― 71 ―

7. Chapter VII.

A little time after the conversation between Mrs. Challoner and Kenneth Campbell had come to an end, another encounter took place at Ouranie that afternoon near the woolshed. Mr. Murray, the manager, was inspecting some repairs that had been made to the pens, behind this building, when he saw a man riding up who turned out to be Mr. White, of Noomoolloo. "He has either lost a lot of money in town, or one of his best horses," thought Murray as he greeted his neighbour. It turned out, however, that it was neither of these losses which gave so lowering an expression to White's face.

"Have you seen anyone belonging to me about here?" he asked in a gruff voice after dismounting.

"Do you mean man or cattle? I saw Crosbie––"

"No, Koroona and her mother."

"You–you don't mean––"

"Yes, damn it, I do! They've cleared–run away–I believe they're somewhere about here. They haven't gone to Buda nor to the siding."

"Koroona out in the woods?" repeated Murray, with a sort of stupid unbelief.

"Yes, perhaps among the wild niggers that were on their way to the corroborree near Wilkietown. Isn't that a proper sort of place for a girl with four silk dresses to her back, who cost me nearly £100 a year at school for three years. And now she's skedaddled with that half-caste old mother of hers! By the Lord––"

White was a man celebrated for the large and varied stock of sulphurous language at his command. Murray waited with an uncommitted sort of expression till his neighbour had finished cursing, and then asked:

"But why did the mother run away?"

"Because I told her she must clearnote next day."

"Next day?"

  ― 72 ―

"Yes, next day, yesterday, before I began shearing. Not to clear into the woods, mind you–nothing of the sort. I was going to allow her thirty shillings a week as long as she lived–and that's not for very long, if I'm not mistaken. She had a cough, as I dare say you've noticed, that you could hear half a mile off. In fact, I made sure she would have turned up her toes months ago."

"And why in God's name did you think of turning her offnote just now?" said Murray with a sombre light in his eyes. He was a big strong man with a weather-tanned face, his hair and long brown beard grizzled with gray. He was undemonstrative in manner, reticent, and rather taciturn as a rule. But he had strong sympathies and an active imagination, and was as easily moved to pity as a woman, with the difference that the feeling was intolerable to him if it could be translated into action. He was well acquainted with the poor half-caste who had faced the perils of the woods rather than submit to separation from her only child. As he recalled her, with her timid eyes and shy, kindly ways, cut off from her own people, avoided by others, her health ruined, meek and submissive always to this tyrant, who talked of her more heartlessly than he would of one of his sheep or cattle, he felt half choked with disgusted anger.

"Why? Just because I couldn't wait any longer–I've been on the loose too long. I'm going to turn a respectable, God-fearing, top-hat man on the note25th of September,note at eleven o'clock in the morning, at St. Jude's in Wilkietown––"

"You are going to be married?"

"I am."

"And not to Koroona's mother?"

White broke into a furious volley of execration.

"What do you take me for? Do you think I'd disgrace myself by marrying a woman who is one-third a black lubra?"

"She's a jolly sight too good for you. She hasn't a vice more than any honest white woman, except humility."

"That's neither here nor there. I've got an income of £5,000 a year."

"Let me tell you, White, that to have £5,000 a year isn't the whole art of being a decent human being."

"Now, gently, old man–gently; I'd put up with more from

  ― 73 ―
you than anyone else in the district, for you've done me many a good turn. But I'm going to marry a lady–you needn't screw up your nose like a colt in a halter for the first time–a devilish good-looking woman, too, and a sensible one at that. She's been married twice–the first time to a Church of England parson, the last time to a doctor."

"Do you mean Mrs. Minkerton at Wilkietown?" said Murray in an amazed voice.

"I do; and though she's been married twice, I'm the only love of her life: think of that, old chappie!–the only love of her life," repeated White with a gratified chuckle.

"Does she know––"

"Yes, I knew everyone in the district knows, and so I confessed to her. It was just like a bit out of the yellow-backs.note "Lizzie," said I, "I ain't good enough for you. I haven't been quite as bad as most old bachelors; I've acted too much on the square." By Jove! she forgave me before I half finished. I tell you what, Murray, a good expression in the eyes, and £5,000 a year, go a good way with a woman of sense."

Murray gave a disdainful grunt, and made a movement as if to turn away. White, as if not seeing this, went on:

"But of course she was jealous; she told me so plainly–ha, ha! We'd be ashamed to confess that, you and I, Murray; but it's a quality in a woman–by Jove it is! However, she consented that I should keep Koroona. Well, two nights ago I told Jeanie. She stared at me a bit, but she took it very quiet."

"Yes, she's had a good training in the way of taking things notequiet," observed Murray.

"Well, yes," responded White, who seemed to take the remark as a compliment; "whatever sort of woman I have in the house, whether black or half-caste or white, I mean always to be the master. I gave Jeanie £40 in an envelope and told her to be ready to start early in the morning, and that she notebetter say nothing to Koroona. She seemed noteto be a bit dazed, you know. Still, I thought she understood. But notenext morning they had both cleared."

"And I suppose you think, if they had come here, I would give

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them both up to you?" said Murray slowly.

"And wouldn't you?"

"No, by the Lord I would not, as long as I had the use of my fists or a stock-whip!" cried Murray, with sudden savageness.

"You'd find yourself in the wrong box,note though, if you tried to keep another man's property," retorted White, in rising tones.

"Property? Allow me, as a justice of the peace, to tell you that you dare not take that girl from her mother."note

Before White could make any reply to this, he caught sight of Kenneth Campbell coming round the woolshed.

"I can't stand that lunatic at any price," he said hastily, and, mounting his horse, he rode off at a gallop. He was not the only man of irregular life in the district who was apt to give Kenneth a wide berth. Probably this is as near as most preachers of righteousness get to changing the lives of their erring fellow-creatures. But it was not a mode that met Campbell's aspirations to do good.

"Ah! I wish you had detained yon poor, poor creature, Mr. Murray, till I delivered the message laid upon me to speak to him," he said, looking after the flying horseman.

"He isn't worth your powder and shot,note Kenneth," answered Murray.

The two men, who had become fast friends during the years that Campbell had been a shepherd on the run, talked together for some time. Then Kenneth went to see Mrs. Lindsay, as the sun was setting. He found her in the drawing-room on a couch near one of the French windows which opened into the garden. A massive jewel-case was noteopen on a table near her, at which Doris was seated, turning over the contents with Mrs. Challoner.

"Maman, why didn't you tell me before this you had a valley of diamonds in the bottom drawer of your wardrobe?" said Doris, holding up a diamond bracelet to the light–one of a set of very costly jewels.

"I had almost forgotten, dearie, I had these things; most of them belonged to your grandmothers," answered Mrs. Lindsay. Then she turned to speak to Kenneth, asking him about his journeys, and what he had been doing since she saw him last.

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There was a great sympathy between the two, and often when his voluntary labours seemed to him a vain and profitless thing,note Kenneth found consolation and fresh encouragement in Mrs. Lindsay's words.

"Kenneth, you look very sad and worn," she said, after talking to him for a little time.

"Oh, it is well with me, dear lady–it is well with me," answered Kenneth. "I do not expect my earthly pilgrimage to be a long one." He avoided all mention of the special matter which was just then weighing on his mind.

"Oh, what a perfectly beautiful ruby! Look, when I hold it up, maman, how it seems to have a little crimson lamp in its heart!" said Doris, turning to her mother. Then seeing she was absorbed with her old friend, she did not again interrupt their talk. But Mrs. Challoner was ready with murmurs of admiration for every kind of gem and fashion of setting. And so for some time the two currents of talk went on near each other–the one full of artless enjoyment in the beauty and flawlessness of precious stones; the other grave and solemn, yet penetrated with serene hopefulness.

As the twilight deepened, Shung stole in noiselessly to light the candles. But the light that came in through the open doors and windows was so soft and peaceful that Mrs. Lindsay would not have it changed. A few minutes after Shung went out, Doris, whose sight and hearing were preternaturally quick, looked out into the garden with a startled air.

"No, it isn't Spot. I see he is lying on the veranda. But don't you hear a rustling sound? noteThere, Spot has noticed notesomething too."

Doris rose as she spoke to look out; but before she reached the open window, one came rushing in from the darkening garden–a young girl with torn clothes, with blood on her hands and face, bareheaded, with her dusky hair blown about her shoulders. On seeing Doris she gave a shrill cry.

"Oh, save me, save me! do not let them catch me!" she cried; and with that she rushed in through the window–rushed in and sank down, half kneeling, half crouching, at Mrs. Lindsay's feet. "You will not let them come after me–oh, you will not, I know! I know–everyone says you are an angel of goodness! And my mother is dead out there where we were hiding in the woods."

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Mrs. Lindsay, white to the lips, and trembling violently, attempted to rise, holding out her hands protectingly, while her lips moved as if in speech, but no sound came from them. The next moment she had fallen back on the couch, blood pouring from her lips. Doris was the first to see this, and her sudden cry of anguish, "Mother! mother! mother!" drew the eyes of the rest from the strange apparition of the girl–young and slender, with scarcely a trace of the mixture of races in her veins, who had thus suddenly flown out of the woods, crying for protection in her forlorn state. Mrs. Lindsay became unconscious, and was inanimate so long, that they almost gave up all hope she could ever revive. During this time of terrible suspense when all the remedies they tried proved unavailing, and they awaited the arrival of the doctor from Buda, expecting only that he noteshould confirm their worst fears, Doris did not stir from her mother's side. Mrs. Murray took away the poor fugitive girl, whose frantic grief at sight of the mischief, which she thought was entirely due to her action, added to the distress of all. It was Mr. Murray who went for the doctor, driving a buggy and pair, so that no time should be lost if he were at home. As Dr. Haining depended chiefly on his practice among the squatters of the district, he was often absent from Buda, or, noteas after a long journey, his horses were so jaded that to undertake another with them was frequently attended with undue delay. Nor, if the truth must be told, was Dr. Haining's skill of the kind which is of the first consequence in any intricate or subtle malady. But it was a relief notefor Mr. Murraynote to find him at home, and he almost laid violent hands on the worthy old man to hasten his journey to Ouranie.

They reached it at nine o'clock at night, to find that half an hour previously Mrs. Lindsay had shown symptoms of returning life. There was a faint sigh, a notelittle flutter of the eyelids, and noteshortly afterwards she looked at Doris with a smile so faint as to be almost imperceptible. But Doris saw it, and for the first time two or three hot little tears came to her relief. The girl's moral courage and presence of mind notewas a revelation to all. The doctor did everything that was in his power, but he knew at once that there was little hope of recovery. He stayed at Ouranie for

  ― 77 ―
three days. Late in the afternoon of the third noteday an urgent summons came for him to Noomoolloo. White, who had come to see Koroona at Murray's house, vainly trying to induce her to return home, and assuring her that her mother had been buried as expensively as any white woman, had gone away in a state of considerable excitement. After getting home he was very badly bitten by a large mastiff he was beating in a savage manner, for some real or imaginary act of disobedience.

As Dr. Haining was going away, he stood for a little time talking to Mrs. Challoner in the hall. Mrs. Lindsay had not been removed from the drawing-room, and Doris was just then sitting by the bed, which had, under her directions, been placed opposite the window that commanded her mother's favourite outlook–across the shadowy flower-filled garden and the glancing expanse of Gauwari.

"Put it round at this side, so that mother can look out when she is getting better," she had said, in a low notefirm whisper, when they were arranging the bed. Mrs. Challoner and the doctor exchanged glances, but they said nothing; and Shung, who was engaged in arranging the bed, carried out this direction, and clung to the reason with pathetic insistence. "When Missie Lindsay bettel" was a phrase poor Shung was never tired of using in the days that followed. And, as a matter of fact, during these three days Mrs. Lindsay had recovered speech and full consciousness. It was true, she was extremely weak. noteThough the blood-vessel she had broken was but a small one, the action of the heart, which had been seriously affected for many years, was so defective that from time to time she had great difficulty in breathing; but when these paroxysms were over, her face was stamped with an expression of rapt and absolute peace, and often, when she murmured a few words of meditative prayer, a smile that spoke of joyous expectation would flit over her face.

When Dr. Haining was leaving her, he said something about returning soon again.

"Do not fatigue yourself for me, doctor," she answered softly. "I have everything that I can want, and so many anxious to wait on me, especially this dear child of mine." As she spoke she stroked Doris's hand lightly.

  ― 78 ―

As the doctor was going out, Shung glided in with his young mistress's hat and gloves.

"Missy Dolis in all day," he said, shaking his head gravely.

"Go, darling, out into the fresh air for a short time," said Mrs. Lindsay. "I feel a little stronger just now, and I want to speak to you when you return. Tell Kenneth I should like to see him for a few moments."

Doris felt a strange oppression falling on her at these words. Her beautiful eyes, so full of love and softness, expanded with a startled expression; but there was also a look of intrepid courage on her face–the courage and devotion of a great love, capable of rising above all thoughts of self. Only during the time in which her mother had lain like one dead had Doris believed that her attack was fatal; and after the first overwhelming sensation of entire loneliness, of helpless, despairing isolation, as of a creature suddenly taken from under the measureless vault of heaven filled with warm blue air, and thrust in a dark corner, between cruel bars, an inexplicable composure came to her–a strong, unreasoning conviction that she would not long survive her mother. Was it some undeveloped malady that lurked in her system, or some strong obscure link between her own life and her mother's, which lent such force to the thought, devoid of all fear and without a touch of morbid self-pity?

But these thoughts and emotions vanished as quickly as they had come when her mother recovered consciousness. From that moment Doris's mind was centred on one object–to be well and strong, so as to be with her mother notein the day notetime when she was most awake. Each night notethe girl had gone to sleep quite early, sleeping the profound sleep of a child notewearied with the long day, and rising early noteeach morning, radiant and refreshed, coming into her mother's room with the first sun-rays with a great bowl of freshly-gathered roses. Oh, how the gentle happiness of her mother's smile as their eyes met suffused the girl's whole nature with an ecstasy of gratitude, with an indefinable supreme sense of union, which nothing could rupture! noteThe look of conscious deep serenity on her mother's face was to Doris a covenant and an assurance that all was well, and must continue so.

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noteOnly on the previous day, after recovering from a swooning feebleness which had lasted longer than usual, Dorisnote had noticed her mother's eyes resting on her from time to time with something of solicitude–of anxiety. She had remained for a long time motionless, notehands clasped, her lips moving from time to time, till she fell asleep. After an hour she had awoke, a new radiance on her brow and in her eyes. Something of the same look was on her face now, and yet her words noteroused a vague apprehension in Doris's mind. She lingered wistfully over her mother, with those tender and skilful little touches which impart to pillows a new quality of being at once softer and more supporting.

"Bring me a fresh story, Doris, about a new honey-bird or a fresh flower bursting into blossom," she whispered, as Doris kissed her hands.

The girl's eyes were suddenly dimmed as she went out. She opened the door noiselessly that led into the hall. The doctor, with his back towards her, was talking to Mrs. Challoner.

"You see, it isn't one thing; it is a complication. She cannot recover. I don't expect that she can live more than a few days at the utmost––"

Warned by a sudden pressure on his arm, and a low "Sh! sh!" from Mrs. Challoner, Dr. Haining stopped abruptly. He would like to have retracted his words, or to have offered some modifying explanation, when he saw that Doris had overheard him; but her steadfast gaze disconcerted him.

"Were you talking of mother, doctor?" she said, in a very low voice.

"Oh, my poor dear child!" said Mrs. Challoner, putting her arms round her noteas to ward off this great sorrow.

Doris slipped away without further speech.

"That child has wonderful pluck," said the doctor, looking after her.

But Mrs. Challoner shook her head.

"I would sooner see her cry, and show more distress," she said. "She hasn't been a single day or night away from her mother in her life. I don't know how she is to live without her."