“I wish I had known,” blundered Eustace, “I could have lent you the money. I have a hundred and fifty pounds.”
“You are very good,” she answered gently, “but it is no use talking about it now, it is finished.”
Then Eustace rose and went away; and it was not till he found himself in the street that he remembered that he had never asked Augusta what her plans were. Indeed, the sight of poor Jeannie had put everything else out of his head. However, he consoled himself with the reflection that he could call again a week or ten days after the funeral.
Two days later, Augusta followed the remains of her dearly beloved sister to their last resting place, and then came home on foot (for she was the only mourner), and sat in her black gown before the little fire, and reflected upon her position. What was she to do? She could not stay in these rooms. It made her heart ache every time her eyes fell upon the empty sofa opposite, dinted as it was with the accustomed weight of poor Jeannie’s frame. Where was she to go, and what was she to do. She might get literary employment, but then her agreement with Messrs. Meeson stared her in the face. That agreement was very widely drawn. It bound her to offer all literary work of any sort, that might come from her pen during the next five years, to Messrs. Meeson at the fixed rate of seven per cent, on the published price. Obviously, as it seemed to her, though perhaps erroneously, this clause might be stretched to include even a newspaper article, and she knew the malignant nature of Mr. Meeson well enough to be quite certain that, if possible, that would be done. It was true she might manage to make a bare living out of her work, even at the beggarly pay of seven per cent, but Augusta was a person of spirit, and determined that she would rather starve than that Meeson should again make huge profits out of her labour. This avenue being closed to her, she turned her mind elsewhere; but, look where she might, the prospect was equally dark.
Augusta’s remarkable literary success had not been of much practical advantage to her, for in this country literary success does not mean so much as it does in some others. As a matter of fact, indeed, the average Briton has, at heart, a considerable contempt, if not for literature, at least for those who produce it. Literature, in his mind, is connected with the idea of garrets and extreme poverty; and, therefore, having the national respect for money, he in secret, if not in public, despises it. A tree is known by its fruit, says he. Let a man succeed at the Bar, and he makes thousands upon thousands a year, and is promoted to the highest offices in the State. Let a man succeed in art, and he will be paid one or two thousand pounds apiece for his most “pot-boilery” portraits. But your literary men—why, with a few fortunate exceptions, the best of them barely make a living. What can literature be worth, if a man can’t make a fortune out of it?