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brought to a climax when one morning Lord Holmhurst, who had for several days been showing a growing dislike to his society, actually almost cut him dead; that is, he did not notice his outstretched hand, and passed him with a slight bow.
“Never mind, my lord-never mind !" muttered Mr. Meeson after that somewhat pompous but amiable nobleman's retreating form. “We'll see if I can't
I come square with you. I'm a dog who can pull a string or two in the English press, I am! Those who have the money and have got a hold of people, so that they must write what they tell them, ain't people to be cut by any colonial governor, my lord !” And in his anger he fairly shook his fist at the unconscious peer.
“Seem to be a little out of temper, Mr. Meeson," said a voice at his elbow, the owner of which was a big young man with hard but kindly features and a large mustache.
“ What has the governor been doing to you?”
“Doing, Mr. Tombey ?” He's been cutting me, that's all-me, Meeson !-cutting me as dead as offal, or something like it. I held out my hand and he looked right over it, and marched by.”
“Ah!" said Mr. Tombey, who was a wealthy New Zealand landowner; "and now, why do you suppose he did that???
“Why? I'll tell you why. It's all about that girl.”
“Miss Smithers, do you mean ?” said Tombey the big, with a curious flash of his deep-set eyes.
“Yes, Miss Smithers. She wrote a book, and I bought the book for fifty pounds, and stuck a clause in that she should give me the right to publish any. thing she wrote for five years at a price—a common sort of thing enough in one way and another, when you are dealing with some idiot who don't know any better. Well, as it happened, this book sold like wildfire; and, in time, the young lady comes to me and wants more money, wants to get out of the hanging clause in the agreement, wants everything, like a female Oliver Twist; and when I say, 'No, you don't, loses her temper and makes a scene. And it turns out that what she wanted the money for was to take a sick sister, or cousin, or aunt, or some one, out of England; and when she could not do it, and the relation died, then she emigrates, and goes and tells the people on board ship that it is all my fault.” “And I suppose that that is a conclusion that you
a do not feel drawn to, Mr. Meeson?"
"No, Tombey, I don't. Business is business; and if I happen to have got to windward of the young woman, why, so much the better for me. She's getting her experience, that's all; and she ain't the first, and won't be the last. But if she goes saying much more about me, I go for her for slander, that's sure.”
“On the legal ground that the greater the truth, the greater the libel, I presume ?"
“Confound her!" went on Meeson, without noticing his remark, and contracting his heavy eyebrows, “there's no end to the trouble she has brought on me.
I quarrelled with my nephew about her, and now she's dragging my name through the dirt here, and I'll bet the story will go all over New Zealand and Australia.”
Yes,” said Mr. Tombey, “I fancy you will find it take a lot of choking; and now, Mr. Meeson, with your permission I will say a word, and try and throw a new light upon a very perplexing matter. It never seems to have occurred to you what an out-and-out blackguard you are, so I may as well put it to you plainly. If you are not a thief, you are, at least, a very well-colored imitation. You take a girl's book and make hundreds upon hundreds out of it, and give her fifty. You tie her down, so as to provide for successful swindling of the same sort during future years, and then, when she comes to beg a few pounds of you, you show her the door. And now you wonder, Mr. Meeson, that respectable people will have nothing to do with you! Well, now, I tell you my opinion is that the only society to which you would be really suited is that of a cowhide. Good-morning," and the large young man walked off, his very mustache curling with wrath and contempt. Thus, for a second time, did the great Mr. Meeson hear the truth from the lips of babes and sucklings, and the worst of it was that he could not disinherit Number Two as he had Number One.
Now this will strike the reader as being very warm advocacy on the part of Mr. Tombey, who, being called in to console and bless, cursed with such extraordinary vigor. It may even strike the discerning reader—and
all readers, or, at least, nearly all readers, are discerning: far too much so, indeed—that there must have been a reason for it; and the discerning reader will be right. Augusta's gray eyes had been too much for Mr. Tombey, as they had been too much for Eustace Meeson before him. His passion had sprung up and ripened in that peculiarly rapid and vigorous fashion that passions do on board ship. A passenger-steamer is Cupid's own hot-bed, and in this way differs from a sailing-ship. On the sailing-ship, indeed, the prelimi
, nary stages are the same. The seed roots as strongly, and grows and flowers with equal vigor; but here comes the melancholy part—it withers and decays with equal rapidity. The voyage is too long. Too much is mutually revealed. The matrimonial iron cannot be struck while it is hot, and long before the weary ninety days are over it is once more cold and black, or at the best glows with but a feeble heat. But on the steamship there is no time for this, as any traveller knows. Myself—I, the historian-have, with my own eyes seen a couple meet for the first time at Madeira, get married at the Cape, and go on as man and wife in the same vessel to Natal. And, therefore, it came to pass that that very evening a touching, and, on the whole, melancholy, little scene was enacted near the smoke-stack of the Kangaroo.
Mr. Tombey and Miss Augusta Smithers were leaning together over the bulwarks and watching the phosphorescent foam go flashing past. Mr. Tombey was nervous and ill at ease; Miss Smithers very much at
ease, and reflecting that her companion's mustache would very well become a villain in a novel.
Mr. Tombey looked at the star-spangled sky, on which the Southern Cross hung low, and he looked at the phosphorescent sea; but from neither did inspiration come. Inspiration is from within, and not from without. At last, however, he made a gallant and a desperate effort.
“ Miss Smithers,” he said, in a voice trembling with agitation.
“ Yes, Mr. Tombey," answered Augusta, quietly; 66 what is it?"
“Miss Smithers," he went on—“Miss Augusta, I don't know what you will think of me, but I must tell you; I can't keep it in any longer. I love you!"
Augusta fairly jumped. Mr. Tombey had been very, even markedly, polite, and she, not being a fool, had seen that he admired her; but she had never expected this, and the suddenness with which the shot was fired was somewhat bewildering.
Why, Mr. Tombey,” she said, in a surprised voice, “you have only known me for a little more than a fortnight.
“I fell in love with you when I had only known you for an hour,” he answered, with evident sincerity. “ Please listen to me. I know I am not worthy of you! But I do love you so very dearly, and I would make you a good husband; indeed I would. I am well off; though, of course, that is nothing; and if you don't like New Zealand, I would give it up and go