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shouted out Mr. Meeson, staring around him with frightened eyes.
"Who?" asked Augusta; "who?"
"Him—the tall, thin man, with the big book! know him; he used to be
Listen! he's talking!
Number 25-he died years
Don't you hear him? Oh, am going to be an author,
ago. Heavens! He says that I 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 beat the air with his hands.
Augusta, utterly overcome by this strange sight, knelt down by his side and tried to quiet him, but in vain. He went on beating the air as though he were trying to keep off the ghostly train, till at last he suddenly 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 did—are 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 the head of another publishing company."
"Auntie! Auntie!" gasped Dick, "why do the gentlemen 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 favour," 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 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 Iwas 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 fast locked 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.
The sound of shouting and swearing went reeling away towards the water's edge, and then, all of a sudden, it culminated in a fearful yell-after which came silence.
What could it mean? wondered Augusta, and whilst she was still wondering dropped off to sleep again.
AUGUSTA woke up just as the dawn was stealing across the sodden sky. She rose, leaving Dick yet asleep, and, remembering the turmoil of the night, hurried to the other hut. It was empty.
She turned and looked about her. About fifteen paces from where she was lay the shell that the two drunkards had used as a cup. Going forward, she picked it up. It still smelt disgustingly of spirits. Evidently the two men had dropped it in the course of their midnight walk, or rather roll. Where had they gone to?
Straight in front of her a rocky promontory ran out fifty paces or more into the waters of the fjord-like bay. She walked along it aimlessly, till presently she perceived one of the sailors' hats lying on the ground, or, rather, floating in a pool of water. Clearly they had gone this way. On she went to the point of the little headland, sheer over the water. There was nothing to be seen, not a single vestige of Bill and Johnnie. Aimlessly enough she leant forward, stared over the rocky wall down into the clear water, and then started back with a little cry.
No wonder that she started, for there on the sand, beneath a fathom and a half of quiet water, lay the bodies of the two ill-fated men. They were locked in each other's arms, and lay as though they were asleep upon that ocean bed. How they came to their end she never knew. Perhaps they quarrelled in their drunken anger and fell over the little cliff; or perhaps they stumbled and fell, not knowing whither they were going. Who can say? At any rate, there they were, and there they remained, till the outgoing tide floated them off to join the great army of their companions who had gone down with the Kangaroo, and so Augusta was left alone.
With a heavy heart she returned to the hut, pressed down by the weight of solitude, and the sense that in the midst of so much death she could not hope to escape. There was no human creature left alive in that vast lonely land, except the child and herself, and so far as she could see, their fate would soon be as the fate of the others. When she got back to the hut, Dick was awake and was crying for her.
The still stiff form of Mr. Meeson, stretched out beneath the sail, frightened the little lad, he did not know why. Augusta took him into her arms and kissed him passionately. She loved the child for his own sake; and, besides, he, and he alone, stood between her and utter solitude. Then she took him across to the other hut, which had been vacated by the sailors, for it was impossible to stay in the one with the body, which