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And so these two fair women talked, making plans for the future as though all things endured forever, and all plans were destined to be realized. But even as they talked, somewhere up in the high heavens the Voice that rules the world spoke a word, and the Messenger of Fate rushed forth to do its bidding. On board the great ship was music and laughter and the sweet voices of singing women; but above it hung a pall of doom. Not the most timid heart dreamed of danger. What danger could there be aboard of that grand ship, which sped across the waves with the lightness and confidence of the swallow? There was naught to fear. A prosperous voyage was drawing to its end, and mothers put their babies to sleep with as sure a heart as though they were on solid English ground. Oh! surely when his overflowing load of sorrows and dire miseries was meted out to man, some gentle Spirit pleaded for him—that he should not have foresight added to the tale, that he should not see the falling knife or hear the water lapping that one day shall entomb him? Or, was it kept back because man, having knowledge, would be man without reason ?- for terror would make him mad, and he
would end his fears by hurrying their fulfilment! At least, we are blind to the future, and let us be thankful for it.
Presently Lady Holmhurst got up from her chair, and said that she was going to bed, but that, first of all, she must kiss Dick, her little boy, who slept with his nurse in another cabin. Augusta rose and went with her, and they both kissed the sleeping child, a bonny boy of five, and then they kissed each other and separated for the night.
Some hours afterwards Augusta woke up, feeling very restless. For an hour or more she lay thinking of Mr. Tombey and many other things, and listening to the swift “lap, lap,” of the water as it slipped past the vessel's sides, and the occasional tramp of the watch as they set fresh sails. At last her feeling of unrest got too much for her, and she rose and partially, very partially, dressed herself—for in the gloom she could only find her flannel vest and petticoattwisted her long hair in a coil round her head, put on a hat and a thick ulster that hung upon the door-for they were running into chilly latitudes—and slipped out on deck.
It was getting towards dawn, but the night was still dark. Looking up, Augusta could only just make out the outlines of the huge bellying sails, for the Kangaroo was rushing along before the westerly wind under a full head of steam, and with every inch of her canvas set to ease the screw. There was something very exhilarating about the movement, the freshness of the
night, and the wild, sweet song of the wind as it sang among the rigging. Augusta turned her face towards it, and, being alone, stretched out her arms as though to catch it. The whole scene awoke some answering greatness in her heart; something that slumbers in the bosom of the higher race of human beings, and only stirs—and then but faintly-when the passions move them, or when Nature communes with her nobler children. She felt that at that moment she could write as she had never written yet. All sorts of beautiful ideas, all sorts of aspirations after that noble calm, and purity of thought and life for which we pray and long, but are not allowed to reach, came flowing into her heart. She almost thought that she could hear her lost Jeannie's voice calling down the gale, and her strong imagination began to paint her hovering like a sea-bird upon white wings high above the mainmast's taper point, and gazing through the darkness into the soul of her she loved. Then, by those faint and imperceptible degrees with which thoughts fade one into another, from Jeannie her thought got round to Eustace Meeson. She wondered if he had ever called at the lodgings at Birmingham after she left. Somehow, she had an idea that he was not altogether indifferent to her; there had been a look in his eyes she did not quite understand. She almost wished now she had sent him a line or a message. Perhaps she would do so from New Zealand. Just then her meditations were interrupted by a step, and, turning round, she found herself face to face with the captain.
• Why, Miss Smithers !” he said, “what on earth are you doing here at this hour?—making up romances ?”
“Yes,” she answered, laughing, and with perfect truth. “ The fact of the matter is, I could not sleep, so I came on deck; and very pleasant it is."
“Yes,” said the captain," if you want something to put into your stories you won't find anything better than this. The Kangaroo is showing her heels, isn't she, Miss Smithers? That's the beauty of her, she can sail as well as steam; and when she has a strong wind like this abaft, it would have to be something very quick that would catch her. I believe that we have been running over seventeen knots an hour ever since midnight. I hope to make Kerguelen Island by seven o'clock to correct my chronometers."
“What is Kerguelen Island ?” asked Augusta.
“Oh! it is a desert place where nobody goes, except now and then a whaler to fill up with water. I believe that the astronomers sent an expedition there a few years ago to observe the transit of Venus; but it was a failure because the weather was so misty—it is nearly always misty there. Well, I must be off, Miss Smithers. Good-night, or, rather, good-morning."
Before the words were well out of his mouth, there was a wild shout forward—“Ship ahead!” Then came an awful yell from a dozen voices—“Starboard ! Hard a-starboard, for God's sake!”
With a wild leap, like the leap of a man suddenly shot, the captain left her side and rushed on to the bridge. At the same instant the engine-bell rang and
the steering-chains began to rattle furiously on the rollers at her feet, as the steam steering-gear did its work. Then came another yell
“ It's a whaler—no lights !” and an answering shriek of terror from some big black object that loomed ahead. Before the echoes had died away; before the great ship could even answer to her helm, there was a crash, such as Augusta had never heard, and a sickening shock, that threw her on her hands and knees on to the deck, shaking the iron masts till they trembled as though they were willow wands, and making the huge sails flap and for an instant fly aback. The great vessel, rushing along at her frightful speed of seventeen knots, had plunged into the ship ahead with such hideous energy that she cut her clean in twocut her in two and passed over her, as though she were a pleasure-boat!
Shriek upon shriek of despair came piercing the gloomy night, and then, as Augusta struggled to her feet, she felt a horrible succession of bumps, accompanied by a crushing, grinding noise. It was the Kangaroo driving right over the remains of the whaler.
In a very few seconds it was done, and, looking astern, Augusta could just make out something black that seemed to float for a second or two upon the water, and then disappear into its depths. It was the shattered hull of the whaler.
Then there arose a faint, murmuring sound, that grew first into a hum, and then into a roar, and then into a clamour that rent the skies, and up from every