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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."