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5. Chapter V.

The notetime passed very rapidly. Hardly notea day passed noteduring this interval without a visit to Buda, the township six miles off, or the Peppermint Ranges, only three miles in an opposite direction from the home station.note

At the latter, Mrs. Lindsay had formed a little schoolnote for the rather wild and neglected children of the splitters who worked there. Her unvarying love and goodness had exercised a strong influence on the children and parents. She had had a little weatherboard building erected–an edifice bought in town from a builder all ready to be put togethernote–and here on most days of the week she had assembled the seven or nine children who were old enough to be taught. When unable to go herself, Mrs. Lindsay used to send Doris and the wife of her manager, who lived in a cottage at the opposite side of the garden.

In the township, too, Mrs. Lindsay was a constant and eagerly-looked-for visitor. noteNo sight was more welcome to the residents than that of the Ouranie buggy, with the two gray ponies that Doris liked best to drive.

No township could cover a wider area in proportion to its inhabitants than Buda did. The forty nondescript dwellings which composed it were scattered over an incredible number of acres. Perhaps the immense plain on whose borders Buda was pitched had exercised some influence on the imagination of the first selectors.note It would seem a tame and creeping arrangement to be closely packed in view of that measureless expanse of country. But the oldest resident had a different theory. The oldest resident kept a general store and the post-office; thus it will be seen that he had unrivalled opportunities for impressing his own views on the public. noteIn respect of the distance that

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separated the inhabitants, his view was, that when the township was laid out the belief was current that the Government intended to bring the Great Northern line of railway bang through Buda. Thus every man who pitched his tent, or bark hut, or wattle and daub lean-to, or weatherboard cottage, used his own judgment as to the spot that would be fixed on for the railway-station.

"Every man jack of us expected to make his fortune, if only he got his nose against the railway-station, and everyone thought his own opinion sounder than his neighbour's. So here we are, dispersed as far as the boundaries of the township would let us–some far beyond them–and yet not one of us was on the job,"note the storekeeper would say, with a sigh.

The Great Northern Railway passed within four miles of the township, with only a siding at the nearest point thereto. Henceforth Buda was a blighted community,note its sole compensation being that it had a large and life-long grievance.

"To think, ma'am, as you should have to go four miles further on to a melancholy and miserable siding when you expect a friend from town!" the storekeeper was saying to Mrs. Lindsay one noteday within ten days of the date she had fixed for her departure.

"It is from the North my friend is coming, and, you know, half a loaf is better than none," answered Mrs. Lindsay, smiling.

She could not look upon the siding as an insult, a trait which some of the Buda people regarded as the one weakness of her character.

It would only have cost the colony an additional twenty thousand pounds to bring the railway to their door. And what was that out of the millions that were being borrowed?note

"It is all very well for them that has horses and buggies," the storekeeper said to a customer an hour later, as he saw Mrs. Lindsay's trap returning, Doris driving, while her mother and the friend they had gone to meet were deep in conversation.

"I believe it's Mrs. Challoner, the manager's sister, and Miss Doris's old governess," said the customer, going to the door of the store to get a nearer view.

She had been a servant at Ouranie for some years before she

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married and settled at Buda, and still took the strongest interest in all that concerned Mrs. Lindsay.

As the buggy drew near the store, Doris stopped the horses, so that they might speak to their old servant, and have some purchases put into the buggy that they made on their way to the siding. They heard how Jemima's second baby had cut his first double-tooth,note and how the first was growing out of noteall his clothes.

"I suppose you don't remember me, ma'am?" said Jemima, glancing at the visitor, a pale little lady with bright, kindly eyes. "You came to my place with Mrs. Lindsay when you were up nearly two years ago. The moment I saw you I said to the storekeeper, "That is Mrs. Challoner." I was so very sorry to hear of your house being burnt down."

As they drove away, Mrs. Lindsay promised to come to see Jemima once more before notetheir departure. She stood looking after the buggy with a wistful expression.

"Bless their hearts, it will be an awful miss when they're gone!" she said to the storekeeper. "I don't never expect to see Mrs. Lindsay back. She is looking dreadful white and thin, to my mind."

Nor was Jemima alone in this opinion. Mrs. Challoner was much struck with the alteration in her friend's appearance since last seeing her. Mrs. Challoner had married from Ouranie, six years previously, a squatter in the Salt-bush country, who was then in affluent circumstances; but four years ago a terrible drought, followed by the increasing ravages of the rabbits, had almost ruined him.note To crown all, a fire had broken noteout which levelled the head station to the ground. Mrs. Challoner had visited Ouranie once a year since she left it, and this accident had happened since her noteprevious visit. Mrs. Lindsay had insisted on replacing the furniture, and the Challoners had been able to secure a good dwelling-house noteat the Colmar mine,note which was within four miles of the home station. This was naturally one of the first topics of conversation between the two friends.

"It was most fortunate notethe house was empty–in fact, it has not been occupied for years, and now we shall be able to leave the

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district, when the lease of our run expires at Christmas–the date to which we took the noteplace. Oh, my dear, I have had to tell you of so many misfortunes, and now I have to tell you a piece of good news."

"Mrs. Lucy, has your ship really come in?"note said Doris, turning to her former governess with a beaming smile.

"My dear, it has really and truly," answered Mrs. Challoner, with an answering notesmile. In the old days, Doris, from constantly hearing her mother address Miss Murray as Lucy, had called her Miss Lucy, and the sound of her name on the girl's lips had grown so dear to the ex-governess that she would not allow her to relinquish its use.

The story of the ship which had reached port was soon told. Some years before Mrs. Challoner had entrusted all her savings to her brother-in-law, a broker in Sydney, to invest as he thought most prudent. He had put the money–£500 in all–in Broken Hill shares,note while the prospects of the mine were still uncertain; now the investment was worth £6,000 and bringing in an annual income of £600.

"So Robert and his brother will be able to see their mother, after all. We noteare going to London directly after Christmas," said Mrs. Challoner.

Doris, on hearing this, said they had better noteall come on the 10th of September.

"The same thought has occurred to me," said Mrs. Lindsay. "We are going by a French boat, as I told you, Lucy, because we can so quickly get from Marseilles to Mentone; and the route would be very little longer for you: I feel that the sea will do me good, but I dread a long land journey."

"And I would teach Euphemia French on the voyage, when there would be no sea-serpents to look at," put in Doris, with a saucy smile at her mother, who had within the last few weeks been urging her to greater diligence in that language. noteEuphemia, aged eighteen, was Mrs. Challoner's step-daughter.

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"I fear it would be impossible. Robert has to sell off the stock, and he wants his son to come with us. He is now pearling in noteWest Australia,"note answered Mrs. Challoner. "I would ask you to delay your departure, so that we might travel together, dear Mrs. Lindsay, only you need the change, I am sure."

"And you know, Lucy, when you make up your mind to have your teeth out, it is dreadful to have to wait too long," answered Mrs. Lindsay in a low voice; and though she tried to maintain a cheerful manner, it became evident to Mrs. Challoner that the prospect of leaving Ouranie was a serious trial to her friend.

"I do not wonder you are loath to leave it, dear Mrs. Lindsay, it is such a lovely, peaceful spot! Oh, the relief of seeing such a place after living at notethe mine!"

They were now in sight of the home station, which, with its detached groups of houses, looked like a little village. The dwelling-house, with a kitchen and servants' quarters semi-detached behind it, was on a slight rise. On the western side of the large shadowy garden was the manager's house, coach-house, stable and store-rooms. A quarter of a mile to the south-west lay the woolshed, with its pens and yards; near it a long, low dwelling for the shearers, known as the "men's hut," and close to this two small cottages for the knock-about hands and their wives. Mrs. Lindsay made a point of having only married men engaged on the station. In a place so remote from general society, she was of opinion that it was not good for man to be alone.note

"Oh, the garden is as full of flowers as ever!" cried Mrs. Challoner, as they drove through part of it to the front of the house. The garden at Ouranie was watered from the lake by a windmill, and this fact speaks volumes to those who know something of the fertility of Australian ground under copious irrigation. To Doris it had always been a charmed region, in which she had spent many hours daily. Early in the winter the first sweet violets began to make their presence known with their penetrating fragrance. A little later the almond-trees were notefolded in an unbroken wreath of faint pink or moonlight-coloured cups, and the bowls of the white and purple anemones quivered on their slender stalks in a way that made Doris say winter was the dearest season of all.

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But as the spring advanced and the great snowy clusters of the guelder-rose tossed themselves in the air, like a juggler throwing a hundred balls aloft in one moment, and the deep Bruckmansia bells,note with the delicate tracery of their softly curved rims, were perpetually haunted with the hum of bees, while the vivid tones of crimson and purple passion-flowers made deep snatches of colour on every side, and the stems of the narcissi and jonquils bent under their fragrant loads–these surely were the dearest days of all. Leaves and flowers everywhere, and the whole air rifted with the songs of birds. . . . And yet, as the heat of summer advanced and on every side tall rose-bushes were bent under glowing cataracts of roses, and the ground was strewn with fruits, which were so thickly clustered on each branch that the idlest wind notethat blew carried some away; when through the crimsoned noteevening atmosphere, palpitating with intense heat, a long array of water-fowl might be seen winging their flight to the unperishing waters of Gauwari, this season, too, had its own unique charms.

And autumn with its shorter days and cooler nights, with its gray tints stealing softly into the hard blue of the sky, while trees from the old country broke into strange hectic flushes that gradually paled, till the leaves fell to the ground in noiseless showers, this, too, had its own subtle fascination. Myriads of roses still remained, countless asters, notedelicate vivid verbenas, Gaillardias, noteand many-coloured noteverbenas, and geraniums beyond number–all these were feverishly aflame.

Day and night; twilight and dawn; the soft gradations of the Australian year, as the noteseason came and departed; the sonorous voices of the wind when it rose to a great gale on a winter night, the notewhisperings of the wind through the needle-leaved she-oaks notein the summer evenings; the return and departure of migratory birds: all notethese were entrancing pages in a book of which Doris never wearied. . . . When the old vines, arid-looking as the stems of ancient grass-sticks, began to kindle into gadding tendrilsnote

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and woolly buds, the girl would watch them, day by day, till in the still warm evenings of September flocks of them would be found transformed into golden green–more like the tips of flames than growing leaves. Later the roof of the wide arcade, that ran through the length of the garden, would be a network of leaves so densely woven that the fiercest sunbeams, beating on its roof, could find no noteentrance, except noteas a warm jonquil light, flushing myriads of clusters into perfect ripeness. Where did they all get their wonderful colours–the crimson rose and the ivory-coloured lily, the purple grape and the carmine-flushed peach, all swelling out of tiny oblong buds, at first hardly thicker than a thread? These miracles of nature, yearly renewed, were for Doris never masked by the indifference which so often comes of familiarity. Her early intimacy with nature developed a talent for observation and a faculty for taking painsnote which became the strongest discipline of her life.

There was so much to learn, and the lore she gathered was more enthralling than any tales of fairy adventures, for underlying all there was a magic which could never be exhausted nor explained.

The vast melancholy waste of illimitable plain, that stretched into the gray distance to the east and north, would make the casual traveller, on reaching Ouranie, keenly realize how notelovely it was, with its softly swelling rises, its park-like woods, and wide permanent lake. But no casual observer could know how every tree and nook round the notelittle head station throbbed with life and interest for the solitary child, who from her infancy had learned to keep long vigils on all things that grew and lived around.

She knew when the first broods of the shell parrots would flit through the pale honey-coloured blossoms of the gum-trees, and when the young laughing-jackasses were fledged, and learned to take their first grotesque flights with solemn awkwardness. She had learned when to look for the wild swans and ducks, hatching their young in the coverts of Gauwari, and where the snipe and teal oftenest sought their food. She knew

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what honeybirds came in pairs when the notegum-trees first blossomed, and went away in flocks when the blossoms were over. The full clear notes of the singing honeybird, which her mother likened to the missel-thrush; the rapid chirps of the long-billed kind; the single note long drawn out, with its short note quickly repeated, of the fulvous-fronted ones; the grating cry of the black-throated, and the harsh quarrelsome notes of the wattle-birdnote–she recognised them all, and watched them clinging head downwards like little acrobats among the honeyed blooms they rifled with greedy haste notefor an hour at a time.

"There must be a mother snipe somewhere in the ti-tree; the father-bird keeps on piping and flying all alone," she would say, and spend most of a long afternoon down by the lake till she discovered the whereabouts of the mother-bird. She loved to see the eyes of birds in their nests when they caught sight of a human face. No moccasined Indian or Australian black in Kooditchanote shoes could tread more softly than she did, when, from day to day, she stole to look at the waterfowls that hatched their young on the borders of the lake. Here she would sit so quietly under the great horizontal arms of an old gum-tree, that oftentimes little birds hopped as near her as if she were a shrub. Here she loved to watch the little blue wrens taking their feeble flight from one tussock of grass to another. They were such poor fliers, but they filled the whole air with their ecstatic roundelays, often ending with clear silvery tinklings like the chime of fairy bells. Mrs. Lindsay had never allowed a shot to be fired in the vicinity since she had come to the station, and this, coupled with its abundant waters and the blossoming gum-trees and wattles, made Gauwari a famous resort for birds.

noteDoris could hardly have said which she liked best to watch: birds notebuild their nests or buds noteswell on the trees and the spear-like tips of annuals thrusting their way through the mould. Perhaps the notelast days of August more than any other time notein the year saw noteher linger longest in the garden. It was here that Mrs. Challoner found her on the afternoon of the third day after she had come to Ouranie. Doris was half concealed by the shrubs

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that grew rather densely on the borders of Gauwari where it formed the garden boundary. Here the ground was perfectly carpeted with violets. Mrs. Lindsay had an old recipe by which she made violet scent, so that very few of these flowers were allowed to wither unseen in the Ouranie garden. Doris was occupied in filling a basket with them when Mrs. Challoner found her, directed to the spot by the movements of the young sheep-dog who was the girl's constant companion.

"I have been looking for you, dear, all over the garden," said Mrs. Challoner in a very grave voice.

She had come on a grave errand; no less than to warn Doris that her mother's health was very precarious. An hour before she had suddenly fainted, and had lain for nearly twenty minutes in a half-unconscious state. Mrs. Challoner, greatly alarmed, had sent one of the servants to the manager's house to summon her sister-in-law, Mrs. Murray. The two had administered the restoratives usual in fainting-fits,note and gradually Mrs. Lindsay had recovered. Her first words expressed a wish that Doris should not know.

"I am glad she was not in, she would be so much alarmed, poor darling," she said tremulously.

The sisters exchanged glances, and then Mrs. Challoner said notevery gently:

"But is it wise to keep her in ignorance, dear? Do you think this is the old heart trouble?"

"Oh yes; but there is a long interval usually between these attacks; I think this was merely brought on by my inability to sleep well during the last few nights, and a sort of nervous agitation."

If Mrs. Challoner had given expression to her thought just then she would have urged her friend to prevent her mind from being too much concentrated on the invisible world. It seemed to her that the habit of abstracting herself from outward things had greatly grown on Mrs. Lindsay since she had last seen her. But she shrank from approaching the subject. After a little silence Mrs. Lindsay spoke again:

"Perhaps it would, on the whole, be wiser, Lucy, if you were to open this subject to Doris. I have never taught her to think of

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death with horror."

"Of death! But, dear friend, I hope that is still far off," said Mrs. Challoner with some agitation.

A faint smile hovered over Mrs. Lindsay's worn face.

"The mysterious pass where two cannot walk side by side, and where for an instant souls lose sight of each other,"note she murmured softly. "It is only for the child's sake I could wish this pass were still a little distance off. . . . But within the last notetwo days it seems as if the power of keeping alive were slowly leaving me. And then I have thought the sea air would be a tonic. I think I wrote too long last night; I was anxious to post a second letter to my friend, Mme. de Serziac, which she will get notea week or ten days before we land. But I'll be more careful after this. Perhaps, Lucy, it will be better, on the whole, that you should speak to Doris. . . . Mrs. Murray will stay with me."

It was not until she stood face to face with Doris that Mrs. Challoner quite realized the difficulty of her mission. The girl looked so serenely happy, so unconscious of any cloud lurking on the horizon of her young life.

"Have you been looking for me long, dear?" she said blithely; "well, I'm glad you have come to the violet bank, for you look pale, and if you just sit down on this little seat under the wattle–now lean back and hold this posy of violets."

Doris made Mrs. Challoner lean against the back of the little rustic bench, and put a great handful of violets on her lap, and then went on plucking some more.

"Doris, I came to speak to you about something," said Mrs. Challoner, a little faintly.

"Ah, you do put me in mind of the old days, when I used to write such shabby little compositions," said Doris, laughing merrily.

Mrs. Challoner was by nature of a timid, shrinking disposition, extremely faithful and affectionate, yet without much force of character. During the seven years she had lived at Ouranie, she had been more of a companion to Mrs. Lindsay than a governess to Doris, who had been chiefly taught by her mother. Mrs. Challoner was apt to talk at great length and with much animation of things that Doris thought very trifling. Constant

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intercourse with a mind as unworldly and disinterested as her mother's had unconsciously made the girl a little scornful of themes that take a prominent place in the estimation of the generality of women. She was very fond of Mrs. Challoner, and had got into the habit of petting her a good deal, without attaching much importance to what she said or thought.

Mrs. Challoner, on her part, had always been of opinion that Mrs. Lindsay made Doris's life too happy and beautiful to be a wise preparation for the world in which she must one day live; that she was too sedulously guarded from the commoner influences of human intercourse, untouched by its vanities and frivolities, knowing nothing of its temptations, its passions, its incurable miseries; yet, as the girl's happy laugh rang in her ears, she felt a growing disinclination to fulfil her purpose. She looked at her with dimmed eyes as she sat with her large straw hat on her lap, the basket of violets at her feet, holding up a peremptory finger at her young collie.

"Now, Spot, if you put your cold, inquisitive little nose into that basket, do you know what will happen?"

Spot dashed about, keeping his nose to the ground, and circling round the basket in a somewhat suspicious manner.

"You rogue! I'll leave you on the station, with the other dogs, instead of coming abroad to see the world–Samarcand, and the Valley of Diamonds, and the palaces of Pekin.note But, Mrs. Lucy dear, you haven't told me what you wanted to speak to me about. Ah, I can guess!" she said, a mischievous glance coming into her eyes.

"What is your guess, noteDoris?" asked Mrs. Challoner, trying to lead up to what she wished to say without being too abrupt.

"You want to tell me that fairy-tales are not really true. That Shung-Loo's stories are made up by mandarins, who are foolish and have no religion."

"No, dear, that is not what I want to say," answered Mrs. Challoner with a somewhat discouraged-looking smile.

"Now, Spot, put your nose to the ground and lie down quite still," cried Doris to the dog, who was in fact gambolling perilously near to the notebasket full of violets. Spot obeyed, and then Doris turned to Mrs. Challoner. "I'll give only one more guess–

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You want to make me quite understand that the Silent Sea is not a sea, but a great barren plain stretching from Buda to your station and the mine, and past that for hundreds of miles, all the way to the Never-never Land?"note

Mrs. Challoner slowly shook her head, and then Doris saw that her eyes were dim with tears. In truth, Doris's every look and gesture made her old friend's heart ache. The girl was so heart-whole, her radiant young beauty so untouched by care or apprehension, that the thought of revealing to her what might be the great sorrow which would overcast her opening life seemed barbarous and unwise. But Mrs. Challoner's uncommunicative sadness suddenly struck a chord of fear in the notegirl's heart.

"Ah, you are afraid to tell me! Is it anything about mamma?"

"Yes, dearie."

"What is it–is she ill? But no, you would have told me at once."

"She has been ill, Doris, but she is better; what I want to say to you is–oh, my dear, don't look so frightened, I cannot bear it!"

"Tell me, tell me!" cried Doris breathlessly.

"Your mother, darling, has not been strong for years. I don't think you know–indeed, I am sure she has concealed from you how ill she often is. About an hour ago she fainted away. It is her heart that is affected. I said to her I thought you ought to know how serious it is."

"How serious! you mean that perhaps––" Doris could not put into words the terrible thought that blanched her face. But she maintained her self-possession in a way that surprised Mrs. Challoner. As a matter of fact, noteshe possessed a great fund of firmness and self-reliance. She broke into no tears nor lamentations. During the next few days she kept more constantly with her mother, and insisted on taking her place in the little school for the splitters' children in the Peppermint Ranges, to which Mrs. Challoner accompanied her each forenoon. And so notethe days passed until the one before that on which they were to leave Ouranie.