Mr. Meeson's Will
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by H. Rider Haggard
Description: Meet one of the most ruthless men in publishing, who has no qualms or conscience, and the woman who dares to demand her fair share of royalties! A classic novel unavailable anywhere else.
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: January 2002
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [289 KB]
Reading time: 193-271 min.
Augusta and Her Publisher
EVERYBODY WHO HAS any connection with Birmingham will be acquainted with the vast publishing establishment still known by the short title of "Meeson's," which is perhaps the most remarkable institution of its sort in Europe. There are -- or rather there were, at the date of the beginning of this history -- three partners in Meeson's -- Meeson himself, the managing partner; Mr. Addison, and Mr. Roscoe -- and people in Birmingham said that there were others interested in the affair, for Meeson's was a company.
However this may be, Meeson & Co. were undoubtedly a commercial marvel. The firm employed more than two thousand hands; and its works, lit throughout with the electric light, cover two acres and a quarter of land. One hundred commercial travellers, at three pounds a week and a commission, went forth east and west, and north and south, to sell the books of Meeson (which were largely religious in their nature) in all lands; and five-and-twenty tame authors (who were illustrated by thirteen tame artists) sat -- at salaries ranging from one to five hundred a year -- in vault-like hutches in the basement, and week by week poured out that hat-work for which Meeson's was justly famous. Then there were editors and vice-editors, and heads of the various departments, and sub-heads, and financial secretaries, and readers, and many managers; but what their names were no man knew, because at Meeson's all the employees of the great house were distinguished by numbers; personalities and personal responsibility being the abomination of the firm. Nor was it allowed to any one having dealings with these items ever to see the same number twice, presumably for fear lest the number should remember that he was a man and a brother, and his heart should melt towards the unfortunate, and the financial interests of Meeson's should suffer. In short, Meeson's was an establishment created for and devoted to money-making, and the fact was kept studiously and even insolently before the eyes of everybody connected with it -- which was, of course, as it should be, in this happy land of commerce.
After all that has been written, the reader will not be surprised to learn that the partners of Meeson's were rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Their palaces would have been a wonder even in ancient Babylon, and might have excited admiration in the corruptest and most luxurious days of Rome. Where could one see such horses, such carriages, such galleries of sculpture, or such collections of costly gems as at the palatial halls of Messrs. Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe?
"And to think," as, with a lordly wave of his right hand, the mighty Meeson himself would say to some astonished wretch of an author whom be had chosen to overwhelm with the sight of this magnificence, "to think that all this comes out of the brains of chaps like you! Why, young man, I tell you that if all the money that has been paid to you scribblers since the days of Elizabeth were added together it would not come up to my little pile; but, mind you it ain't so much fiction that has done the trick -- it's religion. It's piety as pays, especially when it's printed."
Then that unsophisticated youth would go away, his heart too full for words, but pondering how these things were, and by-and-by he would pass into the Meeson melting-pot and learn something about it.
One day King Meeson sat in his counting-house counting out his money or, at least, looking over the books of the firm. He was in a very bad temper, and his heavy brows were wrinkled up in a way calculated to make the counting-house clerks shake on their stools. Meeson's had a branch establishment at Sydney, in Australia, which establishment had, until lately, been paying -- it is true not as well as the English one, but still fifteen or twenty percent. But now a wonder had 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 twopence-halfpenny; 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 percent.
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 balance-sheet.
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 percent -- seven percent!" 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, 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 nervous.
"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 certainly would have struck any observer as little short of shocking, when contrasted with the worm-like 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, man. "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 percent 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 percent, Mr. Meeson," she said humbly.
"Oh, ye gods! seven percent, when he makes about thirty-five!" murmured Eustace, in the background.
Copyright © 2001 by Wildside Press