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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 day-Bill 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 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 pitiable, 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 money will not even give me a decent funeral. Addison and Roscoe will get it-confound them!—as though they had not got enough already. It makes me mad when I think of those Addison girls spending my money, and bribing peers to marry them with it, or something of that sort. I disinherited my own nephew, Eustace, and kicked him out to sink or swim; and now I can't undo it, and I would give anything to alter that! We quarrelled about you, Miss Smithers, because I would not give you any more money for that book of yours. I wish I had given it to you-anything you wanted. I didn't treat you well; but, Miss Smithers, a bargain is a bargain. It would never have done to give way, on principle. You must understand that, Miss Smithers. Don't revenge yourself on me about it, now that I am helpless, because, you see, it was a matter of principle."
"I am not in the habit of revenging myself, Mr. Meeson," answered Augusta, with dignity; "but I think that you have done a very wicked thing to disinherit your nephew in this fashion, and I don't wonder that you feel uncomfortable about it."
The expression of this vigorous opinion served to disturb Mr. Meeson's conscience all the more, and he burst out into laments and regrets.
"Well," said Augusta at last, "if you don't like your will you had better alter it. There are enough of us
here to witness a will, and, if anything happens to you, it will override the other-will it not?”
This was a new idea, and the dying man jumped at it.
"Of course, of course," he said; "I never thought of that before. I will do it at once, and cut Addison and Roscoe out altogether. Eustace shall have every farthing. I never thought of that before. Come, give me your hand; I'll get up and see about it."
"Stop a minute," said Augusta. "How are you going to write a will without pen or pencil, paper or ink?"
Mr. Meeson sank back with a groan. This difficulty had not occurred to him.
"Are you sure nobody has got a pencil and a bit of paper?" he asked. "It would do, so long as the writing remained legible."
"I don't think so," said Augusta, "but I will inquire." Accordingly she went and asked Bill and Johnnie: but neither of them had a pencil or a single scrap of paper, and she returned sadly to communicate the news.
"I have got it, I have got it," said Mr. Meeson, as she approached the spot where he lay upon the rock. "If there is no paper or pen, we must write it in blood upon some linen. We can make a pen from the feathers of a bird. I read somewhere in a book of somebody who did that. It will do as well as anything else."
Here was an idea, indeed, and one that Augusta jumped at. But in another moment her enthusiasm received a check. Where was there any linen to write on?
"Yes," she said, "if you can find some linen. You have got on a flannel shirt, so have the two sailors, and little Dick is dressed in flannel, too."
It was a fact. As it happened, not one of the party had a scrap of linen on them, or anything that would answer the purpose. Indeed, they had only one pocket-handkerchief between them, and it was a red rag full of holes. Augusta had had one, but it had blown overboard when they were in the boat. What would they not have given for that pocket-handkerchief now!
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson, "it seems we have none. I haven't even got a bank-note, or I might have written in blood upon that: though I have got a hundred sovereigns in gold-I grabbed them up before I bolted from the cabin. But I say-excuse me, Miss Smithers, but-um-ah-oh! hang modesty-haven't you got some linen on, somewhere or other, that you could spare a bit of? You sha'n't lose by giving it to me. There, I promise that I will tear up the agreement if ever I get out of this-which I sha'n't-which I shan't -and I will write on the linen that it is to be torn up. Yes, and that you are to have five thousand pounds legacy too, Miss Smithers. Surely you can spare me a little bit-just off the skirt, or somewhere, you