― 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

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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

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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

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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."

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"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

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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

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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,

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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?"


"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

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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.