― 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."

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"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!"