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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 if 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 of 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 biscuitbag, 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 the 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 dayBill 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 on to it 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 piti
able, 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 my 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 manyheaded 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