« ZurückWeiter »
And now little Dick is out of the story.
Then another event occurred, which we must go back a little way 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, his 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 was gone, 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 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 under
stand 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 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 walked home that May evening, he was reflecting sadly enough on 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 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 hinfant!" he roared. "Account of the survivors of the Kangaroowonderful 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 were 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 5.4 train, and we shall then".
Eustace read no more. Sick and faint with an extraordinary revulsion of feeling, he leaned 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 dry grass.
He dismissed the hansom, throwing the driver halfa-crown, which, considering that half-crowns were none too plentiful with him, was a rash thing to do, and vigorously shouldered his way though 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 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 that followed.
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