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being called in to console and bless, cursed with such extraordinary vigour. It may even strike the discerning reader and all readers, or, at least, nearly all readers, are of course discerning: far too much so, indeed that there must have been a reason for it; and the discerning reader will be right. Augusta's grey 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 affect 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 preliminary stages are the same. The seed roots as strongly, and grows and flowers with vigour; 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 steam-ship 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 this 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 lean
ing 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 mustachios would well become the 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; "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 to live in England. Do you think that you can take me? If you only knew how dearly I love you, I am sure you would."
Augusta collected her wits as well as she could. The man evidently did love her; there was no doubting the sincerity of his words, and she liked him, and he was a gentleman. If she married him there would be an end of all her worries and troubles, and she could rest contentedly on his strong arm. Woman, even gifted woman, is not made to fight the world with her own hand, and the prospect had allurements. But while she thought, Eustace Meeson's bonny face rose before her eyes, and, as it did so, a faint feeling of repulsion to the man who was pleading with her took form and colour in her breast. Eustace Meeson, of course, was nothing to her; no word or sign of affection had passed between them; and the probability was that she would never set her eyes upon him again. And yet that face rose up between her and this man who was pleading at her side. Many women have seen some such vision from the past and have disregarded it, only to find too late that that which is thrust aside is not necessarily dead; for alas! those faces of our departed youth have an uncanny trick of rising from the tomb of our forgetfulness. But Augusta was not of the
great order of opportunists. Because a thing might be expedient, it did not, according to the dictates of her moral sense, follow that it was lawful. Therefore, she was a woman to be respected. For a woman who, except under most exceptional circumstances, gives her instincts the lie in order to pander to her convenience or her desire for wealth and social ease, is not altogether a woman to be respected.
In a very few seconds she had made up her mind. "I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Tombey," she said; "you have done me a great honour, the greatest honour a man can do to a woman; but I cannot marry you."
"Are you sure?" gasped the unfortunate Tombey, for his hopes had been high. "Is there no hope for me? Perhaps there is somebody else!"
"There is nobody else, Mr. Tombey; but, I am sorry to say, you don't know how much it pains me to say it, I cannot hold out any prospect that I shall change my mind."
He dropped his head upon his hand for a minute, and then lifted it again.
"Very well," he said slowly; "it can't be helped. I never loved any woman before, and I never shall again. It is a pity" (with a hard, little laugh)-"that so much first-class affection should be wasted. But, there you are; it is all part and parcel of the pleasant experiences which make up our lives. Good-bye, Miss Smithers; at least, good-bye as a friend!"
"We can still be friends," she faltered.
"Oh, no," he answered, with another laugh; "that is an exploded notion. Friendship of that nature is not very safe under any circumstances, certainly not under these. The relationship is antagonistic to the facts of life, and the friends, or one or other of them, will drift either into indifference and dislike, or-something warmer. You are a novelist, Miss Smithers; perhaps some day you will write a book to explain why people fall in love where their affection is not wanted, and what purpose their distress can possibly serve. And now, once more, good-bye!" and he lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed it, and then, with a bow, turned and went.
From all of which it will be clearly seen that Mr. Tombey was decidedly a young man above the average, and one who took punishment very well. Augusta looked after him, sighed deeply, and even wiped away a tear. Then she turned and walked aft, to where Lady Holmhurst was sitting chatting to the captain and enjoying the balmy southern air, through which the great ship was rushing with outspread sails like some huge white bird. As she came up, the captain made his bow and went, saying that he had something to see to, and for a minute Lady Holmhurst and Augusta were left alone.
"Well, Augusta?" said Lady Holmhurst, for she called her "Augusta" now.
"Well, Lady Holmhurst!" said Augusta.