, truly; he used to take it about with him on two white elephants, and when the black barbarians saw him coming they used to fly."

"For fear of having it read to them?"

"Not at all, you almost naughty little mother! It was because after hearing it read they had to be good or die, and mostly they had to die. He killed the Red Kalonoa terrible dragon. Where his shadow came the birds stopped singing, and no more garlands could be made. I think it was Nan Ko who taught the people that a grain of sand has a voice as well as a poet."

"Doris, do you know, I knew a girl once––" began the mother with smiling seriousness.

"Mamma, is that quite fair?" asked the girl, holding up a rosy forefinger in an admonitory way. "I have told you quite a new story out of a wise book stopped with red."note

"And I am going to tell you an old one about a girl who could remember Chinese fables out of forty volumes, but couldn't learn the French verbs out of one."

"I believe I know that girl by heart. Don't let us talk of her any more, mamma."

They smiled fondly in each other's faces, and then the girl went back to her painting of the wide intricate border full of curling tendrils, of stiff, even leaves, of birds with strange beaks and plumages, and in the midst angels now and then, with long lazuline blue robes, with wide gold halos round their heads, and folded pointed wings snow-white, all looking upward and making sweet melody, some on long reed trumpets, others on viols, on cithers, on fantastically curled and many-tubed instruments, whose names are unknown to the laity.

The mother resumed her reading.

"And now Doris has passed her sixteenth birthday. Don't you think, dear Margaret, the time has come when she should see a little more of the human species in her own rank of life? Do not wait till she is seventeen to leave the charmed solitude of


  ― 40 ―
Ouranie. Not that it is really a solitude; what with your station people, your little township six miles off, and the settlement of splitters in the Peppermint Ranges, and that wonderful major-domo of yours, Shung-Loo, who is so learned in the old lore of his country and the art of making delicate cakes. Your Doris, with her direct, transparent nature, her charm of quick imagination, her love of woods and birds and flowers, her inheritance of your gift of music and love of art, seems to have found in your surroundings all the nourishment needed hitherto for the harmonious development of early years. But now, has not the time come when you should leave Ouranie? Is it not because of Richard's austere denunciations of the habitual frivolity of our noteown sex that you have lingered there so long?note

"I have been looking over some of his old letters to me. Dear, noble-hearted Richard! I am glad that though so many of the imperfections of our kind and sex always hung about me, the bond of kinship between us was never ruptured. I think the fact that he first came to know you through me strengthened the bond of relationship into real friendship. But though I revere your dear husband's memory, Margaret, to-day it has been borne in on me that your idolatry of him has led you to remain over-long in the seclusion of the Bush.

" "After all," he writes in one of his letters now before me, "it is no wonder that women exercise so little influence for good in the world. From childhood they live largely in an atmosphere of small intrigues and deceptions and concealed jealousies; first in school, then in society. In school they are subjected to the persistent push of teachers, ambitious for academic degrees and examination passes. Their most precious gifts of spontaneous intuition and direct observation are hopelessly impaired or destroyed, in the worry and drive of acquiring multifarious scraps of knowledge,note which notegives them neither more balanced capacities nor a wider outlook on life. They are the victims of ideas they cannot digest, of ideals that add nothing to the well-being of the world. . . . When they enter the immense fraud we call society, they are plunged into a frankly cynical scramble as to who shall get the best nuts."




  ― 41 ―

"Well, well, granted that the old seductive, noteinvincible pagan world in which we live is largely swayed by passions that we do not name in our children's hearing, still it is the only one in which our poor bodies are at home, the one in which we find our happiness or not at all; the world in which your Doris must take her place as a woman among other women. She has been sheltered and reared as within convent walls; and up to a certain age this may be right for girls; but she is now over sixteen. . . . You have told me that if you were taken from her it is to my care, conjointly with her guardian in London, she would be entrusted. You do not say much of your health, but through your later letters there seems to me an increasing detachment from all the things of earth. And do I not know how frail and shaken you were for so many years? Would it not be wiser to lose no time in bringing Doris to what would be her new home, while you are with her to make it familiar and home-like? . . . Pardon me, Margaret, if I seem to plead over-much; but to-day, after a separation of seventeen years, reading your letters, so many scores of them, while the wind blows in shrill gusts, and the rain is dashing furiously against the windows, I seem to have renewed our intimacy, to see more clearly into the tenor of your ideas, to perceive that you shrink more and more from the thought of increased communion with your kind. Is it that in these notelatter years you have become more and more of a mystic?"

Mrs. Lindsay, on reading this question, half folded the closely-written pages and looked out through the open French window into the garden, which on this side of the house came to within a few paces of the veranda. Beyond the garden, forming its eastern boundary, lay a large lake fringed with gum-trees and ti-trees. The surface of the water, faintly noterippling and sparkling in the sunlight, was one of the sights which familiarity never rendered less beautiful. This lake was called Gauwari, a native name that signifies great depthnote–a title justified by the fact that noteit had never within living memory been greatly diminished. Mrs. Lindsay's eyes rested for a long time on Gauwari; then she looked round the room that they were in, trying to imagine the day on which she should leave Ouranie, the home that she had


  ― 42 ―
come to as a bride nearly seventeen years ago. She was conscious of an immobility of disposition which made her shrink from the thought of change and movement as from experiences she lacked strength and will-power to assimilate. And there was yet another link that bound her to Ouranie. She felt that the bond which had been the strongest, deepest influence of her life was here still unbroken, that in the spot which was consecrated to her by so many sacred memories her husband's companionship had not ended with death.

This was a development of feeling that owed nothing to extraneous excitement or to any of the grotesque manifestations usually associated with experiences that seem in any way to make a gap in the barrier that guards the unseen from the material world. Orthodox forms of belief had never appealed to her keenly. Perhaps the shipwreck of all her closest ties in the horrors of the Indian Mutiny disposed her little to find consolation in professions that dwell over-much on the benefits and comforts of the Christian faith, while the renunciation that lies at its core is in practice profoundly denied. It was her misfortune to know Christians solely of the type of those who turn the cross they profess to carry into a sectarian triangle, with which to anathematize the rest of the world, and to secure pews for themselves in this world and that which is to come. Her husband's influence had all been on the side of severance from creeds and formulas.note

When she was left alone the crisis of her spiritual life came. The conviction that death ends all, that all we are or have the faculty of becoming is annihilated with the last pulsation of the heart, fastened on her like a virulent disease. There are those who can accept the belief calmly, but to Mrs. Lindsay it brought that sense of absolute ruin which we name despair. Then one radiant morning in mid-winter, when the air was full of the breath of violets and jessamine, and the delicate saffron of the dawn still lingered in the east, she knew that her despair was a dark, wild atheism, and that the fuller life into which her husband had passed had quickened her own inner nature as with a breath of healing inspiration.

We are so brow-beaten by the thrones and dominationsnote of the material world that, when we hear of people to whom a message of salvation has come apart from creeds and rituals consecrated by the roll of many centuries, our habitual attitude is one of


  ― 43 ―
mistrust, if notenot hostility. And yet there may be powers which touch human intuitions to the quick, in a mode hidden from the world as completely as the messages that came to Isaiah were hidden from his idolatrous fellow-countrymen.note

noteHowever this may be, Mrs. Lindsay's experience not only rescued her from despair and the gradual decline of all her functions, gave her not only courage to live for her child, but to cherish her life as a personal gift and become serenely happy. Nothing henceforth shook her faith that our present existence, with all its confusion and cruel enigmas, was but a passing phase of experience, and that, if we do not love the world over-much, we may often pass beyond its power, and habitually live above its influence. For some time of late she had been conscious of declining strength. This was brought home to her very forcibly now by the notetremulous agitation that seized her at the thought of leaving Ouranie. She had always looked forward to doing so when Doris grew up, and she felt the full force of the argument used by her friend Mme. de Serziac; but it was the notelatter portion of the letter that finally decided her. This was dated a few days after the earlier portion, and ran:

"Raoul has given us a pleasant surprise. He has obtained a fortnight's leave of absence from his regiment two months earlier than we expected. Yesterday he was prowling round my room, turning over my books and photographs. Presently he came on the last photograph you sent me of yourself and Doris. It was the first time he saw it, and–well, he fell in love with her. . . . Over and over again he comes to gaze at the beautiful young face, and says: "Did you ever see such wonderful eyes! and what an exquisite mouth! . . . And I believe I owe her a letter. I don't believe I answered the last note she sent me on my birthday." And then he asks me impatiently when you and Doris are coming on that visit which we have talked about indefinitely for so many years. Well, dear Margaret, I have no after-thought in telling you this, only if our children on meeting. . . . Oh, you will be able to follow the trend of my thoughts. And you will not be surprised if, in the course of a week or two, Doris gets a cousinly little letter from Raoul, congratulating her on her sixteenth birthday. I send


  ― 44 ―
you his photo, taken a few days before he left Paris, also some of the girls."

Mrs. Lindsay opened a small packet that had come with the letter. She looked a long time at the young man's photograph. He was not yet twenty-three, but already there was something in his face of that precocious discontent which one sees in the eyes of those who early plunge into the glittering, vibrant life of great cities. As Mrs. Lindsay examined the picture with a jealous scrutiny, the recollection came to her of the overture in "Tannhaüser," in which the theme of the Pilgrims' march, austere, lofty, and devout, ends in the throbbing, reckless Bacchanalian strain of the Venusberg.note

And then her eyes rested on her daughter. It was a face to make an old man young.note Its deep, untroubled serenity, the amber-coloured wavy hair parted on the forehead, and the classic poise of the neck, perfectly upright on the shoulders, gave it something of a Greek expression.note The eyes were extremely beautiful, large, dark and radiant. The eyelashes were, if anything, a little too thick and long. They made a shadow under the eyes which in repose imparted a pathetic gravity to the face, alien to its real expression. The eyebrows, dark and pencilled, were exquisitely pure in arch. The slender creamy throat, and the flower-like bloom of the face, were thrown into strong relief by the close-fitting crimson silk dress she wore. The fond mother took in all notethese details with inexhaustible pleasure. That sweet, fair young face, with its unmistakable seal of candour and purity, was a feast for her eyes of which she never tired. But as she now regarded her after the lines she had read, a sudden pang shot through her heart. Could she in the nature of things hope to keep Doris long to herself if they entered the busy self-seeking world, so keenly alive to all the gifts of life–gifts in which youth and beauty and money have taken from time immemorial the foremost place?

"But I should be with her to guide and counsel her, to take care that no undue pressure was brought to bear on her," thought the mother, re-reading the last page of her friend's letter, and then her resolution was taken.

"Mamma, do you know, you look so very serious!" said Doris,


  ― 45 ―
who had put away her painting, and now sat on her mother's footstool. "Your eyes are as big as Red Ridinghood's when the wolf was going to gobble her up."

"You disrespectful child!" said the mother, smiling, and then smothering a little sigh. "Do you know, a great deal of this long letter is about you."

"From Mme. de Serziac?"

"Yes."

"But what could she find to say about me?" said Doris, opening her eyes wide.

"Ah, one may write a long letter about anything almost–a little puss, a sunflower, a spider catching a fly, a girl sixteen years old."

"Or the wattle-trees, and the Banksia bushes just coming into flower."

"Perhaps you think you are like the little Banksia rosebuds?"note

"No, mother, I have no thorns," said Doris, rubbing her satin soft cheek against her mother's hand.

"What would you say, Doris, to going away from Ouranie, from Australia altogether–far across the seas?"

"On a carpet like Prince Kumar-al-Zaman's,note mother?"

"I am quite in earnest, dear."

Doris looked out through the window, and did not at once reply.

"I thought you would be pleased, Doris. . . . We should go to see Mme. de Serziac, and May, and Estella,note and Raoul."

"Yes, mother, I noteshould be glad: only it seems as if the time would never come. So many, many years we have spoken of it! If you said, "Doris, put on your hat with the white ostrich-feathers, and your long Suède gloves and come away to Bagdad–tell Shung he need not bring in afternoon tea," then you would see how high I would skip for joy!"

"But, dear, I mean that we should go quite soon now," said Mrs. Lindsay, a little startled at the sudden vehemence in Doris's voice. "She has thoughts and longings and impatiences, then, which she keeps to herself, just as I have my long memories, my solitary hours of communion and introspection," thought Mrs. Lindsay. It was a sudden curious glimpse into that unknown incommunicable depth of inner personality which encompasses


  ― 46 ―
each human soul, dividing it in some measure from every other–friend from friend, husband from wife; yes, even mother from child.

"How soon, mother?" said Doris, with sudden interest, awaiting her mother's reply with flushing cheeks and lips slightly parted.

"This is the 9th of August," answered Mrs. Lindsay slowly, and then she consulted a small diary. "There is a Messageries mail-boatnote going on the 10th of next month. Suppose we fix that date for our departure, darling?"

"Oh, mamma, next month! And leave everything behind us, except our clothes and Shung-Loo?"

"And our memories, dear," said Mrs. Lindsay, who was bravely struggling to keep a smiling face. "We should have to leave a few days before the vessel sailed–say four days–so we have less than four more weeks at Ouranie."

"And Gauwari and the Silent Sea, mother. But how strange it will be to leave it all, and all the people we know!"

The girl's face had grown suddenly graver.

As for Mrs. Lindsay, she went into her own room, feeling that the emotion with which she was struggling must soon overcome her composure.




  ― 47 ―

5. Chapter V.

The notetime passed very rapidly. Hardly notea day passed noteduring this interval without a visit to Buda, the township six miles off, or the Peppermint Ranges, only three miles in an opposite direction from the home station.note

At the latter, Mrs. Lindsay had formed a little schoolnote for the rather wild and neglected children of the splitters who worked there. Her unvarying love and goodness had exercised a strong influence on the children and parents. She had had a little weatherboard building erected–an edifice bought in town from a builder all ready to be put togethernote–and here on most days of the week she had assembled the seven or nine children who were old enough to be taught. When unable to go herself, Mrs. Lindsay used to send Doris and the wife of her manager, who lived in a cottage at the opposite side of the garden.

In the township, too, Mrs. Lindsay was a constant and eagerly-looked-for visitor. noteNo sight was more welcome to the residents than that of the Ouranie buggy, with the two gray ponies that Doris liked best to drive.

No township could cover a wider area in proportion to its inhabitants than Buda did. The forty nondescript dwellings which composed it were scattered over an incredible number of acres. Perhaps the immense plain on whose borders Buda was pitched had exercised some influence on the imagination of the first selectors.note It would seem a tame and creeping arrangement to be closely packed in view of that measureless expanse of country. But the oldest resident had a different theory. The oldest resident kept a general store and the post-office; thus it will be seen that he had unrivalled opportunities for impressing his own views on the public. noteIn respect of the distance that


  ― 48 ―
separated the inhabitants, his view was, that when the township was laid out the belief was current that the Government intended to bring the Great Northern line of railway bang through Buda. Thus every man who pitched his tent, or bark hut, or wattle and daub lean-to, or weatherboard cottage, used his own judgment as to the spot that would be fixed on for the railway-station.

"Every man jack of us expected to make his fortune, if only he got his nose against the railway-station, and everyone thought his own opinion sounder than his neighbour's. So here we are, dispersed as far as the boundaries of the township would let us–some far beyond them–and yet not one of us was on the job,"note the storekeeper would say, with a sigh.

The Great Northern Railway passed within four miles of the township, with only a siding at the nearest point thereto. Henceforth Buda was a blighted community,note its sole compensation being that it had a large and life-long grievance.

"To think, ma'am, as you should have to go four miles further on to a melancholy and miserable siding when you expect a friend from town!" the storekeeper was saying to Mrs. Lindsay one noteday within ten days of the date she had fixed for her departure.

"It is from the North my friend is coming, and, you know, half a loaf is better than none," answered Mrs. Lindsay, smiling.

She could not look upon the siding as an insult, a trait which some of the Buda people regarded as the one weakness of her character.

It would only have cost the colony an additional twenty thousand pounds to bring the railway to their door. And what was that out of the millions that were being borrowed?note

"It is all very well for them that has horses and buggies," the storekeeper said to a customer an hour later, as he saw Mrs. Lindsay's trap returning, Doris driving, while her mother and the friend they had gone to meet were deep in conversation.

"I believe it's Mrs. Challoner, the manager's sister, and Miss Doris's old governess," said the customer, going to the door of the store to get a nearer view.

She had been a servant at Ouranie for some years before she


  ― 49 ―
married and settled at Buda, and still took the strongest interest in all that concerned Mrs. Lindsay.

As the buggy drew near the store, Doris stopped the horses, so that they might speak to their old servant, and have some purchases put into the buggy that they made on their way to the siding. They heard how Jemima's second baby had cut his first double-tooth,note and how the first was growing out of noteall his clothes.

"I suppose you don't remember me, ma'am?" said Jemima, glancing at the visitor, a pale little lady with bright, kindly eyes. "You came to my place with Mrs. Lindsay when you were up nearly two years ago. The moment I saw you I said to the storekeeper, "That is Mrs. Challoner." I was so very sorry to hear of your house being burnt down."

As they drove away, Mrs. Lindsay promised to come to see Jemima once more before notetheir departure. She stood looking after the buggy with a wistful expression.

"Bless their hearts, it will be an awful miss when they're gone!" she said to the storekeeper. "I don't never expect to see Mrs. Lindsay back. She is looking dreadful white and thin, to my mind."

Nor was Jemima alone in this opinion. Mrs. Challoner was much struck with the alteration in her friend's appearance since last seeing her. Mrs. Challoner had married from Ouranie, six years previously, a squatter in the Salt-bush country, who was then in affluent circumstances; but four years ago a terrible drought, followed by the increasing ravages of the rabbits, had almost ruined him.note To crown all, a fire had broken noteout which levelled the head station to the ground. Mrs. Challoner had visited Ouranie once a year since she left it, and this accident had happened since her noteprevious visit. Mrs. Lindsay had insisted on replacing the furniture, and the Challoners had been able to secure a good dwelling-house noteat the Colmar mine,note which was within four miles of the home station. This was naturally one of the first topics of conversation between the two friends.

"It was most fortunate notethe house was empty–in fact, it has not been occupied for years, and now we shall be able to leave the


  ― 50 ―
district, when the lease of our run expires at Christmas–the date to which we took the noteplace. Oh, my dear, I have had to tell you of so many misfortunes, and now I have to tell you a piece of good news."

"Mrs. Lucy, has your ship really come in?"note said Doris, turning to her former governess with a beaming smile.

"My dear, it has really and truly," answered Mrs. Challoner, with an answering notesmile. In the old days, Doris, from constantly hearing her mother address Miss Murray as Lucy, had called her Miss Lucy, and the sound of her name on the girl's lips had grown so dear to the ex-governess that she would not allow her to relinquish its use.

The story of the ship which had reached port was soon told. Some years before Mrs. Challoner had entrusted all her savings to her brother-in-law, a broker in Sydney, to invest as he thought most prudent. He had put the money–£500 in all–in Broken Hill shares,note while the prospects of the mine were still uncertain; now the investment was worth £6,000 and bringing in an annual income of £600.

"So Robert and his brother will be able to see their mother, after all. We noteare going to London directly after Christmas," said Mrs. Challoner.

Doris, on hearing this, said they had better noteall come on the 10th of September.

"The same thought has occurred to me," said Mrs. Lindsay. "We are going by a French boat, as I told you, Lucy, because we can so quickly get from Marseilles to Mentone; and the route would be very little longer for you: I feel that the sea will do me good, but I dread a long land journey."

"And I would teach Euphemia French on the voyage, when there would be no sea-serpents to look at," put in Doris, with a saucy smile at her mother, who had within the last few weeks been urging her to greater diligence in that language. noteEuphemia, aged eighteen, was Mrs. Challoner's step-daughter.




  ― 51 ―

"I fear it would be impossible. Robert has to sell off the stock, and he wants his son to come with us. He is now pearling in noteWest Australia,"note answered Mrs. Challoner. "I would ask you to delay your departure, so that we might travel together, dear Mrs. Lindsay, only you need the change, I am sure."

"And you know, Lucy, when you make up your mind to have your teeth out, it is dreadful to have to wait too long," answered Mrs. Lindsay in a low voice; and though she tried to maintain a cheerful manner, it became evident to Mrs. Challoner that the prospect of leaving Ouranie was a serious trial to her friend.

"I do not wonder you are loath to leave it, dear Mrs. Lindsay, it is such a lovely, peaceful spot! Oh, the relief of seeing such a place after living at notethe mine!"

They were now in sight of the home station, which, with its detached groups of houses, looked like a little village. The dwelling-house, with a kitchen and servants' quarters semi-detached behind it, was on a slight rise. On the western side of the large shadowy garden was the manager's house, coach-house, stable and store-rooms. A quarter of a mile to the south-west lay the woolshed, with its pens and yards; near it a long, low dwelling for the shearers, known as the "men's hut," and close to this two small cottages for the knock-about hands and their wives. Mrs. Lindsay made a point of having only married men engaged on the station. In a place so remote from general society, she was of opinion that it was not good for man to be alone.note

"Oh, the garden is as full of flowers as ever!" cried Mrs. Challoner, as they drove through part of it to the front of the house. The garden at Ouranie was watered from the lake by a windmill, and this fact speaks volumes to those who know something of the fertility of Australian ground under copious irrigation. To Doris it had always been a charmed region, in which she had spent many hours daily. Early in the winter the first sweet violets began to make their presence known with their penetrating fragrance. A little later the almond-trees were notefolded in an unbroken wreath of faint pink or moonlight-coloured cups, and the bowls of the white and purple anemones quivered on their slender stalks in a way that made Doris say winter was the dearest season of all.




  ― 52 ―

But as the spring advanced and the great snowy clusters of the guelder-rose tossed themselves in the air, like a juggler throwing a hundred balls aloft in one moment, and the deep Bruckmansia bells,note with the delicate tracery of their softly curved rims, were perpetually haunted with the hum of bees, while the vivid tones of crimson and purple passion-flowers made deep snatches of colour on every side, and the stems of the narcissi and jonquils bent under their fragrant loads–these surely were the dearest days of all. Leaves and flowers everywhere, and the whole air rifted with the songs of birds. . . . And yet, as the heat of summer advanced and on every side tall rose-bushes were bent under glowing cataracts of roses, and the ground was strewn with fruits, which were so thickly clustered on each branch that the idlest wind notethat blew carried some away; when through the crimsoned noteevening atmosphere, palpitating with intense heat, a long array of water-fowl might be seen winging their flight to the unperishing waters of Gauwari, this season, too, had its own unique charms.

And autumn with its shorter days and cooler nights, with its gray tints stealing softly into the hard blue of the sky, while trees from the old country broke into strange hectic flushes that gradually paled, till the leaves fell to the ground in noiseless showers, this, too, had its own subtle fascination. Myriads of roses still remained, countless asters, notedelicate vivid verbenas, Gaillardias, noteand many-coloured noteverbenas, and geraniums beyond number–all these were feverishly aflame.

Day and night; twilight and dawn; the soft gradations of the Australian year, as the noteseason came and departed; the sonorous voices of the wind when it rose to a great gale on a winter night, the notewhisperings of the wind through the needle-leaved she-oaks notein the summer evenings; the return and departure of migratory birds: all notethese were entrancing pages in a book of which Doris never wearied. . . . When the old vines, arid-looking as the stems of ancient grass-sticks, began to kindle into gadding tendrilsnote


  ― 53 ―
and woolly buds, the girl would watch them, day by day, till in the still warm evenings of September flocks of them would be found transformed into golden green–more like the tips of flames than growing leaves. Later the roof of the wide arcade, that ran through the length of the garden, would be a network of leaves so densely woven that the fiercest sunbeams, beating on its roof, could find no noteentrance, except noteas a warm jonquil light, flushing myriads of clusters into perfect ripeness. Where did they all get their wonderful colours–the crimson rose and the ivory-coloured lily, the purple grape and the carmine-flushed peach, all swelling out of tiny oblong buds, at first hardly thicker than a thread? These miracles of nature, yearly renewed, were for Doris never masked by the indifference which so often comes of familiarity. Her early intimacy with nature developed a talent for observation and a faculty for taking painsnote which became the strongest discipline of her life.

There was so much to learn, and the lore she gathered was more enthralling than any tales of fairy adventures, for underlying all there was a magic which could never be exhausted nor explained.

The vast melancholy waste of illimitable plain, that stretched into the gray distance to the east and north, would make the casual traveller, on reaching Ouranie, keenly realize how notelovely it was, with its softly swelling rises, its park-like woods, and wide permanent lake. But no casual observer could know how every tree and nook round the notelittle head station throbbed with life and interest for the solitary child, who from her infancy had learned to keep long vigils on all things that grew and lived around.

She knew when the first broods of the shell parrots would flit through the pale honey-coloured blossoms of the gum-trees, and when the young laughing-jackasses were fledged, and learned to take their first grotesque flights with solemn awkwardness. She had learned when to look for the wild swans and ducks, hatching their young in the coverts of Gauwari, and where the snipe and teal oftenest sought their food. She knew


  ― 54 ―
what honeybirds came in pairs when the notegum-trees first blossomed, and went away in flocks when the blossoms were over. The full clear notes of the singing honeybird, which her mother likened to the missel-thrush; the rapid chirps of the long-billed kind; the single note long drawn out, with its short note quickly repeated, of the fulvous-fronted ones; the grating cry of the black-throated, and the harsh quarrelsome notes of the wattle-birdnote–she recognised them all, and watched them clinging head downwards like little acrobats among the honeyed blooms they rifled with greedy haste notefor an hour at a time.

"There must be a mother snipe somewhere in the ti-tree; the father-bird keeps on piping and flying all alone," she would say, and spend most of a long afternoon down by the lake till she discovered the whereabouts of the mother-bird. She loved to see the eyes of birds in their nests when they caught sight of a human face. No moccasined Indian or Australian black in Kooditchanote shoes could tread more softly than she did, when, from day to day, she stole to look at the waterfowls that hatched their young on the borders of the lake. Here she would sit so quietly under the great horizontal arms of an old gum-tree, that oftentimes little birds hopped as near her as if she were a shrub. Here she loved to watch the little blue wrens taking their feeble flight from one tussock of grass to another. They were such poor fliers, but they filled the whole air with their ecstatic roundelays, often ending with clear silvery tinklings like the chime of fairy bells. Mrs. Lindsay had never allowed a shot to be fired in the vicinity since she had come to the station, and this, coupled with its abundant waters and the blossoming gum-trees and wattles, made Gauwari a famous resort for birds.

noteDoris could hardly have said which she liked best to watch: birds notebuild their nests or buds noteswell on the trees and the spear-like tips of annuals thrusting their way through the mould. Perhaps the notelast days of August more than any other time notein the year saw noteher linger longest in the garden. It was here that Mrs. Challoner found her on the afternoon of the third day after she had come to Ouranie. Doris was half concealed by the shrubs


  ― 55 ―
that grew rather densely on the borders of Gauwari where it formed the garden boundary. Here the ground was perfectly carpeted with violets. Mrs. Lindsay had an old recipe by which she made violet scent, so that very few of these flowers were allowed to wither unseen in the Ouranie garden. Doris was occupied in filling a basket with them when Mrs. Challoner found her, directed to the spot by the movements of the young sheep-dog who was the girl's constant companion.

"I have been looking for you, dear, all over the garden," said Mrs. Challoner in a very grave voice.

She had come on a grave errand; no less than to warn Doris that her mother's health was very precarious. An hour before she had suddenly fainted, and had lain for nearly twenty minutes in a half-unconscious state. Mrs. Challoner, greatly alarmed, had sent one of the servants to the manager's house to summon her sister-in-law, Mrs. Murray. The two had administered the restoratives usual in fainting-fits,note and gradually Mrs. Lindsay had recovered. Her first words expressed a wish that Doris should not know.

"I am glad she was not in, she would be so much alarmed, poor darling," she said tremulously.

The sisters exchanged glances, and then Mrs. Challoner said notevery gently:

"But is it wise to keep her in ignorance, dear? Do you think this is the old heart trouble?"

"Oh yes; but there is a long interval usually between these attacks; I think this was merely brought on by my inability to sleep well during the last few nights, and a sort of nervous agitation."

If Mrs. Challoner had given expression to her thought just then she would have urged her friend to prevent her mind from being too much concentrated on the invisible world. It seemed to her that the habit of abstracting herself from outward things had greatly grown on Mrs. Lindsay since she had last seen her. But she shrank from approaching the subject. After a little silence Mrs. Lindsay spoke again:

"Perhaps it would, on the whole, be wiser, Lucy, if you were to open this subject to Doris. I have never taught her to think of


  ― 56 ―
death with horror."

"Of death! But, dear friend, I hope that is still far off," said Mrs. Challoner with some agitation.

A faint smile hovered over Mrs. Lindsay's worn face.

"The mysterious pass where two cannot walk side by side, and where for an instant souls lose sight of each other,"note she murmured softly. "It is only for the child's sake I could wish this pass were still a little distance off. . . . But within the last notetwo days it seems as if the power of keeping alive were slowly leaving me. And then I have thought the sea air would be a tonic. I think I wrote too long last night; I was anxious to post a second letter to my friend, Mme. de Serziac, which she will get notea week or ten days before we land. But I'll be more careful after this. Perhaps, Lucy, it will be better, on the whole, that you should speak to Doris. . . . Mrs. Murray will stay with me."

It was not until she stood face to face with Doris that Mrs. Challoner quite realized the difficulty of her mission. The girl looked so serenely happy, so unconscious of any cloud lurking on the horizon of her young life.

"Have you been looking for me long, dear?" she said blithely; "well, I'm glad you have come to the violet bank, for you look pale, and if you just sit down on this little seat under the wattle–now lean back and hold this posy of violets."

Doris made Mrs. Challoner lean against the back of the little rustic bench, and put a great handful of violets on her lap, and then went on plucking some more.

"Doris, I came to speak to you about something," said Mrs. Challoner, a little faintly.

"Ah, you do put me in mind of the old days, when I used to write such shabby little compositions," said Doris, laughing merrily.

Mrs. Challoner was by nature of a timid, shrinking disposition, extremely faithful and affectionate, yet without much force of character. During the seven years she had lived at Ouranie, she had been more of a companion to Mrs. Lindsay than a governess to Doris, who had been chiefly taught by her mother. Mrs. Challoner was apt to talk at great length and with much animation of things that Doris thought very trifling. Constant


  ― 57 ―
intercourse with a mind as unworldly and disinterested as her mother's had unconsciously made the girl a little scornful of themes that take a prominent place in the estimation of the generality of women. She was very fond of Mrs. Challoner, and had got into the habit of petting her a good deal, without attaching much importance to what she said or thought.

Mrs. Challoner, on her part, had always been of opinion that Mrs. Lindsay made Doris's life too happy and beautiful to be a wise preparation for the world in which she must one day live; that she was too sedulously guarded from the commoner influences of human intercourse, untouched by its vanities and frivolities, knowing nothing of its temptations, its passions, its incurable miseries; yet, as the girl's happy laugh rang in her ears, she felt a growing disinclination to fulfil her purpose. She looked at her with dimmed eyes as she sat with her large straw hat on her lap, the basket of violets at her feet, holding up a peremptory finger at her young collie.

"Now, Spot, if you put your cold, inquisitive little nose into that basket, do you know what will happen?"

Spot dashed about, keeping his nose to the ground, and circling round the basket in a somewhat suspicious manner.

"You rogue! I'll leave you on the station, with the other dogs, instead of coming abroad to see the world–Samarcand, and the Valley of Diamonds, and the palaces of Pekin.note But, Mrs. Lucy dear, you haven't told me what you wanted to speak to me about. Ah, I can guess!" she said, a mischievous glance coming into her eyes.

"What is your guess, noteDoris?" asked Mrs. Challoner, trying to lead up to what she wished to say without being too abrupt.

"You want to tell me that fairy-tales are not really true. That Shung-Loo's stories are made up by mandarins, who are foolish and have no religion."

"No, dear, that is not what I want to say," answered Mrs. Challoner with a somewhat discouraged-looking smile.

"Now, Spot, put your nose to the ground and lie down quite still," cried Doris to the dog, who was in fact gambolling perilously near to the notebasket full of violets. Spot obeyed, and then Doris turned to Mrs. Challoner. "I'll give only one more guess–


  ― 58 ―
You want to make me quite understand that the Silent Sea is not a sea, but a great barren plain stretching from Buda to your station and the mine, and past that for hundreds of miles, all the way to the Never-never Land?"note

Mrs. Challoner slowly shook her head, and then Doris saw that her eyes were dim with tears. In truth, Doris's every look and gesture made her old friend's heart ache. The girl was so heart-whole, her radiant young beauty so untouched by care or apprehension, that the thought of revealing to her what might be the great sorrow which would overcast her opening life seemed barbarous and unwise. But Mrs. Challoner's uncommunicative sadness suddenly struck a chord of fear in the notegirl's heart.

"Ah, you are afraid to tell me! Is it anything about mamma?"

"Yes, dearie."

"What is it–is she ill? But no, you would have told me at once."

"She has been ill, Doris, but she is better; what I want to say to you is–oh, my dear, don't look so frightened, I cannot bear it!"

"Tell me, tell me!" cried Doris breathlessly.

"Your mother, darling, has not been strong for years. I don't think you know–indeed, I am sure she has concealed from you how ill she often is. About an hour ago she fainted away. It is her heart that is affected. I said to her I thought you ought to know how serious it is."

"How serious! you mean that perhaps––" Doris could not put into words the terrible thought that blanched her face. But she maintained her self-possession in a way that surprised Mrs. Challoner. As a matter of fact, noteshe possessed a great fund of firmness and self-reliance. She broke into no tears nor lamentations. During the next few days she kept more constantly with her mother, and insisted on taking her place in the little school for the splitters' children in the Peppermint Ranges, to which Mrs. Challoner accompanied her each forenoon. And so notethe days passed until the one before that on which they were to leave Ouranie.




  ― 59 ―

6. Chapter VI.

During the night that preceded this day Mrs. Lindsay lay many hours awake. When she at last fell asleep, her slumber was fitful and broken. Towards morning she suddenly woke up in extreme agitation. She thought she had heard Doris calling out, "Mother! mother! mother!" in piercing tones. When she opened her eyes, with this sound in her ears, her heart was throbbing so painfully that for a little time she could not move.

"It was a dream; it must have been a dream," she said, holding her hand against her left side, as if to still the stormy beatings of her heart. Yet she had no recollection of any event, or any other word that led up to this wailing cry. As soon as she could move, she went tremblingly to the door that led from her own room into her daughter's, but all was perfectly still. Then she opened the window and looked out. The east was faintly touched with the pallor of the coming dawn. The first half-drowsy notes of awakening birdsnote began to break the silence of the woods. It was the strangely beautiful hour in which nature, as if emerging from profound repose, seems to swim gradually back from the oblivion of night–all forms and colours spiritualized by the trembling approach of a new day. The dark masses of trees motionless as in a picture, the pale, unruffled lake, the deep clear vault of heaven, with a luminous reach of light slowly spreading in the orient–all were solemnly tranquil.

And when the mother once more turned to the dim, sweet chamber of her child, it was pervaded by an equal peacefulness. Near the window a bowlful of white roses glimmered in the uncertain light; on a little old-fashioned spindle table lay an open missal, beside a box of water-colours; on a chair, daintily folded, were the exquisitely-wrought under garments; in the depths of a half-opened wardrobe gleamed some of the crimson silk robes that Doris most habitually wore; and in the little bed, with its canopy of soft white Indian silk, the girl lay notefast asleep, her face,


  ― 60 ―
with its unruffled serenity, curiously resembling in expression the angel children she was so fond of painting. Over the foot of the bed a crimson scarf lay in careless folds.

This caught the mother's eyes, and she shivered slightly. In the yet dusky light this vivid streak of crimson somehow suggested to her morbidly-sensitive eyes the stain of a wounded creature's blood. She stole in softly and removed the scarf.

Doris moved, and lay with her face towards the window. Her lips parted in a soft smile. She murmured a few words in a low, glad voice, showing that some happy dream had come to her in sleep. At this the noteagitation which had taken so strong a hold on the mother was allayed. She went back into her own room, and though she did not sleep, she rested until after six.

Then Shung-Loo, with his invincible punctuality, with which no shadow of past or coming noteevents was ever allowed to interfere, tapped at her door, and on a little table close to it in the hall left a tray, with two cups of notecreamed chocolate and a little plateful of freshly-baked biscuits.

Mrs. Lindsay slipped on her dressing-gown and slippers, and took the tray into Doris's room. She had just awakened, and, on seeing her mother, started up to return her morning kiss.

"Is it really true, mother? Are we going away this very next day, into the strange countries where all the strange stories happened?"

"Yes, darling, going to-morrow. But, see, I have brought you your chocolate."

"But, mother, how naughty of you! Promise me you will let me wait more on you after this. You know, I am a great thing–half a head taller than you."

She sat up in bed, holding herself erect, so that even under a silken coverlet and in the weakly feminine folds of snowy lace that fell round her throat and slender white hands her heroic proportions should become evident.

"I promise you, Doris," said the mother, smiling fondly. "I dare say I shall soon grow stout and lazy, and let you come after me with my footstool and wrap; the voyage will be a fine opportunity. I wonder if the sea will make my little girl ill?"




  ― 61 ―

"Oh no–not a bit. Mother, I remember being on the sea quite well, and I dreamt of it a little before I woke. Do you remember how blue it used to look from the Adelaide hills?note And father sometimes took us sailing in a boat, you know, when we went to the seaside in the summer."

As always in mentioning her father, Doris's voice sank tenderly; and, as was her habit on such occasions, the mother pressed her child's hand.

"I remember, Dorrie; and you were quite a brave little sailor. Papa used to hold you up when the seagulls flew by, and you clapped your little hands with joy."

"Mother, I hope there will be great white seagulls, and albatrosses with wide, wide wings, and enormous sea-serpents, with green and gold eyes, sailing along with our ship," said Doris, her cheeks beginning to flush at the thought of all the notevague wonders that might open out before her on leaving the calm monotony of Ouranie.

Her mother smiled, shaking her head.

"Now, mammy, don't tell me that there are no sea-serpents," said Doris gaily. "I shall tell the captain to go to Sinbad's island, and to Ispahan.note Oh, you don't know half the places we are to see!"

Doris sipped a little chocolate, but she could not eat even one biscuit. Now that the hour of departure drew so near, the glad excitement of it all fairly carried her away.

"And the sea you saw in your sleep, Doris, was it blue and calm as we used to see it on summer days long ago?" asked her mother wistfully.

"No, I think it was stormy; and I was looking for you, mother, but I could not find you. Naughty little mother, where did you go? And why are you looking so pale again this morning, and dark under the eyes? Don't you hope the sea will be rough sometimes, mother, so that the waves will rise high with a white fringe to them, as they look in that picture in your bedroom?"

But the mother's heart, so sorely shaken by the tempests of life, was less adventurous. An old petition she had somewhere read long ago rose in her memory:




  ― 62 ―

"Grant, O God, that this sea may be to us and to all who sail upon it tranquil and quiet. To this end we pray. Hear us, good Lord!"note

Doris could no longer linger over her chocolate.

"It is right down to my little toes, mother–the gladness of going!"note she said, springing out of bed, and disappearing behind the pink chintz curtains that were drawn round her plunge bath.note

Her mother had been so much better these last notefew days that Doris, with the buoyant disbelief of youth in sorrow, had come to believe that the insidious weakness which for some days had prostrated her was quite passing away. Mrs. Murray was still very anxious, and Mrs. Challoner hopeful and uneasy by turns. Shung-Loo, the faithful Chinese servant, said nothing, but was in these days always hovering near his mistress. Shung was a marked personality in the Ouranie household. His connection with the family began in a curious way. At seventeen years of age he had been on the point of committing suicide at Canton, on account of failing to pass a literary examination.note He had been rescued by Mr. Lindsay, the son of the British Consul in that city. Shung became the young man's personal servant, and devoted himself heart and soul to his interest. He was equally devoted to his late master's widow and daughter. He was now over forty years of age, and his savings amounted to a sum that would keep him in competence in his native land, to which he hoped ultimately to return.

Shung's wages were paid to him half-yearly–thirty pounds in six five-pound notes. He did not like cheques, and Mrs. Lindsay indulged his prejudice. On receiving this money, Shung would count it over carefully, fingering each note with respectful affection. He would put the amount into a well-worn pocket-book, carry it about with him, and put it under his pillow at night for a week; then he would bring it back to Mrs. Lindsay, and ask her to keep it for him with the rest at six per cent. The amount would be entered in his pass-book, and Shung would cover a sheet of rice-paper with strange characters, making elaborate calculations as to the increase which this new deposit made to his capital and income. Shung was, as a rule, up to his eyes in work, cheerful, capable, and immovably calm. But at times a great


  ― 63 ―
melancholy would steal over him. At such seasons, Mrs. Lindsay, always a little apprehensive of that side of his character which had so early led him to the thought of self-destruction, would urge him to return to his own country.

"You have enough money now, Shung, and some of your relations are still living. You will be able to keep a wife, and have a pretty garden and a rice-field of your own," she would say to him, and Shung would listen with a half-pleased, half-wistful smile.

Who knows what visions of the Flowery Land,note and of the almond-eyed little Mongolian babies who might be born to him, visited his imagination? Yet, though exile had for him something of that "consumption of the soul"note which takes the savour out of life, his attachment to his mistress and his old home, and doubtless, too, the fascination of rapidly accumulating capital, had always hitherto won the day.

"When you and Miss Dolis go, then me go too," he would say.

It was notenow arranged that he should accompany them to noteFrance and then notetake ship from there to Canton.

He was pasting on labels and cording up boxes in the hall, when, at four o'clock on that afternoon, Doris came to ask if there was not something she could do.

"Maman is sleeping now," she said, "and Mrs. Murray is near her, tacking a ruffle round the neck of my travelling-cloak. Everything I begin to do someone else comes and finishes it. Now, Shung, there must be something I can do?"

"Yes, Miss Dolis. You go out and take you walk lound Gauwali. Missee Challonel," said Shung, turning to the latter as she came into the hall out of the room she occupied, "you vely good, vely kind. Take oul young lady out to see big sky and bilds. She not out all day; too muchee visitols."note

Mrs. Challoner promptly responded to this appeal. It was true that on this last day many callers had come from near and far. As Mrs. Lindsay could not be allowed to over-exert herself, Doris had been much to the fore, and had not been out of the house all day.

"I suppose that has hardly ever happened in your life before,


  ― 64 ―
except when you had the fever," said Mrs. Challoner as the two walked slowly round the lake.

"And once, two years ago, when mother was a little ill," answered Doris. She stood and drew in full breaths of the fresh air, which had in it poignant wafts of scent from the wattle-trees that were now in full blossom on the border of the lake, where they had been planted at intervals the year she was born. "How strange it will be at first," she said, "to be so far from our own birds and trees and sky, and the great Silent Sea!" she added, looking towards the north-east, where, beyond the wooded rises that surrounded Ouranie on all sides, the great rolling plain was visible, which sixty miles beyond Buda turned into the arid Salt-bush country.

"Oh, my dear, the great sounding ocean will be much more entertaining than the Silent Sea," returned Mrs. Challoner; "when you are fairly in that country, the gray look of it, the thirst that never seems satisfied, and the awful quiet, seem to take the heart out of you."

They were approaching a slight rise which was crowned with a group of shea-oak trees known as the Brotherhood.note Spot coaxed his mistress to take a run with him. When she reached the Brotherhood and looked eastward for a minute or two, she gave a little cry of joy and danced halfway back to Mrs. Challoner, crying:

"Guess who is coming–guess before you look!"

"What a picture the child makes!" thought Mrs. Challoner, looking at her with fond admiration. Hers was one of those rare faces never seen to such advantage as under the searching light of day. The fresh air brought a warmer tinge of colour into her cheeks, her great radiant eyes were sparkling; her eyelashes no longer cast a shadow under them, the amber tint of her hair was intensified by the sunlight. As she ran down from the Brotherhood on tip-toe, and stood on the margin of the lake with its reeds and tall grasses, bending and murmuring in the notebreeze with its wide, calm surface, absorbing the opulent afternoon sunshine, it would seem as though there were some subtle affinity between her and these wooing sights and sounds of nature.

"Who can it be?" said Mrs. Challoner with an answering smile,


  ― 65 ―
but regarding Doris so intently that she gave little thought to her question.

"It is Kenneth Campbell, and he has a gray horse this time with Jerry. What can have become of Rozinante?"note

It was the first question she put to the old man when they met.

"Rozinante notefell at the Mulga Ranges, Miss Dorrie, and I had to leave her. How do you find yourself to-day, ma'am?" he said, standing with uncovered head as Mrs. Challoner shook hands with him with the cordiality of an old friend.

Kenneth Campbell had been for fourteen years a shepherd on the Ouranie run,note living most of the time entirely alone. Four years previously he had given up shepherding, and bought a snug little farm in partnership with a younger brother, but in a short time he wearied of farming. He bought a hawker's waggon, and stocked it with religious books and publications, and returned to the district with which he had been so long familiar, travelling in a very leisurely fashion from station to station, and from one small township to the other.

There was something in his appearance that contrasted oddly with his nominal avocation. He was tall and lean, with a narrow face and narrow, stooping shoulders, on which a long gray alpaca coat hung loosely. He had a high furrowed brow, a thin aquiline nose, long gray moustachios and whiskers, while his hair fell in silvery locks on his shoulders. His whole face and bearing conveyed an impression of refinement, even benevolence, though he had the indescribable air of one who holds little communion with his kind; sometimes for days he would be silent as a dumb man. At such times there would be a brooding, semi-prophetic look in his large brown eyes, and in his face an air of abstraction as complete as if the world and all that it contained were as remote from his thoughts as one of the fixed stars. At other times he would be possessed by an irresistible impulse to give expression to notehis thoughts, and he would do so with forcible nervous eloquence in a soft, flexible voice, with that half-plaintive cadence which sometimes marks the noteutterances of Scottish Highlanders.

People said that his long solitude, and the mystical sort of


  ― 66 ―
books he read day and night, had unhinged his mind; and there may have been some truth in the supposition. It is certain that his most rooted and ardent ambition was to do good to his fellow-creatures, "to save souls from perdition," as he himself would say, though perdition and damnation with him meant moral evil rather than material torments. With his bookselling he combined voluntary and unpaid missionary work, holding impromptu servicesnote for station hands, splitters, miners and carters, or noteeven a solitary shepherd or hut-keeper who was willing to give him a hearing. He would on occasion take incredible trouble over some poor belatednote man who had fallen a victim to evil habits in the isolated life of the remote Bush.

Mrs. Lindsay had from the first recognised the rare qualities of mind and nature which distinguished Kenneth, and through her Mrs. Challoner had learned to esteem him. He had been shepherding at Ouranie when she lived there, and since her marriage she had seen him from time to time at her own home, and lately at notethe mine–always with an increased longing that he would settle down comfortably on his little farm.

"You are just in time to see Mrs. Lindsay and her daughter before they leave, Kenneth," said Mrs. Challoner, after the first greetings were over.

"Yes, yes, but it little matters in our span-length of time whether we say farewells. The great thing is that our spirits should meet at notea throne of grace,"note he murmured absently.

Mrs. Challoner thought he looked thinner than ever, and as if more rapt in those musings in which mundane events were but as straws in the balance; when thus absorbed he would often lose all thought of creature comforts. It was many years since he had given up animal food, and he seldom ate more than twice in the twenty-four hours, his food consisting for the most part of a quart-pot full of tea and a slice or two of damper–"noteunleaven bread,"note as he used to call it.

"I don't believe you have been well, Kenneth. Oh, I wish you would live on the farm once more! We should all be more comfortable to think of you under shelter with your brother than living this lonely life," said Mrs. Challoner, her anxiety for him


  ― 67 ―
increasing as she noticed the deep hollow circles round his eyes and the nervous, fleshless look of his hands.

He was watching Doris as she skimmed noteback by the water's edge, looking at some water-birds that had newly arrived; but as Mrs. Challoner spoke he turned to her with a kindlingnote look.

"But why should not all friends be comfortable about me, dear Mrs. Challoner? Death is the thing that the children of men dread most; and how many more die safe and sheltered in their beds than elsewhere! Wherever we may be on this piece of beguiling, well-lustred clay we call the earth, our lives must pass like snow-water; and often it is better passed in the wilds than otherwhere."

The old man's eyes glowed; his face lit up with a pale spiritual light. Mrs. Challoner recognised that he was in one of those moods of exaltation in which the presence of a fellow-creature roused him to utter some of the thoughts that had else passed in smother.note

"A writer of the Eastnote says," he went on, after a little pause, "that there are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon. And where in all the world shall you find it so wide and clear as on the great Salt-bush plains? There "like a man notebeloved of God"note have I often stood at the dawn, and the earth lay view beyond view, with notenot a tree, not a mole-hill to break the sight, and the air as pure as if man was never created. Even in a region where there is no water, no grass, where the notevery Salt-bush itself has withered, where the very scorpion perishes, man, if so minded, can draw nearer to the Eternalnote than among throngs of his fellow-creatures, eager to barter their immortal souls for the loan of a piece of dead clay, for the painted image of a worm-eaten happiness–Esau's mess of pottage.note No, no; do not fear for me, dear friend. Lonely we come into the world, recognising no soul, able only to greet; alone notemust we pass through the Dark Valley.note It is but fitting that between two such strange journeys, so mysterious a coming, so solemn a departure, we should oftentimes be solitary."

"Cowdie–Cowdie! come away and have a run with Spot, and tell him if you know these waterfowls!" cried Doris, her clear,


  ― 68 ―
glad tones ringing across the sombre utterances of the old shepherd like the notethrill of a bird heard in the darkness.

Cowdie was Kenneth's collie dog, whose grandparents he had brought with him from the rugged mountains of Argyllshire sixteen years previously. He was lying at his master's feet with his head flat on the ground, showing the whites of his eyes, as he glanced up now and then, waiting for his master's word of command.

"Go, Cowdie! go to Miss Doris," said Kenneth; and the dog instantly responded to the girl's call with the fleetness of a greyhound.

"Where were you last night, Kenneth?" asked Mrs. Challoner, anxious to divert Kenneth's thoughts from what she felt to be a very melancholy, if not morbid, groove.

"At the boundary hut–the one five miles from here, between Ouranie and Mr. White's run–where I shepherded notemy linenote for nearly ten years. But all that time nothing happened so strange as what took place last night. It was after ten. I was reading in my waggon when all at once I heard a loud, sharp scream–the scream of a woman."

Kenneth paused, looking into the distance as if awaiting some approaching sight or sound.

"And who was it, Kenneth?" asked Mrs. Challoner, with agitated interest.

"I am not quite sure, ma'am; but I will tell you all I know. As soon as I heard that cry I ran to the spot it seemed to come from. Perhaps you know notethe stringy-bark grows very thick round the boundary hut? I could see or hear nothing. Then I stood and gave a long, loud cooey. As the sound was dying away, I thought I heard a curious cry, as if one called and it was suddenly stopped. On that I began to search again. I went round and round for more than two hours. Then I thought of stories I had heard of strange creatures with strange cries in the Bush that white people have never seen, and I tried to believe noteit was not a human being. Yet I felt I was trying to put a lie on myself. I went back to my waggon, but I could not sleep; so I lit my little lamp, and read for some


  ― 69 ―
time longer. Then I got sleepy, and noteI was just going to put out my lamp, when I heard notethe sound of running–of someone passing quickly with naked feet. I jumped up and ran out; I saw something like shadows disappearing among the trees, one after the other. I did not know what I ought to do. My lamp was burning, and I thought if it was one in danger or lost he would surely make for the light. I turned up the notelight higher, and fastened back the flap of my tarpaulin, so that the light would shine out through the trees, and any creature lost or distressed could see it. I looked at my watch; it was one o'clock in the morning. About half an hour later I heard voices; I went out, and two men, spent with running, came up to me––"

"Two men?" said Mrs. Challoner, who was listening with painful intentness.

"Yes, two black fellows. One of them an old man, half naked, and bleeding from a wound in his side; the other a younger man, one that I knew by sight–he worked for some time on the Noomoolloo Station–Mr. White's, you'll remember. The old man yelled out something in the native language. I only understood "nape," which means wife. note Then the younger man asked me if I had seen any women. I told him I had not, and asked him if it was black women he was looking for. He said one was notehalf-caste, the younger almost white, and both dressed like white women. Then they said they must look in my waggon; I held the lamp, and let them search all through it. The old man's wound kept on bleeding; now and then he wiped the blood away with his hand, and he got it over his face. He was awful enough without that. I have never seen anyone in the shape of a human creature so like what we might suppose the father of darkness to be."

"Kenneth, these poor creatures–do you think they were from Noomoolloo?" said Mrs. Challoner hesitatingly.

"Ay, ma'am, they were the mother and daughter. Two miles from here I met a boundary rider of White's, and he told me the poor half-caste woman and White's daughter had run away two days ago for fear of being separated."

Here Doris came tripping back, followed by the dogs, and the


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subject was dropped. She and Mrs. Challoner returned by the path bordering the lake.

When Kenneth visited Ouranie, he always stopped at the house of Mr. Murray, the manager. To get there he had to turn more to the west.

"Come in soon after you take the horses out, Kenneth," said Mrs. Challoner in parting. "Mrs. Lindsay will want to talk to you for a little time, and she keeps early hours just now. We want her to be strong and fresh for the journey."

Kenneth promised to come early, and then slowly led his horses on their way. The evil that is in the world, active and implacable, laying waste so many lives, oftentimes weighed heavily on his mind, making his face sombrely earnest, with something of a fiery eagerness, like one crying in the wilderness,note and ready to denounce a world ripe for judgment.




  ― 71 ―

7. Chapter VII.

A little time after the conversation between Mrs. Challoner and Kenneth Campbell had come to an end, another encounter took place at Ouranie that afternoon near the woolshed. Mr. Murray, the manager, was inspecting some repairs that had been made to the pens, behind this building, when he saw a man riding up who turned out to be Mr. White, of Noomoolloo. "He has either lost a lot of money in town, or one of his best horses," thought Murray as he greeted his neighbour. It turned out, however, that it was neither of these losses which gave so lowering an expression to White's face.

"Have you seen anyone belonging to me about here?" he asked in a gruff voice after dismounting.

"Do you mean man or cattle? I saw Crosbie––"

"No, Koroona and her mother."

"You–you don't mean––"

"Yes, damn it, I do! They've cleared–run away–I believe they're somewhere about here. They haven't gone to Buda nor to the siding."

"Koroona out in the woods?" repeated Murray, with a sort of stupid unbelief.

"Yes, perhaps among the wild niggers that were on their way to the corroborree near Wilkietown. Isn't that a proper sort of place for a girl with four silk dresses to her back, who cost me nearly £100 a year at school for three years. And now she's skedaddled with that half-caste old mother of hers! By the Lord––"

White was a man celebrated for the large and varied stock of sulphurous language at his command. Murray waited with an uncommitted sort of expression till his neighbour had finished cursing, and then asked:

"But why did the mother run away?"

"Because I told her she must clearnote next day."

"Next day?"




  ― 72 ―

"Yes, next day, yesterday, before I began shearing. Not to clear into the woods, mind you–nothing of the sort. I was going to allow her thirty shillings a week as long as she lived–and that's not for very long, if I'm not mistaken. She had a cough, as I dare say you've noticed, that you could hear half a mile off. In fact, I made sure she would have turned up her toes months ago."

"And why in God's name did you think of turning her offnote just now?" said Murray with a sombre light in his eyes. He was a big strong man with a weather-tanned face, his hair and long brown beard grizzled with gray. He was undemonstrative in manner, reticent, and rather taciturn as a rule. But he had strong sympathies and an active imagination, and was as easily moved to pity as a woman, with the difference that the feeling was intolerable to him if it could be translated into action. He was well acquainted with the poor half-caste who had faced the perils of the woods rather than submit to separation from her only child. As he recalled her, with her timid eyes and shy, kindly ways, cut off from her own people, avoided by others, her health ruined, meek and submissive always to this tyrant, who talked of her more heartlessly than he would of one of his sheep or cattle, he felt half choked with disgusted anger.

"Why? Just because I couldn't wait any longer–I've been on the loose too long. I'm going to turn a respectable, God-fearing, top-hat man on the note25th of September,note at eleven o'clock in the morning, at St. Jude's in Wilkietown––"

"You are going to be married?"

"I am."

"And not to Koroona's mother?"

White broke into a furious volley of execration.

"What do you take me for? Do you think I'd disgrace myself by marrying a woman who is one-third a black lubra?"

"She's a jolly sight too good for you. She hasn't a vice more than any honest white woman, except humility."

"That's neither here nor there. I've got an income of £5,000 a year."

"Let me tell you, White, that to have £5,000 a year isn't the whole art of being a decent human being."

"Now, gently, old man–gently; I'd put up with more from


  ― 73 ―
you than anyone else in the district, for you've done me many a good turn. But I'm going to marry a lady–you needn't screw up your nose like a colt in a halter for the first time–a devilish good-looking woman, too, and a sensible one at that. She's been married twice–the first time to a Church of England parson, the last time to a doctor."

"Do you mean Mrs. Minkerton at Wilkietown?" said Murray in an amazed voice.

"I do; and though she's been married twice, I'm the only love of her life: think of that, old chappie!–the only love of her life," repeated White with a gratified chuckle.

"Does she know––"

"Yes, I knew everyone in the district knows, and so I confessed to her. It was just like a bit out of the yellow-backs.note "Lizzie," said I, "I ain't good enough for you. I haven't been quite as bad as most old bachelors; I've acted too much on the square." By Jove! she forgave me before I half finished. I tell you what, Murray, a good expression in the eyes, and £5,000 a year, go a good way with a woman of sense."

Murray gave a disdainful grunt, and made a movement as if to turn away. White, as if not seeing this, went on:

"But of course she was jealous; she told me so plainly–ha, ha! We'd be ashamed to confess that, you and I, Murray; but it's a quality in a woman–by Jove it is! However, she consented that I should keep Koroona. Well, two nights ago I told Jeanie. She stared at me a bit, but she took it very quiet."

"Yes, she's had a good training in the way of taking things notequiet," observed Murray.

"Well, yes," responded White, who seemed to take the remark as a compliment; "whatever sort of woman I have in the house, whether black or half-caste or white, I mean always to be the master. I gave Jeanie £40 in an envelope and told her to be ready to start early in the morning, and that she notebetter say nothing to Koroona. She seemed noteto be a bit dazed, you know. Still, I thought she understood. But notenext morning they had both cleared."

"And I suppose you think, if they had come here, I would give


  ― 74 ―
them both up to you?" said Murray slowly.

"And wouldn't you?"

"No, by the Lord I would not, as long as I had the use of my fists or a stock-whip!" cried Murray, with sudden savageness.

"You'd find yourself in the wrong box,note though, if you tried to keep another man's property," retorted White, in rising tones.

"Property? Allow me, as a justice of the peace, to tell you that you dare not take that girl from her mother."note

Before White could make any reply to this, he caught sight of Kenneth Campbell coming round the woolshed.

"I can't stand that lunatic at any price," he said hastily, and, mounting his horse, he rode off at a gallop. He was not the only man of irregular life in the district who was apt to give Kenneth a wide berth. Probably this is as near as most preachers of righteousness get to changing the lives of their erring fellow-creatures. But it was not a mode that met Campbell's aspirations to do good.

"Ah! I wish you had detained yon poor, poor creature, Mr. Murray, till I delivered the message laid upon me to speak to him," he said, looking after the flying horseman.

"He isn't worth your powder and shot,note Kenneth," answered Murray.

The two men, who had become fast friends during the years that Campbell had been a shepherd on the run, talked together for some time. Then Kenneth went to see Mrs. Lindsay, as the sun was setting. He found her in the drawing-room on a couch near one of the French windows which opened into the garden. A massive jewel-case was noteopen on a table near her, at which Doris was seated, turning over the contents with Mrs. Challoner.

"Maman, why didn't you tell me before this you had a valley of diamonds in the bottom drawer of your wardrobe?" said Doris, holding up a diamond bracelet to the light–one of a set of very costly jewels.

"I had almost forgotten, dearie, I had these things; most of them belonged to your grandmothers," answered Mrs. Lindsay. Then she turned to speak to Kenneth, asking him about his journeys, and what he had been doing since she saw him last.


  ― 75 ―
There was a great sympathy between the two, and often when his voluntary labours seemed to him a vain and profitless thing,note Kenneth found consolation and fresh encouragement in Mrs. Lindsay's words.

"Kenneth, you look very sad and worn," she said, after talking to him for a little time.

"Oh, it is well with me, dear lady–it is well with me," answered Kenneth. "I do not expect my earthly pilgrimage to be a long one." He avoided all mention of the special matter which was just then weighing on his mind.

"Oh, what a perfectly beautiful ruby! Look, when I hold it up, maman, how it seems to have a little crimson lamp in its heart!" said Doris, turning to her mother. Then seeing she was absorbed with her old friend, she did not again interrupt their talk. But Mrs. Challoner was ready with murmurs of admiration for every kind of gem and fashion of setting. And so for some time the two currents of talk went on near each other–the one full of artless enjoyment in the beauty and flawlessness of precious stones; the other grave and solemn, yet penetrated with serene hopefulness.

As the twilight deepened, Shung stole in noiselessly to light the candles. But the light that came in through the open doors and windows was so soft and peaceful that Mrs. Lindsay would not have it changed. A few minutes after Shung went out, Doris, whose sight and hearing were preternaturally quick, looked out into the garden with a startled air.

"No, it isn't Spot. I see he is lying on the veranda. But don't you hear a rustling sound? noteThere, Spot has noticed notesomething too."

Doris rose as she spoke to look out; but before she reached the open window, one came rushing in from the darkening garden–a young girl with torn clothes, with blood on her hands and face, bareheaded, with her dusky hair blown about her shoulders. On seeing Doris she gave a shrill cry.

"Oh, save me, save me! do not let them catch me!" she cried; and with that she rushed in through the window–rushed in and sank down, half kneeling, half crouching, at Mrs. Lindsay's feet. "You will not let them come after me–oh, you will not, I know! I know–everyone says you are an angel of goodness! And my mother is dead out there where we were hiding in the woods."




  ― 76 ―

Mrs. Lindsay, white to the lips, and trembling violently, attempted to rise, holding out her hands protectingly, while her lips moved as if in speech, but no sound came from them. The next moment she had fallen back on the couch, blood pouring from her lips. Doris was the first to see this, and her sudden cry of anguish, "Mother! mother! mother!" drew the eyes of the rest from the strange apparition of the girl–young and slender, with scarcely a trace of the mixture of races in her veins, who had thus suddenly flown out of the woods, crying for protection in her forlorn state. Mrs. Lindsay became unconscious, and was inanimate so long, that they almost gave up all hope she could ever revive. During this time of terrible suspense when all the remedies they tried proved unavailing, and they awaited the arrival of the doctor from Buda, expecting only that he noteshould confirm their worst fears, Doris did not stir from her mother's side. Mrs. Murray took away the poor fugitive girl, whose frantic grief at sight of the mischief, which she thought was entirely due to her action, added to the distress of all. It was Mr. Murray who went for the doctor, driving a buggy and pair, so that no time should be lost if he were at home. As Dr. Haining depended chiefly on his practice among the squatters of the district, he was often absent from Buda, or, noteas after a long journey, his horses were so jaded that to undertake another with them was frequently attended with undue delay. Nor, if the truth must be told, was Dr. Haining's skill of the kind which is of the first consequence in any intricate or subtle malady. But it was a relief notefor Mr. Murraynote to find him at home, and he almost laid violent hands on the worthy old man to hasten his journey to Ouranie.

They reached it at nine o'clock at night, to find that half an hour previously Mrs. Lindsay had shown symptoms of returning life. There was a faint sigh, a notelittle flutter of the eyelids, and noteshortly afterwards she looked at Doris with a smile so faint as to be almost imperceptible. But Doris saw it, and for the first time two or three hot little tears came to her relief. The girl's moral courage and presence of mind notewas a revelation to all. The doctor did everything that was in his power, but he knew at once that there was little hope of recovery. He stayed at Ouranie for


  ― 77 ―
three days. Late in the afternoon of the third noteday an urgent summons came for him to Noomoolloo. White, who had come to see Koroona at Murray's house, vainly trying to induce her to return home, and assuring her that her mother had been buried as expensively as any white woman, had gone away in a state of considerable excitement. After getting home he was very badly bitten by a large mastiff he was beating in a savage manner, for some real or imaginary act of disobedience.

As Dr. Haining was going away, he stood for a little time talking to Mrs. Challoner in the hall. Mrs. Lindsay had not been removed from the drawing-room, and Doris was just then sitting by the bed, which had, under her directions, been placed opposite the window that commanded her mother's favourite outlook–across the shadowy flower-filled garden and the glancing expanse of Gauwari.

"Put it round at this side, so that mother can look out when she is getting better," she had said, in a low notefirm whisper, when they were arranging the bed. Mrs. Challoner and the doctor exchanged glances, but they said nothing; and Shung, who was engaged in arranging the bed, carried out this direction, and clung to the reason with pathetic insistence. "When Missie Lindsay bettel" was a phrase poor Shung was never tired of using in the days that followed. And, as a matter of fact, during these three days Mrs. Lindsay had recovered speech and full consciousness. It was true, she was extremely weak. noteThough the blood-vessel she had broken was but a small one, the action of the heart, which had been seriously affected for many years, was so defective that from time to time she had great difficulty in breathing; but when these paroxysms were over, her face was stamped with an expression of rapt and absolute peace, and often, when she murmured a few words of meditative prayer, a smile that spoke of joyous expectation would flit over her face.

When Dr. Haining was leaving her, he said something about returning soon again.

"Do not fatigue yourself for me, doctor," she answered softly. "I have everything that I can want, and so many anxious to wait on me, especially this dear child of mine." As she spoke she stroked Doris's hand lightly.




  ― 78 ―

As the doctor was going out, Shung glided in with his young mistress's hat and gloves.

"Missy Dolis in all day," he said, shaking his head gravely.

"Go, darling, out into the fresh air for a short time," said Mrs. Lindsay. "I feel a little stronger just now, and I want to speak to you when you return. Tell Kenneth I should like to see him for a few moments."

Doris felt a strange oppression falling on her at these words. Her beautiful eyes, so full of love and softness, expanded with a startled expression; but there was also a look of intrepid courage on her face–the courage and devotion of a great love, capable of rising above all thoughts of self. Only during the time in which her mother had lain like one dead had Doris believed that her attack was fatal; and after the first overwhelming sensation of entire loneliness, of helpless, despairing isolation, as of a creature suddenly taken from under the measureless vault of heaven filled with warm blue air, and thrust in a dark corner, between cruel bars, an inexplicable composure came to her–a strong, unreasoning conviction that she would not long survive her mother. Was it some undeveloped malady that lurked in her system, or some strong obscure link between her own life and her mother's, which lent such force to the thought, devoid of all fear and without a touch of morbid self-pity?

But these thoughts and emotions vanished as quickly as they had come when her mother recovered consciousness. From that moment Doris's mind was centred on one object–to be well and strong, so as to be with her mother notein the day notetime when she was most awake. Each night notethe girl had gone to sleep quite early, sleeping the profound sleep of a child notewearied with the long day, and rising early noteeach morning, radiant and refreshed, coming into her mother's room with the first sun-rays with a great bowl of freshly-gathered roses. Oh, how the gentle happiness of her mother's smile as their eyes met suffused the girl's whole nature with an ecstasy of gratitude, with an indefinable supreme sense of union, which nothing could rupture! noteThe look of conscious deep serenity on her mother's face was to Doris a covenant and an assurance that all was well, and must continue so.




  ― 79 ―

noteOnly on the previous day, after recovering from a swooning feebleness which had lasted longer than usual, Dorisnote had noticed her mother's eyes resting on her from time to time with something of solicitude–of anxiety. She had remained for a long time motionless, notehands clasped, her lips moving from time to time, till she fell asleep. After an hour she had awoke, a new radiance on her brow and in her eyes. Something of the same look was on her face now, and yet her words noteroused a vague apprehension in Doris's mind. She lingered wistfully over her mother, with those tender and skilful little touches which impart to pillows a new quality of being at once softer and more supporting.

"Bring me a fresh story, Doris, about a new honey-bird or a fresh flower bursting into blossom," she whispered, as Doris kissed her hands.

The girl's eyes were suddenly dimmed as she went out. She opened the door noiselessly that led into the hall. The doctor, with his back towards her, was talking to Mrs. Challoner.

"You see, it isn't one thing; it is a complication. She cannot recover. I don't expect that she can live more than a few days at the utmost––"

Warned by a sudden pressure on his arm, and a low "Sh! sh!" from Mrs. Challoner, Dr. Haining stopped abruptly. He would like to have retracted his words, or to have offered some modifying explanation, when he saw that Doris had overheard him; but her steadfast gaze disconcerted him.

"Were you talking of mother, doctor?" she said, in a very low voice.

"Oh, my poor dear child!" said Mrs. Challoner, putting her arms round her noteas to ward off this great sorrow.

Doris slipped away without further speech.

"That child has wonderful pluck," said the doctor, looking after her.

But Mrs. Challoner shook her head.

"I would sooner see her cry, and show more distress," she said. "She hasn't been a single day or night away from her mother in her life. I don't know how she is to live without her."




  ― 80 ―

8. Chapter VIII.

On going out, Doris saw Kenneth Campbell reading in the garden, and went to give him her mother's message. Then she went on to the rustic bench, near the violet-banks, and for some time the thought of that incredible separation which seemed to be drawing near bewildered and overwhelmed her. When she left the garden the sun had already set; but the air was so clear and transparent that for some time the light, instead of fading, mellowed and deepened, with reddish glows from the western horizon falling upon the trunks of the trees, and then gradually stealing upward to the topmost branches. Doris mechanically followed her mother's favourite walk round the margin of the lake.

"She cannot recover." The words kept weaving themselves into every bird-note she heard, till gradually, as the twilight fell, the birds became silent. The honey-eaters were the first to go to sleep; after that the tremulous calls of the shell-parrots died away; later the chirping of the sparrows ceased, then the swallows' last twittering. As the reflections of the trees in the water were merged in a confused mass, the fairy carillons of the blue wrens were hushed; but the trills of the reed-warblers among the tall sedges still went on, while the slender brown reeds, and the dense clumps of ti-tree at the far end of Gauwari, began to be haunted by the long-drawn, plaintive calls of the curlewsnote–one in the far distance answering the others with a measured cadence that seemed to embody the very spirit of the waning conflict of two lights. In that calm, brooding hour, when the dimness of night is still in suspense, while the light of day is neutralized by the tranquil twilight shadows–when even the steadfast trees that we know most intimately assume a notehalf-mystic air as of beings from another sphere–in such an atmosphere the heart is often lightened of its notemost importunate fears. It is as though the


  ― 81 ―
mind became involuntarily conscious of the eternities to come, immutably sealed with a peace which the darts of fate we now so much dread are powerless to assail. Doris's companionship with nature had been too penetrating to leave her in this hour of deepest apprehension. She had been too long and too deeply moved by the sacred silent influences around her to stand in their presence coldly wrapped in her own sorrow. Her tears ceased as she looked around, suddenly pierced with the thought that earth and sky breathed the selfsame peace which was imprinted on her mother's face. . . . Was that beloved mother indeed to pass into the unknown realms which our Father keeps for His children infinitely beyond the reach of earth's light and darkness? Looking up into the far silent spaces of the sky, which was so immensely vaulted that it was as though the immeasurable heavens had broken asunder to the highest, a great strength of love nerved her afresh. She would not mar the beautiful serenity of her darling's home-going by futile tears and repinings. Sorrow she must have, but she would endure it bravely and alone.

She returned to the house to find her mother half sitting up and talking to Mrs. Challoner, without any distress of breathing.

"Mother, you are a little better," she said, her heart almost ceasing to beat with the sudden shock of joy.

"Yes, dear; I am well enough to talk to you for a little. We won't have the lights in; let us sit in the twilight . . . like old times."

Mrs. Challoner left the two alone.

There was silence for a little time, broken only by the notes of a fantail in the garden, who sang as if his small heart was too full of joy to go to sleep at his accustomed hour.

"I thought they had all gone to sleep noteexcept the little reed-warblers and the curlews, mother," said Doris softly; and the sound of her voice speaking steadily gave the mother courage for her task.

"We have been very happy together, my child, . . . and now I fear you will grieve. . . ."

"Do not be afraid for me, mother," said the girl steadily.

"My dear one . . . you are going to be brave for me and for yourself. It is strange how much we forget that it is only what we do not see which is eternal–that all around us is a passing dream


  ― 82 ―
from which our Father one day in His love awakes us."

"You are going away from me, notemamma–away to the other home," said Doris, with a little catch in her throat.

"Yes, dearest . . . after you went out I grew heavy with care at the thought of leaving you. . . . I feared for you in your grief and loneliness. . . . But as I looked after you I saw how our Father had put His own seal on the whole world around you, and I felt somehow sure that He would touch your heart also with the peace which passeth understanding. . . ."note

"Oh, mother, was that why I could not cry any longer?" said Doris, in a low, noteawe-struck voice.

The mother's face was radiant. Her heart was full as she pondered over those mysteries of the soul and miracles of nature for which our most ardent words of explanation are clouds of enshrouding darkness.

"It will be well with the child."note

She repeated the words over more than once with a rapt look in her face. Her strength kept up wonderfully for some time longer. For nearly an hour she went over many matters in detail with Doris regarding her future life–Mme. de Serziac and her guardian, and the disposal of certain sums of money, and her wish that, if Doris and Mr. Graham should at any time decide to sell Ouranie, Mr. Murray should have the first offer on as easy terms as possible.

"I think that is almost all the business we need talk, Doris," she said at the close; "but there is one thing I should like you to decide for yourself, whether, after we must part, you prefer to stay here till the Challoners are ready to take you to Mme. de Serziac, or go on with Mrs. Challoner to Colmar? You would have your own rooms, of course, with Shung to notewait on you and your horses to drive and ride."

Mrs. Lindsay spoke a little hurriedly, fearing that this ruthless necessity for realizing so closely the last strange farewell might press too heavily on Doris.

"I don't think I could bear to be here without you, mother," answered Doris in a very low voice, as she stroked her mother's hand in the old loving fashion. Then she stooped down and kissed it repeatedly and passionately.




  ― 83 ―

"Oh, mother, do you remember long ago, when I had notethe fever and used to dream so often you had gone away to the East–to the Silent Sea?" she said, her tears now falling in the dusk as fast as summer rain.

"Yes, Doris, I remember. And then you thought you had gone after me, and found me; and for days, till the fever left you, you thought that was where we were. I am going on a longer journey; but by-and-by, my child, when your work is done, you will come too."

"Oh, notemamma! mamma! if I could only come with you now!"

Then the mother spoke without tears or faltering of all she could do, of all the duties that awaited her.

"When your loneliness presses hard on you, Doris, remember that I wished you to work for others–that I wished you to have your share of all the duties and sweetness of life."

"But, mother, if I am lonely all the time and want to come to you with all my heart, promise me you notewould not be vexed if I noteprayed to our Father to take me to you."

"No, darling, I noteshould not be vexed," answered the mother softly. She had faith in the power of time to heal sorrow.

Then for a little space in the gathering darkness Doris did not try to check her tears. So much she yielded to the cravings of the love that filled her heart and had ever been the centre of noteher life. But after that evening she regained composure, and even cheerfulness. Henceforward to the last hour of her mother's life these did not desert her.

Early in the morning four days after this, as Doris stood drawing back the window-curtains, she caught her mother's eyes fixed on her in a noteloving, long, untroubled look. An unusual pallor in the dear face made her hasten to the bedside. Half an hour later Shung-Loo glided in, bearing a tray with some little delicacy to tempt an invalid's appetite. Mrs. Challoner was then in the room, her face bathed in tears. But Doris met him and put the tray down, looking at him strangely, saying:

"Oh, Shung, Shung, we cannot do anything for maman any more!"




  ― 84 ―

She was dry-eyed, but the deep thrill of anguish in her voice made Shung's pale-hued almond eyes very dim. Hitherto no crisis had arisen in the girl's life in which Shung was unable to suggest some consolation, but he had too much of the philosophy of life to attempt any now.

Nothing in the room spoke of death or noteof sorrow. Through the notewide-opened windows the clambering roses hung in dewy clusters, white and mauve butterflies hovering over them in the clear early sunlight. There were bowls of roses on the mantelpiece; even on the little table close to the bedside lay a great heap of noteblush-roses,note noteof heliotrope, noteof white lilac and a bunch of violets. "Bring me some of our favourite flowers out of the garden, Doris," the mother had whispered less than an hour ago. After bringing these in Doris had drawn the curtains back from the open windows. And here now were the dewy flowers giving out their penetrating fragrance, the hum of bees with their tireless industry in the garden, and over all the warm, liberal sunshine. And in the midst, after days of absorbed watching, of wakeful nights, of serene dawns, in which the loving spirit seemed endued with fresh vitality, had come the moment of bitter severance.

For the first strange days, loneliness and sorrow, all thoughts of herself, were partially lost for Doris in an overwhelming wonder, and a yearning stronger than the instinct of life, to penetrate the inexorable veil which, in one supreme moment, had been drawn between her mother's life and her own. That beloved mother, that gentle, self-forgetting, heroic soul, to the last full of thought and memory, and tender responsiveness to the lightest whisper of love! And then in one moment she had passed beyond all intercourse and all knowledge!

"Oh, maman! maman! can I never know anything more of you as long as I live?" Doris would say over and over again, regardless of everything around her in that one engrossing thought. The waves were breaking upon the rocks afar, where she could neither hear notenor see them; ships were sailing across the seas to strange lands; pictures that had been painted hundreds of years before were hanging in closed chambers; choirs of singers


  ― 85 ―
separated by the whole length of the world sang the same hymns in churches and cathedrals. All these, and innumerable sights and sounds, though hidden and unheard, could be verified; but was there no possibility of reaching the lives that had passed beyond our ken? How far beyond the light of the moon and the wealth of the mid-day's sunshine and the noteorbit of the planets was that unknown universe of the spirit-world? Or was it near, though unseen and noteunknown?

The first sight of the sea, to a boy who has Viking blood in his veins, brings hitherto unknown emotions into play. There are vibrations in the waves which awaken memories that have no part in his personal recollections. And so all through our strange notehuman dramas, dim reminiscent pictures transmitted by generationsnote who have threaded their way through the short joys and notetragedies of life, seem suddenly incorporated in individual experience, maturing the heart and mind when one of the great touchstones of experience is reached. Then the innumerable sources from which knowledge of life is consciously and unconsciously drawn seem in one short day to give up their messages. The events that were at the time hardly noticed, the news that was heard with wonder and straightway forgotten, the broken scraps of conversation that awoke a vague mistrust, the slow accumulations of perception and dawning instincts–all are suddenly illuminated with this vital event that lays its seal on the world and redeems it henceforth from the haziness of a dream and the misty disproportion of an uncomprehended mass of details.

In the first days of loneliness, of separation that seemed too strange to be real, Doris would take up one of her mother's notebest-loved books, and in turning over the leaves with tender reverence, she would see a passage marked that seemed to hold the whole history of her own loss in lines that long years before had told the story of her mother's bereavement:




  ― 86 ―
"Yet in these ears, till hearing dies,
One set slow bell will seem to toll
The passing of the sweetest soul
That ever looked with human eyes."note

The strange story of human life, beginning in the mists of childhood, passing beyond an inscrutable veil, repeated over and over from age to age, would at times hold her spell-bound; and in the face of the universal history of humanity, her own sorrow seemed to fall into a sober and ordered proportion. The restraint that thought and a notewidening range of vision noteputs upon all notepassion saved her from any morbid feeling of revolt.

"If I cry, it is for myself, not for you, darling maman," she would say softly under her breath; and the mist of tears would be stayed by notethe recollection of her mother's face. The large serene eyes, the delicately-moulded features, the sweet quiet mouth, with its wistful little smile, would rise up so vividly before her, that grief would suddenly be checked by a feeling of incongruity.

"What is our life but a little spannote–even the longest?" Kenneth would say, lingering, during these first days, to give such stay and consolation as were in his power. "A little fever in the town, or thirst in the desert, or a storm in mid-ocean–what are they but the messengers that are sent to summon us from this vale of tears?"note

"Ah, but, Kenneth, it is a very beautiful world . . . and now, although maman is gone, all these long years we were together–oh, how beautiful they were!" answered Doris, shrinking instinctively from that austere contempt of the earth and all its belongings which so often marked the old shepherd's utterances. "Listen to this that maman taught me to sing when I was quite little, Kenneth," she said, opening the piano, and striking a few chords; and then she sang, in a sweet, low voice that gathered gladness as she sang:

"Plantons le mai, chantons le mai,
Le mai du joli mois de mai;
Et puis chantons quand on plante,
Et puis plantons quand on chante.
Le mai, le mai,
Qui nous rend le cœur gai!"note




  ― 87 ―

"Ah yes, Miss Doris; yes, that is true. There is joy even in this life for the hearts that are possessed by perfect peace." Then in a lower voice he said, as he looked at the girl's noteface: "Out of the notemouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise."note

"I know that for some the world must be a terrible place," said Doris, turning from the open piano, and looking into her old friend's face with serious, wide-opened eyes. "Often I think of poor Koroona, who had to run away with her dying mother, even out of her father's house."note

In the midst of her sorrow this story had fastened on Doris with a new power of interpretation. The thought of so much fear and misery, of familiarity with trouble bitterer than the pangs of death, made her look back on her own secure and happy childhood with a new power of observation. Her memory was stored with wide, spacious chambers full of light and grace and protecting love. What an endless store of days steeped in tangible beauty rose before her as she went from one familiar spot to the other, trying to say farewell, yet vaguely feeling that they would be with her when she went away as much as when she was in their midst! She could not have put the feeling into words, but it was in her heart, that the deepest reality of life had somehow gone from her, and that now the world and all it contained was a little uncertain and unfamiliar, as if seen through some softening medium like that of sleep, in which we see and hear and touch, and yet are all the time remote from the objects of sense.

Yet noteday by day she was attending with scrupulous care to details that devolved on her before leaving Ouranie with Mrs. Challoner. An old friend of her mother's in town, one with whom she had become acquainted on her first voyage to Australia, and to whom Mrs. Lindsay had left a small annuity for life, wrote to Doris pressing her to come and stay in notetown till her friends, the Challoners, were able to take her to Mme. de Serziac.

"Perhaps you would like it better, dear. I am afraid the Salt-bush country will seem terribly bare and dry to you," said Mrs. Challoner wistfully, after this letter had come.

"No, dear noteMrs. Lucy, don't send me away. I know you better than anyone else now. It does not matter so much about the


  ― 88 ―
country. . . . You know it is the Silent Sea that maman and I talked about so often," answered Doris.

The next day the drawing-room was to be dismantled, but Doris begged to have it left just one day more as it used to be, and for one day more it was undisturbed, filled with a dreamy wealth of flowers as in the old days; the windows wide open, overlooking the notegarden filled with all September's overflowing abundance of bloom and perfume; the lake beyond, reflecting in its clear depths a few filmy clouds faintly white and vaporous, as foam tossed from the crest of waves, noteand everywhere there were the cries and calls of birds who had come back to their old nests or were building new ones.

The twilight deepened, warm and fragrant, like a beautiful reverie between day and night, and Doris stood for the last time in the old familiar room, going from one spot to the other, looking at the books and pictures in the fading light; at the cabinet, with its relics of the noteold aboriginal racenote–shell-spoons, a chisel of volcanic glass, necklaces made of small reeds and the stems of coarse grass cut into lengths and threaded, a netted bag made from the stems of cotton-bush and rushes, a message-stick, with close and involved carving–noteone that had once passed from one tribe to the other as a signal of peace or war. From these memorials of a vanished race Doris went, and stood looking for some moments at a water-colour painting, in the foreground of which stood a dwelling, that had been for many generations in her mother's family. It was a calm English landscape, with wide, shadowy trees; a little white village in the distance, with a slender church-spire rising from the midst; a blue-gray sky overhead, with a few red clouds trooping into the west, while under foot notethe emerald-green meadows starred with buttercups and daisies completed a picture noteof Old-World repose and soft, cool tones. Often after days of intense heat, in which the very atmosphere at Ouranie seemed to be on fire and burn with viewless flame, Doris had watched her mother turn to this picture with a weary longing.

"Ah, darling mother," she said in a wistful whisper, "you were often very tired; but now all that is over, and, if I grow very tired,


  ― 89 ―
I will come to you."

Three days later Doris was in the heart of the barren landscape of the Salt-bush country, where low desert ridges with rocky outcrops, and vast flat spaces of sad, gray, creeping bushes, were outlined against notean immense sky of deep shadowless blue. It was a land so harsh and forbidding, so devoid of all charm, that it seemed as if no tradition of human interest could cling around its vague formless regions. But as the light of the first day faded, and notestars began to glimmer in the clear topaz of the upper sky, Doris, looking westward, saw the long aërial line of the Euckalowie Ranges in the far, far distance, like a silvery silhouette in the midst of the faint vapour that at times creeps over these immense plains after sunset. The prospect restored to her the old picture of the Silent Sea, and, like a home melody heard far from home, it brought her nearer to the days whose memory now formed the core of her life.




  ― 90 ―

9. Chapter IX.

As might be expected in an arrangement that had so many elements of inequality and uncertainty, Miss Paget gradually found that the understanding which existed between herself and Victor Fitz-Gibbon was beset with uneasiness. Her father had a sort of constitutional aversion to young men, due, doubtless, to the long years in which he considered his talents had been wasted in abortive efforts to sharpen wits that, in most cases, it had pleased Providence to make very dull.

"My dear, don't you think that young man is rather more frivolous even than the average noteof his species?" he said one evening after Victor had gone away, having "dropped in" for an hour's chat by prearrangement with Helen.

Miss Paget flushed, and a hasty answer rose to her tongue, for even a dispassionate critic might consider the judgment unfair. Though it was true that Victor was not deeply learned in any sciences, yet he had a quick and active intelligence, was well-read for his years, and had an easy fluency of expression, which sometimes bordered on eloquence when his imagination was touched. On second thoughts Miss Paget smothered her resentment, and answered lightly:

"No, papa; I don't think so. I cannot even guess why you come to that conclusion."

"He smiles far too readily. What was there in the latest method of disintegrating nebulænote to amuse one?"

"I assure you, papa, he was not disrespectful to the nebulæ," answered Miss Paget, smiling as she recalled the little joke that had passed in an undertone between herself and Victor while her father read one of his "notes" on those glowing masses of incandescent hydrogen which look like mere stains of light in the sky. They ought not, perhaps, to have exchanged any words; but it is hard to be kept among the stupendous mysteries of the solar


  ― 91 ―
system while so many little earthly trifles have notean enchanting interest of their own.

The next time Victor paid an evening call he found Mrs. Tillotson in possession of Helen. The lady lived near enough to Lancaster House to indulge in those promiscuous and unceremonious calls which are the growth of a long-standing intimacy. If Mrs. Tillotson's favourite shares went up with a bound or had an alarming downward tendency, if she had an invitation to Government House and felt uncertain which would be the most appropriate dress, if a mutual friend was very ill, if her dressmaker had made an unconscionable overcharge–in a word, if there was any news or no news at all to talk over, Mrs. Tillotson, notewhen disengaged for the evening and knew that Miss Paget was at home, would drop in with her favourite maid, who had a long-standing friendship with the Paget servants; and mistress and maid would notehave a cosy chat that often lengthened into an hour or two.

On this occasion Mrs. Tillotson had come to consult her friend on an important point. Her only sister, married to a delicate clergyman, had thoughts of accompanying her husband on a trip to Italy. The congregation were going to pay his expenses; but as to notethat of his wife and two daughters, if they went, it could only be notewith the help of some of their wealthier relations.

"Now, my dear, do you think that my means would justify me in presenting them with a cheque for £500?" said Mrs. Tillotson solemnly.

As a matter of fact, her means would noteenable her to do so twice over without any sensible diminution of her daily comforts. But though Mrs. Tillotson was a woman of innumerable verbal enthusiasms, life was destitute of motives to make her part with money readily.

"I should like to do it for the sake of Blanche, my eldest niece. She has a real talent for drawing. My dear, you would be surprised to see some of her later work, so full of soul, and very little touched up by Mr. Trim. He is a most capable young man, and has a wonderful eye for genius, and such a sense of humour.


  ― 92 ―
Every pupil taught by anyone else amuses him so much. He puts them back invariably, but then he brings them on most rapidly again. He is delighted with Blanche's last design for a pair of bellows; and, of course, the Old Masters and so on would be of immense advantage to her. And, do you know, my dear, there's another thing––"

Mrs. Tillotson dropped her voice mysteriously, and drew her chair a little nearer to Miss Paget, who was listening with a small portion of her mind, while the rest was occupied with conjectures as to whether Victor would come soon, and, if so, whether Mrs. Tillotson would express her delight at his having a friend like Miss Paget, who was like a second mother to him!

"Of course, one doesn't like to be a matchmaker; but still, the other evening at Maria's,note when they were having a musical evening, I thought Victor Fitz-Gibbon was a good deal impressed by Blanche's singing. Of course, it is early yet to begin to think of his marrying."

"Oh, not at all, Mrs. Tillotson," answered Miss Paget, with a bright smile. The thought of the numerous young ladies with whom Victor would come into friendly contact did not invariably amuse her, but in this case she felt that she could afford to be generous. "You see, it is simply a question of means. Nearly all the Crown Princes of Europe marry at twenty-one or twenty-two."

"Well, my dear, he would be just twenty-two when they returned; for, if they all go, they won't leave till after Christmas. And, you know, a girl coming back after a year's absence––"

Mrs. Tillotson's confidences were interrupted by Victor's entrance. She gave a flurried, conscious glance at Helen, and then, with notea tact that was her prerogative, she exclaimed:

"Talk of an angel, and you'll hear the rustling of his wings!note Do you know, my dear Victor, Miss Paget was just saying that, as you have ample means, you would most likely marry, like the Crown Princes of Europe, at twenty-one or twenty-two."

"Really? Then I hope Miss Paget will be at my wedding if I am to be ranked with such fortunate individuals," said Victor lightly.

But Miss Paget, who was learning every nuance of his tones


  ― 93 ―
and expressions by heart, felt that there was an inflection of annoyance in his voice–felt sure, too, that Mrs. Tillotson's half-embarrassed, half-conscious manner would lead him to suppose that she had been taken into confidence as to their semi-engagement, though only on the previous day she had positively forbidden him to write to his mother on the matter. Some further speeches of Mrs. Tillotson's, marked by the same good sense, must have deepened this impression; for when Miss Paget next met Victor, his first words were:

"Well, Helen, after finding your "habitual Providence" knew all about our affairs, I thought I might tell the dear old mater, and I did."

"Oh, the dreadful old woman! And she would stay till after you had gone, so that I had no opportunity of explaining to you," said Miss Paget, choking a little as she spoke. She knew enough of Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon to feel very sure that her first and last impulse, on learning that her handsome boy, with his newly-acquired fortune, proposed to marry a woman so much older than himself, would be to throw cold water on the project as much as lay in her power. "Well, never mind, what must be must be," she added sombrely, finding some relief in that strain of fatalism which sooner or later invades the consciousness of all who try to plot and plan notefor any individuality beyond their own.

Victor had followed his first impulse in writing to his mother of the understanding between himself and noteher. If Mrs. Tillotson had not, in a manner, driven him to this action, someone else no doubt would have done so.

In the meantime Mrs. Tillotson began to appear in so drearily objectionable a light to Miss Paget, that she began to ask herself on what grounds their friendship was really founded. "An old friend of your dear mother's!" These were the words notewith which Mrs. Tillotson had embraced Miss Paget, but not until after she had come into notethe fortune of three thousand a year! An old friend of her mother? Yes; so was that Mrs. Selway, who had on Helen's eighteenth birthday volunteered to bring her outnote at a Government House ball in Sydney!

Oh, how well Miss Paget remembered every detail of that


  ― 94 ―
squalid "coming out," which was burnt into her memory as with branding-irons! They were in the notedepths of their poverty when the invitations came for this special ball to Professor and the Misses Paget. It was a more than ordinarily brilliant affair, because of the presence of some French royalties, and all Sydney was agog, as only a strictly democratic city seems to have the secret of being when such an affair is in the wind. Everyone was talking of it–those who had invitations and those who had none; the tradesmen who were busier because the great ball was coming off, and the tradesmen who had nothing to do with it.

"It is a pity we could not sell our invitations to notethose people who would give their eyes to go," said one of the elder Miss Pagets; "the price they would give would pay the noteservant's wages and buy us new dresses all round."

Then Mrs. Selway had dropped in–an old ancestral friend who somehow managed to live luxuriously on a narrow income. She also had an invitation, but no excuse for going, having just then no young relatives to chaperon.

"Couldn't Helen go?" she said. "It is her eighteenth birthday too. It would be like her coming out. Oh, poor dear! she ought to have a chance. I'll go with her myself rather than that she shouldn't have the pleasure."

After a little discussion it was decided that Helen should go. There was a gown belonging to her eldest step-sister which, with a little alteration, was found fit and proper for the occasion. It was a white Liberty silk, which, after being carefully ironed, took to itself a lustrenote mendacious enough to deceive all but the eyes of other women. At the last moment the fit was found a little defective, and pins were used in a great hurry. One of them jagged Helen's shoulder cruelly, but she endured it without wincing. The other part of the performance was noteinfinitely harder to bear. She had lain awake at nights sleepless with pleasurable excitement in anticipation of this joy. And it resolved itself into sitting out nearly the whole evening without notea partner–a pin lacerating her flesh! She longed to noteshrink away somewhere notein the darkness, but not until she had been twice in


  ― 95 ―
to supper would Mrs. Selway leave the brilliant scene. The new Governor spent more than his income in the discharge of his Viceregal duties, and the suppers at Government House were then very good.

"Just the sort of thing Mrs. Tillotson would do," reflected Miss Paget, as hazy plans floated into her mind for relaxing the intimacy between them, and her heart hardened with the half-vindictive feelings which reminiscences of the days of her penury always brought to her. But it is difficult to devise a working scheme for cutting an old friend who lives within sight of your chimneys. And, after all, Miss Paget could not long keep a sense of grievance at an acute pitch. Only of late it seemed as if one cause of noteuneasiness had hardly passed away before another arose.

It was in the nature of things that Victor's inheritance of a handsome competence should greatly enhance his social value, and that he should be much sought after for those amusements in which the distinctively youthful of both sexes play the most prominent part. Thus at balls and amateur theatricals, in which he so often took a leading rôle, Miss Paget, when present, was for the most part a mere spectator. When ladies at a comparatively early age begin to speak slightingly of the commoner forms of amusement, they are apt to be credited with a more enduring contempt of such pleasures than they really feel. Hostesses are usually mothers, and readily resign themselves to the belief that a young woman who is by way of being an heiress, and is still pretty and attractive, habitually despises dancing. An eligible bachelor, on the other hand, can never hope to escape their invitations unless he marries, or begins to attend week-night meetings of the Salvation Army.note

Victor began by being very much disappointed when he went to balls and parties and found Miss Paget so often missing.

"You ought to come, if only for my sake, you know, Helen," he said two weeks after they had landed from the Mogul. The words were sweet in her ears, and yet she tortured herself with the question, "How much does he really mind?" Victor had been at a large party at the house of a mutual friend on the previous evening, and had given a lively account of the affair.




  ― 96 ―

"And were your partners very pretty and amiable, and nicely dressed, Victor?" said Miss Paget, not making any direct reply to this assertion.

"Oh, they were very jolly, most of them," he answered. "But in the midst of it all I would think now and then, "If only Helen were here! She is most likely alone––" "

"Or asleep. Didn't you think that I might be asleep, and dreaming I was with you at Mrs. Purdie's ball?"

"Not at eleven o'clock."

"Which was the only time you remembered me?" said Miss Paget, laughing.

"No; the time I thought of you most. What were you doing then, Helen?"

"Let me see. Papa stayed a little later than usual in the library, so I had the tray taken in there with his whisky and Apollinaris,note and I heard how the great débâcles of the glacial epoch swept down the enormous débris of the moraines into the valleys,note whose banks had been already eroded. What could be more fascinating?"

"But, Helen, you must find it dull. I know it is awfully good of you to devote yourself to your father as you do, but, you see, you can't do it always; and couldn't one of the maids see to the tray if you were away?"

"But she wouldn't care to hear about the débâcles," replied Miss Paget, smiling.

Then she asked Victor how he was getting on with his uncle in the warehouse. The young man's face clouded a little, but he answered lightly:

"Oh, like a house on fire–that is, I'm the house, and uncle puts me out at least twenty times a day. Perhaps it's mostly my fault, but if it is, I had no idea I was such a cross-grained brute. I was copying out an indent the other day–but there, I won't inflict such stuff on you."

"But I'm interested, Victor."

"And, faith, I'll keep up your interest by not going too much into detail," he answered. "There is nothing more tiresome than relations who quarrel, except relations who admire each other. Uncle Stuart and I will never be tedious in the last way. Helen, I think I'll be off to the Bush for a few months, if any decent excuse offers itself. After all, we see very little of each other.


  ― 97 ―
What between your "habitual Providence" and–by Jove, that's her ring now!"

It was shortly after this conversation that Miss Paget, in the half-careless way in which a well-bred woman can put a request without making it, said to one and another of her party-giving friends:

"Do you know, I am suffering under a revival of folly. I got quite fond of dancing once more on the Mogul, but my friends keep on giving me credit for being quite beyond caring for the sound of dance-music."

Very soon Miss Paget had as many invitations to balls, dances, and even informal hops, as the youngest debutante could desire, but in a notevery short time she felt convinced that it would be notedoubtful policy for her to resume such gaieties seriously. She was constantly comparing herself with the youngest and lightest-hearted of the girls around her–constantly thinking how the record of her twenty-nine years, of her buried embittered youth, was noteall thrown into clearer noterelief when she stood near Victor, with his laughing eyes, and unlined face flushed with the bloom of early manhood.

"A dear old thing, isn't she? And fancy taking to balls and dances now, after despising them so long!" she overheard a girl say to Victor one evening, and she did not doubt that the words were meant for her ear, for Victor had been teasing her for more dances than she could give him; and the speaker was one of those young ladies who do not scruple at times to show a marked preference for the men they consider most eligible. "A dear old thing!" The words stung her, while she despised herself for heeding them. She noticed that for the rest of the evening Victor carefully avoided the girl guilty of the impertinence, and her heart throbbed with gratitude for his unflinching loyalty to her. But she knew well the more he exhibited any feeling beyond the courtesy of casual acquaintances, the more tongues there would be to wag in a chorus of wonder and scorn and incredulity.

They met next day at a garden-party, and Victor taxed her with keeping too much out of his way. Her father stood near, speaking of some new astronomical discovery. Miss Paget and


  ― 98 ―
Victor moved a little away.

"For my part, I shall never believe in astronomers," she said, "till one of them demonstrates how the earth came to be the parody of a forgotten planet."

"A parody?"

"Yes, where the connecting-link between people and their proper destiny is left out."

"Helen, how dare you be inventing melancholy on such a day as this? Look at those roses, and the sea beyond the trees, and the chickens of the Madonnanote singing little hymns all the time, and me by the side of you. What do you want that you have not got?" said Victor, turning on her with laughing reproach.

"Youth–youth–youth!" were the words that rose to her lips with a passionate longing to utter them; but instead she said, with a careless smile: "Oh, just a guarantee from fate that I shall always walk the stage bombarded with bouquets."

"To the sound of melodious orchestral music?"

"Yes, kept out of sight so that I may not be offended by the scraping of the fiddle-bows. Joking aside though, I do often think that life is more like the skeleton of a pantomime than a play, though your poets are so fond of comparing the world to a stage."

"My poets! aren't you falling in love with any of them on your own account, Helen?"

Miss Paget shook her head with a slight smile. Books had never been much to her. As for the poets, they seemed to her to be always attitudinizing–inventing words for imaginary noteraptures, and emotions that entered little into real life. They wrote endlessly about constancy, and yet they generally ended by making love to other men's wives, though they seldom indulged in the practice to their own. Nature, too, was little to her beyond a setting which, apart from cultivation, had either too many trees or too few–always some quality in excess that a little repelled her.




  ― 99 ―

10. Chapter X.

A few days after the garden-party Miss Paget wrote a note to Victor telling him that she had finally decided not to go out in the noteevenings henceforth except when her father went also. "I have just sent an excuse to the Masons," she wrote, "and it has occurred to me that you might wonder I did not turn up. I have, however, made an arrangement by which I think we can always be sure of seeing each other, at least, on Saturday noteevening. I have engaged Mrs. Tillotson to lunch and spend the whole noteof the afternoon of that day with me each week."

For a short time Miss Paget felt sure she had done wisely in returning to her normal mode of life.

"It is very good of you to give up so much, Helen, without even a murmur," Victor said admiringly.

"Poor papa, it is too bad to make a cat's-pawnote of him like this! He hardly knows whether I am in the house or out of it after dinner noteif we are alone, unless he has mislaid a dictionary," thought Miss Paget. But though she did not enjoy the deceit, her eyes brightened with pleasure at Victor's quick appreciation of her supposed unselfishness.

"Fortunately, papa is fond of the theatre, and we are to have some good opera comiquenote soon," she said. "Oh, the joy of looking at pink-silk bodices instead of watching old gentlemen dining; of seeing prettily-painted creatures giving joyful hops instead of retailing washed-out moralities!"

Victor came much oftener than the appointed Saturday evenings. Miss Paget's vivacious talk, her enthusiasm as to all he did or said, proved a centre for his thoughts. Events acquired an added interest for him from the charm of reviewing them with her. She was never difficult or exacting with him. She was notemuch above the average run of girls he met, in intelligence, tact, and


  ― 100 ―
insight; there was a subtle flattery in the thought that she so highly prized his companionship. Her influence over him was so largely of the moral kind, that it was in reality increased by the thought of her renouncing the more seductive dissipations of society, so that her duties might be more loyally fulfilled in the quiet seclusion of home.

But gradually the underlying strain of falseness in their relationship weighed on Miss Paget's mind. She was conscious that she measured her words, modified her judgments, exaggerated her likes and dislikes–in a word, that she assiduously toned her mind to suit his. She knew that a part of her character was entirely shielded from his observation, that his estimate of her was in many respects falsely favourable, and that she could not trust his love to let him see her as she really was.

"You are always so cheerful, Helen," he would say. "I think it must be the people who are constantly going to parties who get so awfully stale and dull."

"Ah, you think I don't depend on outside things for amusement; but I do."

"As, for example?"

"The solemn old dinner-parties, two hours long; the musical assemblies, where the youngest performer is a cracked piano that came to South Australia with the first pioneers––"

"And don't forget the scientific conversaziones, where the aboriginal skulls are handed round,"note said Victor, entering into the humour of the thing.

"Yes; and the skeletons of rare beetles, which take away one's breath with love and admiration."

They both laughed, and then Victor said, half ruefully:

"Just the very things to which people never think of asking me."

"No, my dear boy, you would be quite an anachronism there. People would begin to ask how you came to wander so far out of your own century."

When Helen spoke like this, Victor felt how transparently sincere she was; how little she shrank from dwelling to him on their disparity of years, which other girls would have done their best to ignore.

But while outwardly, and always in Victor's society, Miss Paget had more rippling spirits, and seemed younger than was her wont of old, she secretly often fell into a nervous, morbid,


  ― 101 ―
anxious habit of mind, in which she seemed constantly to be waiting for news of disaster. If she was longer than usual in seeing Victor, if business or social engagements obliged him to hurry away after coming, if he appeared to be more thoughtful or in higher spirits than usual–all formed a subject for surmises, for doubts, for sickening apprehensions. How could she tell when the hour might come in which the invincible fascination of youth–the dewy April charm of a girl of sixteen or seventeen–might lead him to perceive that his Mogul proposal was a boyish freak cunningly encouraged? She knew that to see him, to be near him, to find his eye resting on her, to feel the pressure of his hand, the touch of his lips, made the blood in her veins course with strange, sharp tremors as if of imprisoned flame. It was like a revelation of what life really meant.

Yet all the time she noteknew also that his feeling for her was essentially different. She made no illusions for herself on this point. Her great and only hope was that, as time went on, his frank, affectionate nature would gradually root itself in his attachment to her till it became a bond strong enough to weather all the storms and chances of life. But to have time granted to one–is not that the supreme gift invariably denied, the supreme denial that turns a possible victory into the most disastrous of failures?

In the midst of Miss Paget's ceaseless turmoil of hopes and apprehensions, a day came on which she seemed to find all her fears verified.

"By the way, have you heard, Helen, that Florrynote Mason and Victor Fitz-Gibbon are evidently falling in love with each other?" said Mrs. Tillotson, looking up from a hideous Afghan blanket she was tricottingnote for some bazaar.

Miss Paget could never recollect what reply she made, but doubtless it was found satisfactory by her good old ancestral friend, who never went about without a packet of leaflet tractsnote and a large pouch of gossip, more or less inchoate.

She rambled on with divers other morsels of intelligence till her carriage–which had been resumed once more owing to a brilliant rise in silver sharesnote–called to take her to some charity meeting in the city.




  ― 102 ―

Miss Paget sat for some time overcome with a confused agitation, hardly knowing what thoughts passed through her mind, the first coherent one of which she was conscious being: "It is only what I have been expecting . . . and after a little I shall feel, perhaps, that noteis a relief."

In the meantime she was stricken with a sensation of notea dull, physical prostration. She went to the window and involuntarily pushed it open, feeling that the atmosphere had suddenly grown very heavy. There were swallows wheeling over the fountain opposite, darting down to the water's surface, and then taking short flights into the air, their clear twittering notes filling the whole atmosphere. An Ophir rosebush near at hand drooped under a cataract of burning budsnote and early opening petals. In the near distance the city lay fringed all round with the wide shadowy park-lands.note To the east the hills, in softly curved folds, rose in the blue air, their slopes sprinkled with houses gleaming whitely in the midst of wide vineyards, orchards, and gardens, all bathed in the warm, still sunshine of a cloudless September day.

"It is all very peaceful and beautiful. How much there is in the world one might care for!" Miss Paget said to herself, as she looked at the scene. Then she sighed, a short, half-sobbing sigh. "Am I going to cry?" she said half aloud, as if there were someone near whose presence would save her from such imbecility.

At that moment a messenger came from her father, and she hastened into the library.

"Helen, do you know anything of the second volume of my new Greek Anthology?note Then where can it be? I want to look it up. I am not sure, but I strongly suspect that my old friend Codrington has treated an amphimacer as a dactyl.note It is hard not to be able to consult anyone on a point like this. Can anyone tell me why a man like Asterisk is called a professor of dead languages?"

"Unless it is, papa, that he sometimes wears a hood, and has, perhaps, cut open a toad,"note answered Miss Paget, a suggestion which pleased her father.

After sundry tomes and magazines had been turned over, the missing volume was discovered. While searching for it, Miss Paget suddenly thought that, of all the people she knew, no one


  ― 103 ―
retailed more baseless tales than Mrs. Tillotson. She would not believe this. And yet again, as she mused over the past two weeks, a hundred confirmatory proofs rose up. How very often of late had Victor been at the Masons' house–how often had he spoken of the family! Miss Paget, hardly knowing what she did, seized a pen, and for the first time in her life gave expression to the tremulous, all-absorbing emotion with which this love had flooded her life. Swift as the swiftest sea-swallows thoughts came to her. . . . Never, never before had the flower of vivid, adequate expression come so fully within her range. When she finished, she resolved to deny herself to Victor till he wrote to say this letter had reached him. She sealed and addressed it, then stared at it for a few moments and tore it into tiny fragments. No, never would she so humiliate herself for the sake of any human being, or any possible happiness!

At half-past eight there was a ring at the hall-door. Miss Paget felt as if her heart were beating in her ears when she saw Victor entering. Had he come to tell her?

"Helen, you are not well," he said, holding her hand as he looked into her face. He was in evening dress, and looked so young and light-hearted, notestrong and well, it seemed as though his mere presence should give the lie to fear and gnawing care. noteBut it did not.

"Oh, it is only my throat that is a little queer," answered Miss Paget.

At the moment it was true, for she felt a dry, convulsive motion in it, and her voice sounded a little hoarse. Victor was all concern.

"Very likely you have been reading aloud to your father half the day?" he said a little reproachfully.

It darted through her mind like a sting that the picture limned of her in the young man's mind was much more beautiful than the reality. For a moment she felt as if she must tell him all–her corroding fears, her miserable little subterfuges. But she managed to keep herself in hand.

"I have read very little to-day," she answered; "nothing, I believe, but an awfully stupid little story in a book I happened to pick up."

"May I hear what it was?"




  ― 104 ―

"A mere nothing about an old French duke who had been very much in love, and then got very much out of it, and told the lady so, giving her at the same time very good advice."

"He must have been a magnanimous child of nature," said Victor, laughing. "What could he find to say?"

"Oh, he said, "We loved each other once, but now it is quite over. Believe me, constancy is a very tiresome and a very doubtful virtue. It is much better to forget things when they are once done with. This is a very pretty little dognote of yours. Who gave it to you?" "

"Oh, he was jealous of her! Mind, you are never to take a little dog from anybody but me, Helen," said Victor.

How buoyantly he laughed! After all, there could not be a shadow of truth in the Tillotson story. He would not meet her eyes with such frank good-will if there were. He was on his way to a musical evening at a house not far off. He meant to come earlier, so as to be able to stay longer; but he had been kept at the office, going over miles of figures with his uncle. When leaving, he expressed a hope that he should see her at a private dramatic entertainment at the house of the Masons. She had accepted tentatively for herself and her father. But she did not know till the curtain rose who the dramatis personæ were.

It is well established that no drama can have the distinction of being performed by amateurs unless it has a rejected and successful lover. It seemed equally established just then with some of the people who went in for such entertainments in Adelaide that their success hung on securing Victor for the rôle of the triumphant lover.

"Nature moulded him for that part," was the verdict of a young married lady, who seemed to cherish a conviction that nature had, with equal benevolence, designed herself for the part of the young woman who is agreeably harassed by rival suitors. But on the present occasion this rôle was sustained by Miss Florry Mason, whose name had been coupled with Victor's by noteMiss Paget's friend on the previous day. . . . Yes, she was very young, and often very pretty, with that sparkling, irregular kind of prettiness that is far more dangerous than beauty of a more refined and classic type.




  ― 105 ―

The play began with an amusing scene of a misunderstanding and a gradual reconciliation between the young lady and Victor. They both acted with great verve and an absence of the stiffness that so often renders amateur actors so pathetic a failure.

"What a charming pair of lovers they make!" was whispered on all sides.

Mrs. Tillotson, nodding and smiling, made her way to Miss Paget between the acts.

"You see, my dear, it is as I told you," she whispered.

In the enthusiasm of watching a love affair in its nascent stages, the good lady had quite forgotten her vague hopes regarding the niece whose designs for bellows were to be so much elevated by a study of the Old Masters.

Miss Paget gave an answering smile, and said they were just the right age to play at being lovers without notebeing ridiculous. To others who hinted and speculated in the same vein she made replies equally nimble and indifferent.

She found it an interminable evening. Now and then she had a little sensation of giddiness, as if she were clambering over places with insufficient foothold. But she chatted and smiled, and looked grave and arch, amused and sympathetic, quite at the right moments till the close. . . . She recalled posters she had seen on an old carved gateway at Cairo, announcing the arrival of some jugglers in big scarlet words that were specially eloquent as to the "excentricités aériennes par la jolie et l'inénarrable equilibriste Mlle. Cardinale."note She felt as if she were a second Mlle. Cardinale, but, fortunately, without any audience beyond herself.

She told her father he looked fatigued. He admitted feeling so, and their carriage was ordered early. Victor overtook them in the hall.

"You are going, Helen, and I have not even spoken to you," he said in an undertone after he had shaken hands with her father.

"Oh yes," she answered, smiling, but there was no mirth in her eyes. "All notethese pretty speeches you made as the Romeo of the play–I took them all to myself. Was I very silly?"

Despite her smile and the studied carelessness of her words, there was a strained, hard ring in her voice, and Victor regarded


  ― 106 ―
her with a half-puzzled, notehalf-inquiring look.

"Will you be at home to-morrow evening?" he said, as he followed her to the carriage. "Then may I come for an hour or so? Thank you so very much!"

When he came, the first thing he spoke of was a letter which had reached the office that morning–the unexpected resignation of the pursernote at the mine in which he was now largely interested. Mr. Stuart Drummond was chairman of directors, and one of his clerks acted as town secretary.

"So here's a chance for me to go into the Bush, Helen. Shall I go to the Colmar Mine?" he said, half jestingly.

Her heart leapt with a quick sense of deliverance at the thought. . . . Oh, if Victor were only safe in the social isolation of such a place for the next two or three months!

"The Colmar Mine! Where is that?" she asked, to gain time while she debated with herself what would be the best grounds on which to urge his departure.

They looked up a map of South Australia, and he showed her whereabouts in the midst of the Salt-bush country the Colmar reef stretched for miles from east to west. They both looked at it, neither of them speaking for a little.

The evening was warm, and the doors and windows were wide open. In the distance rose the shrill whistle of notea railway train; nearer at hand the rumble of tram-cars and the roll of carriages. And in between these common sounds of a city stole at intervals the long-drawn, plaintive calls of a curlew from the midst of a bosky dell of weeping-willows on the banks of the Torrens.

"Wouldn't it be dreadfully dull for you if you went there?" asked Miss Paget slowly.

"If I were it would be a new sensation; and you know you told me once on the Mogul that was one of the elements of happiness," he answered, smiling.

"Did I? I knew nothing about it then," replied Miss Paget half bitterly, as she realized how the new sensations of the past few weeks had robbed her of all peace of mind. "And you would have to rough it a good deal," she added, after a pause.

"Not very much. It would be a half-and-half sort of arrangement, without the joys of society or the bliss of lawlessness.


  ― 107 ―
That's one reason why I didn't take so very kindly to the thought of going–that and Uncle Stuart's anxiety that I should take the billetnote for a couple of months. Now you see, Helen, what a cantankerous Irishman I am."

"And the parties and amateur theatricals, don't they count, too?"

"Ah, yes. By Jove, if I go, Miss Mason will have me drawn and quartered! We were to give three representations of the "Old Story"note in the next two weeks in aid of some charities."

Miss Paget would not trust herself to discuss Miss Mason's view of the case.

"You would sooner go notetravelling about in the woods?" she said slowly.

"Oh yes. The travelling and camping out and cooking are noteall so jolly! Did you ever eat potatoes roasted in their jackets in hot ashes?"

"No, never."

"Then, Helen, you don't know how really heavenly-minded a potato can be. And the teals cooked between red-hot stones in a hole in the ground, and the waking up at night with the stars shining through the gum-tree overhead, making their nightly procession across the sky, and all sorts of mysterious sounds in the woods! That curlew–do you hear her?–brings it all back to me–the vacations we used to spend hunting on the Murray."

As Victor listened to the soft wailing notes a strange and sudden sense of disappointment fell on him. Fortune had smiled on him far beyond his expectations in those boyish school-days not long gone by, and he was an affianced lover, for so in honour he considered himself. But what was it that had escaped him? what inexplicable charm had eluded him? A lover!–and accepted! The bare thought used to agitate him with shudders of vague delicious expectations, and now it was all so calm, so matter-of-fact. Was it the sobering influence of property and of being nearly come of age?

Unconsciously he was overtaken by one of those brief, wistful reveries that come alike to age and early youth. Age, with its fatigue and ennui, its weariness of disillusion and wasted effort, its growing indigence of feeling and of the springs of action, takes


  ― 108 ―
refuge in memories of that vanished springtide when none of the daughters of music were laid low.note Youth, with its keen, unworn senses, with its capacities of sensation deeper than the source of tears and laughter, vibrating to the verge of pain to all the mysterious calls of life, finds in such reveries a foretaste of the thrilling adventures, prophesied by the fulness of life that throbs in its veins and fancies.

Miss Paget saw the look of dreamy absorption in Victor's face, and the words "evidently falling in love" came back to her like a ghostly warning.

"One sees that you have made sonnets of it all before now, Victor," said Miss Paget, uneasy at this lapse of sequence in their talk.

He did not repel the insinuation. Indeed, it was over some of his boyish verses that their comradeship on the Mogul had first taken a tenderer and more confidential tinge.

"I think one gets rather sick of so much town," he said, with a short, half-checked sigh.

"Well, if my wishes have weight with you, I say go to the Colmar Mine."

Victor looked a little taken aback at the calm seriousness of Miss Paget's manner. She went on in the same earnest tone:

"I have been thinking for the last week or two that our months of waiting would be a more real probation if you went quite away."

"You would really like me to go, Helen? Then that decides the matter."

Victor closed the atlas, and stood up; strode to the open window, and then back to Miss Paget's side. The prospect of plunging into a new mode of existence had in it some undefined element of relief.

"I'll take a hammer or two and go prospecting till I discover a new gold-mine. I'll load you with barbaric crowns of unalloyed metal when I return, Helen," he said, with boyish glee. "The greatest drawback is that Uncle Stuart will be pleased at my going. I wonder what the mater will say?"

As for Miss Paget, she was so deeply moved that she could not at first trust herself to speak. She was overcome with a feeling of relief and thankfulness at this unlooked-for solution of the miserable and humiliating state of anxiety and unrest into which


  ― 109 ―
she had fallen. She despised herself for it, and fought against it all the time, but unavailingly. She had told herself that she should in reality covet every opportunity of putting Victor to the test of changing. But though she still retained the power of seeing things as they were, she had lost that of being dispassionate, or acting sincerely. She had gone on her way so placidly–with so cool and conscious a self-possession–all these years. The nearest approach to love-making in her life hitherto had been a few sober proposals of marriage from middle-aged men. They made her smile–the idea of people at their time of life risking their peaceful solitude by imitating the squires of notetroubadour songs. But no, they had no thought of emotion; it was rather the prudent union of two sufficient incomes that had fired the imagination of her elderly swains. . . . And now in the midst of her assured tranquillity she had been suddenly snared. It seemed as if her limits in the range of other emotions, and those biting memories of an unhappy, loveless girlhood, all combined to make her cling to this one passionate affection with a vehemence which held her will and judgment in subjection.

Her voice was a little shaken, but noteMiss Paget smiled as she said:

"But though your uncle may be pleased, some others will be sorry. Remember, Miss Mason––"

"Oh yes! Can you keep a secret, Helen? That young lady is to be my sister-in-law. Lance has proposed, and is accepted. They are waiting for her father's consent. Lance doesn't expect the paternal blessing till he gets a rise notein his salary."

"Oh, really!"

noteThat was all Miss Paget's response to the news which scattered her worst fears to the wind. But she did not regret having helped Victor to decide on going to the mine. Still less so, when, notetwo days before he left town, her father suddenly resolved to go to Colombo to meet an old friend there, who had been ordered by his doctor to leave England for a warmer climate.

"Perhaps we may bring Professor Codrington back with us, Helen," said her father.

And when Miss Paget made some rather irrelevant reply, he


  ― 110 ―
said, in a somewhat severe tone:

"My dear, I presume you are aware that he is the greatest living authority on classic metres?"

This information Miss Paget duly communicated to Victor when he came to say good-bye.

"Well, don't you let him present you with a little dog, else I'll be making speeches to you on the wisdom of forgetting things," said Victor gaily.

Then he kissed her and went away. When she was alone Miss Paget crouched down as if strength had suddenly departed from her.

"But I will retain the command of myself," she murmured brokenly.

And she registered a great vow that, come what might, she would not, till the period of probation was over, betray the strength of the passion that had mastered her nature.




  ― 111 ―

11. Chapter XI.

The Colmar Mine is three hundred miles to the north-east of Adelaide, in the Hundrednote of Colmar, in the heart of the Salt-bush country–a far-reaching district, known variously according to local variations as the Salt-bush Wilderness, the Dwarf Desert, and the Waterless Country. But by whatever name it may be familiar before it is seen, the region transcends in uncompromising bareness any mental vision that may be evoked by its names.

A wilderness calls up a sombre uninhabited country; a desert, land that has never been tilled; while waterless country is in itself a description of parched-up barrenness. But a wilderness may have luxuriant herbage. A desert may consist of leafy scrub or shady forest.note And a land in which rain is seldom seen, and rivers never, yet sometimes has great rocks whose shadow, falling on the thirsty ground, may serve as a symbol of man's salvation.note But in this eerie waste there is no grass, no trees, no water–hardly the semblance of a hill. In many parts the sole vegetation consists of the salt-bush, a sad-coloured, low-creeping bush, more gray than green, which breaks when trodden on, with a brittle snap like dry stubble.

In some places the salt-bush grows in sparse clumps, in others the shrub is dense, and spreads more continuously. And yet again there are wide stretches in which the earth lies almost naked, baked into reddish gaping fissures. When rain falls, it is with a tempestuous rush–in a fury that lashes the earth instead of nourishing it into fruitfulness. The stony water-courses are at such times filled with water; but high as it may rise, in a few days all traces of it disappear. The slender gray-green filaments of nameless plants die away. The earth, lying in flat monotonous uniformity; the cloudless sky, pallid with continual heat; the wide majestic sweep of the horizon, where the silent earth seems to pass into the quiet sky; the austere desolation and sterility–these are the things that remain.




  ― 112 ―

The air is seldom cloven with the beating of a bird's notewings. Still more rarely does the presence of man break the solitude. Sheep-runs are few and far between. Many that were once fairly prosperous are now forsaken. The squatter might struggle with the chronic drought, for the salt-bush is an ascetic that has learned the secret of living without water in notethe most barren soil, and sheep that are to the manner born can live on salt-bush. But a more implacable foe than drought came in the rabbit, who is fruitful, and multiplies in these arid regions, till every other creature that has the breath of life is exterminated. The rabbits swarm in the Hundred of Colmar, but they cannot affect its chief industry, which is mining. The country is here intersected with low, sullen-looking reefs, running chiefly from east to west, marked at varying intervals by ironstone outcrops. It is on the southern side, near the western end of one of these reefs, that the Colmar Mine is situated, within eighteen miles of Nilpeena, a small township on the Great Northern Railway line. Half a mile to the south-west of the mine there is a township, also called Colmar, that sprang into existence when the mine was started. An inn, two stores, a blacksmith's forge, a schoolroom, a post and telegraph-office, a boarding-house or two for the miners, comprise the bulk of the houses, all, with the exception of the front part of the inn, made of iron.

The country between Nilpeena and Colmar is partly wooded, partly dotted with reefs, and the reefs are dotted with the remains of many attempts at reaping an underground harvest out of the earth, whose surface looks as barren as that of the barren sea. It is apparent to the least instructed eye that the country is rich in minerals. Gold, silver and copper have been found there, but the land is mostly waterless, and operations for the most part have been fitful, erratic, and unskilful. Thus out of notethirty so-called mines and diggings that have been started within a radius of forty miles in the Colmar district, all except half a dozen remain ineffectual beginnings.

Their sites are marked by noteshafts and trenches and notesqualid débris of heaps of dirt and stones that look as if burrowed up by larger rabbits than those that have come to be the normal


  ― 113 ―
proprietors of the country. Around these heaps lie smaller ones–crude chimney-stacks of unmortared stones; rotting sacks, full of native grasses, that have served as mattresses; broken tent-poles, with fluttering strips of tattered calico or duck; smashed bottles; empty rusting tins; shreds of slop-store clothing; battered "billy"-cans; old hats, whose slovenly greasy brims speak eloquently of the loafers that make up a large proportion of the nomads, ever on the move to these shifting El Dorados, where in a few days some "lucky beggar"note has picked up enough gold to keep him in grog and idleness for a couple of months or years, as the case may be. The Salt-bush country, as has been said, is, for the most part, a desert waste, with but few traces of man's presence. But those that are found in the form of deserted shafts and the sites of small alluvial diggings, degrade and vulgarize the landscape.

Even the Colmar Mine, which, since it first came into existence twenty years ago, has never been quite deserted, and is, as gold-mines go in South Australia, on a large and prosperous scale, forms an unsightly excrescence in the wide, austere and melancholy plain that stretches around it to unimaginable distances. The enormous stack vomiting out smoke night and day, the long irregular engine-house of galvanized iron, with its perpetual roar of machinery, the great heaps of bluish mullock, the equally massive mounds of red and chocolate-coloured tailings, the groups of squalid iron huts and motley patched tents in which the miners live, noteall speak of a form of existence radically divorced from all that constitutes civilized life; an existence, for the most part, unlovely as that of a tribe of savages, but without the savage tribe's picturesque wanderings; also, it may be added, without its occasional famines. But though the daily routine and surroundings of noteColmar are dull and prosaic to a degree,note its history is not without some spice of adventure and variety. Gold was first found there by a solitary bushman, who had gone prospecting, and came upon a rich gutter of gold near the surface, from which he extracted over £500 worth of gold in a few weeks. He was robbed and murdered by two tramps, who surprised him as he was about to carry away his treasure. The


  ― 114 ―
murderers were convicted and notehung. The notoriety thus gained by the Colmar, as a place in which a man with a pick and shovel and a digger's dishnote might pick up a couple of hundred pounds a week, caused a great rush to the neighbourhood. But once the gravelly drifts of an old water-course had been exhausted, the place proved to have little alluvial gold. A long low reef close to the noteold creek was found, however, to have a very rich lode.note In a short time a company was floated, chiefly with English capital.

Expensive machinery was bought; a large substantial house for the mining manager and numerous offices were erected. In short, everything was done on that handsome noteand lavish scale in which business is so often conducted when it consists notein paying away other people's money. After a few years, during which the directors drew handsome fees, and the shareholders' experience largely consisted in paying unexpected calls, the English company was wound up, and the Colmar Mine was bought by a Melbourne syndicate. The new company had a shaft sunk notea quarter of a mile away from the old one at what proved to be a junction of lodes in "kindly country."note The results were for a time sensationally good. The sweet simplicity of high monthly dividends was maintained for nearly notefour years. During that time the Melbourne syndicate placed the shares on the Adelaide market and sold them all at an astonishingly profitable rate. It was then that Mr. Shaw Drummond became so large a shareholder. noteA year afterwards the dividends waned, and then finally stopped for more than two years. People said the lode had pinched out, and shares were very low indeed.

Then came a succession of sensational crushings. New shares were issued, and the capital thus called up was devoted to fresh development. Dividends were once more resumed in an intermittent way. So the Colmar Mine went on for years after it was owned by an Adelaide company–sometimes almost coming to a standstill, at others galvanized into feverish popularity by extraordinarily good crushings; sometimes paying phenomenal dividends, at other times none. One year it would be well managed; another well robbed. One month yielding forty per


  ― 115 ―
cent. on the capital invested; the next, perhaps not noteyielding enough to cover working expenses.

At last, after the history of the notemine had been for two years more erratic than ever, an American managernote of great skill and experience was secured. For more than a year Mr. noteJoseph S. Dunning worked the Colmar Mine at a wonderfully reduced cost and a rapidly increasing profit. But once more, what people began to call the bad luck of the noteColmar re-asserted itself. One afternoon Dunning went down into the mine hale and well, and half an hour noteafterwards was taken out a corpse through the carelessness, or ignorance, of a new "shift-boss,"note who had at the wrong time set a fuse to a charge of dynamite. The directors despaired of finding anyone worthy of coming after the lamented American manager. But in the course of a week they succeeded in inducing an exceptionally good all-round man to take the position of manager at least tentatively–one whose mining experience was wide and thorough, and whose character stood high for probity. This was William Trevaskis, a justice of the peace and late M.P. for a town constituency. He had made a fortune chiefly by mining, but through two financial disasters, which occurred almost simultaneously–the noteskilful roguery of a man with whom he had been in partnership as a land-agent, and the failure of notea local banknote in which he had been largely interested–Trevaskis had in a short time been rendered almost penniless.

He reached the mine one morning notein September,note nine days before Victor Fitz-Gibbon came there as purser. One of the periodic droughts of the district was raging that season, and a high north wind was blowing, which blurred the light of the sun and made the air thick with grit and blinding dust. This was more especially the case in the vicinity of the mine, where the vast heaps of mullock and tailings dispersed themselves in the atmosphere on the slightest provocation.

"Thick enough to cut with a shovel, isn't it, captain?"note said Searle, the then purser of the mine, who was showing the new manager over the offices.




  ― 116 ―

"Is it often like this?" asked Trevaskis in a gruff voice, rubbing the dust out of his eyes.

"Oh, not more than three days a week, till November. But from November till––"

"What in thunder is the use of that long iron passage?" said Trevaskis in a tone of amazement.

The two had come round out of the assay-roomnote and the purser's office, which were at the southern end of the row of buildings generically termed "the offices." At the northern end was the manager's office, with a bedroom opening out of it at the back. There were six rooms in all, one opening into the other. The three between the manager's office and the purser's were used as store-rooms.

"I was waiting for you to exclaim about that passage, captain," said Searle, with a notedelighted chuckle. He was a plump, red-faced little man, in a continual effusion of garrulity, without the power of discriminating between a contemptuous and a deeply interested listener. He had been four years in the mine off and on, and was never so happy as when he was showing a new-comer round the place for the first time, telling endless stories about it, dwelling with immense complacency on all that made it, "taken all in all, the most remarkable mine in the whole of South Australia, perhaps, indeed, on this side of the Southern Cross."note

As Trevaskis stood staring at the long narrow passage of corrugated iron, six feet high, with a flat roof of the same material, lit at intervals by small single panes of glass let into the sides, Searle felt that the moment had come for him to fire off this sentence on the "captain." But he had hardly made a beginning when Trevaskis turned away from him with an impatient and scornful grunt.

"Is this the key of my office?" he said shortly, fumbling among the bunch Searle had given him. The purser stood open-mouthed, hardly crediting his senses. He had impatiently awaited the proud and happy moment when this strange passage, which started from the manager's office and terminated at the other end in an irregular circular iron building on the side of the notereef,note should strike the stranger with unbounded


  ― 117 ―
astonishment and curiosity. And now the new notemade manager gave an ill-mannered grunt, and turned his back on one of the most distinctive noteand mysterious features of the Colmar Mine!

"Allow me, captain," said Searle, recovering his scattered senses, and unlocking the door. When he turned round he caught Trevaskis' eyes fixed on the passage with a puzzled look. This was balm to Searle's wounded feelings, and he instantly attacked the subject once more. "Did you ever see the like of that at a mine before, captain?" he asked briskly.

"I can't say that I have. What is it for?"

"You see the length of it–or at least you would if the wind was not so thick with dust. It is three hundred and twenty feet in length–three hundred and twenty feet–six feet high and six feet wideand––"

"But what the devil is it for?"

But Searle, who never stopped talking as long as he could get a listener, was too often forced to tell a thrice-told tale.note He was consequently not inclined to waste a subject so criminally as to come so soon to the point.

"You see this key, captain?" he said, holding up one of the door-keys on the manager's bunch that was smaller than the rest. "Well, that key opens this door at the end of your office, and when you open that door you're in the passage. You go along that passage for three hundred and twenty feet, and then you come to a cave–notea regular cave made into a notegood-sized room–scooped out of the side of the reef, and ventilated with a notestope,note full of old machinery that belonged to the English company–a couple of furnaces, retorts, blanket tables, a bunk near the entrance, a table, a chair––"

Searle paused to take breath. He fully expected that before he had reached so far in his description, Trevaskis would have set off down the passage to examine the place for himself. But instead of this his face wore a look of stony indifference.

"It's simply marvellous!" he gasped, making a despairing effort to infect his listener with a little becoming enthusiasm.

"What is marvellous?"




  ― 118 ―

"Why, that big underground place notescooped out of the side of the reef, and connected with the manager's office by a passage three hundred and twenty––"

"noteDamn the three hundred and twenty feet!" cried Trevaskis, in a tone of intense irritation. "What is the thing used for?"

"First there was some sort of natural cave, they say, and this was much enlarged. noteThis enlargement was noteundertaken by noteDoolan," returned Searle, in a grave, unmoved, historical kind of voice. "That was before my time. They notesay he felt the heat dreadfully, and used to stay down there cool and quiet, without noise or dust, when the thermometer went above 115° in the shade. The next manager took it into his head that he got on the track of a good lode there, and set some men to work it. This made the place still larger, but I don't know about the gold. There were a lot of queer yarns floating round, I believe."

"Did you ever know a mine that hadn't a bagful of lies told about it every week?" said Trevaskis, who was longing for an opportunity to have done with these reminiscences of his predecessors.

"Well, every manager that comes seems to think the one before him was a fool or a rogue."

"I think some of the managers you've had here were both," said Trevaskis. "I'm sure the man who made this passage––"

"Ah, I'm coming to that. This passage was made by Webster––"

"What! the man who turned miser here, and then went mad?"

"The same, captain. I don't want to make anyone out blacker than he is, but I'd just like to tell you what I know myself personally––"

"Thank you, I'm afraid I haven't got time to-day," answered Trevaskis, pulling out his watch. "We must confine ourselves for the rest of the time to business. It isn't a very cheerful subject. Webster became a raving lunatic; Dunning was killed in the twinkling of an eye. It only remains for me to cut my throat to finish up the record. Well, I only came for a month to try it. I don't fancy I shall stay longer than that."




  ― 119 ―

Never had Searle been more bitterly disappointed in his anticipations of acting as showman to the Colmar Mine. It was bad enough to treat the cave room and the passage three hundred and twenty feet long with surly contempt, but to have the history of Webster–of whom Searle could never think without a certain shiver in the marrow of his backbone–put by and passed over like an old woman's ghost story! The little man's heart swelled within him, and he went through the rest of his duties with Trevaskis observing the most dignified reserve.

When at half-past one he watched Trevaskis going to dinner at the Colmar Arms with a lowering brow and a set look on his face, the purser, though the least vindictive of men, felt assured that if the new captain took himself off at the end of a month he would be no loss to good-fellowship–an opinion he felt no scruple in expressing to the engineer, with whom he boarded at the three-roomed weather-board hut of one of the shift bosses close to the mine.

"I believe you're right there, Tom," said the engineer. "You see, he was at the top of the tree a short time ago in town. I think having to come here has put him off his chump so much he'll never have a civil word to throw at a dog.note But as to chucking up note£600 with times so bad–why, that's another matter."

This was exactly the aspect of the case which was at that moment forcing itself on Trevaskis. When he reached the Colmar Arms, he was met at the front door by the landlady, a lean, untidy looking woman with a very tired and discouraged face, who showed him into the dining-room talking all the time.

"I thought you was the new captain. Long Ben the driver told us noteas you 'ad come, but I didn't think as you was coming to dinner, not bein' 'ere at one. Poor Cap'en Dunning always come at one to the minute. Did you 'ear, sir, as he 'adn't gone half an hour from the Colmar Arms, after a dinner of young duck and cauliflower, when he was called away into eternity, so to speak?"

"Ever since I came within a hundred miles of the Colmar, every soul I see tells me about Dunning's sudden death! And now, if you please, I want a little dinner," said Trevaskis.

The landlady, with subdued volubility, said she would do the best she could, but she had expected him at one. Poor Cap'en


  ― 120 ―
Dunning always came so regular at one, and things was very mixed with them then at the Arms. They had just moved into the front part, which the cap'en no doubt noticed was of stone. The baby, who was a little over two year old, was cutting some back teeth; the cook had married at an hour's notice, just because there was a man handy to have her, and a Methodynote parson chanced to pass through; and the housemaid was down with a bad cold. These details were imparted in detachments, while the good woman placed on the table half a dozen fried chops, a loaf of bread, a two-pound tin of apricot jam, a pound of oily butter, and a large Britannia metalnote teapot half full of coarse lukewarm tea.

The new manager made a valiant effort to make some sort of a meal off these viands. But the attempt only sickened him and took away all appetite. The chops were tough, raw, cold, and greasy, the tea barkynote and bitter, the milk slightly sour. Trevaskis pushed away the meat, and drew the jam towards him. There were two large flies firmly embedded on the surface. . . . They were everywhere, these flies, large and small, buzzing in his ears and eyes–great flesh-flies beating heavily against the window-panes. The big bare room, with a long table covered with a spotted cloth and an array of dim glasses; the woman in the soiled print dress, with her dull, jaded face and wearied eyes, and the whining child dragging at her skirts; the smell of raw notecolza oilnote in the new paint, of damp mortar in the newly built walls; the burst of loutish merriment that came wafted from time to time through the open notedoors from the bar-room; the look of the country as seen through the window–all weighed on the man's mind like a hideous nightmare. He had been deeply miserable and irritated all day–indeed, for many days back. But at this moment it was no longer misery, it was notedespair, and fell on him.

"Good God! what a hole to come to after all these years!" muttered Trevaskis to himself. He was a stalwart, powerfully-built man, with a long and rather narrow face, the lower part completely covered with a thick grizzled beard and moustache. His nose was long, and slightly curved a little to one side at the end, through an accident in early life. His eyes were pale, with a


  ― 121 ―
greenish light in them, keen in expression, and very close together. In moments of excitement the pupils would seem to elongate in a way that gave notehim rather a sinister look. The head was well formed, the forehead square. Ordinarily he had the alert, determined air of one who does not let his thoughts travel beyond the matter in hand, noteno superfluous words or imagination to bestow on any subject beyond his own especial routine. But just now his face wore the strained and haggard look of one who notehad been badly beaten in the race of life. The landlady, seeing that he had eaten nothing, brought in a plate of biscuits and some cheese. But Trevaskis gruffly declined notethese delicacies, and ordered her to bring him some whisky and soda-water. Then he lit a strong Havana cigar, and as he smoked and sipped notehis whisky his courage revived. He would face the risk of being out of employment and out of pocket in civilized life rather than stay on at the Colmar. The directors, in their eagerness to secure him, had employed him on his own terms. It would be better to let them know at once he would not stay beyond the month.

He pulled a large flat pocket-book out of the breast-pocket of his coat, and turned over some papers, looking for a blank half-sheet on which to draw up a draft of the communication he would send on the morrow. The first letter that caught his eye was one from his brother, expressing rather clumsily the pleasure it gave him to hear Trevaskis had got a good job with high wages. Dick, he said, was getting on well in the bank, and they were both grateful to him for the billet.

It was a very illiterate, ill-spelt scrawl, and notebrought back to Trevaskis the days of his early boyhood, when he and his brother worked together in a Cornish mine. It was a squalid, hard life–both of them unkempt and uncared for, their mother dead, their father rough and intemperate. From eight years of age till sixteen, noteTrevaskis thought, that was a long spell to work twelve hours out of the twenty-four–often hungry, most of the time barefooted.note Then he reviewed his long fight for wealth in Australia. Poverty and the squalor of his early life had so bitten into him that he had sworn a great oath he would make himself


  ― 122 ―
independent–yes, and rich, as many another had done in the Southern Hemisphere.

And gradually through long years of ascetic abstinence and the most rigid self-denial he achieved his purpose. He stuck to mining; it was the work he understood best–first on the tribute plan,note then on claims of his own; and all his money as he saved it he put into careful investments. He had gone almost hungry, certainly very dirty, and in very broken boots, once when he was working in a poor patch of country, which did not yield "tucker" money.note And yet at that time the savings on which he would not encroach had swelled to £4,000. After that crisis his gains had increased by leaps and bounds. And at last, after seventeen years of toilsome lonely work and rigid saving, he found himself the master of over £60,000. He had determined he would have enough to live on like a gentleman before he left the Bush.

When he did so he lived in Adelaide, rented a handsome house, kept his carriage, went into Parliament, and married the daughter of a well-to-do doctor, "a lady born," as he often proudly said to himself. Even if he had known–and he did not–that his father-in-law was the son of a retired butcher,note the knowledge would not have modified this exultant feeling. His long apprenticeship to work in its grimiest form, moiling in the dirt with soiled skin and filthy clothing, made him keenly sensible of all the graces and pleasantness of affluence. He never quite lost his first vivid impression of delight in the soft ease, the luxury, the perfect cleanliness of well-to-do households. The feel of soft carpets underfoot, the gleam of pictures on the walls, the glitter of silver on the table, the taste of dainty food well cooked, the rustle of ladies' silken gowns, the gleam of jewels on their arms and necks: these things would always have a higher worth for him than for those to whom they were familiar from childhood. To him they represented the highest good, the greatest enjoyment, of which noteman is capable. They were the symbol of that privileged exalted life of which his forefathers had caught passing glimpses behind barred gates and through the corridors leading from servants' halls.

"And, after all, I've come back to it again–this notedamned mucky life among dirty labourers, and in a worse place than I've


  ― 123 ―
ever set foot in before. I might as well be a wombat in an earthed-up burrow," he said to himself, closing up his pocket-book. He could not frame a draft of the letter he thought of writing; the fear of absolute want stared him in the face. He could do nothing but ponder in bitterness of heart on the record of his life: his twenty-five years of ignominious toil, his aspirations, his determination to succeed, his eight years of complete and assured success, and then his complete and bitter failure. He took up his hat, and, crushing it over his eyes, strode away to the lonely, cheerless rooms that now formed his only home.




  ― 124 ―

12. Chapter XII.

"Are you busy, captain? may I come in?" said Searle, knocking at the half-open door of the manager's office three days later.

"Yes, come in," said Trevaskis, without raising his eyes from the letter he was reading.

Searle waited a few moments, and then, with a rising choler that was new to him, he said:

"I had better see you when you're more at liberty; I have a very important––"

"Oh, go ahead! Have you overpaid some fellow by a couple of bob?"

"I want to give notice; I must leave the mine as soon as possible," said the purser, with a quiver in his voice.

And then he explained how a letter had come to him by that morning's post from his brother, who was a storekeeper at Wilcannia, and had broken his right arm rather badly.

"I have an interest in the business; in fact, all my savings are in it, and now my brother offers me a partnership, and wants me to start at once if I can. I would like to give a month's notice, but I'm afraid I can't."

"All right; just put it in black and white, and I'll send it on; I don't suppose it matters about a long notice. There are scores of poor devils looking for a job in town just now who'll be glad of the billet."

"They might be glad of it; it doesn't follow they would be fit for the position," answered Searle.

"The position! Do you call it a position, then?" said Trevaskis, with a harsh laugh.

Further acquaintance had not improved the relations between the two. It seemed to Searle that the manager had from the first an unaccountable "down" on him. As a matter of fact, a "fellow with too much of a gab,"note as he would phrase it, was always antagonistic to Trevaskis; and in the bitter mortification that possessed him–the sense of intense irritation, which grew


  ― 125 ―
greater instead of diminishing, as hour by hour brought home to him more noteclosely the complete social annihilation that had fallen on him–it afforded him a certain gratification to inflict annoyance on others. And to make matters worse, Searle found out that Trevaskis had spoken slightingly of him. It was told to him with the kindest intentions, but the result was not an increase of harmony.

Robert Challoner had called on Trevaskis the day after he came, and invited him to Stonehouse, as the managerial dwelling-house had been called when erected nineteen years before, and it enjoyed the distinction of being the first stone house in the Colmar district. It was at the foot of the reef on the northern side, where the reef was at its steepest, completely closing in the view southward, so that from Stonehouse nothing could be seen of the mine noteor its surroundings. There was also an avenue of blue gums and pepper-treesnote noteall round the house, which notehelped to mitigate the stern aridity of its surroundings. It faced the west, where the flat, illimitable plain all round was faintly broken in the notefar distance by notethe pale-blue lines, one beyond the other, known as the Euckalowie Ranges. The house was surrounded by a deep veranda, and there was a bay window on each side of the front door. One of these was open, and as Trevaskis went in with Challoner, who had met him at the gate, he saw a young girl looking out, whose face, with its rare dream-like beauty and deep, sweet seriousness, held him for a moment spell-bound.

The exquisite orderliness and tokens of refinement in the place, the welcome accorded to him by Mrs. Challoner, and the generous nature of the bottle of wine he drank with his host, all disposed Trevaskis to a more genial mood than he had experienced since setting foot on the mine.

"You see, if you feel inclined to notetake your family here after we leave at Christmas–indeed, we may leave a few weeks before our lease is up–you will have plenty of room," said Challoner.

But Trevaskis shook his head.

"Mrs. Trevaskis is rather delicate–always accustomed to plenty of servants and society and all that; and we have five


  ― 126 ―
young children. She would never consent to come, and I wouldn't ask her. Searle has a bedroom here?" he added notewith a pause.

"Yes; he always slept in the house to take care of it before we came; now we take care of him," said Challoner, smiling.

Then, noticing a hard, irresponsive look in Trevaskis' face, and knowing through Searle that the two didn't hit it very well, he tried to throw a little oil on the troubled waters by saying:

"He is really a very good fellow in his way, so trustworthy and good-natured."

"But what a tongue! I think it would be a very good thing for him to be put in solitary confinement for twelve months, so as to get him out of jabbering eternally. I never could stand a very talkative man," said Trevaskis, with so much irritation that Challoner was rather taken aback.

He could not deny Searle's garrulity, but he felt that the new manager was unjust to him in laying so much stress on the defect. Both men smoked for a little time in silence.

During the pause, the strains of a very sweet, plaintive melody, played on a pianoforte in notethe adjoining room, became audible. Trevaskis listened with rapt attention.

"That is Miss Lindsay playing–the young lady you saw as we came in," said Challoner.

"I should like to hear her nearer," replied Trevaskis–"if it is convenient," he added, as he noticed a certain hesitation in Challoner's manner.

"I will ask my wife. If––"

"No, no! I see it is later than I thought," said Trevaskis, starting up, a deep hot flush rising in his face. He stared at his watch hard–not that the time was of any importance to him, but because in the sudden revulsion of feeling, the deep annoyance and confusion, he hardly knew what he did. He bade Challoner a hasty good-bye, and without waiting to see Mrs. Challoner, or leaving any message, he strode away, deeply, irretrievably offended.

"I ought to have put it more gracefully, I suppose," said Challoner, staring after him.

Mrs. Challoner came into the room a few minutes later, and


  ― 127 ―
looked round in amazement at finding her husband alone.

"He is gone; I am afraid he is a little huffed," Challoner said, in his slowly contemplative way, and then he told his wife what had happened. "I would have explained to him that Miss Lindsay was not so much our guest, as a young lady in our care with her own rooms and servant, and that we could not ask anyone into her room without leave; but he went off in sparks,note as James would say. And you know, wife, I can't take people by the throat to put them into good humour, and reel off a speech in half a minute to make them see how things stand."

"I am afraid he will be a bad successor notefor poor Dunning if he has such a disagreeable nature. And I am sorry for him, too, poor man! I thought he looked very low-spirited."

"It's conceit–my dear, it's conceit," returned Challoner. "You may speak of the pride of the people in the old country, whose genealogy didn't stop this side of Adam, but they're humble and companionable compared to men like Trevaskis," said Challoner, who was a quietly observant man, with an innate perception of character, strengthened by that eye-to-eye intercourse with his kind which prevails in these lonely spaces of the earth, where human nature plays a larger part than convention. He returned to the subject noteagain that evening.

"You can see Trevaskis is the sort of notea man who can be uncommonly nasty if he chooses, and I'm afraid he has taken a dislike to poor old Searle." Then he repeated to his wife what Trevaskis had said, and she suggested that he should give Searle a hint.

"Just tell him, Robert, that you can see the new manager is one of notethese people very reticent and disliking unnecessary talk. He won't take it amiss, you know, he's so good-natured."

"Yes, he has no more gall in him than a pigeon;note I wish––" Before the wish found expression there was a sound of footsteps on the veranda.

"Now, Robert, have a talk with him; just try and smooth matters," said Mrs. Challoner as she left the room, for they both recognised Searle's footsteps. His bedroom was on the reef-end of the house, with a door opening on the veranda, so that he could


  ― 128 ―
get into his room without going through any other part of the house. But it was understood when there was a light in the general sitting-room Searle should come in and have a cracknote if he felt so disposed. He did so on this occasion, and soon gave Challoner the opening which he did not desire, but which, as a dutiful husband, he felt impelled to turn to advantage.

"The new manager is, no doubt, a very clever man," said Searle, in a would-be dispassionate tone; "but if he doesn't learn to keep a civiller tongue in his head, I'm mistaken if he won't have the miners by the ears before long."

On this Challoner rushed in medias res.note He found himself, at the end of what he had to say, with Searle aggrieved, disturbed, and questioning. Challoner had little of the diplomat in him. What he had to say must come out square and unabashed, with no gentle inferences, no half-tones. All these might exist in his intentions, but he had not the power of turning words to exquisite purposes and curious niceties of speech. He could not express the finer shades of sentiment, although he felt them. He was astonished at the look of deep resentment on Searle's face. Garrulous people are never without a deep substratum of self-complacency, and the purser was wounded to the quick. If there was one thing on which he prided himself it was noteon his ability to talk well and fluently, to be by turns grave and gay, instructive and amusing.note

During the days that followed he spoke to the manager only in monosyllables. But the joy of revenge was sobered by a suspicion that the less he talked the more pleased Trevaskis was. It noteis very likely Searle would not have so promptly responded to his brother's proposal to join him in storekeeping if it were not for the craving to startle Trevaskis with such a bomb-shell. And after all, the bomb-shell had fallen as flat as a damaged rocket.

But there was balm in Gileadnote for Searle's ruffled feeling when, notein less than a week after his resignation was sent in, the following note came from "the Honourable Stuart Drummond, M.L.C., Chairman of the Directors of the Colmar Mine Company," as Searle, swelling with importance, styled him in telling the event to Challoner that evening:




  ― 129 ―

"Dear Mr. Trevaskis,

"My nephew, Mr. V. Fitz-Gibbon, has decided that he would like the post of purser and storekeeper at the Colmar Mine, at least till Christmas. The directors and myself are satisfied that Mr. Fitz-Gibbon–who, by the way, is a B.Sc. of the Adelaide University–is qualified for the position. You are probably aware that, on coming of age, he succeeds to my late brother's property, and, as his heir, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon will have a direct stake in the Colmar. We hope you will find it convenient to let him gain, under your skilful supervision, a practical insight into the working and prospects of the mine.

"I am, etc."

"So it seems my successor isn't to be one of those poor devils who noteare walking the streets for a job, after all," said Searle, with ill-concealed triumph.

Trevaskis made no reply.

"A Bachelor of Science. noteI expect he's well up in geology," said Searle.

"Do you think so? Generally, a colonial degree means a young fellow's head has been muddled with books he never understood," sneered Trevaskis as he walked away.

"I'll give him a good dig, though, before I leave; I'll let him have it hotnote somehow," thought Searle, staring after him. "A young gentleman, with a fortune behind his back, with a direct stake in the Colmar: he can't bully him as he does everyone else. I believe he dislikes the new purser more than the old one," said Searle, with a chuckle.

But if the surmise was correct there was no sign of it in the manager's manner when Victor reached the mine by the mail-coach which ran daily between Colmar and Nilpeena.

"I'm afraid you won't find this a very entertaining place," said Trevaskis, as the two were on their way to dinner at the Colmar Arms.

"Oh, I think I'll like it, for a few months, at any rate; the country is so unlike anything I've been in before," answered Victor, glancing around.




  ― 130 ―

"Oh yes, there's novelty in more than the landscape here," said Trevaskis, with a short laugh.

He found a malicious satisfaction in anticipating the novelty of a hostelry like the Colmar Arms for the young gentleman who had come to such a hole from caprice.

Mrs. West, the landlady, was still waiting for a cook. Her baby was still getting his teeth, a process that seems to colour one's views of life as darkly as losing them.

"It's always like this; that wretched kid hardly ever shuts up," said Trevaskis, as the mother and child disappeared, the latter keeping up an easy sing-song sort of wail, that swelled threateningly if he were too long neglected.

"Poor little beggar! He wants a little more nursing than he gets, I expect," answered Victor; and when the two returned, he called out cheerily to the culprit, holding out his watch as a bait.

"I say, little one, would you like to see a tick-tick?"

The child looked hard at the watch and then into the noteyoung men's faces.note After making this preliminary inquiry into their character, he seemed rather to approve of them. He gave a feeble smile, and then he slowly and gravely walked up to the new-comer, making a wide circuit round Trevaskis, looking at him in the meanwhile with a gloomy interrogative expression which greatly tickled Victor. He piled some sofa-cushions on a chair, and placed the child on them beside him, and gave him his watch to wind up. It was a robust, silver stem-winder, and after listening to its creaking sound for some minutes, as he turned the stem round, the child began to watch what went on noteat the table, and then stretched out his chubby hands for a share.

When the mother next entered the room, she found noteDick munching a slice of bread-and-butter, and trying to keep up a conversation with his new friend.

"Your baby is a long way ahead of me in language, Mrs. West," said Victor. "What can be the meaning of a "bid dod in the bat wad"?"

"He is trying to tell you noteabout the big dog in the back yard," answered the mother. noteOn hearing Victor's hearty laugh at this


  ― 131 ―
translation, she recalled a few more of Dicky's speeches equally noteremote from the common tongues of humanity. Presently the landlady was deep in a detailed account of her trials with notedomestics.

"Why don't you get middle-aged women, who wouldn't notebe likely to marry?" said Victor sympathetically, after listening to a heart-breaking noteaccount of successive cooks and housemaids who had been obtained at high wages with passage-money paid, notewhose career at the Colmar Arms came abruptly to an end with the catastrophe of a brief wooing and notea speedy wedding–even of clandestine departures without a wedding at all.

"Oh, blesh you, sir, if they was that old as they was likely to die of their years, they'd marry at the Colmar. You see a 'atter's life is a very lonesome one–I mean one as lives to hisself.note When you go among the miners' huts and tents you see some closed up, with a padlock on the door–that's notea 'atter's place. West, my 'usband, he was comin' along with you from Nilpeena, and he heard as you was the new purser. "But what a young swell like that is comin' 'ere for," sez he––"

"But I'm not in the least a swell; I could rough it far more than I'll have to do here," said Victor, a little chagrined that his rough suit of navy-blue serge, his blue-striped shirt, with an unstarched turn-down collar, and his soft gray hat did not save him from the imputation.

"Indeed, sir, swell and all, you're a kind-'earted young gentleman! To see the way as that crabby child took to you! An' though I'm 'is mother, I know he ain't sweet-tempered; but what can you expect, sir, with three double-teeth–one above, and the others in the lower jaw?"

"Lays himself out to be popular, that's evidently his notetack,"note thought Trevaskis as he listened. As for being depressed by the crudeness of his social surroundings, they all seemed to strike Fitz-Gibbon as so many points of interest. He laughed more than once on the way back to the mine, recalling Mrs. West's despair at the craze her domestics took for matrimony as soon as they reached the Colmar.




  ― 132 ―

"That's the place of one of the hatters who will be on the look-out for the new cook," he said, as they passed a little one-roomed hut with a big padlock on the door. "By the way, captain, shan't I be a hatter, too?" he added.

Trevaskis explained that there was a manager's residence on the north side of the reef, now let to some family, in which the purser had a bedroom. As they drew near the purser's office, Searle came to the door. Trevaskis had taken Victor down into the mine, etc., before dinner-time, so that he and the ex-purser had as yet hardly exchanged any words. The little man was eager to assert himself.

"I should like to stay a few days, if possible, to explain the books and that to you, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, but I am afraid my time––"

"Oh! don't trouble yourself, Searle. After all, it is a very simple matter. Just to keep the time-book, pay the men on Saturday, noteand see that a proper account is kept of the consumption of stores," said Trevaskis contemptuously.

Searle coloured deeply, and Victor hastened to say:

"It may be very simple when it's done by an expert like Mr. Searle, captain, but it's different for me. I know I shall be a bit of a duffer at keeping the books at first. If you could stay a few days, I should be awfully glad," he said, addressing Searle, who expanded under this speech like a bud in the sunshine. He would try. He thought, perhaps, he could manage to stay two or three days longer, if Mr. Fitz-Gibbon thought it would be a help to him.

"The greatest in the world. I know how very well you have done your work; I heard of you in my uncle's office," said Victor, who had, indeed, heard Searle's work highly commended, and was glad to proclaim the fact so as to atone for Trevaskis' brusquerie.

"Soft sawder.note An Irishman all over!" thought the manager, as he strode away, leaving the two together.

Surely none of the duties of a mine purser were forgotten that afternoon by Mr. Searle. There was the day-book, in which things bought and sold were kept; the cash-book, showing receipts and expenditure; the invoice-book, the cost-book, the ledger and the time-book. It was over the latter that Searle took


  ― 133 ―
his most spread-eagle flights, impressing on Victor the profound importance of entering each man's time and avocation correctly from shift-bosses' records. Underground there were the able-bodied miners, the shovellers, the truckers, the rock-drill foremen, the rock-drill labourers, the air-winch boys; above ground, the engineer, the engine-drivers, the stokers, the battery-feeders, the pan men, the hands at the stone-crackers, etc., nearly all at different wages. Sometimes a man would be engaged as a shoveller half of his shift, and as a trucker the other half. Care must be taken that he was entered at the two rates of wages, etc., etc., etc.

At last Victor declared that his head was ringing, and that he began to suspect it was as difficult to be a good purser as it was to be a great poet. It made him low-spirited to look at the immaculate figures and copper-plate writing in that pile of books, of which he greatly feared he would make a howling mess. Searle was radiant, and administered fitting consolation. Then the two went to have a look round the mine, and Searle of course made straight for the iron passage, and detailed its marvellous history, sparing no detail as to its length or cost, or the number of sheets of galvanized iron in it. Then he made such mysterious allusions to Webster's history, that Victor begged him to relate the story, which Searle promised to do before he left. Finally, after the two had tea together at the Colmar Arms, and a bottle of Bass's ale,note and a game or two at billiards, he insisted on making up a bed for himself on the bunk that was in the office, and then went across to Stonehouse, to introduce the new purser to Mr. and Mrs. Challoner. And there, in the room facing the reef, Victor wrote his first letter to Miss Paget–one which would reach her a few days after she landed in Colombo.

"You know," he wrote, "how I came prepared to "hump my bluey,"note metaphorically speaking? Well, as far as that goes, my coming to the mine is up to this an A1 swindle–a sham as complete as the little Arabian birds you bought at Aden. Figure to yourself that you are peeping into my bedroom. Let me assure you that there is not the slightest impropriety in the suggestion, for it is a very pearl of bedrooms–in a stone house! with a Kurdistan rug before the bed!! another before the wash-hand stand!!! a third before the toilette-table, made up in pink and white, like a young lady going to a ball!!!! pillows with ruffles


  ― 134 ―
round them, on the outside of a knitted counterpane!!!!! I notebetter not use up all my store of exclamation points in this one letter, for I foresee I may need a few more later on. I had some thoughts of concealing some of these details from you, for it is rather galling to come away to the heart of the barren Salt-bush country to the "diggings,"note and find noteoneself in a room overflowing with voluptuous splendour. I could put up with the rugs and the ruffles and the lady in pink and white–now don't be suspicious (vide top of notepage)–and even with the cake of almond soap I found in the soap-dish when I went to put my great square piece of plebeian yellow soap into it; but what do you say to long white muslin curtains to the window!!!!!! But this is upholstery. I must come to actual people. And first, one of my college chums, Maurice Cumming,note is within fifteen miles of the mine. He and a brother have a little sheep-run–at least it used to notebe a sheep-run, but the rabbits are eating them out. As to the manager–it is etiquette to call him captain on the mine–if you were not preternaturally English, Helen, and me so fearfully Irish at times, I should tell you that when I first saw him I had a Presentiment–with a capital letter, as you may notice. When he is not on guard, there is a hard, angry look in his eyes. At all times his manners resemble the snakes in noteIceland;note but he has lost all his money, and notehas to come away from his wife and children. Wouldn't I be savage, too, if I had to leave my wife?" etc.




  ― 135 ―

13. Chapter XIII.

It was not till the evening before he left that Searle gave up the last insignia of his office.

"What! more keys, Searle," cried Victor. "Good heavens! how many am I to have in all? This makes seven, nine, thirteen–and two more fifteen. What is this long bright one for? it has no label."

"That is the second key of the strong safe in which the gold is kept," answered Searle slowly. "On the last cleaning-up day,note just three days before you came, we put two bars of gold into it, each worth one thousand five hundred pounds and a few shillings."

"Then there noteis three thousand pounds of gold in that safe now?" said Victor, regarding it with curious interest.

It was a massive fire-proof safe, standing in the north-east corner of the purser's office, opposite the door which opened into the assay-room, containing several furnaces and a large collection of chemicals in jars and notebottles, &c., &c.

"Yes, and when there's about another three thousand pounds' worth in it, Wills, our mounted trooper,note will take the lot in an iron box into Nilpeena by the mail coach, and there he is met by a trooper from town. You keep this key, the manager has the other, so you can neither of you open the safe alone."

"Have you ever had any attempt at robbery here?"

"Well, not by noteany outsider," said Searle with a mysterious air.

"Oh, come! this begins to be like a chapter in a shilling shocker,"note said Victor, smiling. But Searle maintained a very grave aspect.

"It is part of Webster's story, the strangest affair I ever was mixed up with. And do you know, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, it's come across my mind once or twice that perhaps I notebetter not tell you."

"Why?"

"Because it seemed to me that after I told it to Dunning, the late


  ― 136 ―
manager–a splendid fellow, clever and well-educated, and such a pleasant-mannered man–a greater contrast to the present captain you could not see––"

"You're not in love with Trevaskis?"

"Nor he with me; but before I leave to-morrow I'll give notehim a little punch in the ribs." Searle's cheeks grew red with anger and wounded vanity.

"But what were you going to say–that after you told Dunning?"

"He never seemed the same man, somehow."

Though Victor had during the last three days been often amused at the solemn importance with which Searle would dwell on matters of small consequence, he began to perceive that there must be something tragical underlying this story.

"You can't expect me to let you off telling it after raising my curiosity to such a pitch," he said. "There's just an hour before we go to tea. You must come to the Colmar Arms with me, as it is your last evening. Can you tell it in an hour?"

As the story which Searle told is closely bound up with succeeding events at the Colmar Mine, it is necessary to give the substance of his narrative, leaving out the devious wanderings in which he indulged, especially in the earlier portion, when he gave an elaborate account of the way in which one of his eyes was affected with a cataract that at last obliged him to go under an operation in town, where he remained for nearly six months before he could return to his duties as purser. Webster had been manager at the mine for five months before Searle left. During his absence no regular purser was appointed.

"There was a man who went by the name of Oxford Jim at the winding enginenote for a few weeks before I left–I have heard that he's somewhere prospecting about here now," said Searle; "and Webster took him on to keep the books and so on while I was away. When I left, the mine was never more prosperous, and Webster was giving immense satisfaction all round. He was a great one for experiments. Before I left he had heaps of tools and machinery removed to the cave room. He got on notewell with the men, and everything was as cheerful as possible. When I got back and first saw Webster, I could hardly believe my eyes."




  ― 137 ―

"Had he altered much, then?"

"That's hardly the word for it; he was like another man entirely. He used to be rather plump and fresh-coloured; now his face was gray, with deep lines round his eyes, and a sort of quick twitch about them sometimes, and fearfully restless–always on the move, especially at night. It was a very rainy season when I got back, and Webster used to wear a big black cloak, and a hat slouched over his face. In these he was seen by people at all hours of the night, hanging round the mine, and some said as if he were carrying things. He had loads of some old tailings carted into the cave-ground room. The yield from the mine had fallen almost to nothing while I was away, and we thought this was working on the manager's mind, and that he was trying to get gold in some way or another to make up the deficiency."

"But a solitary man couldn't extract gold from tailings?"note

"Not very well without special machinery. Some said he did it only for a blind. At any rate, he used to be hours and hours in the cave room at night; and when I got back the iron passage was half done. He bought up second-hand iron from little mines and companies that had come to grief in the district; and though he said the passage would do to store things in, he had it noteup entirely at his own cost. He said it was a little fad of his own, and he wouldn't put the company to any expense. Well, after I came back things began to look up again. Oxford Jim went away. The morning he left he said to me, "Be careful about what you drink with the captain on cleaning-up days." When I asked him what he meant, he just laughed and went away. He was a queer fellow, with a curious twist in his mind that gave him a very bad opinion of everything in this world, and I may say in the next. He used to take opium and things; people did say he was hardly ever quite straightnote notethe days he used to help the captain in cleaning up the gold."

"Is cleaning up the gold a long job?"

"Here the whole process, down to smelting, takes about a day, sometimes a little longer. Your first experience will come off in nine or ten days. Webster and I always had something to drink together. Well, the second time we cleaned up, after I got back I felt rather stupefied. Next morning, when I saw the quantity of


  ― 138 ―
amalgam, I was simply thunderstruck; it was about half less than it ought to have been. Time after time the same thing happened, and Webster seemed to be getting queerer. He was brother-in-law to two of the directors, and had a good deal of influence, else I think he could not have carried on such a strange game so long."

"I wonder you didn't draw up a report or clear or something. It must have been deucedly uncomfortable."

"It was more than uncomfortable; but you know, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, I'm not as young as I was, and I like things quiet; I'm afraid, too, Webster buttered me overnote a good deal. Still, in less than four months after I came back, the worry and fidget of it all brought on a weakness of my eyes, and I had to go away for two months. The mine had fallen off so much then that Webster took no one on as purser; and as it seemed that the Colmar would perhaps have to be given up altogether, the directors made no objection.

"Well, when I came back the second time there were the most curious rumours about an noteextraordinary rich lode, which had been opened up, and notea vugh of gold,note and all the rest of it. But there was hardly a soul in the mine that I knew; the engineer and shift bosses, all except Roby,note were new. As for the miners, of course they're always shifting about, except a few old hands who have their families here. The yield had improved, and Webster spoke of resigning. He had a claim at Hooper's Luck, nine miles from here, at which he had a couple of men working on tribute, and he said the prospects were splendid."

"Surely it was rather irregular for a manager to have a private job on hand while he was working for the company?"

"Oh, as for that, nothing can be more irregular than mining companies from beginning to end," answered Searle, who had been in some way or another interested in mining for many years, and could speak with more authority on this subject than on any other. "A man who can't earn his tucker in any other line calls himself a mining expert. He goes into the heart of the Bush, and makes assays and reports; and a company gets floated with directors that know no more of mining than I do of Hebrew. And there's no doubt that in some ways Webster was a very good


  ― 139 ―
manager, and a captain who has knowledge, and is believed to be honest, can do anything with any company."

Someone at this moment came into the assay-room, but neither Searle, who was absorbed in talking, nor Victor, who impatiently awaited the denouement of the narrative, took any notice. The assay-room was at the southern end of the offices, and the outer door often stood open until the offices were locked for the evening. It was Trevaskis who had come in and stood behind the half-open door leading into the purser's office, looking for some notechemical among the rows of bottles that were ranged on shelves behind the door. While thus engaged his attention was riveted by what he overheard:

"At any rate, Webster had this claim noteat Hooper's Luck, and he was always riding across to it, and always got very much excited when he began talking of it. He had bought an American waggonnote and a pair of horses, and he was buying up a lot of the old machinery that was about the mine–old furnaces and crucibles and so on.

" "I'll have a good many loads to cart to Hooper's Luck when I go there," he would say, chuckling and rubbing his hands, and then he would walk about and his eyes would begin to gleam. It used to come across me, that his mind was getting affected. One curious change that had come over him was that he had become most awfully miserly. An old friend of his that I met in town the second time I was there about my eyes, told me that Webster's father had become a perfect miser in his old age. A real miser, mind you, a monomaniac who lived alone and grudged himself proper food while he had great strong boxes full of gold and silver, and fifty-pound notes sewn into his old notecoat. One day when I was out shooting and had left my key noteto the safe with Webster––"

"Oh, it isn't imperative on the purser, then, never to give up his key?" said Victor, who had been gradually absorbing the thought that it notewas a mine-purser's duty to see that the manager did not commit theft.

"Oh no; we've often given each other charge of our keys when we were going away for a day or so. Once the gold is smelted and


  ― 140 ―
stamped and weighed, there's no chance of playing tricks with it. It's the white gold as the Chinese call amalgam that gets stolen by everyone in turn, from the manager to the pan-man."note

"Damn the fellow's impudence!" thought Trevaskis, and he felt inclined to give Searle a piece of his mind there and then for making so free with his superiors. But certain vague hints which had reached him regarding Webster of late, made him curious to hear the upshot. He stood at the shelves with his hand on the bottle he was in search of, so that if anyone appeared at either of the half-open doors, he might hurry away with the notechemical without betraying that he had played the part of an eavesdropper.

"Well, I came back after dusk earlier than I expected. I found the safe unlocked and the gold gone. You might have knocked me down with a feather, as the saying is. I instantly went through to the manager's office. The doors were kept open then, from one room to another, so that you could go through without going outside; and there are duplicate keys for the manager and purser, but the doors were hardly ever locked. However, when I got to the room next the manager's office the door was locked, but when he heard my voice he opened at once. "Ah!" he said, "you missed the gold; it is here, it is quite safe; but aren't they beauties, aren't they real beauties, shining solid and yellow? The more there is of it in a heap the lovelier it looks! Sovereigns are pretty to look at, but what are they noteto ingotsnote weighing three hundred ounces?"

"The bars of gold were lying on the table, and he had scattered handfuls of sovereigns over them, and he notekept bending over them and handling them, his eyes glittering as if he were in high fever. "Think of getting gold enough," he said, "to make fifteen of these bars–fifteen! think of it, piled one upon the other in a splendid glittering mass! Bah! when I make my pile at Hooper's Luck, I won't sell it–not till I have a little mountain, not till I have enough to make fifteen bars weighing each three hundred ounces. Good God! think of having a whole ton of gold, clean and pure, before you."

"He must have gone out of his mind; yes, he must have been


  ― 141 ―
mad. That evening I found it hard to calm him down. All of a sudden he cried out notethat the men at Hooper's Luck were robbing him. He was sure of it. But he would take them unawares, and search their tents and find a heap, a heap, a heap of nugget gold! He had put them on the claim, and paid them wages and given them tools, and now they were cheating him. He knew it. But he would steal a march on them, and I'm afraid he did it, too," said Searle, dropping his voice.

Trevaskis was surprised to find himself breathing hard with rising excitement. His imagination was strangely fired by thoughts of those gleaming heaps of gold which had been conjured up by the distempered ravings of his predecessor.

"It was two nights after that," said Searle, with a certain tremor in his voice, "that I was coming very late, early I should say, from the Colmar Arms. I kept a little more to the left than I ought to have done, and struck the stable instead of passing between it and the offices on my way across the reef to Stonehouse. The stable-door was open, and there was Nick, the manager's black horse, in a lather of sweat, and quivering all over. Next day news reached the mine that Hooper's Luck had been robbed and one of the men killed. His mate had got a lift in Mr. Challoner's buggy from Hooper's Luck to Nilpeena, and it was good for notehim he had such a trustworthy witness to answer for him. For at the inquest he admitted that he and the murdered man were concealing the fact that they had got about two thousand pounds' worth of nuggets, and that they had planned to clear with the gold for Melbourne in a day or two."

"And the murderer, was he discovered?" asked Victor in a low voice.

"No, but if my suspicions are right, the hand of God was heavy on him,"note answered Searle. "I kept on thinking of what the manager had said of stealing a march on the tributers, and of his horse in a lather of sweat between one and two in the morning, and the murdered man, and the stolen gold, and one thing or another, so that when I saw him I used to feel choked, and couldn't look him in the face. But there wasn't a breath of outside suspicion against him. I knew many a man has been hung on circumstantial evidence stronger than I possessed, and yet was


  ― 142 ―
proved innocent when it was too late. I would have resigned, but Webster was going as soon as they could get one in his place. And he was more than ever in the cave room–always, I think, part of the night.

"Everyone began to notice something very queer in his manner. At last one night, nine days after the murder, I was sitting here at this desk, making up the approximate cost, the door of the assay office was on the latch, as it generally was till I left for the night. It was thrown noteopen as if by a whirlwind, and Webster rushed into the office here, his face as white as a sheet, his eyes starting out of his head, the sweat in big drops on his forehead. "I saw him," he said, "I saw him, I saw him with his head all battered in, as sure as God is in heaven!" and with that he fell into a fit, foaming at the mouth. When he came to, he was so completely off his head that Wills, the police trooper, had to handcuff him and watch him till he got him down into the asylum."note

"And he is there now, isn't he? I heard something of his going insane, from the mine secretary in town," said Victor, "but not a whisper of anything else."

Trevaskis, who had listened to the close with breathless interest, was in the act of turning away with the bottle of nitrate of mercury, for which he had come, when again Searle's speech arrested him.

"That is the first act, and the second was nearly as strange. No, you wouldn't be likely to hear any whisper of the Hooper's Luck affair–for Dunning and I were the only two who knew; I told him in the greatest confidence. I would have told it to the new captain, too, for in a way I thought he ought to know, but––"

Then came a few words which Trevaskis did not hear. Searle was lighting his pipe as he spoke. But he heard Victor laughing, and a dull dark red mounted into Trevaskis' face at the sound.

"I may teach you to laugh on the wrong side of your mouth before I've done with you, young man," was the thought that rose in his mind, but more as an expression of quick anger than any serious resolution of revenge.

"And you," continued Searle, "will be none the worse for having


  ― 143 ―
your eyes and ears open. For more than seven months after Dunning came, I didn't say a word about the Hooper's Luck affair. I did go into the cave room with him one day, to have a search round. But there wasn't a thing in the place except old machinery and all sorts of odds and ends, down to an invalid-chair that one of the early managers had after breaking his leg. Then one night I told him, and the whole affair made the strongest impression on him. I fancy he began to prowl round in the cave room from that very night. He said to me one day, half joking, "What would you say if I discovered a great lode in that old cave room?" and I just told him, in the same way, not to begin to fossick in that place at any price.

"It was about six weeks later, I think, that Webster was discharged as being sane. We heard nothing of it till he came. He made straight for the mine. He got into Nilpeena by the train that reaches it at four o'clock in the morning, and tramped it here on foot, so that no one should know he was coming. There was a tremendous dust-storm on. You couldn't see from one end of the officesnote to the other. I was coming across after the three o'clock shift had gone to work. Near the assay office here I met a man bareheaded, his face as black as a pot, nothing white but the white of his eyes, and they were glaring like a wild cat that has a dog's teeth in its throat.

" "He has turned me out!" he said; "he won't let me into the passage or the old cave room."

"At that moment Dunning came out of his office and locked the door. Webster gave a howl like a dingo, and rushed on him. If I hadn't been there, I think it would have gone hard with Dunning. It was as much as we could do to hold him down till Wills got him handcuffed. He was worse than the first time, all the way down to Adelaide, so Wills told me. . . . It gave Dunning a nasty turn."

Trevaskis heard footsteps approaching the outer door of the assay-room, and noiselessly slipped out, carrying noteaway with him the nitrate of mercury. He had been in the room for about a quarter of an hour, and when he came out the wind had risen, and the dust was thick in the air. Looking eastward from the front of the offices, the great wide treeless plain, sweeping to the


  ― 144 ―
verge of the vague horizon, was enclosed in a lurid, reddish haze. The country in that direction was in places entirely destitute even of salt-bush, and the hard red earth lay gaping in wide cracks, which in a dry season, when the wind blew high, infected all the atmosphere with their own sombre stain.

"I don't wonder Webster went mad–living in a place like this for two years," thought Trevaskis, with a dull sinking of the heart. The reddish sultry air, thick with dust, throbbing with the din of the battery and air-compressors,note the smoke from the tall stack hanging in dense clouds overhead–all combined to make the atmosphere dark, heavy, and oppressive. To Trevaskis, who from time to time found himself stricken with attacks of acute depression that bordered on physical prostration, the place just then wore a menacing and almost infernal aspect.

He was still standing at notehis office door, looking blankly round with a sort of dazed impassiveness, when Victor and Searle approached him in eager conversation.

"I suppose, captain––" began Searle as he drew near. But before he could get any further, Trevaskis deliberately turned away, walked into his office, and slammed the door behind him.

Victor coloured to the roots of his hair.

"Never mind–I can have a look at it from the outside," he said hurriedly. He had been so much interested by what he had heard regarding the cave room that he wished to see it there and then. It struck him that there might be some indications which would throw light on the strange fascination the place had possessed for successive managers.

Searle had at once proposed that they should ask the captain for the key that opened the door leading from his office into the passage; and this was the result. Searle was voluble as to the captain's unprecedented rudeness, but Victor, resenting it still more deeply, would not discuss it.

"After all, no man would indulge in such an extraordinary freak without some strong motive," he said, as they walked down by the side of the passage till they reached the irregular, half-circular iron structure that enclosed the opening into the singular underground retreat.

"Or without being mad," answered Searle. "That was the


  ― 145 ―
conclusion Dunning came to after the most careful examination. But he, too, got quite fond of it for a work-shop; there's a heap of his things down there. As I was telling you, the shock of Webster's attack seemed to affect Dunning most strongly. The first thing that did him good was a visit from an old friend of his, an actor who was out of a billet, and came from Melbourne and stayed over a month with him. Then just before he was killed his health was out of sorts; he was afraid of some inward growth, and he had arranged with the directors that he should go once a month for a few days to Melbourne to be treated by some specialist. He was going to start the very day after he was killed–had everything ready. The directors thought themselves lucky to get hold of Trevaskis in his place, but––"

Victor discouraged reversion to this subject. Searle, however, had his innings when he bade the captain good-bye.

"Well, I suppose you're not sorry to go," said Trevaskis in a nonchalant voice.

"In some noteways I am," answered Searle. "The company have always treated me well; I'm not like the man who said:

" "First I was a master,
Then I was a grieve;
At last I got the dogs to keep,
And then I got my leave."note

But then, again, I'm glad that the company have sent a young gentleman of good position with an interest in the mine; there have been some curious tricks in connection with it before, and––"

Searle's heart failed him a little as he met the furious glare that came into the captain's eyes, so he cut his sentence short, and it was not till he was on the box-seat of the mail-coach bowling along to Nilpeena at the rate of ten miles an hour that he thoroughly enjoyed the "dig" he had given the new captain.




  ― 146 ―

14. Chapter XIV.

Victor did not find that the manager developed more companionable qualities as the days went on. There is, doubtless, often a great satisfaction to the unregenerate man in taking change out ofnote an offender by what Searle called giving a "dig," especially when the one who gives it is going beyond the reach of an inept pleasantry in return. The amazement which Fitz-Gibbon's voluntary sojourn at such a place as the Colmar caused Trevaskis was changed by Searle's parting words into a fast suspicion that notethe young man had, by reason of his large interest in the mine, come to play the spy on the new manager. Thus to the moroseness which his misfortunes and rankling sense of failure had induced was added the animus of a private grudge.

The result of this was not, however, at first bad for Victor; it had merely the result of making him work rather hard. During the first week he made several clerical slips which Trevaskis commented on with so much severity and rudeness that it was with much difficulty the young man kept his temper.

"Good heavens! how the animal sets my teeth on edge!" he said, and then he resolved that he would never give him the chance again.

For the next two weeks he worked late and early, mastering all the details of his work, making out lists of the stores on hand, so that he should not forget to order in time. As for the variations in the men's wages, he learned them off by heart, noteso that he should make no errors in writing out their weekly cheques. After this spurt of work was over, Trevaskis set him to take stock of all the mining materials in the various storerooms.

In this he had the assistance of Michael the notewater carrier. The mine was dependent for drinking water, as indeed were all the inhabitants of Colmar as well, on the Government tank,note


  ― 147 ―
half-way between the mine and the township.

"And very bad it do be getting, that same tahnk, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon. The dhry season is powerful bad for the tahnks; you gets down to ahl the mud and shlime and dead things."

They were in the ironmongery store, Michael calling over shovels, sieves, coils of fuse, picks, leather belting, kegs of nails, etc., Victor checking them off in his stock-book. After an hour and a half of this, Victor cried out, "Smoke oh!" and the two were talking as they spelled.note Michael was a nervous-looking little man, with a brick-red face, keen little brown eyes, and very red hair. As he talked, quick spasmodic twitches would from time to time pass over his face, especially round the mouth and eyes and across the nose.

"But, surely to goodness, Michael, you have no dead things in the tank out of which our drinking-water comes!" cried Victor, with a touch of dismay in his voice.

"Indade, sor, and there is, an' mahny's the time I've had to hould me nose while I'm taking a draught of wather. It isn't so bad as that this saison yet, and the Government they do be puttin' off cleaning the tahnk. We'll have a spreadin' illness, the typhy faver or some such, and then we'll be forced to keep a docthor to our own cheek."note

"By the way, Michael, what sort of a doctor is the man you subscribe so much a month for?"note

"Well, sor, he's a big fat mahn, wid half the alphabet at his heels, living on the other side of Hooper's Luck. Iviry month there's a shilling stopped out of our wages, as you know, to notegive him, for living beyand the reach of ahny rale disthress, I may say. We did just as well when he wasn't there, and we died quietly, widout the help of medicine, if the hour had come. Mahny a time I do be wondering, sor, how mankind will come and shtay in a place like this, and from all parts of the worrld. There's Runaway Hans–a mahn that used to notego whan voyage from Chiny to the Pyreamaids, where I am tould the corps of holy catsnote–the blissid saints forgive them!–and of moighty monarchs is kept as on the day they died, maybe shortly after the Flood; and yet that mahn left his kit and his Sunday breeches and three months' wage, to run away to the Colmar."




  ― 148 ―

"Runaway Hans!" repeated Victor, who was smiling broadly, and by this time decided that Michael was one to be cultivated; "ah! that's the yellow-haired young man with a strong German accent?"

"Yes, the same; he do thry to spake English a little, but what he mostly talks is, as you say, sor, the German ahccent. Well, and he left all that behind him, and noterun away for what? To scrape dirt underground till his guernsey pours over wid sweat noteliked a rag soaked in the washtub, and live undher a sthrip o' calico wid an oneasy perished branch o' sandal-tree to keep the hate out–which it don't."

Victor laughed; and at that moment Trevaskis looked in at the open door. His face darkened as he took in the frank, friendly relations which the young man had so quickly established between himself and Michael–the veriest drudge at the mine. Trevaskis' own manner to all who were under him was marked by a certain peremptory roughness, which is, as a rule, the note of the proletariat who has developed into the master.note In his most genial moments he would never dream of entering into any talk with one like Michael beyond giving him orders, and perhaps occasionally blaspheming his eyes for not being more prompt.

"That's his laynote–to worm himself into the confidence of everyone, and that old fox Drummond noteasking me to let him have an insight into the working of the mine. But I'll put a spoke in his wheel there!" thought Trevaskis, as he strode away after giving his orders.

"Barzillanote Jenkins is going off by the afternoon mail. I want you to make out his cheque, Fitz-Gibbon."

When Victor went into the office he found Jenkins, a big, brawny Cornishman, standing at the door as he had come up out of the mine–notehis face and hands black, his moleskin trousers stiff with clay and earth stains.

"You are at the rock drills, I think?" said Victor, turning up the time-book.

The man gave a muffled sort of assent. The men were paid each Saturday; this was Friday, but Jenkins was noteonly entered for two shifts.




  ― 149 ―

"Why, you are only down for two shifts, besides to-day's, since last pay-day, Jenkins!" said Victor, as he began to write out the cheque: "three days, at nine shillings a day."

As he looked up, to hand this to Jenkins, he was struck with the look of profound gloom in his face. There were suspicious light smears on his cheeks, too.

"It's just the inikity o' the oud Adam 'isself," he burst out passionately. "I missed two days' work, bein' on the drink, and now I've not enough to take me hum; and when I coom up this afternoon, I found this 'ere."

As he spoke, he handed Victor a telegram, which ran: "Your wife is much worse. Come at once."

"I 'ad a letter last week, as she was onwell," he went on, "and I knowed some'ow last night she were weered. I oft a' gone before. I might be sartin notedoctorsnote would do 'er no good."

By this time Victor had produced his private cheque-book, and was rapidly writing out a cheque for five pounds.

"Take this, 'Zilla," he said, putting it folded into his hand. "You can pay me back when it is convenient," he added, anxious to cut short the man's broken expressions of gratitude.

It was the personal relations into which he came with the miners that gave the strongest element of interest to the purser's work. Victor had strongly the sympathetic fibre, which is rarely absent from the Irish temperament when it has fair play. He had also that quick sense of humour which, under all circumstances, gives an enlivening strain to the serio-comedy of life. And at the Colmar, as in all other parts of the Australian Bush, there was a great deal of human nature about. It is true that most of it was quite in the rough; that there was little of those finely-spun hypocrisies, those keen but veiled rivalries, those subtle and contradictory nuances of character, which are developed among superior people, under the high pressure of civilization. Those politely ironical little stories that invigorate the languors of conversation, at the expense of mutual friends, were noteas unknown as the faculties sharpened only to invent means of killing time. But though there were no polished raconteurs ripely skilled in relating events which never happened, in a sparkling way, there was no lack of men who enjoyed hearing and telling such


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stories as came in their way in a somewhat Rabelaisian fashion.

At the Colmar, as in politer walks of life, those whose social instincts were most highly developed were not, as a rule, among the more admirable characters. They belonged rather to the habitual procession of the streets, with the chronic idlers left out, greedy for enjoyment in some form, and reckless as to the future. They alternated hard work with "betting drinks to the crowd,"note and going twenty-four hours without sleep. They preferred to give a fillip to one day at the expense of another, rather than have all days alike monotonous. Speed with an equivocal result fascinated them more than the undeviating pace of safety. Some of the older miners were Cornish Wesleyans,note who combined to hold "services" on Sunday, to get up teetotal entertainments, and generally influence the laxer brethren to adopt a more decorous mode of life. But early in his experience as a purser, it occurred to Victor that the miners would be a much duller lot than they were if the more serious among them had it all their own way. It is indeed a melancholy reflection that the good qualities of some people are æsthetically, oftentimes more unsatisfactory, at least to the mere looker-on, than the less virtuous qualities of others.

'Zilla Jenkins was one who hovered between the two camps–notesometimes severely virtuous in his conduct, and rigid in his condemnation of all carnal indulgence. During such periods he was a total abstainer, and had even been known to give rousing addresses on the evils of intemperance. But these were adventures in the higher ethics, which time after time ended in disaster. "Brother 'Zilla hev backslid again" was the testimony that had noteoften to be given regarding him at the chapel and blue-ribbon meetings.note

Two of these more serious miners interviewed Victor on Saturday after Jenkins had left by the mail-coach.

"About 'Zilla, sir; we does wish as you 'adn't a-beëd so kind to 'e," the elder said in an expostulatory tone.

"You see it's like this, sir," struck in the other man, before Victor, who was amused and a little taken aback, could make any response. "Jenkins hev gone back agin an' agin to rowl like the swine in the Scripthernote in the slime o' evil-doin'. 'Zilla gets sorry, but the repentance don't stick to 'e. Now, we was a-


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watchin' for this 'ere oppertoonity. 'Zilla's been bad on the noteburst.note News comes as 'is missus is hill, she's gen'ally hill–that's 'ow she can't leave 'er mother to cleave onto 'er man, which is the rule o' Gord and o' nature,note but she's got weerd and weerd, and 'Zilla he wants awful to git away; but he spent 'is money at the public-'ouse an' so did those as 'e goes wi' there. Why, sir, they're on the ticknote and on the borrowr from one month's end to the other. We was waitin' to the larst moment, an' then to come forrard and say: "'Ere, 'Zilla Jenkins, your missus is maybe i' the last gapse. 'Tis a gashlynote thing for a man to swaller 'is money an' make a beast o' 'isself onto the bargain, and then not 'ave enough to take 'im to his wife's berrin' maybe––" "

"You were going to say all that to the poor fellow, when he was in such a fix!" said Victor, keeping a serious face with some difficulty. "Well, I'm glad I gave him what notehe needed––"

"Ay, sir, but 'ow much better to slang 'e now than let 'e go straight to Berlzebub. We was goin' to lend 'im the money at 's awn 'count on a Hi Ho U, an' that 'ud 'ave 'elped to bring 'e back to the paths o' righteousness, so to speak, for 'e 'd a-been ashamed to spend 'is substance at th' Colmar Harms till 'e 'd a-paid us back, an' by that time we'd 'ave 'ad a sartin grip o' 'e––"note

A teamster came into the office just then, to tell Victor that four teams were waiting at the weigh-bridge to have their loads checked, so that he had to leave before Rehoboam Hosking had quite finished.

Rehoboam, or Roby, as he was usually called, was one of the three shift bosses of the mine, and the one who most frequently conducted services in the little iron school-room which stood mid-way between the Colmar Arms and the post and telegraph office. He had what some of the miners called "a great gift for spouting," and was fervid in organizing meetings of all sorts, in which he took a leading part. On Sundays he often preached morning and evening. His sermons and exhortations were of a very rousing, not to say overbold, description.

Thus, on one occasion when he was carried away by his zeal for conversions, he cried out in stentorian tones: "Descend upon us, O Holy Ghost, descend: if there's any damage done to the roof,


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there's not a shoveller on the Colmar that won't give a bob for repairs."

One or two Episcopalians who were present afterwards accused Roby of blasphemy. He denied the charge with great vigour, and affirmed that they and the Church they belonged to were "lukewarm Ladoshians, that the Amen of the beginning of Creation had long ago spued out of His mouth."note This was a flight in metaphor which reduced one of Roby's opponents to silence, while it confirmed the other in his worst opinions of the shift boss's divinity, and even of his moral sincerity. Henceforth notethe Episcopalian believed all that was said against Roby, for there were unfortunately stories abroad about him that somewhat told against his influence as a social reformer. In preaching, he was fond of describing himself as a brand snatched from the burning,note and with that complete deliverance from reserve and modesty, which so curiously marks the members of some religious sects, he would give graphic details of the noteway in which aforetime he had distinguished himself in evil doings. At teetotal meetings, also, he would relate with gusto how at one period of his history he had been such a slave to drink that his first wife had died from the effects of destitution and misery.

"But at the same time 'e notedoesn't tell 'ow when he was a local preacher and class-leader at the Burrar, 'e prillednote samples o' copper ore, and 'elped to start a little bogus company," an old acquaintance of Roby's would say, and another would recall an equally discreditable story. Were they all true? Whether or no, the man was a very "stirring" pulpiteer and blue-ribbonner. No new-comer was long at the Colmar without being importuned by Roby to give some assistance at the Saturday night temperance meetings, which were chiefly under his direction.

"The Lord did not make everybody smurt," he would explain with great unction, "but I blaiv iveryone as tries can do summat for a blue mittingnote–sing a song or give a bit o' recitation, or music on any sort o' machine 'e plays."

And thus Victor found himself pledged to Roby, to play a violin solo on the evening of each Saturday from the first week he came to the mine. Now it was four o'clock in the afternoon. The last of the men had been paid, and Victor had the office to


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himself. He took noteout his violin, tuned it, and began to play over the "Last Rose of Summer"note with variations. He had not played more than a minute or two, however, before he put the violin down with a little exclamation. The last time he had played this melody was at notethe concert on board the Mogul, accompanying Helen on the piano. The first few bars recalled the place and scene with the vividness which belongs to the associations of music, and with these Victor recalled that he had not finished reading her letter which had come by that morning's mail, posted the day after she and her father had reached Colombo. He had been interrupted in reading it; then he had gone to dinner; then he had paid the men; then he had gone to the weigh-bridge; and then–he had forgotten it. He admitted this to himself with a pang of self-reproach. It was notenew to him, this discovery that his thoughts and actions often fell below his own noteideals of what a lover should be.

And it was such a bright, amusing letter, the people on board so capitally hit off, and the landing in Colombo; the drive among the swarming native quarters, where you see the craftsmen in their tiny shops without door or notewindows, the coarse screens of split bamboos rolled up; here a blacksmith sitting cross-legged beside his anvil, there an enamel-worker, then a brazier's shop full of glowing copper vessels, the richer shops with tinsel-covered skull-caps, with soft white silks and muslins, petticoats and trousers for women, with spangles and gold and embroidery; the soft-faced bronze babies, arrayed in tiny loin-cloths and heavy bangles, toddling after the Sahibs, to sell them a big scarlet flower; the traders, with a single basket of mangoes and a small branch of bananas, under a cocoanut palm by the roadside; the Hindoos with their caste-mark on forehead and chest sitting sideways on bullocks; the big funny vehicles with a pagoda roof; the little bamboo carts drawn by tiny humped oxen that run as fast as ponies; the yellow-robed Mollahsnote under yellow umbrellas; the people who run after belated travellers with palm fans and screens of coarse bamboos, and great pineapples for threepence, and iced soda-water under the scorching sun. All was just as it had been on that day when they went


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through the place together.

"But what I like best to see are the natives of high caste in voluminous folds of pure white and majestic turbans," wrote Miss Paget; "their unmoved calm, their statuesque attitudes, their imperturbable mouths, make one feel that, as compared with Orientals, Europeans have, on the whole, degenerated into commis voyageurs."note

"What would Helen think of our miners?" thought Victor with a smile.

Then he turned to the letter again, and looked over it from beginning to end, while some feeling notehe could not have defined of loneliness notefell over him. Was it because existence at the Colmar, like a Chinese picture without shading or perspective, had begun to pall on him, or was it that the discipline under which Miss Paget purposely kept her feelings left a void that, with the roofless sort of sensation which had begun to creep over him, struck him with a feeling akin to physical chill? Only just on the last half-sheet, after the close of the long letter, in a sort of unofficial postscript, came a few tender words:

"I think I have told you almost everything, except that I often felt sad at the thought of sailing, sailing, sailing farther away from you every day. I am at this moment in a charming room at the Mount Lavinia Hotel,note where father's friend is established. They are both on a balcony somewhere, talking about classic odes. When I look out noteofnote the window, I see that lovely stretch of bright yellow sand, and the sea of an unfathomable blueness dying away on the beach. When I look through the doorway, with its khus-khus screennote half drawn up, there is a vista of polished floor and white-robed natives with bare feet gliding noiselessly about. Still I am rather sad, because you are not here. Dites moi quelque chose de tendre qui me fasse oublier ces tristes pensées."note

"Dear Helen! I must write her quite an epistle to-morrow," said Victor to himself, after reading these lines many times over.

Then he went outside and stood looking westward across the mine, with its groups of low iron buildings, the long engine-room in the centre, with its reverberating throb of machinery,


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the heavy folds of smoke rising above it and hanging low over the adjacent groups of the miners' huts and tents, and beyond the little township, with its small iron buildings equally bare, without the sign of a tree, or even a fence, to break the dull dead level. For the first time the austere, inexpressible aridity of the country seemed to weigh on him. It was now many months since a shower of rain had fallen in the district. The gray-green salt-bush was frayed and thickly coated with dust, the bare earth showing between the low bushes in baked gaps. Was there any other spot of the earth more desolate than this?–flat, parched, and gray, without shade or water, lying in measureless vistas, with an atmosphere so pure and clear, and a sky so cloudless and widely vaulted, that frequently the mirage we call the horizon was entirely absent? For how many hundreds of years had the sun beaten remorselessly upon the thirsty waste? As he looked at it, an immense longing came over Victor to see once more the deep dull green of hills densely covered with stringy bark, or to see autumn leaves whirling yellow and red before a high wind, under a threatening sky.

"Well, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, are you admiring the western view?" said someone close behind him.

"Yes; admiring it all so intensely that it has given me a fit of the blue devils,"note said Victor, as he shook hands with Challoner, whom he had not seen for some days.

"You've been working too hard since you came here. My wife noteonly said last night you've never been at Stonehouse in the day-time, though you have been sleeping there for over notefour weeks.note You come away at daylight."

"Not before six, my dear sir. Don't make me out stupider than I am. I ride for an hour or so, then breakfast at the Colmar Arms at notehalf-past seven, and at notehalf-past eight I am in the office. Up to this, it has taken me eight or nine hours to do what Searle used to get through in five."

"Well, you know, Rome was not built in a day. I came across to steal a little keg of blasting-powder, but as you are about I suppose I'd better borrow it; and then just lock your office and come back with me to Stonehouse."

"Thank you; I'll come with pleasure," returned Victor; and after he had got the keg of powder for Challoner, the two went across the reef to Stonehouse.

END OF VOLUME I.
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