2. Volume II.

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1. Chapter I.

Victor had several times before this spent an hour or so with the Challoners, but always in the evening, between eight and ten o'clock. On these occasions he had become acquainted with all the occupants of the house but one: the host and hostess; Euphemia, the host's stout, rosy-cheeked daughter, placid and silent, and much given to blushing; Shung-Loo, who had learnt the secret of swift and noiseless action; and the cheerful noisy Irish general servant, whose good intentions were far in excess of her performances. He had heard Miss Lindsay named from time to time, and building a theory on some of those inferences, too vague to be called thoughts, concluded she was a middle-aged lady, probably something of an invalid. His intercourse with Mr. and Mrs. Challoner had been from the first on a pleasant and friendly footing. They had invited him to spend his Sundays at Stonehouse any time he felt inclined. But hitherto he had spent them with the noteUniversity chum he mentioned in his first letter to Miss Paget, at Wynans, the rabbit-infested station.

On this afternoon he chatted with Mr. and Mrs. Challoner for some time, and then went into his own room to write. As he was going there, Mrs. Challoner told him that if he felt inclined to sit on the western veranda at any time, he would always find a comfortable chair there. After writing several pages to Miss Paget he availed himself of this invitation. Taking a book and a cigar with him, he went round to the western veranda. The curtainsnote were all drawn. Before his eyes had grown used to the semi-gloom, he heard a sound that startled him strangely. It was the sound of one sobbing in bitter grief. A young girl, in an armchair, at the open French window, her face buried in her hands, was within a few paces of him. She had not heard his approach, and he tried to steal away without attracting her attention. But he could not for a moment withdraw his eyes from

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the slenderly rounded, graceful figure, from the exquisite head, with its wealth of deep amber hair, bent low in an abandonment of sorrow. And thus trying to do two things at a time–a performance against which we have all at one time or another been warned–he stumbled heavily over a chair.

Doris, hastily wiping away her tears, looked up. Their eyes met.

"I am awfully sorry," began Victor, and then he stood, colouring deeply, unable to take his eyes off the face upturned to him, to look away from those wonderful eyes, radiant even in their sorrow.

Doris got up as if to go inside. There was a little wicker table by the chair on which she had been sitting, covered with crayons and water-colour sketches. She began to gather them up.

"Pray do not let me disturb you. I will go back to my room again. I did not know there was anyone here," said Victor, coming nearer to her.

"Oh no, don't go away, please," said Doris softly. She tried to look at him, but the great tears were again rising in spite of her, and she half averted her face.

"I am afraid you are hurt, or in pain. I am so sorry–so very sorry–to see you in distress."

There was so much kindness and heartfelt sympathy in his voice that Doris felt constrained to make some response.

"You must think I am very foolish."

"Oh no, no! I am only sorry I cannot do something for you. I am afraid you have had some bad news."

"No–not news; there is nothing more that could happen to me," she replied, speaking in a very low tone, so that her voice might not utterly break down.

"I–I did not know of your coming; I had not heard," said Victor; and then he suddenly paused, asking himself why he made so sure that Shung-Loo's mistress was an invalid middle-aged lady? Had anyone ever said so? Had anyone, in fact, said anything beyond speaking of Miss Lindsay? But how was one to imagine that this represented a beautiful young girl with an air of distinction and refinement rare anywhere, but little less than astounding in a spot so isolated from the higher graces of civilization. These thoughts passed rapidly through his mind, ending with the reflection that he had made a most foolish and

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inept reply to the pathetic words the girl had uttered. He had in truth lost his head, and–he had better noteclear.

"I am so vexed I disturbed you," he said. "Would you like me to raise the curtains before I go?"

"Oh, but you must not go; you came to read. You are Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, I think; I have heard Mrs. Challoner and Euphemia speak of you." It seemed to Victor a distinction conferred on him to hear his name spoken by that softly modulated, musical voice. There was something too irresistible in her direct simplicity, her clear, candid gaze.

"I shall be only too glad to stay if I do not disturb you," he said, and on that Doris resumed her seat and took up a chair-back on which she was outliningnote figures in pale and dark blue.

Victor rolled up the curtains, and sat in the chair over which he had stumbled, and took up his book, but the words danced before him and the lines ran together. Then he perpetrated felony with his eyes. Still holding the book before him as if he were reading, he stole glances at the girl who was sitting barely six feet away from him. She was in a thin black dress, relieved only with narrow white lissenote at the throat and wrists. She began to sew, her long thick lashes downcast, and as he looked he saw a great tear roll down her cheek, and then another. He felt choked with compassion, yet when she had spoken of her trouble he had made so imbecile a reply. There was something infinitely touching in the grief of one so young, and so much alone in the world. If he could only say something–something to distract her thoughts! He rustled the leaves of his book and cleared his throat. Doris furtively wiped her eyes and bent a little lower over her work, and the silence remained unbroken.

Then Shung-Loo came notein in his usual noiseless way with a white silk shawl. "It neal sunset now, Miss Dolis." She took the shawl from him with a little smile of thanks, and put it over her shoulders. "Oh, Miss Dolis, you have clied, you must not," he said in an impressive whisper.

"No, Shung; I am not going to again," she said humbly. Then Shung-Loo disappeared as noiselessly as he had come. As soon as she was alone again–she felt satisfied that Mr. Fitz-Gibbon was buried in his book–Doris took up the corner of the shawl

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and held it to her lips, and her tears flowed afresh uncontrollably.

"Miss Lindsay, I ought not perhaps to speak to you when you are in such trouble; but you kindly asked me to stay–and–and I cannot bear to see you cry."

Victor had put down his book and drawn his chair closer. His voice vibrated with emotion, and, in fact, his eyes were moist.

"Oh, I thought you were reading," she said brokenly. "Everyone tells me I ought not to cry, and I seldom do."

"Would you find it very hard to tell me why you are so sorrowful? But don't if it hurts you; only––"

"It is because my mother has left me. She is gone; she can never come back to me." She did not sob, but the tears were falling as fast as raindrops, her filmy laced handkerchief was soaked, her lips and hands were quivering.

"I would give the world if I could say something to comfort you," said Victor, speaking little above a whisper.

"But you cannot–no one can," she said through her tears, vainly struggling for composure.

Even in the midst of his distress, Victor felt a half-inclination to smile at the uncompromising sincerity of this little speech. It was evidently hopeless to trot out any of the serviceable platitudes that people use to bridge over those depths of grief in which they have no personal share. Still, even to make her talk a little helped to stem the tears which gave him so horribly uncomfortable a sensation in the throat. This constrained him to make another effort. "You know, everyone feels badly hurt at some time," he said lamely enough, keenly conscious, even as he uttered the words, that any small efficacy they may notehave ever possessed in binding up a broken spirit would be now ruthlessly weighed in the balance and found wanting.note

"Has your mother died, too?" asked Doris, looking up with tears trembling on her lashes.

"No–oh no! She was quite well when she last wrote to me."

"Then you came away from her? You left her?" said Doris, a little shade of mistrust creeping into her manner.

"Oh, well, you know, young men nearly always do," he explained.

"Don't they love their mothers as much as girls do, then?" asked

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Doris. She glanced up at Victor, her lips slightly parted, a look of dawning interest in her face, as if the incongruities of his sex were for the first time brought home to her.

"Oh yes; I think most of them do–only, you know, there is a difference," he replied, anxious, he could not say why exactly, to make her believe as well of his kind as possible. "Girls, of course, mostly stay with their mothers till they marry––"

"I would never have left my mother, never–never," she answered with slow emphasis.

"What a pretty place this is!" he said, picking up one of the water-colour sketches which had fallen noteto the ground. He felt all the absurdity of this abrupt change. But he wanted above all things to lead the talk away from dangerous topics.

"That is Ouranie, our old home, where I was born, and where maman and I always lived together," she answered softly.

Then she turned over the rest of her mother's sketches and showed him the shadowy corner in the garden where the violets used to carpet the ground, and the tangled banks of Gauwari, with the tall trees growing overhead. Doris had by a great effort recovered her composure, but her grief had been too suddenly arrested, and the pictures of her old home awoke too many tender memories; fearful that she might again break down she rose, saying:

"If you would like to see them, I will show you some more of mother's drawings another time;' and then, with a grave little bow, she went into her own room through the open French window.

She had been for some time that afternoon looking over notethese too well-remembered scenes, the last her mother had sketched and painted, till it seemed to her as if her mother notewere quite near. "Oh, maman darling, it is sometimes so very strange without you!" she said. Then she had fallen asleep, and in her sleep she dreamt a dream dear and beautiful as the innermost circle of heaven could have been. Her mother came to her with the old tender smile and words, the old caressing touch. But in the moment that her heart was throbbing for exceeding joy,note she awoke to find herself alone. In the cruel reaction, she was overcome with a grief keener than that of the first days of her

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bereavement. It was then that Victor had come. When he was left alone, he sat for some moments looking blankly at the sketch he had first taken up, and which Doris had left behind her.

"Well, I was a fearful jackass! I might have known that these were probably the very things that made her cry so. Poor little darling! . . . Well, she is notelittle more than a child. . . . What wonderful eyes, what a perfect face altogether! . . . It is curious, but it seems as if I had often seen a face like hers in my dreams. . . . The expression is just that of the beautiful little Virgin in Titian's picture of the Presentationnote–that serious dove-like innocence."

These and divers other thoughts, more or less confused, passed in rapid succession through the young man's mind. He looked at the sketch a long time, taking in all the details of the tranquil home where this beautiful young girl had probably lived all her life, with the mother she would never have left.

"She seemed to be a little suspicious of me because I had left my mother," he reflected, smiling. "If I had only known what to say! . . . It must have been dreadful for the poor dear child to lose her mother. . . . To think I have been notefor so many nights under the same roof with her, without knowing it. . . ." Then he reflected with immense chagrin that he had declined to spend the evening at Stonehouse because of 'Zilla'snote blue-ribbon meeting. He felt half inclined to go to Mrs. Challoner and ask her to let him come, after all, as it did not matter so very much about playing a stupid little melody to a lot of rowdy miners.

But when he played his stupid little tune an hour later in the small school-room, crowded with the miners and their families, and a large proportion of the inhabitants of Colmar, "Norah Creina"note was so rapturously encored that he had to play again. It was a rough assembly with several larrikins in the back seats who joined in the choruses when there were any, invented parodies on certain recitations, and called out to the performers by name to cheer or depress them. This latter was especially the case if anyone gave a reading of a didactic cast.

"That's hawfully dry 'ash!"note one would cry out.

"But, then, 'tis to do your immortial soul good, Jack," another would respond.

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"We didn't come 'ere because of our bloomin' souls; we come 'ere to 'ave a lark," would be shouted out if the unfortunate reader still persisted in the reading with a purpose. But no musical performer, unless very obnoxious to the crowd, was ever interrupted.

"Angkore! angkore! go it, young un! you knows 'ow to handle the fiddle!" "Give us another chune, Mr. Purser! they're worth twenty tractses." On being thus adjured, Victor played from memory Beethoven's "Adelaide" with variations.note The melody, weighted with impassioned yearning, swept him into hitherto unsuspected depths of feeling: The winds of evening in the blossom-heavy bowers, May's silvery lilies of the valley, streams in their leafy channels, nightingales pouring out their souls in ecstasy, all whispering and breathing and murmuring and fluting the beloved name: A–de–la–i–de! A–de–la–i–de!

What had given such unaccustomed skill to the young man's fingers? what had suddenly kindled his instincts and imagination and heart with such swift intuition of the inner meaning of the great musician's masterpiece of a lover's incommunicable rapture and sorrow? The applause of the audience at the close was noisier than ever, the room more stifling. Victor was glad to get out under the starlit sky, cutting short Roby's profuse thanks and big words about "valyable 'elp in a good work."

On leaving the township, he walked back to Stonehouse by a circuitous route. He approached the house by the western veranda. There was a light in one of the windows; he stood looking at it for some time. Then, with a profound sigh, he went round to his own room, and there was his unfinished letter to Miss Paget staring him in the face.

He ought to finish it to-night, so that it might be posted to-morrow, and reach town in time for the outgoing mail-boat. But what an age it took him to write a page and a half, and how stiff and fragmentary the close of the letter seemed on reading it over! He decided it would be better not to write at all when one felt so incomprehensibly stupid. As he reached this conclusion, he found himself staring hard into vacancy, recalling the sweep of heavy golden-brown lashes wet with tears. And this made him ask himself the question why he had made no mention of an event that had interested him so deeply. He went on with a sort of wrathful catechism, with eloquent blanks by way of answer.

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He lay long awake that night, and the upshot of his night vigil was that, instead of spending part of Sunday at Stonehouse as he had thought of doing, or going across to Wynans as he had half promised Maurice,note he went for a solitary ride towards the north-west.

After going four or five miles from the mine in this direction, the country became more diversified. There were numerous low reefs, ridged in places with dead-white, milky-looking quartz, and others with innumerable ironstone "blows."note Water-courses, too, were much more frequent than in any other part of the district–water-courses with wide shallow beds, filled with gravel and red dust, with broken pieces of hungry and crystalline quartz, mingled in places with fine specimens of glassy six-sided prismatic crystals. The region was full of experimental shafts and the remains of small alluvial diggings. Challoner's run verged on the western side of this auriferous tract,note the boundary between being marked in one spot by a large broken-down whim,note the massive posts bleached white with the fiery suns of many summers. Behind this whim was an abrupt blackish rock, that gave weird echoes of any sound that broke the silence. It was a desolate spot, speaking eloquently of the drought that had ravaged the district four years before. Striking off from this in a northerly direction, Victor rode towards Broombush Creek, which was four miles off. This creek took its name from being near its rise densely lined with that shrub.note It was the largest water-course in the district, with wide gravelly reaches, closely neighboured by innumerable little reefs and rises, with a water-worn, denuded aspect.

"There ought to be alluvial gold here, if anywhere," thought Victor as he struck the creek. He had heard it was seldom found without a lonely prospector here and there prowling in its vicinity. There was evidently one not far off now, for as he rode on, following the sinuous windings of the water-course, he saw a film of smoke ahead of him, rising in wavering fragments till they were lost in the blue air. The sight gave him a feeling of pleasurable excitement. Perhaps he was going to come on the early beginnings of a great gold-field. As he went on, he noticed innumerable trenches and small pits, now partly choked up, most of them evidently of old date. They were on each side of the wide shallow water-course, some on the face of the banks and in

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the bed of the creek. Two or three of the latter were quite recent. Near one of these he noticed a broken shovel. Half a mile beyond he came in sight of the spot from which the smoke ascended.

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2. Chapter II.

It was a curious little encampment, in the vicinity of an old well. Near it stood a horse in hobbles, looking around with a contemplative air, as if he were accustomed to a country in which it was easier to think than to feed. A little further on stood what at first glance looked like an irregular sort of tent. It was a cart, covered with a large discoloured tarpaulin, held down with stones at the back and sides. In front it was fastened back on each side of the shafts.

Close to the cart a wood fire was smouldering. Between the fire and the cart an elderly man was sitting on a low three-legged stool before an empty deal case turned upside down. He was smoking a pipe with a long many-jointed stem, and dealing out a pack of cards in two heaps. He was under the shade of a group of sandal-wood trees on the bank of the creek, yet his soft felt hat was pulled so low over his eyes, that as Victor approached he could see little of the man's face. Neither did he seem to notice the sound of the horse's hoofs.

Victor halted within a few feet of the fire, expecting that the solitary smoker would look up. But he went on dealing out the cards in unbroken silence, so engrossed in his occupation that he seemed oblivious of the rider's presence.

"Good-day, sir. May I come in?" said Victor at last, riding a little nearer.

The man did not start, nor show any appearance of surprise. Holding the cards he had in his noteleft hand fan-wise, and pushing his hat back a little, he looked at his visitor.

"You may come under such shade as there is, certainly, young man; but to ask you to come in is beyond my power."

"But is it agreeable to you that I should come under the shade?"

"Agreeable is a comparative term."

"Ah, I see, you really don't want to be interrupted. Well, please

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excuse my intrusion."

"Intrusion? Not a bit of it! Come under the shade and have a pannikin of coffee.note By the way, do you like coffee?"

"Oh yes, very much," said Victor, who was really loath to go away without having some talk with this eccentric recluse.

At the first glance he did not look very much unlike notean ordinary Bush labourer. But as soon as he spoke, it was evident that he belonged to a different class.

"I cannot offer you a chair," he said, after Victor had dismounted and fastened his horse to one of the sandal-wood trees; "and I fear there is a slight weakness in one of the legs of this stool. But I ought to have a box somewhere equal to your weight."

He dived in under the cart and brought out an empty kerosene case,note on which Victor seated himself, with an apology for the trouble he gave.

"It's no trouble at all," returned his host. "In fact, I should probably not give you a seat if it involved any trouble. If you'll excuse me for a few moments, I'll finish this game with Jack."

"Jack! where is he?" said Victor, looking round with surprise.

"He is not visible to the material eye," answered the man gravely. "He formed my acquaintance shortly after I dropped out of the ranks.note I think he had some vague idea of setting up in the ghost business; but I didn't approve of that line, so I adopted him into the bosom of the family, so to speak. He plays a very good game in his own way–a very good game indeed."

He went on smoking and dealing out the cards very slowly. It was apparent from the heaps already on the table, and the number still in his hand, that there must be two packs of cards required for the game that "Jack" played. Victor watched its progress with great interest, pleased with the thought that he had, by chance, come in contact with one of those solitary men who are sometimes known in the Australian Bush as "real characters."

"By the Great Llama,note Jack has won!" said the player, as he faced the last card.

"I hope that does not mean you lose a great deal?"

"Well, perhaps not. It just means that I may go on to Colmar to-morrow; that is, Sunday. I made a bet with Jack on the

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"Sunday? No–to-day is Sunday."

"You must be mistaken."

"Indeed I am not. Yesterday was Saturday–to-day is Sunday."

The man with a perplexed look counted on his fingers.

"Monday I gave up fossicking; Tuesday I came here; Wednesday I went to the little shanty at Starvation Creek, where they sell grog on the sly; Thursday I returned with a furious headache and a few bricks for the pavement of hell;note Friday I went across to see Van Diemen's Nick;note and Saturday, that is to-day, I sank an experimental trench till three o'clock, and broke a shovel. In face of such an alibi, how can you explain your method of counting the days?"

"Perhaps you will be angry at my explanation," said Victor, laughing.

"Anger is a moral luxury in which I have long ceased to indulge. Let us have your explanation."

" "The next time I get drunk it shall be with those who have the fear of God in them."note That carries my opinion of the alibi."

The man's face slowly relaxed into a smile, and he looked at his visitor with some interest.

"You young rascal!" he said, in a tone of amusement; "you think because you get tipsy yourself with boon companions, that a man of my standing indulges in the same weakness. . . . Perhaps you are right about the day. I suppose you've lived all your life in places crowded with the human species, where you knock every day into hours full of appointments, with men who cheat you and women who deceive you. I slung upnote that form of being happy many years ago."

"And notein the meantime you lose a Sunday occasionally, and find Jack stealing a march on you. But do you think he won this game fairly, seeing that to-morrow is Monday?" said Victor, who longed to glean more information regarding the habits of the partner who was not visible to the material eye.

But the man did not at once reply. He went to the fire, and pushing the smouldering sticks together till they burst into a flame, he put a copper saucepan half full of coffee on the fire.

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Then he produced a second pannikin and handed it to Victor, nearly full of that beverage, very strong and of excellent flavour.

"Did you see anyone at work on your way here," he asked, as he relit his pipe and resumed his seat. "An old man, for instance, with a battered profile, as if people had been shying stones at him for half a century?"

"I saw no one since I left Colmar till I came here."

"What! did you come from Colmar, from the mine?"

"Yes; I'm living there at present; I'm purser at the mine."

"The purser? By Jove! you don't look much like it."

"I give you my word that I can add two and two at the first shot," said Victor with a smile.

"Oh, I don't doubt it! But why a young fellow like you should be at the Colmar bothers me. I should have thought you would at least be feeling pretty down on your luck, instead of which you go about with violet eyes, and a smile that embraces all creation."note

"It must be your very good coffee that's getting into my head if I look so benevolent."

"Ah, you find the coffee good? I'll give you the recipe for making it. Get the best Arabian beans; green, mind you. Roast them till they are quite brown, but not black. Then take two handfuls and bruise them between two stones. Put that amount to two pints of water in a copper saucepan, and let the water come to boiling-point slowly without the lid. That's the way the M'zabites of El-Aghouatnote made coffee when I lived in Sahara for some time, several years ago. But now tell me about the Colmar. Who is robbing that mine now for the shareholders?"

"No one, I hope," answered Victor. "Do you know much about the place?"

"I lived there six or seven months some time ago."

"Oh! I wonder if you are the man Searle spoke about?"

"By the name of Oxford Jim?"


"The same. Has Searle gone away?"

"Yes; I came in his place."

"And who is the manager now?"

"Mr. William Trevaskis."

"You don't mean that!" said the man with a start. "William Trevaskis, eh? The last time I had the honour of seeing him he was rolling to Government House in a carriage lined with violet

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velvet, or something of that kind. Back to the old life, eh? Well, that is a piece of news!"

"But how is it you didn't hear it before, living within ten miles of the mine?"

"Because I have for the last three months been not living, but hiding, like the modest peony;note burrowing little shafts, turning over gravel drift in dry tributaries of the sandy Broombush Creek, most of the time two miles from here, where no man comes. Excepting Van noteDiemen's Nick–my friend with the battered phiz–I have not spoken to a soul for eleven weeks, till you came to-day."

"For eleven weeks entirely alone! Why, it's like solitary confinement!" said Victor, looking round at the eerie desolation of the great neutral-tinted plain, which, in the declining light of the afternoon sun, assumed more and more the look of a limitless ocean without sound or colour or movement.

"Yes–solitary confinement with hard labour thrown in. And yet most likely six months from this, when I am spending my nuggets, eating the husks which the swine did eat,note I shall be sorry I left the Salt-bush country."

"Your nuggets? Then you have found gold?"

"Oh, a little more than the colour,"note answered Oxford Jim, with a satisfied laugh, and glancing behind him under the cart. Victor looked also, but all he could see were a few ordinary digger's tools, a roughly constructed cradle, a shovel or two, a pick, and two rusty notedishes. But somehow the conviction grew on him that the solitary prospector had turned up trumps.

"Yes; a little more than the colour," he went on, still smoking. His pipe had a very deep bowl, and the smoke, which ascended in blue spiral columns, seemed to Victor to have an acrid odour, foreign to ordinary tobacco.

"But what is gold to a man like me, an exile, an outcast, with a hateful past and no possible future; with every chance in life exhausted, every avenue closed? Someone says that each man bears his own tragedy about with him.note I know what mine is, well."

A vague look had come into the man's eyes, but there was a sort

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of mild exaltation in his face, and notwithstanding the melancholy despair of his utterances, he seemed to find a certain enjoyment in giving them expression.

"You are too much alone, you are morbid in consequence," said Victor, who was touched by the thought of the man's dreary isolation.

"Morbid! Good Lord! what can make you as morbid as your fellow-creatures, when you begin to understand them? Snakes and dingoes and lizards are amiable sentimentalists in comparison with the bulk of mankind."

Victor could not refrain from laughing.

"For my own part," he said, "I should like to be spared the amiable weakness of a carpet snake!"

"Oh, as for that, a carpet snake is a harmless worm, compared to your own kind of both sexes. He does not come to you with a smiling face till he gets a good opportunity to sting you. Ah, you may smile; you'll find it out for yourself one day. Now, take that man Trevaskis as an instance. I worked with him, for a year and a half, fifteen years ago. He was making money fast, and had thousands of pounds invested. I said to him one day, "I wonder why you keep on working like this when you have so much."

" "Oh," he said, "I made up my mind when I was quite a boy that I would make enough money somehow or other to live like a gentleman; and I mean to do it. None of your poky, stingy little incomes, but something substantial and handsome." "

"Poor old chap! it's rather rough on him to have lost noteall his money, after all."

"Yes; but my feeling is that, on the whole, it served him right," said Oxford Jim vindictively. "When he said that to me, I said half jokingly: "Wouldn't it be a good thing to learn to speak like a gentleman, Bill, before you come on noteto the stage as a man of money and fashion?" He took up the idea quite seriously there and then. "Suppose you give me lessons," he said, "in pronouncing and writing? I'll pay you well for it." I didn't want to make a money affair of the matter. Indeed, I thought it would drop through in a month or so. But no, he was too determined. I never saw a man that stuck to any plan in all my life as he did, once his mind was made up. Every evening during a whole year he

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worked away for hours like a nigger; and then he would get up by candle-light and study again, writing out pages of dictation. Of course we grew very chummy in that time. I used to vary my lessons, in pronouncing and spelling, by telling him of the ways of living among the civilized races of the earth, developing his conceptions of society, as if I were a sort of unedited Manual of Etiquette."note

Here, the speaker suddenly burst into laughter.

"If you don't know much of the vagaries of Bush life," he said, "this may serve as a specimen for you. A man of fifty-five who grubs about in the wilds as a labouring drudge, and has lived the life of a wandering savage for over twenty years, can still give instruction in the social ethics of society."

He had ceased smoking, and his utterance was now a little heavy.

"Then what was the upshot?" asked Victor.

"The upshot was that when I returned, after being in Africa and the East, some time ago, I drifted to Adelaide on my way to Blanchewater.note Five years ago I saw Trevaskis face to face, in his rôle of gentleman–I, as usual, a poor devil in dusty clothes on the dusty highway–and–he cut me dead."

"Surely he couldn't have known you?"

"Oh yes, he did; I caught his eye. Well, I believe I'll take the change out of him yet. I'm at a loose end just now. I want to wait for an old friend of mine who is coming down from the Far North.note I might as well stay at Colmar–better than going to town, indeed. I'll most likely trundle across to-night or to-morrow. You won't be gone before then?"

"Oh no. You see, I have an interest in the Colmar Mine, and––"

"Oh, you have an interest in it, have you? Then just let me tell you a little secret," said the man, with a sudden gleam of excitement, overcoming a drowsiness which began gradually to make itself apparent in his voice and manner. "Search the cave room well."

"Oh, it was well searched by the late manager––"

"Dunning, the man who was killed, you mean. Ah, I know a little about the sort of search he was making. Never mind, you take my advice. Tell Trevaskis you met an old man prospecting out at Broombush Creek, who advised you to turn over the floor

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of notethat cave room, with a passage between it and the manager's office. Don't tell him it was Oxford Jim who gave the advice, and don't let him search it alone!"

"Perhaps we had better have a couple of policemen to look after us both," said Victor, in a jesting tone.

"Oh no, you haven't been long enough in the world, or in the gold business, to acquire the usual morals. . . . But there is a scientific classification of liars that I should advise you to keep in mind–the simple liar, the damned liar, and the mining manager,"note answered the man sombrely.

"Well, good-bye! I expect I'll see you again, though I should do better to stay in the Salt-bush country than mix with the human race," he added, when Victor rose to go.

The sun was low on the horizon as he rode back to the mine, his mind full of speculations regarding the lonely prospector. How had he come to have such a profound sentiment of the inutility of life, to be so penetrated with the conviction that henceforth nothing could change the course of his own existence, or make the world a fascinating place to live in? The thought that a human being could be so joyless and stranded, and perhaps, too, the solitary desolation of the country around him, gave the young man an unusual feeling of depression. But as he passed Stonehouse a curious glow of gladness stole over him, and his ride appeared to him in the light of an interesting event, one that might lead to the discovery of an unsuspected treasure.

Next day he and Trevaskis were engaged together in cleaning up the fortnight's yield of gold. Before the day was over, the gruff coldness of the manager's manner had thawed a little. He began to suspect that he might be doing the purser an injustice in supposing that he had any motive in coming to the mine beyond that of wishing to get a little experimental knowledge as to the working of a property in which he was interested. He worked so cheerfully, was so much interested in everything, sang snatches of "Rory O'More" and "Rich and rare were the gems she wore,"note and countless other songs, in such a clear, blithe voice, and repeated some of Mick's stories with such an inimitable accent, that almost in spite of himself Trevaskis was drawn into a more genial frame of mind.

  ― 176 ―

"I think you must have notehad an extra love-letter to-day, Fitz-Gibbon, you are in such good spirits," he said jokingly as they were in the assay-room, after taking off the crucible in which the gold had been smelted. Victor coloured consciously. He had felt like a bird on the wing all day, because he was to spend the evening at Stonehouse. Yes, this was all that had come of the stoical resolution which on Sunday had led him to explore the wilds so as to keep out of the way of temptation. It is one thing, however, to do this on a given day, and quite another to remain inflexible during succeeding ones.

"Me get a love-letter! I'm surprised at you, captain, to be putting such notions into my head," he answered gravely. Trevaskis laughed incredulously. Then it struck Victor that this would be a good opportunity to ask permission to search the cave room.

"Did you ever turn over that cave room at the end of the iron passage?" he asked somewhat suddenly.

Trevaskis, who well remembered the narrative told by Searle regarding this place, replied in a somewhat strained voice:

"No; I have not felt much tempted by the look of the place. A lot of Dunning's things are there; and old machinery with other odds and ends. Why do you ask?"

"Because, when I was out riding yesterday I came across an old fellow prospecting all alone, who––"

"Told you there was some gold hidden away there?" interrupted Trevaskis, with a scornful smile.

"Perhaps you've heard the yarn before?"

"Oh, I've never been near a mine in my life without hearing four and twenty lying rumours about it."

"Would you mind my fossicking over the place some day when it's convenient?"

Trevaskis' face darkened a little, and he hesitated before replying:

"Do you mean to dig in it? to look for a lode, or what?"

"Oh, just to make a thorough search, with Mick to help me when he isn't busy, or 'Zilla Jenkins when he returns. . . . I would be careful not to injure the place. Anything that's in it of value––"

  ― 177 ―

"Of value? I think the most precious article in it is an invalid chair. One of the managers broke his leg, and used to be trundled about in it; so Roby told me when I went down there with him the other day to look at some old machinery. . . . If there are many of Dunning's things, you might have them removed into one of the store-rooms."

"Thank you; that could be easily managed," said Victor, taking this as a grudging consent. "I'll begin my search, say, on Monday next."

"You betternote have 'Zilla to help when he returns; he'll be a handy man in a job of that kind," answered Trevaskis, in a more gracious voice.

But though in contact with Victor that day his suspicious mistrust of him had lessened, yet as soon as they parted he returned to his old standpoint.

"What should he want to go fossicking about in that place for? Perhaps to make sure that the late manager's belongings are not tampered with, or something of that kind," he thought, with a sombre look in his face.

It was partly the inflexibility of his mind and partly the invincible suspicion of his nature which made it almost impossible for him to renounce a prejudice or an evil opinion once entertained. It was characteristic, too, that the lower motives of conduct always appeared to him more credible than any noteothers.

  ― 178 ―

3. Chapter III.

It was after dark that evening when Trevaskis went across to the Colmar Arms for his evening meal. When he came out at his office door, he saw Victor going across the reef towards Stonehouse. He did not turn up at the inn for tea, so it was evident that he was spending the evening with the Challoners. As the manager sat alone at the long dreary table of the dreary dining-room, he fell into one of those brooding fits of utter depression which from time to time overtook him since coming to Colmar.

At such times his past life would rise up before him, year by year and period by period, till he felt almost suffocated by despair, and a bitter sense of the injustice of his lot. He had earned his money so hardly–building up his wealth without help or bequest from anyone. And then, when he had achieved his purpose, how far removed he had been from plunging into reckless extravagance or speculation! The only faults he could charge himself with were trusting his partner too blindly, and putting so large an amount into bank shares, with the purpose of being quite safe. But now, after all his long years of toil, and those brilliant ones during which all his hopes were realized, he was beggared, and with no prospects in life that he could see beyond dragging out a death-in-life existence at some miserable mine, in the heart of some miserable desert. He had no knowledge nor training for commercial life; all his business aptitude lay in one direction. He had, after coming to the mine, some faint hopes that enough would be saved out of the wreck of his fortune to enable him to start as a sharebroker. But affairs had turned out even worse than he had anticipated. It was now certain that, in common with other shareholders of the bank that had failed, he would have to pay liquidation callsnote on the shares he held.

As he sat plunged in the gloomiest reflections, feeling the weight of his misfortunes, and his loneliness pressing upon him like a heavy, physical load, he heard the sound of voices and loud

  ― 179 ―
laughter in the bar. Sometimes of late, when these fits of profound gloom overcame him, Trevaskis felt a nervous horror of returning to the solitude of his own rooms. He would have been ashamed to confess it openly, even to himself; but he would, in reality, have preferred to join the boisterous miners and stray swagmen drinking in the bar-room rather than remain alone with his despairing thoughts. He had sometimes compromised between the two plans, by sitting for an hour or two after tea in the bar-parlour, where the sound of voices of noisy merriment, and occasionally the strains of a banjo, an accordion, or a fiddle, gave him a certain sense of companionship. The bar-parlour faced the dining-room, being on the opposite side of the narrow passage which divided the newer portion of the Colmar Arms. Trevaskis went into the room on this evening, and found it as usual unoccupied, with a small notepetroleumnote lamp on the mantelpiece, notewhich diffused more odour than light.

There was a large horsehair sofa in the room, one end against the door that opened into the bar-room. Trevaskis threw himself down on this, with a newspaper in his hand. But he did not read it. His move into this room, with its staring wall-paper, its cheap vulgar oleographs, its strong fumes of negro-head tobacconote and coarse spirits, seemed to bring home to him more forcibly than before the hopeless slough into which his life had been resolved. He recalled, with a vividness strange in his experience, all the external aspects and pleasures of the years during which he had enjoyed the delights and luxuries of wealth. His entrance into parliamentary life; the gratified sense of importance that came to him as his name began to figure in the daily papers–now introducing a deputation, then giving utterance to some pregnant comment regarding the mineral laws of the country, ever and anon as one of the guests at the more important social gatherings; at banquets to distinguished visitors; at official dinners given by the Governor–every detail had been precious to him.

He recalled the long evenings at the clubs; the pleasant excitement of hurrying from the theatre to go to an evening assembly; the malicious rumours and surmises regarding other people's affairs; the unexpected dénouements and amusing gossip which

  ― 180 ―
his wife never wearied of retailing to him–all in his present cruel isolation had an exaggerated interest and value. But though, like the newly enriched of other spheres and countries, Trevaskis had developed a marvellous affinity for luxury and the more material aspects of refinement, he had no resources in himself. He read the newspapers, and there his reading began and ended. As soon as he had left the solitude of the Bush and the engrossing toil that had been sweetened by rapidly accumulating gain, he had taken with extraordinary avidity to all forms of amusement. Though he did not dance, he would pass hours watching people at a ball, enjoying the spectacle more thoroughly than most of those who took part in it. The music, the light, the flowers, the elegant dresses, the soft movement of costly fans, the fragrance of dainty perfumes,–all had an irresistible attraction for him. He was an habitual theatre-goer, and never missed an opera if he could help it. He had not the least technical knowledge of music, yet he would listen to a solo or a chorus with a sort of tranced rapture that had in it something almost hypnotic.

Now, he was exiled from all this, and worse still, he was separated from his wife and children. He recalled them as he had often watched them in the luxurious nursery of his big handsome house–his little fair-haired girls kneeling in their snowy-white nightdresses–and hot tears which refused to be shed dimmed his eyes. Then, crowding side by side with these reminiscences, came thoughts of his present surroundings–the mine, with its unceasing din and smoke, with the tents and hovelsnote of the miners–those squalid abodes through which he passed and repassed thrice a day to his meals at the dreary inn. The earth floors, sometimes half covered with dust-strewn sacks; the dingy little deal tables, heaped-up with dirty dishes of tin and earthenware; the narrow bunks, with heaps of soiled clothing; the empty kerosene cases, that served for seats; the flapping partitions in some of the squalid interiors, covered with tattered notenewspapers; groups of children playing at digging mines, everything strewn with the grime of perpetual dust–all seemed stamped on his brain with the sharp precision of a photograph.

At times he would overhear the sound of women's voices in

  ― 181 ―
angry contention. In such settlements as the Colmar Mine woman is seldom anything more than the female of the man, with an emphatic tendency to shriek on insufficient grounds. Often he would meet groups of the miners on their way to the Colmar Arms laughing and talking merrily. They had washed and changed their clothes after coming up out of the mine, having put in their "shift" of eight hours out of the twenty-four, at from eight to ten shillings a day. Many of them looked as if they had not a care in the world. Frequently he found himself envying them. He had left his own class–to do so had been the aim and the pride of his life. And yet, on this evening, after all that had come and gone, to sneak into a room where he could overhear men who belonged to his original rank in society, was the nearest approach to enjoyment which existence presented to him. He ground his teeth at the thought in a paroxysm of impotent rage, muttering half aloud, "God in heaven! is there nothing I can do to get out of this notehole?"

He had of late been troubled with a dull aching in his head and eyes. To-night the latter were worse, with that acute sensation as of hot sand below the eyelids which foretold an attack of sandy blight.note He rose and turned the light low, so as to relieve the tension of his eyesight. Then he lay down on the couch, with his face to the wall. Someone in the bar-room was playing a plaintive air on a zither; when it was ended there was a shout of applause, and several men spoke at once, asking the musician to have a drink in the various forms of invitation popular at the mine.

"Give it a name, old boy!"

"Have one with me, Hans."

"Would you like a bath, or notesuthin' stiff?"

"Nominate your pizen,note mate!"

Trevaskis was astonished to find the voices penetrate the bar-parlour as distinctly as if the door were open. He went to see whether it was ajar, and found it was closed and bolted as usual. But the upper half, which was of glass, covered with a dingy cretonne curtain, had been broken in some recent scuffle. Hence all that passed in the bar-room was perfectly audible in the little parlour.

"Mein Gott! I gannot trink mid you all at once, my frents–von

  ― 182 ―
at a dime, if you blease," said the musician.

"You better have a good blow out while you can, Hans," said one of the men; "Roby will be making a blue-ribboner of you soon–now that he's got you to play at his Saturday concerts."

"Ach Gott, even such a goncerts is better than notenodings," answered Hans. "I haf few books, and I read small English. I do not get on fast mid your yellow packs."note

"And little good they are when a bloke does read 'em," said one, in a tone of conviction. "It's allays the same sort o' onpossible chaps and females, with a lot o' rot about the sun notegoing down, as if 'e didn't every day follow out the same lines, since he first got 'is billet. . . . Now in my hopinion if you gives yourself over to be a liard, you ought to spin a good stiff yarn out o' your own 'ead. It's laziness and not the fear o' Gord as makes 'em steal old lies noteisstid o' making up new ones."

"You're not far wrong, sonny," said an elderly man in an encouraging tone. "For my own part, I'd more rather go to a gospel shopnote 'n read a notenovel. One puts me to sleep sooner 'n t'other."

"Does Roby hold forth on Sundays as much as he used to?" said a man, whose voice Trevaskis thought he recognised, though he could not quite identify it.

"More so, from all I 'ears," answered one of the miners. "As for I, I gives un a wide berth. Go to 'ear a effigee of a man like 'e bawling out what 'e felt and what 'e thought and what 'e did? Not much. Ef 'e trampled on 'is conscience and 'is female, why can't the bloomin' idjit keep it to 'isself? Wash your dirty linen to 'ome,note say the old proverb, and ef your soul is dirty, wash that to 'ome too, say I."

"Brayvo, Circus Bill!" said one.

"Go it like a good un, old chap! Why, you could give us a stunning sermon off your own bat," said another.

"As for notesermings, I'd like to know what was the good of ever takin' out a patent for 'em, from the beginning," said another. "I was one Sunday in town, wandering about, and I sees a place with notea door open and people goin' in. I followed 'em. There was Bibles, and hymn-books, and other utensils more or less

  ― 183 ―
religious, but not a soul said a word for 'arf an hour by my watch. At the end o' that, I got nervous like, and I came away. Someone told me noteafterwards they was Quakers.note If ever I jines a church it 'll be them, where people sits quiet and decent, keeping holy the Sabbath day, instead of setting a silly man to give a lot o' foolish jaw that no one minds."

There was some laughter as the speaker ended, and then a man, in a thick crapulous voice, declared his conviction that all this chapel-going and preaching and creeds and Bibles was a made-up thing to keep notepeople from enjoying themselves over some liquor.

Someone remonstrated, saying in a reflective tone that in the old days "the 'eathen rubbed ile into the karkiss of Christians, and put a lucifer match to them–and yet they went on spreadin'."

"And then what sort of enjoyment is it?" said another, who spoke with a strong Scotch accent; "pouring a lot of raw speerits down your throat till you're a beast, and then sleeping till you wake up a poor sick creature with a conscience like the undying worm."note

"Ach Himmel! dat is von way to trink," said the German. "Bud in mein gountry it noteis not so. There two kameraden will sit for a whole day and night making joy and singing over their schoppen. In Ausdralia if von trink doo mooch id is notethe teufel; bud if von trink doo mooch in notethe Vaterland,note id is yoost right."

At this juncture the company in the bar was joined by a stranger.

"I'm blowed if it isn't Van Diemen's Nick!" said the landlord.

"Holloa, Nick, have you turned up too, old man?" said the voice which Trevaskis half recognised.

"You here, Oxford Jim?" cried the new-comer in a tone of surprise. "Why, I thought you was far away, looking for the colour of gold among limestone ridges somewheres."

"No, mate, I'm here instead. I'm going to take up a new line: write epitaphs, irrespective of the character of the deceased, for bereaved families, or something of that sort. I got kind of tired of regions red with black men's blood and stained with white men's crimes."note

  ― 184 ―

"That be damned for a yarn! You haven't been much beyond Broombush Creek all the time. Now, West, you look sharp, and give me a grown man's dose of your best Three-star brandy, dark," said Van Diemen's Nick, in an authoritative voice.

The landlord, who was seldom sober after dark, broke into a string of lurid adjectives, winding up with the request:

"Pay me the three pound ten you owe me first!"

"I don't owe you a notesanguinary copper, not a farden,note and you knows it, you cheatin' notevagabond!" shouted Nick.

There was a scuffle amid loud exclamations; Trevaskis blew out the lamp which was on the mantelpiece, and standing by the door that led into the bar, lifted a corner of the cretonne curtain to watch the proceedings. West had jumped over the bar and seized Nick by the shoulders. They were separated by those who stood nearest them; the landlady, half crying now, stood behind the bar imploring her husband not to make another row.

"Come, come, Nick! don't spoil good comradeship in this way," said the man who was known as Oxford Jim, speaking in the half ironical tone habitual to him.

Trevaskis, on catching sight of him, at once recognised his old instructor in the arts of spelling and correct pronunciation.

"I don't want to spoil no good comradeship, but I noteorder this notevarminnote of a man to give me the refreshment I order. He's bound by his license to shelter man and beast and give nourishment when it's ast for."note

"I won't do neither till you pay me; and you've come without a copper to blesh yourself, as usual. I know you–you old penniless tramp!" shouted West.

"I'm an old penniless tramp, am I?" retorted Nick. "Well, now, I'll just give you a lesson!"

He disengaged himself from Oxford Jim as he spoke, and thrust his right hand under the soiled blue woollen jumper he wore.

"Oh, hold 'im! hold 'im!" shrieked the landlady; "he's got fire-arms; don't you see them a-bulging out all round of 'im?"

The landlord retreated behind the bar, and opening a small door which communicated with the back premises of the inn,

  ― 185 ―
called out, "'Arry, 'Arry, 'Arry!" in thick stentorian tones.

A dragglednote and scared-looking maid-servant appeared at the door.

"I want the ostler!" roared the landlord. "Tell him to go at once for Wills, the police-trooper. This very instant, mind! Tell him there's a harrest to be made."

Trevaskis, standing in the darkness holding back a small portion of the curtain, watched Nick's noteproceedings with growing interest. He saw him take a long thick looking package, wrapped up in a red cotton handkerchief, from underneath his blue jumper.

"Have you got the police-trooper handy, West?" he cried in a shrill voice that had in it a strange note of notetriumph.

The landlord, backing away a little while his wife notepassed in front of him, watched the man's proceedings with undisguised alarm.

"noteYou had better play none of your revolver pranks 'ere, or, as sure as your name is old Nick––"

"Call the trooper, I say! Let him bring his revolver. You noteallus gives people in charge that has stuff like this."

He was untying one end of the irregular-shaped parcel as he spoke. All eyes were fastened on him. Slowly he unfolded the soiled red cotton handkerchief.

"That's the sort of thing that gets a bloke into the "tin Maria"note in this part of the world, ain't it, mates?" he cried, his voice almost rising into a yell of triumph, as he flung a large piece of heavy metal on the bar. It fell with a dull thud, and lay where it fell with a deep dull yellow glitter.

"By the Lord in heaven, it's all pure gold!" cried one of the men nearest the bar, in a tone of incredulous wonder, taking up the nugget. It passed from hand to hand, while the bar-room became full of confused and broken murmurs. The landlord stood looking on, eyes wide open, mouth agape, notewhen Nick turned to him with a violent imprecation, crying:

"Now, perhaps, you'll give me what I ast you for?"

West carried out the order as to the dose of Three-star brandy

  ― 186 ―
without a single comment.

Where had Nick been prospecting? Was there much gold? Was this all? How far away from the Colmar Mine? Did anyone else know of his find? To all of which Nick returned no answer, beyond smiling blandly and putting his forefinger significantly against his nose.

"This weighs over seventy ounces," said the landlord, when he had at last got possession of the nugget, holding it as he spoke in the notepalm of his two hands.

"So this is what you were up to, Nick, when you were lying low and keeping dark all these weeks! It was rather hard to put me off the scent, though, and let me waste the sweetness of my old age among these billabong coursesnote behind the––"

"Don't let the cat out of the bag, Jim!" cried Nick. "I'll give you a nugget or two, noteold bloke, and some horiginal promoters' shares in my new company."

"Thank you, Nick, thank you kindly," answered Oxford Jim. "Why, man, this nugget alone will enable you to sit on a post and swill beer among the aristocracy of Colmar for a year to come!"

"Do you think I've got no better idea than that of enjoying myself?" said Nick indignantly. "Ah, you're allays makin' game of a chap, and I think you're a little jealous, after all! You said you was getting the colour of gold where you stayed so many weeks behind Broombush Creek."

"Broombush Creek–Broombush Creek!" The name passed from one to the other; one or two made a motion towards the door, as if they would set out for the place there and then.

But Nick took no notice. He kept his eyes fixed on Jim as he said, in a dogged tone:

"Come, man, let's see the colour you got. Show it to us! This is not my only nugget; I've plenty more where this came from!"

As Nick spoke he put down three more nuggets on the bar. The men around began to look at him with a new expression on their faces. He was a small, lean man, with a flat, battered sort of face, who had led a flat, battered sort of life from his first entrance into the world. He had been for years prowling about in auriferous districts, chiefly because he had a rooted dislike to steady work. He ran up scores in the inns and stores that would give him

  ― 187 ―
credit, and then disputed the validity of the claims. His face and hands were perennially stained with earth; no one had ever seen him in clean clothes. The one solace of his existence had hitherto been to obtain a bottle of strong drink, and lose all thought and capacity of action in those strange bouts of absence from consciousness which we term drunkenness. And now, in the midst of the base and sordid accidents notethat made up the record of his years, this strange thing happened to him. Alone in the arid desert, grubbing in the dirt, he had accidentally come upon a certain heavy glittering metal, more precious to the majority of his kind than the loftiest achievements of human genius, the progress of science, or the perfection of holiness. Nick enjoyed the unusual importance of being looked at without pity or contempt. Added to this, the old brown brandy, of which he had imbibed what he called "a grown man's dose," noteadded something to his feeling of importance. As he watched the crowd of men in the bar-room pressing round his nuggets, he turned once more to Oxford Jim.

"Show us the colour you got, Jim, do!"

"Well, I don't mind if I do, since you are so pressing," answered the man thus addressed, as he rose to leave the bar.

He came towards the door leading into the bar-parlour, in which Trevaskis stood absorbed in listening to and observing all that passed. But before Jim reached the door the landlord interposed eagerly:

"Come this way, mate–it's the nearest way to your room."

As Jim disappeared through the door behind the bar, West said in an exultant voice:

"I bet you a drink all round this chap's got somethin' worth lookin' at. He come here early this mornin' with a tumble-down little one-'orse cart, and an 'orse as you could count note'is ribs arf a mile away; and he carries two or three swags into note'is room, and locks it most careful behind 'im when he goes out."

No one made any reply to this; all eyes were fixed on the door through which Jim had disappeared. A curious silence had fallen on the noisy crowd. Each one believed, without knowing exactly why, that the man who had accepted Nick's challenge with an air

  ― 188 ―
so self-contained and unboastful had something to show worth looking at.

In a few minutes he reappeared, carrying a bundle folded up in a blue blanket in his arms. A low murmur broke from the lookers-on.

Jim stood by the counter and unstrapped his bundle. The men pressed round him like a swarm of bees. Trevaskis, secure in the darkness of his retreat and the absorbed excitement of all the men, stood close to the door looking on with rising emotion.

"There, that's one bit of colour, Nick!" said Oxford Jim, holding up a great nugget of gold that weighed nearly a hundred ounces.

There was a hushed, breathless silence for a brief space, and then a wild shout went up, and there was soon a babel of distracting cries.

"Hip, hip, hooray! our fortune's made!"

"You wasn't working far apart, you two!"

"Mein Gott, noteis vas drue all de notedimes. I notewas begin to tink Ausdralie was like other goundries, where von vork hard for liddle pay and no bleasures. But now I see it mid mein own eyes. . . . A man can get a gread lump of gold down in the dirts widout no governments!" said the German.

"There's plenty more gold where these nuggets were found. They're the biggest ever seen in the Colony. Here's news for you, Ben, here's news for you!" cried one to a newcomer who entered at that moment.

He was a correspondent for one of the daily newspapers in town, and no sooner had he seen the notenuggets and heard the tale of their discovery, and noteheard that the lucky diggers had been working in the vicinity of Broombush Creek, than he rushed off to the telegraph-office to endeavour to send a late message to town.

"There will be a great rush in no time; and we'll all be off to the diggings. Hurrah, hurrah for the new diggings!"

The cry was taken up on every side. When the tumult had a little subsided, Oxford Jim said, in a tone of quiet conviction:

"Well, now, you fellows who are miners at the Colmar Mine,

  ― 189 ―
noteyou better buy up the old cave room and search it well. You'll find it a better spec than going off to the new diggings, I can tell you!"

There was a roar of laughter at this; but Trevaskis, whose blood seemed to be on fire at sight of the gold, and who knew Oxford Jim well enough of old to feel sure he did not speak in jest, stole out of the bar-parlour unseen and unobserved, resolved that he would on this very night see for himself whether there was any truth in his words.

  ― 190 ―

4. Chapter IV.

When Trevaskis left the Colmar Arms, his intention was to go at once into the cave room and make a vigorous search without a moment's loss of time. On reaching the mine he found it was nearly eleven o'clock. According to his usual habit, he went across to the mouth of the shaft, and saw the night shift go below.

This was composed of thirty miners in all. To a man they were greatly excited by the news, which had already spread, of the pure nuggets exhibited in the bar-room by two diggers who had been prospecting not far from the mine.

"I got gold gravel there myself two year ago, out of which I made a ten-pun note,"note said one man not given to boasting or idle speech.

Ten of the men there and then gave notice of their intention to leave at the end of two days–the shortest notice which they could give without forfeiting wages.

"If I were wise, I'd throw up my billet here, and make for Broombush Creek before the rush sets in," thought Trevaskis, as he recalled some of his past experiences at newly-found alluvial diggings. Various schemes flitted before his mind. One was to ride across at daylight to Broombush Creek, and make an examination of the vicinity for himself.

With his long experience and practical knowledge of gold diggings, there might be a certain fortune for him in that place, if he pegged out a good claimnote and telegraphed to the directors of the Colmar noteMine to accept his resignation from the earliest possible moment. He was so engrossed with these plans that, when he went into the cave room and looked around at its huddled confusion, his first impulse was to leave it without wasting any time on such a wild-goose chase.

The excavation was at its highest from nine to ten feet in height. The roof sloped away irregularly, extending on the north

  ― 191 ―
or reef side in a sort of low wide passage a little over three feet in height. The floor in the main body of the place was littered with old mine tools and disused machinery. Only the middle part was kept clear. Here there was a space of ten feet by twelve, covered with a square of linoleum. In the centre stood a small deal table, a canvas-back lounging chair, a stool, etc. Close to the table there was a large shoe-trunk, on which were placed two or three old cases with empty and half-empty bottles, containing various chemicals, such as nitric and sulphuric acid, mercury, borax, and carbonate of soda. There were, besides, strips of buckskin, canvas, and chamois leather.note At a little distance from this space, and near the entrance, stood a bunk with a narrow paillasse and one or two rugs over it. Close to it stood the invalid-chair, covered with dust.

Trevaskis placed the lantern he had brought on the small deal table, and turned over the contents of these cases. The last he examined contained the usual solvents for gold, and all that was necessary for assaying it by cupellation.note He was familiar with the way in which some men became infatuated in the matter of experimenting with gold and with the minerals that notecontained it. He perceived that some of the previous managers of the mine had been bitten with this mania. Webster, probably, in particular, the man who was now in the lunatic asylum, constantly raving about the three hundredweight of gold which had at one time been in his possession. All this would be more than sufficient to account for the stories in circulation as to the treasures of the cave room.

As this thought passed through Trevaskis' mind, he glanced round at the piles of discarded or worn-out machinery, elliptical sheet-iron buckets, broken hand-pumps, a little champion rock-drill with the cylinder smashed, a double-ended boring hammer, a few roll-picks, long-handled shovels, claying bars,note noteetc. Then he looked with some attention at the two furnaces close to the western side. He found they were fixed in a strong and workmanlike manner. As he was examining these, he noticed a water-tap in the wall hard by. This tap was very stiff, but after some pressure he succeeded in turning it, and water poured out. So, then, it was connected by a line of underground pipes with the

  ― 192 ―
tank at the end of the offices, which was supplied with water from the main tank of Colmar.

It suddenly struck Trevaskis that a tremendous amount of ingenuity and labour had been expended on this place in one way or another. Could it all have been the freak of a man notegoing mad? "I don't believe it," he said to himself half aloud.

Then, for the first time, Trevaskis became convinced that some person or persons had carried on experiments to a singular extent in this place. This conviction made him begin to search in a methodical and careful manner.

He began with the large shoe-trunk. Having removed the cases that were on top, he tried to open it, but found that it was locked. A nearer examination showed that the lock was of the frail description usually found noteon such trunks. He further noticed that a small label was gummed on the top of the trunk. On wiping away the dust which covered it, he found that this label bore Dunning's name. He could not open the trunk without forcing the lock. After a brief pause he resolved to do this. Looking round the room, he soon found a hammer and a chisel. With a few blows he broke the hasp and noteopened the lid.

The trunk was almost empty. There were some papers, some half-worn clothes, a large bottle of laudanum,note almost full, and a bunch of keys–five in all, two very small. Trevaskis took these out and looked around with increasing interest. It seemed unlikely that these keys should be kept here unless they were used to open boxes stored in the same place. There notewas a pile of wood and some bags heaped up near the furnaces. He turned the bags over, and found that they contained coke. There were six bags in all, and as he displaced the last he noticed that the ground close to it, in a southerly direction, was slightly raised. He instantly got a double-pointed pick to turn the earth over. At the first stroke he felt the concussion of the pick against a hard unyielding surface. Upon this, he got a shovel and worked more cautiously. In less than two minutes he had uncovered the lid of a large strong wooden box. It was fixed in a recess in the ground, and in front there was a slight cavity facing the lock. The largest of the keys fitted it, and Trevaskis turned it with a somewhat

  ― 193 ―
unsteady hand.

This box, unlike the other, was quite full. On top there was a suit of clothes which seemed very much out of place in a receptacle so jealously guarded. To wit: an old well-worn gray overcoat, very large, and not free from stains; a pair of dark moleskin trousers, with some earth-stains; a soft brown felt hat with a large brim, and a corduroy waistcoat. Trevaskis regarded these articles with some wonder. They were exactly of the kind that old Bushmen have by them as a best suit. After putting these aside, the next object that attracted his attention was a large carpet-bag. He took it by the handle to lift it out with one hand, but he could not move it without a strong effort.

"There's gold in it! there's gold in it!" he cried in a voice hoarse with excitement. His hands trembled as he fitted one of the small keys into the lock. But though he uttered the words over and over again, and in a manner believed them, the sight that met his eyes when the bag was fairly opened, and the upper layers of cloth removed, fairly took away his breath.

There were in all seventy-eight nuggets of gold, each folded in a piece of buckskin. Some of them weighed from seven to ten ounces, others a few pennyweights. He unwrapped them one by one, till they were all uncovered, lying in a great heap of almost pure gold. As Trevaskis looked at this, his breath came fast and thick, his lips were dry and parched, his head dizzy.

"It isn't Colmar gold–it's nugget-gold.note It's the gold that Webster took from the tributers near Hooper's Luck!" he said in a low, horrified whisper. And close on this came the thought that this gold was stained with blood, and that he would not touch it, that he dared not take it for his own. But the thought carried no conviction with it, and died away almost as soon as it arose.

Some of the kindly old divines who write with ardour of the beneficence with which the world is governed, would have us believe that temptations are sent in proportion to the degree of man's strength to resist them.note When we leave the optimism of the cloister, we are unfortunately met by the fact that many temptations come with cruel psychological exactness at the moment when the one who is tempted is least able to bear the strain. Never before had gold, and all that it can buy, been so passionately coveted by Trevaskis as on this night.

"There must be two thousand pounds' worth of nuggets here,"

  ― 194 ―
he thought, taking notethem up one after the other slowly. Then a hazy recollection shot across his mind, of having seen an old pair of scales notesomewhere among the débris around. In a few moments he had discovered them, with the weights, hard by, wrapped in a piece of brown paper. To weigh the nuggets of gold, from the largest to the smallest, was the work of a quarter of an hour. There were five hundred and forty ounces in all, and so little of quartz or foreign mineral matter that barely twenty ounces need be deducted on this score. Yes, there notewere over two thousand pounds' worth, all ready packed in this carpet-bag!

There could be no doubt that it was the gold notethat Webster had committed murder for; and after Searle told his tale to Dunning, the late manager had discovered the gold here. Was there any more? What of those ten months during Webster's management when the weekly yield of the Colmar Mine had fallen from a thousand ounces a week to less than six hundred? What about Searle's statement as to the strange diminution in the amalgam? In face of the possibilities that these thoughts suggested, the gold he had discovered began to appear but as a paltry stop-gap in Trevaskis' eyes. For the first time in his life, a feeling of voracious, overpowering avarice seized him. Gold, gold, in masses, in heaps, in quantities to represent twenty or thirty thousand pounds! This was what would really mean restored wealth and prosperity for him. Was it, perhaps, hidden in heaps somewhere within this cave room? Was it for nothing that these furnaces had been so firmly fixed, and all the requisites for smelting gold provided?

Trevaskis, feeling as if his brain were on fire, renewed his search in the box with feverish haste. But very soon he was arrested by a strange and ghastly object. After removing a large flat portfolio, which lay under the carpet-bag, there was a square wooden box without a lid, the top covered over with several layers of tissue paper. In the act of removing these, Trevaskis became conscious of a faint, sickly odour. The next moment, as he lifted a sheet of paper, he caught a glimpse of human hair. He stared at the sight for a moment, in incredulous dismay. Then he removed the last sheet. Now there could be no mistake about it.

  ― 195 ―
The back of a human head, with long, thick gray hair straggling at the ends, lay fully revealed, and the nauseous smell had increased.

Trevaskis retreated some steps. The sweat stood in great cold drops on his forehead; his whole body was notelike a branch of shaking leaves. Should he replace the articles he had taken out of the box, close it, and flee? The thought of murder had been present with him from the moment he had sighted the nuggets. Involuntarily he had been, from time to time, on the track of the man who had ridden so hard to Hooper's Luck, and then back with these gold nuggets, leaving behind him a man stark and stiff, with his head horribly battered. Was this the evidence of another crime?

Trevaskis could not have told how long he stood overcome with horror and a feeling of miserable irresolution, when a sudden sullen reverberating sound seemed to shake the earthen walls and roof that environed him. He started violently, overcome with guilty fear. The next moment he knew that it was the sound of a blast in the mine, and with this the thought of his surroundings arose before him as vividly as they had pressed on his mind when he lay in the semi-obscurity of the bar-parlour in the Colmar Arms.

He closed the lid of the strong box hurriedly, and carried the portfolio and the carpet-bag containing the gold to the little deal table. On opening the portfolio he soon saw that it contained some of Dunning's private papers and letters. Among the latter he took one up at hazard, and began to read it without any thought of making a discovery that should affect his present position. It began with expressions of gratitude for the hospitality and kindness which the writer had received at the Colmar Mine, during a visit of four or five weeks.

"And now let me tell you," said the writer on the second page, "that so far from having forgotten our talk the night before I left, as you seem to fancy, I have been more successful in carrying out my commission than I could have hoped. My dear boy, you may consider that your bet of £200 with your old Sandhurstnote mate is in your pocket! I tell you what, old man–I'll stake my professional reputation as a man of thirty, whose fate it is to take

  ― 196 ―
the part of an aged father and a doting grandfather more frequently than any other rôles, that the wig and beard I send you, coupled with a few other precautions, will render you absolutely unrecognisable."

"The wig!" repeated Trevaskis half aloud, with a dawning light in his eyes. In a moment he was back again at the strong box. He opened it and pulled out what looked like a human head. It was a wig, and under it was a long gray beard and moustache. At the bottom of the box lay a dead rat. Trevaskis hauled it out by the tail and flung it with all his might to the further end of the cave room. Then, with a feeling of growing triumph, the elation of a man who is gradually assured of victory, he returned to the table and began to turn over the other contents of the portfolio.

Presently he came upon a plan of the cave room–an exact drawing that showed the conformation of the hanging wall and the floor, with well-defined circles in sixteen spots, five of them in the narrow passagenote running northward. Trevaskis took one of the picks and dug cautiously, but with extraordinary rapidity. In a very short time he unearthed a large strong blue glass bottle, of the kind known as notethe Winchester pint.note It was closed with a glass stopper, and over this was tied several folds of newspaper. The bottle contained a solid grayish mass of matter, being about three-quarters full. It was amalgam. The quantity in the bottle Trevaskis briefly reckoned was worth one thousand three hundred pounds. If there were sixteen of these hidden in the cave room, the total value would be something over twenty thousand pounds!

His brain reeled at the thought. For a few moments a sort of paralysis of mind and body overtook him. He felt like one who in a dream stands upon a precipice where one false step may be fatal. The treasure was within his grasp: only, in the first moment of success, his joy and elation were quenched by the thought that in a few days Fitz-Gibbon would, as he had said, make a thorough search! But with the thought rose a fierce determination to prevent this in some way or another–in some way or another to secure the wealth around him. But the first thing was to make sure that it was here. With this thought, Trevaskis set to work once more. The five spots marked on the

  ― 197 ―
plan as being in the northern passage each yielded up its precious deposit of a large bottle containing, on the average, half a hundredweight of amalgam, which would, when retorted and smelted, yield about forty-two per cent. of gold.

After that, Trevaskis turned over one by one the other spots marked on the plan. Not one failed; each held its own share of the treasure. As he looked around, making calculations, and adding up the amount of this strange and suddenly discovered wealth, Trevaskis' attention was attracted by the look of the bottles which had been hidden in the northern passage. They looked much fresher than the rest. The notenewspapers which notewere tied round the stoppers, though earth-stained, notewere not worn. He unwrapped one of these. It contained a date, and the date went back no further than three months. At sight of this, Trevaskis gave a low ironical laugh.

"So it wasn't only Webster, and the other fellow before him . . . for I'm certain the one who first began to creep into this place was stealing the amalgam . . . it was the extremely able and clever and trustworthy Dunning as well," he thought. And then for the first time some misgivings, questions, scruples and remorseful qualms overtook him. One by one he replaced the bottles, and lightly covered them over. Then he went back to the strong wooden box. He turned over the wig and examined it attentively. He slipped it on his head, and found that it fitted him as if he had been measured for it, coming well down on his forehead and the back of his neck. There were fastenings in the wig a little above each ear, noteon which the patriarchal-looking whiskers and moustache noteshould be fastened. Trevaskis replaced both carefully in the wooden box without a lid. Close beside this he noticed a smaller one; it was locked, but the second of the two small keys fitted the lock. On opening the box he found it contained a fluid for darkening the skin, an adhesive gray powder for the eyebrows, and a crayon for deepening wrinkles. There was half a sheet of paper, with instructions on these points written in the same handwriting as the letter regarding the wig.

It was apparent, then, that, on the pretext of winning some bet, Dunning, the able, honest, and trustworthy manager, had

  ― 198 ―
through his actor friend secured the means of completely disguising himself. At the bottom of the sheet of instructions, Trevaskis read the words, "The wig and whiskers are those of a hairy old man who had been for some time remote from a barber. I think it would be well, in making your eyebrows gray, to brush them backward with a weak solution of gum. This will not only give them a hairy aspect, but aid materially in giving a different aspect to the eyes."

"He intended to go away the very day after that on which he was killed," reflected Trevaskis. "He was going to Melbourne, and going to take this nugget gold with him; that would be less suspicious than the amalgam. In fact, to sell amalgam would mean to be marked at once as a thief––"

Trevaskis paused at the word, and then uttered it half aloud: "A thief." It had an ugly sound. Yes, Dunning's plans had all been carefully laid; so were the plans of the men who had got the gold on tribute at Hooper's Luck; so were Webster's plans. As the ugly sequence of murder, insanity, and sudden death rose before him, Trevaskis felt an impulse to take a solemn oath not to touch this gold, to let it come to the company to whom it belonged of right, to let Fitz-Gibbon discover the lot, all but the nuggets, which would in the natural course of events revert to Dunning's heirs, when they came to claim the property he had left at the mine. It was so much mixed up with the company's property that it would be difficult in some cases to decide which was which. Another fact that had come to Trevaskis' knowledge, since he had been at the Colmar Mine, was that the directors had made an advance of salary to Dunning, to the extent of £150, a few weeks before his sudden death. Hence all his books, papers, and belongings were kept as security by the company, till a brother of Dunning's in one of the other colonies, with whom they had communicated, should repay the amount and claim the late manager's belongings.

Trevaskis pictured to himself this man's surprise and delight on finding that a box in an underground lumber-room contained over two thousand pounds' worth of gold; he pictured to himself Fitz-Gibbon's excitement and wonder on finding this great store of stolen amalgam. What a commotion there would be among the shareholders! Yes, it would be a nine days' wonder, and then it would be forgotten, and things would go on as usual,

  ― 199 ―
and he would remain in miserable exile in the heart of the Salt-bush country. Such a chance as this did not come in a man's way twice in a lifetime.

"Ah, what shall I do, what shall I do?" he cried, suddenly flinging himself down on the bunk that was close to the entrance into the room. His temples and pulses were throbbing stormily. His mind was in a whirl. He started up after a few minutes, and took up a double-pointed pick, with the purpose of beginning there and then to dig a great hole in which to hide all the amalgam. But the next moment he threw down the pick with a bitter smile at the senility of the plan. No possible hiding-place could be devised with any certainty of being secure, in a place that would be subjected to a "thorough search" by one looking for a treasure. His thoughts wandered to other modes of secreting this fortune. All around lay hundreds of miles of waste and uninhabited country. And yet there was no safety, no security, for such a treasure as this, except in the bowels of the earth, in a place locked against accident and design.

"If I could retort the amalgam in here. . . if I had even a month to turn round in. . . I could take up a claim somewhere near, and carry the gold away–according to Webster's plan. Once I had the gold in my possession, safe away from here––Oh, I'll do it, I'll do it, somehow or another, somehow or another––"

Trevaskis was pacing up and down rapidly, restlessly, with something of the fierceness of a caged animal, when suddenly a shrill whistlenote broke the silence. He drew out his watch and stared at it incredulously. It seemed impossible that this should be the summons at six o'clock in the morning for the miners who were to take the place of the night-shift an hour later. His watch had stopped, he had forgotten to wind it up; but he now noticed that the candle, which he had put into the lantern whole, was burning low. He stood for a moment irresolute. Then he took the carpet bag, containing the nugget gold, out of the box, and after shutting it he sprinkled some shovelfuls of earth over the lid. Taking the lantern, he went out of the cave room and into the passage, the long, narrow iron passage, whose length had won Searle's fond admiration. Now its purpose was apparent. It had been built by Webster so that he could pass to and fro, when he was robbing the mine and contemplating his ill-gained possessions, screened from observation.

  ― 200 ―

When he reached the first little square window, Trevaskis found that the sun was rising. As his eyes encountered the clear morning light, he became conscious of a sharp, smarting pain in them. The excited vigils of the night had made them worse. Yet so engrossed was he with the thought of his strange discovery, that as soon as he reached his office, and had locked the door leading into the passage, and put the gold into the strong safe in his office, his first act was to walk slowly down beside the passage, to examine its construction more closely, and to see whether any of the sheets of iron were loose. As he looked in at one of the little windows, he noticed for the first time that they were furnished with blinds of dark-green American leather.note These were now closely wound up, so that he had not previously noticed them.

"Ah, he forgot nothing!" thought Trevaskis, still gazing in at the little window.note At that moment he heard approaching footsteps, and a cheery voice calling him by name, which he recognised as Fitz-Gibbon's.

  ― 201 ―

5. Chapter V.

"Good-morning, captain! Have you been having a look at the new claim? I dreamt last night there was a tremendous heap of gold there. If that's true, you'll be forced to take it seriously, you know," said Victor.

Trevaskis could not afterwards recall what his answer was to Fitz-Gibbon's remarks, as they walked together across to the offices. He retained his wits sufficiently, however, to avoid the common intriguer's folly of over-reaching himself by elaborate explanations of what might be taken for granted. The iron passage and the underground room were in his charge–under his sole key; and the conversation that had taken place might naturally have led him to view them with more interest. "Whatever I do in this affair, I must always try to seem unconcerned and on the square," he thought.

"You are up very early to-day," he said, as they drew near the offices.

"Yes, I'm going for a notegood long ride. I couldn't sleep, somehow, once the daylight dawned this morning."

Anyone observing Victor would have noticed a look of curious preoccupation in his face. Now and then he seemed to be on the point of smiling, and then he would knit his brows and walk a little faster, as if pursuing a troublesome thought, which he was determined to bring down. He went into the office for his riding-whip, and when he stood within the threshold he looked around inquiringly. Was it only a few hours since he had gone out of this room and walked down to Stonehouse in the gathering twilight? As he rode through the fresh morning air, he went over all that had then happened for the hundredth time. He did not see the ashy plains lying in monotonous uniformity under the fresh blueness of the morning, nor the majestic sweep of the horizon all round where the gray earth seemed to be folded within the

  ― 202 ―
edges of the jewel-clear sky. He was going over the few simple events of the past evening minute by minute, word by word–nay, step by step–when, after leaving the office, he crossed the reef, not following either of the paths, but taking a longer route and approaching the house by the western entrance, instead of coming, as his wont was, by the southern end, where his own room stood with its separate door opening into the avenue that encompassed the house on every side.

The hope that led him to do this was fulfilled. Doris was on the veranda, looking towards the west, her face touched with that wistful inquiry which, since her mother's death, had come to be her more habitual expression when alone. It was the opportunity he wanted, because, as he told himself, it would be noteso intolerable to meet her before others, after that sad little first meeting and abrupt parting, without giving voice to something of the sympathy that had been pulsing in his heart ever since. There was no awkwardness in their meeting, for the moment Doris saw him drawing towards her, she turned to meet him with grave simplicity, without hesitation or embarrassment.

"I was so sorry, after you had gone on Saturday evening," she said, returning his bow and meeting his glance with the confiding notewide-eyed gaze of a child who has never known fear. There was no trace of tears now on the thick sweeping lashes; the sweet low timbre of the voice was not strained; and the pure soft oval cheeks were lightly touched with a faint peachy bloom.

"Not sorry on my account, I hope, unless because of my fearful stupidity," he answered. He tried to speak lightly; but he was so deeply moved that he was conscious of a treacherous unsteadiness in his voice. In the instant that her eyes met his, and that he heard the sound of her voice, he admitted to himself that, from the moment he had set eyes on her, he had been constantly thinking about her in one way or another, especially another,–that is, in roundabout, indirect, fugitive, unpremeditated ways.

"Your fearful stupidity? But when, then?" she said a little wonderingly.

"Why, when I wanted to say something to you so very much, that would make you feel a little better, and instead––"

"Ah, but, don't you know, sometimes nothing can make you

  ― 203 ―
feel better until you have cried all you want to," she said in a lower voice.

"But it is bad for one to grieve too much; and I am sure good and wise people can often say things that help one in trouble."

"What do they say?"

"Ah, you see, I am not one of them. I am not able to do more than feel I would do anything in the world to keep you from being sad."

"But what do you think they would say to you if you had lived all your life with your mother? You two together, and then––Ah, but you haven't–you came away from her, didn't you?"

"By George! she is not going to forget that against me," thought Victor, twirling the point of his moustache a little nervously.

"You see, it is because you are not a girl," Doris said half apologetically, feeling that she had perhaps reflected rather severely on her new acquaintance.

"But suppose good and wise people knew a girl," she went on, moved at the picture rising before her, and deeply in earnest in her inquiry––"one who had been with her mother day and night all her life, never away from her, and her mother was the noblest and notethe best and notethe dearest, always sweet and gentle, and doing everything that was good; and the mother was taken away, and the girl was left alone, and could never see her mother again as long as she was in this world; only sometimes when she slept her mother would come, and the girl would fold her arms tight so as not to be left alone again, but when she woke up they were empty? Oh, tell me what anyone could say to make the trouble less?"

Her lips were quivering, and there was an intensity of pathos in her voice which went direct to her listener's heart. Indeed, it is probable that this voice would have done that without the deep thrill that pervaded it. For a passing moment he feared that the keen edge of her grief would again overcome her. But he soon perceived that her sorrow was of that calm and pervasive kind which trains even the young and inexperienced into dignified self-restraint, which is swept away only by those flood-tides that arise when in solitude.

  ― 204 ―

What could anyone say to make the trouble less? Her great radiant eyes were raised to his face awaiting his reply. And he, instead of being able to make answer with some serene and lofty maxims culled from the sayings of saints or sages, was insanely asking how it was he had never before seen eyes anything at all like these, and then, where could these violets have grown, whose breath was around her with such delicate haunting fragrance? With an effort, he pulled himself together.

"I think they would say different things, you know, in different ages," he said, feeling acutely the abject lameness of his words. And then, a little inspired by the expectant look on Doris's face, he went on to say that in the old heathen world wise men bade people remember various things that should moderate human grief, but notethat Christians notedwelt on other thoughts, such as the happiness of those who notewere taken from us. "Not because they have left us, you know," said Victor, feeling acutely that he ought not to have ventured on a theme so little familiar to him.

Doris listened in grave silence, saying, as Victor finished talking:

"Ah! yes; that is what Mrs. Challoner and Kenneth say."

"Kenneth? Does he live anywhere near?"

Doris explained who her old friend was, and how they expected to see him on one of his rounds in the Colmar district in a few weeks. Then, after a little pause, inspired by a growing confidence in her new friend, whose voice and eyes were so full of gentle kindness, she said, a little hesitatingly:

"There is one thing, though, that often keeps me from being too sad: though mother cannot come back to me except in my dreams, I shall one day go to her–perhaps even soon."

She stopped, struck by the look of startled pain that came into Victor's face.

"Oh no; don't say that!" he cried imploringly.

"But, you know, we all must go away one day, just like the wood-swallows who used to come to Ouranie. To-day they would be in the trees singing and flying across the lake, with their pretty silvery breasts and wide dark wings, and to-morrow they would be all gone. One could never tell the reason why. The almond-trees would be loaded with blossom perhaps, the violets

  ― 205 ―
out thick, and the Indian doob grassnote would have lost the last bit of brown, down by the shores of Gauwari, where it grew so thick; and yet they went, because the day had come. . . . I do not believe you like what I am saying," she said, suddenly noticing that a wistfully pained look was still in his eyes.

"Yes; I would like anything you said. But I don't like you to think of such sad things; you are too young."

"But I am more than sixteen; and even little children often die–like that boy last week of poor Mrs. Doolan's."

"She was burnt out to-day. Did you know," said Victor, who, having escaped the notesnares of explaining how the good and wise administered consolation, was now anxious to divert Doris's thoughts from so grave a theme as that of departing from this world like a wood-swallow who forgets the secret of returning.

"Oh yes; Mrs. Challoner has had her brought here with her baby. She had only time to snatch it up and run outside. Would you like to see the baby?"

"No, thank you, not at all," answered Victor, with noteunnecessary fervour. It was not that he disliked babies more than the average of his sex, but there are moments when no noteinfantile charms can soothe the pain of an interruption.

"It is a very nice little thing; we are going to make clothes for it, and for the mother. It is not you who send men away from the mine, is it?"

"No. I just have to put down how many hours they work, and pay them, and help to clean up the gold, and so on."

"And which do you like doing best?"

"I like it best when the offices are locked and I come across to Stonehouse," said Victor, with a little smile.

"Yes, isn't it a nice house to be in this place?" said Doris, looking around, "and with trees round it! but they cannot get flowers to grow here. I sometimes feel as if I would be ill for flowers."

Victor's heart gave a sudden leap.

"What kind of flowers do you like best?" he asked, making a rapid calculation of how long it would take one of the best florists in town to make up a box of his rarest and choicest flowers to send on to the Colmar Mine.

  ― 206 ―

"I can hardly tell you; I think I like them all best in turn. If I said I liked roses best, I would at once think of violets, and then I would think of water-lilies–like those, with lovely waxen cups and saffron hearts, that grew in thousands on the edge of Gauwari. I like even orchids."

"Ah, then, you don't like orchids quite so much?"

"No, except, perhaps, white ones. All white flowers are so lovely. But I do not like any hot-house flowers as much as those that grow out in the sunshine, and in the light of the moon and the stars–where the birds sing, and the dawn comes red into the sky over the tops of the trees."

Doris paused suddenly, as if she had been betrayed into saying too much.

"Well, I never thought of it before," said Victor; "but now that you speak of it, how sickening it must be to be shut up with a thermometer and warm pipes, instead of being out where the dawn and twilight come! All the outlines become so visionary, and there is a faint, dreamy light. It is like a gentle swooning away, like things you half remember in a pleasant dream. I think these are the loveliest hours of all, especially in the woods."

"I am glad you think that," she answered quickly. "And have you noticed how there is always one bird that keeps on singing after the rest–very often a honey-bird, when the gum-trees are in blossom. Oh, do you know, I am really very idle," she said suddenly. "That poor woman who was burnt out," she went on in explanation, "has nothing left for herself and the baby. Her husband was sent away from the mine, and he is somewhere looking for work. She had two one-pound notes, and they were burnt too–everything gone. We noteare all doing some needlework for herself and the child."

A little later, when they were in the drawing-room that had been more especially set aside for Doris, the industry that prevailed was remarkable. Mrs. Challoner was changing one of her own serviceable dresses to fit the homeless woman; Euphemia was busied with another garment; and Doris worked with skilful, rapid fingers at a little pink dress. Challoner and Victor tried their skill one against the other at a game of chess. And always in the pauses during which his opponent studied the

  ― 207 ―
moves that might gain him the victory, the young man's eyes wandered round the room, noting some of the things that had before given its air of delicate culture and refinement to the Ouranie home. The rows of morocco-bound books in the dwarf bookcases of ebony, touched with gold moulding, ranged against the wall; the graceful antique vases; the rare china; the pictures; the delicately-carved fans; the brackets with their photographs of gently nurtured men and women; the soft, silken curtains that draped the windows; the branched candelabra of old massive silver, with their many-shaded candles diffusing a rosy light over the room, and above all, the exquisite young face with the heavy, upward curving eyelashes, casting a pathetic shadow under the radiant eyes–all these enchained Victor's eyes. It seemed like a dream, that a scene in such curious contrast with its outward surroundings should be found in the heart of the Salt-bush country, and closely neighboured by the Colmar Mine. Perhaps it was little wonder that once and again Victor came off second-best at chess on this evening.

"But still you have more skill than I have. I look for a beating the next time," said Challoner, as he gathered up the chessmen. Then, before going out to smoke on the veranda, he begged Doris to play a little. "You are just quite a Dorcas meetingnote to-night," he added, with his slow, benevolent smile. "So I'll only ask for that piece with the birds calling to one another."

On this, Doris put down the little pink dress and went to the piano. After a few preluding bars, she played one of those improvisations which her mother used to find so full of woodland charm. The flute-like warblings of the magpies as they sing, when the faint vapours that hover over the woods begin to swim out of sight in the clear dawn; the fan-tails' chorals of exceeding gladness; the sweet tinkling calls of the superb warblers,note first a solitary bird notetrilling its magical notes, then another and another, till all the air is rifted with ecstatic sounds–all were cunningly interwoven on a rippling accompaniment which Doris had transposed from an old cradle-song. Her mother had found delight in listening to her notereproduce these snatches of bird-songs, and this was the first thing the girl could bear to play after leaving Ouranie. She had played it over and over again,

  ― 208 ―
trying to fancy that it might somehow reach her mother's ears, and that it pleased her as in the old, happy days, till she had caught the keen, fluctuating nuances of bird-notes with marvellous precision.

Victor stood at the end of the piano, looking and listening as if spellbound.

"That was a little troop of singing honey-birds, I think, at the end," he said in a low voice, with a lambent glow in his eyes that was new to them.

"Yes; I was trying to remember how they called to each other when they first found our Murray wattlesnote in bloom down by the oleander bushes," answered Doris, in her gravely simple way.

"Do you know this bird?" she added, striking a few chords which made deep, re-echoing cries of hubuh huh! hubuh huh! with faint, hollow-sounding reverberations, very weird and solemn.

"Oh yes, I do," answered Victor eagerly. "Where did I hear them one Michaelmas vacation when I went to Mount Gambier? I remember now it was in the reedy marshes of the notedismal swamp.note That is the booming of the bittern. But I have never seen one."note

Doris, it turned out, had long watched for notesight of one by the shores of Gauwari, and after she had resumed her work, Victor sat on a chair near her to glean information as to the plumage and habits of the bittern. Rather a large bird, the neck very long, mottled chestnut-brown and black, with what avidity he learned these details! And then when the bittern was exhausted, his eyes fell on a chair-back bordered with the most grotesque little figures, outlined in light and dark crimson silks, others in pale and dark blue.

"What very strange-looking creatures these are!" he said, examining them closer.

A faint smile rose on Doris's face, and he guessed that the needle which flew so nimbly in her slender rose-tipped fingers was responsible for these funny little effigies in Chinese clothing.

"What can they be?" he asked, watching to see her look up.

"They are Gooloos,"note answered Doris, smiling more broadly,

  ― 209 ―
"and they used to live on the far side of the Wall of China."

"Most of them seem to be in great trouble. Are they friends of yours?"

"Oh, I do not like them very much; but I am sorry for them."

"Why are you sorry for them?"

"Because the poor little mites are always trying to do things they notebetter not."

"What sort of things?"

"To make shadows stay in the same place, to turn sunshine into fogs, to make the moon and the stars keep quite still, to teach the birds to count one, two, three, instead of singing."

"The poor Gooloos! And that is why so many of them are crying?"

"Yes, and because it is easier to hide their faces in their hands than to make them look properly sorry."

On this Victor laughed, softlynote saying:

"And yet, in all their grief, they have such lovely coloured robes."

"They must all keep their own colours,note you see; they belong to the crimson faith and the blue faith."

"What is their faith besides wearing pretty colours?"

"Oh, I think it is what they want other people to believe," answered Doris thoughtfully.

Victor smiled as he recalled it all. And yet, in thinking of Doris, even in solitude, the expression uppermost on his face was a deeply serious, appealing look. The austere silence of these vast plains began to insensibly colour his thoughts. Not even the cry of a bird or a breath of wind broke the stillness, which the golden sunshine, growing stronger and fuller, seemed to intensify–a stillness deep and breathless as that which broods over the landscape in the background of Raphael's "Vision of Ezekiel."note In such a scene, with an air so light and pure that one becomes unconscious of inhaling it, the mind which has not yet lost the freshness of youth is readily touched to finer issues than those that prevail in a grosser atmosphere.

What stores of buoyant fancies, what sunlight-enfolded thoughts, what radiant communion with Nature, the child must have possessed before the shadow of grief fell on her young life!

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But she would gradually noteoverlive this sorrow; she would laugh and be gay once more in the light of the sun. Happy the hours that would win her back to the unspoiled gladness of her childhood! So ran the thoughts of the young man; and then, in thinking of the maiden, a curious mood of exalted impersonal rapture grew on him–less keen than joy that is solely individual, but warmer and closer than the glow which comes at times with the onrush of thoughts as to the glad vague possibilities of life. The hunger which had at times gnawed at his heart, as if for wider and deeper emotion than he had yet known, was satisfied. And yet with this new-born felicity, the consciousness of disloyalty towards Helen, which had dismayed him in the tumult of his thoughts on first seeing Doris, was now absent. It was as though, in addition to all that he knew of good in life, he had suddenly come on a revelation of its ideal glamour and preciousness. The face and form, so exquisite in their beauty and innocence, seemed to him a type of that spiritual loveliness which man worships rather than dreams of possessing. He would see her from day to day; he would find out ways of serving her, of bringing the rare smile oftener into her face. He pictured her looking at the beautiful flowers for which she pined–white fragrant flowers. In two days from this he would bring them to her. His heart beat tumultuously at the thought.

Then, as he rode into Colmar and passed by the post and telegraph office, the thought struck him that he would save more than a day by telegraphing to the florist. The office would be open in half an hour. He left his horse in the stable of the Colmar Arms and went into the dining-room. He passed one or two groups of men in eager, excited talk about gold finds and diggings and large nuggets. But he was too much absorbed in his own thoughts to hear what was being said.

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6. Chapter VI.

"I've had a glorious ride, captain," he said, taking his accustomed place at the table, where breakfast awaited him. One sat reading a newspaper with his back to the window, whom Victor on entering took for Trevaskis. But on being thus addressed, he made his face visible above the paper, and Victor recognised the man he had seen at Broombush Creek on the previous Sunday.

"This is a pleasant surprise!" said Victor, and the two shook hands like old friends.

"You know my given name, with its Bush prefix, is Oxford Jim. Allow me to introduce myself in proper form–James Vansittart. Oh, so you're a Fitz-Gibbon? Are you any relation of the Captain Fitz-Gibbon who came out as aide-de-camp with Governor Somebody early in the sixties?note His youngest son? Well, in appearance you're a proper chip, etc.,note but otherwise the pendulum seems to have swung back. . . . You know what I mean. The father can't exist without clubs and high play, and all the other little effete sophistications of society. But the son returns to the primal sanities of life, grilled chops and steel forks at eight o'clock in the morning, and a pursership at the Colmar. . . . I'm waiting with some impatience for the captain. I'm going to keep on the laynote that he doesn't know me, you see. It's a little bit of comedy, and nothing is rarer in life. You pay for it at the theatre, but they give you instead a slavey with a smudge on her face.note I shall stay here for two or three weeks, probably. noteI've sent about a thousand pounds' worth of gold on with the trooper to a bank in town. . . . Of course you've heard all about the gold. I had a good mind to tell you on Sunday, but I was going to keep it a dead secret till I got to town and started a company. I'm not sure I hadn't some floating ideas of playing the big man, and riding in my carriage, and losing my memory when I saw some poor devil trudging it on foot who worked with me for a year and a half.

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Lord, Lord! what funny little guinea-pigs we all are!"

Vansittart laughed softly, and sipped a little coffee, but made no pretence of eating. He had discarded his digger's costume, and was attired in fresh white linen, and a tolerably fitting dark suit of clothes. He had also paid a visit to the barber, who combined his professional duties with a little temperance bar of what he called American drinks;note and the change that these little concessions to the usages of civilized society notehad effected notewere much to his advantage. But that curious expression of vagueness in his eyes had deepened rather than decreased. He had been smoking his long-stemmed pipe, and Victor was again sensible of that faint poppy-like odour which he had noticed the first time he was in Vansittart's company. He evinced also the same proneness to speech, falling into complacent monologues, in which his own observations seemed to afford him that glow of enjoyment book-lovers find in reading a favourite author.

When he found that Victor had not heard even a rumour of the exciting gold scene in the bar-room on the previous evening, Vansittart gave a graphic description of the event. Nothing had escaped him, except, of course, the man who had heard all in the next room, and whose part in the drama was to affect Victor in so unforeseen a manner. It was like notethose plans we form of life in which we leave nothing out except the master weaver, whose cunning threads are to form the most fateful pattern of our lives.

"I shouldn't wonder if you found a few of your miners non est note to-day," said Vansittart, looking out at the window towards the mine at the close of his narrative.

"Oh, if we have a dead-lock,note I'll turn digger myself," answered Victor gleefully.

"Here he comes; now for a little fun!" said Vansittart, taking his place at the table. "Another cup of coffee, if you please," he said to a maid who had come in with a fresh supply of chops.

Trevaskis came in hurriedly, and sat down with a slight nod to Victor. His eyes were bloodshot, his face flushed, and there was a tremulous motion in his hands which he could not wholly control. He stared at Vansittart for a moment, and then said with a forced smile:

"Haven't we met before, old man?"

  ― 213 ―

Vansittart returned his look with a blank expression. Then, with a slow smile, he said:

"You must have a good memory. I remember seeing you five years ago in a carriage going into Government House. There was a block,note and your coachman had to rein in his fiery steeds for three or four minutes. I was one of the vagabonds looking on, you know, feasting my eyes on the colonial aristocracy."

"I didn't see you then," answered Trevaskis, a deeper flush rising in his face.

"Oh, I met your eyes; I looked at you particularly, for I thought to myself, "Now, there's a man who was probably not born in the purple. But by thrift and industry, and fair-dealing and perseverance, he has made his way to the front ranks. He is one of the men the newspaper fellows call the backbone of this great, young, democratic country." "

"Stow your jaw!note what are you giving me such impudence for?" broke out Trevaskis savagely.

He had caught a passing smile on Victor's face, when, having finished breakfast, he took out his pocket-book to notephrase the telegram he was going to send when the office should open ten minutes later. . . . "It's a put-up thing between the two of them. He's taking notes to make a good story out of it, for his friends in town," was the thought that rose in Trevaskis' mind, and goaded him into notea sudden explosion of wrath.

"Impudence, my dear sir! I assure you I know my place better," answered Vansittart with unmoved suavity.

" "Bless the squire and his relations;
Give us, Lord, our daily rations;
Make us know our proper stations,"note

were the first lines I lisped. Probably they will be the last I shall breathe when I "shuffle off this mortal coil"note in some benevolent institution of your great democratic, etc., etc."

"I suppose the big nuggets have got into your head, Jim. No doubt you're one of the fellows who came here with the swags of gold last night, that everyone is talking about," said Trevaskis, trying to carry off the matter with the bluff, hearty manner of a

  ― 214 ―
man who can give and take a joke.

"Jim–and pray who is Jim?" said Vansittart in a tone of amazement, and drawing himself up with a haughty air.

"You say you do not remember the occasion on which I had the honour of seeing you, and yet you address me by my front name. I beg your pardon, sir, you have the advantage of me."

Trevaskis looked at Vansittart with baffled rage, and then glanced at Victor. But he was now oblivious of what was going on around him. They were a curious trio: Vansittart happy in the little farce he was acting, and revelling in the consciousness of his newly-found fortune, soothed into forgetfulness of the past by the treacherous nepenthenote with which he had learned to drug his mind against memories of his wasted life. Trevaskis with his brain inflamed by that cruellest of all lusts, the lust for gold; his imagination alternately on fire with inchoate schemes for getting possession of the treasure he had discovered, and dazzling visions of returning to his family, to his lost place in society as a man of money and influence; then dashed with cold fears by thoughts of the doom that had overtaken his predecessors. And with these two, the young man, immersed in one of those charmed episodes in which all the world is full of opening roses, and dreams that have more ideal bliss than any vision of happiness that is translated into the implacable prose of existence.

"I suppose the telegraph-office is open by this time," he said, glancing at his watch before he went out. The words brought a dew of cold perspiration out on Trevaskis' forehead. For a moment the certainty seized him that Vansittart had given such information regarding the underground room to Victor as had induced him to telegraph the news direct to his uncle. The next moment he notemade a mock of himself for his fears. "Remember the man's head and the dead rat," he said to himself; and this became a sort of rallying-point when moved by any sudden fear. Yet the hope that he might glean some inkling of what had passed between the two, induced him to make one more effort at a better understanding with Jim. But Vansittart, with a gleam of enjoyment in his eyes, rebuffed him as before, and left the dining-room a few minutes after Victor had gone.

"Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday." He counted over the

  ― 215 ―
days that might intervene till 'Zilla returned. Fitz-Gibbon would then expect to carry out his proposed search. The excitement about the new diggings, and the rush that would be certain to take place, might prevent his securing 'Zilla's help for a thorough examination for some little time, but would offer no bar to Fitz-Gibbon's making investigations on his own account. And how could this be prevented without raising suspicions–suspicions, too, which the slightest examination of the cave room would more than verify? If he could only have a clear month, in which to retort the amalgam!note Nothing could be more fortunate than this discovery of gold in large quantities in the Colmar district, for it would enable him, if once he secured the treasure, to dispose of it without much difficulty. He could, for instance, remove the gold in a waggonette, and take up a solitary claim after resigning his post as mine-manager, and gradually invent his luck. Or if the diggings that started had any importance, he could, as he had often done before, act as a sort of middleman and buy up gold on the spot. He was well acquainted with the average digger, and could count without fear of disappointment on buying up gold very readily for pound-notes paid on the spot. . . . And, besides, if there was a rush he would only need to buy just as little or as much as suited him. The wildest rumours were always afloat as to the quantity of gold raised, and it was well known that a large proportion of notethe diggers habitually concealed their findings.note He had once before smelted nuggets, so as to prevent the banks from over-reaching him,note and there would be no difficulty in the way of his selling the gold in pure bars, assigning the same reason for his action. . . . Only let him safely secure the treasure, and other difficulties would disappear.

On his way back to the mine, Trevaskis' brain was in a whirl as to what plan he should pursue. Near the engine-house he was met by some of the miners who wished to leave there and then, forfeiting two days' wages.

"Go on and get your cheques," he answered laconically. He went into the smithy and watched one of the men at work as he sharpened some rock-drills. Then he passed on to the carpenter's shed, where the carpenter was preparing some joists for

  ― 216 ―
repairing the roof of the powder-magazine, which was at the foot of the reef half a mile off. Roby consulted him as to the necessity of ordering an additional stock of shoes for the amalgam-pan, also of dies and battery gratings.note

"We shan't want 'em for some time, but if there's a big notesturtnote at these new diggings we may be left in the lurch. The teamsters––"

"All right; send in a memo. to the purser of any articles you think should be sent for. I'll look over the list before it's sent."

"I'm afeerd, cap'en, you're not very well; you're lookin' notesomewhat white to-day," said Roby.

The flush on Trevaskis' face had subsided, and his eyes, besides being much bloodshot, had a curiously contracted look, with dark-red semicircles under them.

"No, I'm not at all well," he answered. "The fact is, I don't believe I can stand the heat here at all. Just see how the sun is blazing down at half-past ten in the morning, and we're only at the end of October."

"I tell 'ee what it is, cap'en, you'll 'ave to take to the under-room, as poor Cap'en Dunning did notelast summer."

"Well, I'll go down and try it, after I finish my morning round," answered Trevaskis in an indifferent voice.

He did not go, however, until he saw Victor on his way to the Colmar Arms at one o'clock. When he descended, he went direct to the hidden trunk and took out the box containing the wig and beard. He also took the portfolio containing Dunning's letters, and carried them into his room. So much of his many plots, at least, should take active form. He would make sure of the gold locked in his safe, and he would invent some means of selling it, secured against detection. He had a kind of groping intuition that some plan would suggest itself, by which he could make use of Dunning's preparations for disguise.

He knew it would be useless for him to attempt to sleep. He locked the doors of his office and room, drew down the blinds, and fitted on the wig and false beard and moustache, and put on a pair of smoke-coloured sun-glasses. The transformation was sufficiently striking. But it became still more so when that night, after darkness closed in, and he was secure from any

  ― 217 ―
interruption, he went through the process of deepening the lines in his face, of giving it that sun-bronzed hue which the mixture in the phial produced, and finally ruffling and powdering his eyebrows in the way that Dunning's actor friend had suggested. Then he once more put on the wig and beard. They were so well made, so natural-looking, so closely fitting, that it was difficult to believe they would have disguised anyone else as they disguised him.

This completeness of disguise gave him a curious feeling of confidence. Dangers and difficulties lay in the way, no doubt, but the greatest difficulty of all was surmounted in notehaving the means of hiding his identity so completely when he disposed of the gold. How to do that without running the risks which seemed inseparable from long delay, kept him awake till long after midnight, though this was the second night through which his vigils extended. He was up next morning, notwithstanding, in time to see the men of the first shift go to work. There were no fresh departures for the diggings; but the daily newspapers reported the sensational find of gold which had been revealed by two men who had been working within a few miles of each other in the locality of Broombush Creek, and prophecies were made as to the rush that was inevitable. It was further surmised that other solitary diggers had been for some time in the neighbourhood with more or less success. Trevaskis glanced hurriedly over the notenewspapers. Then he looked over his letters. There was one from the secretary of the company, informing him that a letter had been received from a brother of the late manager, intimating his intention of coming to the colony in the course of six weeks after the date of writing, to look into his brother's affairs, and take possession of the effects which were at the Colmar Mine.

"The letter was dated from Sydney," wrote the secretary. "So that Mr. Raphael Dunning may come by way of Broken Hill.note In order to prevent mistake, the directors request me to say that the late manager's personal belongings at the mine are to be handed over only on the production of their authorization to that effect."

Trevaskis' first action after reading this letter was to turn to the portfolio and ransack the rest of the papers, at which he had not

  ― 218 ―
yet looked. Two or three were concerned with unimportant matters, one noteconcerning a little cottage which Dunning was apparently renting on behalf of someone not named. The next letter he took up contained a house-key. The letter enclosing it ran:


"noteHenclos pleas find recet for note£19 10s. for Six mounth rentnote of Cotage noomber 4 in bendigo-row hindmarshnote from 1 July to 31 decembur, hit bein' cloas to the railway Station he won't find no deferculty in findin' hit, and whativer Date he come within the six mounth he can take posission but I must have a mounth Notis if he want to leeve at the end of the leese there is shutters to the Winders of the two front noterooms so if any pains is smarshed I dosnt hold myself Rispoansable witch the naybors is desent and not likely to brake in.

"Your rispeckful,

"Noah Allert––"

Trevaskis stared at this production for some moments.

"What the devil was the fellow up to with this?" he said half aloud, and then in a moment it flashed across him–all the more readily because it offered a solution of one of those lame gaps which stared him in the face, the moment he tried to think out a working scheme for disposing of over two thousand pounds' worth of gold, in the guise of an old digger. He steadied his mind now by a strong effort in the tumult of excitement which arose with the feeling that he saw his way clear before him. Step by step he went over his scheme: he foresaw every difficulty; he provided against every contingency; he made sure of his safety from every point of view; and he swore a great oath that what one man had failed to do because of insanity, and another because of sudden death, he would accomplish within a week.

"No, nothing will happen to me, nothing will cross me. I'm the third–no, the fourth man; for there was the digger who was murdered. I'm the fourth man that set his heart on enjoying this gold, and it's against the law of averages that I too should fail–completely against the law of averages."

  ― 219 ―

7. Chapter VII.

When the mail-coach came in on Thursday morning, it was crammed with passengers, all bound for the new diggings.note Half an hour later a large American waggon drawn by four horses, also crowded with people bound for the same place, passed by the Colmar Mine. Then, all during the day vehicles of various descriptions were seen rumbling slowly on their way to this new Golden Jerusalemnote of the Salt-bush country. It turned out that over four hundred men had reached Nilpeena that morning by the early train, all bent on being notefirst in the field. Most of those who had money clubbed together and hired all the vehicles available in the township to convey themselves and their impedimenta to the gold-fields. Many of these were well equipped with tents, tools, and a couple of weeks' rations. But the larger proportion were men who, on getting out at the railway station, tramped it on foot, with neither purse nor scrip,note with a shovel rolled up in the blue blankets slung on their backs, carrying in one hand a "billy," black with use and a rigid absence of outer scouring. noteBesides the pick or shovel there was perhaps a loaf in the swag, certainly a modicum of tea, sugar, and tobacco.

They tramped on in a long straggling line, their route marked here and there by columns of smoke, where some alone, some in groups of from three to five, halted to boil a billy of tea and smoke a pipeful of the strong fig tobacco which Bushmen habitually use. Many were found among them who were without even these elementary necessities for tramping it to an unknown gold-field. But when they were in company with others who were better off, the more destitute ones were not left in need. Nor was any surprise felt at the faith, or recklessness, of men who had neither tea nor tobacco, nor food nor tools nor money to buy notethem–thus swelling a rush in which to the uninitiated a store of some at least of these would seem to be the only safeguard against

  ― 220 ―
starvation. But a rush in quest of gold is a species of gambling that has many queer features. The man who has a little knowledge and experience, and the one who even without these has brawny arms, and is not afraid of work, has without money or tools a better chance than the men who lacking these come with stores of noteanything else. Many of the men who have most experience in alluvial gold-diggings are chronically hard up. Whether they make hundreds of pence or of pounds in any given rush, they are equally likely to be penniless a month or two after it is over. They are invariably ready to start at an hour's notice when the rumour of a fresh hunting-ground within a practicable distance reaches them. There is sure to be many a "tender-foot" and greenhornnote who will be glad to give food, and find tools, in return for work, or a "wrinkle" or two in pegging out a claim.

The amateur element was stronger than usual in the Broombush Creek rush by reason of being less than two days' journey from the capital, and within thirty miles from a railway station. All day the long irregular procession straggled on. After the mail-coach and the four-in-hand, as the American waggon was styled, came horsemen, bullock-drays, trollies, spring carts;note even the one vegetable-cart of which Nilpeena boasted, drawn by a sturdy donkey, was there, piled up with the swags and shovels of half a dozen men, who walked before and after the rickety little machine, which in ascending the gentlest eminence, creaked as if its last moment notewere near at hand. And in advance of the vehicles, side by side, and after them, came the men, who notehad walked with light or heavy burdens, some with none at all. Even at this early stage, those who had adventured the rush without money or baggage began to ascend the social scale. They were paid in money or kind by the more heavily laden to help them with their burdens. Already, too, some of those who had put their hand to the plough looked back.note Though there were no scrubby heights to scale, or unknown deserts to cross, the arid, waterless nature of the country, and the unexpectedly large number who were making for the untried diggings discomfited the less hardy spirits.

Before noon, twenty men came asking for work at the Colmar Mine.

  ― 221 ―

"Not much danger, 'pears to me, of our 'aving to shut up shop on haccount of the new diggings," said Roby with a chuckle.

"Well, when you come to figure it out, eight or ten bob a daynote sure, is better than the 'ope o' turnin' gentleman by Hact noteo' Parlyment, with the chance o' perishing by starvation thrown in," observed an old miner.

All the men who had worked on the night-shift were standing at the doors of their huts and tents, or down at the Colmar Arms, where the bar-room overflowed with dusty noteswagsmennote quenching their thirst, and listening with greedy eyes to the landlord's frequently repeated narrative of the fabulous swags of gold, that had dazzled the eyes of all beholders in his bar-room three nights ago. No tale of enchantment or adventure was ever listened to with such devouring interest. In the bar and elsewhere nothing was to be heard but talk of claims and pegging out, of pockets and gutters and nuggets of gold; of half-forgotten reminiscences of old diggings, and tragic stories of lucky diggers. There was an electrical thrill of excitement in the very atmosphere. Even Trevaskis, who had so many grim problems of his own to solve regarding gold, was in a measure carried out of himself, by the wave of eager expectancy which stirred the place, as to the experiences that awaited the mixed multitude, hurrying in search of fortune to Broombush Creek.

But one at least among all this gold-fever hubbub was occupied with far other thoughts. The mail-coach that had brought the first instalment of diggers had also brought Victor the flowers for which he had telegraphed on the Monday morning.note There had been a delay of two days in sending them, because of an error made in transmitting the message from the Colmar office. But here they were at last. As soon as Victor had the office to himself, he cut the cords and opened the boxes to sprinkle the flowers with water. His eyes sparkled at notesight of their loveliness, and thoughts of the pleasure they would give Doris. He counted the moments till he could bring them to her. Yet he purposely delayed going with them till it was close on seven.

He had observed that after sunset she almost invariably sat for some time on the western veranda, watching the dying light in the sky above the immense landscape, into which the feverish

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seekers for gold had been hurrying all day. This evening the after-glow was unusually vivid, spreading notefar up to the horizon in waves of pure fire-colour,note embracing the most delicate nuances of tint, from a broad line of deep carnation low down on the vast horizon, to a faint silvery pink far overhead. As soon as he crossed the reef and began to descend towards Stonehouse, Victor saw the slender, dark-robed figure clearly outlined in the warm evening light. Spot and Rex, a young kangaroo dog,note bounded to meet him with the animation of dawning friendship. Their mistress also greeted him with a smile.

"You are quite loaded, and yet Rex ran to meet you! That shows he quite approves of you," she said, as she patted Rex on the head.

"Doesn't he like people who carry things, then?" asked Victor, putting his boxes on the little wicker table that stood near.

"No; because, you see, most of the people he used to see with any kind of load were sundowners."note

"Perhaps he knew somehow that these boxes hold something for you," said Victor, colouring a little as he bent over the boxes, undoing the strings.

"For me?" said Doris, with a little note of incredulous surprise in her voice.

"Yes, if you will kindly accept them."

And now the lids were off both the boxes, and the light layer of white cotton-wool removed. And lo! in the first box at which Doris looked there was the most enchanting array of white fragrant flowers: feathery sprays of white lilac, clusters of white Indian musk noteroses, of the white fairy and exquisite Niphetos roses; white heliotrope and picotees,note tuberoses with their perfumed waxen buds, clustered sprays of stephanotis with their delicate yet penetrating fragrance. In the centre there was a group of magnificent orchids, pure white petalled, with yellow and mauve labellum. The flowers had been skilfully packed, their stems wrapped round in wet moss, so that they bore little trace of their journey. But a drooping petal here and there made Victor apologize for not having brought them to Stonehouse as soon as the mail came in.

"I will bring up the next lot the moment they come, and then they will last longer," he said, eager to say something that would

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carry off the keen emotion visible in Doris's face. She had seen no flowers since she had left Ouranie, and the sight and perfume of these, awakening so many chords of memory, moved her almost too much for speech.

"You got these lovely, lovely flowers for me! They must have come hundreds of miles," she said in a tremulous voice when she could trust herself to speak.

"Oh yes, it is really nothing, you know. You just mention to someone in town you want a few flowers," said Victor with a tincture of mendacity of which he was not often guilty. And then he took the folds of cotton-wool off the flowers in the second box, talking so as to give Doris time to recover herself.

"These are not so fatigued-looking; you see they have more colour. I really know hardly anything about flowers, except roses. These are the Catherine Mermets. I know them by the sweet scent; my mother notelikes them very much. This, I suppose, is an orchid."

It was a Cattleya with deep rosy crimson labellum and pink petals. This second boxful was little less lovely than the other. The La France, Malmaison and Gloire de Dijon roses were superb. There was a wealth of daphne pouring its poignantly sweet fragrance on the air, and a great crowd of pansies, carnations, and yellow Austrian briars.note

"Shall I go and ask Shung-Loo to get some basins and water for you to put them in?" said Victor, who, after seeing Doris stealthily kissing a plume of white lilac with quivering lips, cast about for some excuse to leave her alone with the flowers.

"Oh, please do not trouble! I can ring for him after I have looked at them a little longer," she answered, taking up one flower after the other, with a caress in every touch and look. Then, after a little pause: "I cannot say how grateful I am for your kindness! I have been longing for flowers more than I can tell; it sounds foolish to say thank you––"

"Yes; because the pleasure they give is more notethan thanks enough!" said Victor eagerly.

"But I hope they are not all for me," she said a little hesitatingly.

"Yes, certainly; to do what you like with them."

"But I would sooner you gave half to Mrs. Challoner and

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Euphemia. We can divide them;" and with that Doris began to mix the white and coloured flowers.

"You are too unselfish; you know you like white flowers the best," said Victor, who stood watching her.

"Well, you see, I am keeping a larger share of the white lilac," said Doris, who fixed a spray of these flowers at her throat, and then made an equal division of the rest. "When I wrote letters at Ouranie I used to date them by the flowers that were coming out. If I were going to write a letter to-night, I should date it "the day of all the flowers." Now, I am going to tell Mrs. Challoner and Euphemia that there is something too wonderful–as if a fairy had come–only you are rather too big for a fairy."

"Yes, I'm afraid my weight is against me in that line. You had better say a sundowner–one of the kind that a dog of good sense, like Rex, can tolerate."

Well, whatever name might be applied to the giver, there could be no difference of opinion as to the extreme pleasure the flowers gave. Mrs. Challoner, who was easily moved to enthusiasm for her kind, found a depth of friendly thoughtfulness in the offering which increased the goodwill she already bore towards Victor. Even the placid Challoner was moved to unusual enthusiasm, when, on being invited to spend the evening in the drawing-room, he saw the lovely multitude of flowers, set out in the old china and fine cut-glass bowls, to the number of a score or so. They were ranged on the bookcases, the little tables, the piano, and mantelpiece, giving the room that air of notegrand tranquillity which it is the privilege of beautiful flowers to impart.

"I must sit where I can look at these roses, my dear, while I am waiting for you to let me checkmate you," he said to his wife as they sat down for their usual notegames of chess, while the young people played, Victor accompanying Doris on his violin in some of Moore's melodies, with which they were both familiar. Then, when Euphemia went away to finish one of those endless letters to her brother and "a friend," which she seemed always to have on stock,note Victor, noticing a reversi-board,note ventured to ask Doris if he might play a game with her. But though the game was entered upon with much seriousness by Doris, the contest very

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soon lagged. In fact, no two-handed game has yet been invented whose rules prevent this, when the one who humbly asks another to play does so for the express and perfidious purpose of an uninterrupted talk.

"I have been wondering," said Victor, after a few moves, "whether you know anything more about the Gooloos than you told me the other day."

A wistful little smile passed over Doris's face.

"I used to fable a great deal about Gooloos and other queer little people, when I was a child. But, of course, it is foolish when one is grown up."

"I wish you would fancy that I am not grown up."

"I can hardly do notethat, seeing I have to look up when I speak to you. I might, perhaps, fancy that you are not too wise to care for such things."

Victor laughed involuntarily, then checked his mirth, and said:

"Who are the other queer little people?"

"Oh, Shapes and Yangs. Shapes are always flying and changing; but Yangs would sooner die than change, and they never wish to fly. They just want grass, and the sun on their backs. If they went into society, perhaps you would call them pigs. No, I don't think I shall tell you any more, I can see you think my little people very silly," said Doris, noticing that Victor was trying in vain to repress the amusement afforded by the characteristics of the Yangs.

"I don't think them silly at all; they are very amusing. I wonder how you came to think of such things."

"Didn't you make up stories to yourself when you were little?"

"No, not much. I used to read other people's stories, and play a great deal."

"Ah, you had other children to play with; I had no playmates but myself. I used often to play at having a brother. He was so grand and brave. He was a great soldier, and used to go to the Holy Landnote and make the infidels give up the prisoners. When we went out driving I used to ask my mother to let the ponies go very fast, and then I used to fancy that I was Richard, on his Arab horse, chasing notedragons and going after savage people."

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"Then, was he always away at the wars?"

"No, he sometimes came home and told me where he had been, and what strange things he had seen. I used to live under a nectarine-tree in the garden, and watch for him to come across the sea–that was Gauwari, our big lake; it bordered the garden on one side. But I used to like best to ride and drive in the direction of the great plain. I could fancy always such wonderful things about that, for it was like a great strange sea–so gray and wide and quiet. Mother and I always called it the Silent Sea; but now that I am in the midst of it––"

She ended with a little sigh.

"It is very bare and desolate, and nothing very wonderful in it, except that it is such a huge plain and reaches so far," said Victor, who was listening to these revelations of a solitary childhood with the keenest interest.

"I am afraid things are often like that," she responded thoughtfully. "When we used to visit Mrs. Seaton, the girls had a brother, and he was not in the least noble or chivalrous. He was greedy about tarts, and sometimes pulled his sisters' hair."

"But, on the other hand, there are many things quite as beautiful as we can imagine them."

"Ah, yes! The "Arabian Nights" are quite poor compared to what is going on all the time. Even among the grass, where a tiny brown seed swells and pushes up a thin little green lance; and by-and-by it is a feathery tassel, shivering if you even whisper near it. . . . Often when Kenneth used to speak so much about heaven, and say it was a great deal more beautiful than this world, I used to wonder whether there are corners there where the violets come out early, and where one might put down an old fairy-book with its face against the canary lavender, to watch the white-eye-browed swallowsnote when they come the first day."

There was a wistful thrill in the girl's voice, but she spoke more rapidly than was her wont, and with the animation a deeper tinge of colour stole into her cheeks.

"I do not believe you were lonely at all, though you had no playmates," said Victor, after a little pause.

"I did not want anyone else when I had mother," she answered in a very low voice.

And then there was silence between them for a little. The flowers poured their sweetness on the air, and through the open

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windows, with the curtains half drawn back, the moonshine was visible lying over the great Silent Sea, that hemmed them round with that mystic light which gives a magic of its own to the barest landscape.

"We are not getting on very well with our game, are we?" she said after a little, and on this Victor tried his best to lose his notepawns.note But it was little he could think noteof just then, except the sweep of those heavy lashes and the wonderful eyes they revealed when they were uplifted; the sweet cadence of her tones, and that enchanting mixture in her talk of bright, noteaerial fancies and direct childlike simplicity. Altogether, that evening was formed of those supreme, fugitive hours which, once flown, noteseldom have a to-morrow.

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8. Chapter VIII.

On the following Saturday morning the mail-man brought Victor two more boxes of flowers. These he sent across at once to Stonehouse by Mick, and then went to the post-office for the mine letters, as was his custom each morning, half an hour after the mail had been delivered. As he walked leisurely along smoking a cigarette, he gave himself up to the pleasure of imagining Doris's delight on finding one of notethese boxes entirely filled with white and Parma violets.note He pictured her to himself bending over these, holding them to her face, talking to them, kissing them. . . . His cigarette went out and he threw it away, hastening his steps with that rapt expression on his face, and that unseeing look in his eyes, which tell of entire abstraction from the objects visible to material sight.

He still in some fashion kept up the fiction to himself, that his feelings were of the most benevolent and disinterested friendship. But in the midst of his happy, engrossing thoughts this morning he became conscious of an inner voice struggling to ask him questions. None are so deaf, however, as those who won't hear.note But it may be taken for granted that a week is the utmost limit of time during which one can be happy under false pretences. Among the letters that Victor received was a bulky one from Miss Paget. At sight of it he drew a long breath, and capitulated to the inward monitor, without even attempting to make terms. It was on last Sunday he sent away his reply to Helen's previous letter. Not a line had he written to her since; how often had he thought of her? What dreams and visions and reveries, on the other hand, had been with him day and night of a certain face and form! How constantly the thrilling tones of a low sweet voice had been in his ears!

"But what else could happen, after once seeing Doris?" he asked himself helplessly. The bare thought of her prevented him from

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being as unhappy as he felt he ought to be; for the longer he looked at Miss Paget's letter the more clear it became that he had made a frightful mistake in supposing that he loved her. Perhaps she knew, perhaps that was why she put off notethe engagement–after all, they were not engaged. The relief he found in this thought made him feel ashamed of himself. He took refuge in trying to think of something else. There was that cave room he was to search on Monday; whether it contained treasure or not, it would make the subject of a long letter to Helen. He could tell her about his first notemeeting Vansittart, and the comical interview between him and Trevaskis. . . . "Even if at the end of the probation appointed by Helen"–here Victor paused, and then, with the felicity of his father's race, he put the point–"we neither of us wish to make our friendship into an engagement, we shall still remain friends–I am sure of it. I must not send a miserable scrappy letter in answer to one like this."

He went into the manager's office with his letters and papers.

"I suppose I can begin my search of the underground room on Monday, as we arranged," he said.

Trevaskis had opened one of his letters. He read it rapidly, and said in a hurried voice: "I half expected this: I am called away on urgent private business. I must telegraph to the secretary at once. Will you kindly take this message across to the telegraph-office for me?"

He got a form and wrote: "Called away on urgent private business; forced to apply for a week's leave of absence, dating from Monday. Please reply at once."

In less than two hours a reply came, granting the leave asked for. Trevaskis was in the purser's office talking to Roby and Victor when the telegram was handed to him.

"There is a man near Malowie I have to see," he was saying to Roby. "Do you know whether the train stays half an hour or so at that station?"

"Iss, it's the change o' gauge,note cap'en."

Trevaskis glanced over his telegram, and then a sudden thought seemed to strike him.

"I could be sure of finding him at home on Saturday night. . . . I ought to have applied for my leave from to-day,

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"Oh, as for the matter o' that, what be the differ, shouldst 'ee leave to-day or Sunday a'ternoon?"

"Then if I went by the second train, the one that only goes to Malowie, I could catch it this afternoon?"

"Oh, sure 'nough, the mail coach gets in half an hour before she parts."

"That's what I'll do, then," said Trevaskis in a tone of sudden determination. "Just send word to the mail-driver to call round, will you, Roby? I don't think there's anything else to arrange about during my absence besides what we've gone over."

"Oh, everything will be all right, cap'en. You see, I'm used to bein' left in charge at a hour's notice. I've had notemany a year practice at it," said Roby, with his large smile as he went out.

Trevaskis discussed one or two business matters with Victor. Then, as he was going away, he said in the careless tone in which one speaks of an indifferent matter: "Oh, and, by the way, the search business had better stand over till I come back."

"Just as you wish, captain," answered Victor, who was in reality not very much engrossed by the affair.

Trevaskis had studied every move beforehand, taking precautions against each contingency, by giving himself a wider margin of time. He had chosen Malowie as the station at which he would get out, because there, the crush of people and the hurry and bustle of changing carriages made any chance encounter less dangerous. On reaching this station, he took the carpet-bag containing the gold and the disguise out of his portmanteau. The latter he booked to go on by the early Monday train. It was some time before he could get even this simple detail attended to. The rush to Broombush Creek, which had subsided for a day or two, had now assumed phenomenal proportions. Gold had been discovered in large quantities over a wide area, several nuggets weighing over sixty and seventy ounces. And there were the usual sensational rumours of even larger nuggets, whose lucky finders were not anxious to spread the news of their good fortune. More than seven hundred men were on their way to Nilpeena by the train that would reach it on Sunday morning. The railway people were unprepared for so unprecedented a

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crush of passengers, in addition to the ordinary numbers, and the platform and offices presented a solid mass of excited, struggling, noisy men, each one fighting for himself. A rumour had spread that the carriage accommodation was insufficient, and the confusion that ensued was indescribable.

Trevaskis saw several faces he knew in the thick of the crowd, but they did not notice him, and he did not speak to anyone. He breathed more freely when he got away from the railway-station. He took a short cut through the township, and walked on rapidly till he reached a creek thickly lined with ti-tree, two miles and a half away from Malowie, in an easterly direction. Here he assumed his disguise, beginning with his clothes. He put on a dark loose, earth-stained pair of trousers over those he wore; he took off the coat he had on, put it into the carpet-bag, and in place of it wore a long shabby dust-coat. Then he lay down, making a pillow of his carpet-bag. He dozed fitfully for a couple of hours. As soon as daylight reddened the east, he fixed a pocket looking-glass in the fork of a tree, and performed the more delicate shades of his toilet. He put his soft silk beaver in the carpet-bag, and wore instead an old gray hat, with a slouching brim, which he pulled well over his eyes, and knotted a large red silk handkerchief round his throat. When he looked at himself, with his brick-red complexion, his straggling gray hair falling over his neck, his thick grizzled moustache and long silvery beard, he could not repress a triumphant exclamation of pleasure. All that remained for him to do now was to transform the carpet-bag into a swag. He took out a little black billy, one which he had found in one of the storerooms and blackened over an impromptu fire of deal boards in his room on the previous night, and a thin, brownish-red rug which he had rolled round the gold. He got a slender piece of wood the length of the carpet-bag, which he folded within it, so as to stiffen the outline. He tied up the whole in the rug, turning in the edges well over the bag, and strapped the swag with an old saddle-strap at each end. Then he fastened a loose cord between the two, and slipped the swag over his shoulders, carrying the billy in one hand in orthodox tramp fashion.

He struck across country till he gained the highroad, and followed it on to the second railway-station beyond Malowie, and twelve miles distant therefrom. He chose this rather than the

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nearer station, partly to pass the time, and partly because he wanted to have a good long tramp, so as to get the dust well into his boots and face and clothes. As there was a high easterly breeze with a strong touch of hot wind, this purpose was well effected by the time he reached Kilmeny. It was a straggling little township, its chief features being a big flour-mill and two public-houses. He went to the one nearest the railway-station, a shabby, one-story building in which no one seemed to be astir, though it was now close on eight o'clock. The only inmate visible was the landlord, a big, fat man, who was shambling about the house in an aimless and discouraged manner. He was keeping house, he said, and didn't know where the things were kept very well. He offered Trevaskis brandy and water and cold beef and bread for breakfast, adding, "Every soul 'bout the place has gone off to the diggings except my wife, who was confined of two twinses a couple of days ago, and a female cook likewise down with the mumps."

But Trevaskis would touch no stimulant.

"I want no speerits; if ye can't give me a dish o' decent tay I med as well be goin' to th' next house," he said in a gruff voice, with an unmistakable Cornish accent.note

On this the landlord bustled into the kitchen, and in twenty minutes brought him a teapot full of tea.

"One o' they cross-grained old Cousin Jacksesnote as go mouching alone for gold," said the landlord, speaking of Trevaskis to a customer who had dropped in for an early "phlegm-cutter."note "You can see by the look of him he's been living alone somewheres like a wombat, till notehe has got out noteo' the way of havin' even a proper Christian drink. I remember––"

His reminiscences were cut short by the sound of a bell forcibly rung. Trevaskis had finished his breakfast, and now ordered a bedroom. As soon as he was shown into one, he locked the door, took off his wig and beard, put his swag under the bed, and, throwing himself on it in his clothes, he was fast asleep in a few minutes. He slept till sunset, and then rose and had another nondescript sort of meal, in the course of which the landlord entertained him with anecdotes of the "twinses" and the sudden exodus of more than half the male population of Kilmeny for the

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new diggings.

"It's close to that there Colmar Mine, as is so notecelybrated for 'anky-panky tricks," he said, and then, without receiving any encouragement from his listener, he launched into a description of some of the more notorious episodes in connection with the Colmar. "They get managers there up to all the tricks going for to line their own pocketses. They say they've got hold of a very straight man this time, but that wicious in his temper–he gives the chaps the rumblesnote for a day and a 'arf with slanging of 'em."

Trevaskis cut short this pleasing picture of himself by asking for his account, including bed and breakfast; he paid it, and then, having secured the window and locked the door of his bedroom, he went out for a stroll. He passed a little wooden chapel, through whose open door and windows the sound of a powerful voice was plainly audible. The wind had fallen, and the twilight hush was unbroken, except for that deep resonant voice. As Trevaskis leant against a post and rail fence smoking, close to the side of the chapel, the preaching man's message reached him word for word:

"When the devil wants to get hold of you," he said, "he don't come all hoof and claws, a-butting his horns into you, and driving you head foremost into crime. No; at first he takes slim liberties, so to speak, and they are so like something you've been doing before, you don't find it out all at once. Then, after a bit, you do something shadier than before–still, not so very black; and you feel sorry about it when you lie awake at nights. But by-and-by you get over that, and you go on and on, till––" Here the preacher dropped his voice impressively, and Trevaskis went on his way with a hot, deep flush surging up into his face, under the swarthy dye that was part of his disguise.

He had in early life been intimately associated with an ardent section of the Cornish Primitive Methodists, who dwell on every incident of individual life as a special act of over-ruling Providence. At this moment, old associations returned to him, with all the vividness that notecharacterize the early impressions of a strong and tenacious nature, whose forces have for the most part been concentrated in a narrow groove. Ideas had played so small a part in his adult life, that those which had been early implanted in his

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mind slumbered there as hard and clear and unmodified as in the days in which he had first assimilated them.

"It is a warning–as sure as God is in heaven–it is a warning sent to me," he said over and over to himself, striding on he knew not whither. Year by year his past life unrolled itself before him, and he saw as by a lightning flash of quickened observation the steps by which he had been gradually familiarized with dishonest practices. As a boy of fourteen, he had in working on tribute with his father come to learn by experience that cheating, when practicable without detection, was reckoned no disgrace,note among a large proportion of miners. Even some of those who held forth as class-leaders and local-preachers would, when the opportunity arose, act without scruple on the maxim, "Fear God and cheat the company." He himself, since he had come to man's estate, had little qualms in over-reaching his fellow-men, in grasping at a larger share of profits in mining work, or mining speculation, than rightly belonged to him. But never before had he been concerned in any act that would, if unveiled to other men, have placed him on the list of criminals. Now he seemed vaguely to perceive that his previous life had been an insidious preparation for crime; that at the critical moment the avarice of a lifetime, intensified by poverty, made the opportunity of being rich by secret theft an irresistible temptation.

"Then after a bit you do something shadier than before . . . by-and-by you get over that, and you go on and on till––" That blank, which his mind involuntarily invested with a sombre fascination, daunted him more than the most voluble catalogue of crimes. His disguise, which at dawn of day had given him a sensation of gratified triumph, seemed to him in the gathering twilight as ignominious as convict chains. "I'll sling up the whole affair,–yes, I'll sling up the whole affair," he repeated to himself at intervals, with the iteration usual with him when deeply moved.

Night fell, and a luminous space of silvery light in the sky heralded the moon's rising. He found himself on the outskirts of the township, near a cottage with a little garden in front full of flowers. The windows were wide open, and he saw by the lamplight in the room within a quiet family group. The mother with an infant in her arms, the father with a large book and two or three children grouped round him, an older girl seated at

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notea harmonium playing a hymn tune. Presently she began to sing, in a sweet though untrained voice, "Shall we gather at the river?"note and the younger children clustered round her and joined in. Then the father stood up, and his deep bass gave body to the clear high treble of the children's voices. It was all as commonplace as the light of heaven. But to Trevaskis, in the awakened forecasting state of his imagination, it all seemed part of a plan by which he was led to review his deeds before it was too late. The man in there sang peacefully with his children, while he skulked about, disguised like one who had shed blood–no, he would go no further on this path, whose beginning was a theft, whose end no man could foresee.

What should he do with the gold while he went on to town? But now, the moment he began to consider how he should relinquish it, the love of this thing stirred his heart with a deep masterful yearning. The thought of resigning it to other hands filled him with vindictive jealousy. It was not as if it could be handed over to the rightful owner. Probably it would be claimed by the Government, and what would Government do with it? Squander it, as noteit had squandered millions before, on foolish railways to nowhere through desert country, on crooked jetties from which to load wheat that would not be grown, on marble staircases and Persian carpets for fancy viceregal country houses.note Could not he make a better use than that of it–he who had lost his notehardly earned thousands through the knavish duplicity of other men? He had wronged no one by taking this gold . . . and he had gone too far to retreat. As for the remaining notestores of gold, that clearly belonged to the company.

"But if I take this, I'll be sure to struggle somehow for the rest. Twenty thousand pounds is a fortune; but as for two or three thousand . . . I've had a warning–I've had a warning. What made me come away and leave the gold there under the bed, and stop by that little chapel and listen to the way the devil tempts and tempts a man to the very brink of hell?" He stood on the brow of a little hill beyond the confines of the township, whose lights gleamed here and there through open doors and windows. The tinkle of a bullock-bellnote or two in the distance was the only sound

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that broke the profound calm, while in the heart of this solitary man raged a tempest of conflicting thoughts and desires.

All noteround, as far as the eye could travel, lay small habitations of wood and iron, in the midst of wide wheat-fields, where the crops were stunted and meagre with the long-continued drought. Three or four weeks back, prayer for rain had been offered in all the churches throughout the colony; but as yet no rain of any consequence had fallen, and in this northern region much of the wheat must perish in the ear.note Thinking over this, Trevaskis asked himself what reason there was for believing that Heaven was really much concerned with the conduct of human affairs.

As the impulse towards right-doing had been awakened by material fears, so the reascendancy of the strongest motives that swayed his nature was strengthened by like tawdry misconceptions of spiritual influences. And yet he did not revert to his former purpose without a further effort at resistance.

"It is close on nine o'clock now," he said, looking at his watch in the notebright soft moonlight. "I won't go back to the public-house till near twelve; the publican will before then make sure I'm not returning, and he has of course a master-key to open the locked door. Well, if he or anyone else has found that gold he can keep it. I'll ask no question, or hold up my finger, but take it as a proof that what I heard to-night was not a chance, but a warning and a sign from above."

He passed part of the time resting against the trunk of a gum-tree, part in striding about and watching light after light disappear in the houses as the inmates retired to rest. Sometimes he was overpowered with dread lest the gold might be discovered and tampered with, and again he found himself hoping that it might be all stolen. . . . "They say they've got hold of a very straight man this time." The words came back to him mockingly again and again. He had always prided himself on his reputation for integrity. To hear the estimate in which he was popularly held thus spoken of by an entire stranger, in a remote little township, curiously quickened his determination, once this trip was accomplished, to run all risks rather than that of detection.

Within the last day or two he had sometimes thought out the

  ― 237 ―
plan of removing all the great jars of amalgam into his bedroom, while Fitz-Gibbon searched the cave room–of making some excuse to Roby's wife, who came daily to tidy up his rooms, and dispense with her services while the treasure was in them. But from the first the risks daunted him. Now, during the hours of his self-imposed vow, he reviewed all the mishaps that might lead to detection if he took the stolen amalgam into his actual possession on the mine. He reflected that both Webster and Dunning had, under the most disastrous circumstances, been saved from being found out, by keeping their booty hidden in the cave room. As he slowly pondered over these things, he bound himself by a solemn resolution, in the name of his wife and children, that he would not allow any consideration to tempt him to remove the gold from its hiding-place till he could take it entirely away from the mine.

"After all that has happened in connection with the Colmar, in the way of murder, insanity, and sudden death, I'd rather let the young jackanapes go down and discover the lot than fill my room with stolen stuff," he thought. "But, no, no! as sure as my name is William Trevaskis, I'll find some means or another of keeping his nose outside that iron wall until I've turned the gray stuffnote into bars of yellow gold, and carried them safe away."

So, after all his impulses of repentance, remorse, and fear, these were the thoughts that filled the mine manager's mind as he returned to the inn. When he examined his nuggets by the light of a scrap of tallow candle, flaring in a dirty tin candlestick, and found them untouched, the thought floated dimly through his brain that the best result of his hearing part of a sermon in that little wooden chapel had been, that in those solitary hours in the tranquil moonlight he had perceived how foolish and dangerous one of the plans was which had occurred to him regarding the stolen treasure in the cave room.

  ― 238 ―

9. Chapter IX.

The train passed through Kilmeny at half-past eight in the morning. Ten minutes before it came in, Trevaskis bought a third-class ticket to Adelaide. There were several men in the compartment he entered, two of them miners, who had come down from Broken Hill. One of these Trevaskis recognised as a man he had discharged from the Colmar Mine three weeks previously for insubordination. He was an inveterate talker, whether at work or play, and kept up his reputation on this occasion with unstinted energy. His companion was much more reticent, and responded for the most part by an occasional grunt. On one topic, however, the silent miner was moved to express himself with confident vigour. This subject was the mine in which he had been working, one that had of late risen high in popular favour.

"Pay dividends, indeed!" he exclaimed scornfully. "Not for a couple of years to come. There's too much lead and too little silver, and that will soon be well known. Mark my words, the shares will be down with a bang before you're two weeks older."

Trevaskis, leaning back in a corner of the compartment next one of the windows, with his noteslouch hatnote pulled well over his face, seemed to have fallen fast asleep soon after he got into the carriage. But these observations regarding Block Twenty were not thrown away on him. He did not utter a word, and hardly changed his position during the course of the journey.

It wanted a few minutes to one when the train stopped at Bowden-on-the-Hill. This is within a quarter of an hour's walk of Hindmarsh. Trevaskis made for the railway-station there, and asked one of the guards the nearest way to Bendigo Row.note The man asked in what street. This Trevaskis did not know, only that it was near the railway-station.

"Hi, young shaver, come here!" cried the guard to a lad of nine

  ― 239 ―
or ten, who was dawdling about the platform. "Do you know where Bendigo Row is?"

Yes, the boy knew. Gussy Heinemann's mother lived there. Then Trevaskis told him if he showed him the way he would give him sixpence, and, thanking the guard, he followed his guide. They crossed a street, and went up another for a few minutes in a westerly direction till they came to a narrow lane. The first row of little stone cottages was Bendigo Row.

"noteThere isn't nobody living there," said the boy, when Trevaskis stood at the door of No. 4.

"I know that," said Trevaskis, fumbling in his pocket for the key. "This is my house just now, though I didn't quite know where it was. And if you want to earn another sixpence, you can wait here a little and show me the way to the branch of the National Bank that's in Hindmarsh."

The boy assented with a joyful grin. As a matter of fact, the bank was almost within sight.note Five minutes later Trevaskis was inside it, waiting to see the manager, having left all that the carpet-bag contained in No. 4, except the gold. He found only a youth in charge, who looked wonderingly at the hairy-faced old Bushman when he asked to see the manager in a gruff Cornish voice, and replying laconically, "Won't be in for a quarter of an hour," resumed his work at a tall desk. It was evidently the slack time of the day, for no other customer came in while Trevaskis waited. He sat at a little ink-stained table on a stiff leathern chair, trying to read the daily newspaper that lay before him. But now that his journey was over, and his purpose so nearly accomplished, an indescribable feeling of uneasiness took possession of him. For the first time the thought flashed across him that Dunning, for aught he knew, might have used the disguise he now wore in disposing of gold at this very bank. He felt tempted to go away without waiting for the manager, and walk across to noteone of the North Adelaide branch notebanks.

But as he was on the point of acting on this the manager returned.

"You buy gold, I suppose?" he said shortly, putting his bag on the counter.

"Yes, anything up to a ton," answered the manager jocosely.

  ― 240 ―
"Have you come down from the Broombush Creek diggings?" he added, as Trevaskis opened the carpet-bag.

But to this the silvery-bearded Bushman made no reply. He took out the nuggets one after the other, without pausing or taking any notice of the wondering admiration of the manager and his clerk.

"I make it five hundred noteand forty hounces," he said briefly, when the whole lay in a yellow, glistening heap on the counter.

On being weighed and tested, the gold was found to be a few pennyweights over this.

"I expect you were in the field some time before this rush took place?" said the manager, looking at Trevaskis narrowly.

"Don't 'ee fret about me, sir, but do 'ee just figure out 'ow much this coom to at £3 18s. 6d. a hounce," answered Trevaskis, on which the manager laughed, and put him down as a regular old Cornish digger, of the bluff, outspoken type.

"Do you consider it so pure as to be worth that much?"note he said, turning over a large nugget notespecked here and there with quartz.

"I knows it; but ef you're in any doubt––"

"I'll give you £3 18s. an ounce."

"Well, I'm pushed for time. I make you a gift o' the sixpennies," answered Trevaskis curtly.

"How will you take the money?"

"One hundred twenty-pound notes–the rest in fivers and silver."

Trevaskis counted over the notes with slow deliberation, and then crushed them into an inner pocket in the carpet-bag, nodded brusquely to the manager, and walked away. When he got into the sunlight and the fresh air, he was astonished to feel a momentary sensation of numbness creeping over him. It was the lassitude of excessive fatigue, of which he had until then been unconscious. There was a ragged-looking little square near, with seats here and there under the trees. He sat on one of these, and for a little time he revelled in a drowsy, luxurious feeling, in which weariness and a sense of triumphant success were curiously mingled. All his limbs ached with fatigue, and his eyes felt so heavy that he could scarcely keep them open. Yet all the time the blood was coursing swiftly in his veins, and his heart was

  ― 241 ―
beating vehemently. There was plenty of time for him to rest and indulge in the myriad plans that floated hazily through his mind. The evening train, by which he would be supposed to have come, did not reach town till nine, or after.

But the day did not seem long to him. On the way back to No. 4 he passed a little general store, at which he bought some tea and sugar, a loaf of bread, a mug, and half a pound of butter. He gathered up some chips and sticks in the little back-yard, got a billy full of water from the tap, and made himself some tea.

As he sat eating and drinking in his curious solitude, in the dim light he admitted by half opening one of the shutters, his eye suddenly fell on some gilt lettering on the mug he had bought. He read the words, "For a good boy," and suddenly burst into loud laughter. Yet the next moment the grotesque irony of the thing made him reflect with quickened perception on the contrast between his secret actions and the place he held in the world's regard. A justice of the peace, an ex-member of Parliament, the son-in-law of a leading doctor–what could this man have to do with a vagabond skulking about in disguise, disposing of stolen gold?

The thought came home to him still more acutely when he sat at breakfast next morning with his wife and children. He had managed everything without a slip. Strolling across from Hindmarsh on the previous night, he reached the Adelaide railway-station, just as the northern train came in, and mingling with the throng of passengers, he in a few minutes obtained his portmanteau, and placed the carpet-bag in one of its compartments as he drove to his own house in a cab.

"Zoo won't do away no moe, pappy, will notenoo?" said a blonde-headed little boy of three, who was mounted beside him on a high chair.

After all, would not that be best?–leave his weary, hateful exile at the mine, and put notethis money, of which he thought now in its hiding-place with a sort of abhorrence, into a decent-sized farm near town, and work the land for a living, like an honest man who had no cause to be ashamed in the presence of his prattling little ones. As he looked over the morning paper he noticed a place which he knew well advertised to be let on easy terms. A

  ― 242 ―
farm of two hundred acres, with a large orchard and orangery, and a comfortable eight-roomed house, a few miles beyond Norwood. He determined to go and have a look at the property in the course of a day or two.

After breakfast he went to the Exchangenote with his bundle of notes subdivided in a roomy pocket-book. He had explained to his wife on arriving, that it was business connected with the share market which had suddenly brought him to town.

"I hope you will make a lot of money out of it, whatever it is," she now said, as he went out, with that vague belief in the money-making power of shares, universal in communities largely bitten with gambling in mines.note

"People are making such a lot of money on "Change lately," added Mrs. Trevaskis, in the regretful tone of one who has been on the losing side. "There is Winny Berger's husband, who helped to float a silver company noteat Beltana.note He made over £3,000, and now the shares are worth absolutely nothing. Winny was so awfully delighted about his selling out just at the right moment. She ordered a dress from Worth, and has gone to the Melbourne Cup."note

"I expect, my dear, the people who bought her husband's worthless shares are not quite so pleased," said Trevaskis, smiling rather sardonically.

"Oh, well, that is their look-out," answered his wife indifferently; and then, with renewed vivacity: "The Bergers are putting a new wing to their house–a ball-room and conservatory–I was over it the other day with Winny. The whole of this wretched little house would go inside the ball-room."

"Well, I'll consult Moses & Co. Perhaps they'll put me in the way of jewing the public," said Trevaskis, as he went out.

Whether he jewed the public much or little, the fact remained that before his week's leave of absence expired, Trevaskis had, by buying Block Twenties on Tuesday and selling them on Thursday, added £700 to his money. By this time he had abandoned all thought of the farm with the orchard and orangery. The bare mention of the project had filled his wife with disdainful horror. "A farm! a place with pigs and cows, and sunbonnets and bad seasons!" she ejaculated a little incoherently,

  ― 243 ―
as if the latter was a commodity laid on like gas or water, wherever agriculture was concerned. "It's bad enough for you to be managing a mine away from home," she went on, "and our furniture getting spoiled in this poky little house, with one general servantnote and an incompetent nurse; but to go on a wretched bit of land, and sell apples and oranges––"

"You speak as though I had asked you to go round with a donkey cart, full of fruit and a pair of scales!" retorted Trevaskis, whose nerves had been so much strained by his recent experiences, that he was unable to listen to his wife's unreasoning querulousness with his accustomed forbearance. On this she burst into tears. She had been trying to bear up as well as she could, she said, in a voice broken with emotion. What with five young children and a small poky house of six rooms, where part of the furniture was being spoiled, and the rest ruined in a warehouse; with a general servant notewho invariably spoiled the gravy, and a young nurse who was always on the point of tipping the perambulator over; and now on notetop of it all to be taunted in this way–and so forth, and so forth.

"She will never know a contented day again till we have a big house and servants and a carriage once more," thought Trevaskis, and these biting ambitions accorded but too well with his own. The addition made by his lucky investment in Block Twenties to the proceeds of the stolen gold merely served to strengthen his fixed determination to secure the rest of the hidden treasure. His thoughts were constantly reverting to this subject, and to the obstacles that had to be surmounted. . . He would have to work entirely by night in retorting the gold. As for disposing of it afterwards, he could not bear the thought of repeated journeys in the disguise he had first assumed. But he was now certain that the fortunes of the new diggings at Broombush Creek would offer an easy solution. The low reefs in the vicinity of the creek had been tested by experts, and found to contain gold in sufficient quantities to pay for crushing.note Already four or five companies had been started, and the necessary plant was on the way to the diggings. Trevaskis was too familiar with the histories of goldfields, not to know that in a short time one or two of these companies would come to grief,

  ― 244 ―
and that the plant, etc., could be bought for less than half the cost. He could start working on his own account, and all the rest would be easy. A more serious obstacle now than the disposal of the gold was the arrangement he had made to let Fitz-Gibbon investigate the hiding-place. How could this be prevented without raising suspicion? If he postponed the investigation from time to time, the young man might, in sheer weariness, drop the project. Perhaps after all it occupied very little of his thoughts.

But on the day before he left town, he made a very unpleasant discovery, which still further complicated the situation. He was in the company's office discussing various mining matters with the secretary, who said to him as he was leaving:

"Ah, by the way, isn't Mr. Fitz-Gibbon going to search some underground place for a pot of gold that some old fellow told him was to be found there?"

"Yes, yes, we're going to get a great fortune there," answered Trevaskis, without a change of countenance, though his heart gave a great thump when he heard the words.

"Mr. Drummond, his uncle, had a letter from him the other day, in which he mentioned it. We've heard some rumours about that place before. Yes, of course, there's always yarns about mines one can't believe. But Mr. Fitz-Gibbon will have plenty of time; it seems he'll remain till Christmas after all. I didn't believe he would stay there more than a month at the most."

"He may or he may not stay till Christmas," thought Trevaskis, as he left the office; "but at any rate he don't fossick about in that part of the old mine till I've secured the gold."

This, then, was the fixed purpose with which he returned to the mine. The prize at stake was too precious to be noteforgotten. To occupy a good position, to be above the necessity of work, to eat and drink well, to drive in a carriage, and have "everything handsome,"note is an ideal of life so ardently prized, so universally scrambled for, that, in its achievement, lying, cheating, hypocrisy of all kinds, robberies of every grade, are constantly enacted. It is by no means a new play. The cast has been on the world's stage from time immemorial, the actors are perpetually renewed, and the drama is now as popular at the Antipodes as it could ever have been in the Old World.

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10. Chapter X.

Victor, after bidding Trevaskis good-bye, as he climbed into the mail-coach that took him on the first stage of his journey to town, returned to the office and read over that thick letter from Miss Paget which had suddenly thrown a kind of gray light athwart certain rose-tinted illusions. It was a long, bright, pleasant letter, but perhaps, if it were received under the best auspices, there was too little in it that spoke to the heart. . . . Her father and Professor Codrington were just then ecstatically happy over the rubbings of antique stones from some antediluvian quarry in a remote part of Asia.note Among these rubbings they had discovered a new sort of metre!note Had she told Victor in her previous letter that among the residents of Colombo they had unexpectedly met a relative–a young clergyman newly wedded? A gentle little cherub of a man, with big blue eyes and a dimple or two, who apologized for the decrees of Providence in two short sermons each Sunday, and for the usages of Anglo-Colomban societynote during the rest of the week. His bride had an inexhaustible trousseau–a new dress for every emergency of life; and when there was no emergency at all she looked all the more like a lyric out of a Parisian fashion-book–a pretty lyric, too, only a little too much colour, especially in the matter of yellowish-green–a little too suggestive of a "resolute angel that delights in flame."note There was a long, vivid description of a journey to Kandy and back–of a reception and dinner at Government House, and various other social functions, at which the vanity of cliques and the pretensions of little-greatnote officialdom and its wives and daughters were noted with an unsparing pen. But there were no tender fancies, nor foolish little fondnesses, nor any lingering on those feelings that are the food of love. All these Miss Paget, of set purpose, denied to herself. Only near the close, as in her previous letter, were a few words which might be interpreted as a sign that she was not all the time in brilliant spirits. "It is all very lively and amusing; nevertheless,

  ― 246 ―
at times je m'ennuie horriblement; pensez donc un peu à moi."note

Victor felt as he had done on receiving Miss Paget's previous letters, that there was something lacking in them. But now he felt strongly that there was something lacking in his own heart yet more unmistakably. He contrasted the strong emotion with which he anticipated seeing Doris from time to time with the feeling that had suddenly surprised him on seeing Helen's letter, and the flimsy disguises with which he had, during the last few days, beguiled himself, were torn aside. He lingered over his evening meal at the Colmar Arms, though there was little in the way of food or company to attract him. Vansittart had for a day or two past kept entirely to his own room. "He wasn't ill, but queer like, and didn't care to eat, or see anyone," the landlady explained. There were several strangers at the table, men coming or going to the new diggings. Their only talk was of the finds there, or notethe companies to be started–of the diggers and various adventurers, whose numbers were swelling daily. Victor listened to them with a dull amazement at the avidity with which they harped on these details, long after every fibre of novelty had been threshed out of them. His little friend Dick, now happy in a toy stem-windernote of his own which Victor had bought for him from a travelling jeweller, came and sat by his side, and made conversation to the best of his ability.

It was all very dull, and there was nothing to tempt him to linger as he did, except to pass the time till it was half-past eight, when he was due at the little school-room of corrugated iron, where he played a solo on the violin, and stayed to play a second later on, at Roby Hoskings' pressing entreaty.

It was close on ten when he got to Stonehouse. The moment he opened the door of his room the sweet, penetrating breath of flowers saluted him. And lo! there on the toilet-table was a bunch of white and Parma violets in a little Sèvres bowl. He was still bending over them, all the torpor and dulness of the day replaced by an incredible thrill of happiness, when there was a tap at the door. It was Shung-Loo with a small tray, on which stood a cup of chocolate and some biscuits, and an invitation from Mrs. Challoner to breakfast on Sunday notemorningsnote at nine o'clock, which he accepted with thanks.

  ― 247 ―

"I could not do anything else," he reasoned. As if he wished to do anything else! As if he did not lie awake for hours half intoxicated with joy at the prospect of feasting his eyes on a certain face that now haunted him day and night with radiant, serious eyes! As if he did not rise with the first sunrays and wander round the house like an unquiet spirit, waiting to catch the first glimpse of Doris!

And at last he saw her coming out in a loose white morning robe, her hair in tumbled masses on her shoulders, damp from the shower-bath, as if they had caught dew-drops in their folds of tawny amber. She came to meet him as he approached her with a luminous sparkle in her face.

"You did not come last night, and we wanted so much to thank you," she said; and with that she gave him her hand.

And as he held it for a moment in his, timidly touching the firm, slender fingers for the first time, it seemed to him as if this quiet Sunday morning in the heart of the arid Salt-bush country would henceforth become the great date of his life. He could not have told what he said in reply, but it was doubtless something appropriate, for Doris went on with an enchanting look of gladness that seemed of right to belong to her, though it had of late been absent from her face:

"Such a great boxful of violets! You would hardly believe how many little dishes we filled with them. And it is late in the season for them. We had very few at Ouranie in November. Did you see the little bowlful we put in your room? . . . Oh, it is we who have to thank you more and more! I wonder if you know how much I love violets, and white ones especially?"

"I felt sure you did. Although I could not see any, it seemed as if you always had some."

The old look of deep, pathetic gravity came back to her eyes.

"Ah, that is because at Ouranie we made scent from them. They did not last long there, and we gathered them–mother and I–in great basinfuls, and got all the scent out of them by an old recipe. noteDo you like it? There is some on this handkerchief?"

She held it out to him, and he took the soft, daintily-laced bit of gossamer in his hand and held noteit for some time, feeling dreadfully loath to give it up.

  ― 248 ―

"It is sweeter than the violets themselves," he averred; and he turned the little handkerchief over with a lingering tenderness.

Did she guess that he coveted it? It would seem so, for after he restored it she went into her room–they were by this time on the veranda–and presently came back with a white Indian silk handkerchief, embroidered round the edge with those fanciful little Gooloo figures in palest dog-rose pink.

"I worked them a long notetime ago, and I have put some of our extract of violets on it for you. Will you please keep it, and this little bottleful?"

"I shall keep them as long as I live," he said, taking these little gifts from her with a stormy beating of the heart.

"But no; the handkerchief will wear out in a year or two, and you will use the scent in a few months," she said, looking at him with surprise at the extravagance of the metaphor he used.

"At any rate, you will allow that I may keep this pretty little cut-glass bottle for a long time," he said, half laughing, ready to treat his unguarded speech as a meaningless trope, though he felt in every fibre of his being it was but a cold statement of a bare fact.

Could it ever dawn on her how much they were to him, those simple little tokens of goodwill? What would she have thought if she could have seen him that evening in his own room, pressing her silk handkerchief to his lips over and over again? As he pictured to himself the wondering surprise in her sweet grave eyes, he coloured and smiled, and thrust the precious embroidered morsel of silk into an inner breast-pocket of his coat.

Mrs. Challoner's invitation to breakfast had been warmly extended to the rest of the day, and the hours had passed by with something of the unreality of a happy dream–with something, too, of that cold awakening to the complications of everyday life, that too often comes after moments of visionary bliss.

Near sunset they all walked a couple of miles across the western plain. Its most marked feature was the track that led through the frayed Salt-bush to Broombush Creek–a track now wide and trodden into a well-defined road by the ceaseless traffic of the crowds on foot, on horseback, and in vehicles, ceaselessly pushing on to seek their fortunes at the new diggings. A few stray passengers were in sight, and here and there in the distance were

  ― 249 ―
to be seen films of smoke floating up from brushwood fires, kindled by the travellers to boil their billies of tea. Challoner and his wife walked in advance, the three young people a little behind them.

"We must drive across to see the diggings," said Challoner, turning round, "one day before the rush is over. It will be something for you to remember, Miss Doris, when you get to the Old World."

It was then, from some further talk that passed, Victor learned for the first time how near this departure was. Directly after Christmas! Something seemed to obscure his sight for an instant. It seemed as though the vast melancholy plain, that made an interminable landscape wherever one looked, had suddenly engulfed his joy, his dawning expectations, his vague hopes. All his life he would recall with strange vividness the sensation that overcame him that moment, as if the vital forces of being were suddenly lowered, and the world had resolved itself into an illimitable ash-coloured wilderness, over which human lives passed like flying shadows, like the phantoms of a dream lost in infinite abysses of unremembering sleep. For a brief space an inexplicable melancholy fastened itself on him with a virulence which had hitherto been totally unknown to him. It was as if for one implacable moment he saw, as in a vision, the struggling, restless, tragic futility of human hopes, begotten in ignorance, snatched away in a passion of anguish, eternally lost in a little mound of dust. But such sombre reflections were foreign to his temperament, and the next moment he was almost ready to smile at them.

"You are going to relations, I suppose?" he said, after a little.

"Yes; distant relations on my father's side. But notebeside the relationship, Mme. de Serziac was my mother's dearest friend. Her children are my cousins."

After they returned to the house she showed him their photographs–the mother, the two daughters, and the son, taken at various ages. The last one of the latter represented a young man with a pointed moustache, and the immaculately-fitting uniform of a sous-lieutenantnote in the French Guards. It was on this photograph that Victor looked the longest.

  ― 250 ―

"He looks very different there, doesn't he?" said Doris reflectively, turning to this photo from the previous one, in which he had been taken with his sisters, looking rather an awkward youth with over-long limbs.

"Yes; you see, he is quite grown-up here, and a soldier. Of course you like the soldier one best?" replied Victor, looking at the young officer with a sombre brow. He hated himself for making the suggestion as soon as he had spoken the words. But Doris answered without the slightest hesitation.

"No, I don't think I do; for, you see, he seems more like a stranger, and I don't like to write to him as I used to do."

"Oh, do you, then, correspond with each other?"

"You see, it was like this," answered Doris, leaning her cheek on one hand and looking up at him. "We always wrote to each other two or three times a year when we were children–on birthdays and at Easter and Christmas time–sending cards and little gifts. Then for four or five years Raoul did not write at all. I suppose he was too busy, for he left St. Cyrnote and went into the army when he was only eighteen, and only sent messages and birthday remembrances in his sister's letters when he was at home. But after we sent them our photographs–these," turning the leaves of the album to the picture in which she was taken with her mother on her sixteenth birthday, "Raoul wrote a nice long letter to me, asking for a picture for himself, and begging that I would write just as I used to long ago. But I think it would be silly to write like that now."

"Yes, and Doris said the other day she would ask you about it, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon," said Euphemia, who was sitting near Doris with her accustomed gift of silence, but listening to all that passed with deep interest.

"Ask me?" repeated Victor. The gloom that had gathered on his face sensibly lightened.

"Yes; I thought you noteshould know what sort of notea letter a boy quite grown-up would really like to get," answered Doris, a little shyly.

"Oh, as for me, I notewould like to get any sort of letter that you wrote."

But this assurance, though spoken with that perfect veracity

  ― 251 ―
which seldom animates human intercourse, did not seem quite to satisfy Doris.

"Isn't that the sort of thing one says for the sake of politeness?" she said hesitatingly; and then, after a little pause, as if to soften the inquiry: "Of course you cannot tell how very stupid I am at writing letters. You see I know, because my cousins write such very clever letters–quite different from mine."

"I have been wondering what sort of letters you used to write," said Victor slowly, having with difficulty resisted the temptation of making various assertions during the pause that ensued.

"Well, mostly about the flowers–there were always flowers at Ouranie; and the birds, and the look of the sky notethe––"

"If you were writing to-night, what would you say about it?"

"About the sky, do you mean?"


She looked out through the open window and into the tranquil heavens, where the moon, almost at the full, was slowly mounting into sight. Her eyes grew large and humid as she slowly replied:

"I would say that the dark half of the moon was over, and that it was like a great silver basin heaped up with soft white lilies. And all the time, you see," she said, turning round and looking at him earnestly with her great candid eyes, "the moon is like notea cinder, as dry as ashes, full of dreadful scars and noteextinct volcanoes. I was so disappointed when mother told me about it when I learned a little about astronomy."

Victor looked into the pure sweet face upturned to his with a growing thrill of emotion. It was with difficulty he averted his eyes, and said with an affectation of carelessness:

"Well, if a good fairy came to me and gave me my choice of gifts, I know what I should choose."

"I should like to know."

"Letters like those you wrote from Ouranie."

"Really, do you mean noteit?"

"Really and truly."

"I wonder at that very much."

"Why do you?"

  ― 252 ―

"Because there are so many things more important than getting any letters. If you had your choice, would you not sooner be back with your mother?"

Victor turned quickly, and looked out at the window. He was forced to smile, and he feared that if Doris saw him, his levity would seem as strange to her as his choice of fortune.

"Well, there isn't much chance of fairies giving us the embarrassment of choosing," he said, evading a direct answer. "But some kinds of letters would rank very high with me. . . . I suppose you like getting your cousins'?"

"Oh yes, especially Eugenie's. She is just a few months older than I am, and she is going into society this season.note There has been so much for her to tell about, and she makes you feel as if you knew the people."

"Like that letter in which she told you about the Duchess, Doris," remarked Euphemia.

"For my part, I would much sooner hear about the silver basin heaped up with soft white lilies," said Victor.

"Then do you think I might write to Raoul as I used to?" asked Doris, a little anxiously.

Victor knitted his brows, and stroked his moustache with slow thoughtfulness.

"It is difficult to advise about another person, especially one you know nothing about. Of course I can answer for myself. I'll tell you what I think we might do–that is to make my opinion of any value––"

The young Machiavelli paused and looked as grave and reflective as if he were trying to decide a knotty question of statecraft.

"Yes, tell me," urged Doris with interest.

"You might fancy I was a long way off, and that you wanted to write to me and let me know what this place was like, and so on, like an exercise, you know, and then I might help you––"

"Oh yes, that would be nice; but what a shame to practise on you! Don't you mind?"

"Not in the least. I was going to say that I could help you noteto make it into an ordinary letter, like the prosy sensible things people generally write, and then you could send it to your cousin."

  ― 253 ―

"It is no use, I must write and tell the whole truth to Helen," Victor was saying to himself half an hour later in his own room. "It will be horrid, I know. . . . What in the name of heaven made me fancy I was in love! . . . Oh, what a beautiful darling she is! . . . And going away in six or seven weeks. . . . I shall take my passage by the same ship. I shall find it necessary. Will she ever care for me a little? But what a fearful donkey I was! . . . Fortunately Helen does not love me. . . . I am quite sure of that now."

  ― 254 ―

11. Chapter XI.

Some days later Victor received two letters that served to tranquillize the contending emotions and purposes that so often assailed him during the interval. The first was one from Miss Paget, telling him that her father had persuaded Professor Codrington to accompany him back to Adelaide on a long visit, that they might probably be leaving in less than a month from the date of writing, so that any future letters of his to Colombo would be peradventure ones.note If the Professor received certain tidings from England when they were due, they might be leaving a little earlier than four weeks. They were perhaps going to get out at Albany and take the train across to Perthnote for a short visit. There were friends of the Professor's there, and he had little difficulty in persuading her father to break the journey back. As for herself, she was at present a sort of classic chorus, whose remarks might be from time to time audible regarding events without in the least affecting their course.note Personally, she would much sooner have stayed longer at Colombo, with its Bengalis, Moslems, Punjabis, Ghoorkas,note etc., hustling each other in the streets; its swarms of bronze children in dingy sarees, of women clothed in slim cotton robes and a baby on the hip, to say nothing of the funny little boards of smeared sweetmeats under coarse mats, supported on four slender bamboo canes. . . . The bride, too, was far from having exhausted the resources of her trousseau. Only the other day the barometer fell a little, and she instantly went into feathers–plumes on her jacket and skirt, plumes on her head, and a long white feather boa. It was just as if an enchanter had been turning her into a bird, and the process was arrested half-way. She was full of those fols enfantillages note some brides were fond of indulging in. . . . Well, if no more letters reached her from Victor in Colombo, she would at least expect a few lines at Perth or Albany, addressed care of the P. and O. agent.

The other letter was from his mother, written after she had got his, telling of the attachment between himself and Helen, and

  ― 255 ―
the engagement imminent after the period of probation. Mrs. Fitz-Gibbon wrote with some emotion. She entirely refused to look on this affair in a serious light.

"Dear boy," she wrote, "what put it into your head that you were in love with a lady almost old enough to be your mother, and to propose before you attained your majority? When I read the cool, matter-of-fact announcement, and then thought of the lava-torrent of eloquence, into which you would have plunged as to the eyes, lips, etc., of the adored one, if your heart had been really touched–pardon me, dear, if I tell you that I could not help laughing. You rash, impulsive boy! Not that perhaps it is surprising you should have mutually whiled away some of the tedious days by a little love-making. . . . Apart from the question of age, Miss Paget has many attractions. She is intelligent and very nice-looking. But the discrepancy is too preposterous, and my own belief is that it was only to let you down gently that she suggested the compromise. She has too biting a sense of humour, not to appreciate the ludicrousness of the matter; for you are not only very young in years, but young for your age, as your father was before you. Please allow a little to my knowledge of two generations of Fitz-Gibbons."

It may be doubted whether this was altogether a judicious letter, or would have gone far to effect the object of the writer, had not a more potent cause been at work. Even though Victor would now be glad to believe, that Miss Paget had not seriously looked forward to their engagement, his mother's letter vexed and irritated him–till he came to the last page.

"But at any rate, my dear boy, you will come to bring me home, before you take any further steps in the matter. Now that we have not to study economy so painfully, there is no reason why we should not have our long-projected little tours together. I shall meet you on the Continent according to the line you prefer to come by."

When his office-work was over that day, Victor saddled his horse and rode out towards Broombush Creek. As he galloped across the plain, his hopes became boundless as the high, wide horizon round him. He would write a short letter to Helen at Colombo, and then a note to Perth, telling her he would meet her as soon as she landed. He would run down to town for the purpose. . . . After all, she had been wise enough to see from the

  ― 256 ―
first that there was an impossible element in his wooing. He went further, and began to feel sure that his mother's view of Miss Paget's action was the true one. . . . Well, she would always be his friend–she had often said so–irrespective of any closer bond; and she would love Doris. Who would not that once saw her?

Then, in fear and trembling, he suddenly asked himself whether it was possible that he could ever win so dazzling, so overwhelming, a gift as Doris's love. But as he recalled her growing gaiety and confiding air, the sweet little smile with which she now gave him her hand on meeting and parting, his hopes rose high. He was near her; he would see her day by day; he would go by the same ship that the Challoners chose for their voyage after Christmas. Yes, he was sure now all would be well. A great unreasoning wave of joy swept over him as he rode on, and he gave vent to his notefeelings by singing at the pitch of his voice:

"Hurrah, hurrah, let's sound the jubilee!
Hurrah, hurrah, the flag that sets us free!
Hurrah, hurrah––"note

He was arrested by the sound of a clear, mocking echo, as distinct as his own voice. It was from the low rock near the broken-down whim, to which he was quite close, though he had not noticed it, in his joyous self-absorption. Two men were half reclining on their swags at the foot of this rock, resting while they boiled a billy of water for tea. Victor slackened his pace. As he approached them, a dog rose up and began to bark joyously, struggling to get away; but one of the men held him back by a stout cord. It was Doris's Spot–the friendly young collie who notehad accepted everyone as a possible friend. The tramp made a feeble statement about being followed by the dog from somewhere near the Colmar, and refusing to turn back.

"That's a way dogs have when held by a ship's hawser," said Victor, laughing.

He went no further, but rode back at once, with Spot running ahead. When they came in sight of Stonehouse, notehe bombarded the place with his short, excited barks. Before Victor reached the

  ― 257 ―
front avenue there was Doris rejoicing over her vagrant, with Rex looking on, saying as eloquently as eyes and a tail can speak, "I told him he would get into a mess, going to speak to strange swagmen."

As Victor anticipated, Doris had been in great trouble at Spot's disappearance. They missed him shortly after mid-day, and waited for his return in vain. Then Doris and Euphemia had gone across to the mine to see if he had followed Mr. Fitz-Gibbon; but no trace of him was to be seen.

"Now here he is, all safe and sound, the naughty old darling!" and both girls embraced him and patted him, a proceeding which Spot enjoyed immensely.

"Do you know, after all, there is something of the good fairy about you," said Doris. "You get boxes of flowers for us, as if by making a sign over the Salt-bush, and now you rescued Spot when he was being stolen."

"Well, and do you know what this good fairy advises, so as to make Mr. Spot give up following chance swagmen?" said Victor. "Tie him up for a whole day, and give him a beating."

The bare suggestion won more caresses for Spot. Then Doris told Victor how, during their search, they had seen a dog that in the distance looked like hers disappearing into a tent. They went to the door to inquire.

"Only there was no real door," she said, "but just a sack hanging in the opening; and inside there was a poor woman looking dreadfully ill, with two children in bed, sick of a fever. Oh, such a miserable place!–the floor, bare earth, dirty and uneven–no chairs–not even a table; and the woman thinks it is the water out of the tank that makes them ill."

"Yes, I know they are rather bad, the sort of places some of the miners live in," assented Victor, but without much interest.

Doris, however, was not content with being merely sorry. She wanted to have something done. Hesitating a little, and looking down, while a deeper tinge of colour stole into her cheeks, she said she had some money to spend as she liked, and she wanted to do something for this family. Could Victor suggest some way of getting notethem a better place to live in? At Ouranie they had got a little wooden house from town, all ready to be put up at

  ― 258 ―
Peppermint Ranges for a school.

"Couldn't we do something like that for the Connels?"note asked Doris, looking at the mine-purser with her direct, serious gaze.

But was this a matter to be decided in half a minute of time, while one is holding one's horse by the bridle? No; it was a question to be talked over for an hour and a half, by the light of many candles, softened by pink shades, with an elderly couple playing their habitual elderly games of chess, with the breath of late violets and sheaves of white lilac pervading the room, and the cool evening wind stealing in through the open windows.

Victor found the advertisement of a firm of builders, in one of the weekly newspapers, illustrated by a seductive wood-cut, of a little three-roomed wooden building, with doors and windows all complete. Doris and Euphemia looked at this picture with rapt enthusiasm.

"I think it is better for the price than the building we got for the school-room," said Doris, with quite a business-like air. Then she took up a pencil and wrote some figures on a piece of paper. "I think I should like to order three of these houses. There are some others with children who are ill," she said, after a pause.

"But you mustn't begin to present people with houses as if they were Christmas cards," said Victor, smiling.

Euphemia was summoned into the kitchen in consultation over a cake that was being made. When she was gone, Doris, in reply to Victor's remonstrance, said very gravely:

"But I know mother would like me to help these poor people. I like to do things that seem to bring us nearer."

Victor felt something like a pang of jealousy at the thought that Doris's love for her mother was so deep that it might exclude the growth of a new affection. This was succeeded by the reflection that he might help his own cause with her, by co-operation in this matter. 'Zilla had a few days ago returned part of the loan he had made to him, at the same time expressing a wish that there were some place to which he could bring his wife at the mine. She was too delicate to live in a tent.

"You have put a plan in my mind," he said; "that is, if you order one of these wooden places, I'll order another for 'Zilla Jenkins. But, you know, I think we ought to charge a little rent. The miners here get good wages,note and can afford to pay a little for a place to live in."

  ― 259 ―

"But not when the children are ill," objected Doris.

The next day she went further, and told Victor the people who were getting money out of the mine, ought to provide houses for the miners. Altogether, he found this business of ordering two prosaic little wooden buildings, a wonderfully enchanting affair. Indeed, at this period he lived in a world of enchantment. There was a light in his eyes, and a glow on his face oftentimes, that might draw the eyes of the least-interested observer.

"Smiling at angelsnote again, Fitz-Gibbon?" said Vansittart, a few evenings after the weather-board cottages had been ordered. It was the fifth day after Trevaskis' return from town, and the three were sitting at tea in the dining-room of the Colmar Arms, when Vansittart abruptly broke the silence with this inquiry.

"What do you mean?" said Victor, turning to him, his unconscious look of beatitude replaced by one of wonder.

"Ten minutes ago I was talking to you most profoundly about the destinies of the human race. I said they were unable to achieve any real lasting good, and that the divinities who tried to help them had all ended with failure. There was the Indian god who tried to carry the world to salvation, and lost his hands and arms; another who developed a liver with a fowl snapping it out of him through ages; another who was put to death on a cross.note "Yes," said you softly, staring into your teacup with a little smile. After that your mine-manager spoke of the great dray-loads of machinery that are on the way from Nilpeena to Broombush Creek. On that, you looked out through the window, again smiling ineffably. Are you in love?"

Much, no doubt, may be forgiven to a very young man who is for the first time passionately in love; but when his state of exalted preoccupation was so crudely brought home to him, Victor felt that his behaviour had been very boyish and undignified, and in momentary confusion he seized the first explanation that offered itself to him.

"Don't you know," he said, "that when people smile into their teacups and at windows, it is money they are thinking about–gold heaped up in an old cave room? By the way, captain, I suppose I can go on now with that search?"

Trevaskis shot a quick look at Vansittart, and then at Victor, the blood surging violently into his face. He had been several hours for four nights running at work in the cave room, retorting

  ― 260 ―
and smelting the amalgam, and his first thought, when thus addressed, was that he had somehow been spied upon.

"It's better to settle mine-matters at the mine," he answered brusquely.

"Don't mind my presence in this matter, sir," said Vansittart, with icy politeness. "You see," he went on, fixing his eyes steadily on the manager's face, "it was I who first told Mr. Fitz-Gibbon that the cave room was well worth looking into. I wonder he has taken so long about the matter. For a young man who is so much wrapped up in money, he is singularly dilatory."

Trevaskis emitted an ejaculation that was between a snort and a grunt–one of those sounds of defiant indignation which notehas perhaps descended to us from the days preceding the evolution of speech, still retaining a primitive eloquence that defies translation into language. He felt certain for one brief moment that all was known, that these speeches were prearranged, and the prelude to openly denouncing him as a thief. But he recalled his terror on notethat first night, when he made sure that he was uncovering a mutilated corpse. "It may be another dead rat, after all," he said to himself. He drained a cup of tea, and then went to the sideboard to pour himself out another. His hand shook like a leaf, but with a strong effort of will he controlled himself.

"Did I tell you that Dr. Magann is coming to settle at the mine?" he said to Victor, resuming his place at the table. . . . "Oh yes–next week. There's not a soul left at The Ridges and Hooper's Luck except a few women and children and an old man or two. The rush to Broombush has thinned a lot of the townships between this and Adelaide; but as for The Ridges, it's simply cleaned out. It's lucky the old doctor is coming here; there's illness in three or four of the tents and huts."

In his determination to ignore the terror that had for a moment overtaken him, he talked notemuch more than was his wont. He even retailed some old mining stories, over which he and Victor laughed heartily. Altogether he was a much more genial being through the rest of the meal than he had ever been at that table before.

Vansittart sat listening and looking on in gloomy silence. A curious change had come over him since his illness. That

  ― 261 ―
pervasive ecstasy of the nerves, evoked by what he called his Australian "keef,"note had entirely forsaken him. It had no longer power to charm him into pleasing visions, or complacent monologues, alternated with drowsy, voluptuous reveries. When he spoke, it was in bitter discontent with the world and all that it contained. But for the most part he sat silent, with an expression of unmoved sombreness on his face. He fixed his attention on Trevaskis from the moment that the cave room was mentioned till he left the dining-room. Then, turning to Victor, who was lighting a cigarette preparatory to leaving, he said:

"What is that man up to? You noticed nothing unusual in his manner? Why, the moment you mentioned gold, the blood rushed to his face in a torrent. His eyes, too, are much worse again, and when he lifted his teacup, his hand trembled as if he were in a fit of D.T.note . . . Hasn't he made some excuse so as to prevent your going into the cave room?"

"It has not yet been convenient. I haven't been thinking much about it, to tell the truth."

"Well, I tell you he is up to his eyes thieving in that place."

It always gave Victor an uncomfortable feeling to hear a man impute a baseness to another. Perhaps he was as much in danger of being misled by his belief in people generally till they proved themselves unworthy of confidence, as Trevaskis was by his unfailing suspicions of all with whom he came in contact. This trait of his character had from the first forced itself on Victor, and he thought he now recognised the same tendency in Vansittart. It was this that induced him to reply:

"I have often heard of the melancholy of the Bush, and, do you know, Vansittart, I begin to think that it makes people take rather gloomy views of human nature."

"Yes, because you have plenty of time for reflection and concentrated observation–that is, if you have come to years of discretion. As for you, young man, if I am not mistaken, you live and move in an artificial paradise just at present. You have inhaled more keef than I have swallowed in all my life. Take care that your heaven does not come down with a run, like a broken drop-scene."note

He stared hard into the bright, handsome young face opposite to him. Its indomitable gladness seemed to wound him almost like an insult.

  ― 262 ―

"Well, as long as you suspect me only of being happy––"

"Yes; but don't forget that happiness in a world like this is the last refuge of an idiot!"note said Vansittart savagely.

On this Victor laughed outright, and rose to go. But something in the sombre eyes, the forlorn, stooping attitude, the uncared-for, lonely look of the man, suddenly touched him.

"I say, old man, I don't believe it's a good thing for you to be staying on here with nothing to do. Wouldn't you find it more amusing to wait for your friend in town?" he said, putting his hand on Vansittart's shoulder as he spoke.

"It wouldn't make any real difference to me," answered Vansittart, after a little pause. . . . "I came across an old black-fellow dying from a wound and from thirst once in the Bush. "Wirin-ap yarnt-il, wirin-ap yarnt-il!" he kept on saying a score of times to the minute, which means, "I am sick from a spear-wound."note That's about the size of it with me. My life has been a claim that didn't pan out well. I'm better waiting here than in town."

"Poor old chap! I wonder what came over him?" thought Victor, as he walked across to his office. "I might have offered to play a game or two of euchre with him. . . . But, then, there is this letter about the weather-board cottages which I want Doris to see."

  ― 263 ―

12. Chapter XII.

Trevaskis, though outwardly calm, was in a state of indescribable excitement as he walked across from the Colmar Arms to the mine. His throat felt parched; his pulses seemed to be thundering in his ears. So it was Vansittart who had first told Fitz-Gibbon about the probable treasure that was secreted at the mine. Vansittart had been for some months acting as purser while the amalgam was being stolen. Now he was staying on at the Colmar Arms, on the pretext of waiting for an old mate, who was coming down from the Far North. Was this a plant?note Had he any certain knowledge? Was he, perhaps with Fitz-Gibbon's aid, gathering up evidence that would be incontestable? Would the two, with the assistance of a policeman summoned from town, one day break open the iron wall that secured the entrance to the cave room?

But when his fears had reached this climax, Trevaskis reflected that even in such an extremity it would be impossible to convict him of actual guilt. No search–no discovery that might possibly be made–could connect him with stealing the amalgam. It was characteristic of the dogged tenacity with which he kept to a purpose once formed, that even the gold which he had retorted and smelted during the past four nights he had secreted underground, though he had been much tempted to put the bars in the strong safe that stood in his office.

But he had already taken action towards securing a place to which he would convey the treasure. The day before this he had ridden out towards Broombush Creek. In a secluded spot at some distance from it he had pegged out a prospector's quartz claim, and sent in an application to the Government. As soon as this was granted he intended to set a man working there,note providing him with a small hut to live in.

These would be the preliminary steps. Afterwards, when his three hundredweight of gold was ready for the market, he would take it all away and elaborate his plans. He would buy up

  ― 264 ―
notethe disused machinery at the Colmar Mine, and in common sacks, among old tools, he would take away this fortune without a breath of suspicion–if only this double-faced young Irishman and this crazy opium-eaternote did not make mischief. Christmas was not now far off, and at that date Fitz-Gibbon would be leaving.

"If I can only tide that time over somehow or another!" he said, clenching his right hand rigidly.

So engrossed was he in his thoughts that he was close to his office-door before he saw that someone stood there awaiting him–a powerful-looking, thick-set man, half a head shorter than Trevaskis.

"Be that note'ee,note Bill?" said the man, holding out his hand.

"Why, Dan, where did you spring from? I am so very glad to see you–very glad indeed!" said Trevaskis heartily, as they shook hands.

Perhaps he felt there was call for this assurance, for it was his brother, older than he was by five years, but still a working miner, as he had been in early youth. It was now some years since they last met. On that occasion Dan had come one evening unexpectedly to his brother's house; he happened to be entertaining a number of guests at dinner. He would not ask Dan in among them, and he could not send him to the kitchen. He tried to compromise the matter by pressing a ten-pound note into his hand, and asking him to call on the morrow. But Dan had thrust the bank-note back with some violence.

"Studdy there, Bill, studdy! I come to see note'ee, not for money. I can't clunknote that, man," he said, and then hurried away.

"Come in, Dan, come in," said Trevaskis, unlocking his door. "I expect you've come a good distance, and want something to eat," he added, as he lit the lamp.

"No, I've had tay wi' my old mate, 'Zilla Jenkins. I met 'im close by as I got off Circus Bill's trap.note I notecom' from Broombush Creek."

"Circus Bill's trap' was a passenger coach, which had within the last week begun to run daily between Broombush Creek and Nilpeena.

  ― 265 ―

It turned out that Dan had been at the diggings, not on his own account, but summoned there by a brother-in-law, who had been among the first in the rush to Broombush Creek.

"'E had pretty good luck, but 'e was took bad, and 'e sent for me. 'E seemed to know from th' first as 'e wouldn't git over it, and notehe just wanted to give me safe what 'e 'ad got. Poor old chap! he died yistiday a' four o' the marning. I feel quite whizzy like. They'll die there like flies before long; such a shaapenote 'ole I never seed. I wouldn't stay there for no money. 'E give me this, poor fellow! 'twas 'ard to die for the sake o' getting 't for another man."

Dan produced a soiled cotton handkerchief with a round lump knotted in the middle. It was a number of small nuggets of gold, about twenty ounces in all.

"I reckon 'tis about fifty pun worth o' gold?" he said interrogatively. There was a good deal of quartz mixed with it.

"I'll give you seventy pounds for them, Dan," said Trevaskis, turning the nuggets over.

All the sombreness had left his face. There was a ring of gladness in his voice, and a light in his eyes. Here was the one man in all the world who could best help him to carry out his noteplans. He wondered now he had not thought of Dan before. He was a man who would be bound to him by the strongest ties–one of a faithful, trusting nature–who, if the facts of the case must eventually be revealed to him, would not be greatly shocked or surprised. But only under urgent necessity would he make a confidant even of Dan. He would at first tell him as much or as little as the emergency called for. These thoughts passed with lightning rapidity through Trevaskis' mind.

"Seventy pun, Bill! Why, you're making me a present o' some o' that, sure 'nough," said Dan, smiling.

"Oh, I'm going into the gold-buying trade before long," answered Trevaskis. . . . "Now, isn't it a funny thing when you come to think of it?" he went on reflectively. "Here have I been for the last week thinking every day of writing to you, not only to answer the letter I got when I was coming here, but because I wanted to make you a certain offer."

"What sort o' hoffer, Bill?"

"I am going to take up a prospector's claim a few miles away

  ― 266 ―
from Broombush diggings, and I want you to take charge of it at, say, six pounds a week."

"That's a handsome wage,note Bill! Then you make sure there's gold there?"

"I know it," said Trevaskis; and then he went on to explain that, in some way which he could not then divulge, he had found out that a quantity of gold had been hidden in notethe locality years before; that the two men who were chiefly concerned in it were dead, and that no one else had now a better right to it than he had himself. "In fact," he said, lowering his voice, "it's for the sake of that I'm staying on here. I don't want to throw up my billet till I can make a proper search, and to make a proper search, a man must fossick about, perhaps for months. You've turned up just in the nick of time. I'll provide you a comfortable crib to live in, and a horse and some sort of notea machine.note There's a lot of old second-hand tools here that I can buy cheap from the company."

Trevaskis, in his excitement, walked up and down the room, hardly giving his brother time to put in a word. The longer he thought over the plan of having Dan at the claim, the more certain he felt of ultimate success. Dan had never risen a step above the class he was born in; but he was a safe man and a true, noted from childhood for being well able to keep his own counsel under all circumstances. He had, it noteis true, a weakness for drink; well, that would be no detriment in this case, at certain times.

"But what tools should we want, Bill, if it's only just to fossick round? A biddix or two for diggin', and a buss and a crock for cookin',note as poor father used to say, is all a miner wants."

"My dear man, we don't want to advertise to all the world and his wifenote what our schemes are. The plan will be for you to begin working at the rock, as if we were going in for crushing and all the rest of it. When all is done, Dan, I'll give you a couple of hundred pounds over and above your wages."

"Well, Bill, you're no bufflehead at making money, and I'm no snail-dewnote at work, and I'm sure it 'ull be all'ays fair sailin' 'twixt thee and I; we'll chait neer another nor each other, but it fills me o' wonder you should make so cocksure o' finding the gold. Now, in a body o' troode,note thee mayst take the word o' a man that note'ull

  ― 267 ―
lie like old Nick hissel' on gold."

"I know that, Dan, I know that," answered Trevaskis, laughing. "But you may be pretty sure I'm not going to engage and send you to my claim on a fool's errand. Now we'll drink success to our venture."

He produced a bottle of brandy, notesome tumblers, and a jug of water.

"Softly, softly, Bill! Yes, if you have a few biskies,note I don't mind if I taste one or two," said Dan. Then they clinked their glasses to drink success to the gold-searching. As they were in the act of doing this, a loud, hard single knock was heard at the window. Trevaskis instantly went out, but there was no one in sight.

"I heard no footsteps, did you, Dan?"

"No, not a sound, but that one hard knock. . . . I don't like it, Bill."

"Oh, nonsense, man! it was notea dumbledorynote with wings–one of those creatures that come out on warm nights––"

"'Twas a notetremenjous row for a hinsek to make, Bill," said the elder brother incredulously.

"But, then, a man couldn't get out of sight for three minutes, at the very least, Dan. You see, there's the rest of the offices in a row to the south, and the galvanized iron passage that reaches to an old sort of underground place on the north side. You haven't got the old Cornish superstitionsnote in you still, have you?"

Trevaskis laughed and drained his glass. Dan also drained his, but he did not laugh. He did not like a loud, solitary knock, with no one visible when it was answered. How often had it been proved to be a sign, that of those who heard it one would be beyond the reach of all sounds of earth before a year had run? Trevaskis guessed the thoughts that darkened Dan's brow, and, lighting a candle, he went out and searched about round the window. Presently he came in with a great winged beetle, dead, on the palm of his hand.

"There, Dan, there's your prophet–dashed himself dead with one blow, trying to get in to the light. Help yourself to another nip. This is proper old Martell.note None of your fiery new rubbish!"

  ― 268 ―

They spent the next hour in arranging the details of Dan's search at the claim. He was to work alone, but would ride across every second evening or so. All would be ready for him by the time he came back. He had to return to Bendigo to let his cottage, perhaps sell it, and set his little affairs in order. But he would be back in nine or ten days at the longest, including half a day's stay at Mount Lofty to see his son Dick, the bank clerk.

"That's one thing I'm allays thankful to you for, Bill–gettin' that boy a dacent, easy berth," said Dan; "for he's took arter his poor dead mother, not fit for a full shift o' hard work. He's growed fust-rate though, hoyer by a head nor me."

Trevaskis knew that this youth was the pride of his father's heart, and he let him talk on, throwing in a eulogistic phrase now and then, while his thoughts were busy elsewhere. At ten o'clock he made a bed for Dan in the office on the sofa, which could be broadened at will for that purpose.

"I'll clear out the next room to this for you, Dan, and you can take a bed here when you come over from the claim," he said, as he bade Dan good-night. "It will be a fine thing for us both, for we've seen too little of each other all these years, and yet I'll be bound we'd do as much for one another as most brothers."

Trevaskis seldom spoke with much effusion, but when he did he usually had an object to gain. At present this consisted, in the first instance, in inspiring his brother with complete confidence in his goodwill.

At dawn the next morning Circus Bill made a very early start notefor Nilpeena, so as to return on the same day to Broombush Creek. The brothers parted on the heartiest terms. On that day, and during the greater part of the succeeding week, Trevaskis notemanaged to have his dinner at the Colmar Arms alone, by going there an hour later than the usual time. His breakfast and notehis evening meal he managed to get in his own rooms, by having a spirit-lampnote to boil water for tea, and getting the baker to leave a pound of butter and a loaf of bread now and then. He was, when hard at work, a spare eater, and had hitherto rarely passed the bounds of temperance in drinking. But now, with the constant strain of working half the night, and often sleeping badly the other half, he got into the way of depending more and more on

  ― 269 ―
stimulant, to meet the heavy demands he made upon his endurance. During these days he kept out of Victor's way as much as possible. He expected him daily to renew his proposition about the search, and the only plan which he could at present devise was simply to decline doing anything in the matter till the brother of the late manager came to take delivery of his effects. It was a pitifully lame excuse–he knew that–one which would give colour to the strongest suspicions as to his motives; but every day's delay was worth hundreds of pounds to him. Night by night, as he retorted and smelted the gold, and added to his heap of shining bars, he became more indifferent to the thought of mere suspicion–to anything short of losing the fortune that each night brought more and more surely within his grasp.

Apart from this robbery, he was most devoted to the interests of the Colmar Mine, seeing to all the details of the work above and below ground with a feverish restlessness that knew no pause. Then, about nine in the evening, he would go down to the cave room, put five hundred ounces of amalgam in the retort, plaster its top edge with carefully-worked clay, before putting on the lid, which he made air-tight by driving in the holding-down wedges. Then he kindled the fire in the furnace, slowly bringing it up to red heat. At eleven o'clock he would go to see the night-shift go below, scrutinizing each of the men with an eagle eye. If one of them showed the least symptom of intoxication he instantly ordered him away. One of the shift-bosses would sometimes intercede for an old or tried miner.

"No, I won't have it–I won't have it! There's been too much of that sort of thing at this mine," Trevaskis would say in iron tones. "Rock-drills are destroyed and slovenly work is done, if the men are not perfectly sober. I'm here to protect the company and the shareholders, not to coddle drunken rascals."

Then he would return to his gold. About midnight, when the retorting was completed, he turned out the spongy cake of gold, broke it up with a notehammer into small lumps, placed them in a crucible with the necessary fluxes, and put the crucible in the assay furnace, which he had ready heated with gartshore coke,note out of the bags he had found near the furnaces. The smelting took from fifteen to twenty minutes. Then he poured the molten

  ― 270 ―
gold into a long, narrow iron mould, and, when solid, turned it out into a dish of muriatic acid to eat away all impurities. The acid boiled and bubbled when the red-hot gold was put in it, filling the air with yellow suffocating fumes,note from which Trevaskis escaped by retreating for some minutes into the iron passage. Last of all he put the gold into an enamelled basin full of water, and washed the acid, etc., off with a strong scrubbing brush. Then the pure, massy bar, two hundred and fifteen ounces in weight, was ready to be made into golden vessels for royal tables, into jewellery for fair women, into wash-hand basins for barbarians, into sovereigns for the joy or misery of mankind. There it was, without a stain of the earth from which it came, ready to feed the hungry and tempt the weak, to clothe the naked and pay the wages of sin.note

For ten nights Trevaskis worked with the same brilliant result. Each night he watched by his retort and crucible, the flaming fire casting strange shadows in the gloomy recesses of the cave room. His eyes, which were nearly well when he returned from town, had again become much inflamed. When he went about he wore a dark-green shade over them, and the protection this afforded was valuable to him, mentally as well as physically. He had never before quailed at the sight of any man, but now he found it a comfort not to be obliged to speak eye to eye with the most insignificant employé at the mine. In the anticipation of the purser's renewed request to search the cave room, Trevaskis had a conviction that the excuse he meant to make for delaying the event would gather much force, from the indifference with which he could speak when his eyes were veiled from observation. But day after day passed by, and Victor made no sign. He was too deeply preoccupied with more delightful thoughts to waste any on a matter so trivial as a problematical treasure. But Vansittart, without any strong personal interests, and absolutely idle while he waited for his friend, watched and thought intently over the little drama which he felt convinced was now going on at the Colmar Mine. When he found that day after day Trevaskis came for his dinner an hour later than the usual time, and did not come there at all for breakfast and tea, he knew that the arrangement was solely to avoid contact with him, for fear he should make any further allusions to the cave room.

  ― 271 ―

He occupied a small bedroom opening into the dining-room, with a window that overlooked the front veranda. Daily he would station himself at this window, and watch Trevaskis as he came and went away, noting every movement and gesture–his eager haste, his anxious abstraction, his eyes jealously guarded by the broad green shade. He even went, one still, dark night, and watched by the enclosure round the entrance to the cave room, with sleepless vigilance, from ten o'clock till the dawn reddened the east; but not a sound, notenot a sign, not a gleam of light rewarded his long vigil. As a matter of fact, Trevaskis, on this particular night, suffered so much from his eyes that he could not face his secret night-work. But he exercised such stringent precautions against detection, that it may be doubted whether the most vigilant notewatchers would have been able to find a clue to his proceedings. Vansittart, who knew something of the capacities of the cave room for concealment, felt baffled, but not convinced. He tried his best to rouse Victor to some enthusiasm on the subject, but the young man, half in impatience and half in fun, at last forbade him ever to mention the cave room any more.

"You cast reflections upon stage comedy once," said Victor; "but at any rate it has this advantage, it comes to an end in a couple of hours, whereas yours goes on for weeks at a stretch."

"You think it's a comedy? What I told you about––"

"Now, don't–don't mention it any more, or I shall change my dinner-hour," said Victor, laughing. "Your pretending you didn't know Trevaskis was a little amusing the first day; but, then, you kept it up too long–and now this hidden treasure!"

"Well, never mind; I'm waiting developments."

Next morning Vansittart got a letter from his friend, telling him he would be at Nilpeena in two days. He determined to have a say once more regarding the cave room in Trevaskis' presence before leaving the Colmar Arms. With this object he told the landlady that they all wanted dinner at the later hour on this day. Then he walked across to see Victor at his office, as he had done several times before, and chatted with him on indifferent topics.

"By the way," he said, as he was leaving, "Mrs. West wants to know if you can make it convenient to come notelater to dinner

  ― 272 ―
noteto-day. Some domestic rupture, I suppose, about having two dinner-times."

Victor for the first time doubted the explanation when, after he and Trevaskis were seated at the table, Vansittart came into the dining-room. There was a look of devilry in his dark eyes that betrayed some latent excitement. A moment or two later the three were joined by two men who were on their way to Broombush Creek–one of them the manager of a company that had started crushing with tolerable results. Trevaskis entered into animated talk with this man on mining. Victor talked a little to the other stranger. Vansittart sat on in silence till dinner was half over. He looked annoyed, as if his plans had been upset. But at last his opportunity came.

"Ay, it will maybe turn out a great place yet–this Broombush Creek," said the new manager.

"And repeat the history of all other places in which gold is found," said Vansittart, in a low-pitched, deliberate voice.

"I expect so. Do you know much about gold-mining and diggings, sir?" said the unsuspecting stranger affably.

"Yes, a good deal. In fact, I've just made my fortune at a gold-mine."

This statement produced what the law reporters call a sensation. That is, one of the strangers said "Oh!" another "Indeed!" and both looked at Vansittart with the utmost interest.

A deep flush mounted into Trevaskis' face. He longed for the shade over his eyes. If he had known he would not be alone, he would not have removed it when he sat down to dinner. But he went on with his meal without once looking at Vansittart. Victor felt sure that a disagreeable "development"note was to take place, and, according to the fashion of his age and sex, he awaited the dénouement with a certain amount of enjoyment.

"Yes, gentlemen," said Vansittart, in emphatic tones, "quite a fortune! The story is a short one, and can be briefly told. I was at a mine in a colony not far from here. It seems that one or two previous managers had been making a pile for themselves in a slightly irregular way. Don't let this surprise you overmuch. I assure you that nature and human society abound with bravos who are ready to rob and devour each other for the sake of a few

  ― 273 ―
mouthfuls and a little gold. Well, there was another man employed on this mine, and he went out one day looking for daisies. He was young and simple, and loved daisies to distraction; in fact, he had as many illusions as a young girl, and this was one of them. He did not find any daisies that day, but he found another man. Now, I am sure it is very inartistic to keep on finding another man in this way; but, being neither a poet nor notea comedian, I have to take things as they happened. Well, the man who didn't find a daisy came back to the mine that day, and he said to me:

" "There's gold hidden in an old cave room here–so noteI am told. Shall I go and have a look?"

" "Yes," said I, "as many looks as you like–next week."

"However, I thought I'd have a glance myself beforehand, and alone; and what do you suppose I found?"

"Broken bottles," said the new manager, laughing.

"Old tailings," said the other man, also laughing.

"A diamond as big as an emu-egg,"note said Victor, joining in the mirth.

"Won't you give a guess too, sir?" said Vansittart, looking fixedly at Trevaskis.

Trevaskis was by this time livid in the face, but notestill he made a feint of eating. On being thus directly addressed by his tormentor, he gave a hoarse little laugh and said:

"Perhaps you found as big a fool as yourself."

"No, sir; I'm afraid that, in some respects, would be impossible," returned Vansittart, with unmoved urbanity. "But I'll tell you what I did find. I found white goldnote in heaps and heaps–in hundredweights, I may say–and I went night after night and made it into yellow gold–into gold yellower than sovereigns and purer than wedding-rings. And I said to notethis young man:

" "You go and find some daisies for yourself. As for going into that enclosed room–a horrid cave and very inconvenient–don't think of it!"

"Mind you, gentlemen, I had that receptacle under lock and key. . . . So now I'm like the lilies who neither toil nor spin."note

"I'm afraid you're taking a rise out of us," said the man who sat

  ― 274 ―
notenext Victor.

Trevaskis, who had finished eating, sat with his hands tightly clasped underneath the table. But though he could not entirely command their tremor, he kept his voice well under control.

"If I wanted to stuff a greenhorn with a tall mining yarn, I wouldn't have far to go to better that," he said sneeringly.

"Very likely; but, you see, I'm limited to facts, sir," returned Vansittart, with grave politeness.

Then they all notearose from the table, Trevaskis and the manager who was going to Broombush Creek exchanging hopes, as they parted, of seeing each other on future occasions.

As Victor left the room Vansittart followed him to the door.

"I'm going away to-morrow, Fitz-Gibbon, to meet my friend at Nilpeena; so that's the last scene of the "comedy" as far as I am concerned. What notedid you think of the development?"

"I fear your audience wasn't educated up to enjoying it. That young simpleton, for instance, who doted on daisies. Confound you! I owe you one for that, old fellow."

They both laughed.

"I wonder," said Vansittart, "whether the curtain conceals a tableaunote of this little drama that will interest you more! Mind, you must tell me–if ever we meet again after to-morrow."

  ― 275 ―

13. Chapter XIII.

On his way back to the office, Victor saw 'Zilla Jenkins standing at the door of his new weather-board cottage, which had been put together during the past few days.

"Come and 'ave a look at the residence, sir. I'm that pleased I want to dance the letterpoochnote all over it!" he cried.

It was a snug little place, with well-fitting doors and windows. 'Zilla's broad, massive face shone with the pride of proprietorship, as he showed Victor over the three rooms.

"This 'ull be the kitchen. I'm putting up a dresser with a few boards. The missus would come next week, but I want her to wait till this illness is over at the mine. Some says as it's catchin'."

"But isn't this your time for being asleep, 'Zilla?" asked Victor, after he had admired the neatly-planed shelves and the superiorities of a dwelling that kept out dust and wind.

"Iss, sir; but a man don't want so much sleep when he 'ave a place like this to put in order. Snell's 'ouse 'ull soon be ready, too–and badly they need it. They say the youngest child is very notehill, and there's more notebeing took bad at the mine."

The Snells were the invalids for whom Doris had the cottage ordered. It was now being put together not far from 'Zilla's abode. It occurred to Victor that he would ask Doris and Euphemia to come and see how this new addition to the mine was progressing, as soon as his work was over for the afternoon. He had not been at his desk more than five minutes, when Mick came with a message that Trevaskis wished to see him in his office. The moment Victor entered, the manager turned on him, his face distorted with rage.

"I want to know," he said in a loud, insolent tone, "why you are conspiring to treat me with contempt?"

Victor, on hearing the tone in which he spoke, looked at Trevaskis in amazement.

  ― 276 ―

"Pardon me, but I don't understand your speech nor your manner," he answered.

"No; but perhaps you'll understand both before we part," said Trevaskis. He was not only in a great rage, but he was using purposely offensive language, with the hope that Fitz-Gibbon would, in a moment of anger, throw up his pursership, or commit some grave breach of discipline which would furnish a pretext for asking him to resign.

On hearing the last remark Victor's nostrils quivered, and a gleaming light came into his eyes.

"I decline to bandy personalities.note Will you kindly explain what you mean by saying I conspire to treat you with contempt?"

"I mean your conduct with that blackguard Vansittart; telling him tales about the mine–setting him on at me about that damned cave room, and then sitting grinning––"

"You are talking utter nonsense, and I think you must know it. I never told Vansittart anything about the mine; I never set him on to you. Why should I? Do you suppose, if I wanted to say anything to you, I wouldn't say it to your face?"

"It's conduct I won't put up with, turning me into ridicule. I've never suffered anyone to do so before, and, by God! I won't now," said Trevaskis, rising as he spoke.

"I think we had better finish this talk when you have recovered your memory," said Victor, beginning to be very angry in his turn.

"What do you mean by that–what about my memory?" cried Trevaskis, drawing his breath hard.

"You made a certain accusation–I denied it entirely; yet you still repeat your ungrounded noteassertion. You forget that you are talking to a gentleman. That is what I mean by saying your memory has failed you," answered Victor, looking steadily in Trevaskis' face.

"And you forget that you are talking to your superior officer," retorted Trevaskis, still using the tones of an angry man. But it was becoming clear to him that his shots had missed their mark, and that, in making charges based only on suspicion, he had placed himself in a false position.

"I think not," answered Victor. "I do not see that it is part of my

  ― 277 ―
official duty to listen to unwarranted accusations without denying them."

"Then do you say that nothing at all has passed between you and Vansittart about me and the mine?"

"Pardon me, but that isn't the question. You began by accusing me of conspiring to treat you with contempt. I do not hold myself responsible for what Vansittart may or may not say."

"Then I'll ask you one thing. Did you know nothing of the attack he was going to make on me to-day, by insinuating that I was getting gold in the underground room?"

"Certainly not."

"And yet you purposely changed your dinner-hour–and that scoundrel was with you in the office for some time this morning–as if you hadn't time enough to concoct your schemes––"

"You are using exceedingly offensive language, and you are again returning to the charge I have denied. I went to dinner later because Mr. Vansittart told me that this was the landlady's wish."

"He is a liar! If he attempts to insult me again as he did to-day, I'll break every bone in his body. I think, as you are so fond of his society, it might be as well to tell him that from me."

"Excuse me, but I shall do nothing of the sort. I suppose you are not afraid to deliver your own messages," returned Victor, laying a malicious emphasis on the word "afraid."

"Afraid–damn your eyes! I'll show you whether I'm afraid."

"Damn your eyes! show it as soon as you like."

The two were by this time equally infuriated, and stood glaring at each other with venomous eyes.

"I shall report you to the office. You think because your uncle is a director that you can play the master here."

"You must do as you think fit about reporting me," answered Victor; "but remember that this disagreement has nothing to do with my work as purser. It is altogether owing to insinuations thrown out by Vansittart regarding that cave room. As we are on the subject, I may tell you straight that, all things considered, I should think it more satisfactory for me to search that place, as you agreed I should some time ago."

"And I may tell you in return that, until the late manager's things are removed, I shall not have that place touched. I never

  ― 278 ―
thought much of the rumour from the first; but now that I know who's at the bottom of it, I wouldn't give a continental oathnote for the snivelling yarn."

"I don't quite agree with you there; for my own part, I should feel inclined to advise the company to have a thorough search made," said Victor. For the first time, the thought took hold of his mind that Vansittart's suspicions might not be unfounded, as he considered how very inadequate was the reason given for delay, more especially as Trevaskis had at first suggested that Dunning's effects should be removed into one of the store-rooms, and now assigned no reason why the plan should not be adopted.

"Well, if I believed as much in your friend Vansittart as you do, perhaps I should feel the same," returned Trevaskis, with a forced laugh. "But, you see, I don't–perhaps I know a little too much about him–and at any rate I'm not going to meddle with Dunning's things till his brother comes."

The mine engineer knocked at the door just then, and came in to consult the manager about part of the machinery which was not working well.

"I suppose I had better return to my office, then," said Victor, as he withdrew.

The manager followed him out.

"I was in a bad scot when you first came in, Fitz-Gibbon," he said, in a conciliatory tone. "But I see that I was too hasty. We'll just go on as we were, and think no more about the matter."

Victor did not respond very cordially. Once his wrath was aroused he was apt to be vindictive. "The impertinent under-bred cad' were the words with which he described Trevaskis, as he returned to his office. Then he sat down and wrote a note, in which he called on him for a written apology for the insinuations he had made–first as to his conduct, then as to his veracity. After he had relieved his feelings in this way he tore up the letter. He would not risk making a final breach between himself and Trevaskis.

"I should most likely have to go if I made this into a big row," he reflected, "and I don't want to do that till Doris leaves with the Challoners. It won't be so very long now. Still, I should like to take a rise out of this fellow for his insolence." As he thought over the matter, he hit on a diplomatic way of doing this.

  ― 279 ―

There was a letter from his uncle, chiefly on business details, which had been unanswered for more than a week. Victor wrote an exhaustive and concise reply to this, and towards the close said: "Things are going on prosperously at the mine. noteNow I have got well into the work, I find I have a notegood deal of spare time on my hands. I should like to spend some of it in that old underground place of which I told you. If the search turns out to be unremunerative, I should be willing to pay any extra labour I employ out of my own pocket. The only obstacle now is that some of the late manager's effects are stowed there, and Trevaskis has some scruples about interfering with them till Dunning's brother takes possession. But there is ample room in one of the unused offices, in which the articles in question could be kept under lock and key. An order from the office to shift them would relieve Mr. Trevaskis of any responsibility in the matter, and give me the chance I wish for, before my time at the mine is up. I shall be glad, therefore, if you give instructions to the secretary to this effect, without delay. I did not at first attach much importance to the matter, but a man who was employed here during Webster's tenure of office is certain that gold was concealed in the place in question, and some events which I would rather not commit to writing have of late made me incline to the same belief."

As Victor read this over before closing the letter, he felt satisfied that it would effect his object. If after the order came for removing Dunning's effects Trevaskis still invented objections, it would be pretty evident that he had some sinister motive, and that the sooner action was taken on behalf of the company the better. It was only when Victor was crossing the reef, on his way to Stonehouse, that all thoughts of the disagreeable scene between himself and Trevaskis were replaced by pleasanter musings. It was close on sunset, and he lingered on the crest of the reef as if lost in contemplation of the scene before him. It was now well on in November, and week by week the days were getting warmer, the sky paler and more cloudless, the Salt-bush more deeply coated with dust, the notespace between the bushes barer, and baked in places into a more vivid tinge of red. As the

  ― 280 ―
summer came notein, the noteprospect of later rains lessened. During the previous twelve months only eight inches had fallen in the district. The hot winds were frequent, fraying and mangling the gray-green salt-bush, till it looked in some places like neutral-tinted fodder trampled under foot. Tall clumps of overblown mallows were beaten to the ground in pallid masses of sere leaves; and in all the wide desolation of the vast plains no sign of life was to be seen, except the trailing clouds of dust that hung perpetually in these days above the road that led to the new diggings. It was a strange, weird scene, but it is questionable whether any of its features caught the young man's eyes.

He was looking through the avenue noteof trees that surrounded Stonehouse, when suddenly his face was lit with a warm glow.

"There she is! Oh, my beautiful darling!" he murmured, looking at her with all his soul in his eyes. Then he went a few paces to the left, so that he might see Doris better as she stood looking westward, across the gray, limitless plain, above which the sun, in going down, seemed to set the sky on flame. Doris had a letter in her hands and her dogs were close beside her, Spot evidently doing his best to decoy her into walking with him. But his mistress was more irresponsive than usual. Even at the distance which separated them, it seemed to Victor there was something pensive and fixed in her attitude. Would she look up with a happy smile when she saw him? Of late he had got into the habit of expecting this, and he was seldom disappointed. But was it the gladness of mere friendliness or––Victor did not finish the conjecture, for Spot had run to meet him at the gate, and now Doris saw him, and their eyes met.

"You were reading a letter. Don't let me disturb you," he said, making a movement to pass on, and then lingering to pat the dogs and ask Spot if he had been stolen again.

"Oh, it is only the one that I was going to send you."

"Then post it to me at once, please, or be the postmaster. I am come to see if there are any letters for me."

She gave him the open sheet, looking at him with a half-shy, half-amused smile.

"You know, when people are anxious about their letters, they always read them at the post-office," Victor said, as he began to

  ― 281 ―
read. There were a few preliminary formal phrases, and then the writer said:

"You must not expect a very interesting letter, for I feel too old now to make up fairy fables, and nothing happens here but people passing in crowds to search for gold, or crushing stone for it at the Colmar Mine, with machinery that goes on day and night. Nothing but this, and the rising and setting of the sun, moon and stars, the sky growing red and pale by turns. It is all so dreadfully bare–there are not even long shadows; and always the immense naked plains–the strange, silent sea, without waves or ships, with no sounds but the voices of the wind, when the hot wind blows all day, and cries all night. Does it take all the leaves, the buds, the waters, all the water-fowl and the honey-birds, and the beautiful blossoms, to make gold down deep in the earth, or lying in nuggets near the surface? For that is nearly all notethat is to be found here, and it cannot be worth so much as that. . . ."

"May I keep this letter for my own?" asked Victor, after reading it to the end.

"Oh yes; but do you care for it? Do you think if I wrote one like that to Raoul––"

"No; don't write noteit to anyone else. Let it be only for me," said Victor, with so vehement a note of entreaty in his voice that Doris looked up at him quickly, with a little expression of wonder in her eyes.

"I suppose you think I am very selfish," he said; "but sometimes–when I think of your going away––"

"Do you think of that, too? I do often–I am sometimes sorry. But as for letters, I used to think that I would never keep any."

"What made you think so?"

"Because they seem to make people sad afterwards. . . . Perhaps if one lives long enough, everything makes one sad."

"That is a dreadful little heretic of a thought."

"A heretic? That means one of the wrong faith?"

"Yes. The right faith for your thoughts is that everything is to love you and serve you and make you happy."

She smiled a little, and then said reflectively:

"I think my thoughts are seldom very sad now."

  ― 282 ―

She was little given to analyzing her own thoughts, but it was undoubtedly the case that of late something of her old spontaneous gaiety had returned.

During the week that followed, Victor obtained Mrs. Challoner's consent to take Doris and Euphemia out riding early in the morning. Challoner was much occupied in disposing of what was left to him of his sheep and cattle. He was engaged each day on some part of the run with men who came to buy or look at the stock. He might as well give them away as noteto take the prices offered, he said. He seemed depressed and out of sorts, and his wife longed for the day when he would finally leave the scene of so much financial disaster. In the meantime he was unable to take the girls out riding.

"Let me, Mrs. Challoner. I know every inch of the ground about here now. You can trust them to my care, can't you?" pleaded Victor. And when, to the unconcealed satisfaction of all three, the request was granted, Victor felt assured that the arrangement had come bodily out of the heart of the "Arabian Nights," or some equally enchanted region, in which the sun rose chiefly to compass adventures, untouched by the prose of the ordinary world.

Morning by morning he would awake with the dawn, get into a knock-about suit of clothes, and go into the stable to groom the horses with Shung-Loo's help. Then, by the time he had his bath and was dressed, the girls would be ready in their riding-habits, and Shung-Loo in his linen suit, impeccable as though no duties had ever been performed by him beyond treading on carpets, with a dainty Japanese traynote in his hands, would bring in cups of chocolate, and a plate of delicious little flaky cakes, of which the secret seemed destined to die with him. "Many a man has immortalized himself for less than making such cakes," Victor said more than once, and, finding that they had no distinctive names, he christened them "Shung-Loos."

"When I have a house of my own," he declared one morning, "there will always be a plate of Shung-Loos on the breakfast table."

"But Shung-Loo won't be there to make them," observed Euphemia practically.

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"Now, how are you so sure about that?" asked Victor, a dancing light in his eyes.

"Oh, because he'll always be with Doris, and she'll be away on the other side of the world."

"And do you suppose I'll be tied by one leg to the mine all my life, like one of those chuckiesnote of yours who refuse to lay two eggs a day?"

It must be observed en parenthèse that Euphemia, though not yet a "notable housewife,"note kept a keen look-out on the fowls, and when she suspected one of them notemaking a felonious nest for herself in a casual unknown salt-bush, she promptly tied the defaulter by the leg near a domestic nest, till her evil habits were abandoned and she had sorrowfully taken the truth to heart that the way of transgressors is hard.note

"No, of course you'll not always be at the mine; but won't your house be in Adelaide?" said Euphemia, generously ignoring the jibe regarding her chuckies.

"Oh, not necessarily. A little event will sometimes change the course of one's lifea book, or a sermon, or a couple of verses. With me it's the Shung-Loo cakes. I must fix my house near enough to borrow Shung. "V. Fitz-Gibbon presents his compliments to Miss Lindsay, and will she be kind enough to lend him her Celestial man-servant for an hour and a half?" That will be the sort of note I'll be noteafter writing day by day."

They all laughed over this, and the joke was often taken up afterwards.

  ― 284 ―

14. Chapter XIV.

One morning they went as far as the broken-down whim, and spoke to each other at a little distance, so as to hear the strange distinct echoes, that had a curiously mocking, ironical undertone.

"It is what we say, but not our voices," said Doris. "This rock has a voice that has no kindness in it."

"You will remember it when we go away," said Euphemia, a little way off.

"Away! away!" The words died slowly, with a suspicion of laughter in the dying syllables, but laughter without mirth. Victor, who had reined his horse in close beside Doris, thought he saw her face falling a little at the word.

"If the voice has no kindness, it has sorrow," he said. "If you were going away and I had to stay at the mine––"

"Aren't you going to stay after we go away?" she said, looking up quickly.

He had been on the eve of telling her a hundred times before, and a hundred times he had checked himself; but the temptation was then too strong.

"What I should like to do would be to leave on the same day, and go down by the same train from Nilpeena, and then take passage in the same ship by which you go."

"And come all the way–to France? Oh, that would be charming! It would be no longer the Silent Sea then, as this is."

She looked round beyond the echoing rock, northward and southward, where the great expanse of gray naked land was in the distance half concealed by a light mist, which veiled the inequalities of the low reefs.

Then she looked back at Victor, who was watching her face intently.

"Why should you not come? Your mother is across the sea, and––"

"I am coming," he said, his heart beating hard.

  ― 285 ―

"Oh, I am so glad!" Her voice, with its spontaneous gaiety, thrilled the young man with a sudden keenness of emotion that almost bordered on pain.

They were both silent for a little, a vague half-consciousness invading the girl's serenity.

And then Euphemia's robust, cheerful voice came from a little distance, awakening sudden startling reverberations in the echoing rock.

"What can that be over there?" she cried, pointing with her riding-whip in a southerly direction.

"Over there," echoed the rock, with its sinister after-notes.

Here beside it, their horses for a moment held in check, were two young creatures, with radiant eyes and quickly throbbing pulses, a vague mist of happiness on their faces, all the glad possibilities of life seeming to lie around them like sheathed buds. But what was there "over there"?

"I do not much like your echoing rock," said Doris, as they rode up to Euphemia, to see what had attracted her attention.

"It is a little hut–one of the weather-board kind, I suppose," said Victor, "for it was not there six days ago. Someone must have taken up a claim, but diggers don't generally put up a hut of any sort. Why, this is going to be one great gold-field," he added, as he looked around, and noticed that a mile or two away from the broken-down whim, towards the north, on the road to Broombush Creek, a large irregular edifice was in course of erection.

"That must be the place Mrs. West's brother is putting up," he said. "She told me it is to be called the Half-way House, because it is about half-way between Colmar and the diggings."

"Couldn't we go as far as the diggings this morning?" said Euphemia. "Mother said the other day we might go within sight of it."

Doris, however, objected on the ground that she wanted to get back a little earlier than usual, because of something she wanted to do for the Connell children. This was a second family in which two children had lately fallen ill. Sickness had of late been spreading at the mine, and Dr. Magann, who had removed from the partially-deserted Ridges, bringing with him his movable wooden dwelling, announced that the malady, which had attacked several adults as well as children, was in some cases

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noteslow fever,note in others typhoid.

"I wish you wouldn't visit these poor people so often," said Victor, as they turned homewards.

"Why do you wish that?"

"Because I notedidn't like to see you out in the dust and heat, going into places where they have fever."

"But you ought not noteto wish that I were selfish," she answered, looking at him with grave seriousness. "When I see these poor people's hot, bare, untidy little huts and tents, and then come back to Stonehouse, and think how I have had everything soft and pleasant all my life, I feel as if I could not bear to have so much and they so little."

"But you have sent all your own easy-chairs to the sick people, Doris, so there's one thing you have not got more than they have," said Euphemia bluntly.

Victor, on hearing this, stole a look at Doris that had in it much of the respectful adoration with which devout people regard a patron saint. Indeed, to him those radiant eyes, full of sweet tenderness for all suffering, were holier than those of any saint in the calendar.note

"I think, though, mother is getting frightened that you might take the illness, for you had fever when you were a little girl, and might get it again, so perhaps it will be only Shung and me notewho go with flowers and things," Euphemia went on, after a pause. She was very loath to turn her back on the "diggings" for the sake of the invalids.

On hearing this Victor's uneasiness increased.

"But really, you know, the people noteof our mine are not so badly off. They all have plenty of food and fresh air, though perhaps a little too much dust and mullock. And now that 'Zilla has lent his cottage to the Connell–she won't bring his wife while there is so much illness–none of the larger families are in tents or one-roomed huts. And if they would only boil the water before they drank it, it wouldn't hurt them. Besides, you know, they are very kind in helping one another," he added, trying to imbue Doris with a stronger motive for being reconciled to Mrs. Challoner's

  ― 287 ―
wishes than the fear of personal danger would be likely to afford.

"I cannot do very much," she answered, "but I like to sit by the sick children and do little things for them–put a few flowers into a pretty vase where they can look at them. You should see their eyes when they see those Provence rosesnote that come from your friends in Adelaide! If I gave them to the mother, she would most likely put them down somewhere and let them fade. Mrs. Snell would not do that–she knows how the children love flowers; but Mrs. Connell does not seem to understand."

"She keeps on gossiping with the other women; she doesn't mind the children properly, nor keep the house clean, nor anything," broke in Euphemia, with a note of indignation in her voice. But Doris seemed to shrink from direct faultfinding. In small things, as in great, she had that gentle charity which leads the rare natures endowed with it to regard the defects of their fellow-creatures with invincible forbearance. "Pity, and sympathy, and long-suffering, and fair interpretation, and excusing our brother, and taking things in the best sense, and passing the gentlest sentence,"note was the girl's inalienable inheritance from her mother.

In the end Victor felt rebuked, as he realized that there was a taint of selfishness in his anxiety that Doris might be spared even the thought of squalor, or suffering, or hardship. Her impulse to give not merely money, or the things that money could buy, but a part of her own life, her own gentle ministering, made him reflect penitently on his partial indifference to such matters, while largely absorbed in happy thoughts and happy plans for the future. Gradually, contact with her enlarged his moral consciousness. He felt that the things to desire most for Doris' sake were not luxury and ease, but that one's own heart and nature should be touched to finer issues, so as to be more worthy of her companionship.

But these early morning rides were by no means always tinged with grave thoughts and reflections. They would often break into songs, and laughter when one of them failed to catch up the tune, as they rode through the exhilarating morning air, their horses' hoofs seeming to keep time in a perpetual refrain; and on other occasions Doris would recount one of the stories Shung-Loo told her when she was a little girl, beginning after this fashion:

  ― 288 ―

"There was once a Lah-to prince who bribed the world with elephant-tusks, and oxen with humps, and buffaloes that live in the water. When he went out he was surrounded with flags, and the sky was full of feather fans, and the big kingfisher birds came and made umbrellas of their wings. And two-and-twenty elephants came in a train after him, loaded with big cowries to notegive the poor people, and sixteen cowries was the price for a bowl of rice. At night men with gold on their teeth played flutes, and women in gold chains sang songs to make him go to sleep. Then when he slept the black barbarians,note who wear only their skins, a handkerchief, and no sandals, each with a peach-blossom fan––"

"Oh, Doris, a peach-blossom fan, when they had no clothes!" remonstrated Euphemia.

"That's the way it is in the Shih Ch'ing ya ch'ü,"note answered Doris; "and as you don't believe every word without asking questions, you cannot hear any more."

This was a hard saying,note but Doris was forced to adhere to the rule, for the reason that Shung-Loo had been inexorable in its observance.

"Well, you ought to finish it for Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, for he believes every word and never asks any questions," urged Euphemia, which was true to the letter. For always when Doris spoke, her soft musical voice, with its varying intonations giving emphasis to all the grotesque little nuances of Shung-Loo's stories, fascinated Victor–if that were possible–more than ever. He would listen in rapt silence, stealing a glance from time to time at the darkling little shadows cast by those heavy lashes, at the delicately-moulded cheeks, to which exercise had brought a delicate damask glow. And as he listened and looked, it seemed as if he had in absolute fact penetrated one of notethese charmed regions of Oriental supernaturalism whose lore so curiously hung about the girl's solitary childhood.

How completely, how dangerously happy he was! The poet upon whom the Muses keeping ward over Mount Helicon, and dancing with delicate feet round the violet-hued fount, bestowed laurel-leaves, noteand a staff of luxuriant olives, and the

  ― 289 ―
breath of an inspired voice, saw a vision of the beginning of all things,note in which the earth gave birth to the starry heavens, that they might shelter it upon all sides, and so make it for ever a secure seat for the blessed gods. But this was the revelation of a singer born into the world in its nonage, before the story of man's darkly-stained, incomprehensible existence had filled so many sombre tomes, and before so many wise men had risen up to prove to us that there are no gods. Yet from generation to generation there come brief spaces into most lives in which the old poetic tradition is verified, and the earth is once more a secure seat for the blessed gods. Yes, even in regions where nature is as arid and destitute of notecharm as is the Salt-bush country, where, though the air, the sky and the sunshine are early in the day perfect in their loveliness, yet the earth in its level, neutral-tinted barrenness is more like a vague outline than a finished picture. . . . Now, after two weeks of these long early rides, they were coming to an end, though the riders did not know it.

On the last occasion they rode close to Broombush Creek, very early in the morning, and saw the diggings, with now close on five thousand men at work. They passed the Half-way House, a low rambling structure of wood and galvanized iron, the bar already open for travellers; its signboard–a piece of calico stretched on a board nailed over the door–bore the inscription, "Half-way House. T. Smith:note noteLicensed to sell wines, bears, sperits," in letters of extraordinary variety as to size. In half an hour after passing this, the outskirts of the diggings came in sight, and a medley of confused sounds broke the calm of early morning.

The continual rumble of diggers' cradles, the ring of shrill voices, of axes cleaving wood, of sawing and hammering, of creaking water-carts, carting tanks of water from the one permanent well, which was over a mile from the centre of the diggings, all made up a great volume of sound. The scene altogether conveyed an indescribable impression of confusion. The diggers' tents were of the motliest–dingy canvas, duck, calico, notesacking and hessian, roughly cobbled together; old tarpaulins

  ― 290 ―
also were fastened over vehicles of every size and description. Among these there was a sprinkling of iron edifices, chiefly stores, boarding-houses, and Government offices. The telegraph line had been extended from Colmar, and the post and telegraph office, with the quarters of the Warden of Goldfieldsnote and the police troopers, a branch bank, etc., were near the centre of the wide, irregular encampment. A public hospital had been built, with a medical man in charge. But typhoid fever had broken out, and the accommodation was inadequate for the increasing patients. A private hospital was now in course of erection, on a slight rise near the road by which one approached the new diggings from Colmar. Everywhere all round, the earth was turned over in mounds, and everywhere men were sinking and tunnelling in the ground, with shovels, gads, pickaxes and crowbars. Machinery had been erected in two places, and already the sound of the batteries was heard. For the sun was now rising, and all hands were hard at work.

The sky, so clear and immensely vaulted, full of warm, pale-blue air, with that look of youth inseparable from pure and joyous colouring, formed the strangest contrast to the world which it overarched here–where the ash-gray salt-bush was replaced by tumbled heaps of soil, and by the squalid abodes of thousands of dirt-stained men. The immense flat, featureless landscape all round held nothing to break the sharpness of the contrast between the heaven above, majestic in its noble sweep of outline, and the earth below, gray and formless and naked, as if it had been worn into sallow desolation by the march of countless æons of centuries, till in this spot it was torn and mangled by an irruption of strange reptiles that had learned the use of tools.

As the riders stood at some little distance looking on, a great shout was heard in the vicinity of the hospital, where some diggers were at work. The shout was taken up by others near.

"A boomernote nugget! a boomer nugget!"

The cry flew like wildfire, and strange excitement ensued. From every quarter men came running and crying out: those who were at work throwing down their tools; those who had been preparing breakfast, some with flour on their arms up to their elbows, with steaks or chops in their hands, as they were about to put them on the coals, gridirons, or frypans, with dish-cloths

  ― 291 ―
on their arms, with soiled tin plates in their notehands–some even with handfuls of tea which they were about to put in teapots, or billies, or quart pots. When that shrill, sudden cry reached them, there were scores who did not wait to put these things down, but rushed as they stood, as if fearful that this lump of yellow metal, speckled over with quartz, might vanish like a celestial visitant before the sight of it gladdened their eyes. There were some who even ran half naked as they tumbled out of their beds, with dishevelled hair, strained eyes and naked feet.

When they had all satisfied themselves that this thing was true, and not a dream or a false rumour, then the great hubbub increased, and the clamour of voices swelled on the air mightily. But after a little this died away, and gave place to a feverish industry that nerved thousands as one man. There were many who did not taste food that morning for hours. They gulped down pannikins full of hot tea, and then worked on with frenzied haste. Might they not at any moment come upon a boomer nugget–turn it over in the dirt, or hear the dull thud of their tools as they struck against a solid lump of the precious metal? Many who had been on the point of leaving, sickened and wearied out with toiling for weeks and finding not even the colour of gold, while they lived on credit or the generosity of their fellow-workers, now took heart of grace,note and stayed to labour on with renewed energy. Others, who had been lying ill of fever for days or weeks, crawled out of their bunks, and sat watching their mates at work with hungry, wistful eyes; for who could tell whose luck it would be next to come on a big nugget? It is the gambling element that lends so strong a fascination to digging for gold, not the naked lust for its possession, as one is apt at first to suppose, on witnessing the sort of humiliating frenzy that oftentimes takes possession of men, when searching for it in its primitive and most enchanting form.

When the sudden tumult had subsided, the riders turned their horses' heads homewards.

"Wherever men come to this country they make it ugly," said Doris. "Instead of planting gardens or trees, or digging for water, they make dreadful holes and spoil the salt-bush."

"I was just thinking I should like to go and make dreadful holes

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myself," said Victor, smiling. "At any rate, they don't spoil much in spoiling the salt-bush."

"The salt-bush is a very good creature," said Euphemia quickly. "Cows that eat it give good milk, the hens lay good eggs, salt-bush sheep make the best mutton, and the sky is nowhere more beautiful."

Euphemia was born in the Salt-bush country, and it would seem that in the hearts of most human beings Heaven has implanted a love for the spot in which they first see light–a token, perhaps, that life is a gift, notwithstanding our many and bitter feuds therewith.

As the sun ascended the heavens they returned on their "happy morning track,"note all unconscious that it was the last of those excursions.

"You will remember Broombush Creek in the old world," said Victor, as he helped Doris to dismount.

"Yes. I am so glad that you are coming, too. I think of that so often!" she answered, in a low voice.

The words sent the blood tingling through his veins and surging in his ears. He was intoxicated with joy as he walked away.

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15. Chapter XV.

Doris and Euphemia hastened to get out of their riding-habits and dress for breakfast. They were a little later than usual on account of their long ride, and they were consequently much surprised, when they went into the dining-room, to find that though breakfast was ready, and Shung-Loo in his accustomed place behind his young mistress's chair, neither Mr. notenor Mrs. Challoner had yet notemade their appearance. Presently Mrs. Challoner came in, looking very fagged and anxious. Her husband had hardly slept all night. Towards morning he had fallen into a troubled sleep, and now he had wakened up with a burning headache and slightly delirious. She had been anxiousnote regarding him notefor several days, noticing that an unusual languor hung about him, and that he neither ate nor slept well. But he had made light of all this, saying it was only a little overwork, and that working too much between meals did not now agree with him. He had refused to consult the doctor, partly because he was very busy disposing of his stock just then, and partly because something to be shaken up every two hoursnote had never done him any good when he was out of sorts.

The doctor was now sent for, and promptly confirmed Mrs. Challoner's fears. It was fever–most likely typhoid–and the patient was worse because he had not "caved in" as soon as he ought. He had, judging from symptoms, been working for a week with the fever hanging about him.

"Oh, my dear, I think I ought to send you to Adelaide, or perhaps back to Ouranie, till the worst is over," said Mrs. Challoner to Doris in the afternoon, when, her husband having fallen into a sleep, she came into the drawing-room, where the two girls were arranging how they could best help in the trouble that had fallen on the household.

  ― 294 ―

"Go away!–when you want all the help we can give you! Oh, Mrs. Lucy, how can you even think of it?" said Doris imploringly.

Then Mrs. Challoner, who was very notetired and very anxious, cried a little, and confessed it would be a great comfort, she knew, to have Doris in the house. On this Doris made her lie on the couch, and bathed her temples softly with eau-de-Cologne, and after a little Mrs. Challoner fell into a deep sleep, and Euphemia took her place in the sick-room. It was nearly sunset when Mrs. Challoner awoke, much refreshed.

"You always had wonderful little hands for soothing headaches away," she said to Doris, who now went on to tell her that she and Euphemia had been making certain plans. Doris was to take all household cares off Mrs. Challoner's hands, and Shung-Loo would help to nurse part of each night, and Euphemia part of each day. noteThen Shung would have nothing else to do, but have his whole time for Mrs. Challoner, and she was never to go too long without sleep and rest.

"Then, my dear, as I understand it, you are going to do all my work, and allow Shung to do nothing for you," said Mrs. Challoner, looking at the girl with dimmed eyes.

"Yes, I am going to be the housekeeper," answered Doris undauntedly; "go to sleep quite early, and get up early in the morning and waken Bridget, and see that she does things nicely, and always has hot water in the fountain.note Shung will cook all the things that you want in the sick-room, or go on messages. Oh, we have thought of everything."

Mrs. Challoner might exclaim against Doris taking her place so valiantly in the performance of unaccustomed responsibilities, yet it was an immense comfort in the face of a perhaps dangerous and tedious illness to have one at her right hand so able, willing, and resolute. Euphemia was willing and docile, but she lacked initiative. This Doris would supply, and the two, working harmoniously together, with Shung as ally and coadjutor, would form a strong stay. Only, as so often happens in drawing up domestic as well as political programmes, there was one element left out of the reckoning, which, on this first night, made itself strongly felt–the unforeseen. So far from

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going to sleep "quite early," it was nearly twelve o'clock before Doris closed her eyes that night.

It was a little after eight when Shung-Loo, who had gone to the doctor for medicine, returned with it in some excitement. The Colmar Arms was on fire, and nothing could be done to stop it. It was in one great blaze; they could see it from the top of the reef. Shung had heard that someone was burnt in one of the rooms, but there was so much hurry and confusion he did not know who it was, or whether it was true.

"Oh, I hope Mr. Fitz-Gibbon was not hurt there!" cried Euphemia. Doris turned very pale.

"I think he was going to play at the miners' concert this evening. But of course they would all turn out to try and stop the fire," she said, after a little pause.

They went with Shung noteto the top of the reef. It was a sultry, still night. The flames, which had now completely enveloped the house, cast a brilliant illumination around, and figures could be seen hurrying about, evidently concentrating all their attention on saving the places near the inn. Fortunately, it stood a little apart from the other dwellings, and there was no sign that any of them had so far caught fire. As the maid was out this evening, at a sister's on the mine, who was married to one of the miners, Doris and Euphemia did not stay long looking at the sight. Mrs. Challoner met them as they came in, and was alarmed at the pallor of Doris's face.

"The shock has been too much for you, Doris," she said, when Euphemia had breathlessly related the catastrophe at which they had been looking. "I must order my little housekeeper to bed in good time," added Mrs. Challoner, as she kissed both girls before returning to the sick-room for the night. Shortly afterwards Euphemia went to her own room, saying it seemed as if it were two days ago since they got up at daylight to go to Broombush Creek. She could hardly keep her eyes open. Doris stood looking after her with a feeling of blank amazement. It was Euphemia who had suggested that perhaps Mr. Fitz-Gibbon had been hurt, yet now she seemed to think no more about the matter, while she herself felt almost stunned with terror. The thought had fastened on her mind that Victor might have tried to save

  ― 296 ―
someone from the fire–that when it broke out he might have been in the house. A hundred conjectures kept passing through her mind, each more disquieting than the other, till her agitation grew so that she could hardly stand. She went to the southern veranda, from which she could see the red angry glare in the sky. Looking at this, her fears became insupportable. She went round to the back, to the little lean-to room that Shung-Loo occupied, to send him down to the township. He would find out if anyone had been hurt–if Mr. Fitz-Gibbon was safe. But as she reached the door the light that shone through the window was put out, which meant that Shung-Loo had gone to bed. As she stood debating with herself whether she should call him, she heard someone hurrying to the house. It was Bridget.

"Oh, Miss Doris, did ye hear about the fire, and Mr. Fitz-Gibbon and the landlord being burnt to death?" she cried, flourishing the rumours she had heard in their most gruesomely dramatic form.

She went on with great excitement, retailing all that she had heard, and various surmises on her own account, bewailing the mishap with facile sympathy, and that glow of half-gratified importance with which some people recount a tale of horror.

But Doris heard nothing beyond the first awful intelligence. She stood in the wan starlight as if turned to stone.

"It was just a mercy av the Lard that me brother-in-law wasn't there when the fire bruk out, for he's just the very wahn to get into throuble on the first opportunity. Well, it's after noine, Miss Doris; I musht be turning in, so as to be up broight and early, for there's always shlopsnote to be made ahl the toime whin there's illness in the house–and I'd like to see the funerals if I can be shpared. We seem to be getting a dale av throuble all noteat once. Good-night, Miss Doris; ye're enjoying the coolth av the air. If ye cast you're oi round as you go in, ye'll see the sign av the shmoking ruin in the sky."

And so, in entire unconsciousness of the crushing blow she had dealt the girl, who stood in speechless horror leaning heavily against a lounge beside her, the good Bridget bustled into the kitchen. In imagination, she was already putting a bit of crape on her Sunday hat, as a sign of her sympathy and sorrow for the

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father of a family, and perhaps that handsome young gentleman, so pleasant spoken, and generous in the matter of frequent tips. She was not quite sure he was a corpse yet, but, at any rate, he was badly burnt, and would most likely not get over the accident.

Groping her way into the house, Doris somehow reached the sitting-room. The door and windows were open, and the shaded candles were throwing a flood of soft light into the dusky stillness of the night. She tottered towards the couch under one of the windows, but before she reached it, it seemed to swim out of sight–a great blank and silence fell upon her.

After what seemed long hours, but was in reality only a few minutes, noteshenote found herself on the ground, her hands outspread on the couch, and her head resting on them. She tried to remember how she had come there, and looked round the room with startled eyes. Nothing was changed. There was the little flannel nightgown she had been sewing for one of the Connell children on the wicker gipsy table;note above her hung the picture of the beautiful old English home in which her mother was born; her mother's water-colours of Ouranie notewhere she had arrayed them on the opposite wall; near her, on the low bookcases, were the radiant flowers, but at the sight of these a terrible sorrow seized her. Moaning like a creature stabbed to the heart, she covered her face with her hands and began to tremble like an aspen leaf in the wind. "Burnt to death! burnt to death!" The words turned into scarlet letters around her. But as the horror and tearless anguish were again half lost in a creeping stupor, the sound of approaching footsteps reached her. There was a gentle knock at the open door.

"Is there anyone here?" said a well-known voice; and then there was a quick exclamation–a low cry of alarm.

For a moment Doris hardly dared to believe her ears, hardly dared to look, fearing she was betrayed by one of those happy dreams that notefled when one notewas fully awake. But this vision was too eager, too much alive, and too robust, to be lightly spirited away.

It was Victor–not indeed scathless, for one arm was in a sling, and one side of his face was darkly flushed, where it had been

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winnowed by the fiery breath of flame.

He stood for a moment transfixed with that low cry on his lips, and the look of sudden alarm that had come into his eyes on first catching sight of Doris, lying with her head against the couch, her face rigid and white as if in a swoon. The next moment he was by her side, helping her to rise.

"You have hurt yourself? you are ill, Doris?" he cried, looking at her, as she leant back on the couch, her face still deadly pale, and a strange, strained look in her eyes. "Perhaps it is you who are ill, not Mr. Challoner, as I heard in the office to-day. But where are the rest? Why are you all alone, looking so dreadfully pale?" he said, looking around, for it was not yet ten. And as his first affright passed away the wonder of it all grew upon him.

"No, I am not ill; I am better," answered Doris in a low, feeble voice.

It was all too sudden; the revulsion from the horror and anguish which had overwhelmed her was too great at first to permit her to feel or think. For a few moments she was only conscious that the terrible misery was unreal. Here was Victor, but with no vital hurt. The violence of the reaction shook her almost as much as the brutal tidings. But gradually a great and solemn gladness put new life into her failing pulses.

"You have come!" she said, looking up at him with the dawn of a smile as he stood before her, his face full of wondering anxiety.

The fact was so obvious that one might deem the words little to the purpose. But they were spoken with a thrill of gladness that woke a strange happiness in Victor's heart.

"You were not very badly hurt, after all?" she said, looking from his flushed cheek to his bandaged arm.

"Oh, very little–it is nothing! But, Doris, does Mrs. Challoner know that you have been noteill? You are trembling even now, and your hands are quite cold," he added, touching them as they lay folded over the end of the couch.

"No, no one knows . . . and I am nearly quite well."

"Had you fainted? Did anything alarm you?"

He was looking at her intently, and saw that at the question a faint wave of colour slowly overspread her face. Her eyes deepened with unshed tears, which gave a blurred, misty outline to

  ― 299 ―
all around her. She felt as if a great gulf of unknown emotion threatened to overpower her. She noteshrank,note she knew not why, from recalling the words that had overpowered her with such horror.

"I will tell Mrs. Challoner you are here. I know she would like to see you," she said, rising.

But her gait was a little unsteady. She leant on Victor's offered arm till she reached the door of the sick-room.

"Please don't frighten her about me. You see, I am well now," she said in an almost inaudible whisper as he turned back.

Two minutes later she re-entered the sitting-room with Mrs. Challoner.

"Oh, you were at the fire!–you have been hurt!" cried the latter, as soon as she caught sight of him.

And then the story of the fire was gone over as far as Victor knew it. He had gone with 'Zilla Jenkins to the Saturday concert.

"I got Roby to let me play my tune the first thing, as I wanted to come up at once to see if there was anything I could do for you here. I heard through the doctor that Mr. Challoner was down with the fever. Before I finished there was a great cry of fire, and we all rushed out pell-mell. It must have been going on for some time before it was noticed. West, it seems, had been drinking rather heavily; he was in bed most of the day, and his wife was in the bar––"

"Oh, poor thing! Was she hurt at all? Was anyone injured besides you?" asked Mrs. Challoner anxiously.

"Yes, the landlord. It must have been in his room the fire began. He was behind the bar in the wooden part of the house, which was as dry as chips. They noticed a strong smell of burning, but they thought it came from some rubbish-heaps the ostler set on fire towards sunset in the back-yard. When the flames broke out beyond the room where the fire began they could do nothing but run out for their lives––"

"Then didn't West give the alarm?"

"He never came out at all," answered Victor, in lowered tones, glancing anxiously towards Doris.

"He was burnt to death?" said Mrs. Challoner, in horror-stricken tones.

  ― 300 ―

"Yes; and the people who were in the bar had only just time to clear out. Some door or partition gave way, and the flames swept over it like an avalanche. The bar and all the back part of the house was one mass of flames when we reached the place from the school-room. Mrs. West was struggling to get away from some people to rush into the house for her little boy. They thought he was in the same room with his father. But, fortunately, I happened to know that he was in an end room of the stone part of the house. Dick and I were rather chummy, poor little chap! The house was all at sixes and sevens for a day or two back–the cook gone, a dazed housemaid in the kitchen, and Mrs. West having to see to the bar. This evening, while I was having tea about seven, Dick came in in his nightdress from a little room that opened out of the dining-room. He had been put to bed early, so as to be out of the way, but he said he wasn't "s'eepy," and so he had some tea with me, and then went back to bed. I got in through the dining-room window all right, but by the time I got back with Dick a spark through the open window had set the curtains on fire. I had to tear them down before I could get out with him––"

"Oh, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon, you saved the poor notechild's life at the risk of your own life!" said Mrs. Challoner, looking at the young man with beaming eyes.

"There was not much risk, really," answered Victor. "The great thing was that I knew where the poor little beggar slept. The smoke was getting rather bad in his room, but the dining-room was very little on fire when I went in."

"But your cheek is a little hurt, and your arm perhaps very much," said Doris, speaking for the first time, with an adorable little quiver in her voice and a dove-like, melting softness in her eyes.

"Well, and that was through stupidity," said Victor, who could hardly help laughing aloud for sheer light-heartedness. He would in truth have endured twenty times as much pain for the sake of hearing that faltering intonation. "As I pulled the curtains down, I let the burning edge of one brush my face and coat-sleeve. It must have been on fire for some little time before anyone noticed it, and then when I pulled it off my shirt-sleeve

  ― 301 ―
flared up. But Dr. Magann dressed the burn for me after I had taken Dick to the Olsens' place. That is where he and his mother have found shelter. Mrs. Olsen is Mrs. West's sister. . . . And I have had the offer of being boarded by the amiable noteScroogses," said Victor, with a smile.

Scroogsnote was a man who kept a large, rough boarding-house at Colmar. He had been twice fined within the last two months for sly grog-selling and for riotous goings on at his establishment.

"But you must not go there; the place is not fit for you. We can very well manage to board you here," said Mrs. Challoner.

It goes without saying that this arrangement had great charms for Victor, only he was loath to add to the cares of the household at this juncture. Finally, they compromised the matter by arranging that he should breakfast and dine in the evening at Stonehouse. He could easily manage about lunch in his office on week-days.

"But you must be careful–you should not irritate your arm. I must have a look at the burn to-morrow," said Mrs. Challoner, with motherly solicitude.

"Oh, it is nothing; it will be all right in a day or two. Fortunately, it's my left arm," answered Victor.

But though he made light of the part he had played in the catastrophe, no one else at Colmar–with perhaps one exception–was disposed to follow suit. The risk he had run and the hurt he had received were both much exaggerated. Bridget was not the only one who consigned him to an untimely grave. It was found to be a kind of artistic emotion to say that he had been burnt alive. The next day being Sunday, there was leisure to dwell on all the harrowing details, and there was a constant stream of noteinquiries at Stonehouse as to Victor's condition. The first to arrive was Mick, who would not be satisfied with Bridget's assurance that the "young gintleman was notelike a May daisy, and 'ating a hearty breakfast–glory be to God!" She had offered Victor her own congratulations on his safety with the eloquence of her race, maintaining a discreet silence as to her too ready belief in his mortality.

"If I might make so bould, I would like to shake hahnds wid

  ― 302 ―
you, Mr. Fitz-Gibbon," said Mick, when Victor came out to see him at the back-door.

"Why, Mick, one would think I had been singed all over like a plucked hen,note to hear you speak so solemnly!" said Victor, laughing, as he shook the little man's hand.

"Indade, sor, some av thim made me belave that a singed fowl was a fool tonote the shtate ye wor in. I was sound ashlape through it all in my little tint, and notewhen I got up and wint out, the first mahn I met was Ben Combrie, and the flare noteof the Colmar Arms in the sky like the day av judgmint. And two min roasted in the flames, says he–the landlord and the purser."

"But surely you know Ben Combrie's gift for saying the thing that is not,note Mick?"

"I do, sor–none betther–but ye cahnt thrust him even at the loying, for he sometimes tells the trut and shlips you up whin you laste noteixpicts it–and the half was thrue. Poor Wisht, his wife will mourn, though maybe widout reason, and we all sorrow for the good grog–'twas a sinful washte! And here's a tiligraph for ye, sor; I met the boy coming up, and I thought I might as well save him. It came notelast night in the middle of the combushtion. He mintioned notelikewise, sor, that the choild ye saved out av the flames was running about as hearty as a young wallaby this notemorning, though the poor mother is lying notespeechless crying on the poor omadhan that noteshpiltenote notehimsilf and the good grog intoirely. 'Tis loikely the funeral will be early to-morrow."

  ― 303 ―

16. Chapter XVI.

"I wonder if this is something further about the cave room," thought Victor, turning the telegram over, as he went into his own room with it. By Saturday's mail a letter had reached him from his uncle, telling him that instructions had been sent to Trevaskis to have the late manager's effects removed and afford the purser full scope to investigate the notecavity, on behalf of the company. The delay in answering Victor's letter had been caused by Mr. Drummond's absence in Tasmania. Within half an hour of the receipt of this, Trevaskis had come into the office with an open letter in his hand.

"I suppose you have had instructions about this?" he said, in a tone pitched at a deliberate calmness, yet with a curious vibration underlying it of strong emotion. Victor, in reply, read the portion of his uncle's letter which dealt with the matter.

"I can't possibly have the things removed for a day or two," said Trevaskis in accents which suddenly jumped by a note above the notediapasonnote of his usual voice. There was an odd smothered fierceness in his manner that made Victor suddenly look at him with inquiring wonder. It seemed as if the man had aged by years in the past few weeks. Perhaps, considering all the circumstances, the change was not surprising. For nine consecutive nights he had worked in the cave room, his eyes gradually getting worse. At the end of that time he was unable to stoop, or read, or walk in the sunshine, without torturing throbs of pain in notehis eyeballs. The doctor, whom he at last unwillingly consulted, strongly urged him to go away from the mine for a change. "Why, man, you'll blind yourself," he said two days later, exasperated into brutal frankness by the patient's obvious disregard of his instructions. At the words, a sudden cold dread shot through the manager's mind. For the next eight days and nights he rested almost absolutely. Once in the twenty-four hours he went below,

  ― 304 ―
and took a turn all round the mine. For the rest of the day he sat in his room with the blinds down. When solitude and enforced idleness became unbearable, he would go into the cave room and gloat over his bars of shining gold–each one worth close on nine hundred pounds.

Then he would pace about in the obscurity of the place, pausing at the spots where the great bottles of amalgam that were still untouched lay hidden.

"Oh, if Dan would only come! if Dan would only come!" he would sometimes say at such times half aloud.

He was not one who indulged much in the habit of addressing remarks to himself audibly; but the constant strain of anxiety, of harassing uncertainty as to whether he could after all secure this treasure, culminated at times in fits of such intense restlessness, that to walk about speaking to himself, in the solitude and obscurity of the cave room, afforded him a certain relief.

But Dan's coming was indefinitely delayed. He wrote to say that he had been stupid enough "to get upon the spree,"note and that when he was getting over this he had a feverish attack. He was now in the hospital and the doctors wouldn't tell him when he could get out, but he hoped he would soon be well enough to travel.

This might mean the delay of a few days or weeks. It might mean that Dan would not come till it was too late; for in a couple of weeks at the most Raphael Dunning would arrive to take possession of his brother's belongings, and once that was done, the last vestige of excuse for delaying the search of the cave room would be gone.

Trevaskis did not fail to grasp the weak points of his situation; but these, somehow, only inspired him with a sort of desperate, despairing resolution to use every possible and impossible means to secure the gold. If the worst came to the worst, he would secrete the bars, at least, in his own room. Could there be anything among Dunning's many papers that could give a clue to the treasure?

At the thought, Trevaskis instituted a rigorous search of all the letters, documents, and boxes which would be handed over to the late manager's brother. In one of the latter he discovered two duplicate keys of the strong safe for the gold. He regarded them curiously for some moments, wondering to which of his

  ― 305 ―
predecessors belonged the credit of having them manufactured. Webster most likely, so as to enable him to steal some of the amalgam, when kept for a night in the safe before it was retorted.

This discovery curiously enough lessened the accidental scruples which still visited Trevaskis from time to time, especially when his conscience was illuminated by the fear of detection. He thought, with something akin to indignation, of noteinnumerable "dodges" by which the majority of mining managers contrived to rob the people by whom they were employed.

"I wouldn't, and I couldn't, so help me, God! steal an ounce of gold or amalgam from the mine on my own account," he thought; "but to keep a treasure that you have discovered–ah! that is quite another matter. No one else has a better right to the gold than the one who finds it."

After all, the fact that a man's forefathers have fastened a lantern to a cow's head on a dark night by the seashore, so as to lead a casual trading smack to founder on the rocks for the sake of its cargo,note must impart certain distinguishing nuances to his conscience.

At any rate, after discovering these keys Trevaskis was more than ever upheld by the consciousness that his moral rectitude would never allow him to stoop to the base pilfering which had been so largely practised by other managers of the Colmar Mine. Yet, side by side with this, his determination grew stronger not to let any untoward circumstances cheat him out of the enjoyment of the fortune he had discovered in the cave room.

When his eyes became strong enough to bear the sunlight, his first care was to ride across to the weatherboard hut erected on the quartz claim which he had secured in the vicinity of the broken-down whim. It reassured him to prowl about this hut and reflect on the treasure that might soon be hidden there.

As he was riding back he finally determined that, as soon as ever Dan came, the best thing would be to take him fully into his confidence and secure his help in hiding the gold and amalgam in the hut, away from the mine altogether.

"I'll send a message to Dan on Monday or Tuesday, begging him to come on, even if he's half dead. If he became much worse at the little hut it would be a fine opportunity for me to resign

  ― 306 ―
suddenly. I'd just say that the company notehad better send another manager as soon as possible. "My only brother has been taken very ill all by himself; I must give him my whole time. In any case I noteintended to resign soon, as I find my health will not stand the climate here." "

He wrote these lines and several more, finding a certain relief in picturing this conclusion of his suspense.

"It is now some time," he reflected, "since Fitz-Gibbon and I had that barney. He has never said a word about the search since; I don't believe he even thinks of it. Ah, there's nothing like a good bluff sometimes!"

Such were the half-complacent reflections that passed through Trevaskis' mind on Thursday evening, after he returned from visiting his quartz claim. On Friday night he felt well enough to resume operations in the cave room. But by Saturday morning's mail came an official letter, written by the mine secretary at the dictation of the chairman of directors, instructing the manager to permit the purser to remove the late Mr. Dunning's effects from the cave room and institute a careful search of the place. For a short time after reading this letter Trevaskis sat perfectly motionless, staring hard before him. The meshes were closing round him; he was snared, and not only so, but he had been perfectly hoodwinked by this double-faced young Irishman.

The thought galled him almost as much as the prospect of losing the gold.

"But I won't lose it! I won't! I won't!" he muttered to himself, clenching his hands and teeth.

He had need of all his decision and energy to quell the rising passion that threatened to overmaster him.

When Victor, struck by the curious intonation of his voice, looked at Trevaskis, he saw that his face looked gray and lined. His eyes were uncovered. The space between them, as has been said, was unusually narrow; but now the pupils had lengthened in a curious way, so that they almost seemed to meet in a sinister glittering line, like the eyes of a cat in the dark.

The expression of his whole face gave Victor a certain shock. He concluded that Trevaskis was furious at having his objections

  ― 307 ―
set aside. Or was there, after all, some truth in Vansittart's conviction? The last surmise led Victor to answer with a certain reserve that, as soon as Dunning's things were cleared out, he was ready to begin his search.

On that, Trevaskis strode away without making any reply. For the rest of the day he purposely kept out of Victor's way.

"If this telegram is to hasten operations," he thought, as he opened the envelope, "the old fellow will certainly have a fit."

But the first glance showed him that the message touched him much more nearly than any event connected with the Colmar Mine. It was from Miss Paget, dated Saturday morning, from Albany, and ran:

"Left Colombo sooner than anticipated. Not going to Perth. Caught in a tornado three days ago; vessel almost foundered. Stay here till Tuesday to recoup. Expect to reach Adelaide on Friday next."

When the doctor, after paying his morning visit to Challoner, interviewed his second patient at Stonehouse and dressed his arm, he declared the young man had developed febrile symptoms.

"Why, both your cheeks look as if they were scorched, and your pulse is going nineteen to the dozen. You'll have to be careful, young man; that's a nastier burn than you think for. You'd better lay up for a day or two," he said solemnly.

But Victor, who was in his own confidence more than the man of healing, did not propose to take this advice seriously. He knew it was the prospect of his interview with Helen, which was now so near–the thought of the moment when he should be free to put his fortune to the touch and win or lose it allnote–that made his pulses bound and his temples throb. What would Doris say when he first uttered the words that had been the refrain of his thoughts and the burden of his dreams so long? Not so very long, perhaps, counting by the mere duration of time. But in periods of vivid emotion, when the hours he doles out are counted by heart-beats, and not by the clock, Time is found to be an old bankrupt, who has not the wherewithal to pay his debts.

"Doris, I love you! I love you!"

He was dramatizing the scene to himself, as noteis the manner of

  ― 308 ―
young lovers, sitting in the western veranda late in the afternoon, staring hard at an open book which he held right side up, just as if he were reading it page by page. Would the words startle her too much? Would the moist, radiant eyes look at him in troubled wonder? He had sometimes feared that she would hardly understand–that the guarded seclusion of her life and the dewy simplicity of her youth would make his words of love a strange tale which as yet could find no response in her heart. And now he began to recall all that had fed his timid hopes, and the unreasoning happiness that of late had taken possession of him, and then began to fear lest he had built too much on her candid friendliness, her unembarrassed pleasure at the prospect of his travelling with them. And yet was there not a great thrill of gladness in her voice as she said, "You have come"?

He was in the very heart of these reflections, when she came out with the hushed footfalls that so soon become habitual when there is illness in a household.

"I want you, please, to let down the curtains. I have made Mrs. Challoner lie down in my room, and I want to make it quiet and shady, so that she may have a good sleep while Euphemia takes care of her father," she said, with the gravity befitting one who has to look after many people.

Victor obeyed, and then drew forward a rocking-chair for her, saying:

"You have been going about working all day, I believe. Now don't you think it is time you rested?"

"I have not done nearly as much as I thought I should––"

"Oh, you ambitious child! Didn't you give Shung directions three hundred and twenty times, and beat up eggs, and put fresh water in all the flower-vases, and scold Bridget?"

"But you and Phemy helped me with the flowers. As for scolding Bridget, I only just remonstrated with her for carrying such dreadful tales as––"

She suddenly stopped short, and Victor, who had merely invented the accusation at random, said gravely:

"I suppose you gave it to her wellnote till she cried, and promised she would do so no more?"

But Doris had assumed a little air of reserve, which piqued Victor into saying:

"Was the tale too dreadful for me to hear?"

  ― 309 ―

"It was last night, you see," answered Doris, after a little pause.

"Last night when you were alone?"


"She came and frightened you with some ghost story?"

"Oh, it was much worse than any ghost story!"

"May I try and guess notewhat it was?"

She gave a shy little nod by way of answer, and then said, with a half-mysterious smile:

"But I don't believe you can guess in the least."

"Well, I think it will be only fair for you to help me, as we used to do when we played at hiding things indoors on a rainy day."

"How was that? I don't know any gregarious games at all."

The whimsically old and sedate words that Doris sometimes used amused Victor intensely, but he kept his countenance as he explained:

"The other noteyoungsters notego out, and you hide a penknife, or a big glass marble, or anything, in some secret place; then, when he tries to find the article, if he goes near it you say "Hot," if he goes away from it, you say "Cold." "

"Oh, very well."

"Bridget came and told you that she put salt-bush in the custard?"


"noteThat she broke a Sèvres bowl and buried the remains without an inquest?"


"That she wrote a spelling-book and dedicated it to the universe?"

Doris laughed outright.

"You are in the Polar regions," she said, gently swaying the rocking-chair backward and forward, in comfortable security that Bridget's bêtise note and her own foolish credulity were too much beyond the ken of a third person's unassisted speculations.

Victor looked profoundly dejected for a moment, but so far he had not an inkling that an noteincredibly happy revelation awaited him.

"She went to the township and said she met a dragon?"

  ― 310 ―

"Hot and cold."

"Ah! I won't come away from the township. It was last night when the fire broke out?"

"Hot," said Doris, in a tone of losing confidence.

"She came and told you some dreadful tale about the fire?"

Doris, who had so little practised the art of concealment that even the evasion of a question half offended her instinct of absolute sincerity, began to see that no alternative remained but to confess the whole story.

"I will tell you how it was," she said slowly. "When Shung told us about the fire last night he said some people had been hurt–he did not know who. Euphemia said she hoped you were not, and that made me feel so dreadfully afraid––"

"That I was hurt?" said Victor, a quick flush rising on his face as he leant over towards Doris, drinking in every word she said.

"Yes. I went round to send Shung down to see if you were safe, but he had just put out his light. Then Bridget came, and–you mustn't think I was very foolish for quite believing it–even now it seems terrible to say it––"

She gave a long, low sigh.

"Was it about me?" asked Victor, in a breathless sort of voice.

"Yes; she said you were burnt to death."

He could not for a moment utter a word in reply. Doris, glancing up at him, thought he looked strangely glad, and some undefined feeling made her heart begin to beat more rapidly.

"And was that what made you feel so ill, Doris?" asked the young man, in a low, shaken voice.

"Yes. I quite believed it till I heard you speaking, and–oh, I felt as if I would die!"

"Oh, Doris, my darling! you do care for me, then? I love you–I love you with all my heart and soul! but I have been afraid––"

She shrank back a little as he bent closer to her, and the look in her face was partly what he had conjured up half an hour before. Only with the wonder and timidity there was something of dawning comprehension, even of gladness; but she did not speak, and after a little time he spoke again.

"You are not angry with me, are you, Doris?"

"No–oh no!" she answered softly.

"And do you think you love me a little?"

  ― 311 ―

There was a long pause, and then, whether she knew all that it conveyed or not, she answered in a perfectly audible voice:

"Yes, I am sure of it."

"And do you know how much I love you?" he asked after a little, trying hard to keep down the rising torrent of his joy.

A vivid colour had risen in her cheeks, but Victor was quite pale, and his hand, as he placed it on the arm of the chair on which she sat, shook a little. Seeing him so pallid and agitated, a troubled look came into her face.

"You are not unhappy, are you?" she asked very gently.

"No; there is only one thing that could make me unhappy just now, Doris."

"What is that?"

"The thought that you could not love me as long as we both live."

"Yes, and when we both die," she answered very gravely.

And then he was more than content. Only one more petition would he make just then.

"Doris, let me hold your hand a little moment."

A smile parted her lips as she gave him her hand. It trembled like a little reed-warbler whose wings are suddenly pinioned as his lithe brown fingers closed over hers. Very gently, fearing to frighten her, yet unable to resist the impulse, he bent his head and imprinted one tremulous kiss on the palm of the imprisoned hand; and then he released it, hardly daring to glance at her, for fear he might see a look of trouble or displeasure in her face. But it was happy and serene, and he took heart of grace.

"One day this little hand will be given to me, Doris, and I shall place a plain gold ring on the third finger."

"Do you mean that we will be married?" she said hesitatingly.

"Yes, that is just what I do mean," answered Victor, with a low, glad laugh.

"But mustn't we be a good deal older and wiser first?"

"Oh no! We're wise enough at this moment, Doris, and we'll be quite old enoughnote in another year–perhaps in six months–as soon as I can see your guardian in London."

"Why will you have to see him?"

"Oh, to assure him that I have some money and come of decent people–that I am the very one to make you happy as long as you live."

  ― 312 ―

"He'll know that as soon as he sees you," said Doris, with a slow, thoughtful utterance.

"Oh, you darling!" murmured the young lover passionately.

And then he rose and paced up and down the veranda. The temptation to kneel down and enfold her in his arms rose too distractingly.

"Come into the avenue for a little walk, Doris," he said, after a moment or two.

They walked side by side, for the most part in silence. When Victor spoke, it was of indifferent subjects, for he saw that gradually Doris had become a little more agitated. When she turned to re-enter the house he said:

"Doris, before we part, tell me once more–do you love me?"

She looked up at him, her lips slightly parted, her eyes full of a soft, deep light, some luminous touch of emotion in every line of her face–all her young, pure beauty made more beautiful by the great enchanter.

"I am quite sure of it," she said slowly.

A kind of hushed awe had fallen upon her. What was this new divine influence that wrapped her round, making the thought of sorrow faint and far away, enclosing her as if in a new world? She had no word or phrase for it all. She could only feel it thrilling every fibre of her being–feel it keenly, physically, as one feels the touch of a hand, or hears the melody of a bird's song, or inhales the notepenetrating breath of the early violets; but more mysterious than any of these ecstasies of feeling, seeing that this new faculty of her nature embraced them all, and yet was centred in another. The consciousness of being so happy apart from all the influences of her past life, apart even from thoughts of her mother, struck her with a kind of amazement. She was glad to be in the silence and solitude of her own room that night to ponder over the strange wonder and beauty of it all.