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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 color 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, likely enough, 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 hidden; for, alas! those faces of our departed youth have an uncanny trick of rising from the tomb of our forgetfulBut Augusta was not of the great order of opportunists. Because a thing might be convenient, 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 honor, the greatest honor a man can do 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? 66 Perhaps there is somebody else!"
"There is nobody else, Mr. Tombey; and, 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 hands 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 they, 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 enjoying the balmy southern air, through which the great ship was rushing with outspread sails like some huge white bird, and chatting to the captain. As she came up, the captain made his bow and departed, 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.
“And what have you done with that young man, Mr. Tombey—that very nice young man?" she added, with emphasis.
"I think that Mr. Tombey went forward," said Augusta.
The two women looked at each other, and, woman
like, each understood what the other meant. Lady Holmhurst had not been altogether innocent in the Tombey affair.
"Lady Holmhurst," said Augusta, taking the bull by the horns," Mr. Tombey has been speaking to me, and has-"
Proposed to you," suggested Lady Holmhurst, admiring the Southern Cross through her eyeglasses. "You said he went forward, you know."
"Has proposed to me," answered Augusta, ignoring the little joke. "I regret," she went on, hurriedly, "that I have not been able to fall in with Mr. Tombey's plans."
"Ah!" said Lady Holmhurst, "I am sorry for some things. Mr. Tombey is such a very nice young man, and so very gentlemanlike. I thought that perhaps it might suit your views, and it would have simplified your future arrangements. But as to that, of course, while you are in New Zealand, I shall be able to see to that. By the way, it is understood that you come to stay with us for a few months at Government House, before you hunt up your cousin."
"You are very good to me, Lady Holmhurst," said Augusta, with something like a sob.
Suppose, my dear," answered the great lady, laying her little hand upon Augusta's beautiful hair," that you were to drop the 'Lady Holmhurst' and call me 'Bessie?' It sounds so much more sociable, you know, and, besides, it is shorter, and does not waste so much breath."