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"Very well; and now might I ask you, supposing that you should ever come to manage this business, if your sentiments accurately represent the system upon which you would proceed?"
"Of course they do. I am not going to turn cheat for anybody."
"Thank you. They seem to have taught you the art of plain speaking up at Oxford; though, it appears," with a sneer, "they taught you very little else. Well, then, now it is my turn to speak; and I tell you what it is, young man: you will either instantly beg my pardon for what you have said, or you will leave Meeson's for good and all.”
"I won't beg your pardon for speaking the truth,” said Eustace, hotly; "the fact is that here you never hear the truth; all these poor devils creep and crawl about you, and daren't call their souls their own. I shall be devilish glad to get out of this place, I can tell you. All this chickery and pokery makes me sick. The place stinks and reeks of sharp practices and money-making-money-making by fair means or foul."
The elder man had, up till now, at all events to outward appearance, kept his temper; but this last flower of vigorous English was altogether too much for one whom the possession of so much money had for many years shielded from hearing unpleasant truths put roughly. The man's face grew like a devil's, his thick eyebrows contracted themselves, and his pale lips quivered with fury. For a few seconds he could not
speak, so great was his emotion. When, at length, he did, his voice was as thick and laden with rage as a dense mist is with rain.
"You impudent young rascal!" he began, “you ungrateful foundling! Do you suppose that when my brother left you to starve-which was all that you were fit for I picked you out of the gutter for this: that you should have the insolence to come and tell me how to conduct my business? Now, young man, I'll just tell you what it is. You can be off and conduct a business of your own on whatever principles you choose. Get out of Meeson's, sir; and never dare to show your nose here again, or I'll give the porters orders to hustle you off the premises! And, now, that isn't all. I've done with you; never you look to me for another sixpence! I'm not going to support you any longer, I can tell you. And, what's more, do you know what I am going to do just now? I'm going off to old Todd-that's my lawyer-and I'm going to tell him to make another will and to leave every farthing I have and that isn't much short of two millions, one way and another-to Addison and Roscoe. They don't want it, but that don't matter. You sha'n't have it-no, not a farthing of it; and I won't have a pile like that frittered away in charities and mismanagement. There now, my fine young gentleman, just be off and see if your new business principles will get you a living."
"All right, uncle; I'm going," said the young man, quietly. "I quite understand what our quarrel means
for me, and, to tell you the truth, I am not sorry. I have never wished to be dependent on you, or to have anything to do with a business carried on as Meeson's is. I have a hundred a year my mother left me, and, with the help of that and my education I hope to make a living. Still, I don't want to part from you in anger, because you have been very kind to me at times, and, as you remind me, you picked me out of the gutter when I was orphaned or not far from it. So I hope you will shake hands before I go."
"Ah!" snarled his uncle; "you want to pipe down now, do you? But that won't do. Off you go! and mind you don't set foot in Pompadour Hall," Mr. Meeson's seat, "unless it is to get your clothes. Come, cut!"
"You misunderstand me," said Eustace, with a touch of native dignity which became him very well. Probably we shall not meet again, and I did not wish to part in anger, that was all. Good-morning." And he bowed and left the office.
"Confound him!" muttered his uncle as the door closed, "he's a good-plucked one-showed spirit. But I'll show spirit, too. Meeson is a man of his word. Cut him off with a shilling? not I; cut him off with nothing at all. And yet, curse it, I like the lad. Well, I've done with him, thanks to that minx of a Smithers girl. Perhaps he's sweet on her, then they can go and starve together, and be hanged to them! She had better keep out of my way, for she shall smart for this, so sure as my name is Jonathan Meeson. I'll keep her
up to the letter of that agreement, and, if she tries to publish a book inside of this country or out of it, I'll crush her yes, I'll crush her, if it costs me five thousand to do it!" and, with a snarl, he dropped his fist heavily upon the table before him.
Then he rose, put poor Augusta's agreement carefully back into the safe, which he shut with a savage snap, and proceeded to visit the various departments of his vast establishment, and to make such hay therein as had never before been dreamed of in the classic halls of Meeson's.
To this hour the clerks of the great house talk of that dreadful day with bated breath-for as bloody Hector raged through the Greeks, so did the great Meeson rage through his hundred departments. In the very first office he caught a wretched clerk eating sardine sandwiches. Without a moment's hesitation he took the sandwiches and threw them through the window.
"Do you suppose I pay you to come and eat your filthy sandwiches here?" he asked, savagely. "There, now you can go and look for them; and see you here; you needn't trouble to come back, you idle, worthless fellow. Off you go! and remember you need not send to me for a character. Now then-double quick!"
The unfortunate departed, feebly remonstrating, and Meeson, having glared round at the other clerks and warned them that unless they were careful-very careful-they would soon follow in his tracks, continued his course of devastation.
Presently he met an editor, No. 7 it was, who was bringing him an agreement to sign. He snatched it from him and glanced through it.
"What do you mean by bringing me a thing like this?" he said; "it's all wrong."
"It is exactly as you dictated it to me yesterday, sir," said the editor, indignantly.
"What, do you mean to contradict me?" roared Meeson. "Look here, No. 7, you and I had better part. Now, no words; your salary will be paid to you till the end of the month, and if you would like to bring an action for wrongful dismissal, why, I'm your Good-morning, No. 7; good-morning."
Next he crossed a courtyard where, by slipping stealthily round a corner, he came upon a jolly little errand boy, who was enjoying a solitary game of marbles.
Whack came his cane across the seat of that errand boy's trousers, and in another minute he had followed the editor and the sandwich-devouring clerk.
And so the merry game went on for half an hour or more, till at last Mr. Meeson was fain to cease his troubling, being too exhausted to continue his destroying course. But next morning there was promotion going on in the great publishing house: eleven vacancies had to be filled.
A couple of glasses of brown sherry and a few sandwiches, which he hastily swallowed at a neighboring restaurant, quickly restored him, however; and, jumping into a cab, he drove post haste to his lawyers', Messrs. Todd & James.