“Well, Augusta?” said Lady Holmhurst, for she called her “Augusta” now. “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, womanlike, 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.”
Then Augusta sobbed outright, for her nerves were shaken: “You don’t know what your kindness means to me,” she said; “I have never had a friend, and since my darling died I have been so very lonely!”
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 babes 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.