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come to pass.
A great American publishing firm had started an opposition house in Melbourne, and their “cuteness” was more than the “cuteness” of Meeson. Did Meeson's publish an edition of the works of any standard author at threepence per volume, the opposition company brought out the same work at twopencehalfpenny; did Meeson's subsidise a newspaper to puff their undertakings, the opposition firm subsidised two to cry them down, and so on. And now the results of all this were becoming apparent: for the financial year just ended the Australian branch had barely earned a beggarly net dividend of seven per cent.
No wonder Mr. Meeson was furious, and no wonder that the clerks shook upon their stools.
“This must be seen into, No. 3,” said Mr. Meeson, bringing his fist down with a bang on to the balancesheet.
No. 3 was one of the editors: a mild-eyed little man with blue spectacles. He had once been a writer of promise; but somehow Meeson's had got him for its own, and turned him into a publisher's hack.
“Quite so, sir," he said humbly. “It is very bad --it is dreadful to think of Meeson's coming down to seven per cent.---seven per cent.!” and he held up his hands.
"Don't stand there like a stuck pig, No. 3," said Mr. Meeson fiercely; “but suggest something."
“Well, sir," said No. 3 more humbly than ever, for he was terribly afraid of his employer; “I think, perhaps,
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that somebody had better go to Australia, and see what can be done.”
“I know one thing that can be done,” said Mr. Meeson, with a snarl: “all those fools out there can be sacked, and sacked they shall be; and, what's more, I'll go and sack them myself. That will do, No. 3; that will do;" and No. 3 departed, and glad enough he was to go.
As he went a clerk arrived, and gave a card to the great man.
“Miss Augusta Smithers," he read; then, with a grunt, “show Miss Augusta Smithers in.”
Presently Miss Augusta Smithers arrived. She was a tall, well-formed young lady of about twenty-four, with pretty golden hair, deep grey eyes, a fine forehead, and a delicate mouth; just now, however, she looked very
write for it
“Well, Miss Smithers, what is it?” asked the publisher.
“I came, Mr. Meeson—I came about my book.”
“Your book, Miss Smithers?” this was an affectation of forgetfulness; “let me see?--forgive me, but we publish so many books. Oh, yes, I remember: “Jemima's Vow. Oh, well, I believe it is going on fairly."
“I saw you advertised the sixteenth thousand the other day," put in Miss Smithers apologetically. “Did we
did we? ah, then, you know more about it than I do,” and he looked at his visitor in a way that
conveyed clearly enough that he considered the interview was ended.
Miss Smithers rose, and then, with a spasmodic effort, sat down again. “The fact is, Mr. Meeson,” she said“the fact is, I thought that, perhaps, as “Jemima's Vow' had been such a great success, you might, perhaps-in short, you might be inclined to give me some small sum in addition to what I have received.”
Mr. Meeson looked up. His forehead was wrinkled till the shaggy eyebrows nearly hid the sharp little eyes. “What!” he said. "What!”
At this moment the door opened, and a young gentleman came slowly in. He was a very nice-looking young man, tall and well-shaped, with a fair skin and jolly blue eyes--in short, a typical young Englishman of the better sort, ætate suo twenty-four. I have said that he came slowly in, but that scarcely conveys the gay and dégagé air of independence which pervaded this young man, and which would certainly have struck any observer as little short of shocking, when contrasted with the wormlike attitude of those who crept round the feet of Meeson. This young man had not, indeed, even taken the trouble to remove his hat, which was perched upon the back of his head, his hands were in his pockets, a sacrilegious whistle hovered on his lips, and he opened the door of the sanctum sanctorum of the Meeson establishment with a kick!
“How do, uncle?" he said to the Commercial Terror, who was sitting there behind his formidable books,
addressing him even as though he were an ordinary
“Why, what's up?" Just then, however, he caught sight of the very handsome young lady who was seated in the office, and his whole demeanour underwent a most remarkable change; out came the hands from his pockets, off went the hat, and, turning, he bowed, really rather nicely, considering how impromptu the whole performance was.
“What is it, Eustace?” asked Mr. Meeson sharply.
“Oh, nothing, uncle; nothing—it can bide," and, without waiting for an invitation, he took a chair, and sat down in such a position that he could see Miss Smithers without being seen of his uncle.
"I was saying, Miss Smithers, or, rather, I was going to say,” went on the elder Meeson, “that, in short, I do not in the least understand what you can mean. You will remember that you were paid a sum of fifty pounds for the copyright of “Jemima's Vow.”
“Great Heavens!” murmured Master Eustace, behind; “what a do!”
“At the time an alternative agreement, offering you seven per cent. on the published price of the book, was submitted to you, and had you accepted it, you would, doubtless, have realised a larger sum,” and Mr. Meeson contracted his hairy eyebrows and gazed at the poor girl in a way that was, to say the least, alarming. But Augusta, though she felt sadly inclined to flee, still stood to her guns, for, to tell the truth, her need was very great.
“I could not afford to wait for the seven per cent., Mr. Meeson,” she said humbly.
“Oh, ye gods! seven per cent., when he makes about thirty-five!” murmured Eustace, in the background.
"Possibly, Miss Smithers; possibly,” went on the great man. “You must really forgive me if I am not acquainted with the exact condition of your private affairs. I am, however, aware from experience that the money matters of most writing people are a little embarrassed.”
Augusta winced, and Mr. Meeson, rising heavily from his chair, went to a large safe which stood near, and extracted from it a bundle of agreements. These he glanced at one by one till he found what he was looking for.
“Here is the agreement,” he said; “let me see? ah, I thought so—copyright fifty pounds, half proceeds of rights of translation, and a clause binding you to offer any future work you may produce during the next five years to our house on the seven per cent. agreement, or a sum not exceeding one hundred pounds for the copyright. Now, Miss Smithers, what have you to say? You signed this paper of your own free will. It so happens that we have made a large profit on your book: indeed, I don't mind telling you that we have got as much as we gave you back from America for the sale of the American rights; but that is no ground for your coming to ask more money than you agreed to accept. I never heard of such a thing in the whole course of my pro