Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER V.

THE R.M.S. "KANGAROO".

It was on a Tuesday evening that a mighty vessel steamed majestically out of the mouth of the Thames, and shaped her imposing course straight towards the setting sun. Many people will remember reading descriptions of the steam-ship Kangaroo, and being astonished at the power of her engines, the beauty of her fittings, and the extraordinary speed-about eighteen knots-which she developed in her trials, with an unusually low expenditure of coal. For the benefit of those who have not, however, it may be stated that the Kangaroo, "The Little Kangaroo," as she was ironically named among sailor men, was the very latest development of the science of modern ship-building. Everything about her, from the electric light and boiler tubes up, was on a new and patent system.

Four hundred feet and more she measured from stem to stern, and in that space were crowded and packed all the luxuries of a palace, and all the conveniences of an American hotel. She was a beautiful and a wonderful thing to look on; as, with her holds full of costly merchandise, and her decks crowded with

Pre

her living freight of about a thousand human beings, she steamed slowly out to sea, as though loth to leave the land where she was born. But presently she seemed to gather up her energies and to grow conscious of the thousands and thousands of miles of wide tossing seas, which stretched between her and the far-off harbour where her mighty heart should cease from beating and be for a while at rest. Quicker and quicker she sped along, and spurned the churning water from her swift sides. She was running under a full head of steam now, and the coast-line of England grew faint and low in the faint, low light, till at last it almost vanished from the gaze of a tall, slim girl, who stood forward, clinging to the starboard bulwark netting, and looking with deep grey eyes across the waste of waters. sently Augusta, for it was she, could see the shore no more, and turned to watch the other passengers and think. She was sad at heart, poor girl, and felt what she was—a very waif upon the sea of life. Not that she had much to regret upon the vanished coast-line. A little grave with a white cross over it—that was all. She had left no friends to weep for her, none. But even as she thought it, a recollection rose up in her mind of Eustace Meeson's pleasant, handsome face, and of his kind words, and with it came a pang as she reflected that, in all probability, she should never see the one nor hear the other again. Why, she wondered, had he not come to see her again? She should have liked to bid him "Good-bye," and had half a mind to

Mr. Meeson's Will.

5

send him a note and tell him of her going.

This, on second thoughts, however, she had decided not to do; for one thing, she did not know his address, and—well, there was an end of it.

Could she by the means of clairvoyance have seen Eustace's face and heard his words, she would have regretted her decision. For even as that great vessel plunged on her fierce way right into the heart of the gathering darkness, he was standing at the door of the lodging-house in the little street in Birmingham.

"Gone!" he was saying. "Miss Smithers gone to New Zealand! What is her address?"

"She didn't leave no address, sir," replies the dirty maid-of-all-work with a grin. "She went from here two days ago, and was going on to the ship in London."

"What was the name of the ship?" he asks, in despair.

"Kan-Kon-Conger-eel," replies the girl in triumph, and shuts the door in his face.

Poor Eustace! he had gone to London to try and get some employment, and having, after some difficulty, succeeded in obtaining a billet as reader in Latin, French, and old English to a publishing house of good repute, at the salary of £ 180 a year, he had hurried back to Birmingham for the sole purpose of seeing Augusta Smithers, with whom, if the whole truth must be told, he had, to his credit be it said, fallen deeply, truly, and violently in love. Indeed, so far was he in

This

this way gone, that he determined to make all the progress that he could, and if he thought that there was any prospect of success, to declare his passion. was, perhaps, a little premature; but then in these matters people are apt to be more premature than is generally supposed. Human nature is very swift in coming to conclusions in matters in which that strange mixture we call the affections are involved; perhaps because, although the conclusion is not altogether a pleasing one, the affections, at any rate in their beginning, are largely dependent on the senses.

Pity a poor young man! To come from London to Birmingham to woo one's grey-eyed mistress, in a thirdclass carriage too, and find her gone to New Zealand, whither circumstances prevented him from following her, without leaving a word or a line, or even an address behind her! It was too bad. Well, there was no remedy in the matter; so he walked to the railway station, and groaned and swore all the way back to London.

Augusta on board the Kangaroo was, however, in utter ignorance of this act of devotion on the part of her admirer; indeed, she did not even know that he was her admirer. Feeling a curious sinking sensation within her, she was about to go below to her cabin, which she shared with a lady's-maid, not knowing whether to attribute it to sentimental qualms incidental to her lonely departure from the land of her birth, or to other qualms connected with a first experience of

life upon the ocean wave. About that moment, however, a burly quartermaster addressed her in gruff tones, and informed her that if she wanted to see the last of "hold Halbion," she had better go aft a bit, and look over the port side, and she would see the something or other light. Accordingly, more to prove to herself that she was not sea-sick than for any other reason, she did so; and, standing as far aft as the second-class passengers were allowed to go, stared at the quick flashes of the lighthouse as, second by second they sent their message across the great waste of sea.

As she stood there, holding on to a stanchion to steady herself, for the vessel, large as she was, had begun, to get a bit of a roll on, she was suddenly aware of the bulky figure of a man, which came running, or rather reeling, against the bulwarks alongside of her, where it or rather he was instantly and violently ill. Augusta was, not unnaturally, almost horrified into following the figure's example, when suddenly, growing faint or from some other cause, it loosed its hold and rolled into the scuppers, where it lay feebly swearing. Augusta, obeying a tender impulse of humanity, hurried forward and stretched out the hand of succour, and presently, between her help and that of the bulwark nettings, the man struggled to his feet. As he did so, his face came close to hers, and in the dim light she recognised the fat coarse features, now blanched with misery, of Mr. Meeson, the publisher. There was no doubt of it, it was her enemy: the man whose behaviour had indirectly,

« ZurückWeiter »