Part 4 out of 4
striving, be hard if they were deprived of the sight of the will; and
they stared at her despairingly, to see what she would answer.
"I thank your Lordship," she said, with a little bow; "but there would
still be so many left that I do not think that it would greatly matter. I
hope that everybody will understand my position, and extend their
consideration to me."
"Very well," said the Judge, and without further ado she took off the
cloak, and the silk handkerchief beneath it, and stood before the court
dressed in a low black dress.
"I am afraid that I must ask you to come up here," said his Lordship.
Accordingly she walked round, mounted the bench, and then turned her
back to the Judge, in order that he might examine what was written on
it. This he did very carefully with the aid of a magnifying glass,
referring now and again to the photographic copy which Doctor Probate
had filed in the Registry.
"Thank you," he said presently, "that will do. I am afraid that the
learned counsel below will wish to have an opportunity of inspection."
So Augusta had to descend and slowly walk along the ranks, stopping
before every learned leader to be carefully examined, while hundreds of
eager eyes in the background were fixed upon her unfortunate neck.
However, at last it came to an end.
"That will do, Miss Smithers," said the Judge, for whose consideration
she felt deeply grateful; "you can put on your cloak again now."
Accordingly she did so and re-entered the box.
"The document which you have just shown the Court, Miss Smithers," said
James, "is the one which was executed upon you in Kerguelen Land on or
about the 22nd day of December last year?"
"It was, I understand, executed in the presence of the testator and the
two attesting witnesses, all three being present together, and the
signature of each being tattooed in the presence of the other?"
"Was the testator, so far as you could judge, at the time of the
dictation and execution of the will, of sound mind, memory, and
"Most certainly he was."
"Did you, beyond the suggestions of which you have already given
evidence, in any way unduly influence the testator's mind, so as to
induce him to make this will?"
"I did not."
"And to those facts you swear?"
Then he passed on to the history of the death of the two sailors who had
attested the will, and to the account of Augusta's ultimate rescue,
finally closing his examination-in-chief just as the clock struck four,
whereon the Court adjourned till the following day.
As may be imagined, though things had gone fairly well so far, nobody
concerned of our party passed an over-comfortable night. The strain was
too great to admit of it; and really they were all glad to find
themselves in the court--which was, if possible, even more crowded on the
following morning--filled with the hope that that day might see the
matter decided one way or the other.
As soon as the Judge had come in, Augusta resumed her place in the
witness-box, and the Attorney-General rose to cross-examine her.
"You told the Court, Miss Smithers, at the conclusion of your evidence,
that you are now engaged to be married to Mr. Meeson, the plaintiff.
Now, I am sorry to have to put a personal question to you, but I must
ask you--Were you at the time of the tattooing of the will, in love with
This was a home-thrust, and poor Augusta coloured up beneath it; however,
her native wit came to her aid.
"If you will define, Sir, what being in love is, I will do my best to
answer your question," she said. Whereat the audience, including his
The Attorney-General looked puzzled, as well he might; for there are some
things which are beyond the learning of even an Attorney-General.
"Well," he said, "were you matrimonially inclined towards Mr. Meeson?"
"Surely, Mr. Attorney-General," said the Judge, "the one thing does not
necessarily include the other?"
"I bow to your Lordship's experience," said Mr. Attorney, tartly.
"Perhaps I had better put my question in this way--Had you, at any time,
any prospect of becoming engaged to Mr. Meeson?"
"Did you submit to this tattooing, which must have been painful, with a
view of becoming engaged to the plaintiff?"
"Certainly not. I may point out," she added, with hesitation, "that such
a disfigurement is not likely to add to anybody's attractions."
"Please answer my questions, Miss Smithers, and do not comment on them.
How did you come, then, to submit yourself to such a disagreeable
"I submitted to it because I thought it right to do so, there being no
other apparent means at hand of attaining the late Mr. Meeson's end.
Also"--and she paused.
"Also I had a regard for Mr. Eustace Meeson, and I knew that he had lost
his inheritance through a quarrel about myself."
"Ah! now we are coming to it. Then you were tattooed out of regard for
the plaintiff, and not purely in the interests of justice?"
"Yes; I suppose so."
"Well, Mr. Attorney," interposed the Judge, "and what if she was?"
"My object, my Lord, was to show that this young lady was not the purely
impassive medium in this matter that my learned friend, Mr. Short, would
lead the Court to believe. She was acting from motive."
"Most people do," said the Judge drily. "But it does not follow that the
motive was an improper one."
Then the learned gentleman continued his cross-examination, directing all
the ingenuity of his practised mind to trying to prove by Augusta's
admissions, first, that the testator was acting under the undue
influence of herself; and secondly, that when the will was executed he
was _non compos mentis_. To this end he dwelt at great length on every
detail of the events between the tattooing of the will and the death of
the testator on the following day, making as much as was possible out of
the fact that he died in a fit of mania. But do what he would, he could
not shake her evidence upon any material point, and when at last he sat
down James Short felt that his case had not received any serious blow.
Then a few more questions having been asked in cross-examination by
various other counsel, James rose to re-examine, and, with the object of
rebutting the presumption of the testator's mental unsoundness, made
Augusta repeat all the details of the confession that the late publisher
had made to her as regards his methods of trading. It was beautiful to
see the fury and horror portrayed upon the countenance of the choleric
Mr. Addison and the cadaverous Mr. Roscoe, when they saw the most
cherished secrets of the customs of the trade, as practised at Meeson's,
thus paraded in the open light of day, while a dozen swift-pencilled
reporters took every detail down.
Then at last Augusta was told to stand down, which she did thankfully
enough, and Mrs. Thomas, the wife of Captain Thomas, was called. She
proved the finding of Augusta on the island, and that she had seen
the hat of one of the sailors, and the rum-cask two-thirds empty, and
also produced the shell out of which the men had drunk the rum (which
shell the Judge had called Augusta to identify). What was most
important, however, was that she gave the most distinct evidence that
she had herself seen the late Mr. Meeson interred, and identified
the body as that of the late publisher by picking out his photograph
from among a bundle of a dozen that were handed to her. Also she
swore that when Augusta came aboard the whaler the tattoo marks on
her back were not healed.
No cross-examination of the witness worth the name having been attempted,
James called a clerk from the office of the late owners of the R.M.S.
Kangaroo, who produced the roll of the ship, on which the names of the
two sailors, Johnnie Butt and Bill Jones, duly appeared.
This closed the plaintiff's case, and the Attorney-General at once
proceeded to call his witnesses, reserving his remarks till the
conclusion of the evidence. He had only two witnesses, Mr. Todd, the
lawyer who drew and attested the will of Nov. 10, and his clerk, who also
attested it, and their examination did not take long. In
cross-examination, however, both these witnesses admitted that the
testator was in a great state of passion when he executed the will, and
gave details of the lively scene that then occurred.
Then the Attorney-General rose to address the Court for the defendants.
He said there were two questions before the Court, reserving, for the
present, the question as to the admissibility of the evidence of Augusta
Smithers; and those were--first, did the tattoo marks upon the lady's
neck constitute a will at all? and secondly, supposing that they did, was
it proved to the satisfaction of the Court that these undated marks were
duly executed by a sane and uninfluenced man, in the presence of the
witnesses, as required by the statute. He maintained, in the first place,
that these marks were no will within the meaning of the statute; but,
feeling that he was not on very sound ground on this point, quickly
passed on to the other aspects of the case. With much force and ability
he dwelt upon the strangeness of the whole story, and how it rested
solely upon the evidence of one witness, Augusta Smithers. It was only if
the Court accepted her evidence as it stood that it could come to the
conclusion that the will was executed at all, or, indeed, that the two
attesting witnesses were on the island at all. Considering the relations
which existed between this witness and the plaintiff, was the Court
prepared to accept her evidence in this unreserved way? Was it prepared
to decide that this will, in favour of a man with whom the testator had
violently quarrelled, and had disinherited in consequence of that
quarrel, was not, if indeed it was executed at all, extorted by this lady
from a weak and dying, and possibly a deranged, man? and with this
question the learned gentleman sat down.
He was followed briefly by the Solicitor-General and Mr. Fiddlestick; but
though they talked fluently enough, addressing themselves to various
minor points, they had nothing fresh of interest to adduce, and
finishing at half-past three, James rose to reply on the whole case on
behalf of the plaintiff.
There was a moment's pause while he was arranging his notes, and then,
just as he was about to begin, the Judge said quietly, "Thank you, Mr.
Short, I do not think that I need trouble you," and James sat down with a
gasp, for he knew that the cause was won.
Then his Lordship began, and, after giving a masterly summary of the
whole case, concluded as follows:--"Such are the details of the most
remarkable probate cause that I ever remember to have had brought to my
notice, either during my career at the Bar or on the Bench. It will be
obvious, as the learned Attorney-General has said, that the whole case
really lies between two points. Is the document on the back of Augusta
Smithers a sufficient will to carry the property? and, if so, is the
unsupported story of that lady as to the execution of the document to be
believed? Now, what does the law understand by the term 'Will'? Surely it
understands some writing that expresses the wish or will of a person as
to the disposition of his property after his decease? This writing must
be executed with certain formalities; but if it is so executed by a
person not labouring under any mental or other disability it is
indefeasible, except by the subsequent execution of a fresh testamentary
document, or by its destruction or attempted destruction, _animo
revocandi_, or by marriage. Subject to these formalities required by the
law, the form of the document--provided that its meaning is clear--is
immaterial. Now, do the tattoo marks on the back of this lady constitute
such a document, and do they convey the true last will or wish of the
testator? That is the first point that I have to decide, and I decide it
in the affirmative. It is true that it is not usual for testamentary
documents to be tattooed upon the skin of a human being; but, because it
is not usual, it does not follow that a tattooed document is not a valid
one. The ninth section of the Statute of 1 Vic., cap. 26, specifies that
no will shall be valid unless it shall be in writing; but cannot this
tattooing be considered as writing within the meaning of the Act? I am
clearly of opinion that it can, if only on the ground that the material
used was ink--a natural ink, it is true, that of the cuttle-fish, but
still ink; for I may remark that the natural product of the cuttle-fish
was at one time largely used in this country for that very purpose.
Further, in reference to this part of the case, it must be borne in mind
that the testator was no eccentric being, who from whim or perversity
chose this extraordinary method of signifying his wishes as to the
disposal of his property. He was a man placed in about as terrible a
position as it is possible to conceive. He was, if we are to believe the
story of Miss Smithers, most sincerely anxious to revoke a disposition of
his property which he now, standing face to face with the greatest issue
of this life, recognised to be unjust, and which was certainly contrary
to the promptings of nature as experienced by most men. And yet in this
terrible strait in which he found himself, and notwithstanding the
earnest desire which grew more intense as his vital forces ebbed, he
could find absolutely no means of carrying out his wish. At length,
however, this plan of tattooing his will upon the living flesh on a
younger and stronger person is presented to him, and he eagerly avails
himself of it; and the tattooing is duly carried out in his presence and
at his desire, and as duly signed and witnessed. Can it be seriously
argued that a document so executed does not fulfil the bare requirements
of the law? I think that it cannot, and am of opinion that such a
document is as much a valid will as though it had been engrossed upon the
skin of a sheep, and duly signed and witnessed in the Temple.
"And now I will come to the second point. Is the evidence of Miss
Smithers to be believed? First, let us see where it is corroborated. It
is clear, from the testimony of Lady Holmhurst, that when on board the
ill-fated Kangaroo, Miss Smithers had no tattoo marks upon her
shoulders. It is equally clear from the unshaken testimony of Mrs.
Thomas, that when she was rescued by the American whaler, her back was
marked with tattooing, then in the healing stage--with tattooing which
could not possibly have been inflicted by herself or by the child, who
was her sole living companion. It is also proved that there was seen upon
the island by Mrs. Thomas the dead body of a man, which she was informed
was that of Mr. Meeson, and which she here in court identified by means
of a photograph. Also, this same witness produced a shell which she
picked up in one of the huts, said to be the shell used by the sailors to
drink the rum that led to their destruction; and she swore that she saw a
sailor's hat lying on the shore. Now, all this is corroborative evidence,
and of a sort not to be despised. Indeed, as to one point, that of the
approximate date of the execution of the tattooing, it is to my mind
final. Still, there does remain an enormous amount that must be accepted
or not, according as to whether or no credence can be placed in the
unsupported testimony of Miss Smithers, for we cannot call on a child so
young as the present Lord Holmhurst, to bear witness in a Court of
Justice. If Miss Smithers, for instance, is not speaking the truth when
she declares that the signature of the testator was tattooed upon her
under his immediate direction, or that it was tattooed in the presence of
the two sailors, Butt and Jones, whose signatures were also tattooed in
the presence of the testator and of each other--no will at all was
executed, and the plaintiff's case collapses, utterly, since, from the
very nature of the facts, evidence as to handwriting would, of course, be
useless. Now, I approach the decision of this point after anxious
thought and some hesitation. It is not a light thing to set aside a
formally executed document such as the will of Nov. 10, upon which the
defendants rely, and to entirely alter the devolution of a vast amount of
property upon the unsupported testimony of a single witness. It seems to
me, however, that there are two tests which the Court can more or less
set up as standards, wherewith to measure the truth of the matter. The
first of these is the accepted probability of the action of an individual
under any given set of circumstances, as drawn from our common knowledge
of human nature; and the second, the behaviour and tone of the witness,
both in the box and in the course of circumstances that led to her
appearance there. I will take the last of those two first, and I may as
well state, without further delay, that I am convinced of the truth of
the story told by Miss Smithers. It would to my mind be impossible for
any man, whose intelligence had been trained by years of experience in
this and other courts, and whose daily duty it is to discriminate as to
the credibility of testimony, to disbelieve the history so
circumstantially detailed in the box by Miss Smithers (Sensation). I
watched her demeanour both under examination and cross-examination very
closely indeed, and I am convinced that she was telling the absolutely
truth so far as she knew it.
"And now to come to the second point. It has been suggested, as throwing
doubt upon Miss Smithers' story, that the existence of an engagement to
marry, between her and the plaintiff, may have prompted her to concoct a
monstrous fraud for his benefit; and this is suggested although at the
time of the execution of the tattooing no such engagement did, as a
matter of fact, exist, or was within measurable distance of the parties.
It did not exist, said the Attorney-General; but the disposing mind
existed: in other words, that she was then 'in love'--if, notwithstanding
Mr. Attorney's difficulty in defining it, I may use the term with the
plaintiff. This may or may not have been the case. There are some things
which it is quite beyond the power of any Judge or Jury to decide, and
one of them certainly is--at what exact period of her acquaintance with a
future husband a young lady's regard turns into a warmer feeling? But
supposing that the Attorney-General is right, and that although she at
that moment clearly had no prospect of marrying him, since she had left
England to seek her fortune at the Antipodes, the plaintiff was looked
upon by this lady with that kind of regard which is supposed to precede
the matrimonial contract, the circumstance, in my mind, tells rather in
his favour than against him. For in passing I may remark that this young
lady has done a thing which is, in its way, little short of heroic; the
more so because it has a ludicrous side. She has submitted to an
operation which must not only have been painful, but which is and always
will be a blot upon her beauty. I am inclined to agree with the
Attorney-General when he says that she did not make the sacrifice without
a motive, which may have sprung from a keen sense of justice, and of
gratitude to the plaintiff for his interference on her behalf, or from a
warmer feeling. In either case there is nothing discreditable about
it--rather the reverse, in fact; and, taken by itself, there is certainly
nothing here to cause me to disbelieve the evidence of Miss Smithers.
"One question only seems to me to remain. Is there anything to show that
the testator was not, at the time of the execution of the will, of a
sound and disposing mind? and is there anything in his conduct or history
to render the hypothesis of his having executed his will so improbable
that the Court should take the improbability into account? As to the
first point, I can find nothing. Miss Smithers expressly swore that it
was not the case; nor was her statement shaken by a very searching
cross-examination. She admitted, indeed, that shortly before death he
wandered in his mind, and thought that he was surrounded by the shades of
authors waiting to be revenged upon him. But it is no uncommon thing for
the mind thus to fail at the last, and it is not extraordinary that this
dying man should conjure before his brain the shapes of those with some
of whom he appears to have dealt harshly during his life. Nor do I
consider it in any way impossible that when he felt his end approaching
he should have wished to reverse the sentence of his anger, and restore
his nephew, whose only offence had been a somewhat indiscreet use of the
language of truth, the inheritance to vast wealth of which he had
deprived him. Such a course strikes me as being a most natural and proper
one, and perfectly in accordance with the first principles of human
nature. The whole tale is undoubtedly of a wild and romantic order, and
once again illustrates the saying that 'truth is stranger than fiction.'
But I have no choice but to accept the fact that the deceased did, by
means of tattooing, carried out by his order, legally execute his true
last will in favour of his next-of-kin, Eustace H. Meeson, upon the
shoulders of Augusta Smithers, on or about the 22nd day of December,
1885. This being so, I pronounce for the will propounded by the
plaintiff, and there will be a grant as prayed."
"With costs, my Lord?" asked James, rising.
"No, I am not inclined to go that length. This litigation has arisen
through the testator's own act, and the estate must bear the burden."
"If your Lordship pleases," said James, and sat down.
"Mr. Short," said the Judge, clearing his throat, "I do not often speak
in such a sense, but I do feel called upon to compliment you upon the way
in which you have, single-handed, conducted this case--in some ways one
of the strangest and most important that has ever come before me--having
for your opponents so formidable an array of learned gentlemen. The
performance would have been creditable to anybody of greater experience
and longer years; as it is, I believe it to be unprecedented."
James turned colour, bowed, and sat down, knowing that he was a made man,
and that it would be his own fault if his future career at the Bar was
not now one of almost unexampled prosperity.
ST. GEORGE'S, HANOVER-SQUARE.
The Court broke up in confusion, and Augusta, now that the strain was
over, noticed with amusement that the dark array of learned counsel who
had been fighting with all their strength to win the case of their
clients did not seem to be particularly distressed at the reverse that
they had suffered, but chatted away gaily as they tied up their papers
with scraps of red tape. She did not, perhaps, quite realize that,
having done their best and earned their little fees, they did not feel
called on to be heart-broken because the Court declined to take the view
they were paid to support. But it was a very different matter with
Messrs. Addison and Roscoe, who had just seen two millions of money slip
from their avaricious grasp. They were rich men already; but that fact
did not gild the pill, for the possession of money does not detract from
the desire for the acquisition of more. Mr. Addison was purple with fury,
and Mr. Roscoe hid his saturnine face in his hands and groaned. Just then
the Attorney-General rose, and seeing James Short coming forward to speak
to his clients, stopped him, and shook hands with him warmly.
"Let me congratulate you, my dear fellow," he said. "I never saw a case
better done. It was a perfect pleasure to me, and I am very glad that the
Judge thought fit to compliment you--a most unusual thing, by-the-way. I
can only say that I hope that I may have the pleasure of having you as my
junior sometimes in the future. By-the-way, if you have no other
engagement I wish that you would call round at my chambers to-morrow
Mr. Addison, who was close by, overheard this little speech, and a new
light broke upon him. With a bound he plunged between James and the
"I see what it is now," he said, in a voice shaking with wrath, "I've
been sold! I am a victim to collusion. You've had five hundred of my
money, confound you!" he shouted, almost shaking his fist in the face of
his learned and dignified adviser; "and now you are congratulating this
man!" and he pointed his finger at James. "You've been bribed to betray
me, Sir. You are a rascal! yes, a rascal!"
At this point the learned Attorney-General, forgetting his learning and
the exceeding augustness of his position, actually reverted to those
first principles of human nature of which the Judge had spoken, and
doubled his fist. Indeed, had not Mr. News, utterly aghast at such a
sight, rushed up and dragged his infuriated client back, there is no
knowing what scandalous thing might not have happened.
But somehow he was got rid of, and everybody melted away, leaving the
ushers to go round and collect the blotting-paper and pens which strewed
the empty court.
"And now, good people," said Lady Holmhurst, "I think that the best thing
that we can do is all to go home and rest before dinner. I ordered it at
seven, and it is half-past five. I hope that you will come, too, Mr.
Short, and bring your brother with you; for I am sure that you, both of
you, deserve your dinner, if ever anybody did."
And so they all went, and a very jolly dinner they had, as well they
might. At last, however, it came to an end, and the legal twins departed,
beaming like stars with happiness and champagne. And then Lady Holmhurst
departed also, and left Eustace and Augusta alone.
"Life is a queer thing," said Eustace; "here this morning I was a
publisher's reader at L180 a year; and now, to-night, if this verdict
holds, it seems that I am one of the wealthiest men in England."
"Yes, dear," said Augusta, "and with all the world at your feet, for life
is full of opportunities to the rich. You have a great future before you,
Eustace; I really am ashamed to marry so rich a man."
"My darling," he said, putting his arm round her; "whatever I have I owe
to you. Do you know there is only one thing that I fear about all this
money, if it really comes to us; and that is that you will be so taken up
with what pleasure-seeking people call social duties, and the
distribution of it, that you will give up your writing. So many women are
like that. Whatever ability they have seems to vanish utterly away upon
their wedding-day. They say afterwards that they have no time, but I
often think it is because they do not choose to make time."
"Yes," answered Augusta; "but then that is because they do not really
love their work, whatever it may be. Those who really love their art as
I love mine, with heart and soul and strength, will not be so easily
checked. Of course, distractions and cares come with marriage; but, on
the other hand, if one marries happily, there comes quiet of mind and
cessation from that ceaseless restlessness that is so fatal to good
work. You need not fear, Eustace; if I can, I will show the world that
you have not married a dullard; and if I can't--why, my dear, it will be
because I am one."
"That comes very nicely from the author of 'Jemima's Vow,'" said Eustace,
with sarcasm. "Really, my dear, what between your fame as a writer and as
the heroine of the shipwreck and of the great will case, I think that I
had better take a back seat at once, for I shall certainly be known as
the husband of the beautiful and gifted Mrs. Meeson"--
"Oh! no," answered Augusta; "don't be afraid, nobody would dream of
speaking slightingly of the owner of two millions of money."
"Well; never mind chaffing about the money," said Eustace; "we haven't
got it yet, for one thing. I have got something to ask you."
"I must be going to bed," said Augusta, firmly.
"No--nonsense!" said Eustace. "You are not going," and he caught her
by the arm.
"Unhand me, Sir!" said Augusta, with majesty. "Now what do you want, you
"I want to know if you will marry me next week?"
"Next week? Good gracious! No," said Augusta. "Why I have not got my
things, and, for the matter of that, I am sure I don't know where the
money is coming from to pay for them with."
"Things!" said Eustace, with fine contempt. "You managed to live on
Kerguelen Land without things, so I don't see why you can't get married
without them--though, for the matter of that, I will get anything you
want in six hours. I never did hear such bosh as women talk about
'things.' Listen, dear. For Heaven's sake let's get married and have a
little quiet! I can assure you that if you don't, your life won't be
worth having after this. You will be hunted like a wild thing, and
interviewed, and painted, and worried to death; whereas, if you get
married--well, it will be better for us in a quiet way, you know."
"Well, there is something in that," said Augusta. "But supposing that
there should be an appeal, and the decision should be reversed, what
would happen then?"
"Well, then we should have to work for our living--that's all. I have got
my billet, and you could write for the press until your five years'
agreement with Meeson and Co. has run out. I would put you in the way of
that. I see lots of writing people at my shop."
"Well," said Augusta, "I will speak to Bessie about it."
"Oh, of course, Lady Holmhurst will say no," said Eustace, gloomily. "She
will think about the 'things'; and, besides, she won't want to lose you
before she is obliged."
"That is all that I can do for you, Sir," said Augusta, with decision.
"There--come--that's enough! Good-night." And breaking away from him, she
made a pretty little curtsey and vanished.
"Now, I wonder what she means to do," meditated Eustace, as the butler
brought him his hat. "I really should not wonder if she came round to it.
But then, one never knows how a woman will take a thing. If she will, she
will, etc., etc."
* * * * *
And now, it may strike the reader as very strange, but, as a matter of
fact, ten days from the date of the above conversation, there was a
small-and-early gathering at St. George's, Hanover-square, close by. I
say "small," for the marriage had been kept quite secret, in order to
prevent curiosity-mongers from marching down upon it in their thousands,
as they would certainly have done had it been announced that the heroine
of the great will case was going to be married. Therefore the party was
very select. Augusta had no relations of her own; and so she had asked
Dr. Probate, with whom she had struck up a great friendship, to come and
give her away; and, though the old gentleman's previous career had had
more connection with the undoing of the nuptial tie than with its
contraction, he could not find it in his heart to refuse.
"I shall be neglecting my duties, you know, my dear young lady," he said,
shaking his head. "It's very wrong--very wrong, for I ought to be at the
Registry; but--well, perhaps I can manage to come--very wrong,
though--very wrong, and quite out of my line of business! I expect that I
shall begin to address the Court--I mean the clergyman--for the
And so it came to pass that on this auspicious day the registering was
left to look after itself; and, as a matter of history, it may be stated
that no question was asked in Parliament about it.
Then there was Lady Holmhurst, looking very pretty in her widow's dress;
and her boy Dick, who was in the highest spirits, and bursting with
health and wonder at these strange proceedings on the part of his
"Auntie"; and, of course, the legal twins brought up the rear.
And there in the vestry stood Augusta in her bridal dress, as sweet a
woman as ever the sun shone on; and looking at her beautiful face, Dr.
Probate nearly fell in love with her himself. And yet it was a sad face
just then. She was happy--very, as a loving woman who is about to be made
a wife should be; but when a great joy draws near to us it comes
companioned by the shadows of our old griefs.
The highest sort of happiness has a peculiar faculty of recalling to our
minds that which has troubled them in the past, the truth being, that
extremes in this, as in other matters, will sometimes touch, which would
seem to suggest that sorrow and happiness--however varied in their
bloom--yet have a common root. Thus it was with Augusta now. As she
stood in the vestry there came to her mind a recollection of her dear
little sister, and of how she had prophesied happy greatness and success
for her. Now the happiness and the success were at hand, and there in the
aisle stood her own true love; but yet the recollection of that dear
face, and of the little mound that covered it, rested on them like a
shadow. It passed with a sigh, and in its place there came the memory of
poor Mr. Tombey, but for whom she would not have been standing there a
bride, and of his last words as he put her into the boat. He was food for
fishes now, poor fellow, and she was left alone with a great and happy
career opening out before her--a career in which her talents would have
free space to work. And yet how odd to think it: two or three score of
years and it would all be one, and she would be as Mr. Tombey was. Poor
Mr. Tombey! perhaps it was as well that he was not there to see her
happiness; and let us hope that wherever it is we go after the last event
we lose sight of the world and those we knew therein. Otherwise there
must be more hearts broken in heaven above than in earth beneath.
"Now, then, Miss Smithers," broke in Dr. Probate, "for the very last
time--nobody will call you that again, you know--take my arm; his
Lordship--I mean the parson--is there."
* * * * *
It was done, and they were man and wife. Well, even the happiest marriage
is always a good thing to get over. It was not a long drive back to
Hanover-square, and the very first sight that greeted them on their
arrival was the infant from the City (John's), accompanied by his
brother, the infant from Pump-court (James'), who had, presumably come to
show him the way, or more probably because he thought that there would be
eatables going--holding in his hand a legal-looking letter.
"Marked '_immediate_,' Sir; so I thought that I had better serve it at
once," said the first infant, handing the letter to John.
"What is it?" asked Eustace, nervously. He had grown to hate the sight of
a lawyer's letter with a deadly hate.
"Notice of appeal, I expect," said John.
"Open it, man!" said Eustace, "and let's get it over."
Accordingly, John did so, and read as follows:--
"MEESON V. ADDISON AND ANOTHER
"Dear Sir,--After consultation with our clients, Messrs. Addison and
Roscoe, we are enabled to make you the following offer. If no account is
required of the mesne profits"--
"That's a wrong term," said James, irritably. "Mesne profits refer to
profits derived from real estate. Just like a solicitor to make such
"The term is perfectly appropriate," replied his twin, with warmth.
"There was some real estate, and, therefore, the term can properly be
applied to the whole of the income."
"For Heaven's sake, don't argue but get on!" said Eustace. "Don't you see
that I am on tenterhooks?"
"--my clients," continued John, "are ready to undertake that no appeal
shall be presented to the recent case of Meeson v. Addison and Another.
If, however, the plaintiff insists upon an account, the usual steps will
be taken to bring the matter before a higher court.--Obediently, yours,
"NEWS AND NEWS. John Short, Esq.
"P.S.--An immediate reply will oblige."
"Well, Meeson, what do you say to that?" said John; "but I beg your
pardon, I forgot; perhaps you would like to take counsel's advice," and
he pointed to James, who was rubbing his bald bead indignantly.
"Oh, no, I should not," answered Eustace; "I've quite made up my mind.
Let them stick to their mesne" (here James made a face); "Well, then, to
their middle or intermediate or their anything else profits. No appeals
for me, if I can avoid it. Send News a telegram."
"That," began James, in his most solemn and legal tones, "is a view of
the matter in which I am glad to be able to heartily coincide,
although it seems to me that there are several points, which I will
touch on one by one."
"Good gracious! no," broke in Lady Holmhurst; "but I think it is rather
_mean_ of them, don't you, Mr. Short?"
James looked puzzled. "I do not quite take Lady Holmhurst's point," he
"Then you must be stupid," said Eustace, "Don't you see the
joke?--'_mesne_ profits,' _mean_ of them?"
"Ah," said James, with satisfaction; "I perceive. Lady Holmhurst does not
seem to be aware that although 'mesne'--a totally erroneous word--is
pronounced 'mean,' it is spelt m-e-s-n-e."
"I stand corrected," said Lady Holmhurst, with a little curtsey. "I
thought that Mr. James Short would take my ignorance into account, and
understand what I _mean_!"
This atrocious pun turned the laugh against the learned James, and then,
the telegram to News and News having been dispatched, they all went in to
the wedding breakfast.
In a general way, wedding breakfasts are not particularly lively affairs.
There is a mock hilarity about them that does not tend to true
cheerfulness, and those of the guests who are not occupied with graver
thoughts are probably thinking of the dyspepsia that comes after. But
this particular breakfast was an exception. For the first time since her
husband's unfortunate death, Lady Holmhurst seemed to have entirely
recovered her spirits and was her old self, and a very charming self it
was, so charming, indeed, that even James forgot his learning and the
responsibilities of his noble profession and talked, like an ordinary
Christian. Indeed, he even went so far as to pay her an elephantine
compliment; but as it was three sentences long, and divided into points,
it shall not be repeated here.
And then, at length, Dr. Probate rose to propose the bride's health; and
very nicely he did it, as might have been expected from a man with his
extraordinary familiarity with matrimonial affairs. His speech was quite
charming, and aptly sprinkled with classical quotations.
"I have often," he ended, "heard it advanced that all men are in reality
equally favoured by the Fates in their passage through the world. I have
always doubted the truth of that assertion, and now I am convinced of its
falsity. Mr. Eustace is a very excellent young man, and, if I may be
allowed to say so, a very good-looking young man; but what, I would ask
this assembled company, has Mr. Meeson done above the rest of men to
justify his supreme good fortune? Why should this young gentleman be
picked out from the multitude of young gentlemen to inherit two millions
of money, and to marry the most charming--yes, the most charming, the
most talented, and the bravest young lady that I have ever met--a young
lady who not only carries twenty fortunes on her face, but another
fortune in her brain, and his fortune on her neck--and such a fortune,
too! Sir"--and he bowed towards Eustace--
"'Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the goods the gods provide thee.'
"I salute you, as all men must salute one so supremely favoured. Humbly,
I salute you; humbly I pray that you may continually deserve the almost
unparalleled good that it has pleased Providence to bestow upon you."
And then Eustace rose and made his speech, and a very good speech it was,
considering the trying circumstances under which it was made. He told
them how he had fallen in love with Augusta's sweet face the very first
time that he had set eyes upon it in the office of his uncle at
Birmingham. He told them what he had felt when, after getting some work
in London, he had returned to Birmingham to find his lady-love flown, and
of what he had endured when he heard that she was among the drowned on
board the Kangaroo. Then he came to the happy day of the return, and to
that still happier day when he discovered that he had not loved her in
vain, finally ending thus--
"Dr. Probate has said that I am a supremely fortunate man, and I admit
the truth of his remark. I am, indeed, fortunate above my deserts, so
fortunate that I feel afraid. When I turn and see my beloved wife sitting
at my side, I feel afraid lest I should after all be dreaming a dream,
and awake to find nothing but emptiness. And then, on the other hand, is
this colossal wealth, which has come to me through her, and there again I
feel afraid. But, please Heaven, I hope with her help to do some good
with it, and remembering always that it is a great trust that has been
placed in my hands. And she also is a trust and a far more inestimable
one, and as I deal with her so may I be dealt with here and hereafter."
Then, by an afterthought, he proposed the health of the legal twins, who
had so nobly borne the brunt of the affray single-handed, and
disconcerted the Attorney-General and all his learned host.
Thereon James rose to reply in terms of elephantine eloquence, and would
have gone through the whole case again had not Lady Holmhurst in despair
pulled him by the sleeve and told him that he must propose her health,
which he did with sincerity, lightly alluding to the fact that she was a
widow by describing her as being in a "discovert condition, with all the
rights and responsibilities of a 'femme sole.'"
Everybody burst out laughing, not excepting poor lady Holmhurst herself,
and James sat down, not without indignation that a giddy world should
object to an exact and legal definition of the status of the individual
as set out by the law.
And after that Augusta went and changed her dress, and then came the
hurried good-byes; and, to escape observation, they drove off in a
hansom cab amidst a shower of old shoes.
And there in that hansom cab we will leave them.
MEESON'S ONCE AGAIN.
A month had passed--a month of long, summer days and such happiness as
young people who truly love each other can get out of a honeymoon spent
under the most favourable circumstances in the sweetest, sunniest spots
of the Channel Islands. And now the curtain draws up for the last time in
this history, where it drew up for the first--in the inner office of
Meeson's huge establishment.
During the last fortnight certain communications had passed between Mr.
John Short, being duly authorized thereto, and the legal representatives
of Messrs. Addison and Roscoe, with the result that the interests of
these gentlemen in the great publishing house had been bought up, and
that Eustace Meeson was now the sole owner of the vast concern, which he
intended to take under his personal supervision.
Now, accompanied by John Short, whom he had appointed to the post of his
solicitor both of his business and his private affairs, and by Augusta,
he was engaged in formally taking over the keys from the head manager,
who was known throughout the establishment, as No. 1.
"I wish to refer to the authors' agreements of the early part of last
year," said Eustace.
No. 1 produced them somewhat sulkily. He did not like the appearance of
this determined young owner upon the scene, with his free and
Eustace turned them over, and while he did so, his happy wife stood by
him, marvelling at the kaleidoscopic changes in her circumstances. When
last she had stood in that office, not a year ago, it had been as a
pitiful suppliant begging for a few pounds wherewith to try and save her
sister's life, and now--
Suddenly Eustace stopped turning, and drawing a document from the bundle,
glanced at it. It was Angusta's agreement with Meeson and Co. for
"Jemima's Vow," the agreement binding her to them for five years which
had been the cause of all her troubles, and, as she firmly believed, of
her little sister's death.
"There, my dear," said Eustace to his wife, "there is a present for
you. Take it!"
Augusta took the document, and having looked to see what it was, shivered
as she did so. It brought the whole thing back so painfully to her mind.
"What shall I do with it," she asked; "tear it up?"
"Yes," he answered. "No, stop a bit," and taking it from her he wrote
"cancelled" in big letters across it, signed and dated it.
"There," he said, "now send it to be framed and glazed, and it shall be
hung here in the office, to show how they used to do business at
No. 1 snorted, and looked at Eustace aghast. What would the young man be
"Are the gentlemen assembled in the hall?" asked Eustace of him when the
remaining documents were put away again.
No. 1 said that they were, and accordingly, to the hall they went,
wherein were gathered all the editors, sub-editors, managers,
sub-managers of the various departments, clerks, and other employees, not
forgetting the tame authors, who, a pale and mealy regiment, had been
marched up thither from the Hutches, and the tame artists with flying
hair--and were now being marshalled in lines by No. 1, who had gone on
before. When Eustace and his wife and John Short got to the top of the
hall, where some chairs had been set, the whole multitude bowed, whereon
he begged them to be seated--a permission of which the tame authors, who
sat all day in their little wooden hutches, and sometimes a good part of
the night also, did not seem to care to avail themselves of. But the tame
artists, who had, for the most part, to work standing, sat down readily.
"Gentlemen," said Eustace, "first let me introduce you to my wife, Mrs.
Meeson, who, in another capacity, has already been--not greatly to her
own profit--connected with this establishment, having written the best
work of fiction that has ever gone through our printing-presses"--(Here
some of the wilder spirits cheered, and Augusta blushed and bowed)--"and
who will, I hope and trust, write many even better books, which we shall
have the honour of giving to the world." (Applause.) "Also, gentlemen,
let me introduce you to Mr. John Short, my solicitor, who, together with
his twin brother, Mr. James Short, brought the great lawsuit in which I
was engaged to a successful issue."
"And now I have to tell you why I have summoned you all to meet
me here. First of all, to say that I am now the sole owner of this
business, having bought out Messrs. Addison and Roscoe"--("And a
good job too," said a voice)--"and that I hope we shall work well
together; and secondly, to inform you that I am going to totally
revolutionise the course of business as hitherto practised in this
establishment"--(Sensation)--"having, with the assistance of Mr. Short,
drawn up a scheme for that purpose. I am informed in the statement of
profits on which the purchase price of the shares of Messrs. Addison and
Roscoe was calculated, that the average net profits of this house during
the last ten years have amounted to fifty-seven and a fraction per cent
on the capital invested. Now, I have determined that in future the net
profits of any given undertaking shall be divided as follows:--Ten per
cent to the author of the book in hand, and ten per cent to the House.
Then, should there be any further profit, it will be apportioned thus:
One-third--of which a moiety will go towards a pension fund--to the
employee's of the House, the division to be arranged on a fixed
scale"--(Enormous sensation, especially among the tame authors)--"and
the remainder to the author of the work. Thus, supposing that a book paid
cent per cent, I shall take ten per cent., and the employees would take
twenty-six and a fraction per cent, and the author would take sixty-four
And here an interruption occurred. It came from No. 1, who could no
longer retain his disgust.
"I'll resign," he said; "I'll resign! Meeson's content with ten per cent,
and out-of-pocket expenses, when an author--a mere author--gets sixty!
"If you choose to resign, you can," said Eustace, sharply; "but I advise
you to take time to think it over. Gentlemen," went on Eustace, "I
daresay that this seems a great change to you, but I may as well say at
once that I am no wild philanthropist. I expect to make it pay, and pay
well. To begin with, I shall never undertake any work that I do not
think will pay--that is, without an adequate guarantee, or in the
capacity of a simple agent; and my own ten per cent will be the first
charge on the profits; then the author's ten. Of course, if I speculate
in a book, and buy it out and out, subject to the risks, the case will
be different. But with a net ten per cent certain, I am, like people in
any other line of business, quite prepared to be satisfied; and, upon
those terms, I expect to become the publisher of all the best writers in
England, and I also expect that any good writer will in future be able
to make a handsome income out of his work. Further, it strikes me that
you will most of you find yourselves better off at the end of the year
than you do at present" (Cheers). "One or two more matters I must touch
on. First and foremost the Hutches, which I consider a scandal to a
great institution like this, will be abolished"--(Shouts of joy from the
tame authors)--"and a handsome row of brick chambers erected in their
place, and, further, their occupants will in future receive a very
permanent addition to their salaries "--(renewed and delirious
cheering). "Lastly, I will do away with this system--this horrid
system--of calling men by numbers, as though they were convicts instead
of free Englishmen. Henceforth everybody in this establishment will be
known by his own name." (Loud cheers.)
"And now one more thing: I hope to see you all at dinner at Pompadour
Hall this day next week, when we will christen our new scheme and the new
firm, which, however, in the future as in the past, will be known as
Meeson & Co., for, as we are all to share in the profits of our
undertaking, I consider that we shall still be a company, and I hope a
prosperous and an honest company in the truest sense of the word." And
then amidst a burst of prolonged and rapturous cheering, Eustace and his
wife bowed, and were escorted out to the carriage that was waiting to
drive them to Pompadour Hall.
In half-an-hour's time they were re-entering the palatial gates from
which, less than a year before, Eustace had been driven forth to seek his
fortune. There, on either side, were drawn up the long lines of menials,
gorgeous with plush and powder (for Mr. Meeson's servants had never been
discharged), and there was the fat butler, Johnson, at their head, the
same who had given his farewell message to his uncle.
"Good gracious!" said Augusta, glancing up the marble steps, "there are
six of those great footmen. What on earth shall I do with them all"--
"Sack them," said Eustace, abruptly; "the sight of those overfed brutes
makes me sick!"
And then they were bowed in--and under the close scrutiny of many
pairs of eyes, wandered off with what dignity they could command to
dress for dinner.
In due course they found themselves at dinner, and such a dinner! It took
an hour and twenty minutes to get through, or rather the six footmen took
an hour and twenty minutes to carry the silver dishes in and out. Never
since their marriage had Eustace and Augusta, felt so miserable.
"I don't think that I like being so rich," said Augusta rising and coming
down the long table to her husband, when at last Johnson had softly
closed the door. "It oppresses me!"
"So it does me," said Eustace; "and I tell you what it is, Gussie," he
went on, putting his arm round her, "I won't stand having all these
infernal fellows hanging round me. I shall sell this place, and go in for
And at that moment there came a dreadful diversion. Suddenly, and without
the slightest warning, the doors at either end of the room opened.
Through the one came two enormous footmen laden with coffee and cream,
etc., and through the other Johnson and another powdered monster bearing
cognac and other liquors. And there was Augusta with Eustace's arm round
her, absolutely too paralysed to stir. Just as the men came up she got
away somehow, and stood looking like an idiot, while Eustace coloured to
his eyes. Indeed, the only people who showed no confusion were those
magnificent menials, who never turned a single powdered hair, but went
through their solemn rites with perfectly unabashed countenances.
"I can't stand this," said Augusta, feebly, when they had at length
departed. "I am going to bed; I feel quite faint."
"All right," said Eustace, "I think that it is the best thing to do in
this comfortless shop. Confound that fellow, Short, why couldn't he come
and dine? I wonder if there is any place where one could go to smoke a
pipe, or rather a cigar--I suppose those fellows would despise me if I
smoked a pipe? There was no smoking allowed here in my uncle's time, so I
used to smoke in the house-keeper's room; but I can't do that now"--
"Why don't you smoke here?--the room is so big it would not smell,"
"Oh, hang it all, no," said Eustace; "think of the velvet curtains! I
can't sit and smoke by myself in a room fifty feet by thirty; I should
get the blues. No, I shall come upstairs, too, and smoke there"--
And he did.
Early, very early in the morning, Augusta woke, got up, and put on a
The light was streaming through the rich gold cloth curtains, some of
which she had drawn. It lit upon the ewers, made of solid silver, on the
fine lace hangings of the bed, and the priceless inlaid furniture, and
played round the faces of the cupids on the frescoed ceiling. Augusta
stared at it all and then thought of the late master of this untold
magnificence as he lay dying in the miserable hut in Kerguelen Land. What
a contrast was here!
"Eustace," she said to her sleeping spouse, "wake up, I want to say
something to you."
"Eh! what's the matter?" said Eustace, yawning.
"Eustace, we are too rich--we ought to do something with all this money."
"All right," said Eustace, "I'm agreeable. What do you want to do?"
"I want to give away a good sum--say, two hundred thousand, that
isn't much out of all you have--to found an institution for
"All right," said Eustace; "only you must see about it, I can't be
bothered. By-the-way," he added, waking up a little, "you remember what
the old boy told you when he was dying? I think that starving authors who
have published with Meeson's ought to have the first right of election."
"I think so, too," said Augusta, and she went to the buhl writing-table
to work out that scheme on paper which, as the public is aware, is now
about to prove such a boon to the world of scribblers.
"I say, Gussie!" suddenly said her husband. "I've just had a dream!"
"Well!" she said sharply, for she was busy with her scheme; "what is it?"
"I dreamt that James Short was a Q.C., and making twenty thousand a year,
and that he had married Lady Holmhurst."
"I should not wonder if that came true," answered Augusta, biting the top
of her pen.
Then came another pause.
"Gussie," said Eustace, sleepily, "are you quite happy?"
"Yes, of course I am, that is, I should be if it wasn't for those footmen
and the silver water-jugs."
"I wonder at that," said her husband.
"Because"--(yawn)--"of that will upon your neck"--(yawn). "I should not
have believed that a woman could be quite happy"--(yawn)--"who
could--never go to Court."
And he went to sleep again; while, disdaining reply, Augusta worked on.