― 80 ―

8. Chapter VIII.

On going out, Doris saw Kenneth Campbell reading in the garden, and went to give him her mother's message. Then she went on to the rustic bench, near the violet-banks, and for some time the thought of that incredible separation which seemed to be drawing near bewildered and overwhelmed her. When she left the garden the sun had already set; but the air was so clear and transparent that for some time the light, instead of fading, mellowed and deepened, with reddish glows from the western horizon falling upon the trunks of the trees, and then gradually stealing upward to the topmost branches. Doris mechanically followed her mother's favourite walk round the margin of the lake.

"She cannot recover." The words kept weaving themselves into every bird-note she heard, till gradually, as the twilight fell, the birds became silent. The honey-eaters were the first to go to sleep; after that the tremulous calls of the shell-parrots died away; later the chirping of the sparrows ceased, then the swallows' last twittering. As the reflections of the trees in the water were merged in a confused mass, the fairy carillons of the blue wrens were hushed; but the trills of the reed-warblers among the tall sedges still went on, while the slender brown reeds, and the dense clumps of ti-tree at the far end of Gauwari, began to be haunted by the long-drawn, plaintive calls of the curlewsnote–one in the far distance answering the others with a measured cadence that seemed to embody the very spirit of the waning conflict of two lights. In that calm, brooding hour, when the dimness of night is still in suspense, while the light of day is neutralized by the tranquil twilight shadows–when even the steadfast trees that we know most intimately assume a notehalf-mystic air as of beings from another sphere–in such an atmosphere the heart is often lightened of its notemost importunate fears. It is as though the

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mind became involuntarily conscious of the eternities to come, immutably sealed with a peace which the darts of fate we now so much dread are powerless to assail. Doris's companionship with nature had been too penetrating to leave her in this hour of deepest apprehension. She had been too long and too deeply moved by the sacred silent influences around her to stand in their presence coldly wrapped in her own sorrow. Her tears ceased as she looked around, suddenly pierced with the thought that earth and sky breathed the selfsame peace which was imprinted on her mother's face. . . . Was that beloved mother indeed to pass into the unknown realms which our Father keeps for His children infinitely beyond the reach of earth's light and darkness? Looking up into the far silent spaces of the sky, which was so immensely vaulted that it was as though the immeasurable heavens had broken asunder to the highest, a great strength of love nerved her afresh. She would not mar the beautiful serenity of her darling's home-going by futile tears and repinings. Sorrow she must have, but she would endure it bravely and alone.

She returned to the house to find her mother half sitting up and talking to Mrs. Challoner, without any distress of breathing.

"Mother, you are a little better," she said, her heart almost ceasing to beat with the sudden shock of joy.

"Yes, dear; I am well enough to talk to you for a little. We won't have the lights in; let us sit in the twilight . . . like old times."

Mrs. Challoner left the two alone.

There was silence for a little time, broken only by the notes of a fantail in the garden, who sang as if his small heart was too full of joy to go to sleep at his accustomed hour.

"I thought they had all gone to sleep noteexcept the little reed-warblers and the curlews, mother," said Doris softly; and the sound of her voice speaking steadily gave the mother courage for her task.

"We have been very happy together, my child, . . . and now I fear you will grieve. . . ."

"Do not be afraid for me, mother," said the girl steadily.

"My dear one . . . you are going to be brave for me and for yourself. It is strange how much we forget that it is only what we do not see which is eternal–that all around us is a passing dream

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from which our Father one day in His love awakes us."

"You are going away from me, notemamma–away to the other home," said Doris, with a little catch in her throat.

"Yes, dearest . . . after you went out I grew heavy with care at the thought of leaving you. . . . I feared for you in your grief and loneliness. . . . But as I looked after you I saw how our Father had put His own seal on the whole world around you, and I felt somehow sure that He would touch your heart also with the peace which passeth understanding. . . ."note

"Oh, mother, was that why I could not cry any longer?" said Doris, in a low, noteawe-struck voice.

The mother's face was radiant. Her heart was full as she pondered over those mysteries of the soul and miracles of nature for which our most ardent words of explanation are clouds of enshrouding darkness.

"It will be well with the child."note

She repeated the words over more than once with a rapt look in her face. Her strength kept up wonderfully for some time longer. For nearly an hour she went over many matters in detail with Doris regarding her future life–Mme. de Serziac and her guardian, and the disposal of certain sums of money, and her wish that, if Doris and Mr. Graham should at any time decide to sell Ouranie, Mr. Murray should have the first offer on as easy terms as possible.

"I think that is almost all the business we need talk, Doris," she said at the close; "but there is one thing I should like you to decide for yourself, whether, after we must part, you prefer to stay here till the Challoners are ready to take you to Mme. de Serziac, or go on with Mrs. Challoner to Colmar? You would have your own rooms, of course, with Shung to notewait on you and your horses to drive and ride."

Mrs. Lindsay spoke a little hurriedly, fearing that this ruthless necessity for realizing so closely the last strange farewell might press too heavily on Doris.

"I don't think I could bear to be here without you, mother," answered Doris in a very low voice, as she stroked her mother's hand in the old loving fashion. Then she stooped down and kissed it repeatedly and passionately.

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"Oh, mother, do you remember long ago, when I had notethe fever and used to dream so often you had gone away to the East–to the Silent Sea?" she said, her tears now falling in the dusk as fast as summer rain.

"Yes, Doris, I remember. And then you thought you had gone after me, and found me; and for days, till the fever left you, you thought that was where we were. I am going on a longer journey; but by-and-by, my child, when your work is done, you will come too."

"Oh, notemamma! mamma! if I could only come with you now!"

Then the mother spoke without tears or faltering of all she could do, of all the duties that awaited her.

"When your loneliness presses hard on you, Doris, remember that I wished you to work for others–that I wished you to have your share of all the duties and sweetness of life."

"But, mother, if I am lonely all the time and want to come to you with all my heart, promise me you notewould not be vexed if I noteprayed to our Father to take me to you."

"No, darling, I noteshould not be vexed," answered the mother softly. She had faith in the power of time to heal sorrow.

Then for a little space in the gathering darkness Doris did not try to check her tears. So much she yielded to the cravings of the love that filled her heart and had ever been the centre of noteher life. But after that evening she regained composure, and even cheerfulness. Henceforward to the last hour of her mother's life these did not desert her.

Early in the morning four days after this, as Doris stood drawing back the window-curtains, she caught her mother's eyes fixed on her in a noteloving, long, untroubled look. An unusual pallor in the dear face made her hasten to the bedside. Half an hour later Shung-Loo glided in, bearing a tray with some little delicacy to tempt an invalid's appetite. Mrs. Challoner was then in the room, her face bathed in tears. But Doris met him and put the tray down, looking at him strangely, saying:

"Oh, Shung, Shung, we cannot do anything for maman any more!"

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She was dry-eyed, but the deep thrill of anguish in her voice made Shung's pale-hued almond eyes very dim. Hitherto no crisis had arisen in the girl's life in which Shung was unable to suggest some consolation, but he had too much of the philosophy of life to attempt any now.

Nothing in the room spoke of death or noteof sorrow. Through the notewide-opened windows the clambering roses hung in dewy clusters, white and mauve butterflies hovering over them in the clear early sunlight. There were bowls of roses on the mantelpiece; even on the little table close to the bedside lay a great heap of noteblush-roses,note noteof heliotrope, noteof white lilac and a bunch of violets. "Bring me some of our favourite flowers out of the garden, Doris," the mother had whispered less than an hour ago. After bringing these in Doris had drawn the curtains back from the open windows. And here now were the dewy flowers giving out their penetrating fragrance, the hum of bees with their tireless industry in the garden, and over all the warm, liberal sunshine. And in the midst, after days of absorbed watching, of wakeful nights, of serene dawns, in which the loving spirit seemed endued with fresh vitality, had come the moment of bitter severance.

For the first strange days, loneliness and sorrow, all thoughts of herself, were partially lost for Doris in an overwhelming wonder, and a yearning stronger than the instinct of life, to penetrate the inexorable veil which, in one supreme moment, had been drawn between her mother's life and her own. That beloved mother, that gentle, self-forgetting, heroic soul, to the last full of thought and memory, and tender responsiveness to the lightest whisper of love! And then in one moment she had passed beyond all intercourse and all knowledge!

"Oh, maman! maman! can I never know anything more of you as long as I live?" Doris would say over and over again, regardless of everything around her in that one engrossing thought. The waves were breaking upon the rocks afar, where she could neither hear notenor see them; ships were sailing across the seas to strange lands; pictures that had been painted hundreds of years before were hanging in closed chambers; choirs of singers

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separated by the whole length of the world sang the same hymns in churches and cathedrals. All these, and innumerable sights and sounds, though hidden and unheard, could be verified; but was there no possibility of reaching the lives that had passed beyond our ken? How far beyond the light of the moon and the wealth of the mid-day's sunshine and the noteorbit of the planets was that unknown universe of the spirit-world? Or was it near, though unseen and noteunknown?

The first sight of the sea, to a boy who has Viking blood in his veins, brings hitherto unknown emotions into play. There are vibrations in the waves which awaken memories that have no part in his personal recollections. And so all through our strange notehuman dramas, dim reminiscent pictures transmitted by generationsnote who have threaded their way through the short joys and notetragedies of life, seem suddenly incorporated in individual experience, maturing the heart and mind when one of the great touchstones of experience is reached. Then the innumerable sources from which knowledge of life is consciously and unconsciously drawn seem in one short day to give up their messages. The events that were at the time hardly noticed, the news that was heard with wonder and straightway forgotten, the broken scraps of conversation that awoke a vague mistrust, the slow accumulations of perception and dawning instincts–all are suddenly illuminated with this vital event that lays its seal on the world and redeems it henceforth from the haziness of a dream and the misty disproportion of an uncomprehended mass of details.

In the first days of loneliness, of separation that seemed too strange to be real, Doris would take up one of her mother's notebest-loved books, and in turning over the leaves with tender reverence, she would see a passage marked that seemed to hold the whole history of her own loss in lines that long years before had told the story of her mother's bereavement:

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"Yet in these ears, till hearing dies,
One set slow bell will seem to toll
The passing of the sweetest soul
That ever looked with human eyes."note

The strange story of human life, beginning in the mists of childhood, passing beyond an inscrutable veil, repeated over and over from age to age, would at times hold her spell-bound; and in the face of the universal history of humanity, her own sorrow seemed to fall into a sober and ordered proportion. The restraint that thought and a notewidening range of vision noteputs upon all notepassion saved her from any morbid feeling of revolt.

"If I cry, it is for myself, not for you, darling maman," she would say softly under her breath; and the mist of tears would be stayed by notethe recollection of her mother's face. The large serene eyes, the delicately-moulded features, the sweet quiet mouth, with its wistful little smile, would rise up so vividly before her, that grief would suddenly be checked by a feeling of incongruity.

"What is our life but a little spannote–even the longest?" Kenneth would say, lingering, during these first days, to give such stay and consolation as were in his power. "A little fever in the town, or thirst in the desert, or a storm in mid-ocean–what are they but the messengers that are sent to summon us from this vale of tears?"note

"Ah, but, Kenneth, it is a very beautiful world . . . and now, although maman is gone, all these long years we were together–oh, how beautiful they were!" answered Doris, shrinking instinctively from that austere contempt of the earth and all its belongings which so often marked the old shepherd's utterances. "Listen to this that maman taught me to sing when I was quite little, Kenneth," she said, opening the piano, and striking a few chords; and then she sang, in a sweet, low voice that gathered gladness as she sang:

"Plantons le mai, chantons le mai,
Le mai du joli mois de mai;
Et puis chantons quand on plante,
Et puis plantons quand on chante.
Le mai, le mai,
Qui nous rend le cœur gai!"note

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"Ah yes, Miss Doris; yes, that is true. There is joy even in this life for the hearts that are possessed by perfect peace." Then in a lower voice he said, as he looked at the girl's noteface: "Out of the notemouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise."note

"I know that for some the world must be a terrible place," said Doris, turning from the open piano, and looking into her old friend's face with serious, wide-opened eyes. "Often I think of poor Koroona, who had to run away with her dying mother, even out of her father's house."note

In the midst of her sorrow this story had fastened on Doris with a new power of interpretation. The thought of so much fear and misery, of familiarity with trouble bitterer than the pangs of death, made her look back on her own secure and happy childhood with a new power of observation. Her memory was stored with wide, spacious chambers full of light and grace and protecting love. What an endless store of days steeped in tangible beauty rose before her as she went from one familiar spot to the other, trying to say farewell, yet vaguely feeling that they would be with her when she went away as much as when she was in their midst! She could not have put the feeling into words, but it was in her heart, that the deepest reality of life had somehow gone from her, and that now the world and all it contained was a little uncertain and unfamiliar, as if seen through some softening medium like that of sleep, in which we see and hear and touch, and yet are all the time remote from the objects of sense.

Yet noteday by day she was attending with scrupulous care to details that devolved on her before leaving Ouranie with Mrs. Challoner. An old friend of her mother's in town, one with whom she had become acquainted on her first voyage to Australia, and to whom Mrs. Lindsay had left a small annuity for life, wrote to Doris pressing her to come and stay in notetown till her friends, the Challoners, were able to take her to Mme. de Serziac.

"Perhaps you would like it better, dear. I am afraid the Salt-bush country will seem terribly bare and dry to you," said Mrs. Challoner wistfully, after this letter had come.

"No, dear noteMrs. Lucy, don't send me away. I know you better than anyone else now. It does not matter so much about the

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country. . . . You know it is the Silent Sea that maman and I talked about so often," answered Doris.

The next day the drawing-room was to be dismantled, but Doris begged to have it left just one day more as it used to be, and for one day more it was undisturbed, filled with a dreamy wealth of flowers as in the old days; the windows wide open, overlooking the notegarden filled with all September's overflowing abundance of bloom and perfume; the lake beyond, reflecting in its clear depths a few filmy clouds faintly white and vaporous, as foam tossed from the crest of waves, noteand everywhere there were the cries and calls of birds who had come back to their old nests or were building new ones.

The twilight deepened, warm and fragrant, like a beautiful reverie between day and night, and Doris stood for the last time in the old familiar room, going from one spot to the other, looking at the books and pictures in the fading light; at the cabinet, with its relics of the noteold aboriginal racenote–shell-spoons, a chisel of volcanic glass, necklaces made of small reeds and the stems of coarse grass cut into lengths and threaded, a netted bag made from the stems of cotton-bush and rushes, a message-stick, with close and involved carving–noteone that had once passed from one tribe to the other as a signal of peace or war. From these memorials of a vanished race Doris went, and stood looking for some moments at a water-colour painting, in the foreground of which stood a dwelling, that had been for many generations in her mother's family. It was a calm English landscape, with wide, shadowy trees; a little white village in the distance, with a slender church-spire rising from the midst; a blue-gray sky overhead, with a few red clouds trooping into the west, while under foot notethe emerald-green meadows starred with buttercups and daisies completed a picture noteof Old-World repose and soft, cool tones. Often after days of intense heat, in which the very atmosphere at Ouranie seemed to be on fire and burn with viewless flame, Doris had watched her mother turn to this picture with a weary longing.

"Ah, darling mother," she said in a wistful whisper, "you were often very tired; but now all that is over, and, if I grow very tired,

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I will come to you."

Three days later Doris was in the heart of the barren landscape of the Salt-bush country, where low desert ridges with rocky outcrops, and vast flat spaces of sad, gray, creeping bushes, were outlined against notean immense sky of deep shadowless blue. It was a land so harsh and forbidding, so devoid of all charm, that it seemed as if no tradition of human interest could cling around its vague formless regions. But as the light of the first day faded, and notestars began to glimmer in the clear topaz of the upper sky, Doris, looking westward, saw the long aërial line of the Euckalowie Ranges in the far, far distance, like a silvery silhouette in the midst of the faint vapour that at times creeps over these immense plains after sunset. The prospect restored to her the old picture of the Silent Sea, and, like a home melody heard far from home, it brought her nearer to the days whose memory now formed the core of her life.