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7. Chapter VII.

It was close on four o'clock in the afternoon of the following day before Kenneth's roomy waggon reached the Half-way House. During the latter part of the journey Mrs. Challoner began to doze. As soon as they entered the little inn, which was empty of customers and very quiet, they induced her to lie down, and in a few minutes she was sound asleep. This was the result for which Mrs. Murray had so fervently hoped, when she induced her sister to take a long, slow drive. "If she falls asleep, my dear, don't wake her up on any account," were her last whispered words to Doris. And now Doris closed the door of the little bedroom softly, and went out to tell Kenneth that they must put off their return till Mrs. Challoner awoke.

Kenneth, with a somewhat blotted sheet of paper in his hand, was talking to the landlord, who was pointing out a slight rise some distance south noteoff the highway, which led to the diggings. Doris waited till the two men had finished their talk, and then delivered her message to Kenneth. She was surprised to learn that he was going to a place beyond the broken-down whim, to take a sick man to the hospital at the diggings.

"It was nearly nine last night when I got this," he said, folding up the sheet of paper. "Mrs. Murray thought I better say nothing about it to Mrs. Challoner; she might want to come on, or it might distract her mind. Thanks be to the Most High that He has sent her sleep,"note said Kenneth, uncovering his head in his slow reverent way. "I did not like this restless wakefulness night after night."

"Someone ill–away in a place like that–quite alone, Kenneth? Has there been anyone looking after him?" asked Doris, with a startled air.

As so often happens when the mind is much engrossed with any subject, her thoughts instantly reverted to the apparition of


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the preceding afternoon on hearing of this invalid.

"This is all I know of the matter, Miss Doris," answered Kenneth, handing her the sheet of paper with a few roughly-written lines.

One noteand a half mile of Broke-down-wim.

"'Zilla Jenkins,

"i hev come acrost a young man as badly wants looken arter in a orsepetal or some such, wich notebeen onable to do so myself, ef you nows of enyone kumin' along shortly to the noteDiggins would you ax him to kindly call at the broke' down w'im.

"A nold Maite."

It was a little difficult for Doris to make out the meaning conveyed by the unfamiliar orthography, but as soon as she had caught the gist of the lines a curious change came over her face. The pallid languor which had been settling on it within the last few days was replaced by a vivid flush; her eyes glowed, her lips parted in eager expectancy.

"Kenneth, I know where the broken-down whim is; I want to come with you," she said, in a voice but little above a whisper.

And Kenneth, who had from her childhood obeyed the girl's slightest wish, found the few gentle objections he raised finally overruled.

"But you won't come to the diggings, dear Miss Doris," he said, as he turned his horses' heads towards the rock that rose near the broken-down whim, and looked across the complete flatness of the intervening country as if it were within half a mile of the Half-way House. "Mr. Keltie tells me that I'll have to come back to this road almost in a straight line, so as to get noteon the high-road to the diggings. So I'll leave you here on the way back; the journey would be too fatiguing for you, and forbye,note it's very like this poor man is suffering from fever."

This "poor man." The words woke a strange deep pain in the girl's heart. Could there be any grounds for the thought that had lodged itself so obstinately in her mind? All through the past


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night she had lain in a sort of waking dream, seeing over and over again the prostrate form, and the blanched, motionless face, which for one brief instant had been as absolutely visible to her as the earth under her feet or the sky above. She was forced to believe that the sight was in some way a repetition of the feverish dreams that she had perpetually dreamt on the previous night. Some of her earliest childish recollections were of faces and voices seen and heard in sleep, that were as real to her as the voices and faces of waking hours. But might not these repeated dreams, and that vision seen in the daylight, be forecasts of what she was now about to see?

She recalled an old book noteof dreams, and what was called second sight,note she had once been reading, and which, at her mother's wish, she put away, on being told she was not yet old enough to read such things. "There was so much that darling maman used to tell me I would understand better when I was older," she thought, "but I think things seem stranger and harder to understand the older I grow." She put her head down wearily with a stifled sigh. The languor of the past few days weighed on Doris more than any of the household knew.

"Oh, Kenneth, can we not go a little faster?" she said, after a few moments, finding that Kenneth's horses seemed to have almost fallen asleep.

Kenneth was in truth deep in one of his beloved mystics, and the brooding reveries habitual to him when travelling. When Doris spoke he remonstrated with his horses, and soon afterwards they passed the broken-down whim, and the dark abrupt rock near it with its startling echoes.

Doris recalled every word and incident of the day she first saw this place, and Victor had spoken of going with them when they went across that other mysterious sea, full of colour and sound and motion; not gray and uniform and silent as this was. And yet not quite silent. A few sounds broke the torpor of the monotonous plain, and were thrown back in lengthened echoes by this solitary rock beside a waterless well.

The rumbling of the waggon, the solitary call of a white eaglenote poised in mid-air, the strokes of an axe in the distance, were repeated with clear lengthened reverberations that magnified


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the original notes into a cadenced volume of sounds with weird mocking undertones. The weather-board hut, standing over a mile beyond the broken-down whim, was on the border of a water-course, lined with small sandal-wood trees. As Kenneth drove up to the front of the hut, Dan came out to meet him. For a little time after Kenneth got out, Doris remained in the waggon. Now that they had reached the place the thought of finding her waking vision realized here, made the few moments that followed a time of sickening suspense.

"Oh no, no; it is impossible," she said to herself, looking at the little hut, and overcome by a sudden conviction of the unreality of her imaginings. It must be true that her senses had been tricked by some touch of fever. Was it not fever which at this moment made her head so hot and heavy, her sight so uncertain, and her hands so unsteady? Yet, as she doubted and reasoned with herself, she leant forward, eagerly watching for the next event.

As her eyes fell on Dan, a troubled recollection shot across her brain. Had she not caught a swift glimpse of his face yesterday, when that torturing vision of Victor had flashed on her for one incredible moment? For an instant her memory seemed sane and trustworthy, but then doubt and confusion fell upon her. She could but dumbly wait and watch. As for Dan, the moment he saw Doris, he recognised with a terrible misgiving the beautiful young face that for a few seconds had looked in through the little window of the iron passage. This was the young lady who had gone to his brother to declare that she had seen Mr. Fitz-Gibbon. Had she come now so as to be able to convict the two of them?

Dan, though in many respects quick to perceive, was slow to act, more especially when placed in circumstances where prompt and masterful deception was necessary to ensure his safety. He had little of his brother's power of instantaneously producing a plausible notetradition, according to the requirements of an unlooked-for emergency. Neither the bent of his mind nor the course of his life had fostered this gift. He stood listening to Kenneth without hearing a word he said, expecting that every second this girl with her deep wonderful eyes would step to his


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side, saying, "Why did you hide this ailing man underground at the mine, and then carry him off to the wilds?" Had she done so, Dan in notethe first notemoments could no more have attempted to lie to her than to an angel from heaven. But nothing of this kind happened. After the first quick, wondering look at him, the girl sat back in the waggon, neither moving nor speaking. As for Kenneth, his talk was not of a kind to call either for a ready answer nor for great vigilance on the part of anyone wishing to deceive him.

When Dan recalled his scattered wits sufficiently to catch the drift of the old man's words, he found he was deep in a discourse on the blessings of solitude.

"In the wilderness I have ever found the posterns of the dwelling of peace," he was saying. "It is in the midst of the world that the flesh gets its most signal victories, till it grows insolent and domineering, and drugs its poor fettered companion the spirit with carnal opiates till it loses all sight and hearing. . . . It was into the wilds of Arabia that St. Paul departed after his conversion, and saw visions and dreamed dreams it was not lawful to utter to uncircumcised ears.note But why do I speak of mere man? Did not the King of Heaven, who was born for our sakes among the beasts of the field, who was fed on a little breast milk, and gave up His life between two criminals, also often go away into the unpeopled wastes?note My friend, I hope that the solemn influences of these solitary plains are not unknown to you."

"No, sir–oh no," stammered Dan, quite at sea as to Kenneth's meaning. "Gosh! 'Zilla didn't say as he was crazed," was his inward reflection. But as the conviction grew on him that he had to do with a man of unsound mind, he recovered his courage and presence of mind.

"I am glad of that, sincerely glad," said Kenneth fervently. "It is in such scenes as these that we recollect our vagrant thoughts, and renounce the exterior extravagancies of our conduct."

"Was you goin' to take this poor young man as 'as come acrost me suffering from fever or some such to the diggins orsepital, sir?" asked Dan, who began to fear that, if he did not cut short the spates of the old man's eloquence, he might become entirely


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oblivious of the object of his visit.

"Ah, yes, yes. You have sheltered him and nursed him. But tell me, have you spoken to him of more important matters? Does he seem alive to the interests of his immortal soul?"

"He don't look much alive in any way just at present, I'm sorry to say," answered Dan, leading the way to Victor's side, where he was lying with a rug over him on a mattress, on which Dan had conveyed him in the American waggon. Before leaving the mine, he had deemed it prudent to give him a dose out of the bottleful of medicine which Trevaskis had left. Dan would much sooner have given his patient no more of this, knowing it was a narcotic. But things being as they were, he recognised the necessity of keeping Victor unconscious while removing him. But either the noteamount Dan had administered was too small, or repeated doses of the sedative for more than a week had rendered it partially ineffective. At any rate, this first dose, instead of making Victor sleep, had acted as a stimulant, so that, on the way to the hut, he made repeated efforts to get out of the waggon. Miss Paget, he said, wanted to see him; she was waiting for him; he had something very important to tell Helen, and he had been tied and kept in the dark for so long. Dan was reassured to find how much strength he retained. It was hard work to make him keep in the waggon, and when, after a little time, he complained of thirst, Dan had mixed a dose of laudanum with the beef-tea he gave him. Since then he had been lying for the most part unconscious.

Now, as the two men stood by him, he turned over and muttered a few inarticulate words. Kenneth felt his pulse.

"I suppose it's fever he has, he seems greatly reduced. How long has he been with you?" he said, fixing his large melancholy eyes on Dan's face.

"A good few days. 'E speaks a lot sometimes, and a deal more wandering of late. From what noteI've picked up, I should say as 'e's been wanting to 'ide from his people for some reason," said Dan, plunging with many qualms and pricks of conscience into the fictitious statements he had ready in case of being questioned.

"Ah, poor young man! poor young man! He cannot hide from the eyes of notethe Most High," said Kenneth.

It was curious how the old man's readiness to speak of things


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not of this earth lessened Dan's fear of being caught tripping when making statements that had no foundation in fact.

"'Ere's some gold as 'e 'ad on him," he said in a calm, confident voice, handing Kenneth the purse of sovereigns he had filled from his own store. "I b'law there's a private orsepital now at the diggins. It'ull be best to take him there, bein' by all happearances a gentleman, and used to softer 'andling than 'e'd get among common folks. Now, sir, if you notedrawer the notemattress from under note'im, I'll take it and fix it in your machine."

Dan, as he spoke, lifted Victor in the rug and placed the pillows under his head. As he took up the mattress to carry it to the waggon, he asked Kenneth whether there was not someone in the vehicle. Kenneth replied that there was a young lady, the daughter of an old master of his, who had come with her friend, Mrs. Challoner, on an errand of mercy as far as the Half-way House. Dan was relieved of all apprehension by this reply. Yet, when on reaching the waggon he found Doris, after alighting and waiting on the further side, with an expression of strained expectancy on her face, he divined that all danger was not over. He touched his hat respectfully.

"I am going to laid the waggon a little nearer, so as to lift the sick man in," he said, speaking without any sign of emotion, though his pulses were beating hard and fast as he anticipated the moment in which this lovely, grave-eyed young lady should catch the first sight of the patient.

"Is he so very ill?" she asked softly. She did not hear what Dan said in reply. He was leading the horses, and the rumbling of the wheels as the waggon was drawn as close as possible to the front of the hut overpowered his speech. Doris followed, and stood at a little distance. And then, as Kenneth and Dan carried the sick man out between them, she caught sight of his face. For an instant her heart seemed to stop, and then it fluttered like a bird suddenly snared, and all around grew dim.

"Oh, Kenneth!–Kenneth!–it is Victor!" She thought she was crying the words out aloud; but though her lips moved, her voice did not even reach whispering-point. She stood as if riveted to the ground, not even drawing nearer as they placed Victor on the mattress in the bottom of the waggon. They were very gentle and


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careful in handling him–placing a pillow under his head and folding the soft striped rug round him. He moaned and murmured some words in an indistinct voice. Doris noted it all, standing speechless and motionless, notebut her lips slightly parted, her face blanched and colourless as a lily.

As soon as Victor was safe in the waggon, Kenneth began to look in the big miscellaneously-filled locker for a book of devotions he wished to give Dan, who took advantage of this interval to approach Doris. He knew that she was overpowered with emotion, but he pretended to notice nothing of this, and spoke in his ordinary tones.

"It ain't a putty place this for a man to be ill in. I've done my best for the gentleman sin' he coom to me; but––"

"Ah, I know him–he is a friend of ours–Mr. Victor Fitz-Gibbon, who used to be at the mine," broke out Doris, who, like one in a nightmare, suddenly recovered the power of speech on being spoken to.

Dan threw as much astonishment as possible into his face and voice on hearing this. Then Doris falteringly reached the end of the waggon, and looked, with all her soul in her eyes, at Victor lying in such strange unconsciousness of her presence.

"'E's not so bad as 'e looks–'e's 'ad some medicine to make 'e sleep'–e'll wake up fo'mbynote quite fresh-like, and be 'isself in a few days," said Dan soothingly, forced in spite of himself to say something to relieve the anguish of anxiety so touchingly visible on Doris's face.

"Yes–yes. I have to start–at once," said Victor, moving restlessly.

The sound of his voice, and Dan's consoling assurance, lightened Doris's worst fears. Looking from Victor into Dan's face, she told him of the strange sight she had seen, or thought she had seen, in the iron passage at the mine.

"And you thoft you saw me as well as the young man?" said Dan in a wondering tone. "Ah, 'tis just 'nough to 'maze one the way dreams come true at times."

"But I was wide awake; and I looked in because Spot would stay and bark, as if there was someone he knew. If he were here now you would see how he would recognise Mr. Fitz-Gibbon; we left


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him at home for fear he would waken Mrs. Challoner if she fell asleep," explained Doris.

The longer Dan spoke to her, the more completely he fell under the spell of those wonderful eyes, with their clear sincerity of gaze. He felt in a vague way that it was more disgraceful to lie to this girl than it was to deceive the common ruck of mankind. But he had to protect his boy fleeing from justice, and his brother from detection: his brother, the ex-Member of Parliament, the trusted manager, and upright Justice of the Peace, whose crafty dangerous game was now nearly at an end, leaving him scatheless, untouched by a breath of suspicion as to violence or fraud or falsehood. And the thought that this strange episode of imposition and concealment and sickening apprehensions was now really at an end stimulated Dan's imagination. He told Doris, in his homely, unpolished phrases, how he was fossicking about for gold, and how, more than a week ago, this young man came along, not feeling very well, and how he had gradually got worse; how he seemed to have some reason for concealing from his friends where he was; and how since he had been delirious he kept on often calling on a young lady–"Helen" he sometimes called her–"Miss Paget" at other times.

In saying this, Dan studiously looked away. He had not the slightest doubt that the young lady before him was the subject of Victor's troubled snatches of talk; that it was her name which had so often lingered on his lips as he made restless efforts to get to her. He divined, too, that his knowledge would not displease the girl, whose agonized anxiety on the young man's behalf had so clearly revealed her feelings. On hearing the names Dan repeated, Doris started, drawing in her breath like one who had received a sudden blow.

"And to think as ye who was wide awake had a sort o' vision of me, too, so many miles off," said Dan in a tone of wonder, still looking towards the wavering course of the Broombush Creek, which in the vicinity of the broken-down whim was more thickly-lined with slender sandal-wood trees than the shrub from which the water-course took its name. Rough and untutored as he was in the conventions of polite conduct, his instinctive delicacy led him to keep his eyes turned from the young lady's face for some little time after the revelation he had made to her. "It 'minds me," he went on reflectively, "of what


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appeared to myself many years ago. I was after an 'ard stem, notestopping a bocknote in a Cornish mine––"

"Here is the book I have been searching for," said Kenneth, approaching the two with a small thick volume in his hands, turning over the leaves and glancing from passage to passage with the familiarity begotten by a long friendship. He gave it to Dan, saying, "Take it, my friend, in remembrance of the Samaritan-like kindnessnote you have shown to this young man. Read it day by day, and prize the privilege you enjoy of living here, in total abstraction from the carnal pleasures and excesses of the world."

Dan made an uneasy motion, and gave a deprecatory little grunt. He understood enough of Kenneth's speech to make him recall with dismay the two bottles of brandy he had "put away" a short time before, in the course of four days. But the glamour of solitary reverie and absorption in the inner life was at this epoch strong on Kenneth, and he went on with rising enthusiasm:

"Here where you do not go abroad at all, where you labour much and seldom talk, where you eat sparingly, without any of those dainty catesnote which tempt the senses, where you are clothed in homely attire, you have precious opportunities of living the higher life. You may rise at dawn to pray and meditate, you may read long and often, be vigilant against the snares of the enemy of souls, and persevere in the practice of holy exercises.note In the lonely watches of the night––"

"The yowling of the dingoes is sometimes hawful, sir," said Dan, anxious to bring the old man back to plain matters of fact. "Do you know," he added, lowering his voice, "that this sick man is a friend of the young lady as is with you?"

Dan glanced at Doris as he spoke, his eyes full of puzzled apprehension. She was standing by the waggon, looking eastward into the vast gray plain with a tense fixed gaze. The pallor of her face was startling. Her silk dust-cloaknote and gauze veil were blown backward, and as her face and slight girlish form were fully revealed there was something in her look and attitude that brought a climbing sorrow into Dan's throat. It seemed as though she ought to be sheltered even from the dust-laden breath of the hot wind in her mother's arms. Yet here she stood in this arid solitude, with a strange seal of sorrow and loneliness


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on her face. Dan expected that Kenneth would receive the news he told him with interested surprise, and that he would instantly question the young lady as to the name, etc., of the sick man; but Kenneth merely replied:

"Ay, ay, he must have been at the mine then. The sun is lower than I thought; we must be going on our way."

With a few parting injunctions as to the true welfare of the soul, Kenneth returned by the track he had followed in coming. As the vehicle started, Dan gave a parting look at Victor lying in motionless slumber; at Doris, who, sitting sideways, kept her eyes almost constantly fixed on him; at Kenneth, whose lean grave face had already assumed the dreamy absent look which usually settled on it when slowly driving through the Bush.

"If I 'adn't told so many whoppers," thought Dan, "I'd fall on my knees and thank God for a hour on end."

As soon as night set in he was on his way back to the Colmar mine, which he reached an hour after Trevaskis had returned from Nilpeena.

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