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the rum-cask again, though not to any great extent, for Bill looked sheepish and shaky, while the ill-favored Johnnie was more sulky than ever. She gazed at them reproachfully, and then asked them to collect some more penguin's eggs, which Johnnie refused point-blank to do, saying that he wasn't going to collect eggs for landlubbers to eat; she might collect eggs for herself. Bill, however, started on the errand, and in about an hour's time returned, just as the rain set in in good earnest, bearing six or seven dozen fresh eggs tied up in his coat.
Augusta, with the child by her, sat in the miserable hut attending to Mr. Meeson; while outside the pitiless rain poured down in a steady unceasing sheet of water that came through the wretched roof in streams. She did her best to keep the dying man dry, but it proved to be almost an impossibility; for even when she succeeded in preventing the rain from falling on him from above, it got underneath him from the reeking floor, while the heavy damp of the air gathered on his garments till they were quite sodden.
As the hours went on his consciousness came back to him, and with it his terror for the end, and his remorse for his past life, for alas! the millions he had amassed could not avail him now.
"I am going to die!" he groaned. "I am going to die, and I've been a bad man: I've been the head of a publishing company all my life."
Augusta gently pointed out to him "that publish
ing was a very respectable business when fairly and properly carried on, and not one that ought to weigh heavy upon a man at the last like the record of a career of successful usury or burgling."
Meeson shook his heavy head. "Yes, yes," he groaned; "but you are talking of private firms. They are straight, most of them; far too straight, I used always to say. But you don't know Meeson's-you don't know the customs of the trade at Meeson's."
Augusta reflected that she knew a good deal more about Meeson's than she liked.
"Listen," he said, with desperate energy, sitting up upon the sail," and I will tell you-I must tell you."
Asterisks, so dear to the heart of the lady novelist, will best represent the confession that followed; words are not equal to the task.
Augusta listened with rising hair, and realized how very trying must be the life of a private confessor.
"Oh, please stop!" she said, faintly, at last. "I can't bear it-I can't, indeed."
"Ah!" he said, as he sank back exhausted. "I thought that when you understood the customs at Meeson's you would feel for me in my present position. Think, girl, think what I must suffer, with such a past, standing face to face with an unknown. future!"
Then came a silence.
"Take him away! Take him away!" suddenly shouted out Mr. Meeson, staring around him with frightened eyes.
"Who?" asked Augusta; "who?"
"Him-the tall, thin man, with the big book! I know him; he used to be No. 25-he died years ago. He was a very clever doctor; but one of his patients brought a false charge against him and ruined him, so he had to take to writing, poor devil! We made him edit a medical encyclopædia-twelve volumes for £300, to be paid on completion; and he went mad and died at the eleventh volume. So, of course, we did not pay his widow anything. And now he's come for me I know he has. Listen! he's talking! Don't you hear him? Oh, heavens! He says that I am going to be an author, and he is going to publish for me for a thousand years going to publish on the quarter-profit system, with an annual account, the usual trade deductions, and no vouchers. Oh! oh! Look! they are all coming!-they are pouring out of the Hutches, they are going to murder me-keep them off! keep them off!" and he howled and beat the air with his hands.
Augusta, utterly overcome by this awful sight, knelt down by his side and tried to quiet him, but in vain. He continued beating his hands in the air, trying to keep off the ghostly train, till, at last, with one awful howl, he fell back dead.
And that was the end of Meeson. And the works that he published, and the money that he made, and
the house that he built, and the evil that he didare they not written in the Book of the Commercial Kings?
Well," said Augusta, faintly to herself, when she had got her breath back a little, "I am glad that it is over; anyway, I do hope that I may never be called on to nurse another publisher."
"Auntie! auntie !" gasped Dick, "why do the gentleman shout so?"
Then, taking the frightened child by the hand, Augusta made her way through the rain to the other hut, in order to tell the two sailors what had come to pass. It had no door, and she paused on the threshold to prospect. The faint, foggy light was so dim that at first she could see nothing. Presently, however, her eyes got accustomed to it, and she made out Bill and Johnnie sitting opposite to each other on the ground. Between them was the breaker of rum. Bill had a large shell in his hand, which he had just filled from the cask; for Augusta saw him in the act of replacing the spigot.
"My go-curse you, my go!" said Johnnie, as Bill lifted the shell of spirits to his lips. "You've had seven goes and I've only had six!"
"You be blowed!" said Bill, swallowing the liquor in a couple of great gulps. "Ah! that's better. Now I'll fill for you, mate; fair does, I says, fair does and no favor,” and he filled accordingly.
"Mr. Meeson is dead," said Augusta, screwing up her courage to interrupt this orgie.
The two men stared at her in drunken surprise, which Johnnie broke.
"Now is he, miss?" he said, with a hiccough—" is he? Well, a good job too, says I; a useless old landlubber he was. I doubt he's off to a warmer place than this 'ere Kerguelen Land, and I drinks his health, which, by the way, I never had the occasion to do before. Here's to the health of the departed," and he swallowed the shellful of rum at a draught.
"Your sentiment I echoes," said Bill. "Johnnie, the shell; give us the shell to drink the 'ealth of the dear departed."
Then Augusta returned to her hut with a heavy heart. She covered up the dead body as best she could, telling little Dick that Mr. Meeson was gone by-by, and then sat down in that chill and awful company. It was very depressing; but she comforted. herself somewhat with the reflection that, on the whole, Mr. Meeson dead was not so bad as Mr. Meeson in the animated flesh.
Presently the night set in once more, and, worn out with all that she had gone through, Augusta said her prayers and went to sleep with little Dick locked fast in her arms.
Some hours afterwards she was awakened by loud and uproarious shouts made up of snatches of drunken songs, and that peculiar class of English that hovers ever round the lips of the British tar. Evidently Bill and Johnnie were raging drunk, and in this condition were taking the midnight air.