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  ― 444 ―

13. Chapter XIII.

"I cannot tell Victor on the way home, because Mrs. Tillotson would overhear," thought Miss Paget. But underlying the thought was the question, "Shall I tell him at all?"

Broadmead was situated at the foot of the Adelaide hills, and, as is noteso often the case there in the summer time, a strong easterly gully breezenote sprang up after sundown. The wind was full of unquiet voices in Miss Paget's ears as they drove homeward. The first stars were beginning to swim into sight; the daylight still lingered in the west in a wan, diffused light. Away in the distance beyond the town the sea lay dark and motionless, touched here and there with long lines of silvery notelight that distinguished the sea waters from the darkening shore.

Victor lay back in the carriage lost in thought. He had slept for many hours. Now that he was calm and collected, he was trying afresh to find some clue to the network of problems by which he was surrounded. For the first time it occurred to him that his desk, containing all his private letters, would be at the manager's mercy. Then he recollected something about a letter to Helen. Had he addressed it?

"Helen, did you have any letter sent to you from the mine later than my telegram?" he said suddenly in an undertone, bending towards her.

"No, none," she answered.

"I wonder if that is the clue?" he said half aloud. Was it Trevaskis who had told Mrs. Challoner of the relationship between himself and Miss Paget, and had Doris been thus misled? In the midst of the fury this conjecture aroused, Victor was overcome by a feeling of disgusted weariness. What was the use of spending himself in angry thoughts when all the time Doris was notesailing away beyond recall? He would start by the very next boat. It did not matter whether he were well or not. To


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follow in the wake of the vessel that bore Doris away would do him more good than anything else in the world.

Miss Paget, on her part, was equally absorbed in her own reflections, while Mrs. Tillotson prattled gently on from one subject to another. Now she was describing the last grand ball-dress that Helen's eldest sister had worn a few days before the Pagets returned.

"Bleuté, I believe they notecalled it, my dear–a sort of white damask spangled with gold–décolleté en cÅ“ur and down the back, on the shoulders white satin bows fringed with gold. I don't know what there is in shoulder-bows, though, that don't seem to accord well with years–well, of maturity."

"Perhaps it is the associations of the nursery,"note suggested Miss Paget.

Mrs. Tillotson, without pursuing the subject, went on to other dresses, in which sky-blue velvet, opening over a sky-blue crêpe de chine, and old-rose brocade, with old-rose notesatin panels, etc., figured luxuriously.

"It is such a comfort, don't you think, that our papers have taken to describing dresses at the more fashionable parties. It really gives quite a tone to society. And yet sometimes one can't help thinking beauty when unadorned–how does it go?note There was that young girl who came in with Miss North. I thought I ought to know her, somehow."

Miss Paget's heart seemed to leap into her throat, but she kept silent, and Mrs. Tillotson went on:

"There she was just in black and white, you know. I didn't catch her name. I think you spoke to her. I believe Victor has fallen asleep, poor boy!"

"No, I am wide awake," answered the young man, sitting up, and, shaking himself free for a little from his engrossing thoughts, he talked at intervals all the rest of the way. His first care on reaching Lancaster House was to consult one of the daily papers, to see when the next mail-steamer sailed. There was a P. and O. going in six days. He could land at Brindisi,note and get across to Mentone within twenty-four hours. Why, he might be there within a day or two of the time the Challoners reached the place! In six days he would be sailing in the wake of the vessel that


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bore them away–very likely gaining on her–for it was the Bendigo that was going, and the Bendigo was well known to be notethe swiftest of the mail-boats. Suppose the Marly,note the boat by which the Challoners and Doris had gone, lost a few days on the way, why, at Aden, or Port Said, or Ismailianote the Bendigo might actually catch her up!

He conjured the scene of meeting Doris on shore at one of these ports. He saw her eyes lifted to his with all their sweet radiance; he heard the thrill of gladness in her voice–the thrill with which it vibrated that night at Stonehouse when she said: "You have come?"

"Yes, Doris, I have come. Oh, my darling! how could you for one moment believe that I had deceived you? . . . And she would not even blame me," he reflected, coming back from Ismailia to the veranda at Lancaster House, where he was pacing up and down.

Here the hot east wind was not so high as at the foot of the hills, and was, besides, modified by surrounding acres densely planted with trees, by many fountains falling in continuous cascades of water in soft cooling showers.

Yes, he would start in six days from this evening. A note to his tailor, an order on his banker, and all was ready. To others he would say nothing till the day before his departure. His uncle would want to detain him on business, Lance because of his wedding, the police because of the search that had been instituted to bring to light those who had assaulted and confined him; Helen would be anxious to keep him till he was stronger. But all these things were as packthreads exposed to flame in face of his notegetting away. . . . Oh, to be on the face of the great deep, speeding hour noteafter hour nearer to the moment in which he should see Doris once again!

The heavy weight that seemed at times to press upon his brain–the drooping languor, the ennui, the vindictive, revengeful thoughts against Trevaskis–all these had fallen from him as he gave himself noteup to thoughts of Doris and of his speedy journey. After all, how much better it was to think of those we love, than of those who call up feelings of revenge, and hatred,


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and all uncharitableness!

As this thought crossed Victor's mind, he stood opposite one of the open French windows of the drawing-room in which Helen and Mrs. Tillotson were sitting. The latter was drinking tea, and talking as usual without cessation.

"Poor dear Helen, how that old woman must bore her at times!" he thought, glancing at her. His gaze was arrested by the harassed expression and the extreme pallor of her face. He recollected how this had struck him the first day she drove out with him after his return to town. He reflected, too, how she was always ready to sacrifice herself for others. With this reflection he seemed suddenly to regain the point of view from which he had tried to write on the evening before he was to leave the mine. She had no warning of the news this letter was to have conveyed; she had waited in ignorance and uncertainty till she had come to him the instant she had received his message–and then, he remembered it well, without even a word of greeting, he had asked her only concerning Doris. . . . Yes, he was ill and desperate, stupid with drugs and wild with disappointment, and he was misled into believing she must have known something of the origin of Doris's letter. All that had formed part of his point of view. But now he was trying to realize hers.

In the effort a great wave of compunction, and notefeeling akin to shame, swept over him. How good and generous she had been to him! He was glad that she notehad never really loved him; but how grateful he ought to be for her loyalty and friendship! He sat on a cane lounge by the open window waiting for her to look up. But she did not look up, she looked down; she drew a book towards her, not to read, but to hide her tears. She was crying. He looked away instinctively, knowing she was unconscious of his observation.

Miss Paget murmured some excuse to Mrs. Tillotson, and escaped to her own room. She was in a state of miserable indecision as to her action. At times the thought was notestrong with her that Trevaskis' assertions were true–that Doris did not love Victor, and that his own thoughts respecting her were partly the result of fever. "I am happy you are taking care of him, for I know


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he loves you!" The words still sounded in her ears. But also with the words rose before her the girl's sweet, candid look–her childlike trust and direct simplicity.

"Oh, what am I going to do–what am I going to do?" she murmured to herself on reaching her room. If Doris were going to sail in a few days, should she allow her to go without making a sign to Victor, on the mere chance that, as he grew better and stronger, his love for Doris should prove to be partly the phantasm of fever? But what of the girl herself? Was there no lurking wistfulness in her voice and look–no tones or subtle inflections that told their own story?

"It is wrong–it is wrong not to tell him, come what may!" she said, covering her face with her hands in an agony of uncertainty. Each beat of the pendulum seemed to be offering her the choice of free action. Yet noteevery moment seemed also to bring her the consciousness that not her will nor her better aspirations would prevail, but this preponderant, irresistible passion, which had given a treacherously noteegoistic warp to all the impulses of her nature–this passion which said to her: "Risk all, risk everything, but do not give him up. Hold on by the least chance; you cannot afford to think of others."

"But I shall–I shall consider others–I must!" came the contending impulse. She threw open her window to get more air. She heard the sound of Victor's footsteps. He was near her. She would go to him at once, and tell him before she could change her mind. She went out, and the moment she drew near he turned to her, holding out his hands.

"Helen, I was just thinking of you! How dear and good you have been to me!"

He took her hand in his, and held it in the firm affectionate clasp of a younger brother.

Then at the touch of his hand and the sound of his voice a sort of moral dislocation took place. Her purpose was reversed as completely as if a brief and inexplicable delirium of the brain had destroyed all sequence of thought. The hot air, heavily scented with orange-blossoms, blew in her face, making her feel faint and drowsy.

She made an effort to speak, but, instead of uttering any words,


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she gave a long, low sigh.

"You are not well," said Victor, in a troubled voice.

"No, my head feels rather heavy and confused. I think perhaps the sea air might do me good."

"Oh yes, Helen, you ought to go. You are always thinking of others. You do not care enough for yourself."

The words had a mocking ring to her. Nevertheless, she went on after a pause:

"I begin to think it would be nice to go to Port Callunga. It is so cool and quiet. But, Victor, I would not go unless you came–unless you let us take care of you till you are quite recovered."

She sat on a lounge where her face was in shadow, but where she could see his face in the soft glow of the tall lamp in the drawing-room,note whose wide square shade was draped with rose-tinted silk and lace.

Victor reflected rapidly that it would be better not to tell Helen at that moment of his unalterable determination to sail by the Bendigo. After all, he could spend two or three days at Port Callunga, and she would see how quickly he got strong and well.

"We have plenty of room at Port Callunga for a small regiment, and we shall only be five in all," pursued Miss Paget: "my father and the Professor, you and Mrs. Tillotson, and myself."

"I shall be glad to come, if you go soon–say the day after to-morrow."

"Yes, why not? We can drive there by starlight. I could not well leave before."

"Oh, that will be grand! Part of the road winds by the sea-shore, between tall rocks," said Victor, with something of his old vivacity. "The stars overhead, and a moon either waning or coming–I have lost all count of the moon; the immensity of the hollow-sounding sea on one side, you taking care of me, and me seeing that you don't die in looking after me and Mrs. Tillotson."

"Yes, Victor, what is it?" said Mrs. Tillotson, who had been listening to the sound of voices for some time, with a great longing to join the speakers.

"Oh, did you really overhear me?" said Victor, in a tone of contrition; "and me abusing you like–your dearest friend. Well, it isn't my fault–it's history: "Listeners never hear any good of themselves." "note

"Hark to the boy!" said Mrs. Tillotson, laughing, as she settled


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herself comfortably in the cane rocking-chair that Victor drew forward for her. "You really are getting quite yourself again, Victor."

"I am getting more than myself," replied Victor, half in play and half in earnest, as the memory of the contradictory emotions which had in turn governed him in the course of the past day flitted across his mind. "Besides my proper self that I have hitherto known, there's an noteold creature coming along, who takes me by the ear from time to time, and tells me I have been an irreparable young "dolt." "

"Is it about your disappearing like that, and as suddenly coming back?" asked Mrs. Tillotson eagerly.

She virtually felt an ache in every joint of her system for fuller information on these points. On that first day when Miss Paget, at a moment's notice, had been summoned away, and had returned late in the afternoon, with Victor looking incredibly changed, pale and anxious, without a trace of his old merry self, Mrs. Tillotson, instead of having any sort of a satisfactory explanation given to her, had been taken aside by Helen, and told in the most explicit terms that under no circumstances was the patient to be worried with questions or surmises. He had been dreadfully ill, and some people had been telling lies–that was noteall the sum of the information contributed by Helen.

But perhaps the patient himself, now that he seemed to be getting into his old proper spirits, might be more liberal in giving those details after which a kindly heart naturally hankers. With this hope Mrs. Tillotson ventured for the first time on a direct question. But on being thus squarely summoned before an assize which he knew was bent chiefly on gathering news for vague and widely disseminated gossip, Victor speedily retreated into the safety of a general statement.

"Oh, as to my disappearance, we all have to wait to see what the police tell us," he answered; and then, swayed by the one dominant purpose which had come to him within the last few hours–that of getting well as soon as possible, and in any case sailing for the Old World in the course of six days–he shortly afterwards availed himself of the privilege of an invalid by going to bed quite early.




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Miss Paget was in the meantime trying to believe that for once in her life she had acted in a rational manner. Lance Fitz-Gibbon's conjecture as to having noticed that Victor seemed to have lost his heart to her–then Trevaskis' words, and Doris's–and now Victor's own: she thought over all these, trying to reassure herself.

The fever, and some chance meetings with this lovely child, in which he had perhaps said a little more than he meant seriously or permanently, had put notethese confused thoughts into his head. But how quickly he had fallen in with her suggestion of going to the seaside! how his spirits had risen at the prospect! how quickly he had disappeared as soon as Mrs. Tillotson came upon the scene! She could not dog them in this way once they had gained the shores of Port Callunga! When there, she and Victor could take long walks on the sea-shore–far beyond the chance of interruption.

"I know, my dear, it is very good of the Archdeacon–these "brotherhood of man" assemblies," Mrs. Tillotson was saying. "But, oh! how much more comfortable they would be if he could tell the poor people to take a bath–a good brown soap and flesh-brush bath, you know! We could supply them from the Blind Asylumnote at sixpence each, Helen dear. . . . But although I could easily suggest this to the dear, good Archdeacon, I suppose it would be rather difficult to speak to the people he invites, beforehand."

"It would be rather a delicate social nuance," said Miss Paget, smiling as she roused herself to some perception of what was being said.

"This is the sort of thing into which I used noteto throw all the ardour of my life," she thought, as she sat in the solitude of her noteroom, and contrasted the intense vibrant emotion which now flooded her thoughts with the wintry pallor of the half-hearted work in which she had been endeavouring to forget her own immediate interests. . . . "And yet," she reflected, "I may in the end find myself like one of those couriersnote of medical science who poison themselves in a clinical experiment." Then she fell into a long reverie, recalling how from the first dawn of consciousness one of her most abiding thoughts had been that she


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was one of the failures of life–one born to endure the sensation of defeat perpetually renewed. She argued that this was one reason why she was so sceptical of happiness for herself; why she had expected from the first that Victor's affection would not last; why, now that proof upon proof came to her that this fear was misplaced, she was still beset with hesitation and mistrust.

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