Mr. Meeson's Will
H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
MR. MEESON'S WILL
BY H. RIDER HAGGARD
CHAPTER I. AUGUSTA AND HER PUBLISHER
CHAPTER II. HOW EUSTACE WAS DISINHERITED
CHAPTER III. AUGUSTA'S LITTLE SISTER
CHAPTER IV. AUGUSTA'S DECISION
CHAPTER V. THE R.M.S. KANGAROO
CHAPTER VI. MR. TOMBEY GOES FORWARD
CHAPTER VII. THE CATASTROPHE
CHAPTER VIII. KERGUELEN LAND
CHAPTER IX. AUGUSTA TO THE RESCUE
CHAPTER X. THE LAST OF MR. MEESON
CHAPTER XI. RESCUED
CHAPTER XII. SOUTHAMPTON QUAY
CHAPTER XIII. EUSTACE BUYS A PAPER
CHAPTER XIV. AT HANOVER SQUARE
CHAPTER XV. EUSTACE CONSULTS A LAWYER
CHAPTER XVI. SHORT ON LEGAL ETIQUETTE
CHAPTER XVII. HOW AUGUSTA WAS FILED
CHAPTER XVIII. AUGUSTA FLIES
CHAPTER XIX. MEESON v. ADDISON AND ANOTHER
CHAPTER XX. JAMES BREAKS DOWN
CHAPTER XXI. GRANT AS PRAYED
CHAPTER XXII. ST. GEORGE'S, HANOVER-SQUARE
CHAPTER XXIII. MEESON'S ONCE AGAIN
AUGUSTA AND HER PUBLISHER.
"Now mark you, my masters: this is comedy."--OLD PLAY.
Everybody who has any connection with Birmingham will be acquainted with
the vast publishing establishment still known by the short title of
"Meeson's," which is perhaps the most remarkable institution of the sort
in Europe. There are--or rather there were, at the date of the beginning
of this history--three partners in Meeson's--Meeson himself, the managing
partner; Mr. Addison, and Mr. Roscoe--and people in Birmingham used to
say that there were others interested in the affair, for Meeson's was a
However this may be, Meeson and Co. was undoubtedly a commercial marvel.
It employed more than two thousand hands; and its works, lit throughout
with the electric light, cover two acres and a quarter of land. One
hundred commercial travellers, at three pounds a week and a commission,
went forth east and west, and north and south, to sell the books of
Meeson (which were largely religious in their nature) in all lands; and
five-and-twenty tame authors (who were illustrated by thirteen tame
artists) sat--at salaries ranging from one to five hundred a year--in
vault-like hutches in the basement, and week by week poured out that
hat-work for which Meeson's was justly famous. Then there were editors
and vice-editors, and heads of the various departments, and sub-heads,
and financial secretaries, and readers, and many managers; but what their
names were no man knew, because at Meeson's all the employees of the
great house were known by numbers; personalities and personal
responsibility being the abomination of the firm. Nor was it allowed to
anyone having dealings with these items ever to see the same number
twice, presumably for fear lest the number should remember that he was a
man and a brother, and his heart should melt towards the unfortunate, and
the financial interests of Meeson's should suffer. In short, Meeson's was
an establishment created for and devoted to money-making, and the fact
was kept studiously and even insolently before the eyes of everybody
connected with it--which was, of course, as it should be, in this happy
land of commerce. After all that has been written, the reader will not be
surprised to learn that the partners in Meeson's were rich beyond the
dreams of avarice. Their palaces would have been a wonder even in ancient
Babylon, and would have excited admiration in the corruptest and most
luxurious days of Rome. Where could one see such horses, such carriages,
such galleries of sculpture or such collections of costly gems as at the
palatial halls of Messrs. Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe?
"And to think," as the Mighty Meeson himself would say, with a lordly
wave of his right hand, to some astonished wretch of an author whom he
has chosen to overwhelm with the sight of this magnificence, "to think
that all this comes out of the brains of chaps like you! Why, young man,
I tell you that if all the money that has been paid to you scribblers
since the days of Elizabeth were added together it would not come up to
my little pile; but, mind you, it ain't so much fiction that has done the
trick--it's religion. It's piety as pays, especially when it's printed."
Then the unsophisticated youth would go away, his heart too full for
words, but pondering how these things were, and by-and-by he would pass
into the Meeson melting-pot and learn something about it.
One day King Meeson sat in his counting house counting out his money, or,
at least, looking over the books of the firm. He was in a very bad
temper, and his heavy brows were wrinkled up in a way calculated to make
the counting-house clerks shake on their stools. Meeson's had a branch
establishment at Sydney, in Australia, which establishment had, until
lately, been paying--it is true not as well as the English one, but,
still, fifteen or twenty per cent. But now a wonder had come to pass. A
great American publishing firm had started an opposition house in
Melbourne, and their "cuteness" was more than the "cuteness" of Meeson.
Did Meeson's publish an edition of the works of any standard author at
threepence per volume the opposition company brought out the same work at
twopence-halfpenny; did Meeson's subsidise a newspaper to puff their
undertakings, the opposition firm subsidised two to cry them down, and so
on. And now the results of all this were becoming apparent: for the
financial year just ended the Australian branch had barely earned a
beggarly net dividend of seven per cent.
No wonder Mr. Meeson was furious, and no wonder that the clerks shook
upon their stools.
"This must be seen into, No. 3," said Mr. Meeson, bringing his fist down
with a bang on to the balance-sheet.
No. 3 was one of the editors; a mild-eyed little man with blue
spectacles. He had once been a writer of promise; but somehow Meeson's
had got him for its own, and turned him into a publisher's hack.
"Quite so, Sir," he said humbly. "It is very bad--it is dreadful to think
of Meeson's coming down to seven per cent--seven per cent!" and he held
up his hands.
"Don't stand there like a stug pig, No. 3," said Mr. Meeson, fiercely;
"but suggest something."
"Well, Sir," said No. 3 more humbly than ever, for he was terribly afraid
of his employer; "I think, perhaps, that somebody had better go to
Australia, and see what can be done."
"I know one thing that can be done," said Mr. Meeson, with a snarl: "all
those fools out there can be sacked, and sacked they shall be; and,
what's more, I'll go and sack them myself. That will do No. 3; that will
do;" and No. 3 departed, and glad enough he was to go.
As he went a clerk arrived, and gave a card to the great man.
"Miss Augusta Smithers," he read; then with a grunt, "show Miss Augusta
Presently Miss Augusta Smithers arrived. She was a tall, well-formed
young lady of about twenty-five, with pretty golden hair, deep grey
eyes, a fine forehead, and a delicate mouth; just now, however, she
looked very nervous.
"Well, Miss Smithers, what is it?" asked the publisher.
"I came, Mr. Meeson--I came about my book."
"Your book, Miss Smithers?" this was an affectation of forgetfulness;
"let me see?--forgive me, but we publish so many books. Oh, yes, I
remember; 'Jemima's Vow.' Oh, well, I believe it is going on fairly."
"I saw you advertised the sixteenth thousand the other day," put in Miss
"Did we--did we? ah, then, you know more about it than I do," and he
looked at his visitor in a way that conveyed clearly enough that he
considered the interview was ended.
Miss Smithers rose, and then, with a spasmodic effort, sat down again.
"The fact is, Mr. Meeson," she said--"The fact is, that, I thought that,
perhaps, as 'Jemima's Vow' had been such a great success, you might,
perhaps--in short, you might be inclined to give me some small sum in
addition to what I have received."
Mr. Meeson looked up. His forehead was wrinkled till the shaggy eyebrows
nearly hid the sharp little eyes.
"What!" he said. "_What_!"
At this moment the door opened, and a young gentleman came slowly in. He
was a very nice-looking young man, tall and well shaped, with a fair skin
and jolly blue eyes--in short, a typical young Englishman of the better
sort, aetate suo twenty-four. I have said that he came slowly in, but
that scarcely conveys the gay and _degage_ air of independence which
pervaded this young man, and which would certainly have struck any
observer as little short of shocking, when contrasted with the worm-like
attitude of those who crept round the feet of Meeson. This young man had
not, indeed, even taken the trouble to remove his hat, which was stuck
upon the back of his head, his hands were in his pockets, a sacrilegious
whistle hovered on his lips, and he opened the door of the sanctum
sanctorum of the Meeson establishment _with a kick_!
"How do, uncle?" he said to the Commercial Terror, who was sitting there
behind his formidable books, addressing him even as though he were an
ordinary man. "Why, what's up?"
Just then, however, he caught sight of the very handsome young lady who
was seated in the office, and his whole demeanour underwent a most
remarkable change; out came the hands from his pockets, off went the hat,
and, turning, he bowed, really rather nicely, considering how impromptu
the whole performance was.
"What is it, Eustace?" asked Mr. Meeson, sharply.
"Oh, nothing, uncle; nothing--it can bide," and, without waiting for an
invitation, he took a chair, and sat down in such a position that he
could see Miss Smithers without being seen of his uncle.
"I was saying, Miss Smithers, or rather, I was going to say," went on the
elder Meeson, "that, in short, I do not in the least understand what you
can mean. You will remember that you were paid a sum of fifty pounds for
the copyright of 'Jemima's Vow.'"
"Great Heavens!" murmured Master Eustace, behind; "what a do!"
"At the time an alternative agreement, offering you seven per cent on the
published price of the book, was submitted to you, and, had you accepted
it, you would, doubtless, have realized a larger sum," and Mr. Meeson
contracted his hairy eyebrows and gazed at the poor girl in a way that
was, to say the least, alarming. But Augusta, though she felt sadly
inclined to flee, still stood to her guns, for, to tell the truth, her
need was very great.
"I could not afford to wait for the seven per cent, Mr. Meeson," she
"Oh, ye gods! seven per cent, when he makes about forty-five!" murmured
Eustace, in the background.
"Possibly, Miss Smithers; possibly;" went on the great man. "You must
really forgive me if I am not acquainted with the exact condition of your
private affairs. I am, however, aware from experience that the money
matters of most writing people are a little embarrassed."
Augusta winced, and Mr. Meeson, rising heavily from his chair, went to a
large safe which stood near, and extracted from it a bundle of
agreements. These he glanced at one by one till he found what he was
"Here is the agreement," he said; "let me see? ah, I thought
so--copyright fifty pounds, half proceeds of rights of translation, and a
clause binding you to offer any future work you may produce during the
next five years to our house on the seven per cent agreement, or a sum
not exceeding one hundred pounds for the copyright. Now, Miss Smithers,
what have you to say? You signed this paper of your own free will. It so
happens that we have made a large profit on your book: indeed, I don't
mind telling you that we have got as much as we gave you back from
America for the sale of the American rights; but that is no ground for
your coming to ask for more money than you agreed to accept. I never
heard of such a thing in the whole course of my professional experience;
never!" and he paused, and once more eyed her sternly.
"At any rate, there ought to be something to come to me from the rights
of translation--I saw in the paper that the book was to be translated
into French and German," said Augusta, faintly.
"Oh! yes, no doubt--Eustace, oblige me by touching the bell."
The young gentleman did so, and a tall, melancholy-looking clerk
"No. 18," snarled Mr. Meeson, in the tone of peculiar amiability that he
reserved for his employee's, "make out the translation account of
'Jemima's Vow,' and fill up a cheque of balance due to the author."
No. 18 vanished like a thin, unhappy ghost, and Mr. Meeson once more
addressed the girl before him. "If you want money, Miss Smithers," he
said, "you had better write us another book. I am not going to deny that
your work is good work--a little too deep, and not quite orthodox enough,
perhaps; but still good. I tested it myself, when it came to hand--which
is a thing I don't often do--and saw it was good selling quality, and you
see I didn't make a mistake. I believe 'Jemima's Vow' will sell twenty
thousand without stopping--here's the account."
As he spoke the spectre-like clerk put down a neatly-ruled bit of paper
and an unsigned cheque on the desk before his employer, and then smiled a
shadowy smile and vanished.
Mr. Meeson glanced through the account, signed the cheque, and handed
it, together with the account to Augusta, who proceeded to read it. It
AUGUSTA SMITHERS _in account with_ MEESON & Co.
L s d
To Sale of Right of Translation of 7 0 0
"Jemima's Vow" into French......
Do. do. do. into German 7 0 0
L14 0 0
L s d
Less amount due to Messrs. Meeson, being 7 0 0
one-half of net proceeds
Less Commission, &c 3 19 0
L10 19 0
Balance due to Author, as per cheque L3 1 0
Augusta looked, and then slowly crumpled up the cheque in her hand.
"If I understand, Mr. Meeson," she said, "you have sold the two rights of
translation of my book, which you persuaded me to leave in your hands,
for L14; out of which I am to receive L3 1s.?"
"Yes, Miss Smithers. Will you be so kind as to sign the receipt; the fact
is that I have a good deal of business to attend to."
"No, Mr. Meeson," suddenly said Augusta, rising to her feet and looking
exceedingly handsome and imposing in her anger. "No; I will not sign the
receipt, and I will not take this cheque. And, what is more, I will not
write you any more books. You have entrapped me. You have taken
advantage of my ignorance and inexperience, and entrapped me so that for
five years I shall be nothing but a slave to you, and, although I am now
one of the most popular writers in the country, shall be obliged to
accept a sum for my books upon which I cannot live. Do you know that
yesterday I was offered a thousand pounds for the copyright of a book
like 'Jemima's Vow'?--it's a large sum; but I have the letter. Yes, and I
have the book in manuscript now; and if I could publish it I should be
lifted out of poverty, together with my poor little sister!" and she gave
a sob. "But," she went on, "I cannot publish it, and I will not let you
have it and be treated like this; I had rather starve. I will publish
nothing for five years, and I will write to the papers and say
why--because I have been _cheated_, Mr. Meeson!"
"Cheated!" thundered the great man. "Be careful, young lady; mind what
you are saying. I have a witness; Eustace, you hear, '_cheated_'!
"_I_ hear," said Eustace, grimly.
"Yes, Mr. Meeson, I said '_cheated_'; and I will repeat it, whether I am
locked up for it or not. Good morning, Mr. Meeson," and she curtseyed to
him, and then suddenly burst into a flood of tears.
In a minute Eustace was by her side.
"Don't cry, Miss Smithers; for Heaven's sake don't I can't bear to see
it," he said.
She looked up, her beautiful grey eyes full of tears, and tried to smile.
"Thank you," she said; "I am very silly, but I am so disappointed. If you
only knew--. There I will go. Thank you," and in another instant she had
drawn herself up and left the room.
"Well," said Mr. Meeson, senior, who had been sitting at his desk with
his great mouth open, apparently too much astonished to speak. "Well,
there is a vixen for you. But she'll come round. I've known them to do
that sort of thing before--there are one or two down there," and he
jerked his thumb in the direction where the twenty and five tame authors
sat each like a rabbit in his little hutch and did hat-work by the yard,
"who carried on like that. But they are quiet enough now--they don't
show much spirit now. I know how to deal with that sort of
thing--half-pay and a double tale of copy--that's the ticket. Why, that
girl will be worth fifteen hundred a year to the house. What do you
think of it, young man, eh?"
"I think," answered his nephew, on whose good-tempered face a curious
look of contempt and anger had gathered, "I think that you ought to be
ashamed of yourself!"
HOW EUSTACE WAS DISINHERITED.
There was a pause--a dreadful pause. The flash had left the cloud, but
the answering thunder had not burst upon the ear. Mr. Meeson gasped. Then
he took up the cheque which Augusta had thrown upon the table and slowly
"What did you say, young man?" he said at last, in a cold, hard voice.
"I said that you ought to be ashamed of yourself," answered his nephew,
standing his ground bravely; "and, what is more, I meant it!"
"Oh! Now will you be so kind as to explain exactly why you said that, and
why you meant it?"
"I meant it," answered his nephew, speaking in a full, strong voice,
"because that girl was right when she said that you had cheated her, and
you know that she was right. I have seen the accounts of 'Jemima's
Vow'--I saw them this morning--and you have already made more than a
thousand pounds clear profit on the book. And then, when she comes to ask
you for something over the beggarly fifty pounds which you doled out to
her, you refuse, and offer her three pounds as her share of the
translation rights--three pounds as against your eleven!"
"Go on," interrupted his uncle; "pray go on."
"All right; I am going. That is not all: you actually avail yourself of a
disgraceful trick to entrap this unfortunate girl into an agreement,
whereby she becomes a literary bondslave for five years! As soon as you
see that she has genius, you tell her that the expense of bringing out
her book, and of advertising up her name, &c., &c., &c., will be very
great--so great, indeed, that you cannot undertake it, unless, indeed,
she agrees to let you have the first offer of everything she writes for
five years to come, at somewhere about a fourth of the usual rate of a
successful author's pay--though, of course, you don't tell her that. You
take advantage of her inexperience to bind her by this iniquitous
contract, knowing that the end of it will be that you will advance her a
little money and get her into your power, and then will send her down
there to the Hutches, where all the spirit and originality and genius
will be crushed out of her work, and she will become a hat-writer like
the rest of them--for Meeson's is a strictly commercial undertaking, you
know, and Meeson's public don't like genius, they like their literature
dull and holy!--and it's an infernal shame! that's what it is, uncle!"
and the young man, whose blue eyes were by this time flashing fire, for
he had worked himself up as he went along, brought his fist down with a
bang upon the writing table by way of emphasising his words.
"Have you done?" said his uncle.
"Yes, I've done; and I hope that I have put it plain."
"Very well; and now might I ask you, supposing that you should ever come
to manage this business, if your sentiments accurately represent the
system upon which you would proceed?"
"Of course they do. I am not going to turn cheat for anybody."
"Thank you. They seem to have taught you the art of plain speaking up at
Oxford--though, it appears," with a sneer, "they taught you very little
else. Well, then, now it is my turn to speak; and I tell you what it is,
young man, you will either instantly beg my pardon for what you have
said, or you will leave Meeson's for good and all."
"I won't beg your pardon for speaking the truth," said Eustace, hotly:
"the fact is that here you never hear the truth; all these poor devils
creep and crawl about you, and daren't call their souls their own. I
shall be devilish glad to get out of this place, I can tell you. All this
chickery and pokery makes me sick. The place stinks and reeks of sharp
practice and money-making--money-making by fair means or foul."
The elder man had, up till now, at all events to outward appearance, kept
his temper; but this last flower of vigorous English was altogether too
much for one whom the possession of so much money had for many years
shielded from hearing unpleasant truths put roughly. The man's face grew
like a devil's, his thick eyebrows contracted themselves, and his pale
lips quivered with fury. For a few seconds he could not speak, so great
was his emotion. When, at length, he did, his voice was as thick and
laden with rage as a dense mist is with rain.
"You impudent young rascal!" he began, "you ungrateful foundling! Do you
suppose that when my brother left you to starve--which was all that you
were fit for--I picked you out of the gutter for this: that you should
have the insolence to come and tell me how to conduct my business? Now,
young man, I'll just tell you what it is. You can be off and conduct a
business of your own on whatever principles you choose. Get out of
Meeson's, Sir; and never dare to show your nose here again, or I'll give
the porters orders to hustle you off the premises! And, now, that isn't
all. I've done with you, never you look to me for another sixpence! I'm
not going to support you any longer, I can tell you. And, what's more, do
you know what I'm going to do just, now? I'm going off to old
Todd--that's my lawyer--and I'm going to tell him to make another will
and to leave every farthing I have--and that isn't much short of two
millions, one way and another--to Addison and Roscoe. They don't want it,
but that don't matter. You shan't have it--no, not a farthing of it; and
I won't have a pile like that frittered away in charities and
mismanagement. There now, my fine young gentleman, just be off and see if
your new business principles will get you a living."
"All right, uncle; I'm going," said the young man, quietly. "I quite
understand what our quarrel means for me, and, to tell you the truth, I
am not sorry. I have never wished to be dependent on you, or to have
anything to do with a business carried on as Meeson's is. I have a
hundred a year my mother left me, and with the help of that and my
education, I hope to make a living. Still, I don't want to part from you
in anger, because you have been very kind to me at times, and, as you
remind me, you picked me out of the gutter when I was orphaned or not far
from it. So I hope you will shake hands before I go."
"Ah!" snarled his uncle; "you want to pipe down now, do you? But that
won't do. Off you go! and mind you don't set foot in Pompadour Hall," Mr.
Meeson's seat, "unless it is to get your clothes. Come, cut!"
"You misunderstand me," said Eustace, with a touch of native dignity
which became him very well. "Probably we shall not meet again, and I did
not wish to part in anger, that was all. Good morning." And he bowed and
left the office.
"Confound him!" muttered his uncle as the door closed, "he's a good
plucked one--showed spirit. But I'll show spirit, too. Meeson is a man of
his word. Cut him off with a shilling? not I; cut him off with nothing at
all. And yet, curse it, I like the lad. Well, I've done with him, thanks
to that minx of a Smithers girl. Perhaps he's sweet on her? then they can
go and starve together, and be hanged to them! She had better keep out of
my way, for she shall smart for this, so sure as my name is Jonathan
Meeson. I'll keep her up to the letter of that agreement, and, if she
tries to publish a book inside of this country or out of it, I'll crush
her--yes, I'll crush her, if it cost me five thousand to do it!" and,
with a snarl, he dropped his fist heavily upon the table before him.
Then he rose, put poor Augusta's agreement carefully back into the safe,
which he shut with a savage snap, and proceeded to visit the various
departments of his vast establishment, and to make such hay therein as
had never before been dreamt of in the classic halls of Meeson's.
To this hour the clerks of the great house talk of that dreadful day
with bated breath--for as bloody Hector raged through the Greeks, so
did the great Meeson rage through his hundred departments. In the very
first office he caught a wretched clerk eating sardine sandwiches.
Without a moment's hesitation he took the sandwiches and threw them
through the window.
"Do you suppose I pay you to come and eat your filthy sandwiches here?"
he asked savagely. "There, now you can go and look for them; and see you
here: you needn't trouble to come back, you idle, worthless fellow. Off
you go! and remember you need not send to me for a character. Now
The unfortunate departed, feebly remonstrating, and Meeson, having glared
around at the other clerks and warned them that unless they were
careful--very careful--they would soon follow in his tracks, continued
his course of devastation.
Presently he met an editor, No. 7 it was, who was bringing him an
agreement to sign. He snatched it from him and glanced through it.
"What do you mean by bringing me a thing like this?" he said: "It's
"It is exactly as you dictated to me yesterday, Sir," said the editor
"What, do you mean to contradict me?" roared Meeson. "Look here No. 7,
you and I had better part. Now, no words: your salary will be paid to
you till the end of the month, and if you would like to bring an
action for wrongful dismissal, why, I'm your man. Good morning, No. 7;
Next he crossed a courtyard where, by slipping stealthily around the
corner, he came upon a jolly little errand boy, who was enjoying a
solitary game of marbles.
_Whack_ came his cane across the seat of that errand boy's trousers,
and in another minute he had followed the editor and the
And so the merry game went on for half an hour or more, till at last Mr.
Meeson was fain to cease his troubling, being too exhausted to continue
his destroying course. But next morning there was promotion going on in
the great publishing house; eleven vacancies had to be filled.
A couple of glasses of brown sherry and a few sandwiches, which he
hastily swallowed at a neighboring restaurant, quickly restored him,
however; and, jumping into a cab, he drove post haste to his lawyers',
Messrs. Todd and James.
"Is Mr. Todd in?" he said to the managing clerk, who came forward bowing
obsequiously to the richest man in Birmingham.
"Mr. Todd will be disengaged in a few minutes, Sir," he said. "May I
offer you the _Times_?"
"Damn the _Times_!" was the polite answer; "I don't come here to read
newspapers. Tell Mr. Todd I must see him at once, or else I shall go
"I am much afraid Sir"--began the managing clerk.
Mr. Meeson jumped up and grabbed his hat. "Now then, which is it to
be?" he said.
"Oh, certainly, Sir; pray be seated," answered the manager in great
alarm--Meeson's business was not a thing to be lightly lost. "I will see
Mr. Todd instantly," and he vanished.
Almost simultaneously with his departure an old lady was unceremoniously
bundled out of an inner room, clutching feebly at a reticule full of
papers and proclaiming loudly that her head was going round and round.
The poor old soul was just altering her will for the eighteenth time in
favor of a brand new charity, highly recommended by Royalty; and to be
suddenly shot from the revered presence of her lawyer out into the outer
darkness of the clerk's office, was really too much for her.
In another minute, Mr. Meeson was being warmly, even enthusiastically,
greeted by Mr. Todd himself. Mr. Todd was a nervous-looking, jumpy little
man, who spoke in jerks and gushes in such a way as to remind one of a
fire-hose through which water was being pumped intermittently.
"How do you do, my dear Sir? Delighted to have this pleasure," he began
with a sudden gush, and then suddenly dried up, as he noticed the
ominous expression on the great man's brow. "I am sure I am very sorry
that you were kept waiting, my dear Sir: but I was at the moment engaged
with an excellent and most Christian testator."--
Here he suddenly jumped and dried up again, for Mr. Meeson, without the
slightest warning, ejaculated: "Curse your Christian testator! And look
here, Todd, just you see that it does not happen again. I'm a Christian
testator too; and Christians of my cut aren't accustomed to be kept
standing about just like office-boys or authors. See that it don't happen
"I am sure I am exceedingly grieved. Circumstances"--
"Oh, never mind all that--I want my will."
"Will--will--Forgive me--a little confused, that's all. Your manner is so
full of hearty old middle-age's kind of vigour"--
Here he stopped, more suddenly even than usual, for Mr. Meeson fixed him
with his savage eye, and then jerked himself out of the room to look for
the document in question.
"Little idiot!" muttered Meeson; "I'll give him the sack, too, if he
isn't more careful. By Jove! why should I not have my own resident
solicitor? I could get a sharp hand with a damaged character for about
L300 a year, and I pay that old Todd quite L2000. There is a vacant place
in the Hutches that I could turn into an office. Hang me, if I don't do
it. I will make that little chirping grasshopper jump to some purpose,
I'll warrant," and he chuckled at the idea.
Just then Mr. Todd returned with the will, and before he could begin to
make any explanations his employer, cut him short with a sharp order to
read the gist of it.
This the lawyer proceeded to do. It was very short, and, with the
exception of a few legacies, amounting in all to about twenty thousand
pounds, bequeathed all the testator's vast fortune and estates, including
his (by far the largest) interest in the great publishing house, and his
palace with the paintings and other valuable contents, known as Pompadour
Hall, to his nephew, Eustace H. Meeson.
"Very well," he said, when the reading was finished; "now give it to me."
Mr. Todd obeyed, and handed the document to his patron, who deliberately
rent it into fragments with his strong fingers, and then completed its
destruction by tearing it with his big white teeth. This done, he mixed
the little pieces up, threw them on the floor, and stamped upon them with
an air of malignity that almost frightened jerky little Mr. Todd.
"Now then," he grimly said, "there's an end of the old love; so let's on
with the new. Take your pen and receive my instructions for my will."
Mr. Todd did as he was bid.
"I leave all my property, real and personal, to be divided in equal
shares between my two partners, Alfred Tom Addison and Cecil Spooner
Roscoe. There, that's short and sweet, and, one way and another, means a
couple of millions."
"Good heavens! Sir," jerked out Mr. Todd. "Why, do you mean to quite cut
out your nephew--and the other legatees?" he added by way of an
"Of course I do; that is, as regards my nephew. The legatees may stand
"Well all I have to say," went on the little man, astonished into
honesty, "Is that it is the most shameful thing I ever heard of!"
"Indeed, Mr. Todd, is it? Well now, may I ask you: am I leaving this
property, or are you? Don't trouble yourself to answer that, however, but
just attend. Either you draw up that will at once, while I wait, or you
say good-bye to about L2000 a year, for that's what Meeson's business is
worth, I reckon. Now you take your choice."
Mr. Todd did take his choice. In under an hour, the will, which was very
short, was drawn and engrossed.
"Now then," said Meeson, addressing himself to Mr. Todd and the managing
clerk, as he took the quill between his fingers to sign, "do you two bear
in mind that at the moment I execute this will I am of sound mind,
memory, and understanding. There you are; now do you two witness."
* * * * *
It was night, and King capital, in the shape of Mr. Meeson, sat alone at
dinner in his palatial dining-room at Pompadour. Dinner was over, the
powdered footman had departed with stately tread, and the head butler was
just placing the decanters of richly coloured wine before the solitary
lord of all. The dinner had been a melancholy failure. Dish after dish,
the cost of any one of which would have fed a poor child for a month, had
been brought up and handed to the master only to be found fault with and
sent away. On that night Mr. Meeson had no appetite.
"Johnson," he said to the butler, when he was sure the footman could not
hear him, "has Mr. Eustace been here?"
"Has he gone?"
"Yes, Sir. He came to fetch his things, and then went away in a cab."
"I don't know, Sir. He told the man to drive to Birmingham."
"Did he leave any message?"
"Yes, Sir, he bade me say that you should not be troubled with him again;
but that he was sorry that you had parted from him in anger."
"Why did you not give me that message before?"
"Because Mr. Eustace said I was not to give it unless you asked
"Very good. Johnson!"
"You will give orders that Mr. Eustace's name is not to be mentioned in
this house again. Any servant mentioning Mr. Eustace's name will be
"Very good, Sir"; and Johnson went.
Mr. Meeson gazed round him. He looked at the long array of glass and
silver, at the spotless napery and costly flowers. He looked at the walls
hung with works of art, which, whatever else they might be, were at least
expensive; at the mirrors and the soft wax-lights; at the marble
mantelpieces and the bright warm fires (for it was November); at the rich
wall paper and the soft, deep-hued carpet; and reflected that they were
all his. And then he sighed, and his coarse, heavy face sank in and grew
sad. Of what use was this last extremity of luxury to him? He had nobody
to leave it to, and to speak the truth, it gave him but little pleasure.
Such pleasure as he had in life was derived from making money, not from
spending it. The only times when he was really happy were when he was in
his counting house directing the enterprises of his vast establishment,
and adding sovereign by sovereign to his enormous accumulations. That had
been his one joy for forty years, and it was still his joy.
And then he fell to thinking of his nephew, the only son of his brother,
whom he had once loved, before he lost himself in publishing books and
making money, and sighed. He had been attached to the lad in his own
coarse way, and it was a blow to him to cut himself loose from him. But
Eustace had defied him, and--what was worse--he had told him the truth,
which he, of all men, could not bear. He had said that his system of
trade was dishonest, that he took more than his due, and it was so. He
knew it; but he could not tolerate that it should be told him, and that
his whole life should thereby be discredited, and even his accumulated
gold tarnished--stamped as ill-gotten; least of all could he bear it
from his dependent. He was not altogether a bad man; nobody is; he was
only a coarse, vulgar tradesman, hardened and defiled by a long career
of sharp dealing. At the bottom, he had his feelings like other men, but
he could not tolerate exposure or even contradiction; therefore he had
revenged himself. And yet, as he sat there, in solitary glory, he
realized that to revenge does not bring happiness, and could even find
it in his heart to envy the steadfast honesty that had defied him at the
cost of his own ruin.
Not that he meant to relent or alter his determination. Mr. Meeson never
relented, and never changed his mind. Had he done so he would not at
that moment have been the master of two millions of money.
AUGUSTA'S LITTLE SISTER.
When Augusta left Meeson's she was in a very sad condition of mind, to
explain which it will be necessary to say a word or two about that young
lady's previous history. Her father had been a clergyman, and, like most
clergymen, not overburdened with the good things of this world. When Mr.
Smithers--or, rather, the Rev. James Smithers--had died, he left behind
him a widow and two children--Augusta, aged fourteen, and Jeannie, aged
two. There had been two others, both boys, who had come into the world
between Augusta and Jeannie, but they had both preceded their father to
the land of shadows. Mrs. Smithers, had, fortunately for herself, a life
interest in a sum of L7000, which, being well invested, brought her in
L350 a year: and, in order to turn this little income to the best
possible account and give her two girls the best educational
opportunities possible under the circumstances, she, on her husband's
death, moved from the village where he had for many years been curate,
into the city of Birmingham. Here she lived in absolute retirement for
some seven years and then suddenly died, leaving the two girls, then
respectively nineteen and eight years of age, to mourn her loss, and,
friendless as they were, to fight their way in the hard world.
Mrs. Smithers had been a saving woman, and, on her death, it was found
that, after paying all debts, there remained a sum of L600 for the two
girls to live on, and nothing else; for their mother's fortune died with
her. Now, it will be obvious that the interest arising from six hundred
pounds is not sufficient to support two young people, and therefore
Augusta was forced to live upon the principal. From an early age,
however, she (Augusta) had shown a strong literary tendency, and shortly
after her mother's death she published her first book at her own expense.
It was a dead failure and cost her fifty-two pounds, the balance between
the profit and loss account. After awhile, however, she recovered from
this blow, and wrote "Jemima's Vow," which was taken up by Meeson's; and,
strange as it may seem, proved the success of the year. Of the nature of
the agreement into which she entered with Meeson's, the reader is already
acquainted, and he will not therefore be surprised to learn that under
its cruel provisions Augusta, notwithstanding her name and fame, was
absolutely prohibited from reaping the fruits of her success. She could
only publish with Meesons's, and at the fixed pay of seven per cent on
the advertised price of her work. Now, something over three years had
elapsed since the death of Mrs. Smithers, and it will therefore be
obvious that there was not much remaining of the six hundred pounds which
she had left behind her. The two girls had, indeed, lived economically
enough in a couple of small rooms in a back street; but their expenses
had been enormously increased by the serious illness, from a pulmonary
complaint, of the little girl Jeannie, now a child between twelve and
thirteen years of age. On that morning, Augusta had seen the doctor and
been crushed into the dust by the expression of his conviction, that,
unless her little sister was moved to a warmer climate, for a period of
at least a year, she would not live through the winter, and _might_ die
at any moment.
Take Jeannie to a warmer climate! He might as well have told Augusta to
take her to the moon. Alas, she had not the money and did not know where
to turn to get it! Oh! reader, pray to Heaven that it may never be your
lot to see your best beloved die for the want of a few hundred pounds
wherewith to save her life!
It was in this terrible emergency that she had--driven thereto by her
agony of mind--tried to get something beyond her strict and legal due out
of Meeson's--Meeson's that had made hundreds and hundreds out of her book
and paid her fifty pounds. We know how she fared in that attempt. On
leaving their office, Augusta bethought her of her banker. Perhaps he
might be willing to advance something. It was a horrible task, but she
determined to undertake it; so she walked to the bank and asked to see
the manager. He was out, but would be in at three o'clock. She went to a
shop near and got a bun and glass of milk, and waited till she was
ashamed to wait any longer, and then she walked about the streets till
three o'clock. At the stroke of the hour she returned, and was shown into
the manager's private room, where a dry, unsympathetic looking little man
was sitting before a big book. It was not the same man whom Augusta had
met before, and her heart sank proportionately.
What followed need not be repeated here. The manager listened to her
faltering tale with a few stereotyped expressions of sympathy, and, when
she had done, "regetted" that speculative loans were contrary to the
custom of the bank, and politely bowed her out.
It was nearly four o'clock upon a damp, drizzling afternoon a November
afternoon--that hung like a living misery over the black slush of the
Birminham streets, and would in itself have sufficed to bring the
lightest hearted, happiest mortal to the very gates of despair, when
Augusta, wet, wearied, and almost crying, at last entered the door of
their little sitting-room. She entered very quietly, for the
maid-of-all-work had met her in the passage and told her that Miss
Jeannie was asleep. She had been coughing very much about dinner-time,
but now she was asleep.
There was a fire in the grate, a small one, for the coal was economised
by means of two large fire-bricks, and on a table (Augusta's writing
table), placed at the further side of the room, was a paraffin-lamp
turned low. Drawn up in front, but a little to one side of the fire, was
a sofa, covered with red rep, and on the sofa lay a fair-haired little
form, so thin and fragile that it looked like the ghost or outline of a
girl, rather than a girl herself. It was Jeannie, her sick sister, and
she was asleep. Augusta stole softly up to look at her. It was a sweet
little face that her eyes fell on, although it was so shockingly thin,
with long, curved lashes, delicate nostrils, and a mouth shaped like a
bow. All the lines and grooves which the chisel of Pain knows so well how
to carve were smoothed out of it now, and in their place lay the shadow
of a smile.
Augusta looked at her and clenched her fists, while a lump rose in her
throat, and her grey eyes filled with tears. How could she get the money
to save her? The year before a rich man, a man who was detestable to
her, had wanted to marry her, and she would have nothing to say to him.
He had gone abroad, else she would have gone back to him and married
him--at a price. Marry him? yes she would marry him: she would do
anything for money to take her sister away! What did she care for herself
when her darling was dying--dying for the want of two hundred pounds!
Just then Jeannie woke up, and stretched her arms out to her.
"So you are back at last, dear," she said in her sweet childish voice.
"It has been so lonely without you. Why, how wet you are! Take off your
jacket at once, Gussie, or you will soon be as ill as"--and here she
broke out into a terrible fit of coughing, that seemed to shake her
tender frame as the wind shakes a reed.
Her sister turned and obeyed, and then came and sat by the sofa and took
the thin little hand in hers.
"Well, Gussie, and how did you get on with the Printer-devil" (this
was her impolite name for the great Meeson); "will he give you any
"No, dear; we quarrelled, that was all, and I came away."
"Then I suppose that we can't go abroad?"
Augusta was too moved to answer; she only shook her head. The child
buried her face in the pillow and gave a sob or two. Presently she was
quiet, and lifted it again. "Gussie, love," she said, "don't be angry,
but I want to speak to you. Listen, my sweet Gussie, my angel. Oh,
Gussie, you don't know how I love you! It is all no good, it is useless
struggling against it, I must die sooner or later; though I am only
twelve, and you think me such a child, I am old enough to understand
that. I think," she added, after pausing to cough, "that pain makes one
old: I feel as though I were fifty. Well, so you see I may as well give
up fighting against it and die at once. I am only a burden and anxiety to
you--I may as well die at once and go to sleep."
"Don't, Jeannie! don't!" said her sister, in a sort of cry; "you are
Jeannie laid her hot hand upon Augusta's arm, "Try and listen to me,
dear," she said, "even if it hurts, because I do so want to say
something. Why should you be so frightened about me? Can any place that I
can go be worse than this place? Can I suffer more pain anywhere, or be
more hurt when I see you crying? Think how wretched it has all been.
There has only been one beautiful thing in our lives for years and years,
and that was your book. Even when I am feeling worst--when my chest
aches, you know--I grow quite happy when I think of what the papers wrote
about you: the _Times_ and the _Saturday Review_, and the _Spectator_,
and the rest of them. They said that you had genius--true genius, you
remember, and that they expected one day to see you at the head of the
literature of the time, or near it. The Printer-devil can't take away
that, Gussie. He can take the money; but he can't say that he wrote the
book; though," she added, with a touch of childish spite and vivacity, "I
have no doubt that he would if he could. And then there were those
letters from the great authors up in London; yes, I often think of them
too. Well, dearest old girl, the best of it is that I know it is all
true. I _know_, I can't tell you how, that you will be a great woman in
spite of all the Meesons in creation; for somehow you will get out of his
power, and, if you don't, five years is not all one's life--at least,
not if people have a life. At the worst, he can only take all the money.
And then, when you are great and rich and famous, and more beautiful than
ever, and when the people turn their heads as you come into the room,
like we used to at school when the missionary came to lecture, I know
that you will think of me (because you won't forget me as some sisters
do), and of how, years and years before, so long ago that the time looks
quite small when you think of it, I told you that it would be so just
before I died."
Here the girl, who had been speaking with a curious air of certainty and
with a gravity and deliberation extraordinary for one so young, suddenly
broke off to cough. Her sister threw herself on her knees beside her,
and, clasping her in her arms, implored her in broken accents not to talk
of dying. Jeannie drew Augusta's golden head down on her breast and
"Very well, Gussie, I won't say any more about it," she said; "but it is
no good hiding the truth, dear. I am tired of fighting against it; it is
no good--none at all. Anyhow we have loved each other very much, dear;
and perhaps--somewhere else--we may again."--And the brave little heart
again broke down, and, overcome by the prescience of approaching
separation, they both sobbed bitterly there upon the sofa. Presently came
a knock at the door, and Augusta sprang up and turned to hide her tears.
It was the maid-of-all-work bringing the tea; and, as she came blundering
in, a sense of the irony of things forced itself into Augusta's soul.
Here they were plunged into the most terrible sorrow, weeping at the
inevitable approach of that chill end, and still appearances must be
kept up, even before a maid-of-all-work. Society, even when represented
by a maid-of-all-work, cannot do away with the intrusion of domestic
griefs, or any other griefs, and in our hearts we know it and act up to
it. Far gone, indeed, must we be in mental or physical agony before we
abandon the attempt to keep up appearances.
Augusta drank a little tea and ate a very small bit of bread-and-butter.
As in the case of Mr. Meeson, the events of the day had not tended to
increase her appetite. Jeannie drank a little milk but ate nothing. When
this form had been gone through, and the maid-of-all-work had once more
made her appearance and cleared the table, Jeannie spoke again.
"Gus," she said, "I want you to put me to bed and then come and read to
me out of 'Jemima's Vow'--where poor Jemima dies, you know. It is the
most beautiful thing in the book, and I want to hear it again."
Her sister did as she wished, and, taking down "Jemima's Vow," Jeannie's
_own_ copy as it was called, being the very first that had come into the
house, she opened it at the part Jeannie had asked for and read aloud,
keeping her voice as steady as she could. As a matter of fact, however,
the scene itself was as powerful as it was pathetic, and quite sufficient
to account for any unseemly exhibitions of feeling on the part of the
reader. However, she struggled through it till the last sentence was
reached. It ran thus:--"And so Jemima stretched out her hand to him and
said 'Good-bye.' And presently, knowing that she had now kept her
promise, and being happy because she had done so, she went to sleep."
"Ah!" murmured the blue-eyed child who listened. "I wish that I was as
good as Jemima. But though I have no vow to keep I can say 'Good-bye,'
and I can go to sleep."
Augusta made no answer, and presently Jeannie dozed off. Her sister
looked at her with eager affection. "She is giving up," she said to
herself, "and, if she gives up, she will die. I know it, it is because we
are not going away. How can I get the money, now that that horrible man
is gone? how can I get it?" and she buried her head in her hand and
thought. Presently an idea struck her: she might go back to Meeson and
eat her words, and sell him the copyright of her new book for L100, as
the agreement provided. That would not be enough, however; for travelling
with an invalid is expensive; but she might offer to bind herself over to
him for a term of years as a tame author, like those who worked in the
Hutches. She was sure that he would be glad to get her, if only he could
do so at his own price. It would be slavery worse than any penal
servitude, and even now she shudders at the prospect of prostituting her
great abilities to the necessities of such work as Meeson's made their
thousands out of--work out of which every spark of originality was
stamped into nothingness, as though it were the mark of the Beast. Yes,
it would be dreadful--it would break her heart; but she was prepared to
have her heart broken and her genius wrung out of her by inches, if only
she could get two hundred pounds wherewith to take Jeannie away to the
South of France. Mr. Meeson would, no doubt, make a hard bargain--the
hardest he could; but still, if she would consent to bind herself for a
sufficient number of years at, a sufficiently low salary, he would
probably advance her a hundred pounds, besides the hundred for the
copyright of the new book.
And so having made up her mind to the sacrifice, she went to bed, and,
wearied out with misery, to sleep. And even as she slept, a Presence that
she could not see was standing near her bed, and a Voice that she could
not hear was calling through the gloom. Another mortal had bent low at
the feet of that Unknown God whom men name Death, and been borne away on
his rushing pinions into the spaces of the Hid. One more human item lay
still and stiff, one more account was closed for good or evil, the echo
of one more tread had passed from the earth for ever. The old
million-numbered tragedy in which all must take a part had repeated
itself once more down to its last and most awful scene. Yes; the grim
farce was played out, and the little actor Jeannie was white in death!
Just at the dawn, Augusta dreamed that somebody with cold breath was
breathing on her face, and woke up with a start and listened. Jeannie's
bed was on the other side of the room, and she could generally hear her
movements plainly enough, for the sick child was a restless sleeper. But
now she could hear nothing, not even the faint vibration of her sister's
breath. The silence was absolute and appalling; it struck tangibly upon
her sense, as the darkness struck upon her eye-balls and filled her with
a numb, unreasoning terror. She slipped out of bed and struck a match. In
another few seconds she was standing by Jeannie's white little bed,
waiting for the wick of the candle to burn up. Presently the light grew.
Jeannie was lying on her side, her white face resting on her white arm.
Her eyes were wide open; but when Augusta held the candle near her she
did not shut them or flinch. Her hand, too--oh, Heavens! the fingers
were nearly cold.
Then Augusta understood, and lifting up her arms in agony, she shrieked
till the whole house rang.
On the second day following the death of poor little Jeannie Smithers,
Mr. Eustace Meeson was strolling about Birmingham with his hands in his
pockets, and an air of indecision on his decidedly agreeable and
gentlemanlike countenance. Eustace Meeson was not particularly cast down
by the extraordinary reverse of fortune which he had recently
experienced. He was a young gentleman of a cheerful nature; and, besides,
it did not so very much matter to him. He was in a blessed condition of
celibacy, and had no wife and children dependant upon him, and he knew
that, somehow or other, it would go hard if, with the help of the one
hundred a year that he had of his own, he did not manage, with his
education, to get a living by hook or by crook. So it was not the loss of
the society of his respected uncle, or the prospective enjoyment of two
millions of money, which was troubling him. Indeed, after he had once
cleared his goods and chattels out of Pompadour Hall and settled them in
a room in an Hotel, he had not given the matter much thought. But he had
given a good many thoughts to Augusta Smithers' grey eyes and, by way of
getting an insight into her character, he had at once invested in a copy
of "Jemima's Vow," thereby, somewhat against his will, swelling the gains
of Meeson's to the extent of several shillings. Now, "Jemima's Vow,"
though simple and homely, was a most striking and powerful book, which
fully deserved the reputation that it had gained, and it affected
Eustace--who was in so much different from most young men of his age that
he really did know the difference between good work and bad--more
strongly than he would have liked to own. Indeed, at the termination of
the story, what between the beauty of Augusta's pages, the memory of
Augusta's eyes, and the knowledge of Augusta's wrongs, Mr. Eustace Meeson
began to feel very much as though he had fallen in love. Accordingly, he
went out walking, and meeting a clerk whom he had known in the Meeson
establishment--one of those who had been discharged on the same day as
himself--he obtained from him Miss Smithers' address, and began to
reflect as to whether or no he should call upon her. Unable to make up
his mind, he continued to walk till he reached the quiet street where
Augusta lived, and, suddenly perceiving the house of which the clerk had
told him, yielded to temptation and rang.
The door was answered by the maid-of-all-work, who looked at him a little
curiously, but said that Miss Smithers was in, and then conducted him to
a door which was half open, and left him in that kindly and agreeable
fashion that maids-of-all-work have. Eustace was perplexed, and, looking
through the door to see if anyone was in the room, discovered Augusta
herself dressed in some dark material, seated in a chair, her hands
folded on her lap, her pale face set like a stone, and her eyes gleaming
into vacancy. He paused, wondering what could be the matter, and as he
did so his umbrella slipped from his hand, making a noise that rendered
it necessary for him to declare himself.
Augusta rose as he advanced, and looked at him with a puzzled air, as
though she was striving to recall his name or where she had met him.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered, "I must introduce myself, as the girl
has deserted me--I am Eustace Meeson."
Augusta's face hardened at the name. "If you have come to me from Messrs.
Meeson and Co."--she said quickly, and then broke off, as though struck
by some new idea.
"Indeed no," said Eustace. "I have nothing in common with Messrs.
Meeson now, except my name, and I have only come to tell you how sorry
I was to see you treated as you were by my uncle. You remember I was in
"Yes," she said, with a suspicion of a blush, "I remember you were
"Well, you see," he went on, "I had a great row with my uncle after that,
and it ended in his turning me out of the place, bag and baggage, and
informing me that he was going to cut me off with a shilling, which," he
added reflectively, "he has probably done by now."
"Do I understand you, Mr. Meeson, to mean that you quarrelled with your
uncle about me and my books?"
"Yes; that is so," he said.
"It was very chivalrous of you," she answered, looking at him with a
new-born curiosity. Augusta was not accustomed to find knights-errant
thus prepared, at such cost to themselves, to break a lance in her cause.
Least of all was she prepared to find that knight bearing the hateful
crest of Meeson--if, indeed, Meeson had a crest.
"I ought to apologise," she went on presently, after an awkward pause,
"for making such a scene in the office, but I wanted money so dreadfully,
and it was so hard to be refused. But it does not matter now. It is all
There was a dull, hopeless ring about her voice that awoke his
curiosity. For what could she have wanted the money, and why did she no
longer want it?
"I am sorry," he said. "Will you tell me what you wanted it so much for?"
She looked at him, and then, acting upon impulse rather then reflection,
said in a low voice,
"If you like, I will show you."
He bowed, wondering what was coming next. Rising from her chair, Augusta
led the way to a door which opened out of the sitting-room, and gently
turned the handle and entered. Eustace followed her. The room was a small
bed-room, of which the faded calico blind had been pulled down; as it
happened, however, the sunlight, such as it was, beat full upon the
blind, and came through it in yellow bars. They fell upon the furniture
of the bare little room, they fell upon the iron bedstead, and upon
something lying on it, which he did not at first notice, because it was
covered with a sheet.
Augusta walked up to the bed and gently lifted the sheet, revealing the
sweet face, fringed round about with golden hair, of little Jeannie, in
Eustace gave an exclamation, and started back violently. He had not been
prepared for such a sight; indeed it was the first such sight that he had
ever seen, and it shocked him beyond words. Augusta, familiarised as she
was herself with the companionship of this beauteous clay cold Terror,
had forgotten that, suddenly and without warning to bring the living into
the presence of the dead, is not the wisest or the kindest thing to do.
For, to the living, more especially to the young, the sight of death is
horrible. It is such a fearsome comment on their health and strength.
Youth and strength are merry; but who can be merry with yon dead thing in
the upper chamber? Take it away! thrust it underground! it is an insult
to us; it reminds us that we, too, die like others. What business has its
pallor to show itself against our ruddy cheeks?
"I beg your pardon," whispered Augusta, realising something of all this
in a flash, "I forgot, you do not know--you must be shocked--Forgive me!"
"Who is it?" he said, gasping to get back his breath.
"My sister," she answered. "It was to try and save her life that I wanted
the money. When I told her that I could not get it, she gave up and died.
Your uncle killed her. Come."
Greatly shocked, he followed her back into the sitting-room, and then--as
soon as he got his composure--apologised for having intruded himself upon
her in such an hour of desolation.
"I am glad to see you," she said simply, "I have seen nobody except
the doctor once, and the undertaker twice. It is dreadful to sit alone
hour after hour face to face with the irretrievable. If I had not been
so foolish as to enter into that agreement with Messrs. Meeson, I
could have got the money by selling my new book easily enough; and I
should have been able to take Jeannie abroad, and I believe that she
would have lived--at least I hoped so. But now it is finished, and
cannot be helped."
"I wish I had known," blundered Eustace, "I could have lent you the
money. I have a hundred and fifty pounds."
"You are very good," she answered gently, "but it is no use talking about
it now, it is finished."
Then Eustace rose and went away; and it was not till he found himself in
the street that he remembered that he had never asked Augusta what her
plans were. Indeed, the sight of poor Jeannie had put everything else out
of his head. However, he consoled himself with the reflection that he
could call again a week or ten days after the funeral.
Two days later, Augusta followed the remains of her dearly beloved sister
to their last resting place, and then came home on foot (for she was the
only mourner), and sat in her black gown before the little fire, and
reflected upon her position. What was she to do? She could not stay in
these rooms. It made her heart ache every time her eyes fell upon the
empty sofa opposite, dinted as it was with the accustomed weight of poor
Jeannie's frame. Where was she to go, and what was she to do. She might
get literary employment, but then her agreement with Messrs. Meeson
stared her in the face. That agreement was very widely drawn. It bound
her to offer all literary work of any sort, that might come from her pen
during the next five years, to Messrs. Meeson at the fixed rate of seven
per cent, on the published price. Obviously, as it seemed to her, though
perhaps erroneously, this clause might be stretched to include even a
newspaper article, and she knew the malignant nature of Mr. Meeson well
enough to be quite certain that, if possible, that would be done. It was
true she might manage to make a bare living out of her work, even at the
beggarly pay of seven per cent, but Augusta was a person of spirit, and
determined that she would rather starve than that Meeson should again
make huge profits out of her labour. This avenue being closed to her, she
turned her mind elsewhere; but, look where she might, the prospect was
Augusta's remarkable literary success had not been of much practical
advantage to her, for in this country literary success does not mean so
much as it does in some others. As a matter of fact, indeed, the average
Briton has, at heart, a considerable contempt, if not for literature, at
least for those who produce it. Literature, in his mind, is connected
with the idea of garrets and extreme poverty; and, therefore, having the
national respect for money, he in secret, if not in public, despises it.
A tree is known by its fruit, says he. Let a man succeed at the Bar, and
he makes thousands upon thousands a year, and is promoted to the highest
offices in the State. Let a man succeed in art, and he will be paid one
or two thousand pounds apiece for his most "pot-boilery" portraits. But
your literary men--why, with a few fortunate exceptions, the best of them
barely make a living. What can literature be worth, if a man can't make a
fortune out of it? So argues the Briton--no doubt with some of his sound
common sense. Not that he has no respect for genius. All men bow to true
genius, even when they fear and envy it. But he thinks a good deal more
of genius dead than genius living. However this may be, there is no doubt
but that if through any cause--such, for instance, as the sudden
discovery by the great and highly civilized American people that the
seventh commandment was probably intended to apply to authors, amongst
the rest of the world--the pecuniary rewards of literary labor should be
put more upon an equality with those of other trades, literature--as a
profession--will go up many steps in popular esteem. At present, if a
member of a family has betaken himself to the high and honourable calling
(for surely, it is both) of letters, his friends and relations are apt to
talk about him in a shy and diffident, not to say apologetic, way; much
as they would had he adopted another sort of book-making as a means of
Thus it was that, notwithstanding her success, Augusta had nowhere to
turn in her difficulty. She had absolutely no literary connection. Nobody
had called upon her, and sought her out in consequence of her book. One
or two authors in London, and a few unknown people from different parts
of the country and abroad, had written to her--that was all. Had she
lived in town it might have been different; but, unfortunately for her,
she did not.
The more she thought, the less clear did her path become; until, at last,
she got an inspiration. Why not leave England altogether? She had nothing
to keep her here. She had a cousin--a clergyman--in New Zealand, whom she
had never seen, but who had read "Jemima's Vow," and written her a kind
letter about it. That was the one delightful thing about writing books;
one made friends all over the world. Surely he would take her in for a
while, and put her in the way of earning a living where Meeson would not
be to molest her? Why should she not go? She had twenty pounds left, and
the furniture (which included an expensive invalid chair), and books
would fetch another thirty or so--enough to pay for a second-class
passage and leave a few pounds in her pocket. At the worst it would be a
change, and she could not go through more there than she did here, so
that very night she sat down and wrote to her clergyman cousin.
THE R.M.S. KANGAROO.
It was on a Tuesday evening that a mighty vessel was steaming
majestically out of the mouth of the Thames, and shaping her imposing
course straight at the ball of the setting sun. Most people will remember
reading descriptions of the steamship 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 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 water,
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. Presently 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 or 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 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
"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 asked, 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 English to a publishing house of good repute, at a
salary of L180 a year, he had hurried back to Birmingham for the sole
purpose of seeing Miss 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 way gone, that he had
determined to make all the progress that he could, and if he thought that
there was any prospect of success, to declare his passion. This 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 the 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 third-class 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 the first experience of life upon the ocean
wave. About that moment, however, a burly quarter-master 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 light-house, 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 a 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 netting, 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 about it, it was
her enemy; the man whose behavior had indirectly, as she believed, caused
the death of her little sister. She dropped his hand with an exclamation
of disgust and dismay, and as she did so he recognised who she was.
"Hullo!" he said, with a faint and rather feeble attempt to assume his
fine old crusted publishing-company manners. "Hullo! Miss
Jemima--Smithers, I mean; what on earth are you doing here?"
"I am going to New Zealand, Mr. Meeson," she answered sharply; "and
I certainly did not expect to have the pleasure of your company on
"Going to New Zealand," he said, "are you? Why, so am I; at least, I am
going there first, then to Australia. What do you mean to do there--try
and run round our little agreement, eh? It won't be any good, I tell you
plainly. We have our agents in New Zealand, and a house in Australia,
and if you try to get the better of Meeson's there, Meeson's will be
even with you, Miss Smithers--Oh, Heavens! I feel as though I were
coming to pieces."
"Don't alarm yourself, Mr. Meeson," she answered, "I am not going to
publish any more books at present."
"That is a pity," he said, "because your stuff is good selling stuff. Any
publisher would find money in it. I suppose you are second-class, Miss
Smithers, so we shan't see much of each other; and, perhaps, if we should
meet, it might be as well if we didn't seem to have any acquaintance. It
don't look well for a man in my position to know second-class passengers,
especially young lady passengers who write novels."
"You need not be afraid, Mr. Meeson: I have no wish to claim your
acquaintance," said Augusta.
At this point, her enemy was taken violently worse again, and, being
unable to stand the sight and sound of his writhing and groaning, she
fled forward; and, reflecting on this strange and awkward meeting, went
down to her own berth, where, with lucid intervals, she remained helpless
and half stupid for the next three days. On the fourth day, however, she
reappeared on deck quite recovered, and with an excellent appetite. She
had her breakfast, and then went and sat forward in as quiet a place as
she could find. She did not want to see Mr. Meeson any more, and she did
want to escape from the stories of her cabin-mate, the lady's-maid. This
good person would, after the manner of her kind, insist upon repeating to
her a succession of histories connected with members of the families with
whom she had lived, many of which were sufficient to make the hair of a
respectable young lady like Augusta stand positively on end. No doubt
they were interesting to her in her capacity of a novelist; but, as they
were all of the same colour, and as their tendency was absolutely to
destroy any belief she might have in virtue as an inherent quality in
highly developed woman or honour in man, Augusta soon wearied of these
_chroniques scandaleuses_. So she went forward, and was sitting looking
at the "white horses" chasing each other across the watery plain, and
reflecting upon what the condition of mind of those ladies whose
histories she had recently heard would be if they knew that their most
secret, and in some cases disgraceful and tragic, love affairs were the
common talk of a dozen servants' halls, when suddenly she was astonished
by the appearance of a splendid official bearing a book. At first, from
the quantity of gold lace with which his uniform was adorned, Augusta
took him to be the captain; but it presently transpired that he was only
the chief steward.
"Please, Miss," he said, touching his hat and holding out the book in his
hand towards her, "the captain sends his compliments and wants to know if
you are the young lady who wrote this."
Augusta glanced at the work. It was a copy of "Jemima's Vow." Then she
replied that she was the writer of it, and the steward vanished.
Later on in the morning came another surprise. The gorgeous official
again appeared, touched his cap, and said that the captain desired him to
say that orders had been given to have her things moved to a cabin
further aft. At first Augusta demurred to this, not from any love of the
lady's-maid, but because she had a truly British objection to being
"Captain's orders, Miss," said the man, touching his cap again; and
Nor had she any cause to regret doing so; for, to her huge delight, she
found herself moved into a charming deck-cabin on the starboard side of
the vessel, some little way abaft the engine-room. It was evidently an
officer's cabin, for there, over the head of the bed, was the picture of
a young lady he adored, and also some neatly fitted shelves of books, a
rack of telescopes, and other seaman-like contrivances.
"Am I to have this cabin to myself?" asked Augusta of the steward.
"Yes, Miss; those are the captain's orders. It is Mr. Jones's cabin. Mr.
Jones is the second officer; but he has turned in with Mr. Thomas, the
first officer, and given up the cabin to you."
"I am sure it's very kind of Mr. Jones," murmured Augusta, not knowing
what to make of this turn of fortune. But surprises were not to end
there. A few minutes afterwards, just as she was leaving the cabin, a
gentleman in uniform came up, in whom she recognized the captain. He was
accompanied by a pretty fair-haired woman very becomingly dressed.
"Excuse me; Miss Smithers, I believe?" he said, with a bow.
"I am Captain Alton. I hope you like your new cabin. Let me introduce you
to Lady Holmhurst, wife of Lord Holmhurst, the New Zealand Governor, you
know. Lady Holmhurst, this is Miss Smithers, whose book you were talking
so much about."
"Oh! I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Smithers," said the
great lady in a manner that evidently was not assumed. "Captain Alton has
promised that I shall sit next to you at dinner, and then we can have a
good talk. I don't know when I have been so much delighted with anything
as I was with your book. I have read it three times, what do you think of
that for a busy woman?"
"I think there is some mistake," said Augusta, hurriedly and with a
slight blush. "I am a second-class passenger on board this ship, and
therefore cannot have the pleasure of sitting next to Lady Holmhurst."
"Oh, that is all right, Miss Smithers," said the captain, with a jolly
laugh. "You are my guest, and I shall take no denial."
"When we find genius for once in our lives, we are not going to lose the
opportunity of sitting at its feet," added Lady Holmhurst, with a little
movement towards her which was neither curtsey nor bow, but rather a
happy combination of both. The compliment was, Augusta felt, sincere,
however much it exaggerated the measure of her poor capacities, and,
putting other things aside, was, coming as it did from one woman to
another, peculiarly graceful and surprising. She blushed and bowed,
scarcely knowing what to say, when suddenly, Mr. Meeson's harsh tones,
pitched just now in a respectful key, broke upon her ear. Mr. Meeson was
addressing no less a person than Lord Holmhurst, G.C.M.G. Lord Holmhurst
was a stout, short, dark little man, with a somewhat pompous manner, and
a kindly face. He was a Colonial Governor of the first water, and was
perfectly aware of the fact.
Now, a Colonial Governor, even though he be a G.C.M.G. when he is at
home, is not a name to conjure with, and does not fill an exclusive place
in the eye of the English world. There are many Colonial Governors in the
present and past tense to be found in the purlieus of South Kensington,
where their presence creates no unusual excitement. But when one of this
honourable corps sets foot upon the vessel destined to bear him to the
shores that he shall rule, all this changes. He puts off the body of the
ordinary betitled individual and puts on the body of the celestial
brotherhood. In short, from being nobody out of the common he becomes,
and very properly so, a great man. Nobody knew this better than Lord
Holmhurst, and to a person fond of observing such things nothing could
have been more curious to notice than the small, but gradual increase of
the pomposity of his manner, as the great ship day by day steamed further
from England and nearer to the country where he was King. It went up,
degree by degree, like a thermometer which is taken down into the bowels
of the earth or gradually removed into the sunlight. At present, however,
the thermometer was only rising.
"I was repeating, my Lord," said the harsh voice of Mr. Meeson, "that
the principle of an hereditary peerage is the grandest principle our
country has yet developed. It gives us something to look forward to. In
one generation we make the money; in the next we take the title which
the money buys. Look at your Lordship. Your Lordship is now in a proud
position; but, as I have understood, your Lordship's father was a
trader like me."
"Hum!--well, not exactly, Mr. Meeson," broke in Lord Holmhurst. "Dear
me, I wonder who that exceedingly nice-looking girl Lady Holmhurst is
talking to can be!"
"Now, your Lordship, to put a case," went on the remorseless Meeson, who,
like most people of his stamp, had an almost superstitious veneration for
the aristocracy, "I have made a great deal of money, as I do not mind
telling your Lordship; what is there to prevent my successor--supposing I
have a successor--from taking advantage of that money, and rising on it
to a similar position to that so worthily occupied by your Lordship?"
"Exactly, Mr. Meeson. A most excellent idea for your successor. Excuse
me, but I see Lady Holmhurst beckoning to me. And he fled precipitately,
still followed by Mr. Meeson."
"John, my dear!" said Lady Holmhurst, "I want to introduce you to Miss
Smithers--_the_ Miss Smithers whom we have all been talking about, and
whose book you have been reading. Miss Smithers, my husband!"
Lord Holmhurst, who, when he was not deep in the affairs of State, had a
considerable eye for a pretty girl--and what man worthy of the name has
not?--bowed most politely, and was proceeding to tell Augusta, in very
charming language, how delighted he was to make her acquaintance, when
Mr. Meeson arrived on the scene and perceived Augusta for the first time.
Quite taken aback at finding her, apparently, upon the very best of terms
with people of such quality, he hesitated to consider what course to
adopt; whereon Lady Holmhurst in a somewhat formal way, for she was not
very fond of Mr. Meeson, mistaking his hesitation, went on to introduce
him. Thereupon, all in a moment, as we do sometimes take such
resolutions, Augusta came to a determination. She would have nothing more
to do with Mr. Meeson--she would repudiate him then and there, come what
would of it.
So, as he advanced upon her with outstretched hand, she drew herself up,
and in a cold and determined voice said, "I already know Mr. Meeson, Lady
Holmhurst; and I do not wish to have anything more to do with him. Mr.
Meeson has not behaved well to me."
"'Pon my word," murmured Lord Holmhurst to himself, "I don't wonder she
has had enough of him. Sensible young woman, that!"
Lady Holmhurst looked a little astonished and a little amused. Suddenly,
however, a light broke upon her.
"Oh! I see," she said. "I suppose that Mr. Meeson published 'Jemima's
Vow.' Of course that accounts for it. Why, I declare there is the dinner
bell! Come along, Miss Smithers, or we shall lose the place the captain
has promised us." And, accordingly, they went, leaving Mr. Meeson, who
had not yet realized the unprecedented nature of the position, positively
gasping on the deck. And on board the Kangaroo there were no clerks and
editors on whom he could wreck his wrath!
"And now, my dear Miss Smithers," said Lady Holmhurst when, dinner
being over, they were sitting together in the moonlight, near the
wheel, "perhaps you will tell me why you don't like Mr. Meeson,
whom, by-the-way, I personally detest. But don't, if you don't wish
to, you know."
But Augusta did wish to, and then and there she unfolded her whole sad
story into her new-found friend's sympathetic ear; and glad enough the
poor girl was to find a confident to whom she could unbosom her sorrows.
"Well, upon my word!" said Lady Holmhurst, when she had listened with
tears in her eyes to the history of poor little Jeannie's death, "upon my
word, of all the brutes I ever heard of, I think that this publisher of
yours is the worst! I will cut him, and get my husband to cut him too.
But no, I have a better plan than that. He shall tear up that agreement,
so sure as my name is Bessie Holmhurst; he shall tear it up, or--or"--and
she nodded her little head with an air of infinite wisdom.
MR. TOMBEY GOES FORWARD.
From that day forward, the voyage on the Kangaroo was, until the last
dread catastrophe, a very happy one for Augusta. Lord and Lady Holmhurst
made much of her, and all the rest of the first-class passengers followed
suit, and soon she found herself the most popular character on board. The
two copies of her book that there were on the ship were passed on from
hand to hand till they would hardly hang together, and, really, at last
she got quite tired of hearing of her own creations. But this was not
all; Augusta was, it will be remembered, an exceedingly pretty woman, and
melancholy as the fact may seem, it still remains a fact that a pretty
woman is in the eyes of most people a more interesting object than a man,
or than a lady, who is not "built that way." Thus it came to pass that
what between her youth, her beauty, her talent, and her misfortunes--for
Lady Holmhurst had not exactly kept that history to herself--Augusta was
all of a sudden elevated into the position of a perfect heroine. It
really almost frightened the poor girl, who had been accustomed to
nothing but sorrow, ill-treatment and grinding poverty, to suddenly find
herself in this strange position, with every man on board that great
vessel at her beck and call. But she was human, and therefore, of course
she enjoyed it. It _is_ something when one has been wandering for hour
after hour in the wet and melancholy night, suddenly to see the fair dawn
breaking and burning overhead, and to know that the worst is over, for
now there will be light whereby to set our feet. It is something, too, to
the most Christian soul, to utterly and completely triumph over one who
had done all in his power to crush and destroy you; whose grasping greed
has indirectly been the cause of the death of the person you loved best
in the whole world round. And she did triumph. As Mr. Meeson's conduct to
her got about, the little society of the ship--which was, after all a
very fair example of all society in miniature--fell away from this
publishing Prince, and not even the jingling of his money-bags could lure
it back. He the great, the practically omnipotent, the owner of two
millions, and the hard master of hundreds upon whose toil he battened,
was practically _cut_. Even the clerk, who was going out on a chance of
getting a place in a New Zealand bank, would have nothing to say to him.
And what is more, he felt it more even than an ordinary individual would
have done. He, the "Printer-devil," as poor little Jeannie used to call
him, he to be slighted and flouted by a pack of people whom he could buy
up three times over, and all on account of a wretched authoress--an
authoress, if you please! It made Mr. Meeson very wild--a state of
affairs which was brought to a climax when one morning Lord Holmhurst,
who had for several days been showing a growing dislike to his society,
actually almost cut him dead; that is, he did not notice his outstretched
hand, and passed him with a slight bow.
"Never mind, my Lord--never mind!" muttered Mr. Meeson after that
somewhat pompous but amiable nobleman's retreating form. "We'll see if I
can't come square with you. I'm a dog who can pull a string or two in the
English press, I am! Those who have the money and have got a hold of
people, so that they must write what they tell them, ain't people to be
cut by any Colonial Governor, my Lord!" And in his anger he fairly shook
his fist at the unconscious Peer.
"Seem to be a little out of temper, Mr. Meeson," said a voice at
his elbow, the owner of which was a big young man with hard but
kindly features and a large moustache. "What has the Governor been
doing to you?"
"Doing, Mr. Tombey? He's been cutting me, that's all--me,
Meeson!--cutting me as dead as offal, or something like it. I held out my
hand and he looked right over it, and marched by."
"Ah!" said Mr. Tombey, who was a wealthy New Zealand landowner; "and now,
why do you suppose he did that?"
"Why? I'll tell you why. It's all about that girl."
"Miss Smithers, do you mean?" said Tombey the big, with a curious flash
of his deep-set eyes.
"Yes, Miss Smithers. She wrote a book, and I bought the book for fifty
pounds, and stuck a clause in that she should give me the right to
publish anything she wrote for five years at a price--a common sort of
thing enough in one way and another, when you are dealing with some idiot
who don't know any better. Well, as it happened this book sold like
wild-fire; and, in time the young lady comes to me and wants more money,
wants to get out of the hanging clause in the agreement, wants
everything, like a female Oliver Twist; and when I say, 'No, you don't,'
loses her temper, and makes a scene. And it turns out that what she
wanted the money for was to take a sick sister, or cousin, or aunt, or
someone, out of England; and when she could not do it, and the relation
died, then she emigrates, and goes and tells the people on board ship
that it is all my fault."
"And I suppose that that is a conclusion that you do not feel drawn to,
"No Tombey, I don't. Business is business; and if I happen to have got to
windward of the young woman, why, so much the better for me. She's
getting her experience, that's all; and she ain't the first, and won't be
the last. But if she goes saying much more about me, I go for her for
slander, that's sure."
"On the legal ground that the greater the truth, the greater the libel,
"Confound her!" went on Meeson, without noticing his remark, and
contracting his heavy eyebrows, "there's no end to the trouble she has
brought on me. I quarrelled with my nephew about her, and now she's
dragging my name through the dirt here, and I'll bet the story will go
all over New Zealand and Australia."
"Yes," said Mr. Tombey, "I fancy you will find it take a lot of
choking; and now, Mr. Meeson, with your permission I will say a word,
and try and throw a new light upon a very perplexing matter. It never
seems to have occurred to you what an out-and-out blackguard you are, so
I may as well put it to you plainly. If you are not a thief, you are, at
least, a very well-coloured imitation. You take a girl's book and make
hundreds upon hundreds out of it, and give her fifty. You tie her down,
so as to provide for successful swindling of the same sort, during
future years, and then, when she comes to beg a few pounds of you, you
show her the door. And now you wonder, Mr. Meeson, that respectable
people will have nothing to do with you! Well, now, I tell you, _my_
opinion is that the only society to which you would be really suited is
that of cow-hide. Good morning," and the large young man walked off, his
very moustachios curling with wrath and contempt. Thus, for a second
time, did the great Mr. Meeson hear the truth from the lips of babes and
sucklings, and the worst of it was that he could not disinherit Number
Two as he had Number One.
Now this will strike the reader as being very warm advocacy on the part
of Mr. Tombey, who, 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 do 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 equal 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 steamship 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 Maderia, 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
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 leaning 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 moustachios would very well become a
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 any longer, I
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
"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
ail 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, 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 forgetfulness. But
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 honour, the greatest honour man can do to a woman; but I cannot
"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; 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
"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, and 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.
"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
"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.
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 petticoat--twisted 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
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