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Thereon James rose to reply in terms of elephantine eloquence, and would have gone through the whole case again had not Lady Holmhurst in despair pulled him by the sleeve and told him that he must propose her health, which he did with sincerity, lightly alluding to the fact that she was a widow by describing her as being in a "discovert condition, with all the rights and responsibilities of a 'femme sole.'”
Everybody burst out laughing, not excepting poor Lady Holmhurst herself, and James sat down, not without indignation that a giddy world should object to an exact and legal definition of the status of the individual as set out by the law.
And after that Augusta went and changed her dress, and then came the hurried good-byes; and, to escape observation, they drove off in a hansom cab amid a shower of old shoes.
And there in that hansom cab we will leave them.
MEESON'S ONCE AGAIN.
A MONTH had passed-a month of long, happy days and such dear delight as young people who truly love each other can get out of a honeymoon spent under the most favorable circumstances in the sweetest, sunniest spots of the Channel Islands. And now the curtain draws up for the last time in this history, where it drew up for the first, in the inner office of Meeson's huge establishment.
During the last fortnight certain communications had passed between Mr. John Short, being duly authorized thereto, and the legal representatives of Messrs. Addison and Roscoe, with the result that the interests of these gentlemen in the great publishing house had been bought up, and that Eustace Meeson was now the sole owner of the vast concern, which he intended to take under his personal supervision.
Now, accompanied by John Short, whom he had appointed to the post of solicitor both of his business and private affairs, and by Augusta, he was engaged in formally taking over the keys from the head manager, who was known throughout the establishment as No. 1.
"I wish to refer to the authors' agreements of the early part of last year," said Eustace.
No. 1 produced them somewhat sulkily. He did not like the appearance of this determined young owner upon the scene, with his free and un-Meeson
Eustace turned them over, and, while he did so, his happy wife stood by him, marvelling at the kaleidoscopic changes in her circumstances. When last she had stood in that office, not a year ago, it had been as a pitiful suppliant begging for a few pounds wherewith to try and save her sister's life, and now
Suddenly Eustace stopped turning, and, drawing a document from the bundle, glanced at it. It was Augusta's agreement with Meeson & Co. for "Jemima's Vow," the agreement binding her to them for five years, which had been the cause of all her troubles, and, as she firmly believed, of her little sister's death. "There, my dear," said Eustace to his wife, "there is a present for you. Take it!”
Augusta took the document, and, having looked to see what it was, shivered as she did so. It brought the whole thing back so painfully to her mind.
"What shall I do with it," she asked; "tear it up?" "Yes," he answered. "No, stop a bit," and, taking it from her, he wrote "Cancelled" in big letters across it, signed and dated it.
"There," he said, "now send it to be framed and glazed, and it shall be hung here in the office, to show how they used to do business at Meeson's."
No. 1 snorted, and looked at Eustace aghast. What would the young man be after next?
"Are the gentlemen assembled in the hall?" asked Eustace of him when the remaining documents were put away again.
No. 1 said that they were, and, accordingly, to the hall they went, wherein were gathered all the editors, sub-editors, managers, sub-managers of the various departments, clerks, and other employees, not forgetting the tame authors, who, a pale and mealy regiment, had been marched up thither from the Hutches, and the tame artists with flying hair-and were now being marshalled in lines by No. 1, who had gone on before. When Eustace and his wife and John Short got to the top of the hall, where some chairs had been set, the whole multitude bowed, whereon he begged them to be seated-a permission which the tame authors, who sat all day in their little wooden hutches, and sometimes a good part of the night also, did not seem to care to avail themselves of. But the tame artists, who had, for the most part, to work standing, sat down readily.
"Gentlemen," said Eustace, "first let me introduce you to my wife, Mrs. Meeson, who, in another capacity, has already been-not greatly to her own profit-connected with this establishment, having written the best work of fiction that has ever gone through our printing-presses" (here some of the wilder spirits cheered, and Augusta blushed and bowed); "and who will, I hope and trust, write many even better books which we shall have the honor of giving to the world." (Applause.) "Also, gentlemen, let me introduce you to
Mr. John Short, my solicitor, who, together with his twin brother, Mr. James Short, brought the great lawsuit in which I was engaged to a successful issue.
"And now I have to tell you why I have summoned you all to meet me here. First of all, to say that I am now the sole owner of this business, having bought out Messrs. Addison and Roscoe " ("And a good job, too," said a voice); "and that I hope that we shall work well together; and, secondly, to inform you that I am going to totally revolutionize the course of business as hitherto practised in this establishment" (Sensation); "having, with the assistance of Mr. Short, drawn up a scheme for that purpose. I am informed in the statement of profits on which the purchase price of the shares of Messrs. Addison and Roscoe was calculated, that the average net profits of this house during the last ten years have amounted to fifty-seven and a fraction per cent. on the capital invested. Now, I have determined that in future the net profits of any given undertaking shall be divided as follows: Ten per cent. to the author of the book in hand, and ten per cent. to the house. Then, should there be any further profit, it will be apportioned thus: One third—of which a moiety will go towards a pension fund—to the employees of the house, the division to be arranged on a fixed scale”—(Enormous sensation, especially among the tame authors); "and the remainder to the author of the work. Thus, supposing that a book paid cent. per cent., I shall take ten per cent., and the employees