Mr. Meeson's Will
H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 4
freshness of the night, and the wild, sweet song of the wind as it sang
amongst the rigging. Augusta turned her face toward it, and, being
alone, stretched out her arms as though to catch it. The whole scene
awoke some answering greatness in her heart; something that slumbers in
the bosom of the higher race of human beings, and only stirs--and then
but faintly--when the passions move them, or when nature communes with
her nobler children. She felt that at that moment she could write as she
had never written yet. All sorts of beautiful ideas, all sorts of
aspirations after that noble calm, and purity of thought and life for
which we pray and long, but are not allowed to reach, came flowing into
her heart. She almost thought that she could hear her lost Jeannie's
voice calling down the gale, and her strong imagination began to paint
her hovering like a sea-bird upon white wings high above the mainmast's
taper point, and gazing through the darkness into the soul of her she
loved. Then, by those faint and imperceptible degrees with which
thoughts fade one into another, from Jeannie her thought got round to
Eustace Meeson. She wondered if he had ever called at the lodgings at
Birmingham after she left? Somehow, she had an idea that he was not
altogether indifferent to her; there had been a look in his eyes she did
not quite understand. She almost wished now she had sent him a line or a
message. Perhaps she would do so from New Zealand. Just then her
meditations were interrupted by a step, and, turning round, she found
herself face to face with the captain.
"Why, Miss Smithers!" he said, "what on earth are you doing here at this
hour?--making up romances?"
"Yes," she answered, laughing, and with perfect truth. "The fact of
the matter is, I could not sleep, and so I came on deck; and very
pleasant it is!"
"Yes," said the captain, "If you want something to put into your stories
you won't find anything better than this. The Kangaroo is showing her
heels, isn't she, Miss Smithers? That's the beauty of her, she can sail
as well as steam; and when she has a strong wind like this abaft, it
would have to be something very quick that would catch her. I believe
that we have been running over seventeen knots an hour ever since
midnight. I hope to make Kerguelen Island by seven o'clock to correct my
"What is Kerguelen Island?" asked Augusta.
"Oh! it is a desert place where nobody goes, except now and then a
whaler to fill up with water. I believe that the astronomers sent an
expedition there a few years ago, to observe the transit of Venus: but
it was a failure because the weather was so misty--it is nearly always
misty there. Well, I must be off, Miss Smithers. Good night; or, rather,
Before the words were well out of his mouth, there was a wild shout
forward--"_ship ahead_!" Then came an awful yell from a dozen
voices--"_starboard! Hard-a-starboard, for God's sake_."
With a wild leap, like the leap of a man suddenly shot, the captain left
her side and rushed on to the bridge. At the same instant the
engine-bell rang and the steering-chains began to rattle furiously on
the rollers at her feet as the steam steering-gear did its work. Then
came another yell--
"_It's a whaler!--no lights_!" and an answering shriek of terror from
some big black object that loomed ahead. Before the echoes had died away,
before the great ship could even answer to her helm, there was a crash,
such as Augusta had never heard, and a sickening shock, that threw her on
her hands and knees on the deck, shaking the iron masts till they
trembled as though they were willow wands, and making the huge sails flap
and for an instant fly aback. The great vessel, rushing along at her
frightful speed of seventeen knots, had plunged into the ship ahead with
such hideous energy that she cut her clean in two--cut her in two and
passed over her, as though she were a pleasure-boat!
Shriek upon shriek of despair came piercing the gloomy night, and then,
as Augusta struggled to her feet, she felt a horrible succession of
bumps, accompanied by a crushing, grinding noise. It was the Kangaroo
driving right over the remains of the whaler.
In a very few seconds it was done, and looking astern, Augusta could just
make out something black that seemed to float for a second or two upon
the water, and then disappear into its depths. It was the shattered hull
of the whaler.
Then there arose a faint murmuring sound, that grew first into a hum,
then into a roar, and then into a clamour that rent the skies, and up
from every hatchway and cabin in the great ship, human beings--men,
women, and children--came rushing and tumbling, with faces white with
terror--white as their night-gear. Some were absolutely naked, having
slipped off their night-dress and had no time to put on anything else;
some had put on ulsters and great-coats, others had blankets thrown round
them or carried their clothes in their hands. Up they came, hundreds and
hundreds of them (for there were a thousand souls on board the Kangaroo),
pouring aft like terrified spirits flying from the mouth of Hell, and
from them arose such a hideous clamour as few have lived to hear.
Augusta clung to the nettings to let the rush go by, trying to collect
her scattered senses and to prevent herself from catching the dreadful
contagion of the panic. Being a brave and cool-headed woman, she
presently succeeded, and with her returning clearness of vision she
realized that she and all on board were in great peril. It was clear that
so frightful a collision could not have taken place without injury to
their own vessel. Nothing short of an iron-clad ram could have stood such
a shock, probably they would founder in a few minutes, and all be
drowned. In a few minutes she might be dead! Her heart stood still at the
horror of the thought, but once more she recovered herself. Well, after
all, life had not been pleasant; and she had nothing to fear from another
world, she had done no wrong. Then suddenly she began to think of the
others. Where was Lady Holmhurst? and where were the boy and the nurse?
Acting upon the impulse she did not stay to realize, she ran to the
saloon hatchway. It was fairly clear now, for most of the people were on
deck, and she found her way to the child's cabin with but little
difficulty. There was a light in it, and the first glance showed her that
the nurse had gone; gone, and deserted the child--for there he lay,
asleep, with a smile upon his little round face. The shock had scarcely
wakened the boy, and, knowing nothing of ship-wrecks, he had just shut
his eyes and gone to sleep again.
"Dick, Dick!" she said, shaking him.
He yawned and sat up, and then threw himself down again saying,
"Yes, but Dick must wake up, and Auntie" (he called her "auntie") "will
take him up on deck to look for Mummy. Won't it be nice to go on deck in
"Yes," said Dick, with confidence; and Augusta took him on her knee and
hurried him into such of his clothes as came handy, as quickly as she
could. On the cabin-door was a warm little pea-jacket which the child
wore when it was cold. This she put on over his blouse and flannel shirt,
and then, by an after-thought, took the two blankets off his bunk and
wrapped them round him. At the foot of the nurse's bed was a box of
biscuits and some milk. The biscuits she emptied into the pockets of her
ulster, and having given the child as much of the milk as he would drink,
swallowed the rest herself. Then, pinning a shawl which lay about round
her own shoulders, she took up the child and made her way with him on to
the deck. At the head of the companion she met Lord Holmhurst himself,
rushing down to look after the child.
"I have got him, Lord Holmhurst," she cried; "the nurse has run away.
Where is your wife?"
"Bless you," he said fervently; "you are a good girl. Bessie is aft
somewhere: I would not let her come. They are trying to keep the people
off the boats--they are all mad!"
"Are we sinking?" she asked faintly.
"God knows--ah! here is the captain," pointing to a man who was walking,
or rather pushing his way, rapidly towards them through the maddened,
screeching mob, Lord Holmhurst caught him by the arm.
"Let me go," he said roughly, trying to shake himself loose. "Oh! it is
you, Lord Holmhurst."
"Yes; step in here for one second and tell us the worst. Speak up, man,
and let us know all!"
"Very well, Lord Holmhurst, I will. We have run down a whaler of about
five hundred tons, which was cruising along under reduced canvas and
showing no lights. Our fore compartment is stove right in, bulging out
the plates on each side of the cut-water, and loosening the fore
bulkhead. The carpenter and his mates are doing their best to shore it up
from the inside with balks of timber, but the water is coming in like a
mill race, and I fear there are other injuries. All the pumps are at
work, but there's a deal of water, and if the bulkhead goes"--
"We shall go, too," said Lord Holmhurst, calmly. "Well, we must take to
the boats. Is that all?"
"In Heaven's name, is that not enough!" said the captain, looking up, so
that the light that was fixed in the companion threw his ghastly face
into bold relief. "No, Lord Holmhurst, it is not all. The boats will hold
something over three hundred people. There are about one thousand souls
aboard the Kangaroo, of whom more than three hundred are women and
"Therefore the men must drown," said Lord Holmhurst, quietly. "God's
will be done!"
"Your Lordship will, of course, take a place in the boats?" said the
captain, hurriedly. "I have ordered them to be prepared, and,
fortunately, day is breaking. I rely upon you to explain matters to the
owners if you escape, and clear my character. The boats must make for
Kerguelen Land. It is about seventy miles to the eastward."
"You must give your message to someone else, captain," was the answer; "I
shall stay and share the fate of the other men."
There was no pomposity about Lord Holmhurst now--all that had gone--and
nothing but the simple gallant nature of the English gentleman remained.
"No, no," said the captain, as they hurried aft, pushing their way
through the fear-distracted crowd. "Have you got your revolver?"
"Well, then, keep it handy; you may have to use it presently: they will
try and rush the boats."
By this time the grey dawn was slowly breaking, throwing a cold and
ghastly light upon the hideous scene of terror. Round about the boats
were gathered the officers and some of the crew, doing their best to
prepare them for lowering. Indeed, one had already been got away. In it
was Lady Holmhurst, who had been thrown there against her will, shrieking
for her child and husband, and about a score of women and children,
together with half-a-dozen sailors and an officer.
Augusta caught sight of her friend's face in the faint light "Bessie!
Bessie! Lady Holmhurst!" she cried, "I have got the boy. It is all
right--I have got the boy!"
She heard her, and waved her hand wildly towards her; and then the men in
the boat gave way, and in a second it was out of earshot. Just then a
tall form seized Augusta by the arm. She looked up: it was Mr. Tombey,
and she saw that in his other hand he held a revolver.
"Thank God!" he shouted in her ear, "I have found you! This way--this
way, quick!" And he dragged her aft to where two sailors, standing by
the davits that supported a small boat, were lowering her to the level
of the bulwarks.
"Now then, women!" shouted an officer who was in charge of the operation.
Some men made a rush.
"Women first! Women first!"
"I am in no hurry," said Augusta, stepping forward with the trembling
child in her arms; and her action for a few seconds produced a calming
effect, for the men stopped.
"Come on!" said Mr. Tombey, stooping to lift her over the side, only to
be nearly knocked down by a man who made a desperate effort to get into
the boat. It was Mr. Meeson, and, recognising him, Mr. Tombey dealt him a
blow that sent him spinning back.
"A thousand pounds for a place!" he roared. "Ten thousand pounds for a
seat in a boat!" And once more he scrambled up at the bulwarks, trampling
down a child as he did so, and was once more thrown back.
Mr. Tombey took Augusta and the child into his strong arms and put her
into the boat. As he did so, he kissed her forehead and murmured, "God
bless you, good-bye!"
At that instant there was a loud report forward, and the stern of the
vessel lifted perceptibly. The bulkhead had given way, and there arose
such a yell as surely was seldom heard before. To Augusta's ears it
seemed to shape itself into the word "_Sinking_!"
Up from the bowels of the ship poured the firemen, the appearance of
whose blackened faces, lined with white streaks of perspiration, added a
new impulse of terror to the panic-stricken throng. Aft they came,
accompanied by a crowd of sailors and emigrants.
"Rush the boats," sung out a voice with a strong Irish accent, "or sure
we'll be drowned!"
Taking the hint, the maddened mob burst towards the boats like a flood,
blaspheming and shrieking as it came. In a moment the women and children
who were waiting to take to the boat, in which Augusta and the two
sea-men were already, were swept aside, and a determined effort was made
to rush it, headed by a great Irishman, the same who had called out.
Augusta saw Mr. Tombey, Lord Holmhurst, who had come up, and the officer
lift their pistols, which exploded almost simultaneously, and the
Irishman and another man pitched forward on to their hands and knees.
"Never mind the pistols, lads," shouted a voice; "as well be shot as
drown. There isn't room for half of us in the boats; come on!" And a
second fearful rush was made, which bore the three gentlemen, firing as
they went, right up against the nettings.
"Bill," halloaed the man who was holding on to the foremost tackle,
"lower away; we shall be rushed and swamped!"
Bill obeyed with heart and soul, and down sank the boat below the level
of the upper decks, just as the mob was getting the mastery. In five
seconds more they were hanging close over the water, and whilst they were
in this position a man leapt at the boat from the bulwarks. He struck on
the thwarts, rolled off into the water, and was no more seen. A lady, the
wife of a Colonial Judge, threw her child; Augusta tried to catch it, but
missed, and the boy sank and was lost. In another moment the two sailors
had shoved off from the ship's side. As they did so, the stern of the
Kangaroo lifted right out of the water so that they could see under her
rudder-post. Just then, too, with a yell of terror, Mr. Meeson, in whom
the elementary principle of self-preservation at all costs was strongly
developed, cast himself from the side and fell with a splash within a few
feet of the boat. Rising to the surface, he clutched hold of the gunwale,
and implored to be taken in.
"Knock the old varmint over the knuckles, Bill," shouted the other man;
"he'll upset us!"
"No; no!" cried Augusta, her woman's heart moved at seeing her old enemy
in such a case. "There is plenty of room in the boat."
"Hold on then," said the man addressed, whose name was Johnnie; "when we
get clear we'll haul you in."
And, the reader may be sure, Mr. Meeson did hold on pretty tight till,
after rowing about fifty yards, the two men halted, and proceeded, not
without some risk and trouble--for there was a considerable sea
running--to hoist Mr. Meeson's large form over the gunwale of the boat.
Meanwhile, the horrors on board the doomed ship were redoubling, as she
slowly settled to her watery grave. Forward, the steam fog-horn was going
unceasingly, bellowing like a thousand furious bulls; while, now and
again, a rocket still shot up through the misty morning air. Round the
boats a hideous war was being waged. Augusta saw a great number of men
jump into one of the largest life-boats, which was still hanging to the
davits, having evidently got the better of those who were attempting to
fill it with the women and children. The next second they lowered the
after tackle, but, by some hitch or misunderstanding, not the foremost
one; with the result that the stern of the boat fell while the bow
remained fixed, and every soul in it, some forty or fifty people, was
shot out into the water. Another boat was overturned by a sea as it
settled on the water. Another one, full of women and children, got to the
water all right, but remained fastened to the ship by the bow tackle.
When, a couple of minutes afterwards, the Kangaroo went down, nobody had
a knife at hand wherewith to cut the rope, and the boat was dragged down
with her, and all its occupants drowned. The remaining boats, with the
exception of the one in which Lady Holmhurst was, and which had been got
away before the rush began, were never lowered at all, or sank as soon as
lowered. It was impossible to lower them owing to the mad behaviour of
the panic-stricken crowds, who fought like wild beasts for a place in
them. A few gentlemen and sober-headed sailors could do nothing against a
mob of frantic creatures, each bent on saving his own life, if it cost
the lives of all else on board.
And thus it was exactly twenty minutes from the time that the Kangaroo
sank the whaler (for, although these events have taken some time to
describe, they did not take long to enact) that her own hour came, and,
with the exception of some eight-and-twenty souls, all told, the hour
also of every living creature who had taken passage in her.
As soon as Mr. Meeson, saved from drowning by her intervention, lay
gasping at the bottom of the boat, Augusta, overcome by a momentary
faintness, let her head fall forward on to the bundle of blankets in
which she had wrapped up the child she had rescued, and who, too
terrified to speak or cry, stared about him with wide-opened and
frightened eyes. When she lifted it, a few seconds later, a ray from the
rising sun had pierced the mist, and striking full on the sinking ship,
as, her stern well out of the water and her bow well under it, she rolled
sullenly to and fro in the trough of the heavy sea, seemed to wrap her
from hull to truck in wild and stormy light.
"She's going!--by George, she's going!" said the seaman Johnnie; and as
he said it the mighty ship slowly reared herself up on end. Slowly--very
slowly, amidst the hideous and despairing shrieks of the doomed wretches
on board of her, she lifted her stern higher and higher, and plunged her
bows deeper and deeper. They shrieked, they cried to Heaven for help; but
Heaven heeded them not, for man's agony cannot avert man's doom. Now, for
a space, she was standing almost upright upon the water, out of which
about a hundred feet of her vast length towered like some monstrous ocean
growth, whilst men fell from her in showers, like flies benumbed by
frost, down into the churning foam beneath. Then suddenly, with a swift
and awful rush, with a rending sound of breaking spars, a loud explosion
of her boilers, and a smothered boom of bursting bulkheads, she plunged
down into the measureless deeps, and was seen no more forever.
The water closed in over where she had been, boiling and foaming and
sucking down all things in the wake of her last journey, while the steam
and prisoned air came up in huge hissing jets and bubbles that exploded
into spray on the surface.
The men groaned, the child stared stupified, and Augusta cried out, "_Oh!
oh_!" like one in pain.
"Row back!" she gasped, "row back and see if we cannot pick some
of them up."
"No! no!" shouted Meeson; "they will sink the boat!"
"'Taint much use anyway," said Johnnie. "I doubt that precious few of
them will come up again. They have gone too deep!"
However, they got the boat's head round again--slowly enough, Augusta
thought--and as they did so they heard a feeble cry or two. But by the
time that they had reached the spot where the Kangaroo went down, there
was no living creature to be seen; nothing but the wash of the great
waves, over which the mist once more closed thick and heavy as a pall.
They shouted, and once they heard a faint answer, and rowed towards it;
but when they got to the spot whence the sound seemed to proceed, they
could see nothing except some wreckage. They were all dead, their agony
was done, their cries no more ascended to the pitiless heavens; and wind,
and sky, and sea were just as they had been.
"Oh, my God! my God!" wept Augusta, clinging to the thwarts of the
"One boat got away--where is it?" asked Mr. Meeson, who, a wet and
wretched figure, was huddled up in the stern-sheets, as he rolled his
wild eyes round striving to pierce the curtain of the mist.
"There's something," said Johnnie, pointing through a fog-dog in the
mist, that seemed to grow denser rather than otherwise as the light
increased, at a round, boat-like object that had suddenly appeared to the
starboard of them.
They rowed up to it; it was a boat, but empty and floating bottom
upwards. Closer examination showed that it was the cutter, which, when
full of women and children, had been fastened to the vessel and dragged
down with her as she sank. At a certain depth the pressure of the water
had been too great and had torn the ring in the bow bodily out of her, so
that she returned to the surface. But those in her did not return--at
least, not yet. Once more, two or three days hence, they would arise from
the watery depths and look upon the skies with eyes that could not see,
and then vanish for ever.
Turning from this awful and most moving sight, they rowed slowly through
quantities of floating wreckage--barrels, hencoops (in one of these they
found two drowned fowls, which they secured), and many other articles,
such as oars and wicker deck-chairs--and began to shout vigorously in the
hope of attracting the attention of the survivors in the other boat,
which they imagined could not be far off. Their efforts, however, proved
fruitless, owing to the thickness of the fog; and in the considerable sea
which was running it was impossible to see more than twenty yards or so.
Also, what between the wind, and the wash and turmoil of the water, the
sound of their voices did not travel far. The ocean is a large place, and
a rowing-boat is easily lost sight of upon its furrowed surface;
therefore it is not wonderful that, although the two boats were at the
moment within half a mile of each other, they never met, and each took
its separate course in the hope of escaping the fate of the vessel. The
boat in which were Lady Holmhurst and some twenty other passengers,
together with the second officer and a crew of six men, after seeing the
Kangaroo sink and picking up one survivor, shaped a course for Kerguelen
Land, believing that they, and they alone, remained to tell the tale of
that awful shipwreck. And here it may be convenient to state that before
nightfall they were picked up by a sealing-whaler, that sailed with them
to Albany, on the coast of Australia. Thence an account of the disaster,
which, as the reader will remember, created a deep impression, was
telegraphed home, and thence, in due course, the widowed Lady Holmhurst
and most of the other women who escaped were taken back to England.
To return to our heroine and Mr. Meeson.
The occupants of the little boat sat looking at each other with white
scared faces, till at last the man called Johnnie, who, by-the-way, was
not a tar of a very amiable cast of countenance, possibly owing to the
fact that his nose was knocked almost flat against the side of his face,
swore violently, and said "It was no good stopping there all the
etceteraed day." Thereupon Bill, who was a more jovial-looking man,
remarked "that he, Johnnie, was etceteraed well right, so they had
better hoist the fore-sail."
At this point Augusta interposed, and told them that the captain, just as
the vessel came into collision, had informed her that he was making
Kerguelen Land, which was not more than sixty or seventy miles away. They
had a compass in the boat, and they knew the course the Kangaroo was
steering when she sank. Accordingly, without wasting further time, they
got as much sail up as the little boat could carry in the stiff breeze,
and ran nearly due east before the steady westerly wind. All day long
they ran across the misty ocean, the little boat behaving splendidly,
without sighting any living thing, till, at last, the night closed in
again. There was, fortunately, a bag of biscuits in the boat, and a
breaker of water; also there was, unfortunately, a breaker of rum, from
which the two sailors, Bill and Johnnie, were already taking quite as
much as was good for them. Consequently, though they were cold and wet
with the spray, they had not to face the added horrors of starvation and
thirst. At sundown, they shortened sail considerably, only leaving enough
canvas up to keep the boat ahead of the sea.
Somehow the long night wore away. Augusta scarcely closed her eyes; but
little Dick slept like a top upon her bosom, sheltered by her arms and
the blanket from the cold and penetrating spray. In the bottom of the
boat lay Mr. Meeson, to whom Augusta, pitying his condition--for he was
shivering dreadfully--had given the other blanket, keeping nothing for
herself except the woollen shawl.
At last, however, there came a faint glow in the east, and the daylight
began to break over the stormy sea. Augusta turned her head and stared
through the mist.
"What is that?" she said, in a voice trembling with excitement, to the
sailor Bill, who was taking his turn at the tiller; and she pointed to a
dark mass that loomed up almost over them.
The man looked, and then looked again; and then hallowed out joyfully,
Up struggled Mr. Meeson on to his knees--his legs were so stiff that he
could not stand--and began to stare wildly about him.
"Thank God!" he cried. "Where is it? Is it New Zealand? If ever I get
there, I'll stop there. I'll never get on a ship again!"
"New Zealand!" growled the sailor. "Are you a fool? It's Kerguelen Land,
that's what it is--where it rains all day, and nobody lives--not even a
nigger. It's like enough that you'll stop there, though; for I don't
reckon that anybody will come to take you off in a hurry."
Mr. Meeson collapsed with a groan, and a few minutes afterwards the sun
rose, while the mist grew less and less till at last it almost
disappeared, revealing a grand panorama to the occupants of the boat. For
before them was line upon line of jagged and lofty peaks, stretching as
far as the eye could reach, gradually melting in the distance into the
cold white gleam of snow. Bill slightly altered the boat's course to the
southward, and, sailing round a point, she came into comparatively calm
water. Then, due north of them, running into the land, they saw the mouth
of a great fjord, bounded on each side by towering mountain banks, so
steep as to be almost precipitous, around whose lofty sides thousands of
sea fowl wheeled, awaking the echoes with their clamour. Right into this
beautiful fjord they sailed, past a line of flat rocks on which sat huge
fantastic monsters that the sailors said were sea-lions, along the line
of beetling cliff, till they came to a spot where the shore, on which
grew a rank, sodden-looking grass, shelved gently up from the water's
edge to the frowning and precipitous background. And here, to their huge
delight, they discovered two huts roughly built of old ship's timbers,
placed within a score of yards of each other, and a distance of some
fifty paces from the water's edge.
"Well, there's a house, anyway," said the flat-nosed Johnnie, "though it
don't look as though it had paid rates and taxes lately."
"Let us land, and get out of this horrible boat," said Mr. Meeson,
feebly: a proposition that Augusta seconded heartily enough. Accordingly,
the sail was lowered, and, getting out the oars, the two sailors rowed
the boat into a little, natural harbour that opened out of the main
creek, and in ten minutes her occupants were once more stretching their
legs upon dry land; that is, if any land in Kerguelen Island, that region
of perpetual wet, could be said to be dry.
Their first care was to go up to the huts and examine them, with a result
that could scarcely be called encouraging. The huts had been built some
years--whether by the expedition which, in 1874, came thither to observe
the transit of Venus, or by former parties of shipwrecked mariners, they
never discovered--and were now in a state of ruin. Mosses and lichens
grew plentifully upon the beams, and even on the floor; while great holes
in the roof let in the wet, which lay in little slimy puddles beneath.
Still, with all their drawbacks, they were decidedly better than the open
beach; a very short experience of which, in that inclement climate, would
certainly have killed them; and they thankfully decided to make the best
of them. Accordingly, the smaller of the two huts was given up to Augusta
and the boy Dick, while Mr. Meeson and the sailors took possession of the
large one. Their next task was to move up their scanty belongings (the
boat having first been carefully beached), and to clean out the huts and
make them as habitable as possible by stretching the sails of the boat on
the damp floors and covering up the holes in the roof as best they could
with stones and bits of board from the bottom of the boat. The weather
was, fortunately, dry, and as they all (with the exception of Mr. Meeson,
who seemed to be quite prostrated) worked with a will, not excepting
Master Dick--who toddled backwards and forwards after Augusta in high
glee at finding himself on terra firma--and by midday everything that
could be done was done. Then they made a fire of some drift-wood--for,
fortunately, they had a few matches--and Augusta cooked the two fowls
they had got out of the floating hen-coop as well as circumstances would
allow--which, as a matter of fact, was not very well--and they had
dinner, of which they all stood sadly in need.
After dinner they reckoned up their resources. Of water there was an
ample supply, for not far from the huts a stream ran down into the fjord.
For food they had the best part of a bag of biscuits weighing about a
hundred pounds. Also there was the cask of rum, which the men had moved
into their own hut. But that was not all, for there were plenty of
shellfish about if they could find means to cook them, while the rocks
around were covered with hundreds of penguins, including specimens of the
great "King penguin," which only required to be knocked on the head.
There was, therefore, little fear of their perishing of starvation, as
sometimes happens to ship wrecked people. Indeed, immediately after
dinner, the two sailors went out and returned with as many birds'
eggs--mostly penguin--as they could carry in their hats. Scarcely had
they got in, however, when the rain, which is the prevailing
characteristic of these latitudes, set in, in the most pitiless fashion;
and soon the great mountains with which they were surrounded, and those
before them, were wrapped in dense veils of fleecy vapour. Hour after
hour the rain fell without ceasing, penetrating through their miserable
roof, and falling--drop, drip, drop--upon the sodden floor. Augusta sat
by herself in the smaller hut, doing what she could to amuse little Dick
by telling him stories. Nobody knows how hard she found it to have to
invent stories when she was thus overwhelmed with misfortune; but it was
the only way of keeping the poor child from crying, as the sense of cold
and misery forced itself into his little heart. So she told him about
Robinson Crusoe, and then she told him that they were playing at being
Robinson Crusoe, to which the child very sensibly replied that he did not
at all like the game, and wanted his mamma.
And meanwhile it grew darker and colder and damper hour by hour, till at
last the light went out, and left her with nothing to keep her company
but the moaning wind, the falling rain, and the wild cries of the
sea-birds when something disturbed them from their rest. The child was
asleep at last, wrapped up in a blanket and one of the smaller sails;
and Augusta, feeling quite worn out with solitude and the pressure of
heavy thoughts, began to think that the best thing she could do would be
to try to follow his example, when suddenly there came a knock at the
boards which served for a door to the shanty.
"Who is it?" she cried, with a start.
"Me--Mr. Meeson," answered a voice. "Can I come in?"
"Yes; if you like," said Augusta, sharply, though in her heart she was
really glad to see him, or, rather, to hear him, for it was too dark to
see anything. It is wonderful how, under the pressure of a great
calamity, we forget our quarrels and our spites, and are ready to jump at
the prospect of the human companionship of our deadliest enemy. And "the
moral of that is," as the White Queen says, that as we are all night and
day face to face with the last dread calamity--Death--we should
throughout our lives behave as though we saw the present shadow of his
hand. But that will never happen in the world while human nature is human
nature--and when will it become anything else?
"Put up the door again," said Augusta, when, from a rather rawer rush of
air than usual, she gathered that her visitor was within the hut.
Mr. Meeson obeyed, groaning audibly. "Those two brutes are getting
drunk," he said, "swallowing down rum by the gallon. I have come because
I could not stop with them any longer--and I am so ill, Miss Smithers, so
ill! I believe that I am going to die. Sometimes I feel as though all the
marrow in my bones were ice, and--and--at others just as though somebody
were shoving a red-hot wire up them. Can't you do anything for me?"
"I don't see what is to be done," answered Augusta, gently, for the
man's misery touched her in spite of her dislike for him. "You had better
lie down and try to go to sleep."
"To sleep!" he moaned; "how can I sleep? My blanket is wringing wet
and my clothes are damp," and he fairly broke down and began to
groan and sob.
"Try and go to sleep," urged Augusta again.
He made no answer, but by degrees he grew quieter, overwhelmed, perhaps,
by the solemn presence of the darkness. Augusta laid her head against the
biscuit-bag, and at last sank into blissful oblivion; for to the young,
sleep is a constant friend. Once or twice she woke, but only to drop off
again; and when she finally opened her eyes it was quite light and the
rain had ceased.
Her first care was for little Dick, who had slept soundly throughout the
night and appeared to be none the worse. She took him outside the hut and
washed his face and hands in the stream and then sat him down to a
breakfast of biscuit. As she returned she met the two sailors, who,
although they were now fairly sober, bore upon their faces the marks of a
fearful debauch. Evidently they had been drinking heavily. She drew
herself up and looked at them, and they slunk past her in silence.
Then she returned to the hut. Mr. Meeson was sitting up when she entered,
and the bright light from the open door fell full upon his face. His
appearance fairly shocked her. The heavy cheeks had fallen in, there were
great purple rings round his hollow eyes, and his whole aspect was one of
a man in the last stage of illness.
"I have had such a night" he said, "Oh, Heaven! such a night! I don't
believe that I shall live through another."
"Nonsense!" said Augusta, "eat some biscuit and you will feel better."
He took a piece of the biscuit which she gave him, and attempted to
swallow it, but could not.
"It is no use," he said; "I am a dying man. Sitting in those wet clothes
in the boat has finished me."
And Augusta, looking at his face, could not but believe him.
AUGUSTA TO THE RESCUE.
After breakfast--that is, after Augusta had eaten some biscuit and a wing
that remained from the chickens she had managed to cook upon the previous
day--Bill and Johnnie, the two sailors, set to work, at her suggestion,
to fix up a long fragment of drift-wood on a point of rock, and to bind
it on to a flag that they happened to find in the locker of the boat.
There was not much chance of its being seen by anybody in that mist-laden
atmosphere, even if anybody came there to see it, of which there was
still less chance; still they did it as a sort of duty. By the time this
task was finished it was midday, and, for a wonder, there was little
wind, and the sun shone out brightly. On returning to the huts Augusta
got the blankets out to dry, and set the two sailors to roast some of the
eggs they had found on the previous day. This they did willingly enough,
for they were now quite sober, and very much ashamed of themselves.
Then, after giving Dick some more biscuit and four roasted eggs, which he
took to wonderfully, she went to Mr. Meeson, who was lying groaning in
the hut, and persuaded him to come and sit out in the warmth.
By this time the wretched man's condition was pitiable, for, though his
strength was still whole in him, he was persuaded that he was going to
die, and could touch nothing but some rum-and-water.
"Miss Smithers," he said, as he sat shivering upon the rocks, "I am going
to die in this horrible place, and I am not fit to die! To think of me,"
he went on with a sudden burst of his old fire, "to think of me dying
like a starved dog in the cold, when I have two millions of money waiting
to be spent there in England! And I would give them all--yes, every
farthing of them--to find myself safe at home again! By Jove! I would
change places with any poor devil of a writer in the Hutches! Yes, I
would turn author on twenty pounds a month!--that will give you some idea
of my condition, Miss Smithers! To think that I should ever live to say
that I would care to be a beggarly author, who could not make a thousand
a year if he wrote till his fingers fell off!--oh! oh!" and he fairly
sobbed at the horror and degradation of the thought.
Augusta looked at the poor wretch and then bethought her of the proud
creature she had known, raging terribly through the obsequious ranks of
clerks, and carrying desolation to the Hutches and the many-headed
editorial department. She looked, and was filled with reflections on the
mutability of human affairs.
Alas! how changed that Meeson!
"Yes," he went on, recovering himself a little, "I am going to die in
this horrible place, and all my money will not even give me a decent
funeral. Addison and Roscoe will get it--confound them!--as though they
had not got enough already. It makes me mad when I think of those Addison
girls spending my money, or bribing Peers to marry them with it, or
something of that sort. I disinherited my own nephew, Eustace, and kicked
him out to sink or swim; and now I can't undo it, and I would give
anything to alter it! We quarrelled about you, Miss Smithers, because I
would not give you any more money for that book of yours. I wish I had
given it to you--anything you wanted. I didn't treat you well; but, Miss
Smithers, a bargain is a bargain. It would never have done to give way,
on principle. You must understand that, Miss Smithers. Don't revenge
yourself on me about it, now that I am helpless, because, you see, it was
a matter of principle."
"I am not in the habit of revenging myself, Mr. Meeson," answered
Augusta, with dignity; "but I think that you have done a very wicked
thing to disinherit your nephew in that fashion, and I don't wonder that
you feel uncomfortable about it."
The expression of this vigorous opinion served to disturb Mr. Meeson's
conscience all the more, and he burst out into laments and regrets.
"Well," said Augusta at last, "if you don't like your will you had better
alter it. There are enough of us here to witness a will, and, if anything
happens to you, it will override the other--will it not?"
This was a new idea, and the dying man jumped at it.
"Of course, of course," he said; "I never thought of that before. I will
do it at once, and cut Addison and Roscoe out altogether. Eustace shall
have every farthing I never thought of that before. Come, give me your
hand; I'll get up and see about it."
"Stop a minute," said Augusta. "How are you going to write a will without
pen or pencil, or paper or ink?"
Mr. Meeson sank back with a groan. This difficulty had not occurred to
"Are you sure nobody has got a pencil and a bit of paper?" he asked. "It
would do, so long as the writing remained legible."
"I don't think so," said Augusta, "but I will inquire." Accordingly she
went and asked Bill and Johnnie: but neither of them had a pencil or a
single scrap of paper, and she returned sadly to communicate the news.
"I have got it, I have got it," said Mr. Meeson, as she approached the
spot where he lay upon the rock. "If there is no paper or pen, we must
write it in blood upon some linen. We can make a pen from the feathers of
a bird. I read somewhere in a book of somebody who did that. It will do
as well as anything else."
Here was an idea, indeed, and one that Augusta jumped at. But in
another moment her enthusiasm received a check. Where was there any
linen to write on?
"Yes," she said, "if you can find some linen. You have got on a
flannel shirt, so have the two sailors, and little Dick is dressed in
It was a fact. As it happened, not one of the party had a scrap of linen
on them, or anything that would answer the purpose. Indeed, they had only
one pocket-handkerchief between them, and it was a red rag full of holes.
Augusta had had one, but it had blown overboard when they were in the
boat. What would they not have given for that pocket-handkerchief now!
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson, "it seems we have none. I haven't even get a
bank-note, or I might have written in blood upon that; though I have got
a hundred sovereigns in gold--I grabbed them up before I bolted from the
cabin. But I say--excuse me, Miss Smithers, but--um--ah--oh! hang
modesty--haven't you got some linen on, somewhere or other, that you
could spare a bit of? You shan't lose by giving it to me. There, I
promise that I will tear up the agreement if ever I get out of
this--which I shan't--which I shan't--and I will write on the linen that
it is to be torn up. Yes, and that you are to have five thousand pounds
legacy too, Miss Smithers. Surely you can spare me a little bit--just off
the skirt, or somewhere, you know, Miss Smithers? It never will be
missed, and it is so _very_ important."
Augusta blushed, and no wonder. "I am sorry to say I have nothing of the
sort about me, Mr. Meeson--nothing except flannel," she said. "I got up
in the middle of the night before the collision, and there was no light
in the cabin, and I put on whatever came first, meaning to come back and
dress afterwards when it got light."
"Stays!" said Mr. Meeson, desperately. "Forgive me for mentioning them,
but surely you put on your stays? One could write on them, you know."
"I am very sorry, Mr. Meeson," she answered, "but I did not put any on."
"Not a cuff or a collar?" he said, catching at a last straw of hope.
Augusta shook her head sadly.
"Then there is an end of it!" groaned Mr. Meeson. "Eustace must lose the
money. Poor lad! poor lad! I have behaved very badly to him."
Augusta stood still, racking her brain for some expedient, for she was
determined that Eustace Meeson should not lose the chance of that
colossal fortune if she could help it. It was but a poor chance at the
best, for Mr. Meeson might not be dying, after all. And if he did die, it
was probable that his fate would be their fate also, and no record would
remain of them or of Mr. Meeson's testamentary wishes. As things looked
at present, there was every prospect of their all perishing miserably on
that desolate shore.
Just then the sailor Bill, who had been up to the flagstaff on the rock
on the chance of catching sight of some passing vessel, came walking
past. His flannel shirt-sleeves were rolled up to the elbows of his
brawny arms, and as he stopped to speak to Augusta she noticed something
that made her start, and gave her an idea.
"There ain't nothing to be seen," said the man, roughly; "and it is my
belief that there won't be neither. Here we are, and here we stops till
we dies and rots."
"Ah, I hope not," said Augusta. "By-the-way, Mr. Bill, will you let me
look at the tattoo on your arm?"
"Certainly, Miss," said Bill, with alacrity, holding his great arm within
an inch of her nose. It was covered with various tattoos: flags, ships,
and what not, in the middle of which, written in small letters along the
side of the forearm, was the sailor's name--Bill Jones.
"Who did it, Mr. Bill?" asked Augusta.
"Who did it? Why I did it myself. A chap made me a bet that I could not
tattoo my own name on my own arm, so I showed him; and a poor sort of
hand I should have been at tattooing if I could not."
Augusta said no more till Bill had gone on, then she spoke.
"Now, Mr. Meeson, do you see how you can make your will?" she said
"See? No." he answered, "I don't."
"Well, I do: you can tattoo it--or, rather get the sailor to tattoo it.
It need not be very long."
"Tattoo it! What on, and what with?" he asked, astonished.
"You can have it tattooed on the back of the other sailor, Johnnie, if he
will allow you; and as for material, you have some revolver cartridges;
if the gunpowder is mixed with water, it would do, I should think."
"'Pon my word," said Mr. Meeson, "you are a wonderful woman! Whoever
would have thought of such a thing except a woman? Go and ask the man
Johnnie, there's a good girl, if he would mind my will being tattooed
upon his back."
"Well," said Augusta; "it's a queer sort of message; but I'll try."
Accordingly, taking little Dick by the hand, she went across to where the
two sailors were sitting outside their hut, and putting on her sweetest
smile, first of all asked Mr. Bill if he would mind doing a little
tattooing for her. To this Mr. Bill, finding time hang heavy upon his
hands, and wishing to be kept out of the temptation of the rum-cask,
graciously assented, saying that he had seen some sharp fish-bones lying
about which would be the very thing, though he shook his head at the idea
of using gunpowder as the medium. He said it would not do at all well,
and then, as though suddenly seized by an inspiration, started off down
to the shore.
Then Augusta, as gently and nicely as she could, approached the question
with Johnnie, who was sitting with his back against the hut, his battered
countenance wearing a peculiarly ill-favored expression, probably owing
to the fact that he was suffering from severe pain in his head, as a
result of the debauch of the previous night.
Slowly and with great difficulty, for his understanding was none of the
clearest, she explained to him what was required; and that it was
suggested that he should provide the necessary _corpus vile_ upon which
it was proposed that the experiment should be made. When at last he
understood what it was asked that he should do, Johnnie's countenance
was a sight to see, and his language was more striking than correct. The
upshot of it was, however, that he would see Mr. Meeson collectively,
and Mr. Meeson's various members separately, especially his eyes,
Augusta retreated till his wrath had spent itself, and then once more
returned to the charge.
She was sure, she said, that Mr. Johnnie would not mind witnessing the
document, if anybody else could be found to submit to the pain of the
tattooing. All that would be necessary would be for him to touch the hand
of the operator while his (Johnnie's) name was tattooed as witness to the
will. "Well," he said, "I don't know how as I mind doing that, since it's
you as asked me, Miss, and not the d----d old hulks of a Meeson. I would
not lift a finger to save him from 'ell Miss, and that's a fact!"
"Then that is a promise, Mr. Johnnie?" said Augusta, sweetly ignoring
the garnishing with which the promise was adorned; and on Mr. Johnnie
stating that he looked at it in that light, she returned to Mr. Meeson.
On her way she met Bill, carrying in his hands a loathsome-looking fish,
with long feelers and a head like a parrot, in short, a cuttle-fish.
"Now, here's luck, Miss," said Bill, exultingly; "I saw this gentleman
lying down on the beach there this morning. He's a cuttle, that's what he
is; and I'll have his ink-bag out of him in a brace of shakes; just the
ticket for tattooing, Miss, as good as the best Indian-ink--gunpowder is
a fool to it."
By this time they had reached Mr. Meeson, and here the whole
matter, including Johnnie's obstinate refusal to be tattooed was
explained to Bill.
"Well," said Augusta at length, "it seems that's the only thing to be
done; but the question is, how to do it? I can only suggest, Mr. Meeson,
that the will should be tattooed on you."
"Oh!" said Mr. Meeson, feebly, "on me! Me tattooed like a
savage--tattooed with my own will!"
"It wouldn't be much use, either, governor, begging your pardon," said
Bill, "that is, if you are agoing to croak, as you say; 'cause where
would the will be then? We might skin you with a sharp stone, perhaps,
after you've done the trick, you know," he added reflectively. "But then
we have no salt, so I doubt if you'd keep; and if we set your hide in the
sun, I reckon the writing would shrivel up so that all the courts of law
in London could not make head or tail of it."
Mr. Meeson groaned loudly, as well he might. These frank remarks would
have been trying to any man; much more were they so to this opulent
merchant prince, who had always set the highest value on what Bill rudely
called his "hide."
"There's the infant," went on Bill, meditatively. "He's young and white,
and I fancy his top-crust would work wonderful easy; but you'd have to
hold him, for I expect that he'd yell proper."
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson; "let the will be tattooed upon the child. He'd be
some use that way."
"Yes," said Bill; "and there'd allus be something left to remind me of a
very queer time, provided he lives to get out of it, which is doubtful.
Cuttle-ink won't rub out, I'll warrant."
"I won't have Dick touched," said Augusta, indignantly. "It would
frighten the child into fits; and, besides, nobody has a right to mark
him for life in that way.".
"Well, then, there's about an end of the question," said Bill; "and this
gentleman's money must go wherever it is he don't want it to."
"No," said Augusta, with a sudden flush, "there is not. Mr. Eustace
Meeson was once very kind to me, and rather than he should lose the
chance of getting what he ought to have, I--I will be tattooed."
"Well, bust me!" said Bill, with enthusiasm, "bust me! if you ain't a
good-plucked one for a female woman; and if I was that there young man I
should make bold to tell you so."
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson, "that is an excellent idea. You are young and
strong, and as there is lots of food here, I dare say that you will take
a long time to die. You might even live for some months. Let us begin at
once. I feel dreadfully weak. I don't think that I can live through the
night, and if I know that I have done all I can to make sure that Eustace
gets his own, perhaps dying will be a little easier!"
THE LAST OF MR. MEESON.
Augusta turned from the old man with a gesture of impatience not unmixed
with disgust. His selfishness was of an order that revolted her.
"I suppose," she said sharply to Bill, "that I must have this will
tattooed upon my shoulders."
"Yes, Miss; that's it," said Bill. "You see, Miss, one wants space for a
doccymint. If it were a ship or a flag, now, or a fancy pictur of your
young man, I might manage it on your arm, but there must be breadth for a
legal doccymint, more especially as I should like to make a good job of
it while I is about it. I don't want none of them laryers a-turning up
their noses at Bill Jones' tattooing."
"Very well," said Augusta, with an inward sinking of the heart; "I will
go and get ready."
Accordingly she adjourned into the hut and removed the body of her dress
and turned down the flannel garment underneath it in such a fashion as to
leave as much of her neck bare as is to be seen when a lady has on a
moderately low dress. Then she came out again, dressed, or rather
undressed, for the sacrifice. Meanwhile, Bill had drawn out the ink-bag
of the cuttle, had prepared a little round fragment of wood which he
sharpened like a pencil by rubbing it against a stone, and had put a keen
edge on to a long white fishbone that he had selected.
"Now, Mr. Bill, I am ready," said Augusta, seating herself resolutely
upon a flat stone and setting her teeth.
"My word, Miss; but you have a fine pair of shoulders!" said the sailor,
contemplating the white expanse with the eye of an artist. "I never had
such a bit of material to work on afore. Hang me if it ain't almost a
pity to mark 'em! Not but what high-class tattooing is an ornimint to
anybody, from a Princess down; and in that you are fortunit, Miss, for I
larnt tattooing from them as _can_ tattoo, I did."
Augusta bit her lip, and the tears came into her eyes. She was only a
woman, and had a woman's little weakness; and, though she had never
appeared in a low dress in her life, she knew that her neck was one of
her greatest beauties, and was proud of it. It was hard to think that she
would be marked all her life with this ridiculous will--that is, if she
escaped--and, what was more, for the benefit of a young man who had no
claim upon her at all.
That was what she said to herself; but as she said it, something in her
told her that it was not true. Something told her that this young Mr.
Eustace Meeson _had_ a claim upon her--the highest claim that a man could
have upon a woman, for the truth must out--she loved him. It seemed to
have come home to her quite clearly here in this dreadful desolate place,
here in the very shadow of an awful death, that she did love him, truly
and deeply. And that being so, she would not have been what she was--a
gentle-natured, devoted woman--had she not at heart rejoiced at this
opportunity of self-sacrifice, even though that self-sacrifice was of the
hardest sort, seeing that it involved what all women hate--the endurance
of a ridiculous position. For love can do all things: it can even make
its votaries brave ridicule.
"Go on," she said sharply, "and let us get it over as soon as possible."
"Very well, Miss. What is it to be, old gentleman? Cut it short, you
"'_I leave all my property to Eustace H. Meeson_,' that's as short as I
can get it; and, if properly witnessed, I think that it will cover
everything," said Mr. Meeson, with a feeble air of triumph. "Anyhow, I
never heard of a will that is to carry about two millions being got into
nine words before."
Bill poised his fishbone, and, next second, Augusta gave a start and a
little shriek, for the operation had begun.
"Never mind, Miss," said Bill, consolingly; "you'll soon get used to it."
After that Augusta set her teeth and endured in silence, though it really
hurt her very much, for Bill was more careful of the artistic effect and
the permanence of the work than of the feelings of the subject. _Fiat
experimentum in corpore vili_, he would have said had he been conversant
with the Classics, without much consideration for the _corpus vile_. So
he pricked and dug away with his fishbone, which he dipped continually in
the cuttle-ink, and with the sharp piece of wood, till Augusta, began to
feel perfectly faint.
For three hours the work continued, and at the end of that time the body
of the will was finished--for Bill was rapid worker--being written in
medium-sized letters right across her shoulders. But the signatures yet
remained to be affixed.
Bill asked her if she would like to let them stand over till the
morrow?--but this, although she felt ill with the pain she declined to
do. She was marked now, marked with the ineffaceable mark of Bill, so she
might as well be marked to some purpose. If she put off the signing of
the document till the morrow, it might be too late, Mr. Meeson might be
dead, Johnnie might have changed his mind, or a hundred things. So she
told them to go on and finish it as quickly as possible, for there was
only about two hours more daylight.
Fortunately Mr. Meeson was more or less acquainted with the formalities
that are necessary in the execution of a will, namely: that the testator
and the two witnesses should all sign in the presence of each other. He
also knew that it was sufficient, if, in cases of illness, some third
person held the pen between the testator's fingers and assisted him to
write his name, or even if someone signed for the testator in his
presence and by his direction; and, arguing from this knowledge, he came
to the conclusion--afterwards justified in the great case of Meeson v.
Addison and Another--that it would be sufficient if he inflicted the
first prick of his signature, and then kept his hand upon Bill's while
the rest was done. This accordingly, he did, clumsily running the point
of the sharp bone so deep into the unfortunate Augusta that she fairly
shrieked aloud, and then keeping his hand upon the sailor's arm while he
worked in the rest of the signature, "_J. Meeson_." When it was done,
the turn of Johnnie came. Johnnie had at length aroused himself to some
interest in what was going on, and had stood by watching all the time,
since Mr. Meeson having laid his finger upon Augusta's shoulder, had
solemnly declared the writing thereon to be his last will and testament.
As he (Johnnie) could not tattoo, the same process was gone through with
reference to his signature, as in the case of Mr. Meeson. Then Bill Jones
signed his own name, as the second witness to the will; and just as the
light went out of the sky the document was finally executed--the date of
the execution being alone omitted. Augusta got up off the flat stone
where she had been seated during this torture for something like five
hours, and staggering into the hut, threw herself down upon the sail, and
went of into a dead faint. It was indeed only by a very strong exercise
of the will that she had kept herself from fainting long before.
The next thing she was conscious of was a dreadful smarting in her back,
and on opening her eyes found that it was quite dark in the hut. So
weary was she, however, that after stretching out her hand to assure
herself that Dick was safe by her side, she shut her eyes again and went
fast asleep. When she woke, the daylight was creeping into the damp and
squalid hut, revealing the heavy form of Mr. Meeson tossing to and fro
in a troubled slumber on the further side. She got up, feeling
dreadfully sore about the back; and, awaking the child, took him out to
the stream of water and washed him and herself as well as she could. It
was very cold outside; so cold that the child cried, and the rain clouds
were coming up fast, so she hurried back to the hut, and, together with
Dick, made her breakfast off some biscuit and some roast penguin's
eggs, which were not at all bad eating. She was indeed, quite weak with
hunger, having swallowed no food for many hours, and felt
proportionately better after it.
Then she turned to examine the condition of Mr. Meeson. The will had been
executed none too soon, for it was evident to her that he was in a very
bad way indeed. His face was sunken and hectic with fever, his teeth were
chattering, and his talk, though he was now awake, was quite incoherent.
She tried to get him to take some food; but he would swallow nothing but
water. Having done all that she could for him, she went out to see the
sailors, and met them coming down from the flagstaff. They had evidently
been, though not to any great extent, at the rum cask again, for Bill
looked sheepish and shaky, while the ill-favored Johnnie was more sulky
than ever. She gazed at them reproachfully, and then asked them to
collect some more penguin's eggs, which Johnnie refused point-blank to
do, saying that he wasn't going to collect eggs for landlubbers to eat;
she might collect eggs for herself. Bill, however, started on the errand,
and in about an hour's time returned, just as the rain set in in good
earnest, bearing six or seven dozen fresh eggs tied up in his coat.
Augusta, with the child by her, sat in the miserable hut attending to Mr.
Meeson; while outside the pitiless rain poured down in a steady unceasing
sheet of water that came through the wretched roof in streams. She did
her best to keep the dying man dry, but it proved to be almost an
impossibility; for even when she succeeded in preventing the wet from
falling on him from above, it got underneath him from the reeking floor,
while the heavy damp of the air gathered on his garments till they were
As the hours went on his consciousness came back to him, and with it his
terror for the end and his remorse for his past life, for alas! the
millions he had amassed could not avail him now.
"I am going to die!" he groaned. "I am going to die, and I've been a bad
man: I've been the head of a publishing company all my life!"
Augusta gently pointed out to him that publishing was a very respectable
business when, fairly and properly carried on, and not one that ought to
weigh heavy upon a man at the last like the record of a career of
successful usury or burgling.
He shook his heavy head "Yes, yes," he groaned; "but Meeson's is a
company and you are talking of private firms. They are straight, most of
them; far too straight, I used always to say. But you don't know
Meeson's--you don't know the customs of the trade at Meeson's."
Augusta reflected that she knew a good deal more about Meeson's than
"Listen," he said, with desperate energy, sitting up upon the sail, "and
I will tell you--I must tell you."
Asterisks, so dear to the heart of the lady novelist, will best represent
the confession that followed; words are not equal to the task.
* * * * *
Augusta listened with rising hair, and realised how very trying must be
the life of a private confessor.
"Oh, please stop!" she said faintly, at last. "I can't bear it--I
"Ah!" he said, as he sunk back exhausted. "I thought that when you
understood the customs at Meeson's you would feel for me in my present
position. Think, girl, think what I must suffer, with such a past,
standing face to face with an unknown future!"
Then came a silence.
"Take him away! Take him away!" suddenly shouted out Mr. Meeson, staring
around him with frightened eyes.
"Who?" asked Augusta; "who?"
"Him--the tall, thin man, with the big book! I know him; he used to be
Number 25--he died years ago. He was a very clever doctor; but one of his
patients brought a false charge against him and ruined him, so he had to
take to writing, poor devil! We made him edit a medical
encyclopaedia--twelve volumes for L300, to be paid on completion; and he
went mad and died at the eleventh volume. So, of course, we did not pay
his widow anything. And now he's come for me--I know he has. Listen! he's
talking! Don't you hear him? Oh, Heavens! He says that I am going to be
an author, and he is going to publish for me for a thousand years--going
to publish on the quarter-profit system, with an annual account, the
usual trade deductions, and no vouchers. Oh! oh! Look!--they are all
coming!--they are pouring out of the Hutches! they are going to murder
me!--keep them off! keep them off!" and he howled and beat the air with
Augusta, utterly overcome by this awful sight, knelt down by his side and
tried to quiet him, but in vain. He continued beating his hands in the
air, trying to keep off the ghostly train, till, at last, with one awful
howl, he fell back dead.
And that was the end of Meeson. And the works that he published, and the
money that he made, and the house that he built, and the evil that he
did--are they not written in the Book of the Commercial Kings?
"Well," said Augusta faintly to herself when she had got her breath back
a little, "I am glad that it is over; anyway, I do hope that I may never
be called on to nurse the head of another publishing company."
"Auntie! auntie!" gasped Dick, "why do the gentleman shout so?"
Then, taking the frightened child by the hand, Augusta made her way
through the rain to the other hut, in order to tell the two sailors what
had come to pass. It had no door, and she paused on the threshold to
prospect. The faint foggy light was so dim that at first she could see
nothing. Presently, however, her eyes got accustomed to it, and she made
out Bill and Johnnie sitting opposite to each other on the ground.
Between them was the breaker of rum. Bill had a large shell in his had,
which he had just filled from the cask; for Augusta saw him in the act of
replacing the spigot.
"My go!--curse you, my go!" said Johnnie, as Bill lifted the shell of
spirits to his lips. "You've had seven goes and I've only had six!"
"You be blowed!" said Bill, swallowing the liquor in a couple of great
gulps. "Ah! that's better! Now I'll fill for you, mate: fair does, I
says, fair does and no favour," and he filled accordingly.
"Mr. Meeson is dead," said Augusta, screwing up her courage to interrupt
The two men stared at her in drunken surprise, which Johnnie broke.
"Now is he, Miss?" he said, with a hiccough: "is he? Well, a good job
too, says I; a useless old landlubber he was. I doubt he's off to a
warmer place than this 'ere Kerguelen Land, and I drinks his health,
which, by-the-way, I never had the occasion to do before. Here's to
the health of the departed," and he swallowed the shellfull of rum at
"Your sentiment I echoes," said Bill. "Johnnie, the shell; give us the
shell to drink the 'ealth of the dear departed."
Then Augusta returned to her hut with a heavy heart. She covered up the
dead body as best she could, telling little Dick that Mr. Meeson was gone
by-by, and then sat down in that chill and awful company. It was very
depressing; but she comforted herself somewhat with the reflection that,
on the whole, Mr. Meeson dead was not so bad as Mr. Meeson in the
Presently the night set in once more, and, worn out with all that she had
gone through, Augusta said her prayers and went to sleep with little Dick
locked fast in her arms.
Some hours afterwards she was awakened by loud and uproarious shouts,
made up of snatches of drunken songs and that peculiar class of English
that hovers ever round the lips of the British Tar. Evidently Bill and
Johnnie were raging drunk, and in this condition were taking the
The shouting and swearing went reeling away towards the water's edge,
and then, all of a sudden, they culminated in a fearful yell--after which
What could it mean? wondered Augusta and whilst she was still wondering
dropped off to sleep again.
Augusta woke up just as the dawn was stealing across the sodden sky. It
was the smarting of her shoulders that woke her. She rose, leaving Dick
yet asleep, and, remembering the turmoil of the night, hurried to the
other hut. It was empty.
She turned and looked about her. About fifteen paces from where she was
lay the shell that the two drunkards had used as a cup. Going forward,
she picked it up. It still smelt disgustingly of spirits. Evidently the
two men had dropped it in the course of their midnight walk, or rather
roll. Where had they gone to?
Straight in front of her a rocky promontory ran out fifty paces or more
into the waters of the fjord-like bay. She walked along it aimlessly till
presently she perceived one of the sailor's hats lying on the ground, or,
rather, floating in a pool of water. Clearly they had gone this way. On
she went to the point of the little headland, sheer over the water. There
was nothing to be seen, not a single vestige of Bill and Johnnie.
Aimlessly enough she leant forward and stared over the rocky wall, and
down into the clear water, and then started back with a little cry.
No wonder that she started, for there on the sand, beneath a fathom and a
half of quiet water, lay the bodies of the two ill-fated men. They were
locked in each other's arms, and lay as though they were asleep upon that
ocean bed. How they came to their end she never knew. Perhaps they
quarrelled in their drunken anger and fell over the little cliff; or
perhaps they stumbled and fell not knowing whither they were going. Who
can say? At any rate, there they were, and there they remained, till the
outgoing tide floated them off to join the great army of their companions
who had gone down with the Kangaroo. And so Augusta was left alone.
With a heavy heart she returned to the hut, pressed down by the weight of
solitude, and the sense that in the midst of so much death she could not
hope to escape. There was no human creature left alive in that vast
lonely land, except the child and herself, and so far as she could see
their fate would soon be as the fate of the others. When she got back to
the hut, Dick was awake and was crying for her.
The still, stiff form of Mr. Meeson, stretched out beneath the sail,
frightened the little lad, he did not know why. Augusta took him into her
arms and kissed him passionately. She loved the child for his own sake;
and, besides, he, and he alone, stood between her and utter solitude.
Then she took him across to the other hut, which had been vacated by the
sailors, for it was impossible to stay in the one with the body, which
was too heavy for her to move. In the centre of the sailors' hut stood
the cask of rum which had been the cause of their destruction. It was
nearly empty now--so light, indeed, that she had no difficulty in rolling
it to one side. She cleaned out the place as well as she could, and
returning to where Mr. Meeson's body lay, fetched the bag of biscuits and
the roasted eggs, after which they had their breakfast.
Fortunately there was but little rain that morning, so Augusta took Dick
out to look for eggs, not because they wanted any more, but in order to
employ themselves. Together they climbed up on to a rocky headland, where
the flag was flying, and looked out across the troubled ocean. There was
nothing in sight so far as the eye could see--nothing but the white
wave-horses across which the black cormorants steered their swift,
unerring flight. She looked and looked till her heart sank within her.
"Will Mummy soon come in a boat to take Dick away?" asked the child at
her side, and then she burst into tears.
When she had recovered herself they set to collecting eggs, an occupation
which, notwithstanding the screams and threatened attacks of the birds,
delighted Dick greatly. Soon they had as many as she could carry; so they
went back to the hut and lit a fire of drift-wood, and roasted some eggs
in the hot ashes; she had no pot to boil them in. Thus, one way and
another the day wore away, and at last the darkness began to fall over
the rugged peaks behind and the wild wilderness of sea before. She put
Dick to bed and he went off to sleep. Indeed, it was wonderful to see how
well the child bore the hardships through which they were passing. He
never had an ache or a pain, or even a cold in the head.
After Dick was asleep Augusta sat, or rather lay, in the dark listening
to the moaning of the wind as it beat upon the shanty and passed away in
gusts among the cliffs and mountains beyond. The loneliness was something
awful, and together with the thought of what the end of it would probably
be, quite broke her spirit down. She knew that the chances of her escape
were small indeed. Ships did not often come to this dreadful and
uninhabited coast, and if one should happen to put in there, it was
exceedingly probable that it would touch at some other point and never
see her or her flag. And then in time the end would come. The supply of
eggs would fail, and she would be driven to supporting life upon such
birds as she could catch, till at last the child sickened and died, and
she followed it to that dim land that lies beyond Kerguelen and the
world. She prayed that the child might die first. It was awful to think
that perhaps it might be the other way about: she might die first, and
the child might be left to starve beside her. The morrow would be
Christmas Day. Last Christmas Day she had spent with her dead sister at
Birmingham. She remembered that they went to church in the morning, and
after dinner she had finished correcting the last revises of "Jemima's
Vow." Well, it seemed likely that long before another Christmas came she
would have gone to join little Jeannie. And then, being a good and
religious girl, Augusta rose to her knees and prayed to Heaven with all
her heart and soul to rescue them from their terrible position, or, if
she was doomed to perish, at least to save the child.
And so the long cold night wore away in thought and vigil, till at last,
some two hours before the dawn, she got to sleep. When she opened her
eyes again it was broad daylight, and little Dick, who had been awake
some time beside her, was sitting up playing with the shell which Bill
and Johnnie had used to drink rum out of. She rose and put the child's
things a little to rights, and then, as it was not raining, told him to
run outside while she went through the form of dressing by taking off
such garments as she had, shaking them, and putting them on again. She
was slowly going through this process, and wondering how long it would
be before her shoulders ceased to smart from the effects of the
tattooing, when Dick came running in without going through the formality
"Oh, Auntie! Auntie!" he sang out in high glee, "here's a big ship coming
sailing along. Is it Mummy and Daddie coming to fetch Dick?"
Augusta sank back faint with the sudden revulsion of feeling. If there
was a ship, they were saved--snatched from the very jaws of death. But
perhaps it was the child's fancy. She threw on the body of her dress;
and, her long yellow hair--which she had in default of better means been
trying to comb out with a bit of wood--streaming behind her, she took the
child by the hand, and flew as fast as she could go down the little rocky
promontory off which Bill and Johnnie had met their end. Before she got
half-way down it, she saw that the child's tale was true--for there,
sailing right up the fjord from the open sea, was a large vessel. She was
not two hundred yards from where she stood, and her canvas was being
rapidly furled preparatory to the anchor being dropped.
Thanking Providence for the sight as she never thanked anything before,
Augusta sped on till she got to the extreme point of the promontory, and
stood there waving Dick's little cap towards the vessel, which moved
slowly and majestically on, till presently, across the clear water, came
the splash of the anchor, followed by the sound of the fierce rattle of
the chain through the hawse-pipes. Then there came another sound--the
glad sound of human voices cheering. She had been seen.
Five minutes passed, and then she saw a boat lowered and manned. The oars
were got out, and presently it was backing water within ten paces of her.
"Go round there," she called, pointing to the little bay, "and I will
By the time that she had got to the spot the boat was already beached,
and a tall, thin, kindly-faced man was addressing her in an unmistakable
Yankee accent, "Cast away, Miss?" he said interrogatively.
"Yes," gasped Augusta; "we are the survivors of the Kangaroo, which sank
in a collision with a whaler about a week ago."
"Ah!" said the captain, "with a whaler? Then I guess that's where my
consort has gone to. She's been missing about a week, and I put in here
to see if I could get upon her tracks--also to fill up with water. Wall
she was well insured, anyway, and when last we spoke her, she had made a
very poor catch. But perhaps, Miss, you will, at your convenience, favour
me with a few particulars?"
Accordingly, Augusta sketched the history of their terrible adventure in
as few words as possible; and the tale was one that made even the
phlegmatic Yankee captain stare. Then she took him, followed by the crew,
to the hut where Meeson lay dead, and to the other hut, where she and
Dick had slept upon the previous night.
"Wall, Miss," said the captain, whose name was Thomas, "I guess that you
and the youngster will be almost ready to vacate these apartments; so, if
you please, I will send you off to the ship, the Harpoon--that's her
name--of Norfolk, in the United States. You will find her well flavoured
with oil, for we are about full to the hatches; but, perhaps, under the
circumstances, you will not mind that. Anyway, my Missus, who is
aboard--having come the cruise for her health--and who is an Englishwoman
like you, will do all she can to make you comfortable. And I tell you
what it is, Miss; if I was in any way pious, I should just thank the
Almighty that I happened to see that there bit of a flag with my spyglass
as I was sailing along the coast at sun-up this morning, for I had no
intention of putting in at this creek, but at one twenty miles along. And
now, Miss, if you'll go aboard, some of us will stop and just tuck up the
dead gentleman as well as we can."
Augusta thanked him from her heart, and, going into the hut, got her hat
and the roll of sovereigns which had been Mr. Meeson's, but which he had
told her to take, leaving the blankets to be brought by the men.
Then two of the sailors got into the little boat belonging to the
Kangaroo, in which Augusta had escaped, and rowed her and Dick away from
that hateful shore to where the whaler--a fore-and-aft-schooner--was
lying at anchor. As they drew near, she saw the rest of the crew of the
Harpoon, among whom was a woman, watching their advent from the deck,
who, when she got her foot upon the companion ladder, one and all set up
a hearty cheer. In another moment she was on deck--which,
notwithstanding its abominable smell of oil, seemed to her the fairest
and most delightful place that her eyes had ever rested on--and being
almost hugged by Mrs. Thomas, a pleasant-looking woman of about thirty,
the daughter of a Suffolk farmer who had emigrated to the States. And
then, of course, she had to tell her story all over again; after which
she was led off to the cabin occupied by the captain and his wife (and
which thenceforth was occupied by Augusta, Mrs. Thomas, and little
Dick), the captain shaking down where he could. And here, for the first
time for nearly a week, she was able to wash and dress herself properly.
And oh, the luxury of it! Nobody knows what the delights of clean linen
really mean till he or she has had to dispense with it under
circumstances of privation; nor have they the slightest idea of what a
difference to one's well-being and comfort is made by the possession or
non-possession of an article so common as a comb. Whilst Augusta was
still combing out her hair with sighs of delight, Mrs. Thomas knocked at
the door and was admitted.
"My! Miss; what beautiful hair you have, now that it is combed out!" she
said in admiration; "why, whatever is that upon your shoulders?"
Then Augusta had to tell the tale of the tattooing, which by-the-way, it
struck her, it was wise to do so, seeing that she thus secured a witness
to the fact, that she was already tattooed on leaving Kerguelen Land,
and that the operation had been of such recent infliction that the flesh
was still inflamed with it. This was the more necessary as the tattooing
Mrs. Thomas listened to the story with her mouth open, lost between
admiration of Augusta's courage, and regret that her shoulders should
have been ruined in that fashion.
"Well, the least that he" (alluding to Eustace) "can do is to marry you
after you have spoilt yourself in that fashion for his benefit," said the
practical Mrs. Thomas.
"Nonsense! Mrs. Thomas," said Augusta, blushing till the tattoo marks on
her shoulders looked like blue lines in a sea of crimson, and stamping
her foot with such energy that her hostess jumped.
There was no reason why she should give an innocent remark such a
warm reception; but then, as the reader will no doubt have observed,
the reluctance that some young women show to talking of the
possibility of their marriage to the man they happen to have set
their hearts on, is only equalled by the alacrity with which they
marry him when the time comes.
Having set Dick and Augusta down to a breakfast of porridge and coffee,
which both of them thought delicious, though the fare was really rather
coarse, Mrs. Thomas, being unable to restrain her curiosity, rowed off to
the land to see the huts and also Mr. Meeson's remains, which, though not
a pleasant sight, were undoubtedly an interesting one. With her, too,
went most of the crew, bent upon the same errand, and also on obtaining
water, of which the Harpoon was short.
As soon as she was left alone, Augusta went back to the cabin, taking
Dick with her, and laid down on the berth with a feeling of safety and
thankfulness to which she had long been a stranger, where very soon she
fell sound asleep.
When Augusta opened her eyes again she became conscious of a violent
rolling motion that she could not mistake. They were at sea.
She got up, smoothed her hair, and went on deck, to find that she had
slept for many hours, for the sun was setting. She went aft to where Mrs.
Thomas was sitting near the wheel with little Dick beside her, and after
greeting them, turned to watch the sunset. The sight was a beautiful one
enough, for the great waves, driven by the westerly wind, which in these
latitudes is nearly always blowing half a gale, were rushing past them
wild and free, and the sharp spray of their foaming crests struck upon
her forehead like a whip. The sun was setting, and the arrows of the
dying light flew fast and far across the billowy bosom of the deep. Fast
and far they flew from the stormy glory in the west, lighting up the pale
surfaces of cloud, and tinging the grey waters of that majestic sea with
a lurid hue of blood. They kissed the bellying sails, and seemed to rest
upon the vessel's lofty trucks, and then travelled on and away, and away,
through the great empyrean of space till they broke and vanished upon the
horizon's rounded edge. There behind them--miles behind--Kerguelen Land
reared its fierce cliffs against the twilight sky. Clear and desolate
they towered in an unutterable solitude, and on their snowy surfaces the
sunbeams beat coldly as the warm breath of some human passion beating on
Aphrodite's marble breast.
Augusta gazed upon those drear cliffs that had so nearly proved her
monumental pile and shuddered. It was as a hideous dream.
And then the dark and creeping shadows of the night threw their veils
around and over them, and they vanished. They were swallowed up in
blackness, and she lost sight of them and of the great seas that forever
beat and churn about their stony feet; nor except in dreams, did she
again set her eyes upon their measureless solitude.
The Night arose in strength and shook a golden dew of stars from the
tresses of her streaming clouds, till the wonderful deep heavens sparkled
with a myriad gemmy points. The west wind going on his way sung his wild
chant amongst the cordage, and rushed among the sails as with a rush of
wings. The ship leant over like a maiden shrinking from a kiss, then,
shivering, fled away, leaping from billow to billow as they rose and
tossed their white arms about her, fain to drag her down and hold her to
ocean's heaving breast.
The rigging tautened, and the huge sails flapped in thunder as the
Harpoon sped upon her course, and all around was greatness and the
present majesty of power. Augusta looked aloft and sighed, she knew not
why. The swift blood of youth coursed through her veins, and she rejoiced
exceedingly that life and all its possibilities yet lay before her. But a
little more of that dreadful place and they would have lain behind. Her
days would have been numbered before she scarce had time to strike a blow
in the great human struggle that rages ceaselessly from age to age. The
voice of her genius would have been hushed just as its notes began to
thrill, and her message would never have been spoken in the world. But
now Time was once more before her, and oh! the nearness of Death had
taught her the unspeakable value of that one asset on which we can
rely--Life. Not, indeed, that life for which so many live--the life led
for self, and having for its principle, if not its only end, the
gratification of the desires of self; but an altogether higher life--a
life devoted to telling that which her keen instinct knew was truth, and,
however imperfectly, painting with the pigment of her noble art those
visions of beauty which sometimes seemed to rest upon her soul like
shadows from the heaven of our hones.
* * * * *
Three months have passed--three long months of tossing waters and
ever-present winds. The Harpoon, shaping her course for Norfolk, in the
United States, had made but a poor passage of it. She got into the
south-east trades, and all went well till they made St. Paul's Rocks,
where they were detained by the doldrums and variable winds. Afterwards
she passed into the north-east trades, and then, further north, met a
series of westerly gales, that ultimately drove her to the Azores, just
as her crew were getting very short of water and provisions. And here
Augusta bid farewell to her friend the Yankee skipper; for the whaler
that had saved her life and Dick's, after refitting once more, set sail
upon its almost endless voyage. She stood on the breakwater at Ponta
Delgada, and watched the Harpoon drop past. The men recognized her and
cheered lustily, and Captain Thomas took off his hat; for the entire
ship's company, down to the cabin-boy, were head-over-heels in love with
Augusta; and the extraordinary offerings that they had made her on
parting, most of them connected in some way or other with that noble
animal the whale, sufficed to fill a good-sized packing-case. Augusta
waved her handkerchief to them in answer; but she could not see much of
them, because her eyes were full of tears. She had had quite enough of
the Harpoon, and yet she was loth so say farewell to her; for her days on
board had in many respects been restful and happy ones; they had given
her space and time to brace herself up before she plunged once more into
the struggle of active life. Besides, she had throughout been treated
with that unvarying kindness and consideration for which the American
people are justly noted in their dealings with all persons in misfortune.
But Augusta was not the only person who with sorrow watched the departure
of the Harpoon. First, there was little Dick, who had acquired a fine
Yankee drawl, and grown quite half an inch on board of her, and who
fairly howled when his particular friend, a remarkably fierce and
grisly-looking boatswain, brought him as a parting offering a large
whale's tooth, patiently carved by himself with a spirited picture of
their rescue on Kerguelen Land. Then there was Mrs. Thomas herself. When
they finally reached the island of St. Michael, in the Azores, Augusta
had offered to pay fifty pounds, being half of the hundred sovereigns
given to her by Mr. Meeson, to Captain Thomas as a passage fee, knowing
that he was by no moans overburdened with the goods of this world. But he
stoutly declined to touch a farthing, saying that it would be unlucky to
take money from a castaway. Augusta as stoutly insisted; and, finally, a
compromise was come to. Mrs. Thomas was anxious, being seized with that
acute species of home-sickness from which Suffolk people are no more
exempt than other folk, to visit the land where she was born and the
people midst whom she was bred up. But this she could not well afford to
do. Therefore, Augusta's proffered fifty pounds was appropriated to this
purpose, and Mrs. Thomas stopped with Augusta at Ponta Delgada, waiting
for the London and West India Line Packet to take them to Southampton.
So it came to pass that they stood together on the Ponta Delgada
breakwater and together saw the Harpoon sail off towards the setting sun.
Then came a soft dreamy fortnight in the fair island of St. Michael,
where nature is ever as a bride, and never reaches the stage of the
hard-worked, toil-worn mother, lank and lean with the burden of
maternity. The mental act of looking back: to this time, in after years,
always recalled to Augusta's senses the odor of orange-blossoms, and the
sight of the rich pomegranate-bloom blushing the roses down. It was a
pleasant time, for the English Consul there most hospitably entertained
them--with much more personal enthusiasm, indeed, than he generally
considered it necessary to show towards shipwrecked voyagers--a class of
people of whom consular representatives abroad must get rather tired
with their eternal misfortunes and their perennial want of clothes.
Indeed, the only drawback to her enjoyment was that the Consul, a
gallant official, with red hair, equally charmed by her adventures, her
literary fame, and her person, showed a decided disposition to fall in
love with her, and a red-haired and therefore ardent Consular officer
is, under those circumstances, a somewhat alarming personage. But the
time went on without anything serious happening; and, at last, one
morning after breakfast, a man came running up with the information that
the mail was in sight.
And so Augusta took an affectionate farewell of the golden-haired Consul,
who gazed at her through his eyeglass, and sighed when he thought of what
might have been in the sweet by-and-by; and the ship's bell rang, and the
screw began to turn, leaving the Consul still sighing on the horizon; and
in due course Augusta and Mrs. Thomas found themselves standing on the
quay at Southampton, the centre of an admiring and enthusiastic crowd.
The captain had told the extraordinary tale to the port officials when
they boarded the vessel, and on getting ashore the port officials had
made haste to tell every living soul they met the wonderful news that two
survivors of the ill-fated Kangaroo--the history of whose tragic end had
sent a thrill of horror through the English-speaking world--were safe and
sound on board the West India boat. Thus, by the time that Augusta, Mrs.
Thomas, and Dick were safe on shore, their story, or rather sundry
distorted versions of it, was flashing up the wires to the various press
agencies, and running through Southampton like wild-fire. Scarcely were
their feet set upon the quay, when, with a rush and a bound, wild men,
with note-books in their hands, sprang upon them, and beat them down with
a rain of questions. Augusta found it impossible to answer them all at
once, so contented herself with saying, "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," to
everything, out of which mono-syllable, she afterwards found to her
surprise, these fierce and active pressmen contrived to make up a
sufficiently moving tale; which included glowing accounts of the horrors
of the shipwreck, and, what rather took her aback, a positive statement
that she and the sailors had lived for a fortnight upon the broiled
remains of Mr. Meeson. One interviewer, being a small man, and,
therefore, unable to kick and fight his way through the ring which
surrounded Augusta and Mrs. Thomas, seized upon little Dick, and
commenced to chirp and snap his fingers at him in the intervals of asking
him such questions as he thought suitable to his years.
Dick, dreadfully alarmed, fled with a howl; but this did not prevent a
column and a half of matter, headed "The Infant's Tale of Woe," from
appearing that very day in a journal noted for the accuracy and
unsensational character of its communications. Nor was the army of
interviewers the only terror that they had to face. Little girls gave
them bouquets; an old lady, whose brain was permeated with the idea that
shipwrecked people went about in a condition of undress for much longer
than was necessary after the event, arrived with an armful of
under-clothing streaming on the breeze; and last, but not least, a tall
gentleman, with a beautiful moustache, thrust into Augusta's hand a note
hastily written in pencil, which, when opened, proved to be an _offer of
However, at last they found themselves in a first-class carriage, ready
to start, or rather starting. The interviewing gentlemen, two of whom
had their heads jammed through the window, were forcibly drawn
away--still asking questions, by the officials--the tall gentleman with
the moustache, who was hovering in the background, smiled a soft
farewell, in which modesty struggled visibly with hope, the
station-master took off his cap, and in another minute they were rolling
out of Southampton Station.
Augusta sank back with a sigh of relief, and then burst out laughing at
the thought of the gentleman with the fair moustachios. On the seat
opposite to her somebody had thoughtfully placed a number of the day's
papers. She took up the first that came to hand and glanced at it idly
with the idea of trying to pick up the thread of events. Her eyes fell
instantly upon the name of Mr. Gladstone printed all over the sheet in
type of varying size, and she sighed. Life on the ocean wave had been
perilous and disagreeable enough, but at any rate she had been free from
Mr. Gladstone and his doings. Whatever evil might be said of him, he was
_not_ an old man of the sea. Turning the paper over impatiently she came
upon the reports of the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division of the
High Court. The first report ran thus:--
* * * * *
BEFORE THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE PRESIDENT.
IN THE MATTER OF MEESON, DECEASED.
This was an application arising out of the loss of R.M.S. Kangaroo, on
the eighteenth of December last. It will be remembered that out of about
a thousand souls on board that vessel the occupants of one boat
only--twenty-five people in all--were saved. Among the drowned was Mr.
Meeson, the head of the well-known Birmingham publishing company of
Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe, and Co. (Limited), who was at the time on a
visit to New Zealand and Australia in connection with the business of
Mr. Fiddlestick, Q.C., who with Mr. Pearl appeared for the applicants
(and who was somewhat imperfectly heard), stated that the facts connected
with the sinking of the Kangaroo would probably still be so fresh in his
Lordship's mind that it would not be necessary for him to detail them,
although he had them upon affidavit before him. His Lordship would
remember that but one boat-load of people had survived from this, perhaps
the most terrible, shipwreck of the generation. Among the drowned was
Mr. Meeson; and this application was on behalf of the executors of his
will for leave to presume his death. The property which passed under the
will was very large indeed; amounting in all, Mr. Fiddlestick understood,
to about two millions sterling, which, perhaps, might incline his
Lordship to proceed very carefully in allowing probate to issue.
The President: Well--the amount of the property has got nothing to do
with the principles on which the Court acts with regard to the
presumption of death, Mr. Fiddlestick.
Quite so, my Lord, and I think that in this case your Lordship will be
satisfied that there is no reason why probate should not issue. It is,
humanly speaking, impossible that Mr. Meeson can have escaped the general
The President: Have you any affidavit from anybody who saw Mr. Meeson in
No, my Lord; I have an affidavit from a sailor named Okers, the only man
who was picked up in the water after the Kangaroo foundered, which states
that he believes that he saw Mr. Meeson spring from the ship into the
water, but the affidavit does not carry the matter further. He cannot
swear that it was Mr. Meeson.
The President: Well, I think that that will do. The Court is necessarily
adverse to allowing the presumption of death, except on evidence of the
most satisfactory nature. Still, considering that nearly four months have
now passed since the foundering of the Kangaroo under circumstances which
make it exceedingly improbable that there were any other survivors, I
think that it may fairly presume that Mr. Meeson shared the fate of the
Mr. Fiddlestick: The death to be presumed from the 18th of December.
The President: Yes, from the eighteenth.
Mr. Fiddlestick: If your Lordship pleases.
* * * * *
Augusta put down the paper with a gasp. There was she, safe and sound,
with the true last will of Mr. Meeson tattooed upon her; and "probate had
issued"--whatever that mysterious formula might mean--to another will,
not the real last will. It meant (as she in her ignorance supposed) that
her will was no good, that she had endured that abominable tattooing to
no purpose, and was, to no purpose, scarred for life.
It was too much; and, in a fit of vexation, she flung the _Times_ out of
the window, and cast herself back on the cushion, feeling very much
inclined to cry.
EUSTACE BUYS A PAPER.
In due course the train that bore Augusta and her fortunes, timed to
reach Waterloo at 5.40 p.m., rolled into the station. The train was a
fast one, but the telegraph had been faster. All the evening papers had
come out with accounts, more or less accurate, of their escape, and most
of them had added that the two survivors would reach Waterloo by the 5.40
train. The consequence was, that when the train drew up at the platform,
Augusta, on looking out, was horrified to see a dense mass of human
beings being kept in check by a line of policemen.
However, the guard was holding the door open, so there was nothing for it
but to get out, which she did, taking Dick by the hand, a proceeding that
necessarily put her identity beyond a doubt. The moment she got her foot
on to the platform, the crowd saw her, and there arose such a tremendous
shout of welcome that she very nearly took refuge again in the carriage.
For a moment she stood hesitating, and the crowd, seeing how sweet and
beautiful she was (for the three months of sea air had made her stouter
and even more lovely), cheered again with that peculiar enthusiasm which
a discerning public always shows for a pretty face. But even while she
stood bewildered on the platform she heard a loud "Make way--make way
there!" and saw the multitude being divided by a little knot of
officials, who were escorting somebody dressed in widow's weeds.
In another second there was a cry of joy, and a sweet, pale faced little
lady had run at the child Dick, and was hugging him against her heart,
and sobbing and laughing both at once.
"Oh! my boy! my boy!" cried Lady Holmhurst, for it was she, "I thought
you were dead--long ago dead!"
And then she turned, and, before all the people there, clung about
Augusta's neck and kissed her and blessed her, because she had saved her
only child, and half removed the deadweight of her desolation. Whereat
the crowd cheered, and wept, and yelled, and swore with excitement, and
blessed their stars that they were there to see.
And then, in a haze of noise and excitement, they were led through the
cheering mob to where a carriage and pair were standing, and were helped
into it, Mrs. Thomas being placed on the front seat, and Lady Holmhurst
and Augusta on the back, the former with the gasping Dick upon her knee.
And now little Dick is out of the story.
Then another event occurred, which we must go back a little to explain.
When Eustace Meeson had come to town, after being formally disinherited,
he had managed to get a billet as Latin, French, and Old English reader
in a publishing house of repute. As it happened, on this very afternoon
he was strolling down the Strand, having finished a rather stiff day's
work, and with a mind filled with those idle and somewhat confused odds
and ends of speculation with which most brain workers will be acquainted.
He looked older and paler than when we last met him, for sorrow and
misfortune had laid their heavy hands upon him. When Augusta had
departed, he had discovered that he was head over heels in love with her
in that unfortunate way--for ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is
unfortunate--in which many men of susceptibility do occasionally fall in
love in their youth--a way that brands the heart for life in a fashion
that can no more be effaced than the stamp of a hot iron can be effaced
from the physical body. Such an affection--which is not altogether of the
earth--will, when it overcomes a man, prove either the greatest blessing
of his life or one of the heaviest, most enduring curses that a malignant
fate can heap upon his head. For if he achieves his desire, even though
he serve his seven years, surely for him life will be robbed of half its
evil. But if he lose her, either through misfortune or because he gave
all this to one who did not understand the gift, or one who looked at
love and on herself as a currency wherewith to buy her place and the
luxury of days, then he will be of all men among the most miserable. For
nothing can give him back that which has gone from him.
Eustace had never seen Augusta but twice in his life; but then passion
does not necessarily depend upon constant previous intercourse with its
object. Love at first sight is common enough, and in this instance
Eustace was not altogether dependent upon the spoken words of his
adored, or on his recollection of her very palpable beauty. For he had
her books. To those who know something of the writer--sufficient, let us
say, to enable him to put an approximate value on his or her sentiments,
so as to form a more or less accurate guess as to when, he is speaking
from his own mind, when he is speaking from the mind of the puppet in
hand, and when he is merely putting a case--a person's books are full of
information, and bring that person into a closer and more intimate
contact with the reader than any amount of personal intercourse. For
whatever is best and whatever is worst in an individual will be reflected
in his pages, seeing that, unless he is the poorest of hack authors, he
must of necessity set down therein the images that pass across the
mirrors of his heart.
Thus it seemed to Eustace, who knew "Jemima's Vow" and also her
previous abortive work almost by heart, that he was very intimately
acquainted with Augusta, and as he was walking home that May evening,
he was reflecting sadly enough of all that he had lost through that
cruel shipwreck. He had lost Augusta, and, what was more, he had lost
his uncle and his uncle's vast fortune. For he, too, had seen the
report of the application re Meeson in the _Times_, and, though he knew
that he was disinherited, it was a little crushing. He had lost the
fortune for Augusta's sake, and now he had lost Augusta also; and he
reflected, not without dismay, on the long dreary existence that
stretched away before him, filled up as it were with prospective piles
of Latin proofs. With a sigh he halted at the Wellington-street
crossing in the Strand, which, owing to the constant stream of traffic
at this point, is one of the worst in London. There was a block at the
moment, as there generally is, and he stood for some minutes watching
the frantic dashes of an old woman, who always tried to cross it at the
wrong time, not without some amusement. Presently, however, a boy with
a bundle of unfolded _Globes_ under his arm came rushing along, making
the place hideous with his howls.
"Wonderful escape of a lady and han infant!" he roared. "Account of the
survivors of the Kangaroo--wonderful escape--desert island--arrival of
the Magnolia with the criminals."
Eustace jumped, and instantly bought a copy of the paper, stepping into
the doorway of a shop where they sold masonic jewels of every size and
hue, in order to read it. The very first thing that his eye fell on was
an editorial paragraph.
"In another column," ran the paragraph, "will be found a short account,
telegraphed to us from Southampton just as we are going to press, of the
most remarkable tale of the sea that we are acquainted with. The escape
of Miss Augusta Smithers and of the little Lord Holmhurst--as we suppose
that we must now call him--from the ill-fated Kangaroo, and their
subsequent rescue, on Kerguelen Land, by the American whaler, will
certainly take rank as the most romantic incident of its kind in the
recent annals of shipwreck. Miss Smithers, who will be better known to
the public as the authoress of that charming book 'Jemima's Vow,' which
took the town by storm about a year ago, will arrive at Waterloo Station
by the 5.40 train, and we shall then--"
Eustace read no more. Sick and faint with an extraordinary revulsion of
feeling, he leant against the door of the masonic shop, which promptly
opened in the most hospitable manner, depositing him upon his back on the
floor of the establishment. In a second he was up, and had bounded out of
the shop with such energy that the shopman was on the point of holloaing
"Stop thief!" It was exactly five o'clock, and he was not more than a
quarter of a mile or so from Waterloo Station. A hansom was sauntering
along in front of him, he sprang into it. "Waterloo, main line," he
shouted, "as hard as you can go," and in another moment he was rolling
across the bridge. Five or six minutes' drive brought him to the station,
to which an enormous number of people were hurrying, collected together
partly by a rumour of what was going on, and partly by that magnetic
contagion of excitement which runs through a London mob like fire through
He dismissed the hansom, throwing the driver half-a-crown, which,
considering that half-crowns were none too plentiful with him, was a rash
thing to do, and vigorously shouldered his way through the crush till he
reached the spot where the carriage and pair were standing. The carriage
was just beginning to move on.
"Stop!" he shouted at the top of his voice to the coachman, who pulled up
again. In another moment he was alongside, and there, sweeter and more
beautiful than in ever, he once more saw his love.
She started at his voice, which she seemed to know, and their eyes
met. Their eyes met and a great light of happiness shot into her sweet
face and shone there till it was covered up and lost in the warm blush
He tried to speak, but could not. Twice he tried, and twice he failed,
and meanwhile the mob shouted like anything. At last, however, he got it
out--"Thank God!" he stammered, "thank God you are safe!"
For answer, she stretched out her hand and gave him one sweet look. He
took it, and once more the carriage began to move on.
"Where are you to be found?" he had the presence of mind to ask.
"At Lady Holmhurst's. Come to-morrow morning; I have something to tell
you," she answered, and in another minute the carriage was gone, leaving
him standing there in a condition of mind which really "can be better
imagined than described."
Eustace could never quite remember how he got through the evening of that
eventful day. Everything connected with it seemed hazy to him. As,
however, fortunately for the reader of this history, we are not
altogether dependent on the memory of a young man in love, which is
always a treacherous thing to deal with, having other and exclusive
sources of information, we may as well fill the gap. First of all he went
to his club and seized a "Red-book," in which he discovered that Lord
Holmhurst's, or, rather, Lady Holmhurst's, London house was in
Hanover-square. Then he walked to his rooms in one of the little
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