Mr. Meeson's Will
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 4
side-streets opening out of the Strand, and went through the form of
eating some dinner; after which a terrible fit of restlessness got
possession of him, and he started out walking. For three solid hours did
that young man walk, which was, no doubt, a good thing for him, for one
never gets enough exercise in London; and at the end of that time, having
already been to Hammersmith and back, he found himself gravitating
towards Hanover-square. Once there, he had little difficulty in finding
the number. There was a light in the drawing-room floor, and, the night
being warm, one of the windows was open, so that the lamp-light shone
softly through the lace curtains. Eustace crossed over to the other side
of the street, and, leaning against the iron railings of the square,
looked up. He was rewarded for his pains, for, through the filmy curtain,
he could make out the forms of two ladies, seated side by side upon an
ottoman, with their faces towards the window, and in one of these he had
no difficulty in recognising Augusta. Her head was leaning on her hand,
and she was talking earnestly to her companion. He wondered what she was
talking of, and had half a mind to go and ring, and ask to see her. Why
should he wait till to-morrow morning? Presently, however, better
counsels prevailed, and, though sorely against his will, he stopped where
he was till a policeman, thinking his rapt gaze suspicious, gruffly
requested him to move on.
To gaze at one's only love through an open window is, no doubt, a
delightful occupation, if a somewhat tantalising one; but if Eustace's
ears had been as good as his eyes, and he could have heard the
conversation that was proceeding in the drawing-room, he would have been
still more interested.
Augusta had just been unfolding that part of her story which dealt with
the important document tattooed upon her shoulders, to which Lady
Holmhurst had listened "ore rotundo."
"And so the young man is coming here to-morrow morning," said Lady
Holmhurst; "how delightful! I am sure he looked a very nice young man,
and he had very fine eyes. It is the most romantic thing that I ever
"It may be delightful for you, Bessie," said Augusta, rather tartly, "but
I call it disgusting. It is all very well to be tattooed upon a desert
island--not that that was very nice, I can tell you; but it is quite
another thing to have to show the results in a London drawing-room. Of
course, Mr. Meeson will want to see this will, whatever it may be worth;
and I should like to ask you, Bessie, how I am to show it to him? It is
on my neck."
"I have not observed," said Lady Holmhurst, drily, "that ladies, as a
rule, have an insuperable objection to showing their necks. If you have
any doubt on the point, I recommend you to get an invitation to a London
ball. All you will have to do will be to wear a low dress. The fact of
being tattooed does not make it any more improper for you to show your
shoulders, than it would be if they were not tattooed."
"I have never worn a low dress," said Augusta, "and I do not want to show
"Ah, well," said Lady Holmhurst, darkly; "I daresay that that feeling
will soon wear off. But, of course, if you won't, you won't; and, under
those circumstances, you had better say nothing about the will--though,"
she added learnedly, "of course that would be compounding a felony."
"Would it? I don't quite see where the felony comes in."
"Well, of course, it is this way: you steal the will--that's felony; and
if you don't show it to him, I suppose you compound it; it is a double
"Nonsense!" answered Augusta to this exposition of the law, which was, it
will be admitted, almost as lucid and convincing as that of an average
Q.C. "How can I steal my own shoulders? It is impossible."
"Oh, no; not at all. You don't know what funny things you can do. I once
had a cousin whom I coached for his examination for the Bar, and I learnt
a great deal about it then. Poor fellow! he was plucked eight times."
"I am sure I don't wonder at it," said Augusta, rudely. "Well, I suppose
I must put on this low dress; but it is horrid--perfectly horrid! You
will have to lend me one, that is all."
"My dear," answered Lady Holmhurst, with a glance at her widow's weeds.
"I have no low dresses: though, perhaps, I can find some among the things
I put away before we sailed," and her eyes filled with tears.
Augusta took her hand, and they began to talk of that great bereavement
and of their own wonderful survival, till at last she led the
conversation round to little Dick, and Bessie Holmhurst smiled again at
the thought that her darling boy, her only child, was safe asleep up
stairs, and not, as she had believed, washing to and fro at the bottom of
the ocean. She took Augusta's hand and kissed it, and blessed her for
having saved her child, till suddenly, somewhat to the relief of the
latter, the butler opened the door and said that two gentlemen wanted
very particularly to speak to Miss Smithers. And then she was once more
handed over to her old enemies, the interviewers; and after them came the
representatives of the company, and then more special reporters, and then
an artist from one of the illustrated papers, who insisted upon her
giving him an appointment in language that, though polite, indicated that
he meant to have his way; and so on till nearly midnight, when she rushed
off to bed and locked her door.
Next morning Augusta appeared at breakfast dressed in an exceedingly
becoming low dress, which Lady Holmhurst sent up to her with her hot
water. She had never worn one before, and it certainly is trying to put
on a low dress for the first time in full daylight--indeed, she felt as
guilty as does a person of temperate habits when he is persuaded to drink
a brandy and soda before getting up. However, there was no help for it;
so, throwing a shawl over her shoulders, she descended.
"My dear, do let me see," said Lady Holmhurst, as soon as the servant had
left the room.
With a sigh Augusta uncovered her shoulders, and her friend ran round the
table to look at them. There, on her neck, was the will. The cuttle ink
had proved an excellent medium, and the tattooing was as fresh as the day
on which it had been done, and would, no doubt, remain so till the last
hour of her life.
"Well," said Lady Holmhurst, "I hope the young man will be duly grateful.
I should have to be very much in love," and she looked meaningly at
Augusta, "before I would spoil myself in that fashion for any man."
Augusta blushed at the insinuation, and said nothing. At ten o'clock,
just as they were half through breakfast, there came a ring at the bell.
"Here he is," said Lady Holmhurst, clapping her hands. "Well, if this
isn't the very funniest thing that I ever heard of! I told Jones to show
him in here."
Hardly were the words out of her mouth when the butler, who looked as
solemn as a mute in his deep mourning, opened the door and announced "Mr.
Eustace Meeson," in those deep and commanding tones which flunkeys, and
flunkeys alone, have at their command. There was a moment's pause.
Augusta half rose from her chair, and then sat down again; and, noticing
her embarrassment, Lady Holmhurst smiled maliciously. Then came in
Eustace himself, looking rather handsome, exceedingly nervous, and
beautifully got up--in a frock-coat, with a flower in it.
"Oh! how do you do?" he said to Augusta, holding out his hand, which she
took rather coldly.
"How do you do, Mr. Meeson," she answered. "Let me introduce you to Lady
Holmhurst. Mr. Meeson, Lady Holmhurst." Eustace bowed, and put his hat
down on the butter-dish, for he was very much overcome.
"I hope that I have not come too early," he said in great confusion, as
he perceived his mistake. "I thought that you would have done breakfast."
"Oh, not at all Mr. Meeson," said Lady Holmhurst. "Won't you have a cup
of tea? Augusta, give Mr. Meeson a cup of tea."
He took the tea, which he did not want in the least, and then there came
an awkward silence. Nobody seemed to know how to begin the conversation.
"How did you find the house, Mr. Meeson?" said Lady Holmhurst, at last.
"Miss Smithers gave you no address, and there are two Lady
Holmhursts--my mother-in-law and myself."
"Oh, I looked it out, and then I walked here last night and saw you both
sitting at the window."
"Indeed!" said Lady Holmhurst. "And why did you not come in? You might
have helped to protect Miss Smithers from the reporters."
"I don't know," he answered confusedly. "I did not like to; and, besides,
a policeman thought I was a suspicious character and told me to move on."
"Dear me, Mr. Meeson; you must have been having a good look at us."
Here Augusta interposed, fearing least her admirer--for with an unerring
instinct, she now guessed how matters stood--should say something
foolish. A young man who is capable of standing to stare at a house in
Hanover-square is, she thought, evidently capable of anything.
"I was surprised to see you yesterday," she said. "How did you know we
Eustace told her that he had seen it in the _Globe_. "I am sure you
cannot have been so surprised as I was," he went on, "I had made sure
that you were drowned. I went up to Birmingham to call on you after you
had gone, and found that you had vanished and left no address. The
maid-servant declared that you had sailed in a ship called the 'Conger
Eel'--which I afterwards found out was Kangaroo. And then she went down;
and after a long time they published a full list of the passengers and
your name was not among them, and I thought that after all you might have
got off the ship or something. Then, some days afterwards, came a
telegram from Albany, in Australia, giving the names of Lady Holmhurst
and the others who were saved, and specially mentioning 'Miss
Smithers--the novelist' and Lord Holmhurst as being among the drowned,
and that is how the dreadful suspense came to an end. It was awful, I can
Both of the young women looked at Eustace's face and saw that there was
no mistaking the real nature of the trial through which he had passed. So
real was it, that it never seemed to occur to him that there was anything
unusual in his expressing such intense interest in the affairs of a young
lady with whom he was outwardly, at any rate, on the terms of merest
"It was very kind of you to think so much about me," said Augusta,
gently. "I had no idea that you would call again, or I would have left
word where I was going."
"Well, thank God you are safe and sound, at any rate," answered Eustace;
and then, with a sudden burst of anxiety, "you are not going back to New
Zealand just yet, are you?"
"I don't know. I am rather sick of the sea just now."
"No, indeed, she is not," said Lady Holmhurst; "she is going to stop with
me and Dick. Miss Smithers saved Dick's life, you know, when the nurse,
poor thing, had run away. And now, dear, you had better tell Mr. Meeson
about the will."
"The will. What will?" asked Eustace.
"Listen, and you will hear."
And Eustace did listen with open eyes and ears while Augusta, getting
over her shyness as best she might, told the whole story of his
uncle's death, and of the way in which he had communicated his
"And do you mean to tell me," said Eustace, astounded, "that you allowed
him to have his confounded will tattooed upon your neck?"
"Yes," answered Augusta, "I did; and what is more, Mr. Meeson, I think
that you ought to be very much obliged to me; for I daresay that I shall
often be sorry for it."
"I am _very_ much obliged," answered Eustace; "I had no right to expect
such a thing, and, in short, I do not know what to say. I should never
have thought that any woman was capable of such a sacrifice for--for a
Then came another awkward pause.
"Well, Mr. Meeson," said Augusta, at last rising brusquely from her
chair, "the document belongs to you, and so I suppose that you had better
see it. Not that I think that it will be of much use to you, however, as
I see that 'probate had been allowed to issue,' whatever that may mean,
of Mr. Meeson's other will."
"I do not know that that will matter," said Eustace, "as I heard a friend
of mine, Mr. Short, who is a barrister, talk about some case the other
day in which probate was revoked on the production of a subsequent will."
"Indeed!" answered Augusta, "I am very glad to hear that. Then, perhaps,
after all I have been tattooed to some purpose. Well; I suppose you had
better see it," and with a gesture that was half shy and half defiant she
drew the lace shawl from her shoulders, and turned her back towards him
so that he might see what was inscribed across it.
Eustace stared at the broad line of letters which with the signatures
written underneath might mean a matter of two millions of money to him.
"Thank you," he said at last, and, taking up the lace shawl, he threw it
over her again.
"If you will excuse me for a few minutes, Mr. Meeson," interrupted Lady
Holmhurst at this point; "I have to go to see about the dinner," and
before Augusta could interfere she had left the room.
Eustace closed the door behind her, and turned, feeling instinctively
that a great crisis in his fortunes had come. There are some men who rise
to an emergency and some who shrink from it, and the difference is, that
difference between him who succeeds and him who fails in life, and in all
that makes life worth living.
Eustace belonged to the class that rises and not to that which shrinks.
EUSTACE CONSULTS A LAWYER.
Augusta was leaning against the marble mantelpiece--indeed, one of her
arms was resting upon it, for she was a tall woman. Perhaps she, too,
felt that there was something in the air; at any rate, she turned away
her head, and began to play with a bronze Japanese lobster which adorned
"Now for it," said Eustace to himself, drawing a long breath, to try and
steady the violent pulsations of his heart.
"I don't know what to say to you Miss Smithers," he began.
"Best say nothing more about it," she put in quickly. "I did it, and I am
glad that I did it. What do a few marks matter if a great wrong is
prevented thereby? I am not ever likely to have to go to court. Besides,
Mr. Meeson, there is another thing; it was through me that you lost your
inheritance; it is only right that I should try to be the means of
bringing it back to you."
She dropped her head again, and once more began to play with the bronze
lobster, holding her arm in such a fashion that Eustace could not see her
face. But if he could not see her face she could see his in the glass,
and narrowly observed its every change, which, on the whole, though
natural, was rather mean of her.
Poor Eustace grew pale and paler yet, till his handsome countenance
became positively ghastly. It is wonderful how frightened young men are
the first time that they propose. It wears off afterwards--with practice
one gets accustomed to anything.
"Miss Smithers--Augusta," he gasped, "I want to say something to you!"
and he stopped dead.
"Yes, Mr. Meeson," she answered cheerfully, "what is it?"
"I want to tell you"--and again he hesitated.
"What you are going to do about the will?" suggested Augusta.
"No--no; nothing about the will--please don't laugh at me and put me
She looked up innocently--as much as to say that she never dreamed of
doing either of these things. She had a lovely face, and the glance of
the grey eyes quite broke down the barrier of his fears.
"Oh, Augusta, Augusta," he said, "don't you understand? I love you! I
love you! No woman was ever loved before as I love you. I fell in love
with you the very first time I saw you in the office at Meeson's, when
I had the row with my uncle about you; and ever since then I have got
deeper and deeper in love with you. When I thought that you were
drowned it nearly broke my heart, and often and often I wished that I
were dead, too!"
It was Augusta's turn to be disturbed now, for, though a lady's composure
will stand her in good stead up to the very verge of an affair of this
sort, it generally breaks down _in medias res_. Anyhow, she certainly
dropped her eyes and colored to her hair, while her breast began to heave
"Do you know, Mr. Meeson," she said at last, without daring to look at
his imploring face, "that this is only the fourth time that we have seen
each other, including yesterday."
"Yes, I know," he said; "but don't refuse me on that, account; you can
see me as often as you like"--(this was generous of Master Eustace)--"and
really I know you better than you think. I should think that I have read
each of your books twenty times."
This was a happy stroke, for, however free from vanity a person may be,
it is not in the nature of a young woman to hear that somebody has read
her book twenty times' without being pleased.
"I am not my books," said Augusta.
"No; but your books are part of you," he answered, "and I have learnt
more about your real self through them than I should have done if I had
seen you a hundred times instead of four."
Augusta slowly raised her grey eyes till they met his own, and looked at
him as though she were searching out his soul, and the memory of that
long, sweet look is with him yet.
He said no more, nor had she any words; but somehow nearer and nearer
they drew one to the other, till his arms where around her, and his lips
were pressed upon her lips. Happy man and happy girl! they will live to
find that life has joys (for those who are good and are well off) but
that it has no joys so holy and so complete as that which they were now
experiencing--the first kiss of true and honest love.
A little while afterwards the butler came in in a horribly sudden manner,
and found Augusta and Eustace, the one very red and the other very pale,
standing suspiciously close to each other. But he was a very well-trained
butler and a man of experience, who had seen much and guessed more; and
he looked innocent as a babe unborn.
Just then, too, Lady Holmhurst came in again and looked at the pair of
them with an amusing twinkle in her eye. Lady Holmhurst, like her butler,
was also a person of experience.
"Won't you come into the drawing room?" she said. And they did, looking
And there Eustace made a clean breast of it, announcing that they were
engaged to be married. And although this was somewhat of an assumption,
seeing that no actual words of troth had passed between them, Augusta
stood there, never offering a word in contradiction.
"Well, Mr. Meeson," said Lady Holmhurst, "I think that you are the
luckiest man of my acquaintance, for Augusta is not only one of the
sweetest and loveliest girls that I have ever met, she is also the
bravest and the cleverest. You will have to look out, Mr. Meeson, or you
will be known as the husband of the great Augusta Meeson."
"I will take the risk," he answered humbly. "I know that Augusta has more
brains in her little finger than I have in my whole body. I don't know
how she can look at a fellow like me."
"Dear me, how humble we are!" said Lady Holmhurst. "Well, that is the way
of men before marriage. And now, as Augusta carries both your fortunes on
her back as well as in her face and brain, I venture to suggest that you
had better go and see a lawyer about the matter; that is, if you have
quite finished your little talk. I suppose that you will come and dine
with us, Mr. Meeson, and if you like to come a little early, say
half-past six, I daresay that Augusta will arrange to be in, to hear what
you have found out about this will, you know. And now--an revoir."
"I think that that is a very nice young man, my dear," said Lady
Holmhurst as soon as Eustace had bowed himself out. "It was rather
audacious of him to propose to you the fourth time that he set eyes upon
you; but I think that audacity is, on the whole, a good quality in the
male sex. Another thing is, that if that will is worth anything he will
be one of the wealthiest men in the whole of England; so, taking it
altogether, I think I may congratulate you, my dear. And now I suppose
that you have been in love with this young man all along. I guessed as
much when I saw your face as he ran up to the carriage yesterday, and I
was sure of it when I heard about the tattooing. No girl would allow
herself to be tattooed in the interest of abstract justice. Oh, yes! I
know all about it; and now I am going out walking in the park with Dick,
and I should advise you to compose yourself, for that artist is coming to
draw you at twelve."
And she departed and left Augusta to her reflections, which were--well,
not unpleasant ones.
Meanwhile Eustace was marching towards the Temple. As it happened, in the
same lodging-house where he had been living for the last few months, two
brothers of the name of Short had rooms, and with these young gentlemen
he had become very friendly. The two Shorts were twins, and so like one
another that it was more than a month before Eustace could be sure which
of them he was speaking to. When they were both at college their father
died, leaving his property equally between them; and as this property on
realisation was not found to amount to more than four hundred a year, the
twins very rightly concluded that they had better do something to
supplement their moderate income. Accordingly, by a stroke of genius they
determined that one of them should become a solicitor and the other a
barrister, and then tossed up as to which should take to which trade. The
idea, of course, was that in this manner they would be able to afford
each other mutual comfort and support. John would give James briefs, and
James' reflected glory would shine back on John. In short, they were
anxious to establish a legal dong firm of the most approved pattern.
Accordingly, they passed their respective examinations, and John took
rooms with another budding solicitor in the City, while James hired
chambers in Pump-court. But there the matter stopped, for as John did not
get any work, of course he could not give any to James. And so it came to
pass that for the past three years neither of the twins had found the law
as profitable as they anticipated. In vain did John sit and sigh in the
City. Clients were few and far between: scarcely enough to pay his rent.
And in vain did James, artistically robed, wander like the Evil One, from
court to court, seeking what he might devour. Occasionally he had the
pleasure of taking a note for another barrister who was called away,
which means doing another man's work for nothing. Once, too, a man with
whom he had a nodding acquaintance, rushed up to him, and, thrusting a
brief into his hands, asked him to hold it for him, telling him that it
would be on in a short time, and that there was nothing in it--"nothing
at all." Scarcely had poor James struggled through the brief when the
case was called on, and it may suffice to say that at its conclusion, the
Judge gazed at him mildly, over his spectacles, and "could not help
wondering that any learned counsel had been found who would consent to
waste the time of the Court in such a case as the one to which he had
been listening." Clearly James' friend would not so consent, and had
passed on the responsibility, minus the fee. On another occasion, James
was in the Probate Court on motion day, and a solicitor--a real live
solicitor--came up to him and asked him to make a motion (marked
Mr.----, 2 gns.) for leave to dispense with a co-respondent. This motion
he made, and the co-respondent was dispensed with in the approved
fashion; but when he turned round the solicitor had vanished, and he
never saw him more or the two guineas either. However, the brief, his
only one, remained, and, after that, he took to hovering about the
Divorce Court, partly in the hope of once more seeing that solicitor, and
partly with a vague idea of drifting into practice in the Division.
Now, Eustace had often, when in the Shorts' sitting-room in the
lodging-house in the Strand heard the barrister James hold forth
learnedly on the matter of wills, and, therefore, he naturally enough
turned towards him in his recent dilemma. Knowing the address of his
chambers in Pump-court, he hurried thither, and was in due course
admitted by a very small child, who apparently filled the responsible
office of clerk to Mr. James Short and several other learned gentlemen,
whose names appeared upon the door.
The infant regarded Eustace, when he opened the door, with a look of such
preternatural sharpness, that it almost frightened him. The beginning of
that eagle glance was full of inquiring hope, and the end of resigned
despair. The child had thought that Eustace might be a client come to
tread the paths which no client ever had trod. Hence the hope and the
despair in his eyes. Eustace had nothing of the solicitor's clerk about
him. Clearly he was not a client.
Mr. Short was in "that door to the right." Eustace knocked, and entered
into a bare little chamber about the size of a large housemaid's closet,
furnished with a table, three chairs (one a basket easy), and a
book-case, with a couple of dozen of law books, and some old volumes of
reports, and a broad window-sill, in the exact centre of which lay the
solitary and venerated brief.
Mr. James Short was a short, stout young man, with black eyes, a hooked
nose, and a prematurely bald head. Indeed, this baldness of the head was
the only distinguishing mark between James and John, and, therefore, a
thing to be thankful for, though, of course, useless to the perplexed
acquaintance who met them in the street when their hats were on. At the
moment of Eustace's entry Mr. Short had been engaged in studying that
intensely legal print, the _Sporting Times_, which, however, from some
unexplained bashfulness, he had hastily thrown under the table, filling
its space with a law book snatched at hazard from the shelf.
"All right, old fellow," said Eustace, whose quick eyes had caught the
quick flutter of the vanishing paper; "don't be alarmed, it's only me."
"Ah!" said Mr. James Short, when he had shaken hands with him, "you see I
thought that it might have been a client--a client is always possible,
however improbable, and one has to be ready to meet the possibility."
"Quite so, old fellow," said Eustace; "but do you know, as it happens, I
am a client--and a big one, too; it is a matter of two millions of
money--my uncle's fortune. There was another will, and I want to take
Mr. Short fairly bounded out of the chair in exultation, and then, struck
by another thought, sank back into it again.
"My dear Meeson," he said, "I am sorry I cannot hear you."
"Eh," said Eustace; "what do you mean?"
"I mean that you are not accompanied by a solicitor, and it is not the
etiquette of the profession to which I belong to see a client
unaccompanied by a solicitor."
"Oh, hang the etiquette of the profession!"
"My dear Meeson, if you came to me as a friend I should be happy to give
you any legal information in my power, and I flatter myself that I know
something of matters connected with probate. But you yourself said that
you have come as a client, and in that case the personal relationship
sinks into the background and is superseded by the official relationship.
Under these circumstances it is evident that the etiquette of the
profession intervenes, which overmastering force compels me to point out
to you how improper and contrary to precedent it would be for me to
listen to you without the presence of a properly qualified solicitor."
"Oh, Lord!" gasped Eustace, "I had no idea that you were so particular; I
thought perhaps that you would be glad of the job."
"Certainly--certainly! In the present state of my practice," as he
glanced at the solitary brief, "I should be the last to wish to turn away
work. Let me suggest that you should go and consult my brother John, in
the Poultry. I believe business is rather slack with him just now, so I
think it probable that you will find him disengaged. Indeed, I dare say
that I may go so far as to make an appointment for him here--let us say
in an hour's time. Stop! I will consult my clerk! Dick!"
The infant appeared.
"I believe that I have no appointment for this morning?"
"No, Sir," said Dick, with a twinkle in his eye. "One moment, Sir, I
will consult the book," and he vanished, to return presently with
the information that Mr. Short's time was not under any contributions
"Very good," said Mr. Short; "then make an entry of an appointment with
Mr. John Short and Mr. Meeson, at two precisely."
"Yes, Sir," said Dick, departing to the unaccustomed task.
As soon as Eustace had departed from Tweedledum to Tweedledee, or, in
other words, from James, barrister, to John, solicitor, Dick was again
summoned and bade go to a certain Mr. Thomson on the next floor. Mr.
Thomson had an excellent library, which had come to him by will. On the
strength of this bequest, he had become a barrister-at-law, and the
object of Dick's visit was to request the loan of the eighth volume of
the statutes revised, containing the Wills Act of 1 Vic., cap. 26, "Brown
on Probate," "Dixon on Probate," and "Powles on Brown," to the study of
which valuable books Mr. James Short devoted himself earnestly whilst
awaiting his client's return.
Meanwhile, Eustace had made his way in a two-penny 'bus to one of those
busy courts in the City where Mr. John Short practised as a solicitor.
Mr. Short's office was, Eustace discovered by referring to a notice
board, on the seventh floor of one of the tallest houses he had ever
seen. However, up he went with a stout heart, and after some five
minutes of a struggle, that reminded him forcibly of climbing the
ladders of a Cornish mine, he arrived at a little door right at the very
top of the house on which was painted "Mr. John Short, solicitor."
Eustace knocked and the door was opened by a small boy, so like the
small boy he had seen at Mr. James Short's at the temple that he fairly
started. Afterwards the mystery was explained. Like their masters, the
two small boys were brothers.
Mr. John Short was within, and Eustace was ushered into his presence.
To all appearance he was consulting a voluminous mass of correspondence
written on large sheets of brief paper; but when he looked at it
closely, it seemed to Eustace that the edges of the paper were very
yellow, and the ink was much faded. This, however, was not to be
wondered at, seeing that Mr. John Short had taken them over with the
other fixtures of the office.
SHORT ON LEGAL ETIQUETTE.
"Well, Meeson, what is it? Have you come to ask me to lunch?" asked
Mr. John Short. "Do you know I actually thought that you might have
been a client."
"Well, by Jove, old fellow, and so I am," answered Eustace. "I have been
to your brother, and he has sent me on to you, because he says that it is
not the etiquette of the profession to see a client unless a solicitor is
present, so he has referred me to you."
"Perfectly right, perfectly right of my brother James, Meeson.
Considering how small are his opportunities of becoming cognizant with
the practice of his profession, it is extraordinary how well he is
acquainted with its theory. And now, what is the point?"
"Well, do you know, Short, as the point is rather a long one, and as your
brother said that he should expect us at two precisely, I think that we
had better take the 'bus back to the Temple, when I can tell the yarn to
both of you at once."
"Very well. I do not, as a general rule, like leaving my office at this
time of day, as it is apt to put clients to inconvenience, especially
such of them as come from a distance. But I will make an exception for
you, Meeson. William," he went on, to the counterpart of the Pump-court
infant, "if anyone calls to see me, will you be so good as to tell them
that I am engaged in an important conference at the chambers of Mr.
Short, in Pump-court, but that I hope to be back by half-past three?"
"Yes, Sir," said William, as he shut the door behind them: "certainly,
Sir." And then, having placed the musty documents upon the shelf, whence
they could be fetched down without difficulty on the slightest sign of a
client, that ingenious youth, with singular confidence that nobody would
be inconvenienced thereby, put a notice on the door to the effect that he
would be back immediately, and adjourned to indulge in the passionately
exhilarating game of "chuck farthing" with various other small clerks of
In due course, Eustace and his legal adviser arrived at Pump-court, and,
oh! how the heart of James, the barrister, swelled with pride when, for
the first time in his career, he saw a real solicitor enter his chambers
accompanied by a real client. He would, indeed, have preferred it if the
solicitor had not happened to be his twin-brother, and the client had
been some other than his intimate friend; but still it was a blessed
sight--a very-blessed sight!
"Will you be seated, gentlemen?" he said with much dignity.
"And now, Meeson, I suppose that you have explained to my brother the
matter on which you require my advice?"
"No, I haven't," said Eustace; "I thought I might as well explain it to
you both together, eh?"
"Hum," said James; "it is not quite regular. According to the etiquette
of the profession to which I have the honour to belong, it is not
customary that matters should be so dealt with. It is usual that papers
should be presented; but that I will overlook, as the point appears to be
"That's right," said Eustace. "Well, I have come to see about a will."
"So I understand," said James; "but what will, and where is it?"
"Well, it's a will in my favour, and is tattooed upon a lady's neck."
The twins simultaneously rose from their chairs, and looked at Eustace
with such a ridiculous identity of movement and expression that he fairly
burst out laughing.
"I presume, Meeson, that this is not a hoax," said James, severely. "I
presume that you know too well what is due to learned counsel to attempt
to make one of their body the victim of a practical joke?"
"Surely, Meeson," added John, "you have sufficient respect for the
dignity of the law not to tamper with it in any such way as my brother
"Oh, certainly not. I assure you it is all square. It is a true bill, or
rather a true will."
"Proceed," said James, resuming his seat. "This is evidently a case of an
"You are right there, old boy," said Eustace. "And now, just listen,"
and he proceeded to unfold his moving tale with much point and emphasis.
When he had finished John looked at James rather helplessly. The case was
beyond him. But James was equal to the occasion. He had mastered that
first great axiom which every young barrister should lay to heart--"Never
appear to be ignorant."
"This case," he said, as though he were giving judgment, "is, doubtless,
of a remarkable nature, and I cannot at the moment lay my hand upon any
authority bearing on the point--if, indeed, any such are to be found. But
I speak off-hand, and must not be held too closely to the _obiter dictum_
of a _viva voce_ opinion. It seems to me that, notwithstanding its
peculiar idiosyncrasies, and the various 'cruces' that it presents, it
will, upon closer examination, be found to fall within those general laws
that govern the legal course of testamentary disposition. If I remember
aright--I speak off-hand--the Act of 1. Vic., cap. 26, specifies that a
will shall be in writing, and tattooing may fairly be defined as a rude
variety of writing. It is, I admit, usual that writing should be done on
paper or parchment, but I have no doubt that the young lady's skin, if
carefully removed and dried, would make excellent parchment. At present,
therefore, it is parchment in its green stage, and perfectly available
for writing purposes.
"To continue. It appears--I am taking Mr. Meeson's statement as being
perfectly accurate--that the will was properly and duly executed by the
testator, or rather by the person who tattooed in his presence and at his
command: a form of signature which is very well covered by the section
of the Act of 1. Vic., cap. 26. It seems, too, that the witnesses
attested in the presence of each other and of the testator. It is true
that there was no attestation clause: but the supposed necessity for an
attestation clause is one of those fallacies of the lay mind which,
perhaps, cluster more frequently and with a greater persistence round
questions connected with testamentary disposition than those of any other
branch of the law. Therefore, we must take the will to have been properly
executed in accordance with the spirit of the statute.
"And now we come to what at present strikes me as the crux. The will is
undated. Does that invalidate it? I answer with confidence, no. And mark:
evidence--that of Lady Holmhurst--can be produced that this will did not
exist upon Miss Augusta Smithers previous to Dec. 19, on which day the
Kangaroo sank; and evidence can also be produced--that of Mrs.
Thomas--that it did exist on Christmas Day, when Miss Smithers was
rescued. It is, therefore, clear that it must have got upon her back
between Dec. 19 and Dec. 25."
"Quite so, old fellow," said Eustace, much impressed at this coruscation
of legal lore. "Evidently you are the man to tackle the case. But, I say,
what is to be done next? You see, I'm afraid it's too late. Probate has
issued, whatever that may mean."
"Probate has issued!" echoed the great James, struggling with his rising
contempt; "and is the law so helpless that probate which has been allowed
to issue under an erroneous apprehension of the facts cannot be recalled?
Most certainly not! So soon as the preliminary formalities are concluded,
a writ must be issued to revoke the probate, and claiming that the Court
should pronounce in favour of the later will; or, stay, there is no
executor--there is no executor!--a very important point--claiming a grant
of letters of administration with the will annexed: I think that will be
the better course."
"But how can you annex Miss Smithers to a 'grant of letters of
administration,' whatever that may mean?" said Eustace, feebly.
"That reminds me," said James, disregarding the question and addressing
his brother, "you must at once file Miss Smithers in the registry, and
see to the preparation of the usual affidavit of scripts."
"Certainly, certainly," said John, as though this were the most simple
business in the world.
"What?" gasped Eustace, as a vision of Augusta impaled upon an enormous
bill-guard rose before his eyes. "You can't file a lady; it's
"Impossible or not, it must be done before any further steps are taken.
Let me see; I believe that Dr. Probate is the sitting Registrar at
Somerset House this sittings. It would be well if you made an appointment
"Yes," said John.
"Well," went on James, "I think that is all for the present. You will, of
course, let me have the instructions and other papers with all possible
speed. I suppose that other counsel besides myself will be ultimately
"Oh! that reminds me," said Eustace; "about money, you know. I don't
quite see how I am going to pay for all this game. I have got about fifty
pounds spare cash in the world, and that's all: and I know enough to be
aware that fifty pounds do not go far in a lawsuit."
Blankly James looked at John and John at James. This was very trying.
"Fifty pounds will go a good way in out-of-pocket fees," suggested James,
at length, rubbing his bald head with his handkerchief.
"Possibly," answered John, pettishly; "but how about the remuneration of
the plaintiff's legal advisers? Can't you"--addressing Eustace--"manage
to get the money from someone?"
"Well," said Eustace, "there's Lady Holmhurst. Perhaps if I offered to
share the spoil with her, if there was any."
"Dear me, no," said John; "that would be 'maintenance.'"
"Certainly not," chimed in James, holding up his hand in dismay. "Most
clearly it would be 'Champerty'; and did it come to the knowledge of the
Court, nobody can say what might not happen."
"Indeed," answered Eustace, with a sigh, "I don't quite know what you
mean, but I seem to have said something very wrong. The odds on a
handicap are child's play to understand beside this law," he added sadly.
"It is obvious, James," said John, that, "putting aside other matters,
this would prove, independent of pecuniary reward, a most interesting
case for you to conduct."
"That is so, John," replied James; "but as you must be well aware, the
etiquette of my profession will not allow me to conduct a case for
nothing. Upon that point, above all others, etiquette rules us with a
rod of iron. The stomach of the bar, collective and individual, is
revolted and scandalised at the idea of one of its members doing
anything for nothing."
"Yes," put in Eustace, "I have always understood they were
"Quite so, my dear James; quite so," said John, with a sweet smile. "A
fee must be marked upon the brief of learned counsel, and that fee be
paid to him, together with many other smaller fees; for learned counsel
is like the cigarette-boxes and new-fashioned weighing-machines at the
stations: he does not work unless you drop something down him. But there
is nothing to prevent learned counsel from returning that fee, and all
the little fees. Indeed, James, you will see that this practice is common
amongst the most eminent of your profession, when, for instance, they
require an advertisement or wish to pay a delicate compliment to a
constituency. What do they do then? They wait till they find L500 marked
upon a brief, and then resign their fee. Why should you not do the same
in this case, in your own interest? Of course, if we win the cause, the
other side or the estate will pay the costs; and if we lose, you will at
least have had the advantage, the priceless advantage, of a unique
"Very well, John; let it be so," said James, with magnanimity. "Your
check for fees will be duly returned; but it must be understood that they
are to be presented."
"Not at the bank," said John, hastily. "I have recently had to oblige a
client," he added by way of explanation to Eustace, "and my balance is
"No," said James; "I quite understand. I was going to say 'are to be
presented to my clerk.'"
And with this solemn farce, the conference came to an end.
HOW AUGUSTA WAS FILED.
That very afternoon Eustace returned to Lady Holmhurst's house in
Hanover-square, to tell his dear Augusta that she must attend on the
following morning to be filed in the Registry at Somerset House. As
may be imagined, though willing to go any reasonable length to oblige
her new-found lover, Augusta not unnaturally resisted this course
violently, and was supported in her resistance by her friend Lady
Holmhurst, who, however, presently left the room, leaving them to
settle it as they liked.
"I do think that it is a little hard," said Augusta with a stamp of her
foot, "that, after all that I have gone through, I should be taken off to
have my unfortunate back stared at by a Doctor some one or other, and
then be shut up with a lot of musty old wills in a Registry."
"Well, my dearest girl," said Eustace, "either it must be done or else
the whole thing must be given up. Mr. John Short declares that it is
absolutely necessary that the document should be placed in the custody of
the officer of the Court."
"But how am I going to live in a cupboard, or in an iron safe with a lot
of wills?" asked Augusta, feeling very cross indeed.
"I don't know, I am sure," said Eustace; "Mr. John Short says that that
is a matter which the learned Doctor will have to settle. His own
opinion is that the learned Doctor--confound him!--will order that you
should accompany him about wherever he goes till the trial comes off;
for, you see, in that way you would never be out of the custody of an
officer of the Court. But," went on Eustace, gloomily, "all I can tell
him, if he makes that order, is, that if he takes you about with him he
will have to take me too."
"Why?" said Augusta.
"Why? Because I don't trust him--that's why. Old? oh, yes; I dare say he
is old. And, besides, just think: this learned gentleman has practised
for twenty years in the Divorce Court! Now, I ask you, what can you
expect from a gentleman, however learned, who has practised for twenty
years in the Divorce Court? I know him," went on Eustace,
vindictively--"I know him. He will fall in love with you himself. Why, he
would be an old duffer if he didn't."
"Really," said Augusta, bursting out laughing, "you are too
"I don't know about being ridiculous, Augusta: but if you think I am
going to let you be marched about by that learned Doctor without my being
there to look after you, you are mistaken. Why, of course he would fall
in love with you, or some of his clerks would; nobody could be near you
for a couple of days without doing so."
"Do you think so?" said Augusta, looking at him very sweetly.
"Yes, I do," he answered, and thus the conversation came to an end and
was not resumed till dinner-time.
On the following morning at eleven o'clock, Eustace, who had managed to
get a few days' leave from his employers, arrived with Mr. John Short to
take Augusta and Lady Holmhurst--who was going to chaperon her--to
Somerset House, whither, notwithstanding her objections of the previous
day, she had at last consented to go. Mr. Short was introduced, and much
impressed both the ladies by the extraordinary air of learning and
command which was stamped upon his countenance. He wanted to inspect the
will at once; but Augusta struck at this, saying that it would be quite
enough to have her shoulders stared at once that day. With a sigh and a
shake of the head at her unreasonableness, Mr. John Short submitted, and
then the carriage came round and they were all driven off to Somerset
House. Presently they were there, and after threading innumerable chilly
passages, reached a dismal room with an almanack, a dirty deal table, and
a few chairs in it, wherein were congregated several solicitors' clerks,
waiting their turn to appear before the Registrar. Here they waited for
half-an-hour or more, to Augusta's considerable discomfort, for she soon
found that she was an object of curiosity and closest attention to the
solicitors' clerks, who never took their eyes off her. Presently she
discovered the reason, for having remarkably quick ears, she overheard
one of the solicitors' clerks, a callow little man with yellow hair and
an enormous diamond pin, whose appearance somehow reminded her of a
new-born chicken, tell another, who was evidently of the Jewish faith,
that she (Augusta) was the respondent in the famous divorce case of Jones
v. Jones, and was going to appear before the Registrar to submit herself
to cross examination in some matter connected with a grant of alimony.
Now, as all London was talking about the alleged iniquities of the Mrs.
Jones in question, whose moral turpitude was only equalled by her
beauty, Augusta did not feel best pleased, although she perceived that
she instantly became an object of heartfelt admiration to the clerks.
Presently, however, somebody poked his head through the door, which he
opened just wide enough to admit it, and bawling out--
"Short, re Meeson," vanished as abruptly as he had come.
"Now, Lady Holmhurst, if you please," said Mr. John Short, "allow me to
show the way, if you will kindly follow with the will--this way, please."
In another minute, the unfortunate "will" found herself in a large and
lofty room, at the top of which, with his back to the light, sat a most
agreeable-looking middle-aged gentleman, who, as they advanced, rose with
a politeness that one does not generally expect from officials on a fixed
salary, and, bowing, asked them to be seated.
"Well, what can I do for you? Mr.--ah! Mr."--and he put on his
eye-glasses and referred to his notes--"Mr. Short--you wish to file a
will, I understand; and there are peculiar circumstances of some sort in
"Yes, Sir; there are," said Mr. John Short, with much meaning. "The will
to be filed in the Registry is the last true will of Jonathan Meeson, of
Pompadour Hall, in the county of Warwick, and the property concerned
amounts to about two millions. Upon last motion day, the death of
Jonathan Meeson, who was supposed to have sunk in the Kangaroo, was
allowed to be presumed, and probate has been taken out. As a matter of
fact, however, the said Jonathan Meeson perished in Kerguelen Land some
days after the shipwreck, and before he died he duly executed a fresh
will in favour of his nephew, Eustace H. Meeson, the gentleman before
you. Miss Augusta Smithers"--
"What," said the learned Registrar, "is this Miss Smithers whom we have
been reading so much about lately--the Kerguelen Land heroine?"
"Yes; I am Miss Smithers," she said with a little blush; "and this is
Lady Holmhurst, whose husband"--and she checked herself.
"It gives me much pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Smithers,"
said the learned Doctor, courteously shaking hands, and bowing to Lady
Holmhurst--proceedings which Eustace watched with the jaundiced eye of
suspicion. "He's beginning already," said that ardent lover to himself.
"I knew how it would be. Trust my Gus into his custody?--never! I had
rather be committed for contempt."
"The best thing that I can do, Sir," went on John Short, impatiently,
for, to his severe eye, these interruptions were not seemly, "will be to
at once offer you inspection of the document, which, I may state, is of
an unusual character," and he looked at Augusta, who, poor girl, coloured
to the eyes.
"Quite so, quite so" said the learned Registrar. "Well, has Miss Smithers
got the will? Perhaps she will produce it."
"Miss Smithers _is_ the will," said Mr. John Short.
"Oh--I am afraid that I do not quite understand"--
"To be more precise, Sir, the will is tattooed on Miss Smithers."
"_What_?" almost shouted the learned Doctor, literally bounding from
"The will is tattooed upon Miss Smithers's back," continued Mr. John
Short, in a perfectly unmoved tone; "and it is now my duty to offer you
inspection of the document, and to take your instructions as to how you
propose to file it in the Registry"--
"Inspection of the document--inspection of the document?" gasped the
astonished Doctor; "How am I to inspect the document?"
"I must leave that to you, Sir," said Mr. John Short, regarding the
learned Registrar's shrinking form with contempt not unmixed with pity.
"The will is on the lady's back, and I, on behalf of the plaintiff, mean
to get a grant with the document annexed."
Lady Holmhurst began to laugh; and as for the learned Doctor, anything
more absurd than he looked, intrenched as he was behind his office chair,
with perplexity written on his face, it would be impossible to imagine.
"Well," he said at length, "I suppose that I must come to a decision. It
is a painful matter, very, to a person of modest temperament. However, I
cannot shrink from my duty, and must face it. Therefore," he went on with
an air of judicial sternness, "therefore, Miss Smithers, I must trouble
you to show me this alleged will. There is a cupboard there," and he
pointed to the corner of the room, "where you can make--'um--make the
"Oh, it isn't quite so bad at that," said Augusta, with a sigh, and she
began to remove her jacket.
"Dear me!" he said, observing her movement with alarm, "I suppose she is
hardened," he continued to himself: "but I dare say one gets used to this
sort of thing upon desert islands."
Meanwhile poor Augusta had got her jacket off. She was dressed in
an evening dress, and had a white silk scarf over her shoulder: this
"Oh," he said, "I see--in evening dress. Well, of course, that is
quite a different matter. And so that is the will--well, I have had
some experience, but I never saw or heard of anything like it before.
Signed and attested, but not dated. Ah! unless," he added, "the date
is lower down."
"No," said Augusta, "there is no date; I could not stand any more
tattooing. It was all done at one sitting, and I got faint."
"I don't wonder at it, I am sure. I think it is the bravest thing I ever
heard of," and he bowed with much grace.
"Ah," muttered Eustace, "he's beginning to pay compliments now, insidious
"Well," went on the innocent and eminently respectable object of his
suspicions, "of course the absence of a date does not invalidate a
will--it is matter for proof, that is all. But there, I am not in a
position to give any opinion about the case; it is quite beyond me, and
besides, that is not my business. But now, Miss Smithers, as you have
once put yourself in the custody of the Registry in the capacity of a
will, might I ask if you have any suggestion to make as to how you are to
be dealt with. Obviously you cannot be locked up with the other wills,
and equally obviously it is against the rules to allow a will to go out
of the custody of the Court, unless by special permission of the Court.
Also it is clear that I cannot put any restraint upon the liberty of the
subject and order you to remain with me. Indeed, I doubt if it would be
possible to do so by any means short of an Act of Parliament. Under these
circumstances I am, I confess, a little confused as to what course should
be taken with reference to this important alleged will."
"What I have to suggest, Sir," said Mr. Short, "is that a certified copy
of the will should be filed, and that there should be a special paragraph
inserted in the affidavit of scripts detailing the circumstances."
"Ah," said the learned Doctor, polishing his eye-glasses, "you have given
me an idea. With Miss Smithers' consent we will file something better
than a certified copy of the will--we will file a photographic copy. The
inconvenience to Miss Smithers will be trifling, and it may prevent
questions being raised hereafter."
"Have you any objections to that, my dear?" asked Lady Holmhurst.
"Oh, no, I suppose not," said Augusta mournfully; "I seem to be public
"Very well, then; excuse me for a moment," said the learned Doctor.
"There is a photographer close by whom I have had occasion to employ
officially. I will write and see if he can come round."
In a few minutes an answer came back from the photographer that he would
be happy to wait upon Doctor Probate at three o'clock, up to which hour
he was engaged.
"Well," said the Doctor, "it is clear that I cannot let Miss Smithers out
of the custody of the Court till the photograph is taken. Let me see, I
think that yours was my last appointment this morning. Now, what do you
say to the idea of something to eat? We are not five minutes drive from
Simpson's, and I shall feel delighted if you will make a pleasure of a
Lady Holmhurst, who was getting very hungry, said that she should be most
pleased, and, accordingly, they all--with the exception of Mr. John
Short, who departed about some business, saying that he would return at
three o'clock--drove off in Lady Holmhurst's carriage to the restaurant,
where this delightful specimen of the genus Registrar stood them a most
sumptuous champagne lunch, and made himself so agreeable, that both the
ladies nearly fell in love with him, and even Eustace was constrained to
admit to himself that good things can come out of the Divorce Court.
Finally, the doctor wound up the proceedings, which were of a most lively
order, and included an account of Augusta's adventures, with a toast.
"I hear from Lady Holmhurst," he said, "that you two young people are
going to take the preliminary step--um--towards a possible future
appearance in that Court with which I had for many years the honor of
being connected--that is, that you are going to get married. Now,
matrimony is, according to my somewhat extended experience, an
undertaking of a venturesome order, though cases occasionally come under
one's observation where the results have proved to be in every way
satisfactory; and I must say that, if I may form an opinion from the
facts as they are before me, I never knew an engagement entered into
under more promising or more romantic auspices. Here the young gentleman
quarrels with his uncle in taking the part of the young lady, and thereby
is disinherited of vast wealth. Then the young lady, under the most
terrible circumstances, takes steps of a nature that not one woman in
five hundred would have done to restore to him that wealth. Whether or no
those steps will ultimately prove successful I do not know, and, if I
did, like Herodotus, I should prefer not to say; but whether the wealth
comes or goes, it is impossible but that a sense of mutual confidence and
a mutual respect and admiration--that is, if a more quiet thing,
certainly, also, a more enduring thing, than mere 'love'--must and will
result from them. Mr. Meeson, you are indeed a fortunate man. In Miss
Smithers you are going to marry beauty, courage, and genius, and if you
will allow an older man of some experience to drop the official and give
you a word of advice, it is this: always try to deserve your good
fortune, and remember that a man who, in his youth, finds such a woman,
and is enabled by circumstances to marry her, is indeed--
_Smiled on by Joy, and cherished of the Gods._
"And now I will end my sermon, and wish you both health and happiness and
fulness of days," and he drank off his glass of champagne, and looked so
pleasant and kindly that Augusta longed to kiss him on the spot, and as
for Eustace, he shook hands with him warmly, and then and there a
friendship began between the two which endures till now.
And then they all went back to the office, and there was the photographer
waiting with all his apparatus, and astonished enough he was when he
found out what the job was that he had to do. However, the task proved an
easy one enough, as the light of the room was suitable, and the dark
lines of cuttle ink upon Augusta's neck would, the man said, come out
perfectly in the photograph. So he took two or three shots at her back
and then departed, saying that he would bring a life-sized reproduction
to be filed in the Registry in a couple of days.
And after that the learned Registrar also shook hands with them, and said
that he need detain them no longer, as he now felt justified in allowing
Augusta out of his Custody.
And so they departed, glad to have got over the first step so pleasantly.
Of course, Augusta's story, so far as it was publicly known, had created
no small stir, which was considerably emphasised when pictures of her
appeared in the illustrated papers, and it was discovered that she was
young and charming. But the excitement, great as it was, was as nothing
compared to that which arose when the first whispers of the tale of the
will, which was tattooed upon her shoulders, began to get about.
Paragraphs and stories about this will appeared in the papers, but of
course she took no notice of these.
On the fourth day, however, after she had been photographed for the
purposes of the Registry, things came to a climax. It so happened that on
that morning Lady Holmhurst asked Augusta to go to a certain shop in
Regent-street to get some lace which she required to trim her widow's
dresses, and accordingly at about half-past twelve o'clock she started,
accompanied by the lady's maid. As soon as they shut the front door of
the house in Hanover-square she noticed two or three doubtful-looking men
who were loitering about, and who instantly followed them, staring at her
with all their eyes. She made her way along, however, without taking any
notice until she got to Regent-street, by which time there were quite a
score of people walking after her whispering excitedly at each other. In
Regent-street itself, the first thing that she saw was a man selling
photographs. Evidently he was doing a roaring trade, for there was a
considerable crowd round him, and he was shouting something which she
could not catch. Presently a gentleman, who had bought one of the
photographs, stopped just in front of her to look at it, and as he was
short and Augusta was tall, she could see over his shoulder, and the next
second started back with an indignant exclamation. "No wonder!" for the
photograph was one of herself as she had been taken in the low dress in
the Registry. There was no mistake about it--there was the picture of the
will tattooed right across her shoulders.
Nor did her troubles end there, for at that moment a man came
bawling down the street carrying a number of the first edition of an
"Description and picture of the lovely 'eroine of the Cockatoo," he
yelled, "with the will tattooed upon 'er! Taken from the original
photograph! Facsimile picture!"
"Oh, dear me," said Augusta to the maid, "that is really too bad. Let
us go home."
But meanwhile the crowd at her back had gathered and increased to an
extraordinary extent and was slowly inclosing her in a circle. The fact
was, that the man who had followed her from Hanover-square had told the
others who joined their ranks, who the lady was, and she was now
"That's her," said one man.
"Who?" said another.
"Why, the Miss Smithers as escaped from the Kangaroo and has the will on
her back, in course."
There was a howl of exultation from the mob, and in another second the
wretched Augusta was pressed, together with the lady's maid, who began to
scream with fright, right up against a lamp-post, while a crowd of eager
faces, mostly unwashed, were pushed almost into her own. Indeed, so
fierce was the crowd in its attempt to get a glimpse of the latest
curiosity, that she began to think that she would be thrown down and
trampled under foot, when timely relief arrived in the shape of two
policemen and a gentleman volunteer, who managed to rescue her and get
them into a hansom cab, which started for Hanover-square, pursued by a
shouting crowd of nondescript individuals.
Now, Augusta was a woman of good-nerve and resolution; but this sort of
thing was too trying, and, accordingly, accompanied by Lady Holmhurst,
she went off, that very day, to some rooms in a little riverside hotel on
When Eustace, walking down the Strand that afternoon, found every
photograph-shop full of accurate pictures of the shoulders of his
beloved, he was simply furious; and, rushing to the photographer who had
taken the picture in the Registry, threatened him with proceedings of
every sort and kind. The man admitted outright that he had put the
photographs upon the market, saying that he had never stipulated not to
do so, and that he could not afford to throw away five or six hundred
pounds when a chance of making it came in his way.
Thereon Eustace departed, still vowing vengeance, to consult the legal
twins. As a result of this, within a week, Mr. James Short made a motion
for and injunction against the photographer, restraining the sale of the
photographs in question, on the ground that such sale, being of copies of
a document vital to a cause now pending in the Court, those copies having
been obtained through the instrumentality of an officer of the court, Dr.
Probate, the sale thereof amounted to a contempt, inasmuch as, if for no
other reason, the photographer who obtained them became technically, and
for that purpose only, an officer of the Court, and had, therefore, no
right to part with them, or any of them, without the leave of the Court.
It will be remembered that this motion gave rise to some very delicate
questions connected with the powers of the Court in such a matter, and
also incidentally with the law of photographic copyright. It is also
memorable for the unanimous and luminous judgment finally delivered by
the Lords Justices of Appeal, whereby the sale of the photographs was
stopped, and the photographer was held to have been guilty of a technical
contempt. This judgment contained perhaps the most searching and learned
definition of constructive contempt that has yet been formulated: but for
the text of this, I must refer the student to the law reports, because,
as it took two hours to deliver, I fear that it would, notwithstanding
its many beauties, be thought too long for the purpose of this history.
Unfortunately, however, it did not greatly benefit Augusta, the victim
of the unlawful dissemination of photographs of her shoulders, inasmuch
as the judgment was not delivered till a week after the great case of
Meeson v. Addison and Another had been settled.
About a week after Augusta's adventure in Regent-street, a motion was
made in the Court of Probate on behalf of the defendants, Messrs. Addison
and Roscoe, who were the executors and principal beneficiaries under the
former will of November, 1885, demanding that the Court should order the
plaintiff to tile a further and better affidavit of scripts, with the
original will got up by him attached, the object, of course, being to
compel an inspection of the document. This motion, which first brought
the whole case under the notice of the public, was strenuously resisted
by Mr. James Short, and resulted in the matter being referred to the
learned Registrar for his report. On the next motion day this report was
presented, and, on its appearing from it that the photography had taken
place in his presence and accurately represented the tattoo marks on the
lady's shoulders, the Court declined to harass the "will" by ordering her
to submit to any further inspection before the trial. It was on this
occasion that it transpired that the will was engaged to be married to
the plaintiff, a fact at which the Court metaphorically opened its eyes.
After this the defendants obtained leave to amend their answer to the
plaintiffs statement of claim. At first they had only pleaded that the
testator had not duly executed the alleged will in accordance with the
provisions of 1 Vic., cap. 26, sec. 2, and that he did not know and
approve the contents thereof. But now they added a plea to the effect
that the said alleged will was obtained by the undue influence of Augusta
Smithers, or, as one of the learned counsel for the defendants put it
much more clearly at the trial, "that the will had herself procured the
will, by an undue projection of her own will upon the unwilling mind of
And so the time went on. As often as he could, Eustace got away from
London, and went down to the little riverside hotel, and was as happy as
a man can be who has a tremendous law suit hanging over him. The law, no
doubt, is an admirable institution, out of which a large number of people
make a living, and a proportion of benefit accrues to the community at
large. But woe unto those who form the subject-matter of its operations.
For instance, the Court of Chancery is an excellent institution in
theory, and looks after the affairs of minors upon the purest principles.
But how many of its wards after, and as a result of one of its
well-intentioned interferences, have to struggle for the rest of their
lives under a load of debt raised to pay the crushing costs! To employ
the Court of Chancery to look after wards is something as though one set
a tame elephant to pick up pins. No doubt he could pick them up, but it
would cost something to feed him. It is a perfectly arguable proposition
that the Court of Chancery produces as much wretchedness and poverty as
it prevents, and it certainly is a bold step, except under the most
exceptionable circumstances, to place anybody in its custody who has
money that can be dissipated in law expenses. But of course these are
revolutionary remarks, which one cannot expect everybody to agree with,
least of all the conveyancing counsel of the Court.
However this may be, certainly his impending lawsuit proved a fly in
Eustace's honey. Never a day passed but some fresh worry arose. James
and John, the legal twins, fought like heroes, and held their own
although their experience was so small--as men of talent almost
invariably do when they are put to it. But it was difficult for Eustace
to keep them supplied even with sufficient money for out-of-pocket
expenses; and, of course, as was natural in a case in which such enormous
sums were at stake, and in which the defendants were already men of vast
wealth, they found the flower of the entire talent and weight of the Bar
arrayed against them. Naturally Eustace felt, and so did Mr. James
Short--who, notwithstanding his pomposity and the technicality of his
talk, was both a clever and sensible man--that more counsel, men of
weight and experience, ought to be briefed; but there were absolutely no
funds for this purpose, nor was anybody likely to advance any upon the
security of a will tattooed upon a young lady's back. This was awkward,
because success in law proceedings so very often leans towards the
weightiest purse, and Judges however impartial, being but men after all,
are more apt to listen to an argument which is urged upon their attention
by an Attorney-General than on one advanced by an unknown junior.
However, there the fact was, and they had to make the best of it; and a
point in their favour was that the case, although of a most remarkable
nature, was comparatively simple, and did not involve any great mass of
MEESON V. ADDISON AND ANOTHER.
The most wearisome times go by at last if only one lives to see the end
of them, and so it came to pass that at length on one fine morning about
a quarter to ten of the Law Courts' clock, that projects its ghastly
hideousness upon unoffending Fleet-street, Augusta, accompanied by
Eustace, Lady Holmhurst, and Mrs. Thomas, the wife of Captain Thomas, who
had come up from visiting her relatives in the Eastern counties in order
to give evidence, found herself standing in the big entrance to the new
Law Courts, feeling as though she would give five years of her life to be
"This way, my dear," said Eustace; "Mr. John Short said that he would
meet us by the statue in the hall." Accordingly they passed into the
archway by the oak stand where the cause-lists are displayed. Augusta
glanced at them as she went, and the first thing that her eyes fell on
was "Probate and Divorce Division Court I., at 10.30, Meeson v. Addison
and Another," and the sight made her feel ill. In another moment they had
passed a policeman of gigantic size, "monstrum horrendum, informe,
ingens," who watches and wards the folding-doors through which so much
human learning, wretchedness, and worry pass day by day, and were
standing in the long, but narrow and ill-proportioned hall which appears
to have been the best thing that the architectural talent of the
nineteenth century was capable of producing.
To the right of the door on entering is a statue of the architect of a
pile of which England has certainly no cause to feel proud, and here, a
black bag full of papers in his hand, stood Mr. John Short, wearing that
air of excitement upon his countenance which is so commonly to be seen in
the law courts.
"Here you are," he said, "I was beginning to be afraid that you would be
late. We are first on the list, you know; the judge fixed it specially
to suit the convenience of the Attorney-General. He's on the other side,
you know," he added, with a sigh. "I'm sure I don't know how poor James
will get on. There are more than twenty counsel against him, for all the
legatees under the former will are represented. At any rate, he is well
up in his facts, and there does not seem to me to be very much law in
Meanwhile, they had been proceeding up the long hall till they came to a
poky little staircase which had just been dug out in the wall, the
necessity for a staircase at that end of the hall, whereby the court
floor could be reached having, to all appearance, originally escaped the
attention of the architect. On getting to the top of the staircase they
turned to the left and then to the left again. If they had had any doubt
as to which road they should take it would have been speedily decided by
the long string of wigs which were streaming away in the direction of
Divorce Court No. 1. Thicker and thicker grew the wigs; it was obvious
that the _cause celebre_ of Meeson v. Addison and Another would not want
for hearers. Indeed, Augusta and her friends soon realised the intensity
of the public interest in a way that was as impressive as it was
disagreeable, for just past the Admiralty Court the passage was entirely
blocked by an enormous mass of barristers; there might have been five
hundred or more of them. There they were, choked up together in their
white-wigged ranks, waiting for the door of the court to be opened. At
present it was guarded by six or eight attendants, who, with the help of
a wooden barrier, attempted to keep the surging multitude at bay--while
those behind cried, "Forward!" and those in front cried "Back!"
"How on earth are we going to get through?" asked Augusta, and at
that moment Mr. John Short caught hold of an attendant who was
struggling about in the skirts of the crowd like a fly in a cup of
tea, and asked him the same question, explaining that their presence
was necessary to the show.
"I'm bothered if I know, Sir; you can't come this way. I suppose I must
let you through by the underground passage from the other court. Why," he
went on, as he led the way to the Admiralty Court, "hang me, if I don't
believe that we shall all be crushed to death by them there barristers:
It would take a regiment of cavalry to keep them back. And they are a
'ungry lot, they are; and they ain't no work to do, and that's why they
comes kicking and tearing and worriting just to see a bit of painting on
a young lady's shoulders."
By this time they had passed through the Admiralty Court, which was not
sitting, and been conducted down a sort of well, that terminated in the
space occupied by the Judge's clerks and other officers of the Court. In
another minute they found themselves emerging in a similar space in the
Before taking the seat that was pointed out to her and the other
witnesses in the well of the court, immediately below those reserved for
Queen's counsel, Augusta glanced round. The body of the court was as yet
quite empty, for the seething mob outside had not yet burst in, though
their repeated shouts of "Open the door!" could be plainly heard. But the
jury box was full, not with a jury, for the case was to be tried before
the Court itself, but of various distinguished individuals, including
several ladies, who had obtained orders. The little gallery above was
also crowded with smart-looking people. As for the seats devoted to
counsel in the cause, they were crammed to overflowing with the
representatives of the various defendants--so crammed, indeed, that the
wretched James Short, sole counsel for the plaintiff, had to establish
himself and big papers in the centre of the third bench sometimes used by
"Heavens!" said Eustace to Augusta, counting the heads; "there are
twenty-three counsel against us. What will that unfortunate James do
against so many?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Augusta, with a sigh. "It doesn't seem
quite fair, does it? But then, you see, there was no money."
Just then John Short came up. He had been to speak to his brother.
Augusta being a novelist, and therefore a professional student of human
physiognomy, was engaged in studying the legal types before her, which
she found resolved themselves into two classes--the sharp, keen-faced
class and the solid, heavy-jawed class.
"Who on earth are they all?" she asked.
"Oh," he said, "that's the Attorney-General. He appears with
Fiddlestick, Q.C., Pearl, and Bean for the defendant Addison. Next to him
is the Solicitor-General, who, with Playford, Q.C., Middlestone,
Blowhard, and Ross, is for the other defendant, Roscoe. Next to him is
Turphy, Q.C., with the spectacles on; he is supposed to have a great
effect on a jury. I don't know the name of his junior, but he looks as
though he were going to eat one--doesn't he? He is for one of the
legatees. That man behind is Stickon; he is for one of the legatees also.
I suppose that he finds probate and divorce an interesting subject,
because he is always writing books about them. Next to him is Howles,
who, my brother says, is the best comic actor in the court. The short
gentleman in the middle is Telly; he reports for the _Times_. You see, as
this is an important case, he has got somebody to help him to take
it--that long man with a big wig. He, by-the-way, writes novels, like you
do, only not half such good ones. The next"--but at this moment Mr. John
Short was interrupted by the approach of a rather good-looking man, who
wore an eye-glass continually fixed in his right eye. He was Mr. News, of
the great firm News and News, who were conducting the case on behalf of
"Mr. Short, I believe?" said Mr. News, contemplating his opponent's
youthful form with pity, not unmixed with compassion.
"Um, Mr. Short, I have been consulting with my clients and--um, the
Attorney and Solicitor-General and Mr. Fiddlestick, and we are quite
willing to admit that there are circumstances of doubt in this case
which would justify us in making an offer of settlement."
"Before I can enter into that, Mr. News," said John, with great dignity,
"I must request the presence of my counsel."
"Oh, certainly," said Mr. News, and accordingly James was summoned from
his elevated perch, where he was once more going through his notes and
the heads of his opening speech, although he already knew his
brief--which, to do it justice, had been prepared with extraordinary care
and elaboration--almost by heart, and next moment, for the first time in
his life, found himself in consultation with an Attorney and a
"Look here, Short," said the first of these great men addressing James as
though he had known him intimately for years, though, as a matter of
fact, he had only that moment ascertained his name from Mr. Fiddlestick,
who was himself obliged to refer to Bean before he could be sure of
it--"look here, Short: don't you think that we can settle this business?
You've got a strongish case; but there are some ugly things against you,
as no doubt you know."
"I don't quite admit that," said James.
"Of course--of course," said Mr. Attorney; "but still, in my judgment, if
you will not be offended at my expressing it, you are not quite on firm
ground. Supposing, for instance, your young lady is not allowed to give
"I think," said a stout gentleman behind who wore upon his countenance
the very sweetest and most infantile smile that Eustace had ever seen,
breaking in rather hastily, as though he was afraid that his learned
leader was showing too much of his hand, "I think that the case is one
that, looked at from either point of view, will bear settlement better
than fighting--eh, Fiddlestick? But then, I'm a man of peace," and again
he smiled most seductively at James.
"What are your terms" asked James.
The eminent counsel on the front bench turned round and stuck their wigs
together like a lot of white-headed crows over a bone, and the slightly
less eminent but still highly distinguished juniors on the second bench
craned forward to listen.
"They are going to settle it," Eustace heard the barrister who was
reporting for the _Times_ say to his long assistant.
"They always do settle every case of public interest," grunted the long
man in answer; "we shan't see Miss Smithers' shoulders now. Well, I shall
get an introduction to her, and ask her to show them to me. I take a
great interest in tattooing."
Meanwhile, Fiddlestick, Q.C., had been writing something on a strip of
paper and handed to his leader, the Attorney-General (who, Mr. James
Short saw with respectful admiration, had 500 guineas marked upon his
brief). He nodded carelessly, and passed it on to his junior, who gave it
in turn to the Solicitor-General and Playford, Q.C. When it had gone the
rounds, Mr. News took it and showed it to his two privileged clients,
Messrs. Addison and Roscoe. Addison was a choleric-looking, fat-faced
man. Roscoe was sallow, and had a thin, straggly black beard. When they
looked at it, Addison groaned fiercely as a wounded bull, and Roscoe
sighed, and that sigh and groan told Augusta--who, womanlike, had all her
wits about her, and was watching every act of the drama--more than it
was meant to do. It told her that these gentlemen were doing something
that they did not like, and doing it because they evidently believed that
they had no other course open to them. Then Mr. News gave the paper to
Mr. John Short, who glanced at it and handed it on to his brother, and
Eustace read it over his shoulder. It was very short, and ran
thus:--"Terms offered: Half the property, and defendants pay all costs."
"Well, Short," said Eustace, "what do you say, shall we take it?"
James removed his wig, and thoughtfully rubbed his bald head. "It is a
very difficult position to be put in," he said. "Of course a million is a
large sum of money; but there are two at stake. My own view is that we
had better fight the case out; though, of course, this is a certainty,
and the result of the case is not."
"I am inclined to settle," said Eustace; "not because of the case, for I
believe in it, but because of Augusta--of Miss Smithers: you see she will
have to show the tattooing again, and that sort of thing is very
unpleasant for a lady."
"Oh, as to that," said James loftily, "at present she must remember that
she is not a lady, but a legal document. However, let us ask her."
"Now, Augusta, what shall we do?" said Eustace, when he had explained the
offer; "you see, if we take the offer you will be spared a very
disagreeable time. You must make up your mind quick, for the Judge will
be here in a minute."
"Oh, never mind me," said Augusta, quickly; "I am used to disagreeables.
No, I shall fight, I tell you they are afraid of you. I can see it in
the face of that horrid Mr. Addison. Just now he positively glared at me
and ground his teeth, and he would not do that if he thought that he was
going to win. No, dear; I shall fight it out now."
"Very well," said Eustace, and he took a pencil and wrote, "Declined with
thanks," at the foot of the offer.
Just at that moment there came a dull roar from the passage beyond. The
doors of the court were being opened. Another second, and in rushed and
struggled a hideous sea of barristers. Heavens, how they fought and
kicked! A maddened herd of buffaloes could not have behaved more
desperately. On rushed the white wave of wigs, bearing the strong men who
hold the door before them like wreckage on a breaker. On they came and in
forty seconds the court was crowded to its utmost capacity, and still
there were hundreds of white wigged men behind. It was a fearful scene.
"Good gracious!" thought Augusta to herself, "how on earth do they all
get a living?" a question that many of them would have found it hard
enough to answer.
Then suddenly an old gentleman near her, whom she discovered to be the
usher, jumped up and called "Silence!" in commanding accents, without
producing much effect, however, on the palpitating mass of humanity in
front. Then in came the officers of the Court; and a moment afterwards,
everybody rose as the Judge entered, and, looking, as Augusta thought,
very cross when he saw the crowded condition of the court, bowed to the
bar and took his seat.
JAMES BREAKS DOWN.
The Registrar, not Augusta's dear doctor Probate, but another Registrar,
rose and called on the case of Meeson v. Addison, and Another, and in an
instant the wretched James Short was on his legs to open the case.
"What is that gentleman's name?" Augusta heard the Judge ask of the
clerk, after making two or three frantic efforts to attract his
attention--a proceeding that the position of his desk rendered very
"Short, my Lord."
"Do you appear alone for the plaintiff, Mr. Short?" asked the Judge,
"Yes, my Lord, I do," answered James, and as he said it every pair of
eyes in that crowded assembly fixed themselves upon him, and a sort of
audible smile seemed to run round the court. The thing not unnaturally
struck the professional mind as ludicrous and without precedent.
"And who appears for the defendant?"
"I understand, my Lord," said the learned Attorney-General, "that all my
learned friends on these two benches appear together, with myself, for
one or other of the defendants, or are watching the case in the interest
Here a decided titter interrupted him.
"I may add that the interests involved in this case are very large
indeed, which accounts for the number of counsel connected in one way or
other with the defence."
"Quite so, Mr. Attorney," said the Judge: "but, really, the forces seem a
little out of proportion. Of course the matter is not one in which the
Court can interfere."
"If your Lordship will allow me," said James, "the only reason that
the plaintiff is so poorly represented is that the funds to brief
other council were, I understand, not forthcoming. I am, however, well
versed in the case and, with your Lordship's permission, will do my
best with it."
"Very well, Mr. Short," said the learned Judge, looking at him almost
with pity, "state your case."
James--in the midst of a silence that could be felt--unfolded his
pleadings, and, as he did so, for the first time a sickening sense of
nervousness took hold of him and made him tremble, and, of a sudden, his
mind became dark. Most of us have undergone this sensation at one time or
another, with less cause then had poor James. There he was, put up almost
for the first time in his life to conduct, single-handed, a most
important case, upon which it was scarcely too much to say the interest
of the entire country was concentrated. Nor was this all. Opposed to him
were about twenty counsel, all of them men of experience, and including
in their ranks some of the most famous leaders in England: and, what was
more, the court was densely crowded with scores of men of his own
profession, every one of whom was, he felt, regarding him with curiosity
not unmixed with pity. Then, there was the tremendous responsibility
which literally seemed to crush him, though he had never quite realised
"May it please your Lordship," he began; and then, as I have said, his
mind became a ghastly blank, in which dim and formless ideas flitted
vaguely to and fro.
There was a pause--a painful pause.
"Read your pleadings aloud," whispered a barrister who was sitting next
him, and realised his plight.
This was an idea. One can read pleadings when one cannot collect one's
ideas to speak. It is not usual to do so. The counsel in a cause states
the substance of the pleadings, leaving the Court to refer to them if it
thinks necessary. But still there was nothing absolutely wrong about it;
so he snatched at the papers and promptly began:
"(I.) The plaintiff is the sole and universal legatee under the true last
will of Jonathan Meeson, deceased, late of Pompadour Hall, in the County
of Warwick, who died on the 23rd of December, 1885, the said will being
undated, but duly executed on, or subsequent to, the 22nd day of
Here the learned Judge lifted his eyebrows in remonstrance, and cleared
his throat preparatory to interfering; but apparently thought better of
it, for he took up a blue pencil and made a note of the date of the will.
"(II.)," went on James. "On the 21st day of May, 1886, probate of an
alleged will of the said Jonathan Meeson was granted to the defendants,
the said will bearing date the 10th day of November, 1885. The
"(1.) That the court shall revoke probate of the said alleged will of the
said Jonathan Meeson, bearing date the 10th day of November, 1885,
granted to the defendants on the 21st day of May, 1886.
"(2.) A grant of letters of administration to the plaintiff with the
will executed on or subsequent to the 22nd day of December,1885, annexed.
(Signed) JAMES SHORT."
"May it please your Lordship." James began, again feeling dimly that he
had read enough pleadings, "the defendants have filed an answer pleading
that the will of the 22nd of December was not duly executed in accordance
with the statute, and that the testator did not know and approve its
contents, and an amended answer pleading that the said alleged will, if
executed, was obtained by the undue influence of Augusta Smithers"--and
once more his nervousness overcame him, and he pulled up with a jerk.
Then came another pause even more dreadful than the first.
The Judge took another note, as slowly as he could, and once more cleared
his throat; but poor James could not go on. He could only wish that he
might then and there expire, rather than face the hideous humiliation of
such a failure. But he would have failed, for his very brain was whirling
like that of a drunken man, had it not been for an occurrence that caused
him for ever after to bless the name of Fiddlestick, Q.C., as the name of
an eminent counsel is not often blessed in this ungrateful world. For
Fiddlestick, Q.C., who, it will be remembered, was one of the leaders for
the defendants, had been watching his unfortunate antagonist, till,
realising how sorry was his plight, a sense of pity filled his learned
breast. Perhaps he may have remembered some occasion, in the dim and
distant corner of the past, when he had suffered from a similar access of
frantic terror, or perhaps he may have been sorry to think that a young
man should lose such an unrivalled opportunity of making a name. Anyhow,
he did a noble act. As it happened, he was sitting at the right-hand
corner of the Queen's counsel seats, and piled upon the desk before him
was a tremendous mass of law reports which his clerk had arranged there,
containing cases to which it might become necessary to refer. Now, in the
presence of these law reports, Mr. Fiddlestick, in the goodness of his
heart, saw an opportunity of creating a diversion, and he created it with
a vengeance. For, throwing his weight suddenly forward as though by
accident, or in a movement of impatience, he brought his bent arm against
the pile with such force, that he sent every book, and there must have
been more than twenty of them, over the desk, right on to the head and
shoulders of his choleric client, Mr. Addison, who was sitting
immediately beneath, on the solicitors' bench.
Down went the books with a crash and a bang, and, carried away by their
weight, down went Mr. Addison on to his nose among them--a contingency
that Fiddlestick, Q.C., by-the-way, had not foreseen, for he had
overlooked the fact of his client's vicinity.
The Judge made an awful face, and then, realising the ludicrous nature of
the scene, his features relaxed into a smile. But Mr. Addison did not
smile. He bounded up off the floor, books slipping off his back in every
direction, and, holding his nose (which was injured) with one hand, came
skipping right at his learned adviser.
"You did it on purpose!" he almost shouted, quite forgetting where he
was; "just let me get at him, I'll have his wig off!" and then, without
waiting for any more, the entire audience burst out into a roar of
laughter, which, however, unseemly, was perfectly reasonable; during
which Mr. Fiddlestick could be seen apologising in dumb show, with a
bland smile upon his countenance, while Mr. News and Mr. Roscoe between
them dragged the outraged Addison to his seat, and proffered him
handkerchiefs to wipe his bleeding nose.
James saw the whole thing, and forgetting his position, laughed too; and,
for some mysterious reason, with the laugh his nervousness passed away.
The usher shouted "Silence!" with tremendous energy, and before the sound
had died away James was addressing the Court in a clear and vigorous
voice, conscious that he was a thorough master of his case, and the words
to state it in would not fail him. Fiddlestick, Q.C., had saved him!
"May it please your Lordship," he began, "the details of this case are of
as remarkable an order as any that to my knowledge have been brought
before the Court. The plaintiff, Eustace Meeson, is the sole next-of-kin
of Jonathan Meeson, Esquire, the late head of the well known Birmingham
publishing firm of Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe. Under a will, bearing
date the 8th of May, 1880, the plaintiff was left sole heir to the great
wealth of his uncle--that is, with the exception of some legacies. Under
a second will, now relied on by the defendants, and dated the 10th
November, 1885, the plaintiff was entirely disinherited, and the present
defendants, together with some six or eight legatees, were constituted
the sole beneficiaries. On or about the 22nd December, 1885, however, the
testator executed a third testamentary document under which the plaintiff
takes the entire property, and this is the document now propounded. This
testamentary document, or, rather, will--for I submit that it is in
every sense a properly executed will--is tattooed upon the
shoulders"--(Sensation in the court)--"is tattooed upon the shoulders of
a young lady, Miss Augusta Smithers, who will presently be called before
your Lordship; and to prevent any misunderstanding, I may as well at once
state that since this event this lady has become engaged to be married to
the plaintiff (Renewed sensation.)
"Such, my Lord, are the main outlines of the case that I have to present
for the consideration of the Court, which I think your Lordship will
understand is of so remarkable and unprecedented a nature that I must
crave your Lordship's indulgence if I proceed to open it at some length,
beginning the history at its commencement."
By this time James Short had completely recovered his nerve, and was,
indeed, almost oblivious of the fact that there was anybody present in
the court, except the learned Judge and himself. Going back to the
beginning, he detailed the early history of the relationship between
Eustace Meeson and his uncle, the publisher, with which this record has
nothing to do. Thence he passed to the history of Augusta's relation with
the firm of Meeson and Co., which, as nearly everybody in the court, not
excepting the Judge, had read "Jemima's Vow," was very interesting to his
auditors. Then he went on to the scene between Augusta and the publisher,
and detailed how Eustace had interfered, which interference had led to a
violent quarrel, resulting in the young man's disinheritance. Passing on,
he detailed how the publisher and the published had taken passage in the
same vessel, and the tragic occurrences which followed down to Augusta's
final rescue and arrival in England, and finally ended his spirited
opening by appealing to the Court not to allow its mind to be influenced
by the fact that since these events the two chief actors had become
engaged to be married, which struck him, he said, as a very fitting
climax to so romantic a story.
At last he ceased, and amidst a little buzz of applause, for the speech
had really been a very fine one, sat down. As he did so he glanced at the
clock. He had been on his legs for nearly two hours, and yet it seemed to
him but a very little while. In another moment he was up again and had
called his first witness--Eustace Meeson.
Eustace's evidence was of a rather formal order, and was necessarily
limited to an account of the relations between his uncle and himself, and
between himself and Augusta. Such as it was, however, he gave it very
well, and with a complete openness that appeared to produce a favorable
impression on the Court.
Then Fiddlestick, Q.C., rose to cross-examine, devoting his efforts to
trying to make Eustace admit that his behaviour had been of a nature to
amply justify his uncle's behaviour. But there was not very much to be
made out of it. Eustace detailed all that had passed freely enough, and
it simply amounted to the fact that there had been angry words between
the two as regards the treatment that Augusta had met with at the hands
of the firm. In short, Fiddlestick could not do anything with him, and,
after ten minutes of it, sat down without having advanced the case to any
appreciable extent. Then several of the other counsel asked a question or
two apiece, after which Eustace was told to stand down, and Lady
Holmhurst was called. Lady Holmhurst's evidence was very short, merely
amounting to the fact that she had seen Augusta's shoulders on board the
Kangaroo, and that there was not then a sign of tattoo marks upon them,
and when she saw them again in London they were tattooed. No attempt was
made to cross-examine her, and on the termination of her evidence, the
Court adjourned for lunch. When it reassembled James Short called
Augusta, and a murmur of expectation arose from the densely crowded
audience, as--feeling very sick at heart, and looking more beautiful than
ever--she stepped towards the box.
As she did so the Attorney-General rose.
"I must object, my Lord," he said, "on behalf of the defendants, to this
witness being allowed to enter the box."
"Upon what grounds, Mr. Attorney?" said his Lordship.
"Upon the ground that her mouth is, _ipso facto_, closed. If we are to
believe the plaintiff's story, this young lady is herself the will of
Jonathan Meeson, and, being so, is certainly, I submit, not competent to
give evidence. There is no precedent for a document giving evidence, and
I presume that the witness must be looked upon as a document."
"But, Mr. Attorney," said the Judge, "a document is evidence, and
evidence of the best sort."
"Undoubtedly, my Lord; and we have no objection to the document being
exhibited for the court to draw its own conclusion from, but we deny that
it is entitled to speak in its own explanation. A document is a thing
which speaks by its written characters. It cannot take to itself a
tongue, and speak by word of mouth also; and, in support of this, I may
call your Lordship's attention to the general principles of law governing
the interpretation of written documents."
"I am quite aware of those principles, Mr. Attorney, and I cannot see
that they touch this question."
"As your Lordship pleases. Then I will fall back upon my main contention,
that Miss Smithers is, for the purposes of this case, a document and
nothing but a document, and has no more right to open her mouth in
support of the plaintiff's case, than would any paper will, if it could
be miraculously endowed with speech."
"Well," said the Judge, "it certainly strikes me as a novel point. What
have you to say to it, Mr. Short?"
All eyes were now turned upon James, for it was felt that if the point
was decided against him the case was lost.
"The point to which I wish you to address yourself, Mr. Short," went on
the learned Judge, "is--Is the personality of Miss Smithers so totally
lost and merged in what, for want of a better term I must call her
documentary capacity, as to take away from her the right to appear before
this Court like any other sane human being, and give evidence of events
connected with its execution?"
"If your Lordship pleases," said James, "I maintain that this is not so.
I maintain that the document remains the document; and that for all
purposes, including the giving of evidence concerning its execution, Miss
Smithers still remains Miss Smithers. It would surely be absurd to argue
that because a person has a deed executed upon her she was, _ipso facto_,
incapacitated from giving evidence concerning it, on the mere ground that
she was _it_. Further, such a decision would be contrary to equity and
good policy, for persons could not so lightly be deprived of their
natural rights. Also, in this case, the plaintiff's action would be
absolutely put an end to by any such decision, seeing that the signature
of Jonathan Meeson and the attesting witnesses to the will could not, of
course, be recognised in their tattooed form, and there is no other
living person who could depose under what circumstances the signature
came to be there. I submit that the objection should be overruled."
"This," said his Lordship, in giving his decision "is a very curious
point, and one which, when first raised by the learned Attorney-General,
struck me with some force; but, on considering it and hearing Mr. Short,
I am convinced that it is an objection that cannot be supported" (here
Eustace gave a sigh of relief). "It is argued on the part of the
defendant that Miss Smithers is, for the purposes of this case a
document, a document, and nothing but a document, and as such that her
mouth is shut. Now, I think that the learned Attorney-General cannot have
thought this matter out when he came to that conclusion. What are the
circumstances? A will is supposed to have been tattooed upon this lady's
skin; but is the skin the whole person? Does not the intelligence remain,
and the individuality? I think that I can put what I mean more clearly by
means of an illustration. Let us suppose that I were to uphold the
defendant's objection, and that, as a consequence, the plaintiff's case
were to break down. Then let us suppose that the plaintiff had persuaded
the witness to be partially skinned"--(here Augusta nearly jumped from her
seat)--"and that she, having survived the operation, was again tendered
to the court as a witness, would the Court then be able, under any
possibility, to refuse to accept her evidence? The document, in the form
of human parchment, would then be in the hands of the officers of the
Court, and the person from whom the parchment had been removed, would
also be before the Court. Could it be still maintained that the two were
so identical and inseparable that the disabilities attaching to a
document must necessarily attach to the person? In my opinion, certainly
not. Or, to take another case, let us suppose that the will had been
tattooed upon the leg of a person, and, under similar circumstances, the
leg were cut off and produced before the Court, either in a flesh or a
mummified condition; could it then be seriously advanced that because the
inscribed leg--standing on the table before the Court--had once belonged
to the witness sitting in the witness-box, therefore it was not competent
for the witness to give evidence on account of his or her documentary
attributes? Certainly it could not. Therefore, it seems to me that that
which is separable must, for the purpose of law, be taken as already
separated, and that the will on the back of this witness must be looked
upon as though it were in the hands at this moment, of the officers of
the Court, and consequently I overrule the objection."
"Will your Lordship take a note of your Lordship's decision?" asked the
Attorney-General in view of an appeal.
"Certainly, Mr. Attorney. Let this witness be sworn."
GRANT AS PRAYED.
Accordingly, Augusta was sworn, and Eustace observed that when she
removed her veil to kiss the Book the sight of her sweet face produced no
small effect upon the crowded court.
Then James began his examination in chief, and, following the lines which
he had laid down in his opening speech, led her slowly, whilst allowing
her to tell her own story as much as possible, to the time of the
tattooing of the will on Kerguelen Land. All along, the history had
evidently interested everybody in the court--not excepting the
Judge--intensely; but now the excitement rose to boiling point.
"Well," said James, "tell his Lordship exactly how it came to pass that
the will of Mr. Meeson was tattooed upon your shoulders."
In quiet but dramatic language Augusta accordingly narrated every detail,
from the time when Meeson confided to her his remorse at having
disinherited his nephew up to the execution of the will at her suggestion
by the sailor upon her own shoulders.
"And now, Miss Smithers," said James, when she had done, "I am very
sorry to have to do so; but I must ask you to exhibit the document to
Poor Augusta coloured and her eyes filled with tears, as she slowly undid
the dust-cloak which hid her shoulders (for, of course, she had come in
low dress). The Judge, looking up sharply, observed her natural distress.
"If you prefer it, Miss Smithers," said his Lordship, courteously, "I
will order the court to be cleared of every-one except those who are
actually engaged in the case."
At these ominous words a shudder of disgust passed through the
densely-packed ranks. It would indeed, they felt, after all their
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