MR. MEESON'S WILL
BY H. RIDER HAGGARD
CHAPTER I. AUGUSTA AND HER PUBLISHER
CHAPTER II. HOW EUSTACE WAS DISINHERITED
CHAPTER III. AUGUSTA'S LITTLE SISTER
CHAPTER IV. AUGUSTA'S DECISION
CHAPTER V. THE R.M.S. KANGAROO
CHAPTER VI. MR. TOMBEY GOES FORWARD
CHAPTER VII. THE CATASTROPHE
CHAPTER VIII. KERGUELEN LAND
CHAPTER IX. AUGUSTA TO THE RESCUE
CHAPTER X. THE LAST OF MR. MEESON
CHAPTER XI. RESCUED
CHAPTER XII. SOUTHAMPTON QUAY
CHAPTER XIII. EUSTACE BUYS A PAPER
CHAPTER XIV. AT HANOVER SQUARE
CHAPTER XV. EUSTACE CONSULTS A LAWYER
CHAPTER XVI. SHORT ON LEGAL ETIQUETTE
CHAPTER XVII. HOW AUGUSTA WAS FILED
CHAPTER XVIII. AUGUSTA FLIES
CHAPTER XIX. MEESON v. ADDISON AND ANOTHER
CHAPTER XX. JAMES BREAKS DOWN
CHAPTER XXI. GRANT AS PRAYED
CHAPTER XXII. ST. GEORGE'S, HANOVER-SQUARE
CHAPTER XXIII. MEESON'S ONCE AGAIN
AUGUSTA AND HER PUBLISHER.
"Now mark you, my masters: this is comedy."—OLD PLAY.
Everybody who has any connection with Birmingham will be acquainted with
the vast publishing establishment still known by the short title of
"Meeson's," which is perhaps the most remarkable institution of the sort
in Europe. There are—or rather there were, at the date of the beginning
of this history—three partners in Meeson's—Meeson himself, the managing
partner; Mr. Addison, and Mr. Roscoe—and people in Birmingham used to
say that there were others interested in the affair, for Meeson's was a
However this may be, Meeson and Co. was undoubtedly a commercial marvel.
It employed more than two thousand hands; and its works, lit throughout
with the electric light, cover two acres and a quarter of land. One
hundred commercial travellers, at three pounds a week and a commission,
went forth east and west, and north and south, to sell the books of
Meeson (which were largely religious in their nature) in all lands; and
five-and-twenty tame authors (who were illustrated by thirteen tame
artists) sat—at salaries ranging from one to five hundred a year—in
vault-like hutches in the basement, and week by week poured out that
hat-work for which Meeson's was justly famous. Then there were editors
and vice-editors, and heads of the various departments, and sub-heads,
and financial secretaries, and readers, and many managers; but what their
names were no man knew, because at Meeson's all the employees of the
great house were known by numbers; personalities and personal
responsibility being the abomination of the firm. Nor was it allowed to
anyone having dealings with these items ever to see the same number
twice, presumably for fear lest the number should remember that he was a
man and a brother, and his heart should melt towards the unfortunate, and
the financial interests of Meeson's should suffer. In short, Meeson's was
an establishment created for and devoted to money-making, and the fact
was kept studiously and even insolently before the eyes of everybody
connected with it—which was, of course, as it should be, in this happy
land of commerce. After all that has been written, the reader will not be
surprised to learn that the partners in Meeson's were rich beyond the
dreams of avarice. Their palaces would have been a wonder even in ancient
Babylon, and would have excited admiration in the corruptest and most
luxurious days of Rome. Where could one see such horses, such carriages,
such galleries of sculpture or such collections of costly gems as at the
palatial halls of Messrs. Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe?
"And to think," as the Mighty Meeson himself would say, with a lordly
wave of his right hand, to some astonished wretch of an author whom he
has chosen to overwhelm with the sight of this magnificence, "to think
that all this comes out of the brains of chaps like you! Why, young man,
I tell you that if all the money that has been paid to you scribblers
since the days of Elizabeth were added together it would not come up to
my little pile; but, mind you, it ain't so much fiction that has done the
trick—it's religion. It's piety as pays, especially when it's printed."
Then the unsophisticated youth would go away, his heart too full for
words, but pondering how these things were, and by-and-by he would pass
into the Meeson melting-pot and learn something about it.
One day King Meeson sat in his counting house counting out his money, or,
at least, looking over the books of the firm. He was in a very bad
temper, and his heavy brows were wrinkled up in a way calculated to make
the counting-house clerks shake on their stools. Meeson's had a branch
establishment at Sydney, in Australia, which establishment had, until
lately, been paying—it is true not as well as the English one, but,
still, fifteen or twenty per cent. But now a wonder had come to pass. A
great American publishing firm had started an opposition house in
Melbourne, and their "cuteness" was more than the "cuteness" of Meeson.
Did Meeson's publish an edition of the works of any standard author at
threepence per volume the opposition company brought out the same work at
twopence-halfpenny; did Meeson's subsidise a newspaper to puff their
undertakings, the opposition firm subsidised two to cry them down, and so
on. And now the results of all this were becoming apparent: for the
financial year just ended the Australian branch had barely earned a
beggarly net dividend of seven per cent.
No wonder Mr. Meeson was furious, and no wonder that the clerks shook
upon their stools.
"This must be seen into, No. 3," said Mr. Meeson, bringing his fist down
with a bang on to the balance-sheet.
No. 3 was one of the editors; a mild-eyed little man with blue
spectacles. He had once been a writer of promise; but somehow Meeson's
had got him for its own, and turned him into a publisher's hack.
"Quite so, Sir," he said humbly. "It is very bad—it is dreadful to think
of Meeson's coming down to seven per cent—seven per cent!" and he held
up his hands.
"Don't stand there like a stuck pig, No. 3," said Mr. Meeson, fiercely;
"but suggest something."
"Well, Sir," said No. 3 more humbly than ever, for he was terribly afraid
of his employer; "I think, perhaps, that somebody had better go to
Australia, and see what can be done."
"I know one thing that can be done," said Mr. Meeson, with a snarl: "all
those fools out there can be sacked, and sacked they shall be; and,
what's more, I'll go and sack them myself. That will do No. 3; that will
do;" and No. 3 departed, and glad enough he was to go.
As he went a clerk arrived, and gave a card to the great man.
"Miss Augusta Smithers," he read; then with a grunt, "show Miss Augusta
Presently Miss Augusta Smithers arrived. She was a tall, well-formed
young lady of about twenty-five, with pretty golden hair, deep grey
eyes, a fine forehead, and a delicate mouth; just now, however, she
looked very nervous.
"Well, Miss Smithers, what is it?" asked the publisher.
"I came, Mr. Meeson—I came about my book."
"Your book, Miss Smithers?" this was an affectation of forgetfulness;
"let me see?—forgive me, but we publish so many books. Oh, yes, I
remember; 'Jemima's Vow.' Oh, well, I believe it is going on fairly."
"I saw you advertised the sixteenth thousand the other day," put in Miss
"Did we—did we? ah, then, you know more about it than I do," and he
looked at his visitor in a way that conveyed clearly enough that he
considered the interview was ended.
Miss Smithers rose, and then, with a spasmodic effort, sat down again.
"The fact is, Mr. Meeson," she said—"The fact is, that, I thought that,
perhaps, as 'Jemima's Vow' had been such a great success, you might,
perhaps—in short, you might be inclined to give me some small sum in
addition to what I have received."
Mr. Meeson looked up. His forehead was wrinkled till the shaggy eyebrows
nearly hid the sharp little eyes.
"What!" he said. "What!"
At this moment the door opened, and a young gentleman came slowly in. He
was a very nice-looking young man, tall and well shaped, with a fair skin
and jolly blue eyes—in short, a typical young Englishman of the better
sort, aetate suo twenty-four. I have said that he came slowly in, but
that scarcely conveys the gay and dégagé air of independence which
pervaded this young man, and which would certainly have struck any
observer as little short of shocking, when contrasted with the worm-like
attitude of those who crept round the feet of Meeson. This young man had
not, indeed, even taken the trouble to remove his hat, which was stuck
upon the back of his head, his hands were in his pockets, a sacrilegious
whistle hovered on his lips, and he opened the door of the sanctum
sanctorum of the Meeson establishment with a kick!
"How do, uncle?" he said to the Commercial Terror, who was sitting there
behind his formidable books, addressing him even as though he were an
ordinary man. "Why, what's up?"
Just then, however, he caught sight of the very handsome young lady who
was seated in the office, and his whole demeanour underwent a most
remarkable change; out came the hands from his pockets, off went the hat,
and, turning, he bowed, really rather nicely, considering how impromptu
the whole performance was.
"What is it, Eustace?" asked Mr. Meeson, sharply.
"Oh, nothing, uncle; nothing—it can bide," and, without waiting for an
invitation, he took a chair, and sat down in such a position that he
could see Miss Smithers without being seen of his uncle.
"I was saying, Miss Smithers, or rather, I was going to say," went on the
elder Meeson, "that, in short, I do not in the least understand what you
can mean. You will remember that you were paid a sum of fifty pounds for
the copyright of 'Jemima's Vow.'"
"Great Heavens!" murmured Master Eustace, behind; "what a do!"
"At the time an alternative agreement, offering you seven per cent on the
published price of the book, was submitted to you, and, had you accepted
it, you would, doubtless, have realized a larger sum," and Mr. Meeson
contracted his hairy eyebrows and gazed at the poor girl in a way that
was, to say the least, alarming. But Augusta, though she felt sadly
inclined to flee, still stood to her guns, for, to tell the truth, her
need was very great.
"I could not afford to wait for the seven per cent, Mr. Meeson," she
"Oh, ye gods! seven per cent, when he makes about forty-five!" murmured
Eustace, in the background.
"Possibly, Miss Smithers; possibly;" went on the great man. "You must
really forgive me if I am not acquainted with the exact condition of your
private affairs. I am, however, aware from experience that the money
matters of most writing people are a little embarrassed."
Augusta winced, and Mr. Meeson, rising heavily from his chair, went to a
large safe which stood near, and extracted from it a bundle of
agreements. These he glanced at one by one till he found what he was
"Here is the agreement," he said; "let me see? ah, I thought
so—copyright fifty pounds, half proceeds of rights of translation, and a
clause binding you to offer any future work you may produce during the
next five years to our house on the seven per cent agreement, or a sum
not exceeding one hundred pounds for the copyright. Now, Miss Smithers,
what have you to say? You signed this paper of your own free will. It so
happens that we have made a large profit on your book: indeed, I don't
mind telling you that we have got as much as we gave you back from
America for the sale of the American rights; but that is no ground for
your coming to ask for more money than you agreed to accept. I never
heard of such a thing in the whole course of my professional experience;
never!" and he paused, and once more eyed her sternly.
"At any rate, there ought to be something to come to me from the rights
of translation—I saw in the paper that the book was to be translated
into French and German," said Augusta, faintly.
"Oh! yes, no doubt—Eustace, oblige me by touching the bell."
The young gentleman did so, and a tall, melancholy-looking clerk
"No. 18," snarled Mr. Meeson, in the tone of peculiar amiability that he
reserved for his employee's, "make out the translation account of
'Jemima's Vow,' and fill up a cheque of balance due to the author."
No. 18 vanished like a thin, unhappy ghost, and Mr. Meeson once more
addressed the girl before him. "If you want money, Miss Smithers," he
said, "you had better write us another book. I am not going to deny that
your work is good work—a little too deep, and not quite orthodox enough,
perhaps; but still good. I tested it myself, when it came to hand—which
is a thing I don't often do—and saw it was good selling quality, and you
see I didn't make a mistake. I believe 'Jemima's Vow' will sell twenty
thousand without stopping—here's the account."
As he spoke the spectre-like clerk put down a neatly-ruled bit of paper
and an unsigned cheque on the desk before his employer, and then smiled a
shadowy smile and vanished.
Mr. Meeson glanced through the account, signed the cheque, and handed
it, together with the account to Augusta, who proceeded to read it. It
AUGUSTA SMITHERS in account with MEESON & Co.
£ s d
To Sale of Right of Translation of 7 0 0
"Jemima's Vow" into French……
Do. do. do. into German 7 0 0
£14 0 0
£ s d
Less amount due to Messrs. Meeson, being 7 0 0
one-half of net proceeds
Less Commission, &c 3 19 0
£10 19 0
Balance due to Author, as per cheque £3 1 0
Augusta looked, and then slowly crumpled up the cheque in her hand.
"If I understand, Mr. Meeson," she said, "you have sold the two rights of
translation of my book, which you persuaded me to leave in your hands,
for £14; out of which I am to receive £3 1s.?"
"Yes, Miss Smithers. Will you be so kind as to sign the receipt; the fact
is that I have a good deal of business to attend to."
"No, Mr. Meeson," suddenly said Augusta, rising to her feet and looking
exceedingly handsome and imposing in her anger. "No; I will not sign the
receipt, and I will not take this cheque. And, what is more, I will not
write you any more books. You have entrapped me. You have taken
advantage of my ignorance and inexperience, and entrapped me so that for
five years I shall be nothing but a slave to you, and, although I am now
one of the most popular writers in the country, shall be obliged to
accept a sum for my books upon which I cannot live. Do you know that
yesterday I was offered a thousand pounds for the copyright of a book
like 'Jemima's Vow'?—it's a large sum; but I have the letter. Yes, and I
have the book in manuscript now; and if I could publish it I should be
lifted out of poverty, together with my poor little sister!" and she gave
a sob. "But," she went on, "I cannot publish it, and I will not let you
have it and be treated like this; I had rather starve. I will publish
nothing for five years, and I will write to the papers and say
why—because I have been cheated, Mr. Meeson!"
"Cheated!" thundered the great man. "Be careful, young lady; mind what
you are saying. I have a witness; Eustace, you hear, 'cheated'!
"I hear," said Eustace, grimly.
"Yes, Mr. Meeson, I said 'cheated'; and I will repeat it, whether I am
locked up for it or not. Good morning, Mr. Meeson," and she curtseyed to
him, and then suddenly burst into a flood of tears.
In a minute Eustace was by her side.
"Don't cry, Miss Smithers; for Heaven's sake don't I can't bear to see
it," he said.
She looked up, her beautiful grey eyes full of tears, and tried to smile.
"Thank you," she said; "I am very silly, but I am so disappointed. If you
only knew—. There I will go. Thank you," and in another instant she had
drawn herself up and left the room.
"Well," said Mr. Meeson, senior, who had been sitting at his desk with
his great mouth open, apparently too much astonished to speak. "Well,
there is a vixen for you. But she'll come round. I've known them to do
that sort of thing before—there are one or two down there," and he
jerked his thumb in the direction where the twenty and five tame authors
sat each like a rabbit in his little hutch and did hat-work by the yard,
"who carried on like that. But they are quiet enough now—they don't
show much spirit now. I know how to deal with that sort of
thing—half-pay and a double tale of copy—that's the ticket. Why, that
girl will be worth fifteen hundred a year to the house. What do you
think of it, young man, eh?"
"I think," answered his nephew, on whose good-tempered face a curious
look of contempt and anger had gathered, "I think that you ought to be
ashamed of yourself!"
HOW EUSTACE WAS DISINHERITED.
There was a pause—a dreadful pause. The flash had left the cloud, but
the answering thunder had not burst upon the ear. Mr. Meeson gasped. Then
he took up the cheque which Augusta had thrown upon the table and slowly
"What did you say, young man?" he said at last, in a cold, hard voice.
"I said that you ought to be ashamed of yourself," answered his nephew,
standing his ground bravely; "and, what is more, I meant it!"
"Oh! Now will you be so kind as to explain exactly why you said that, and
why you meant it?"
"I meant it," answered his nephew, speaking in a full, strong voice,
"because that girl was right when she said that you had cheated her, and
you know that she was right. I have seen the accounts of 'Jemima's
Vow'—I saw them this morning—and you have already made more than a
thousand pounds clear profit on the book. And then, when she comes to ask
you for something over the beggarly fifty pounds which you doled out to
her, you refuse, and offer her three pounds as her share of the
translation rights—three pounds as against your eleven!"
"Go on," interrupted his uncle; "pray go on."
"All right; I am going. That is not all: you actually avail yourself of a
disgraceful trick to entrap this unfortunate girl into an agreement,
whereby she becomes a literary bondslave for five years! As soon as you
see that she has genius, you tell her that the expense of bringing out
her book, and of advertising up her name, &c., &c., &c., will be very
great—so great, indeed, that you cannot undertake it, unless, indeed,
she agrees to let you have the first offer of everything she writes for
five years to come, at somewhere about a fourth of the usual rate of a
successful author's pay—though, of course, you don't tell her that. You
take advantage of her inexperience to bind her by this iniquitous
contract, knowing that the end of it will be that you will advance her a
little money and get her into your power, and then will send her down
there to the Hutches, where all the spirit and originality and genius
will be crushed out of her work, and she will become a hat-writer like
the rest of them—for Meeson's is a strictly commercial undertaking, you
know, and Meeson's public don't like genius, they like their literature
dull and holy!—and it's an infernal shame! that's what it is, uncle!"
and the young man, whose blue eyes were by this time flashing fire, for
he had worked himself up as he went along, brought his fist down with a
bang upon the writing table by way of emphasising his words.
"Have you done?" said his uncle.
"Yes, I've done; and I hope that I have put it plain."
"Very well; and now might I ask you, supposing that you should ever come
to manage this business, if your sentiments accurately represent the
system upon which you would proceed?"
"Of course they do. I am not going to turn cheat for anybody."
"Thank you. They seem to have taught you the art of plain speaking up at
Oxford—though, it appears," with a sneer, "they taught you very little
else. Well, then, now it is my turn to speak; and I tell you what it is,
young man, you will either instantly beg my pardon for what you have
said, or you will leave Meeson's for good and all."
"I won't beg your pardon for speaking the truth," said Eustace, hotly:
"the fact is that here you never hear the truth; all these poor devils
creep and crawl about you, and daren't call their souls their own. I
shall be devilish glad to get out of this place, I can tell you. All this
chickery and pokery makes me sick. The place stinks and reeks of sharp
practice and money-making—money-making by fair means or foul."
The elder man had, up till now, at all events to outward appearance, kept
his temper; but this last flower of vigorous English was altogether too
much for one whom the possession of so much money had for many years
shielded from hearing unpleasant truths put roughly. The man's face grew
like a devil's, his thick eyebrows contracted themselves, and his pale
lips quivered with fury. For a few seconds he could not speak, so great
was his emotion. When, at length, he did, his voice was as thick and
laden with rage as a dense mist is with rain.
"You impudent young rascal!" he began, "you ungrateful foundling! Do you
suppose that when my brother left you to starve—which was all that you
were fit for—I picked you out of the gutter for this: that you should
have the insolence to come and tell me how to conduct my business? Now,
young man, I'll just tell you what it is. You can be off and conduct a
business of your own on whatever principles you choose. Get out of
Meeson's, Sir; and never dare to show your nose here again, or I'll give
the porters orders to hustle you off the premises! And, now, that isn't
all. I've done with you, never you look to me for another sixpence! I'm
not going to support you any longer, I can tell you. And, what's more, do
you know what I'm going to do just, now? I'm going off to old
Todd—that's my lawyer—and I'm going to tell him to make another will
and to leave every farthing I have—and that isn't much short of two
millions, one way and another—to Addison and Roscoe. They don't want it,
but that don't matter. You shan't have it—no, not a farthing of it; and
I won't have a pile like that frittered away in charities and
mismanagement. There now, my fine young gentleman, just be off and see if
your new business principles will get you a living."
"All right, uncle; I'm going," said the young man, quietly. "I quite
understand what our quarrel means for me, and, to tell you the truth, I
am not sorry. I have never wished to be dependent on you, or to have
anything to do with a business carried on as Meeson's is. I have a
hundred a year my mother left me, and with the help of that and my
education, I hope to make a living. Still, I don't want to part from you
in anger, because you have been very kind to me at times, and, as you
remind me, you picked me out of the gutter when I was orphaned or not far
from it. So I hope you will shake hands before I go."
"Ah!" snarled his uncle; "you want to pipe down now, do you? But that
won't do. Off you go! and mind you don't set foot in Pompadour Hall," Mr.
Meeson's seat, "unless it is to get your clothes. Come, cut!"
"You misunderstand me," said Eustace, with a touch of native dignity
which became him very well. "Probably we shall not meet again, and I did
not wish to part in anger, that was all. Good morning." And he bowed and
left the office.
"Confound him!" muttered his uncle as the door closed, "he's a good
plucked one—showed spirit. But I'll show spirit, too. Meeson is a man of
his word. Cut him off with a shilling? not I; cut him off with nothing at
all. And yet, curse it, I like the lad. Well, I've done with him, thanks
to that minx of a Smithers girl. Perhaps he's sweet on her? then they can
go and starve together, and be hanged to them! She had better keep out of
my way, for she shall smart for this, so sure as my name is Jonathan
Meeson. I'll keep her up to the letter of that agreement, and, if she
tries to publish a book inside of this country or out of it, I'll crush
her—yes, I'll crush her, if it cost me five thousand to do it!" and,
with a snarl, he dropped his fist heavily upon the table before him.
Then he rose, put poor Augusta's agreement carefully back into the safe,
which he shut with a savage snap, and proceeded to visit the various
departments of his vast establishment, and to make such hay therein as
had never before been dreamt of in the classic halls of Meeson's.
To this hour the clerks of the great house talk of that dreadful day
with bated breath—for as bloody Hector raged through the Greeks, so
did the great Meeson rage through his hundred departments. In the very
first office he caught a wretched clerk eating sardine sandwiches.
Without a moment's hesitation he took the sandwiches and threw them
through the window.
"Do you suppose I pay you to come and eat your filthy sandwiches here?"
he asked savagely. "There, now you can go and look for them; and see you
here: you needn't trouble to come back, you idle, worthless fellow. Off
you go! and remember you need not send to me for a character. Now
The unfortunate departed, feebly remonstrating, and Meeson, having glared
around at the other clerks and warned them that unless they were
careful—very careful—they would soon follow in his tracks, continued
his course of devastation.
Presently he met an editor, No. 7 it was, who was bringing him an
agreement to sign. He snatched it from him and glanced through it.
"What do you mean by bringing me a thing like this?" he said: "It's
"It is exactly as you dictated to me yesterday, Sir," said the editor
"What, do you mean to contradict me?" roared Meeson. "Look here No. 7,
you and I had better part. Now, no words: your salary will be paid to
you till the end of the month, and if you would like to bring an
action for wrongful dismissal, why, I'm your man. Good morning, No. 7;
Next he crossed a courtyard where, by slipping stealthily around the
corner, he came upon a jolly little errand boy, who was enjoying a
solitary game of marbles.
Whack came his cane across the seat of that errand boy's trousers,
and in another minute he had followed the editor and the
And so the merry game went on for half an hour or more, till at last Mr.
Meeson was fain to cease his troubling, being too exhausted to continue
his destroying course. But next morning there was promotion going on in
the great publishing house; eleven vacancies had to be filled.
A couple of glasses of brown sherry and a few sandwiches, which he
hastily swallowed at a neighboring restaurant, quickly restored him,
however; and, jumping into a cab, he drove post haste to his lawyers',
Messrs. Todd and James.
"Is Mr. Todd in?" he said to the managing clerk, who came forward bowing
obsequiously to the richest man in Birmingham.
"Mr. Todd will be disengaged in a few minutes, Sir," he said. "May I
offer you the Times?"
"Damn the Times!" was the polite answer; "I don't come here to read
newspapers. Tell Mr. Todd I must see him at once, or else I shall go
"I am much afraid Sir"—began the managing clerk.
Mr. Meeson jumped up and grabbed his hat. "Now then, which is it to
be?" he said.
"Oh, certainly, Sir; pray be seated," answered the manager in great
alarm—Meeson's business was not a thing to be lightly lost. "I will see
Mr. Todd instantly," and he vanished.
Almost simultaneously with his departure an old lady was unceremoniously
bundled out of an inner room, clutching feebly at a reticule full of
papers and proclaiming loudly that her head was going round and round.
The poor old soul was just altering her will for the eighteenth time in
favor of a brand new charity, highly recommended by Royalty; and to be
suddenly shot from the revered presence of her lawyer out into the outer
darkness of the clerk's office, was really too much for her.
In another minute, Mr. Meeson was being warmly, even enthusiastically,
greeted by Mr. Todd himself. Mr. Todd was a nervous-looking, jumpy little
man, who spoke in jerks and gushes in such a way as to remind one of a
fire-hose through which water was being pumped intermittently.
"How do you do, my dear Sir? Delighted to have this pleasure," he began
with a sudden gush, and then suddenly dried up, as he noticed the
ominous expression on the great man's brow. "I am sure I am very sorry
that you were kept waiting, my dear Sir: but I was at the moment engaged
with an excellent and most Christian testator."—
Here he suddenly jumped and dried up again, for Mr. Meeson, without the
slightest warning, ejaculated: "Curse your Christian testator! And look
here, Todd, just you see that it does not happen again. I'm a Christian
testator too; and Christians of my cut aren't accustomed to be kept
standing about just like office-boys or authors. See that it don't happen
"I am sure I am exceedingly grieved. Circumstances"—
"Oh, never mind all that—I want my will."
"Will—will—Forgive me—a little confused, that's all. Your manner is so
full of hearty old middle-age's kind of vigour"—
Here he stopped, more suddenly even than usual, for Mr. Meeson fixed him
with his savage eye, and then jerked himself out of the room to look for
the document in question.
"Little idiot!" muttered Meeson; "I'll give him the sack, too, if he
isn't more careful. By Jove! why should I not have my own resident
solicitor? I could get a sharp hand with a damaged character for about
£300 a year, and I pay that old Todd quite £2000. There is a vacant place
in the Hutches that I could turn into an office. Hang me, if I don't do
it. I will make that little chirping grasshopper jump to some purpose,
I'll warrant," and he chuckled at the idea.
Just then Mr. Todd returned with the will, and before he could begin to
make any explanations his employer, cut him short with a sharp order to
read the gist of it.
This the lawyer proceeded to do. It was very short, and, with the
exception of a few legacies, amounting in all to about twenty thousand
pounds, bequeathed all the testator's vast fortune and estates, including
his (by far the largest) interest in the great publishing house, and his
palace with the paintings and other valuable contents, known as Pompadour
Hall, to his nephew, Eustace H. Meeson.
"Very well," he said, when the reading was finished; "now give it to me."
Mr. Todd obeyed, and handed the document to his patron, who deliberately
rent it into fragments with his strong fingers, and then completed its
destruction by tearing it with his big white teeth. This done, he mixed
the little pieces up, threw them on the floor, and stamped upon them with
an air of malignity that almost frightened jerky little Mr. Todd.
"Now then," he grimly said, "there's an end of the old love; so let's on
with the new. Take your pen and receive my instructions for my will."
Mr. Todd did as he was bid.
"I leave all my property, real and personal, to be divided in equal
shares between my two partners, Alfred Tom Addison and Cecil Spooner
Roscoe. There, that's short and sweet, and, one way and another, means a
couple of millions."
"Good heavens! Sir," jerked out Mr. Todd. "Why, do you mean to quite cut
out your nephew—and the other legatees?" he added by way of an
"Of course I do; that is, as regards my nephew. The legatees may stand
"Well all I have to say," went on the little man, astonished into
honesty, "Is that it is the most shameful thing I ever heard of!"
"Indeed, Mr. Todd, is it? Well now, may I ask you: am I leaving this
property, or are you? Don't trouble yourself to answer that, however, but
just attend. Either you draw up that will at once, while I wait, or you
say good-bye to about £2000 a year, for that's what Meeson's business is
worth, I reckon. Now you take your choice."
Mr. Todd did take his choice. In under an hour, the will, which was very
short, was drawn and engrossed.
"Now then," said Meeson, addressing himself to Mr. Todd and the managing
clerk, as he took the quill between his fingers to sign, "do you two bear
in mind that at the moment I execute this will I am of sound mind,
memory, and understanding. There you are; now do you two witness."
* * * * *
It was night, and King capital, in the shape of Mr. Meeson, sat alone at
dinner in his palatial dining-room at Pompadour. Dinner was over, the
powdered footman had departed with stately tread, and the head butler was
just placing the decanters of richly coloured wine before the solitary
lord of all. The dinner had been a melancholy failure. Dish after dish,
the cost of any one of which would have fed a poor child for a month, had
been brought up and handed to the master only to be found fault with and
sent away. On that night Mr. Meeson had no appetite.
"Johnson," he said to the butler, when he was sure the footman could not
hear him, "has Mr. Eustace been here?"
"Has he gone?"
"Yes, Sir. He came to fetch his things, and then went away in a cab."
"I don't know, Sir. He told the man to drive to Birmingham."
"Did he leave any message?"
"Yes, Sir, he bade me say that you should not be troubled with him again;
but that he was sorry that you had parted from him in anger."
"Why did you not give me that message before?"
"Because Mr. Eustace said I was not to give it unless you asked
"Very good. Johnson!"
"You will give orders that Mr. Eustace's name is not to be mentioned in
this house again. Any servant mentioning Mr. Eustace's name will be
"Very good, Sir"; and Johnson went.
Mr. Meeson gazed round him. He looked at the long array of glass and
silver, at the spotless napery and costly flowers. He looked at the walls
hung with works of art, which, whatever else they might be, were at least
expensive; at the mirrors and the soft wax-lights; at the marble
mantelpieces and the bright warm fires (for it was November); at the rich
wall paper and the soft, deep-hued carpet; and reflected that they were
all his. And then he sighed, and his coarse, heavy face sank in and grew
sad. Of what use was this last extremity of luxury to him? He had nobody
to leave it to, and to speak the truth, it gave him but little pleasure.
Such pleasure as he had in life was derived from making money, not from
spending it. The only times when he was really happy were when he was in
his counting house directing the enterprises of his vast establishment,
and adding sovereign by sovereign to his enormous accumulations. That had
been his one joy for forty years, and it was still his joy.
And then he fell to thinking of his nephew, the only son of his brother,
whom he had once loved, before he lost himself in publishing books and
making money, and sighed. He had been attached to the lad in his own
coarse way, and it was a blow to him to cut himself loose from him. But
Eustace had defied him, and—what was worse—he had told him the truth,
which he, of all men, could not bear. He had said that his system of
trade was dishonest, that he took more than his due, and it was so. He
knew it; but he could not tolerate that it should be told him, and that
his whole life should thereby be discredited, and even his accumulated
gold tarnished—stamped as ill-gotten; least of all could he bear it
from his dependent. He was not altogether a bad man; nobody is; he was
only a coarse, vulgar tradesman, hardened and defiled by a long career
of sharp dealing. At the bottom, he had his feelings like other men, but
he could not tolerate exposure or even contradiction; therefore he had
revenged himself. And yet, as he sat there, in solitary glory, he
realized that to revenge does not bring happiness, and could even find
it in his heart to envy the steadfast honesty that had defied him at the
cost of his own ruin.
Not that he meant to relent or alter his determination. Mr. Meeson never
relented, and never changed his mind. Had he done so he would not at
that moment have been the master of two millions of money.
AUGUSTA'S LITTLE SISTER.
When Augusta left Meeson's she was in a very sad condition of mind, to
explain which it will be necessary to say a word or two about that young
lady's previous history. Her father had been a clergyman, and, like most
clergymen, not overburdened with the good things of this world. When Mr.
Smithers—or, rather, the Rev. James Smithers—had died, he left behind
him a widow and two children—Augusta, aged fourteen, and Jeannie, aged
two. There had been two others, both boys, who had come into the world
between Augusta and Jeannie, but they had both preceded their father to
the land of shadows. Mrs. Smithers, had, fortunately for herself, a life
interest in a sum of £7000, which, being well invested, brought her in
£350 a year: and, in order to turn this little income to the best
possible account and give her two girls the best educational
opportunities possible under the circumstances, she, on her husband's
death, moved from the village where he had for many years been curate,
into the city of Birmingham. Here she lived in absolute retirement for
some seven years and then suddenly died, leaving the two girls, then
respectively nineteen and eight years of age, to mourn her loss, and,
friendless as they were, to fight their way in the hard world.
Mrs. Smithers had been a saving woman, and, on her death, it was found
that, after paying all debts, there remained a sum of £600 for the two
girls to live on, and nothing else; for their mother's fortune died with
her. Now, it will be obvious that the interest arising from six hundred
pounds is not sufficient to support two young people, and therefore
Augusta was forced to live upon the principal. From an early age,
however, she (Augusta) had shown a strong literary tendency, and shortly
after her mother's death she published her first book at her own expense.
It was a dead failure and cost her fifty-two pounds, the balance between
the profit and loss account. After awhile, however, she recovered from
this blow, and wrote "Jemima's Vow," which was taken up by Meeson's; and,
strange as it may seem, proved the success of the year. Of the nature of
the agreement into which she entered with Meeson's, the reader is already
acquainted, and he will not therefore be surprised to learn that under
its cruel provisions Augusta, notwithstanding her name and fame, was
absolutely prohibited from reaping the fruits of her success. She could
only publish with Meesons's, and at the fixed pay of seven per cent on
the advertised price of her work. Now, something over three years had
elapsed since the death of Mrs. Smithers, and it will therefore be
obvious that there was not much remaining of the six hundred pounds which
she had left behind her. The two girls had, indeed, lived economically
enough in a couple of small rooms in a back street; but their expenses
had been enormously increased by the serious illness, from a pulmonary
complaint, of the little girl Jeannie, now a child between twelve and
thirteen years of age. On that morning, Augusta had seen the doctor and
been crushed into the dust by the expression of his conviction, that,
unless her little sister was moved to a warmer climate, for a period of
at least a year, she would not live through the winter, and might die
at any moment.
Take Jeannie to a warmer climate! He might as well have told Augusta to
take her to the moon. Alas, she had not the money and did not know where
to turn to get it! Oh! reader, pray to Heaven that it may never be your
lot to see your best beloved die for the want of a few hundred pounds
wherewith to save her life!
It was in this terrible emergency that she had—driven thereto by her
agony of mind—tried to get something beyond her strict and legal due out
of Meeson's—Meeson's that had made hundreds and hundreds out of her book
and paid her fifty pounds. We know how she fared in that attempt. On
leaving their office, Augusta bethought her of her banker. Perhaps he
might be willing to advance something. It was a horrible task, but she
determined to undertake it; so she walked to the bank and asked to see
the manager. He was out, but would be in at three o'clock. She went to a
shop near and got a bun and glass of milk, and waited till she was
ashamed to wait any longer, and then she walked about the streets till
three o'clock. At the stroke of the hour she returned, and was shown into
the manager's private room, where a dry, unsympathetic looking little man
was sitting before a big book. It was not the same man whom Augusta had
met before, and her heart sank proportionately.
What followed need not be repeated here. The manager listened to her
faltering tale with a few stereotyped expressions of sympathy, and, when
she had done, "regretted" that speculative loans were contrary to the
custom of the bank, and politely bowed her out.
It was nearly four o'clock upon a damp, drizzling afternoon—a November
afternoon—that hung like a living misery over the black slush of the
Birmingham streets, and would in itself have sufficed to bring the
lightest hearted, happiest mortal to the very gates of despair, when
Augusta, wet, wearied, and almost crying, at last entered the door of
their little sitting-room. She entered very quietly, for the
maid-of-all-work had met her in the passage and told her that Miss
Jeannie was asleep. She had been coughing very much about dinner-time,
but now she was asleep.
There was a fire in the grate, a small one, for the coal was economised
by means of two large fire-bricks, and on a table (Augusta's writing
table), placed at the further side of the room, was a paraffin-lamp
turned low. Drawn up in front, but a little to one side of the fire, was
a sofa, covered with red rep, and on the sofa lay a fair-haired little
form, so thin and fragile that it looked like the ghost or outline of a
girl, rather than a girl herself. It was Jeannie, her sick sister, and
she was asleep. Augusta stole softly up to look at her. It was a sweet
little face that her eyes fell on, although it was so shockingly thin,
with long, curved lashes, delicate nostrils, and a mouth shaped like a
bow. All the lines and grooves which the chisel of Pain knows so well how
to carve were smoothed out of it now, and in their place lay the shadow
of a smile.
Augusta looked at her and clenched her fists, while a lump rose in her
throat, and her grey eyes filled with tears. How could she get the money
to save her? The year before a rich man, a man who was detestable to
her, had wanted to marry her, and she would have nothing to say to him.
He had gone abroad, else she would have gone back to him and married
him—at a price. Marry him? yes she would marry him: she would do
anything for money to take her sister away! What did she care for herself
when her darling was dying—dying for the want of two hundred pounds!
Just then Jeannie woke up, and stretched her arms out to her.
"So you are back at last, dear," she said in her sweet childish voice.
"It has been so lonely without you. Why, how wet you are! Take off your
jacket at once, Gussie, or you will soon be as ill as"—and here she
broke out into a terrible fit of coughing, that seemed to shake her
tender frame as the wind shakes a reed.
Her sister turned and obeyed, and then came and sat by the sofa and took
the thin little hand in hers.
"Well, Gussie, and how did you get on with the Printer-devil" (this
was her impolite name for the great Meeson); "will he give you any
"No, dear; we quarrelled, that was all, and I came away."
"Then I suppose that we can't go abroad?"
Augusta was too moved to answer; she only shook her head. The child
buried her face in the pillow and gave a sob or two. Presently she was
quiet, and lifted it again. "Gussie, love," she said, "don't be angry,
but I want to speak to you. Listen, my sweet Gussie, my angel. Oh,
Gussie, you don't know how I love you! It is all no good, it is useless
struggling against it, I must die sooner or later; though I am only
twelve, and you think me such a child, I am old enough to understand
that. I think," she added, after pausing to cough, "that pain makes one
old: I feel as though I were fifty. Well, so you see I may as well give
up fighting against it and die at once. I am only a burden and anxiety to
you—I may as well die at once and go to sleep."
"Don't, Jeannie! don't!" said her sister, in a sort of cry; "you are
Jeannie laid her hot hand upon Augusta's arm, "Try and listen to me,
dear," she said, "even if it hurts, because I do so want to say
something. Why should you be so frightened about me? Can any place that I
can go be worse than this place? Can I suffer more pain anywhere, or be
more hurt when I see you crying? Think how wretched it has all been.
There has only been one beautiful thing in our lives for years and years,
and that was your book. Even when I am feeling worst—when my chest
aches, you know—I grow quite happy when I think of what the papers wrote
about you: the Times and the Saturday Review, and the Spectator,
and the rest of them. They said that you had genius—true genius, you
remember, and that they expected one day to see you at the head of the
literature of the time, or near it. The Printer-devil can't take away
that, Gussie. He can take the money; but he can't say that he wrote the
book; though," she added, with a touch of childish spite and vivacity, "I
have no doubt that he would if he could. And then there were those
letters from the great authors up in London; yes, I often think of them
too. Well, dearest old girl, the best of it is that I know it is all
true. I know, I can't tell you how, that you will be a great woman in
spite of all the Meesons in creation; for somehow you will get out of his
power, and, if you don't, five years is not all one's life—at least,
not if people have a life. At the worst, he can only take all the money.
And then, when you are great and rich and famous, and more beautiful than
ever, and when the people turn their heads as you come into the room,
like we used to at school when the missionary came to lecture, I know
that you will think of me (because you won't forget me as some sisters
do), and of how, years and years before, so long ago that the time looks
quite small when you think of it, I told you that it would be so just
before I died."
Here the girl, who had been speaking with a curious air of certainty and
with a gravity and deliberation extraordinary for one so young, suddenly
broke off to cough. Her sister threw herself on her knees beside her,
and, clasping her in her arms, implored her in broken accents not to talk
of dying. Jeannie drew Augusta's golden head down on her breast and
"Very well, Gussie, I won't say any more about it," she said; "but it is
no good hiding the truth, dear. I am tired of fighting against it; it is
no good—none at all. Anyhow we have loved each other very much, dear;
and perhaps—somewhere else—we may again."—And the brave little heart
again broke down, and, overcome by the prescience of approaching
separation, they both sobbed bitterly there upon the sofa. Presently came
a knock at the door, and Augusta sprang up and turned to hide her tears.
It was the maid-of-all-work bringing the tea; and, as she came blundering
in, a sense of the irony of things forced itself into Augusta's soul.
Here they were plunged into the most terrible sorrow, weeping at the
inevitable approach of that chill end, and still appearances must be
kept up, even before a maid-of-all-work. Society, even when represented
by a maid-of-all-work, cannot do away with the intrusion of domestic
griefs, or any other griefs, and in our hearts we know it and act up to
it. Far gone, indeed, must we be in mental or physical agony before we
abandon the attempt to keep up appearances.
Augusta drank a little tea and ate a very small bit of bread-and-butter.
As in the case of Mr. Meeson, the events of the day had not tended to
increase her appetite. Jeannie drank a little milk but ate nothing. When
this form had been gone through, and the maid-of-all-work had once more
made her appearance and cleared the table, Jeannie spoke again.
"Gus," she said, "I want you to put me to bed and then come and read to
me out of 'Jemima's Vow'—where poor Jemima dies, you know. It is the
most beautiful thing in the book, and I want to hear it again."
Her sister did as she wished, and, taking down "Jemima's Vow," Jeannie's
own copy as it was called, being the very first that had come into the
house, she opened it at the part Jeannie had asked for and read aloud,
keeping her voice as steady as she could. As a matter of fact, however,
the scene itself was as powerful as it was pathetic, and quite sufficient
to account for any unseemly exhibitions of feeling on the part of the
reader. However, she struggled through it till the last sentence was
reached. It ran thus:—"And so Jemima stretched out her hand to him and
said 'Good-bye.' And presently, knowing that she had now kept her
promise, and being happy because she had done so, she went to sleep."
"Ah!" murmured the blue-eyed child who listened. "I wish that I was as
good as Jemima. But though I have no vow to keep I can say 'Good-bye,'
and I can go to sleep."
Augusta made no answer, and presently Jeannie dozed off. Her sister
looked at her with eager affection. "She is giving up," she said to
herself, "and, if she gives up, she will die. I know it, it is because we
are not going away. How can I get the money, now that that horrible man
is gone? how can I get it?" and she buried her head in her hand and
thought. Presently an idea struck her: she might go back to Meeson and
eat her words, and sell him the copyright of her new book for £100, as
the agreement provided. That would not be enough, however; for travelling
with an invalid is expensive; but she might offer to bind herself over to
him for a term of years as a tame author, like those who worked in the
Hutches. She was sure that he would be glad to get her, if only he could
do so at his own price. It would be slavery worse than any penal
servitude, and even now she shudders at the prospect of prostituting her
great abilities to the necessities of such work as Meeson's made their
thousands out of—work out of which every spark of originality was
stamped into nothingness, as though it were the mark of the Beast. Yes,
it would be dreadful—it would break her heart; but she was prepared to
have her heart broken and her genius wrung out of her by inches, if only
she could get two hundred pounds wherewith to take Jeannie away to the
South of France. Mr. Meeson would, no doubt, make a hard bargain—the
hardest he could; but still, if she would consent to bind herself for a
sufficient number of years at a sufficiently low salary, he would
probably advance her a hundred pounds, besides the hundred for the
copyright of the new book.
And so having made up her mind to the sacrifice, she went to bed, and,
wearied out with misery, to sleep. And even as she slept, a Presence that
she could not see was standing near her bed, and a Voice that she could
not hear was calling through the gloom. Another mortal had bent low at
the feet of that Unknown God whom men name Death, and been borne away on
his rushing pinions into the spaces of the Hid. One more human item lay
still and stiff, one more account was closed for good or evil, the echo
of one more tread had passed from the earth for ever. The old
million-numbered tragedy in which all must take a part had repeated
itself once more down to its last and most awful scene. Yes; the grim
farce was played out, and the little actor Jeannie was white in death!
Just at the dawn, Augusta dreamed that somebody with cold breath was
breathing on her face, and woke up with a start and listened. Jeannie's
bed was on the other side of the room, and she could generally hear her
movements plainly enough, for the sick child was a restless sleeper. But
now she could hear nothing, not even the faint vibration of her sister's
breath. The silence was absolute and appalling; it struck tangibly upon
her sense, as the darkness struck upon her eye-balls and filled her with
a numb, unreasoning terror. She slipped out of bed and struck a match. In
another few seconds she was standing by Jeannie's white little bed,
waiting for the wick of the candle to burn up. Presently the light grew.
Jeannie was lying on her side, her white face resting on her white arm.
Her eyes were wide open; but when Augusta held the candle near her she
did not shut them or flinch. Her hand, too—oh, Heavens! the fingers
were nearly cold.
Then Augusta understood, and lifting up her arms in agony, she shrieked
till the whole house rang.
On the second day following the death of poor little Jeannie Smithers,
Mr. Eustace Meeson was strolling about Birmingham with his hands in his
pockets, and an air of indecision on his decidedly agreeable and
gentlemanlike countenance. Eustace Meeson was not particularly cast down
by the extraordinary reverse of fortune which he had recently
experienced. He was a young gentleman of a cheerful nature; and, besides,
it did not so very much matter to him. He was in a blessed condition of
celibacy, and had no wife and children dependant upon him, and he knew
that, somehow or other, it would go hard if, with the help of the one
hundred a year that he had of his own, he did not manage, with his
education, to get a living by hook or by crook. So it was not the loss of
the society of his respected uncle, or the prospective enjoyment of two
millions of money, which was troubling him. Indeed, after he had once
cleared his goods and chattels out of Pompadour Hall and settled them in
a room in an Hotel, he had not given the matter much thought. But he had
given a good many thoughts to Augusta Smithers' grey eyes and, by way of
getting an insight into her character, he had at once invested in a copy
of "Jemima's Vow," thereby, somewhat against his will, swelling the gains
of Meeson's to the extent of several shillings. Now, "Jemima's Vow,"
though simple and homely, was a most striking and powerful book, which
fully deserved the reputation that it had gained, and it affected
Eustace—who was in so much different from most young men of his age that
he really did know the difference between good work and bad—more
strongly than he would have liked to own. Indeed, at the termination of
the story, what between the beauty of Augusta's pages, the memory of
Augusta's eyes, and the knowledge of Augusta's wrongs, Mr. Eustace Meeson
began to feel very much as though he had fallen in love. Accordingly, he
went out walking, and meeting a clerk whom he had known in the Meeson
establishment—one of those who had been discharged on the same day as
himself—he obtained from him Miss Smithers' address, and began to
reflect as to whether or no he should call upon her. Unable to make up
his mind, he continued to walk till he reached the quiet street where
Augusta lived, and, suddenly perceiving the house of which the clerk had
told him, yielded to temptation and rang.
The door was answered by the maid-of-all-work, who looked at him a little
curiously, but said that Miss Smithers was in, and then conducted him to
a door which was half open, and left him in that kindly and agreeable
fashion that maids-of-all-work have. Eustace was perplexed, and, looking
through the door to see if anyone was in the room, discovered Augusta
herself dressed in some dark material, seated in a chair, her hands
folded on her lap, her pale face set like a stone, and her eyes gleaming
into vacancy. He paused, wondering what could be the matter, and as he
did so his umbrella slipped from his hand, making a noise that rendered
it necessary for him to declare himself.
Augusta rose as he advanced, and looked at him with a puzzled air, as
though she was striving to recall his name or where she had met him.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered, "I must introduce myself, as the girl
has deserted me—I am Eustace Meeson."
Augusta's face hardened at the name. "If you have come to me from Messrs.
Meeson and Co."—she said quickly, and then broke off, as though struck
by some new idea.
"Indeed no," said Eustace. "I have nothing in common with Messrs.
Meeson now, except my name, and I have only come to tell you how sorry
I was to see you treated as you were by my uncle. You remember I was in
"Yes," she said, with a suspicion of a blush, "I remember you were
"Well, you see," he went on, "I had a great row with my uncle after that,
and it ended in his turning me out of the place, bag and baggage, and
informing me that he was going to cut me off with a shilling, which," he
added reflectively, "he has probably done by now."
"Do I understand you, Mr. Meeson, to mean that you quarrelled with your
uncle about me and my books?"
"Yes; that is so," he said.
"It was very chivalrous of you," she answered, looking at him with a
new-born curiosity. Augusta was not accustomed to find knights-errant
thus prepared, at such cost to themselves, to break a lance in her cause.
Least of all was she prepared to find that knight bearing the hateful
crest of Meeson—if, indeed, Meeson had a crest.
"I ought to apologise," she went on presently, after an awkward pause,
"for making such a scene in the office, but I wanted money so dreadfully,
and it was so hard to be refused. But it does not matter now. It is all
There was a dull, hopeless ring about her voice that awoke his
curiosity. For what could she have wanted the money, and why did she no
longer want it?
"I am sorry," he said. "Will you tell me what you wanted it so much for?"
She looked at him, and then, acting upon impulse rather then reflection,
said in a low voice,
"If you like, I will show you."
He bowed, wondering what was coming next. Rising from her chair, Augusta
led the way to a door which opened out of the sitting-room, and gently
turned the handle and entered. Eustace followed her. The room was a small
bed-room, of which the faded calico blind had been pulled down; as it
happened, however, the sunlight, such as it was, beat full upon the
blind, and came through it in yellow bars. They fell upon the furniture
of the bare little room, they fell upon the iron bedstead, and upon
something lying on it, which he did not at first notice, because it was
covered with a sheet.
Augusta walked up to the bed and gently lifted the sheet, revealing the
sweet face, fringed round about with golden hair, of little Jeannie, in
Eustace gave an exclamation, and started back violently. He had not been
prepared for such a sight; indeed it was the first such sight that he had
ever seen, and it shocked him beyond words. Augusta, familiarised as she
was herself with the companionship of this beauteous clay cold Terror,
had forgotten that, suddenly and without warning to bring the living into
the presence of the dead, is not the wisest or the kindest thing to do.
For, to the living, more especially to the young, the sight of death is
horrible. It is such a fearsome comment on their health and strength.
Youth and strength are merry; but who can be merry with yon dead thing in
the upper chamber? Take it away! thrust it underground! it is an insult
to us; it reminds us that we, too, die like others. What business has its
pallor to show itself against our ruddy cheeks?
"I beg your pardon," whispered Augusta, realising something of all this
in a flash, "I forgot, you do not know—you must be shocked—Forgive me!"
"Who is it?" he said, gasping to get back his breath.
"My sister," she answered. "It was to try and save her life that I wanted
the money. When I told her that I could not get it, she gave up and died.
Your uncle killed her. Come."
Greatly shocked, he followed her back into the sitting-room, and then—as
soon as he got his composure—apologised for having intruded himself upon
her in such an hour of desolation.
"I am glad to see you," she said simply, "I have seen nobody except
the doctor once, and the undertaker twice. It is dreadful to sit alone
hour after hour face to face with the irretrievable. If I had not been
so foolish as to enter into that agreement with Messrs. Meeson, I
could have got the money by selling my new book easily enough; and I
should have been able to take Jeannie abroad, and I believe that she
would have lived—at least I hoped so. But now it is finished, and
cannot be helped."
"I wish I had known," blundered Eustace, "I could have lent you the
money. I have a hundred and fifty pounds."
"You are very good," she answered gently, "but it is no use talking about
it now, it is finished."
Then Eustace rose and went away; and it was not till he found himself in
the street that he remembered that he had never asked Augusta what her
plans were. Indeed, the sight of poor Jeannie had put everything else out
of his head. However, he consoled himself with the reflection that he
could call again a week or ten days after the funeral.
Two days later, Augusta followed the remains of her dearly beloved sister
to their last resting place, and then came home on foot (for she was the
only mourner), and sat in her black gown before the little fire, and
reflected upon her position. What was she to do? She could not stay in
these rooms. It made her heart ache every time her eyes fell upon the
empty sofa opposite, dinted as it was with the accustomed weight of poor
Jeannie's frame. Where was she to go, and what was she to do. She might
get literary employment, but then her agreement with Messrs. Meeson
stared her in the face. That agreement was very widely drawn. It bound
her to offer all literary work of any sort, that might come from her pen
during the next five years, to Messrs. Meeson at the fixed rate of seven
per cent, on the published price. Obviously, as it seemed to her, though
perhaps erroneously, this clause might be stretched to include even a
newspaper article, and she knew the malignant nature of Mr. Meeson well
enough to be quite certain that, if possible, that would be done. It was
true she might manage to make a bare living out of her work, even at the
beggarly pay of seven per cent, but Augusta was a person of spirit, and
determined that she would rather starve than that Meeson should again
make huge profits out of her labour. This avenue being closed to her, she
turned her mind elsewhere; but, look where she might, the prospect was
Augusta's remarkable literary success had not been of much practical
advantage to her, for in this country literary success does not mean so
much as it does in some others. As a matter of fact, indeed, the average
Briton has, at heart, a considerable contempt, if not for literature, at
least for those who produce it. Literature, in his mind, is connected
with the idea of garrets and extreme poverty; and, therefore, having the
national respect for money, he in secret, if not in public, despises it.
A tree is known by its fruit, says he. Let a man succeed at the Bar, and
he makes thousands upon thousands a year, and is promoted to the highest
offices in the State. Let a man succeed in art, and he will be paid one
or two thousand pounds apiece for his most "pot-boilery" portraits. But
your literary men—why, with a few fortunate exceptions, the best of them
barely make a living. What can literature be worth, if a man can't make a
fortune out of it? So argues the Briton—no doubt with some of his sound
common sense. Not that he has no respect for genius. All men bow to true
genius, even when they fear and envy it. But he thinks a good deal more
of genius dead than genius living. However this may be, there is no doubt
but that if through any cause—such, for instance, as the sudden
discovery by the great and highly civilized American people that the
seventh commandment was probably intended to apply to authors, amongst
the rest of the world—the pecuniary rewards of literary labor should be
put more upon an equality with those of other trades, literature—as a
profession—will go up many steps in popular esteem. At present, if a
member of a family has betaken himself to the high and honourable calling
(for surely, it is both) of letters, his friends and relations are apt to
talk about him in a shy and diffident, not to say apologetic, way; much
as they would had he adopted another sort of book-making as a means of
Thus it was that, notwithstanding her success, Augusta had nowhere to
turn in her difficulty. She had absolutely no literary connection. Nobody
had called upon her, and sought her out in consequence of her book. One
or two authors in London, and a few unknown people from different parts
of the country and abroad, had written to her—that was all. Had she
lived in town it might have been different; but, unfortunately for her,
she did not.
The more she thought, the less clear did her path become; until, at last,
she got an inspiration. Why not leave England altogether? She had nothing
to keep her here. She had a cousin—a clergyman—in New Zealand, whom she
had never seen, but who had read "Jemima's Vow," and written her a kind
letter about it. That was the one delightful thing about writing books;
one made friends all over the world. Surely he would take her in for a
while, and put her in the way of earning a living where Meeson would not
be to molest her? Why should she not go? She had twenty pounds left, and
the furniture (which included an expensive invalid chair), and books
would fetch another thirty or so—enough to pay for a second-class
passage and leave a few pounds in her pocket. At the worst it would be a
change, and she could not go through more there than she did here, so
that very night she sat down and wrote to her clergyman cousin.
THE R.M.S. KANGAROO.
It was on a Tuesday evening that a mighty vessel was steaming
majestically out of the mouth of the Thames, and shaping her imposing
course straight at the ball of the setting sun. Most people will remember
reading descriptions of the steamship Kangaroo, and being astonished at
the power of her engines, the beauty of her fittings, and the
extraordinary speed—about eighteen knots—which she developed in her
trials, with an unusually low expenditure of coal. For the benefit of
those who have not, however, it may be stated that the Kangaroo, "the
Little Kangaroo," as she was ironically named among sailor men, was the
very latest development of the science of modern ship-building.
Everything about her, from the electric light and boiler tubes up, was on
a new and patent system.
Four hundred feet and more she measured from stem to stern, and in that
space were crowded and packed all the luxuries of a palace, and all the
conveniences of an American hotel. She was a beautiful and a wonderful
thing to look on; as, with her holds full of costly merchandise and her
decks crowded with her living freight of about a thousand human beings,
she steamed slowly out to sea, as though loth to leave the land where she
was born. But presently she seemed to gather up her energies and to grow
conscious of the thousands and thousands of miles of wide tossing water,
which stretched between her and the far-off harbour where her mighty
heart should cease from beating and be for a while at rest. Quicker and
quicker she sped along, and spurned the churning water from her swift
sides. She was running under a full head of steam now, and the coast-line
of England grew faint and low in the faint, low light, till at last it
almost vanished from the gaze of a tall, slim girl, who stood forward,
clinging to the starboard bulwark netting and looking with deep grey eyes
across the waste of waters. Presently Augusta, for it was she, could see
the shore no more, and turned to watch the other passengers and think.
She was sad at heart, poor girl, and felt what she was—a very waif upon
the sea of life. Not that she had much to regret upon the vanished
coast-line. A little grave with a white cross over it—that was all. She
had left no friends to weep for her, none. But even as she thought it, a
recollection rose up in her mind of Eustace Meeson's pleasant, handsome
face, and of his kind words, and with it came a pang as she reflected
that, in all probability, she should never see the one or hear the other
again. Why, she wondered, had he not come to see her again? She should
have liked to bid him "Good-bye," and had half a mind to send him a note
and tell him of her going. This, on second thoughts, however, she had
decided not to do; for one thing, she did not know his address,
and—well, there was an end of it.
Could she by the means of clairvoyance have seen Eustace's face and heard
his words, she would have regretted her decision. For even as that great
vessel plunged on her fierce way right into the heart of the gathering
darkness, he was standing at the door of the lodging-house in the little
street in Birmingham.
"Gone!" he was saying. "Miss Smithers gone to New Zealand! What is
"She didn't leave no address, sir," replies the dirty maid-of-all-work
with a grin. "She went from here two days ago, and was going on to the
ship in London."
"What was the name of the ship?" he asked, in despair.
"Kan—Kon—Conger-eel," replies the girl in triumph, and shuts the door
in his face.
Poor Eustace! He had gone to London to try and get some employment, and
having, after some difficulty, succeeded in obtaining a billet as reader
in Latin, French and English to a publishing house of good repute, at a
salary of £180 a year, he had hurried back to Birmingham for the sole
purpose of seeing Miss Augusta Smithers, with whom, if the whole truth
must be told, he had, to his credit be it said, fallen deeply, truly, and
violently in love. Indeed, so far was he in this way gone, that he had
determined to make all the progress that he could, and if he thought that
there was any prospect of success, to declare his passion. This was,
perhaps, a little premature; but then in these matters people are apt to
be more premature than is generally supposed. Human nature is very swift
in coming to conclusions in matters in which that strange mixture we
call the affections are involved; perhaps because, although the
conclusion is not altogether a pleasing one, the affections, at any rate
in the beginning, are largely dependent on the senses.
Pity a poor young man! To come from London to Birmingham to woo one's
grey-eyed mistress, in a third-class carriage too, and find her gone to
New Zealand, whither circumstances prevented him from following her,
without leaving a word or a line, or even an address behind her! It was
too bad. Well, there was no remedy in the matter; so he walked to the
railway station, and groaned and swore all the way back to London.
Augusta, on board the Kangaroo, was, however, in utter ignorance of this
act of devotion on the part of her admirer; indeed, she did not even know
that he was her admirer. Feeling a curious sinking sensation within her,
she was about to go below to her cabin, which she shared with a
lady's-maid, not knowing whether to attribute it to sentimental qualms
incidental to her lonely departure from the land of her birth, or to
other qualms connected with the first experience of life upon the ocean
wave. About that moment, however, a burly quarter-master addressed her in
gruff tones, and informed her that if she wanted to see the last of "hold
Halbion," she had better go aft a bit, and look over the port side, and
she would see the something or other light. Accordingly, more to prove to
herself that she was not sea-sick than for any other reason, she did so,
and, standing as far aft as the second-class passengers were allowed to
go, stared at the quick flashes of the light-house, as second by second,
they sent their message across the great waste of sea.
As she stood there, holding on to a stanchion to steady herself, for the
vessel, large as she was, had begun to get a bit of a roll on, she was
suddenly aware of a bulky figure of a man which came running or rather
reeling against the bulwarks alongside of her, where it—or rather
he—was instantly and violently ill. Augusta was, not unnaturally, almost
horrified into following the figure's example, when, suddenly growing
faint or from some other cause, it loosed its hold and rolled into the
scuppers, where it lay feebly swearing. Augusta, obeying a tender impulse
of humanity, hurried forward and stretched out the hand of succour, and
presently, between her help and that of the bulwark netting, the man
struggled to his feet. As he did so his face came close to hers, and in
the dim light she recognised the fat, coarse features, now blanched with
misery, of Mr. Meeson, the publisher. There was no doubt about it, it was
her enemy; the man whose behavior had indirectly, as she believed, caused
the death of her little sister. She dropped his hand with an exclamation
of disgust and dismay, and as she did so he recognised who she was.
"Hullo!" he said, with a faint and rather feeble attempt to assume his
fine old crusted publishing-company manners. "Hullo! Miss
Jemima—Smithers, I mean; what on earth are you doing here?"
"I am going to New Zealand, Mr. Meeson," she answered sharply; "and
I certainly did not expect to have the pleasure of your company on
"Going to New Zealand," he said, "are you? Why, so am I; at least, I am
going there first, then to Australia. What do you mean to do there—try
and run round our little agreement, eh? It won't be any good, I tell you
plainly. We have our agents in New Zealand, and a house in Australia,
and if you try to get the better of Meeson's there, Meeson's will be
even with you, Miss Smithers—Oh, Heavens! I feel as though I were
coming to pieces."
"Don't alarm yourself, Mr. Meeson," she answered, "I am not going to
publish any more books at present."
"That is a pity," he said, "because your stuff is good selling stuff. Any
publisher would find money in it. I suppose you are second-class, Miss
Smithers, so we shan't see much of each other; and, perhaps, if we should
meet, it might be as well if we didn't seem to have any acquaintance. It
don't look well for a man in my position to know second-class passengers,
especially young lady passengers who write novels."
"You need not be afraid, Mr. Meeson: I have no wish to claim your
acquaintance," said Augusta.
At this point, her enemy was taken violently worse again, and, being
unable to stand the sight and sound of his writhing and groaning, she
fled forward; and, reflecting on this strange and awkward meeting, went
down to her own berth, where, with lucid intervals, she remained helpless
and half stupid for the next three days. On the fourth day, however, she
reappeared on deck quite recovered, and with an excellent appetite. She
had her breakfast, and then went and sat forward in as quiet a place as
she could find. She did not want to see Mr. Meeson any more, and she did
want to escape from the stories of her cabin-mate, the lady's-maid. This
good person would, after the manner of her kind, insist upon repeating to
her a succession of histories connected with members of the families with
whom she had lived, many of which were sufficient to make the hair of a
respectable young lady like Augusta stand positively on end. No doubt
they were interesting to her in her capacity of a novelist; but, as they
were all of the same colour, and as their tendency was absolutely to
destroy any belief she might have in virtue as an inherent quality in
highly developed woman or honour in man, Augusta soon wearied of these
chroniques scandaleuses. So she went forward, and was sitting looking
at the "white horses" chasing each other across the watery plain, and
reflecting upon what the condition of mind of those ladies whose
histories she had recently heard would be if they knew that their most
secret, and in some cases disgraceful and tragic, love affairs were the
common talk of a dozen servants' halls, when suddenly she was astonished
by the appearance of a splendid official bearing a book. At first, from
the quantity of gold lace with which his uniform was adorned, Augusta
took him to be the captain; but it presently transpired that he was only
the chief steward.
"Please, Miss," he said, touching his hat and holding out the book in his
hand towards her, "the captain sends his compliments and wants to know if
you are the young lady who wrote this."
Augusta glanced at the work. It was a copy of "Jemima's Vow." Then she
replied that she was the writer of it, and the steward vanished.
Later on in the morning came another surprise. The gorgeous official
again appeared, touched his cap, and said that the captain desired him to
say that orders had been given to have her things moved to a cabin
further aft. At first Augusta demurred to this, not from any love of the
lady's-maid, but because she had a truly British objection to being
"Captain's orders, Miss," said the man, touching his cap again; and
Nor had she any cause to regret doing so; for, to her huge delight, she
found herself moved into a charming deck-cabin on the starboard side of
the vessel, some little way abaft the engine-room. It was evidently an
officer's cabin, for there, over the head of the bed, was the picture of
a young lady he adored, and also some neatly fitted shelves of books, a
rack of telescopes, and other seaman-like contrivances.
"Am I to have this cabin to myself?" asked Augusta of the steward.
"Yes, Miss; those are the captain's orders. It is Mr. Jones's cabin. Mr.
Jones is the second officer; but he has turned in with Mr. Thomas, the
first officer, and given up the cabin to you."
"I am sure it's very kind of Mr. Jones," murmured Augusta, not knowing
what to make of this turn of fortune. But surprises were not to end
there. A few minutes afterwards, just as she was leaving the cabin, a
gentleman in uniform came up, in whom she recognized the captain. He was
accompanied by a pretty fair-haired woman very becomingly dressed.
"Excuse me; Miss Smithers, I believe?" he said, with a bow.
"I am Captain Alton. I hope you like your new cabin. Let me introduce you
to Lady Holmhurst, wife of Lord Holmhurst, the New Zealand Governor, you
know. Lady Holmhurst, this is Miss Smithers, whose book you were talking
so much about."
"Oh! I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Smithers," said the
great lady in a manner that evidently was not assumed. "Captain Alton has
promised that I shall sit next to you at dinner, and then we can have a
good talk. I don't know when I have been so much delighted with anything
as I was with your book. I have read it three times, what do you think of
that for a busy woman?"
"I think there is some mistake," said Augusta, hurriedly and with a
slight blush. "I am a second-class passenger on board this ship, and
therefore cannot have the pleasure of sitting next to Lady Holmhurst."
"Oh, that is all right, Miss Smithers," said the captain, with a jolly
laugh. "You are my guest, and I shall take no denial."
"When we find genius for once in our lives, we are not going to lose the
opportunity of sitting at its feet," added Lady Holmhurst, with a little
movement towards her which was neither curtsey nor bow, but rather a
happy combination of both. The compliment was, Augusta felt, sincere,
however much it exaggerated the measure of her poor capacities, and,
putting other things aside, was, coming as it did from one woman to
another, peculiarly graceful and surprising. She blushed and bowed,
scarcely knowing what to say, when suddenly, Mr. Meeson's harsh tones,
pitched just now in a respectful key, broke upon her ear. Mr. Meeson was
addressing no less a person than Lord Holmhurst, G.C.M.G. Lord Holmhurst
was a stout, short, dark little man, with a somewhat pompous manner, and
a kindly face. He was a Colonial Governor of the first water, and was
perfectly aware of the fact.
Now, a Colonial Governor, even though he be a G.C.M.G. when he is at
home, is not a name to conjure with, and does not fill an exclusive place
in the eye of the English world. There are many Colonial Governors in the
present and past tense to be found in the purlieus of South Kensington,
where their presence creates no unusual excitement. But when one of this
honourable corps sets foot upon the vessel destined to bear him to the
shores that he shall rule, all this changes. He puts off the body of the
ordinary betitled individual and puts on the body of the celestial
brotherhood. In short, from being nobody out of the common he becomes,
and very properly so, a great man. Nobody knew this better than Lord
Holmhurst, and to a person fond of observing such things nothing could
have been more curious to notice than the small, but gradual increase of
the pomposity of his manner, as the great ship day by day steamed further
from England and nearer to the country where he was King. It went up,
degree by degree, like a thermometer which is taken down into the bowels
of the earth or gradually removed into the sunlight. At present, however,
the thermometer was only rising.
"I was repeating, my Lord," said the harsh voice of Mr. Meeson, "that
the principle of an hereditary peerage is the grandest principle our
country has yet developed. It gives us something to look forward to. In
one generation we make the money; in the next we take the title which
the money buys. Look at your Lordship. Your Lordship is now in a proud
position; but, as I have understood, your Lordship's father was a
trader like me."
"Hum!—well, not exactly, Mr. Meeson," broke in Lord Holmhurst. "Dear
me, I wonder who that exceedingly nice-looking girl Lady Holmhurst is
talking to can be!"
"Now, your Lordship, to put a case," went on the remorseless Meeson, who,
like most people of his stamp, had an almost superstitious veneration for
the aristocracy, "I have made a great deal of money, as I do not mind
telling your Lordship; what is there to prevent my successor—supposing I
have a successor—from taking advantage of that money, and rising on it
to a similar position to that so worthily occupied by your Lordship?"
"Exactly, Mr. Meeson. A most excellent idea for your successor. Excuse
me, but I see Lady Holmhurst beckoning to me." And he fled precipitately,
still followed by Mr. Meeson.
"John, my dear!" said Lady Holmhurst, "I want to introduce you to Miss
Smithers—the Miss Smithers whom we have all been talking about, and
whose book you have been reading. Miss Smithers, my husband!"
Lord Holmhurst, who, when he was not deep in the affairs of State, had a
considerable eye for a pretty girl—and what man worthy of the name has
not?—bowed most politely, and was proceeding to tell Augusta, in very
charming language, how delighted he was to make her acquaintance, when
Mr. Meeson arrived on the scene and perceived Augusta for the first time.
Quite taken aback at finding her, apparently, upon the very best of terms
with people of such quality, he hesitated to consider what course to
adopt; whereon Lady Holmhurst in a somewhat formal way, for she was not
very fond of Mr. Meeson, mistaking his hesitation, went on to introduce
him. Thereupon, all in a moment, as we do sometimes take such
resolutions, Augusta came to a determination. She would have nothing more
to do with Mr. Meeson—she would repudiate him then and there, come what
would of it.
So, as he advanced upon her with outstretched hand, she drew herself up,
and in a cold and determined voice said, "I already know Mr. Meeson, Lady
Holmhurst; and I do not wish to have anything more to do with him. Mr.
Meeson has not behaved well to me."
"'Pon my word," murmured Lord Holmhurst to himself, "I don't wonder she
has had enough of him. Sensible young woman, that!"
Lady Holmhurst looked a little astonished and a little amused. Suddenly,
however, a light broke upon her.
"Oh! I see," she said. "I suppose that Mr. Meeson published 'Jemima's
Vow.' Of course that accounts for it. Why, I declare there is the dinner
bell! Come along, Miss Smithers, or we shall lose the place the captain
has promised us." And, accordingly, they went, leaving Mr. Meeson, who
had not yet realized the unprecedented nature of the position, positively
gasping on the deck. And on board the Kangaroo there were no clerks and
editors on whom he could wreck his wrath!
"And now, my dear Miss Smithers," said Lady Holmhurst when, dinner
being over, they were sitting together in the moonlight, near the
wheel, "perhaps you will tell me why you don't like Mr. Meeson,
whom, by-the-way, I personally detest. But don't, if you don't wish
to, you know."
But Augusta did wish to, and then and there she unfolded her whole sad
story into her new-found friend's sympathetic ear; and glad enough the
poor girl was to find a confidant to whom she could unbosom her sorrows.
"Well, upon my word!" said Lady Holmhurst, when she had listened with
tears in her eyes to the history of poor little Jeannie's death, "upon my
word, of all the brutes I ever heard of, I think that this publisher of
yours is the worst! I will cut him, and get my husband to cut him too.
But no, I have a better plan than that. He shall tear up that agreement,
so sure as my name is Bessie Holmhurst; he shall tear it up, or—or"—and
she nodded her little head with an air of infinite wisdom.
MR. TOMBEY GOES FORWARD.
From that day forward, the voyage on the Kangaroo was, until the last
dread catastrophe, a very happy one for Augusta. Lord and Lady Holmhurst
made much of her, and all the rest of the first-class passengers followed
suit, and soon she found herself the most popular character on board. The
two copies of her book that there were on the ship were passed on from
hand to hand till they would hardly hang together, and, really, at last
she got quite tired of hearing of her own creations. But this was not
all; Augusta was, it will be remembered, an exceedingly pretty woman, and
melancholy as the fact may seem, it still remains a fact that a pretty
woman is in the eyes of most people a more interesting object than a man,
or than a lady, who is not "built that way." Thus it came to pass that
what between her youth, her beauty, her talent, and her misfortunes—for
Lady Holmhurst had not exactly kept that history to herself—Augusta was
all of a sudden elevated into the position of a perfect heroine. It
really almost frightened the poor girl, who had been accustomed to
nothing but sorrow, ill-treatment and grinding poverty, to suddenly find
herself in this strange position, with every man on board that great
vessel at her beck and call. But she was human, and therefore, of course
she enjoyed it. It is something when one has been wandering for hour
after hour in the wet and melancholy night, suddenly to see the fair dawn
breaking and burning overhead, and to know that the worst is over, for
now there will be light whereby to set our feet. It is something, too, to
the most Christian soul, to utterly and completely triumph over one who
had done all in his power to crush and destroy you; whose grasping greed
has indirectly been the cause of the death of the person you loved best
in the whole world round. And she did triumph. As Mr. Meeson's conduct to
her got about, the little society of the ship—which was, after all a
very fair example of all society in miniature—fell away from this
publishing Prince, and not even the jingling of his money-bags could lure
it back. He the great, the practically omnipotent, the owner of two
millions, and the hard master of hundreds upon whose toil he battened,
was practically cut. Even the clerk, who was going out on a chance of
getting a place in a New Zealand bank, would have nothing to say to him.
And what is more, he felt it more even than an ordinary individual would
have done. He, the "Printer-devil," as poor little Jeannie used to call
him, he to be slighted and flouted by a pack of people whom he could buy
up three times over, and all on account of a wretched authoress—an
authoress, if you please! It made Mr. Meeson very wild—a state of
affairs which was brought to a climax when one morning Lord Holmhurst,
who had for several days been showing a growing dislike to his society,
actually almost cut him dead; that is, he did not notice his outstretched
hand, and passed him with a slight bow.
"Never mind, my Lord—never mind!" muttered Mr. Meeson after that
somewhat pompous but amiable nobleman's retreating form. "We'll see if I
can't come square with you. I'm a dog who can pull a string or two in the
English press, I am! Those who have the money and have got a hold of
people, so that they must write what they tell them, ain't people to be
cut by any Colonial Governor, my Lord!" And in his anger he fairly shook
his fist at the unconscious Peer.
"Seem to be a little out of temper, Mr. Meeson," said a voice at
his elbow, the owner of which was a big young man with hard but
kindly features and a large moustache. "What has the Governor been
doing to you?"
"Doing, Mr. Tombey? He's been cutting me, that's all—me,
Meeson!—cutting me as dead as offal, or something like it. I held out my
hand and he looked right over it, and marched by."
"Ah!" said Mr. Tombey, who was a wealthy New Zealand landowner; "and now,
why do you suppose he did that?"
"Why? I'll tell you why. It's all about that girl."
"Miss Smithers, do you mean?" said Tombey the big, with a curious flash
of his deep-set eyes.
"Yes, Miss Smithers. She wrote a book, and I bought the book for fifty
pounds, and stuck a clause in that she should give me the right to
publish anything she wrote for five years at a price—a common sort of
thing enough in one way and another, when you are dealing with some idiot
who don't know any better. Well, as it happened this book sold like
wild-fire; and, in time the young lady comes to me and wants more money,
wants to get out of the hanging clause in the agreement, wants
everything, like a female Oliver Twist; and when I say, 'No, you don't,'
loses her temper, and makes a scene. And it turns out that what she
wanted the money for was to take a sick sister, or cousin, or aunt, or
someone, out of England; and when she could not do it, and the relation
died, then she emigrates, and goes and tells the people on board ship
that it is all my fault."
"And I suppose that that is a conclusion that you do not feel drawn to,
"No Tombey, I don't. Business is business; and if I happen to have got to
windward of the young woman, why, so much the better for me. She's
getting her experience, that's all; and she ain't the first, and won't be
the last. But if she goes saying much more about me, I go for her for
slander, that's sure."
"On the legal ground that the greater the truth, the greater the libel,
"Confound her!" went on Meeson, without noticing his remark, and
contracting his heavy eyebrows, "there's no end to the trouble she has
brought on me. I quarrelled with my nephew about her, and now she's
dragging my name through the dirt here, and I'll bet the story will go
all over New Zealand and Australia."
"Yes," said Mr. Tombey, "I fancy you will find it take a lot of
choking; and now, Mr. Meeson, with your permission I will say a word,
and try and throw a new light upon a very perplexing matter. It never
seems to have occurred to you what an out-and-out blackguard you are, so
I may as well put it to you plainly. If you are not a thief, you are, at
least, a very well-coloured imitation. You take a girl's book and make
hundreds upon hundreds out of it, and give her fifty. You tie her down,
so as to provide for successful swindling of the same sort, during
future years, and then, when she comes to beg a few pounds of you, you
show her the door. And now you wonder, Mr. Meeson, that respectable
people will have nothing to do with you! Well, now, I tell you, my
opinion is that the only society to which you would be really suited is
that of cow-hide. Good morning," and the large young man walked off, his
very moustachios curling with wrath and contempt. Thus, for a second
time, did the great Mr. Meeson hear the truth from the lips of babes and
sucklings, and the worst of it was that he could not disinherit Number
Two as he had Number One.
Now this will strike the reader as being very warm advocacy on the part
of Mr. Tombey, who, being called in to console and bless, cursed with
such extraordinary vigour. It may even strike the discerning reader—and
all readers, or, at least, nearly all readers, are of course discerning:
far too much so, indeed—that there must have been a reason for it; and
the discerning reader will be right. Augusta's grey eyes had been too
much for Mr. Tombey, as they had been too much for Eustace Meeson before
him. His passion had sprung up and ripened in that peculiarly rapid and
vigorous fashion that passions do on board ship. A passenger steamer is
Cupid's own hot-bed, and in this way differs from a sailing-ship. On the
sailing-ship, indeed, the preliminary stages are the same. The seed roots
as strongly, and grows and flowers with equal vigour; but here comes the
melancholy part—it withers and decays with equal rapidity. The voyage is
too long. Too much is mutually revealed. The matrimonial iron cannot be
struck while it is hot, and long before the weary ninety days are over it
is once more cold and black, or at the best glows with but a feeble heat.
But on the steamship there is no time for this, as any traveller knows.
Myself—I, the historian—have, with my own eyes seen a couple meet for
the first time at Maderia, get married at the Cape, and go on as man and
wife in the same vessel to Natal. And, therefore, it came to pass that
very evening a touching, and, on the whole melancholy, little scene was
enacted near the smoke-stack of the Kangaroo.
Mr. Tombey and Miss Augusta Smithers were leaning together over the
bulwarks and watching the phosphorescent foam go flashing past. Mr.
Tombey was nervous and ill at ease; Miss Smithers very much at ease, and
reflecting that her companion's moustachios would very well become a
villain in a novel.
Mr. Tombey looked at the star-spangled sky, on which the Southern Cross
hung low, and he looked at the phosphorescent sea; but from neither did
inspiration come. Inspiration is from within, and not from without. At
last, however, he made a gallant and a desperate effort.
"Miss Smithers," he said in a voice trembling with agitation.
"Yes, Mr. Tombey," answered Augusta, quietly; "what is it?"
"Miss Smithers," he went on—"Miss Augusta, I don't know what you
will think of me, but I must tell you, I can't keep it any longer, I
Augusta fairly jumped. Mr. Tombey had been very, even markedly, polite,
and she, not being a fool, had seen that he admired her; but she had
never expected this, and the suddenness with which the shot was fired was
"Why, Mr. Tombey," she said in a surprised voice, "you have only known me
for a little more than a fortnight."
"I fell in love with you when I had only known you for an hour," he
answered with evident sincerity. "Please listen to me. I know I am not
worthy of you! But I do love you so very dearly, and I would make you a
good husband; indeed I would, I am well off; though, of course that is
nothing; and if you don't like New Zealand, I would give it up and go to
live in England. Do you think that you can take me? If you only knew how
dearly I love you, I am sure you would."
Augusta collected her wits as well as she could. The man evidently did
love her; there was no doubting the sincerity of his words, and she liked
him and he was a gentleman. If she married him there would be an end of
all her worries and troubles, and she could rest contentedly on his
strong arm. Woman, even gifted woman, is not made to fight the world with
her own hand, and the prospect had allurements. But while she thought,
Eustace Meeson's bonny face rose before her eyes, and, as it did so, a
faint feeling of repulsion to the man who was pleading with her took form
and colour in her breast. Eustace Meeson, of course, was nothing to her;
no word or sign of affection had passed between them; and the probability
was that she would never set her eyes upon him again. And yet that face
rose up between her and this man who was pleading at her side. Many
women, likely enough, have seen some such vision from the past and have
disregarded it, only to find too late that that which is thrust aside is
not necessarily hidden; for alas! those faces of our departed youth have
an uncanny trick of rising from the tomb of our forgetfulness. But
Augusta was not of the great order of opportunists. Because a thing might
be convenient, it did not, according to the dictates of her moral sense,
follow that it was lawful. Therefore, she was a woman to be respected.
For a woman who, except under most exceptional circumstances, gives her
instincts the lie in order to pander to her convenience or her desire for
wealth and social ease, is not altogether a woman to be respected.
In a very few seconds she had made up her mind.
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Tombey," she said; "you have done me
a great honour, the greatest honour man can do to a woman; but I cannot
"Are you sure?" gasped the unfortunate Tombey, for his hopes had been
high. "Is there no hope for me? Perhaps there is somebody else!"
"There is nobody else, Mr. Tombey; and, I am sorry to say, you don't know
how much it pains me to say it, I cannot hold out any prospect that I
shall change my mind."
He dropped his head upon his hands for a minute, and then lifted it
"Very well," he said slowly; "it can't be helped. I never loved any
woman before, and I never shall again. It is a pity "—(with a hard,
little laugh)—"that so much first-class affection should be wasted.
But, there you are; it is all part and parcel of the pleasant
experiences which make up our lives. Good-bye, Miss Smithers; at least,
good-bye as a friend!"
"We can still be friends," she faltered.
"Oh, no," he answered, with another laugh; "that is an exploded notion.
Friendship of that nature is not very safe under any circumstances,
certainly not under these. The relationship is antagonistic to the facts
of life, and the friends, or one or other of them, will drift either
into indifference and dislike, or—something warmer. You are a novelist,
Miss Smithers; perhaps some day you will write a book to explain why
people fall in love where their affection is not wanted, and what
purpose their distress can possibly serve. And now, once more, good
bye!" and he lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed it, and then,
with a bow, turned and went.
From all of which it will be clearly seen that Mr. Tombey was decidedly a
young man above the average, and one who took punishment very well.
Augusta looked after him, and sighed deeply, and even wiped away a tear.
Then she turned and walked aft, to where Lady Holmhurst was sitting
enjoying the balmy southern air, through which the great ship was rushing
with outspread sails like some huge white bird, and chatting to the
captain. As she came up, the captain made his bow and departed, saying
that he had something to see to, and for a minute Lady Holmhurst and
Augusta were left alone.
"Well, Augusta?" said Lady Holmhurst, for she called her "Augusta" now.
"And what have you done with that young man, Mr. Tombey—that very nice
young man?" she added with emphasis.
"I think that Mr. Tombey went forward," said Augusta.
The two women looked at each other, and, womanlike, each understood what
the other meant. Lady Holmhurst had not been altogether innocent in the
"Lady Holmhurst," said Augusta, taking the bull by the horns, "Mr. Tombey
has been speaking to me and has"—
"Proposed to you," suggested Lady Holmhurst, admiring the Southern Cross
through her eyeglasses. "You said he went forward, you know."
"Has proposed to me," answered Augusta, ignoring the little joke. "I
regret," she went on hurriedly, "that I have not been able to fall in
with Mr. Tombey's plans."
"Ah!" said Lady Holmhurst; "I am sorry, for some things. Mr. Tombey is
such a very nice young man, and so very gentlemanlike. I thought that
perhaps it might suit your views, and it would have simplified your
future arrangements. But as to that, of course, while you are in New
Zealand, I shall be able to see to that. By-the-way, it is understood
that you come to stay with us for a few months at Government House,
before you hunt up your cousin."
"You are very good to me, Lady Holmhurst," said Augusta, with something
like a sob.
"Suppose, my dear," answered the great lady, laying her little hand upon
Augusta's beautiful hair, "that you were to drop the 'Lady Holmhurst' and
call me 'Bessie?' it sounds so much more sociable, you know, and,
besides; it is shorter, and does not waste so much breath."
Then Augusta sobbed outright, for her nerves were shaken: "You don't know
what your kindness means to me," she said; "I have never had a friend,
and since my darling died I have been so very lonely!"
And so these two fair women talked, making plans for the future as though
all things endured forever, and all plans were destined to be realized.
But even as they talked, somewhere up in the high heavens the Voice that
rules the world spoke a word, and the Messenger of Fate rushed forth to
do its bidding. On board the great ship was music and laughter and the
sweet voices of singing women; but above it hung a pall of doom. Not the
most timid heart dreamed of danger. What danger could there be aboard of
that grand ship, which sped across the waves with the lightness and
confidence of the swallow? There was naught to fear. A prosperous voyage
was drawing to its end, and mothers put their babes to sleep with as sure
a heart as though they were on solid English ground. Oh! surely when his
overflowing load of sorrows and dire miseries was meted out to man, some
gentle Spirit pleaded for him—that he should not have foresight added
to the tale, that he should not see the falling knife or hear the water
lapping that one day shall entomb him? Or, was it kept back because man,
having knowledge, would be man without reason?—for terror would make him
mad, and he would end his fears by hurrying their fulfilment! At least,
we are blind to the future, and let us be thankful for it.
Presently Lady Holmhurst got up from her chair, and said that she was
going to bed, but that, first of all, she must kiss Dick, her little boy,
who slept with his nurse in another cabin. Augusta rose and went with
her, and they both kissed the sleeping child, a bonny boy of five, and
then they kissed each other and separated for the night.
Some hours afterwards Augusta woke up, feeling very restless. For an
hour or more she lay thinking of Mr. Tombey and many other things, and
listening to the swift "lap, lap," of the water as it slipped past the
vessel's sides, and the occasional tramp of the watch as they set fresh
sails. At last her feeling of unrest got too much for her, and she rose
and partially, very partially, dressed herself—for in the gloom she
could only find her flannel vest and petticoat—twisted her long hair
in a coil round her head, put on a hat and a thick ulster that hung
upon the door—for they were running into chilly latitudes—and slipped
out on deck.
It was getting towards dawn, but the night was still dark. Looking up,
Augusta could only just make out the outlines of the huge bellying
sails, for the Kangaroo was rushing along before the westerly wind under
a full head of steam, and with every inch of her canvas set to ease the
screw. There was something very exhilarating about the movement, the
freshness of the night, and the wild, sweet song of the wind as it sang
amongst the rigging. Augusta turned her face toward it, and, being
alone, stretched out her arms as though to catch it. The whole scene
awoke some answering greatness in her heart; something that slumbers in
the bosom of the higher race of human beings, and only stirs—and then
but faintly—when the passions move them, or when nature communes with
her nobler children. She felt that at that moment she could write as she
had never written yet. All sorts of beautiful ideas, all sorts of
aspirations after that noble calm, and purity of thought and life for
which we pray and long, but are not allowed to reach, came flowing into
her heart. She almost thought that she could hear her lost Jeannie's
voice calling down the gale, and her strong imagination began to paint
her hovering like a sea-bird upon white wings high above the mainmast's
taper point, and gazing through the darkness into the soul of her she
loved. Then, by those faint and imperceptible degrees with which
thoughts fade one into another, from Jeannie her thought got round to
Eustace Meeson. She wondered if he had ever called at the lodgings at
Birmingham after she left? Somehow, she had an idea that he was not
altogether indifferent to her; there had been a look in his eyes she did
not quite understand. She almost wished now she had sent him a line or a
message. Perhaps she would do so from New Zealand. Just then her
meditations were interrupted by a step, and, turning round, she found
herself face to face with the captain.
"Why, Miss Smithers!" he said, "what on earth are you doing here at this
hour?—making up romances?"
"Yes," she answered, laughing, and with perfect truth. "The fact of
the matter is, I could not sleep, and so I came on deck; and very
pleasant it is!"
"Yes," said the captain, "If you want something to put into your stories
you won't find anything better than this. The Kangaroo is showing her
heels, isn't she, Miss Smithers? That's the beauty of her, she can sail
as well as steam; and when she has a strong wind like this abaft, it
would have to be something very quick that would catch her. I believe
that we have been running over seventeen knots an hour ever since
midnight. I hope to make Kerguelen Island by seven o'clock to correct my
"What is Kerguelen Island?" asked Augusta.
"Oh! it is a desert place where nobody goes, except now and then a
whaler to fill up with water. I believe that the astronomers sent an
expedition there a few years ago, to observe the transit of Venus: but
it was a failure because the weather was so misty—it is nearly always
misty there. Well, I must be off, Miss Smithers. Good night; or, rather,
Before the words were well out of his mouth, there was a wild shout
forward—"ship ahead!" Then came an awful yell from a dozen
voices—"starboard! Hard-a-starboard, for God's sake."
With a wild leap, like the leap of a man suddenly shot, the captain left
her side and rushed on to the bridge. At the same instant the
engine-bell rang and the steering-chains began to rattle furiously on
the rollers at her feet as the steam steering-gear did its work. Then
came another yell—
"It's a whaler!—no lights!" and an answering shriek of terror from
some big black object that loomed ahead. Before the echoes had died away,
before the great ship could even answer to her helm, there was a crash,
such as Augusta had never heard, and a sickening shock, that threw her on
her hands and knees on the deck, shaking the iron masts till they
trembled as though they were willow wands, and making the huge sails flap
and for an instant fly aback. The great vessel, rushing along at her
frightful speed of seventeen knots, had plunged into the ship ahead with
such hideous energy that she cut her clean in two—cut her in two and
passed over her, as though she were a pleasure-boat!
Shriek upon shriek of despair came piercing the gloomy night, and then,
as Augusta struggled to her feet, she felt a horrible succession of
bumps, accompanied by a crushing, grinding noise. It was the Kangaroo
driving right over the remains of the whaler.
In a very few seconds it was done, and looking astern, Augusta could just
make out something black that seemed to float for a second or two upon
the water, and then disappear into its depths. It was the shattered hull
of the whaler.
Then there arose a faint murmuring sound, that grew first into a hum,
then into a roar, and then into a clamour that rent the skies, and up
from every hatchway and cabin in the great ship, human beings—men,
women, and children—came rushing and tumbling, with faces white with
terror—white as their night-gear. Some were absolutely naked, having
slipped off their night-dress and had no time to put on anything else;
some had put on ulsters and great-coats, others had blankets thrown round
them or carried their clothes in their hands. Up they came, hundreds and
hundreds of them (for there were a thousand souls on board the Kangaroo),
pouring aft like terrified spirits flying from the mouth of Hell, and
from them arose such a hideous clamour as few have lived to hear.
Augusta clung to the nettings to let the rush go by, trying to collect
her scattered senses and to prevent herself from catching the dreadful
contagion of the panic. Being a brave and cool-headed woman, she
presently succeeded, and with her returning clearness of vision she
realized that she and all on board were in great peril. It was clear that
so frightful a collision could not have taken place without injury to
their own vessel. Nothing short of an iron-clad ram could have stood such
a shock, probably they would founder in a few minutes, and all be
drowned. In a few minutes she might be dead! Her heart stood still at the
horror of the thought, but once more she recovered herself. Well, after
all, life had not been pleasant; and she had nothing to fear from another
world, she had done no wrong. Then suddenly she began to think of the
others. Where was Lady Holmhurst? and where were the boy and the nurse?
Acting upon the impulse she did not stay to realize, she ran to the
saloon hatchway. It was fairly clear now, for most of the people were on
deck, and she found her way to the child's cabin with but little
difficulty. There was a light in it, and the first glance showed her that
the nurse had gone; gone, and deserted the child—for there he lay,
asleep, with a smile upon his little round face. The shock had scarcely
wakened the boy, and, knowing nothing of ship-wrecks, he had just shut
his eyes and gone to sleep again.
"Dick, Dick!" she said, shaking him.
He yawned and sat up, and then threw himself down again saying,
"Yes, but Dick must wake up, and Auntie" (he called her "auntie") "will
take him up on deck to look for Mummy. Won't it be nice to go on deck in
"Yes," said Dick, with confidence; and Augusta took him on her knee and
hurried him into such of his clothes as came handy, as quickly as she
could. On the cabin-door was a warm little pea-jacket which the child
wore when it was cold. This she put on over his blouse and flannel shirt,
and then, by an after-thought, took the two blankets off his bunk and
wrapped them round him. At the foot of the nurse's bed was a box of
biscuits and some milk. The biscuits she emptied into the pockets of her
ulster, and having given the child as much of the milk as he would drink,
swallowed the rest herself. Then, pinning a shawl which lay about round
her own shoulders, she took up the child and made her way with him on to
the deck. At the head of the companion she met Lord Holmhurst himself,
rushing down to look after the child.
"I have got him, Lord Holmhurst," she cried; "the nurse has run away.
Where is your wife?"
"Bless you," he said fervently; "you are a good girl. Bessie is aft
somewhere: I would not let her come. They are trying to keep the people
off the boats—they are all mad!"
"Are we sinking?" she asked faintly.
"God knows—ah! here is the captain," pointing to a man who was walking,
or rather pushing his way, rapidly towards them through the maddened,
screeching mob. Lord Holmhurst caught him by the arm.
"Let me go," he said roughly, trying to shake himself loose. "Oh! it is
you, Lord Holmhurst."
"Yes; step in here for one second and tell us the worst. Speak up, man,
and let us know all!"
"Very well, Lord Holmhurst, I will. We have run down a whaler of about
five hundred tons, which was cruising along under reduced canvas and
showing no lights. Our fore compartment is stove right in, bulging out
the plates on each side of the cut-water, and loosening the fore
bulkhead. The carpenter and his mates are doing their best to shore it up
from the inside with balks of timber, but the water is coming in like a
mill race, and I fear there are other injuries. All the pumps are at
work, but there's a deal of water, and if the bulkhead goes"—
"We shall go, too," said Lord Holmhurst, calmly. "Well, we must take to
the boats. Is that all?"
"In Heaven's name, is that not enough!" said the captain, looking up, so
that the light that was fixed in the companion threw his ghastly face
into bold relief. "No, Lord Holmhurst, it is not all. The boats will hold
something over three hundred people. There are about one thousand souls
aboard the Kangaroo, of whom more than three hundred are women and
"Therefore the men must drown," said Lord Holmhurst, quietly. "God's
will be done!"
"Your Lordship will, of course, take a place in the boats?" said the
captain, hurriedly. "I have ordered them to be prepared, and,
fortunately, day is breaking. I rely upon you to explain matters to the
owners if you escape, and clear my character. The boats must make for
Kerguelen Land. It is about seventy miles to the eastward."
"You must give your message to someone else, captain," was the answer; "I
shall stay and share the fate of the other men."
There was no pomposity about Lord Holmhurst now—all that had gone—and
nothing but the simple gallant nature of the English gentleman remained.
"No, no," said the captain, as they hurried aft, pushing their way
through the fear-distracted crowd. "Have you got your revolver?"
"Well, then, keep it handy; you may have to use it presently: they will
try and rush the boats."
By this time the grey dawn was slowly breaking, throwing a cold and
ghastly light upon the hideous scene of terror. Round about the boats
were gathered the officers and some of the crew, doing their best to
prepare them for lowering. Indeed, one had already been got away. In it
was Lady Holmhurst, who had been thrown there against her will, shrieking
for her child and husband, and about a score of women and children,
together with half-a-dozen sailors and an officer.
Augusta caught sight of her friend's face in the faint light "Bessie!
Bessie! Lady Holmhurst!" she cried, "I have got the boy. It is all
right—I have got the boy!"
She heard her, and waved her hand wildly towards her; and then the men in
the boat gave way, and in a second it was out of earshot. Just then a
tall form seized Augusta by the arm. She looked up: it was Mr. Tombey,
and she saw that in his other hand he held a revolver.
"Thank God!" he shouted in her ear, "I have found you! This way—this
way, quick!" And he dragged her aft to where two sailors, standing by
the davits that supported a small boat, were lowering her to the level
of the bulwarks.
"Now then, women!" shouted an officer who was in charge of the operation.
Some men made a rush.
"Women first! Women first!"
"I am in no hurry," said Augusta, stepping forward with the trembling
child in her arms; and her action for a few seconds produced a calming
effect, for the men stopped.
"Come on!" said Mr. Tombey, stooping to lift her over the side, only to
be nearly knocked down by a man who made a desperate effort to get into
the boat. It was Mr. Meeson, and, recognising him, Mr. Tombey dealt him a
blow that sent him spinning back.
"A thousand pounds for a place!" he roared. "Ten thousand pounds for a
seat in a boat!" And once more he scrambled up at the bulwarks, trampling
down a child as he did so, and was once more thrown back.
Mr. Tombey took Augusta and the child into his strong arms and put her
into the boat. As he did so, he kissed her forehead and murmured, "God
bless you, good-bye!"
At that instant there was a loud report forward, and the stern of the
vessel lifted perceptibly. The bulkhead had given way, and there arose
such a yell as surely was seldom heard before. To Augusta's ears it
seemed to shape itself into the word "Sinking!"
Up from the bowels of the ship poured the firemen, the appearance of
whose blackened faces, lined with white streaks of perspiration, added a
new impulse of terror to the panic-stricken throng. Aft they came,
accompanied by a crowd of sailors and emigrants.
"Rush the boats," sung out a voice with a strong Irish accent, "or sure
we'll be drowned!"
Taking the hint, the maddened mob burst towards the boats like a flood,
blaspheming and shrieking as it came. In a moment the women and children
who were waiting to take to the boat, in which Augusta and the two
sea-men were already, were swept aside, and a determined effort was made
to rush it, headed by a great Irishman, the same who had called out.
Augusta saw Mr. Tombey, Lord Holmhurst, who had come up, and the officer
lift their pistols, which exploded almost simultaneously, and the
Irishman and another man pitched forward on to their hands and knees.
"Never mind the pistols, lads," shouted a voice; "as well be shot as
drown. There isn't room for half of us in the boats; come on!" And a
second fearful rush was made, which bore the three gentlemen, firing as
they went, right up against the nettings.
"Bill," halloaed the man who was holding on to the foremost tackle,
"lower away; we shall be rushed and swamped!"
Bill obeyed with heart and soul, and down sank the boat below the level
of the upper decks, just as the mob was getting the mastery. In five
seconds more they were hanging close over the water, and whilst they were
in this position a man leapt at the boat from the bulwarks. He struck on
the thwarts, rolled off into the water, and was no more seen. A lady, the
wife of a Colonial Judge, threw her child; Augusta tried to catch it, but
missed, and the boy sank and was lost. In another moment the two sailors
had shoved off from the ship's side. As they did so, the stern of the
Kangaroo lifted right out of the water so that they could see under her
rudder-post. Just then, too, with a yell of terror, Mr. Meeson, in whom
the elementary principle of self-preservation at all costs was strongly
developed, cast himself from the side and fell with a splash within a few
feet of the boat. Rising to the surface, he clutched hold of the gunwale,
and implored to be taken in.
"Knock the old varmint over the knuckles, Bill," shouted the other man;
"he'll upset us!"
"No; no!" cried Augusta, her woman's heart moved at seeing her old enemy
in such a case. "There is plenty of room in the boat."
"Hold on then," said the man addressed, whose name was Johnnie; "when we
get clear we'll haul you in."
And, the reader may be sure, Mr. Meeson did hold on pretty tight till,
after rowing about fifty yards, the two men halted, and proceeded, not
without some risk and trouble—for there was a considerable sea
running—to hoist Mr. Meeson's large form over the gunwale of the boat.
Meanwhile, the horrors on board the doomed ship were redoubling, as she
slowly settled to her watery grave. Forward, the steam fog-horn was going
unceasingly, bellowing like a thousand furious bulls; while, now and
again, a rocket still shot up through the misty morning air. Round the
boats a hideous war was being waged. Augusta saw a great number of men
jump into one of the largest life-boats, which was still hanging to the
davits, having evidently got the better of those who were attempting to
fill it with the women and children. The next second they lowered the
after tackle, but, by some hitch or misunderstanding, not the foremost
one; with the result that the stern of the boat fell while the bow
remained fixed, and every soul in it, some forty or fifty people, was
shot out into the water. Another boat was overturned by a sea as it
settled on the water. Another one, full of women and children, got to the
water all right, but remained fastened to the ship by the bow tackle.
When, a couple of minutes afterwards, the Kangaroo went down, nobody had
a knife at hand wherewith to cut the rope, and the boat was dragged down
with her, and all its occupants drowned. The remaining boats, with the
exception of the one in which Lady Holmhurst was, and which had been got
away before the rush began, were never lowered at all, or sank as soon as
lowered. It was impossible to lower them owing to the mad behaviour of
the panic-stricken crowds, who fought like wild beasts for a place in
them. A few gentlemen and sober-headed sailors could do nothing against a
mob of frantic creatures, each bent on saving his own life, if it cost
the lives of all else on board.
And thus it was exactly twenty minutes from the time that the Kangaroo
sank the whaler (for, although these events have taken some time to
describe, they did not take long to enact) that her own hour came, and,
with the exception of some eight-and-twenty souls, all told, the hour
also of every living creature who had taken passage in her.
As soon as Mr. Meeson, saved from drowning by her intervention, lay
gasping at the bottom of the boat, Augusta, overcome by a momentary
faintness, let her head fall forward on to the bundle of blankets in
which she had wrapped up the child she had rescued, and who, too
terrified to speak or cry, stared about him with wide-opened and
frightened eyes. When she lifted it, a few seconds later, a ray from the
rising sun had pierced the mist, and striking full on the sinking ship,
as, her stern well out of the water and her bow well under it, she rolled
sullenly to and fro in the trough of the heavy sea, seemed to wrap her
from hull to truck in wild and stormy light.
"She's going!—by George, she's going!" said the seaman Johnnie; and as
he said it the mighty ship slowly reared herself up on end. Slowly—very
slowly, amidst the hideous and despairing shrieks of the doomed wretches
on board of her, she lifted her stern higher and higher, and plunged her
bows deeper and deeper. They shrieked, they cried to Heaven for help; but
Heaven heeded them not, for man's agony cannot avert man's doom. Now, for
a space, she was standing almost upright upon the water, out of which
about a hundred feet of her vast length towered like some monstrous ocean
growth, whilst men fell from her in showers, like flies benumbed by
frost, down into the churning foam beneath. Then suddenly, with a swift
and awful rush, with a rending sound of breaking spars, a loud explosion
of her boilers, and a smothered boom of bursting bulkheads, she plunged
down into the measureless deeps, and was seen no more forever.
The water closed in over where she had been, boiling and foaming and
sucking down all things in the wake of her last journey, while the steam
and prisoned air came up in huge hissing jets and bubbles that exploded
into spray on the surface.
The men groaned, the child stared stupified, and Augusta cried out, "Oh!
oh!" like one in pain.
"Row back!" she gasped, "row back and see if we cannot pick some
of them up."
"No! no!" shouted Meeson; "they will sink the boat!"
"'Taint much use anyway," said Johnnie. "I doubt that precious few of
them will come up again. They have gone too deep!"
However, they got the boat's head round again—slowly enough, Augusta
thought—and as they did so they heard a feeble cry or two. But by the
time that they had reached the spot where the Kangaroo went down, there
was no living creature to be seen; nothing but the wash of the great
waves, over which the mist once more closed thick and heavy as a pall.
They shouted, and once they heard a faint answer, and rowed towards it;
but when they got to the spot whence the sound seemed to proceed, they
could see nothing except some wreckage. They were all dead, their agony
was done, their cries no more ascended to the pitiless heavens; and wind,
and sky, and sea were just as they had been.
"Oh, my God! my God!" wept Augusta, clinging to the thwarts of the
"One boat got away—where is it?" asked Mr. Meeson, who, a wet and
wretched figure, was huddled up in the stern-sheets, as he rolled his
wild eyes round striving to pierce the curtain of the mist.
"There's something," said Johnnie, pointing through a fog-dog in the
mist, that seemed to grow denser rather than otherwise as the light
increased, at a round, boat-like object that had suddenly appeared to the
starboard of them.
They rowed up to it; it was a boat, but empty and floating bottom
upwards. Closer examination showed that it was the cutter, which, when
full of women and children, had been fastened to the vessel and dragged
down with her as she sank. At a certain depth the pressure of the water
had been too great and had torn the ring in the bow bodily out of her, so
that she returned to the surface. But those in her did not return—at
least, not yet. Once more, two or three days hence, they would arise from
the watery depths and look upon the skies with eyes that could not see,
and then vanish for ever.
Turning from this awful and most moving sight, they rowed slowly through
quantities of floating wreckage—barrels, hencoops (in one of these they
found two drowned fowls, which they secured), and many other articles,
such as oars and wicker deck-chairs—and began to shout vigorously in the
hope of attracting the attention of the survivors in the other boat,
which they imagined could not be far off. Their efforts, however, proved
fruitless, owing to the thickness of the fog; and in the considerable sea
which was running it was impossible to see more than twenty yards or so.
Also, what between the wind, and the wash and turmoil of the water, the
sound of their voices did not travel far. The ocean is a large place, and
a rowing-boat is easily lost sight of upon its furrowed surface;
therefore it is not wonderful that, although the two boats were at the
moment within half a mile of each other, they never met, and each took
its separate course in the hope of escaping the fate of the vessel. The
boat in which were Lady Holmhurst and some twenty other passengers,
together with the second officer and a crew of six men, after seeing the
Kangaroo sink and picking up one survivor, shaped a course for Kerguelen
Land, believing that they, and they alone, remained to tell the tale of
that awful shipwreck. And here it may be convenient to state that before
nightfall they were picked up by a sealing-whaler, that sailed with them
to Albany, on the coast of Australia. Thence an account of the disaster,
which, as the reader will remember, created a deep impression, was
telegraphed home, and thence, in due course, the widowed Lady Holmhurst
and most of the other women who escaped were taken back to England.
To return to our heroine and Mr. Meeson.
The occupants of the little boat sat looking at each other with white
scared faces, till at last the man called Johnnie, who, by-the-way, was
not a tar of a very amiable cast of countenance, possibly owing to the
fact that his nose was knocked almost flat against the side of his face,
swore violently, and said "It was no good stopping there all the
etceteraed day." Thereupon Bill, who was a more jovial-looking man,
remarked "that he, Johnnie, was etceteraed well right, so they had
better hoist the fore-sail."
At this point Augusta interposed, and told them that the captain, just as
the vessel came into collision, had informed her that he was making
Kerguelen Land, which was not more than sixty or seventy miles away. They
had a compass in the boat, and they knew the course the Kangaroo was
steering when she sank. Accordingly, without wasting further time, they
got as much sail up as the little boat could carry in the stiff breeze,
and ran nearly due east before the steady westerly wind. All day long
they ran across the misty ocean, the little boat behaving splendidly,
without sighting any living thing, till, at last, the night closed in
again. There was, fortunately, a bag of biscuits in the boat, and a
breaker of water; also there was, unfortunately, a breaker of rum, from
which the two sailors, Bill and Johnnie, were already taking quite as
much as was good for them. Consequently, though they were cold and wet
with the spray, they had not to face the added horrors of starvation and
thirst. At sundown, they shortened sail considerably, only leaving enough
canvas up to keep the boat ahead of the sea.
Somehow the long night wore away. Augusta scarcely closed her eyes; but
little Dick slept like a top upon her bosom, sheltered by her arms and
the blanket from the cold and penetrating spray. In the bottom of the
boat lay Mr. Meeson, to whom Augusta, pitying his condition—for he was
shivering dreadfully—had given the other blanket, keeping nothing for
herself except the woollen shawl.
At last, however, there came a faint glow in the east, and the daylight
began to break over the stormy sea. Augusta turned her head and stared
through the mist.
"What is that?" she said, in a voice trembling with excitement, to the
sailor Bill, who was taking his turn at the tiller; and she pointed to a
dark mass that loomed up almost over them.
The man looked, and then looked again; and then hallowed out joyfully,
Up struggled Mr. Meeson on to his knees—his legs were so stiff that he
could not stand—and began to stare wildly about him.
"Thank God!" he cried. "Where is it? Is it New Zealand? If ever I get
there, I'll stop there. I'll never get on a ship again!"
"New Zealand!" growled the sailor. "Are you a fool? It's Kerguelen Land,
that's what it is—where it rains all day, and nobody lives—not even a
nigger. It's like enough that you'll stop there, though; for I don't
reckon that anybody will come to take you off in a hurry."
Mr. Meeson collapsed with a groan, and a few minutes afterwards the sun
rose, while the mist grew less and less till at last it almost
disappeared, revealing a grand panorama to the occupants of the boat. For
before them was line upon line of jagged and lofty peaks, stretching as
far as the eye could reach, gradually melting in the distance into the
cold white gleam of snow. Bill slightly altered the boat's course to the
southward, and, sailing round a point, she came into comparatively calm
water. Then, due north of them, running into the land, they saw the mouth
of a great fjord, bounded on each side by towering mountain banks, so
steep as to be almost precipitous, around whose lofty sides thousands of
sea fowl wheeled, awaking the echoes with their clamour. Right into this
beautiful fjord they sailed, past a line of flat rocks on which sat huge
fantastic monsters that the sailors said were sea-lions, along the line
of beetling cliff, till they came to a spot where the shore, on which
grew a rank, sodden-looking grass, shelved gently up from the water's
edge to the frowning and precipitous background. And here, to their huge
delight, they discovered two huts roughly built of old ship's timbers,
placed within a score of yards of each other, and a distance of some
fifty paces from the water's edge.
"Well, there's a house, anyway," said the flat-nosed Johnnie, "though it
don't look as though it had paid rates and taxes lately."
"Let us land, and get out of this horrible boat," said Mr. Meeson,
feebly: a proposition that Augusta seconded heartily enough. Accordingly,
the sail was lowered, and, getting out the oars, the two sailors rowed
the boat into a little, natural harbour that opened out of the main
creek, and in ten minutes her occupants were once more stretching their
legs upon dry land; that is, if any land in Kerguelen Island, that region
of perpetual wet, could be said to be dry.
Their first care was to go up to the huts and examine them, with a result
that could scarcely be called encouraging. The huts had been built some
years—whether by the expedition which, in 1874, came thither to observe
the transit of Venus, or by former parties of shipwrecked mariners, they
never discovered—and were now in a state of ruin. Mosses and lichens
grew plentifully upon the beams, and even on the floor; while great holes
in the roof let in the wet, which lay in little slimy puddles beneath.
Still, with all their drawbacks, they were decidedly better than the open
beach; a very short experience of which, in that inclement climate, would
certainly have killed them; and they thankfully decided to make the best
of them. Accordingly, the smaller of the two huts was given up to Augusta
and the boy Dick, while Mr. Meeson and the sailors took possession of the
large one. Their next task was to move up their scanty belongings (the
boat having first been carefully beached), and to clean out the huts and
make them as habitable as possible by stretching the sails of the boat on
the damp floors and covering up the holes in the roof as best they could
with stones and bits of board from the bottom of the boat. The weather
was, fortunately, dry, and as they all (with the exception of Mr. Meeson,
who seemed to be quite prostrated) worked with a will, not excepting
Master Dick—who toddled backwards and forwards after Augusta in high
glee at finding himself on terra firma—and by midday everything that
could be done was done. Then they made a fire of some drift-wood—for,
fortunately, they had a few matches—and Augusta cooked the two fowls
they had got out of the floating hen-coop as well as circumstances would
allow—which, as a matter of fact, was not very well—and they had
dinner, of which they all stood sadly in need.
After dinner they reckoned up their resources. Of water there was an
ample supply, for not far from the huts a stream ran down into the fjord.
For food they had the best part of a bag of biscuits weighing about a
hundred pounds. Also there was the cask of rum, which the men had moved
into their own hut. But that was not all, for there were plenty of
shellfish about if they could find means to cook them, while the rocks
around were covered with hundreds of penguins, including specimens of the
great "King penguin," which only required to be knocked on the head.
There was, therefore, little fear of their perishing of starvation, as
sometimes happens to ship wrecked people. Indeed, immediately after
dinner, the two sailors went out and returned with as many birds'
eggs—mostly penguin—as they could carry in their hats. Scarcely had
they got in, however, when the rain, which is the prevailing
characteristic of these latitudes, set in, in the most pitiless fashion;
and soon the great mountains with which they were surrounded, and those
before them, were wrapped in dense veils of fleecy vapour. Hour after
hour the rain fell without ceasing, penetrating through their miserable
roof, and falling—drop, drip, drop—upon the sodden floor. Augusta sat
by herself in the smaller hut, doing what she could to amuse little Dick
by telling him stories. Nobody knows how hard she found it to have to
invent stories when she was thus overwhelmed with misfortune; but it was
the only way of keeping the poor child from crying, as the sense of cold
and misery forced itself into his little heart. So she told him about
Robinson Crusoe, and then she told him that they were playing at being
Robinson Crusoe, to which the child very sensibly replied that he did not
at all like the game, and wanted his mamma.
And meanwhile it grew darker and colder and damper hour by hour, till at
last the light went out, and left her with nothing to keep her company
but the moaning wind, the falling rain, and the wild cries of the
sea-birds when something disturbed them from their rest. The child was
asleep at last, wrapped up in a blanket and one of the smaller sails;
and Augusta, feeling quite worn out with solitude and the pressure of
heavy thoughts, began to think that the best thing she could do would be
to try to follow his example, when suddenly there came a knock at the
boards which served for a door to the shanty.
"Who is it?" she cried, with a start.
"Me—Mr. Meeson," answered a voice. "Can I come in?"
"Yes; if you like," said Augusta, sharply, though in her heart she was
really glad to see him, or, rather, to hear him, for it was too dark to
see anything. It is wonderful how, under the pressure of a great
calamity, we forget our quarrels and our spites, and are ready to jump at
the prospect of the human companionship of our deadliest enemy. And "the
moral of that is," as the White Queen says, that as we are all night and
day face to face with the last dread calamity—Death—we should
throughout our lives behave as though we saw the present shadow of his
hand. But that will never happen in the world while human nature is human
nature—and when will it become anything else?
"Put up the door again," said Augusta, when, from a rather rawer rush of
air than usual, she gathered that her visitor was within the hut.
Mr. Meeson obeyed, groaning audibly. "Those two brutes are getting
drunk," he said, "swallowing down rum by the gallon. I have come because
I could not stop with them any longer—and I am so ill, Miss Smithers, so
ill! I believe that I am going to die. Sometimes I feel as though all the
marrow in my bones were ice, and—and—at others just as though somebody
were shoving a red-hot wire up them. Can't you do anything for me?"
"I don't see what is to be done," answered Augusta, gently, for the
man's misery touched her in spite of her dislike for him. "You had better
lie down and try to go to sleep."
"To sleep!" he moaned; "how can I sleep? My blanket is wringing wet
and my clothes are damp," and he fairly broke down and began to
groan and sob.
"Try and go to sleep," urged Augusta again.
He made no answer, but by degrees he grew quieter, overwhelmed, perhaps,
by the solemn presence of the darkness. Augusta laid her head against the
biscuit-bag, and at last sank into blissful oblivion; for to the young,
sleep is a constant friend. Once or twice she woke, but only to drop off
again; and when she finally opened her eyes it was quite light and the
rain had ceased.
Her first care was for little Dick, who had slept soundly throughout the
night and appeared to be none the worse. She took him outside the hut and
washed his face and hands in the stream and then sat him down to a
breakfast of biscuit. As she returned she met the two sailors, who,
although they were now fairly sober, bore upon their faces the marks of a
fearful debauch. Evidently they had been drinking heavily. She drew
herself up and looked at them, and they slunk past her in silence.
Then she returned to the hut. Mr. Meeson was sitting up when she entered,
and the bright light from the open door fell full upon his face. His
appearance fairly shocked her. The heavy cheeks had fallen in, there were
great purple rings round his hollow eyes, and his whole aspect was one of
a man in the last stage of illness.
"I have had such a night" he said, "Oh, Heaven! such a night! I don't
believe that I shall live through another."
"Nonsense!" said Augusta, "eat some biscuit and you will feel better."
He took a piece of the biscuit which she gave him, and attempted to
swallow it, but could not.
"It is no use," he said; "I am a dying man. Sitting in those wet clothes
in the boat has finished me."
And Augusta, looking at his face, could not but believe him.
AUGUSTA TO THE RESCUE.
After breakfast—that is, after Augusta had eaten some biscuit and a wing
that remained from the chickens she had managed to cook upon the previous
day—Bill and Johnnie, the two sailors, set to work, at her suggestion,
to fix up a long fragment of drift-wood on a point of rock, and to bind
it on to a flag that they happened to find in the locker of the boat.
There was not much chance of its being seen by anybody in that mist-laden
atmosphere, even if anybody came there to see it, of which there was
still less chance; still they did it as a sort of duty. By the time this
task was finished it was midday, and, for a wonder, there was little
wind, and the sun shone out brightly. On returning to the huts Augusta
got the blankets out to dry, and set the two sailors to roast some of the
eggs they had found on the previous day. This they did willingly enough,
for they were now quite sober, and very much ashamed of themselves.
Then, after giving Dick some more biscuit and four roasted eggs, which he
took to wonderfully, she went to Mr. Meeson, who was lying groaning in
the hut, and persuaded him to come and sit out in the warmth.
By this time the wretched man's condition was pitiable, for, though his
strength was still whole in him, he was persuaded that he was going to
die, and could touch nothing but some rum-and-water.
"Miss Smithers," he said, as he sat shivering upon the rocks, "I am going
to die in this horrible place, and I am not fit to die! To think of me,"
he went on with a sudden burst of his old fire, "to think of me dying
like a starved dog in the cold, when I have two millions of money waiting
to be spent there in England! And I would give them all—yes, every
farthing of them—to find myself safe at home again! By Jove! I would
change places with any poor devil of a writer in the Hutches! Yes, I
would turn author on twenty pounds a month!—that will give you some idea
of my condition, Miss Smithers! To think that I should ever live to say
that I would care to be a beggarly author, who could not make a thousand
a year if he wrote till his fingers fell off!—oh! oh!" and he fairly
sobbed at the horror and degradation of the thought.
Augusta looked at the poor wretch and then bethought her of the proud
creature she had known, raging terribly through the obsequious ranks of
clerks, and carrying desolation to the Hutches and the many-headed
editorial department. She looked, and was filled with reflections on the
mutability of human affairs.
Alas! how changed that Meeson!
"Yes," he went on, recovering himself a little, "I am going to die in
this horrible place, and all my money will not even give me a decent
funeral. Addison and Roscoe will get it—confound them!—as though they
had not got enough already. It makes me mad when I think of those Addison
girls spending my money, or bribing Peers to marry them with it, or
something of that sort. I disinherited my own nephew, Eustace, and kicked
him out to sink or swim; and now I can't undo it, and I would give
anything to alter it! We quarrelled about you, Miss Smithers, because I
would not give you any more money for that book of yours. I wish I had
given it to you—anything you wanted. I didn't treat you well; but, Miss
Smithers, a bargain is a bargain. It would never have done to give way,
on principle. You must understand that, Miss Smithers. Don't revenge
yourself on me about it, now that I am helpless, because, you see, it was
a matter of principle."
"I am not in the habit of revenging myself, Mr. Meeson," answered
Augusta, with dignity; "but I think that you have done a very wicked
thing to disinherit your nephew in that fashion, and I don't wonder that
you feel uncomfortable about it."
The expression of this vigorous opinion served to disturb Mr. Meeson's
conscience all the more, and he burst out into laments and regrets.
"Well," said Augusta at last, "if you don't like your will you had better
alter it. There are enough of us here to witness a will, and, if anything
happens to you, it will override the other—will it not?"
This was a new idea, and the dying man jumped at it.
"Of course, of course," he said; "I never thought of that before. I will
do it at once, and cut Addison and Roscoe out altogether. Eustace shall
have every farthing. I never thought of that before. Come, give me your
hand; I'll get up and see about it."
"Stop a minute," said Augusta. "How are you going to write a will without
pen or pencil, or paper or ink?"
Mr. Meeson sank back with a groan. This difficulty had not occurred to
"Are you sure nobody has got a pencil and a bit of paper?" he asked. "It
would do, so long as the writing remained legible."
"I don't think so," said Augusta, "but I will inquire." Accordingly she
went and asked Bill and Johnnie: but neither of them had a pencil or a
single scrap of paper, and she returned sadly to communicate the news.
"I have got it, I have got it," said Mr. Meeson, as she approached the
spot where he lay upon the rock. "If there is no paper or pen, we must
write it in blood upon some linen. We can make a pen from the feathers of
a bird. I read somewhere in a book of somebody who did that. It will do
as well as anything else."
Here was an idea, indeed, and one that Augusta jumped at. But in
another moment her enthusiasm received a check. Where was there any
linen to write on?
"Yes," she said, "if you can find some linen. You have got on a
flannel shirt, so have the two sailors, and little Dick is dressed in
It was a fact. As it happened, not one of the party had a scrap of linen
on them, or anything that would answer the purpose. Indeed, they had only
one pocket-handkerchief between them, and it was a red rag full of holes.
Augusta had had one, but it had blown overboard when they were in the
boat. What would they not have given for that pocket-handkerchief now!
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson, "it seems we have none. I haven't even get a
bank-note, or I might have written in blood upon that; though I have got
a hundred sovereigns in gold—I grabbed them up before I bolted from the
cabin. But I say—excuse me, Miss Smithers, but—um—ah—oh! hang
modesty—haven't you got some linen on, somewhere or other, that you
could spare a bit of? You shan't lose by giving it to me. There, I
promise that I will tear up the agreement if ever I get out of
this—which I shan't—which I shan't—and I will write on the linen that
it is to be torn up. Yes, and that you are to have five thousand pounds
legacy too, Miss Smithers. Surely you can spare me a little bit—just off
the skirt, or somewhere, you know, Miss Smithers? It never will be
missed, and it is so very important."
Augusta blushed, and no wonder. "I am sorry to say I have nothing of the
sort about me, Mr. Meeson—nothing except flannel," she said. "I got up
in the middle of the night before the collision, and there was no light
in the cabin, and I put on whatever came first, meaning to come back and
dress afterwards when it got light."
"Stays!" said Mr. Meeson, desperately. "Forgive me for mentioning them,
but surely you put on your stays? One could write on them, you know."
"I am very sorry, Mr. Meeson," she answered, "but I did not put any on."
"Not a cuff or a collar?" he said, catching at a last straw of hope.
Augusta shook her head sadly.
"Then there is an end of it!" groaned Mr. Meeson. "Eustace must lose the
money. Poor lad! poor lad! I have behaved very badly to him."
Augusta stood still, racking her brain for some expedient, for she was
determined that Eustace Meeson should not lose the chance of that
colossal fortune if she could help it. It was but a poor chance at the
best, for Mr. Meeson might not be dying, after all. And if he did die, it
was probable that his fate would be their fate also, and no record would
remain of them or of Mr. Meeson's testamentary wishes. As things looked
at present, there was every prospect of their all perishing miserably on
that desolate shore.
Just then the sailor Bill, who had been up to the flagstaff on the rock
on the chance of catching sight of some passing vessel, came walking
past. His flannel shirt-sleeves were rolled up to the elbows of his
brawny arms, and as he stopped to speak to Augusta she noticed something
that made her start, and gave her an idea.
"There ain't nothing to be seen," said the man, roughly; "and it is my
belief that there won't be neither. Here we are, and here we stops till
we dies and rots."
"Ah, I hope not," said Augusta. "By-the-way, Mr. Bill, will you let me
look at the tattoo on your arm?"
"Certainly, Miss," said Bill, with alacrity, holding his great arm within
an inch of her nose. It was covered with various tattoos: flags, ships,
and what not, in the middle of which, written in small letters along the
side of the forearm, was the sailor's name—Bill Jones.
"Who did it, Mr. Bill?" asked Augusta.
"Who did it? Why I did it myself. A chap made me a bet that I could not
tattoo my own name on my own arm, so I showed him; and a poor sort of
hand I should have been at tattooing if I could not."
Augusta said no more till Bill had gone on, then she spoke.
"Now, Mr. Meeson, do you see how you can make your will?" she said
"See? No." he answered, "I don't."
"Well, I do: you can tattoo it—or, rather get the sailor to tattoo it.
It need not be very long."
"Tattoo it! What on, and what with?" he asked, astonished.
"You can have it tattooed on the back of the other sailor, Johnnie, if he
will allow you; and as for material, you have some revolver cartridges;
if the gunpowder is mixed with water, it would do, I should think."
"'Pon my word," said Mr. Meeson, "you are a wonderful woman! Whoever
would have thought of such a thing except a woman? Go and ask the man
Johnnie, there's a good girl, if he would mind my will being tattooed
upon his back."
"Well," said Augusta; "it's a queer sort of message; but I'll try."
Accordingly, taking little Dick by the hand, she went across to where the
two sailors were sitting outside their hut, and putting on her sweetest
smile, first of all asked Mr. Bill if he would mind doing a little
tattooing for her. To this Mr. Bill, finding time hang heavy upon his
hands, and wishing to be kept out of the temptation of the rum-cask,
graciously assented, saying that he had seen some sharp fish-bones lying
about which would be the very thing, though he shook his head at the idea
of using gunpowder as the medium. He said it would not do at all well,
and then, as though suddenly seized by an inspiration, started off down
to the shore.
Then Augusta, as gently and nicely as she could, approached the question
with Johnnie, who was sitting with his back against the hut, his battered
countenance wearing a peculiarly ill-favored expression, probably owing
to the fact that he was suffering from severe pain in his head, as a
result of the debauch of the previous night.
Slowly and with great difficulty, for his understanding was none of the
clearest, she explained to him what was required; and that it was
suggested that he should provide the necessary corpus vile upon which
it was proposed that the experiment should be made. When at last he
understood what it was asked that he should do, Johnnie's countenance
was a sight to see, and his language was more striking than correct. The
upshot of it was, however, that he would see Mr. Meeson collectively,
and Mr. Meeson's various members separately, especially his eyes,
Augusta retreated till his wrath had spent itself, and then once more
returned to the charge.
She was sure, she said, that Mr. Johnnie would not mind witnessing the
document, if anybody else could be found to submit to the pain of the
tattooing. All that would be necessary would be for him to touch the hand
of the operator while his (Johnnie's) name was tattooed as witness to the
will. "Well," he said, "I don't know how as I mind doing that, since it's
you as asked me, Miss, and not the d——d old hulks of a Meeson. I would
not lift a finger to save him from 'ell Miss, and that's a fact!"
"Then that is a promise, Mr. Johnnie?" said Augusta, sweetly ignoring
the garnishing with which the promise was adorned; and on Mr. Johnnie
stating that he looked at it in that light, she returned to Mr. Meeson.
On her way she met Bill, carrying in his hands a loathsome-looking fish,
with long feelers and a head like a parrot, in short, a cuttle-fish.
"Now, here's luck, Miss," said Bill, exultingly; "I saw this gentleman
lying down on the beach there this morning. He's a cuttle, that's what he
is; and I'll have his ink-bag out of him in a brace of shakes; just the
ticket for tattooing, Miss, as good as the best Indian-ink—gunpowder is
a fool to it."
By this time they had reached Mr. Meeson, and here the whole
matter, including Johnnie's obstinate refusal to be tattooed was
explained to Bill.
"Well," said Augusta at length, "it seems that's the only thing to be
done; but the question is, how to do it? I can only suggest, Mr. Meeson,
that the will should be tattooed on you."
"Oh!" said Mr. Meeson, feebly, "on me! Me tattooed like a
savage—tattooed with my own will!"
"It wouldn't be much use, either, governor, begging your pardon," said
Bill, "that is, if you are agoing to croak, as you say; 'cause where
would the will be then? We might skin you with a sharp stone, perhaps,
after you've done the trick, you know," he added reflectively. "But then
we have no salt, so I doubt if you'd keep; and if we set your hide in the
sun, I reckon the writing would shrivel up so that all the courts of law
in London could not make head or tail of it."
Mr. Meeson groaned loudly, as well he might. These frank remarks would
have been trying to any man; much more were they so to this opulent
merchant prince, who had always set the highest value on what Bill rudely
called his "hide."
"There's the infant," went on Bill, meditatively. "He's young and white,
and I fancy his top-crust would work wonderful easy; but you'd have to
hold him, for I expect that he'd yell proper."
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson; "let the will be tattooed upon the child. He'd be
some use that way."
"Yes," said Bill; "and there'd allus be something left to remind me of a
very queer time, provided he lives to get out of it, which is doubtful.
Cuttle-ink won't rub out, I'll warrant."
"I won't have Dick touched," said Augusta, indignantly. "It would
frighten the child into fits; and, besides, nobody has a right to mark
him for life in that way."
"Well, then, there's about an end of the question," said Bill; "and this
gentleman's money must go wherever it is he don't want it to."
"No," said Augusta, with a sudden flush, "there is not. Mr. Eustace
Meeson was once very kind to me, and rather than he should lose the
chance of getting what he ought to have, I—I will be tattooed."
"Well, bust me!" said Bill, with enthusiasm, "bust me! if you ain't a
good-plucked one for a female woman; and if I was that there young man I
should make bold to tell you so."
"Yes," said Mr. Meeson, "that is an excellent idea. You are young and
strong, and as there is lots of food here, I dare say that you will take
a long time to die. You might even live for some months. Let us begin at
once. I feel dreadfully weak. I don't think that I can live through the
night, and if I know that I have done all I can to make sure that Eustace
gets his own, perhaps dying will be a little easier!"
THE LAST OF MR. MEESON.
Augusta turned from the old man with a gesture of impatience not unmixed
with disgust. His selfishness was of an order that revolted her.
"I suppose," she said sharply to Bill, "that I must have this will
tattooed upon my shoulders."
"Yes, Miss; that's it," said Bill. "You see, Miss, one wants space for a
doccymint. If it were a ship or a flag, now, or a fancy pictur of your
young man, I might manage it on your arm, but there must be breadth for a
legal doccymint, more especially as I should like to make a good job of
it while I is about it. I don't want none of them laryers a-turning up
their noses at Bill Jones' tattooing."
"Very well," said Augusta, with an inward sinking of the heart; "I will
go and get ready."
Accordingly she adjourned into the hut and removed the body of her dress
and turned down the flannel garment underneath it in such a fashion as to
leave as much of her neck bare as is to be seen when a lady has on a
moderately low dress. Then she came out again, dressed, or rather
undressed, for the sacrifice. Meanwhile, Bill had drawn out the ink-bag
of the cuttle, had prepared a little round fragment of wood which he
sharpened like a pencil by rubbing it against a stone, and had put a keen
edge on to a long white fishbone that he had selected.
"Now, Mr. Bill, I am ready," said Augusta, seating herself resolutely
upon a flat stone and setting her teeth.
"My word, Miss; but you have a fine pair of shoulders!" said the sailor,
contemplating the white expanse with the eye of an artist. "I never had
such a bit of material to work on afore. Hang me if it ain't almost a
pity to mark 'em! Not but what high-class tattooing is an ornimint to
anybody, from a Princess down; and in that you are fortunit, Miss, for I
larnt tattooing from them as can tattoo, I did."
Augusta bit her lip, and the tears came into her eyes. She was only a
woman, and had a woman's little weakness; and, though she had never
appeared in a low dress in her life, she knew that her neck was one of
her greatest beauties, and was proud of it. It was hard to think that she
would be marked all her life with this ridiculous will—that is, if she
escaped—and, what was more, for the benefit of a young man who had no
claim upon her at all.
That was what she said to herself; but as she said it, something in her
told her that it was not true. Something told her that this young Mr.
Eustace Meeson had a claim upon her—the highest claim that a man could
have upon a woman, for the truth must out—she loved him. It seemed to
have come home to her quite clearly here in this dreadful desolate place,
here in the very shadow of an awful death, that she did love him, truly
and deeply. And that being so, she would not have been what she was—a
gentle-natured, devoted woman—had she not at heart rejoiced at this
opportunity of self-sacrifice, even though that self-sacrifice was of the
hardest sort, seeing that it involved what all women hate—the endurance
of a ridiculous position. For love can do all things: it can even make
its votaries brave ridicule.
"Go on," she said sharply, "and let us get it over as soon as possible."
"Very well, Miss. What is it to be, old gentleman? Cut it short, you
"'I leave all my property to Eustace H. Meeson,' that's as short as I
can get it; and, if properly witnessed, I think that it will cover
everything," said Mr. Meeson, with a feeble air of triumph. "Anyhow, I
never heard of a will that is to carry about two millions being got into
nine words before."
Bill poised his fishbone, and, next second, Augusta gave a start and a
little shriek, for the operation had begun.
"Never mind, Miss," said Bill, consolingly; "you'll soon get used to it."
After that Augusta set her teeth and endured in silence, though it really
hurt her very much, for Bill was more careful of the artistic effect and
the permanence of the work than of the feelings of the subject. Fiat
experimentum in corpore vili, he would have said had he been conversant
with the Classics, without much consideration for the corpus vile. So
he pricked and dug away with his fishbone, which he dipped continually in
the cuttle-ink, and with the sharp piece of wood, till Augusta began to
feel perfectly faint.
For three hours the work continued, and at the end of that time the body
of the will was finished—for Bill was a rapid worker—being written in
medium-sized letters right across her shoulders. But the signatures yet
remained to be affixed.
Bill asked her if she would like to let them stand over till the
morrow?—but this, although she felt ill with the pain she declined to
do. She was marked now, marked with the ineffaceable mark of Bill, so she
might as well be marked to some purpose. If she put off the signing of
the document till the morrow, it might be too late, Mr. Meeson might be
dead, Johnnie might have changed his mind, or a hundred things. So she
told them to go on and finish it as quickly as possible, for there was
only about two hours more daylight.
Fortunately Mr. Meeson was more or less acquainted with the formalities
that are necessary in the execution of a will, namely: that the testator
and the two witnesses should all sign in the presence of each other. He
also knew that it was sufficient, if, in cases of illness, some third
person held the pen between the testator's fingers and assisted him to
write his name, or even if someone signed for the testator in his
presence and by his direction; and, arguing from this knowledge, he came
to the conclusion—afterwards justified in the great case of Meeson v.
Addison and Another—that it would be sufficient if he inflicted the
first prick of his signature, and then kept his hand upon Bill's while
the rest was done. This accordingly, he did, clumsily running the point
of the sharp bone so deep into the unfortunate Augusta that she fairly
shrieked aloud, and then keeping his hand upon the sailor's arm while he
worked in the rest of the signature, "J. Meeson." When it was done,
the turn of Johnnie came. Johnnie had at length aroused himself to some
interest in what was going on, and had stood by watching all the time,
since Mr. Meeson having laid his finger upon Augusta's shoulder, had
solemnly declared the writing thereon to be his last will and testament.
As he (Johnnie) could not tattoo, the same process was gone through with
reference to his signature, as in the case of Mr. Meeson. Then Bill Jones
signed his own name, as the second witness to the will; and just as the
light went out of the sky the document was finally executed—the date of
the execution being alone omitted. Augusta got up off the flat stone
where she had been seated during this torture for something like five
hours, and staggering into the hut, threw herself down upon the sail, and
went off into a dead faint. It was indeed only by a very strong exercise
of the will that she had kept herself from fainting long before.
The next thing she was conscious of was a dreadful smarting in her back,
and on opening her eyes found that it was quite dark in the hut. So
weary was she, however, that after stretching out her hand to assure
herself that Dick was safe by her side, she shut her eyes again and went
fast asleep. When she woke, the daylight was creeping into the damp and
squalid hut, revealing the heavy form of Mr. Meeson tossing to and fro
in a troubled slumber on the further side. She got up, feeling
dreadfully sore about the back; and, awaking the child, took him out to
the stream of water and washed him and herself as well as she could. It
was very cold outside; so cold that the child cried, and the rain clouds
were coming up fast, so she hurried back to the hut, and, together with
Dick, made her breakfast off some biscuit and some roast penguin's
eggs, which were not at all bad eating. She was indeed, quite weak with
hunger, having swallowed no food for many hours, and felt
proportionately better after it.
Then she turned to examine the condition of Mr. Meeson. The will had been
executed none too soon, for it was evident to her that he was in a very
bad way indeed. His face was sunken and hectic with fever, his teeth were
chattering, and his talk, though he was now awake, was quite incoherent.
She tried to get him to take some food; but he would swallow nothing but
water. Having done all that she could for him, she went out to see the
sailors, and met them coming down from the flagstaff. They had evidently
been, though not to any great extent, at the rum cask again, for Bill
looked sheepish and shaky, while the ill-favored Johnnie was more sulky
than ever. She gazed at them reproachfully, and then asked them to
collect some more penguin's eggs, which Johnnie refused point-blank to
do, saying that he wasn't going to collect eggs for landlubbers to eat;
she might collect eggs for herself. Bill, however, started on the errand,
and in about an hour's time returned, just as the rain set in in good
earnest, bearing six or seven dozen fresh eggs tied up in his coat.
Augusta, with the child by her, sat in the miserable hut attending to Mr.
Meeson; while outside the pitiless rain poured down in a steady unceasing
sheet of water that came through the wretched roof in streams. She did
her best to keep the dying man dry, but it proved to be almost an
impossibility; for even when she succeeded in preventing the wet from
falling on him from above, it got underneath him from the reeking floor,
while the heavy damp of the air gathered on his garments till they were
As the hours went on his consciousness came back to him, and with it his
terror for the end and his remorse for his past life, for alas! the
millions he had amassed could not avail him now.
"I am going to die!" he groaned. "I am going to die, and I've been a bad
man: I've been the head of a publishing company all my life!"
Augusta gently pointed out to him that publishing was a very respectable
business when fairly and properly carried on, and not one that ought to
weigh heavy upon a man at the last like the record of a career of
successful usury or burgling.
He shook his heavy head. "Yes, yes," he groaned; "but Meeson's is a
company and you are talking of private firms. They are straight, most of
them; far too straight, I used always to say. But you don't know
Meeson's—you don't know the customs of the trade at Meeson's."
Augusta reflected that she knew a good deal more about Meeson's than
"Listen," he said, with desperate energy, sitting up upon the sail, "and
I will tell you—I must tell you."
Asterisks, so dear to the heart of the lady novelist, will best represent
the confession that followed; words are not equal to the task.
* * * * *
Augusta listened with rising hair, and realised how very trying must be
the life of a private confessor.
"Oh, please stop!" she said faintly, at last. "I can't bear it—I
"Ah!" he said, as he sunk back exhausted. "I thought that when you
understood the customs at Meeson's you would feel for me in my present
position. Think, girl, think what I must suffer, with such a past,
standing face to face with an unknown future!"
Then came a silence.
"Take him away! Take him away!" suddenly shouted out Mr. Meeson, staring
around him with frightened eyes.
"Who?" asked Augusta; "who?"
"Him—the tall, thin man, with the big book! I know him; he used to be
Number 25—he died years ago. He was a very clever doctor; but one of his
patients brought a false charge against him and ruined him, so he had to
take to writing, poor devil! We made him edit a medical
encyclopaedia—twelve volumes for £300, to be paid on completion; and he
went mad and died at the eleventh volume. So, of course, we did not pay
his widow anything. And now he's come for me—I know he has. Listen! he's
talking! Don't you hear him? Oh, Heavens! He says that I am going to be
an author, and he is going to publish for me for a thousand years—going
to publish on the quarter-profit system, with an annual account, the
usual trade deductions, and no vouchers. Oh! oh! Look!—they are all
coming!—they are pouring out of the Hutches! they are going to murder
me!—keep them off! keep them off!" and he howled and beat the air with
Augusta, utterly overcome by this awful sight, knelt down by his side and
tried to quiet him, but in vain. He continued beating his hands in the
air, trying to keep off the ghostly train, till, at last, with one awful
howl, he fell back dead.
And that was the end of Meeson. And the works that he published, and the
money that he made, and the house that he built, and the evil that he
did—are they not written in the Book of the Commercial Kings?
"Well," said Augusta faintly to herself when she had got her breath back
a little, "I am glad that it is over; anyway, I do hope that I may never
be called on to nurse the head of another publishing company."
"Auntie! auntie!" gasped Dick, "why do the gentleman shout so?"
Then, taking the frightened child by the hand, Augusta made her way
through the rain to the other hut, in order to tell the two sailors what
had come to pass. It had no door, and she paused on the threshold to
prospect. The faint foggy light was so dim that at first she could see
nothing. Presently, however, her eyes got accustomed to it, and she made
out Bill and Johnnie sitting opposite to each other on the ground.
Between them was the breaker of rum. Bill had a large shell in his had,
which he had just filled from the cask; for Augusta saw him in the act of
replacing the spigot.
"My go!—curse you, my go!" said Johnnie, as Bill lifted the shell of
spirits to his lips. "You've had seven goes and I've only had six!"
"You be blowed!" said Bill, swallowing the liquor in a couple of great
gulps. "Ah! that's better! Now I'll fill for you, mate: fair does, I
says, fair does and no favour," and he filled accordingly.
"Mr. Meeson is dead," said Augusta, screwing up her courage to interrupt
The two men stared at her in drunken surprise, which Johnnie broke.
"Now is he, Miss?" he said, with a hiccough: "is he? Well, a good job
too, says I; a useless old landlubber he was. I doubt he's off to a
warmer place than this 'ere Kerguelen Land, and I drinks his health,
which, by-the-way, I never had the occasion to do before. Here's to
the health of the departed," and he swallowed the shellfull of rum at
"Your sentiment I echoes," said Bill. "Johnnie, the shell; give us the
shell to drink the 'ealth of the dear departed."
Then Augusta returned to her hut with a heavy heart. She covered up the
dead body as best she could, telling little Dick that Mr. Meeson was gone
by-by, and then sat down in that chill and awful company. It was very
depressing; but she comforted herself somewhat with the reflection that,
on the whole, Mr. Meeson dead was not so bad as Mr. Meeson in the
Presently the night set in once more, and, worn out with all that she had
gone through, Augusta said her prayers and went to sleep with little Dick
locked fast in her arms.
Some hours afterwards she was awakened by loud and uproarious shouts,
made up of snatches of drunken songs and that peculiar class of English
that hovers ever round the lips of the British Tar. Evidently Bill and
Johnnie were raging drunk, and in this condition were taking the
The shouting and swearing went reeling away towards the water's edge,
and then, all of a sudden, they culminated in a fearful yell—after which
What could it mean? wondered Augusta and whilst she was still wondering
dropped off to sleep again.
Augusta woke up just as the dawn was stealing across the sodden sky. It
was the smarting of her shoulders that woke her. She rose, leaving Dick
yet asleep, and, remembering the turmoil of the night, hurried to the
other hut. It was empty.
She turned and looked about her. About fifteen paces from where she was
lay the shell that the two drunkards had used as a cup. Going forward,
she picked it up. It still smelt disgustingly of spirits. Evidently the
two men had dropped it in the course of their midnight walk, or rather
roll. Where had they gone to?
Straight in front of her a rocky promontory ran out fifty paces or more
into the waters of the fjord-like bay. She walked along it aimlessly till
presently she perceived one of the sailor's hats lying on the ground, or,
rather, floating in a pool of water. Clearly they had gone this way. On
she went to the point of the little headland, sheer over the water. There
was nothing to be seen, not a single vestige of Bill and Johnnie.
Aimlessly enough she leant forward and stared over the rocky wall, and
down into the clear water, and then started back with a little cry.
No wonder that she started, for there on the sand, beneath a fathom and a
half of quiet water, lay the bodies of the two ill-fated men. They were
locked in each other's arms, and lay as though they were asleep upon that
ocean bed. How they came to their end she never knew. Perhaps they
quarrelled in their drunken anger and fell over the little cliff; or
perhaps they stumbled and fell not knowing whither they were going. Who
can say? At any rate, there they were, and there they remained, till the
outgoing tide floated them off to join the great army of their companions
who had gone down with the Kangaroo. And so Augusta was left alone.
With a heavy heart she returned to the hut, pressed down by the weight of
solitude, and the sense that in the midst of so much death she could not
hope to escape. There was no human creature left alive in that vast
lonely land, except the child and herself, and so far as she could see
their fate would soon be as the fate of the others. When she got back to
the hut, Dick was awake and was crying for her.
The still, stiff form of Mr. Meeson, stretched out beneath the sail,
frightened the little lad, he did not know why. Augusta took him into her
arms and kissed him passionately. She loved the child for his own sake;
and, besides, he, and he alone, stood between her and utter solitude.
Then she took him across to the other hut, which had been vacated by the
sailors, for it was impossible to stay in the one with the body, which
was too heavy for her to move. In the centre of the sailors' hut stood
the cask of rum which had been the cause of their destruction. It was
nearly empty now—so light, indeed, that she had no difficulty in rolling
it to one side. She cleaned out the place as well as she could, and
returning to where Mr. Meeson's body lay, fetched the bag of biscuits and
the roasted eggs, after which they had their breakfast.
Fortunately there was but little rain that morning, so Augusta took Dick
out to look for eggs, not because they wanted any more, but in order to
employ themselves. Together they climbed up on to a rocky headland, where
the flag was flying, and looked out across the troubled ocean. There was
nothing in sight so far as the eye could see—nothing but the white
wave-horses across which the black cormorants steered their swift,
unerring flight. She looked and looked till her heart sank within her.
"Will Mummy soon come in a boat to take Dick away?" asked the child at
her side, and then she burst into tears.
When she had recovered herself they set to collecting eggs, an occupation
which, notwithstanding the screams and threatened attacks of the birds,
delighted Dick greatly. Soon they had as many as she could carry; so they
went back to the hut and lit a fire of drift-wood, and roasted some eggs
in the hot ashes; she had no pot to boil them in. Thus, one way and
another the day wore away, and at last the darkness began to fall over
the rugged peaks behind and the wild wilderness of sea before. She put
Dick to bed and he went off to sleep. Indeed, it was wonderful to see how
well the child bore the hardships through which they were passing. He
never had an ache or a pain, or even a cold in the head.
After Dick was asleep Augusta sat, or rather lay, in the dark listening
to the moaning of the wind as it beat upon the shanty and passed away in
gusts among the cliffs and mountains beyond. The loneliness was something
awful, and together with the thought of what the end of it would probably
be, quite broke her spirit down. She knew that the chances of her escape
were small indeed. Ships did not often come to this dreadful and
uninhabited coast, and if one should happen to put in there, it was
exceedingly probable that it would touch at some other point and never
see her or her flag. And then in time the end would come. The supply of
eggs would fail, and she would be driven to supporting life upon such
birds as she could catch, till at last the child sickened and died, and
she followed it to that dim land that lies beyond Kerguelen and the
world. She prayed that the child might die first. It was awful to think
that perhaps it might be the other way about: she might die first, and
the child might be left to starve beside her. The morrow would be
Christmas Day. Last Christmas Day she had spent with her dead sister at
Birmingham. She remembered that they went to church in the morning, and
after dinner she had finished correcting the last revises of "Jemima's
Vow." Well, it seemed likely that long before another Christmas came she
would have gone to join little Jeannie. And then, being a good and
religious girl, Augusta rose to her knees and prayed to Heaven with all
her heart and soul to rescue them from their terrible position, or, if
she was doomed to perish, at least to save the child.
And so the long cold night wore away in thought and vigil, till at last,
some two hours before the dawn, she got to sleep. When she opened her
eyes again it was broad daylight, and little Dick, who had been awake
some time beside her, was sitting up playing with the shell which Bill
and Johnnie had used to drink rum out of. She rose and put the child's
things a little to rights, and then, as it was not raining, told him to
run outside while she went through the form of dressing by taking off
such garments as she had, shaking them, and putting them on again. She
was slowly going through this process, and wondering how long it would
be before her shoulders ceased to smart from the effects of the
tattooing, when Dick came running in without going through the formality
"Oh, Auntie! Auntie!" he sang out in high glee, "here's a big ship coming
sailing along. Is it Mummy and Daddie coming to fetch Dick?"
Augusta sank back faint with the sudden revulsion of feeling. If there
was a ship, they were saved—snatched from the very jaws of death. But
perhaps it was the child's fancy. She threw on the body of her dress;
and, her long yellow hair—which she had in default of better means been
trying to comb out with a bit of wood—streaming behind her, she took the
child by the hand, and flew as fast as she could go down the little rocky
promontory off which Bill and Johnnie had met their end. Before she got
half-way down it, she saw that the child's tale was true—for there,
sailing right up the fjord from the open sea, was a large vessel. She was
not two hundred yards from where she stood, and her canvas was being
rapidly furled preparatory to the anchor being dropped.
Thanking Providence for the sight as she never thanked anything before,
Augusta sped on till she got to the extreme point of the promontory, and
stood there waving Dick's little cap towards the vessel, which moved
slowly and majestically on, till presently, across the clear water, came
the splash of the anchor, followed by the sound of the fierce rattle of
the chain through the hawse-pipes. Then there came another sound—the
glad sound of human voices cheering. She had been seen.
Five minutes passed, and then she saw a boat lowered and manned. The oars
were got out, and presently it was backing water within ten paces of her.
"Go round there," she called, pointing to the little bay, "and I will
By the time that she had got to the spot the boat was already beached,
and a tall, thin, kindly-faced man was addressing her in an unmistakable
Yankee accent, "Cast away, Miss?" he said interrogatively.
"Yes," gasped Augusta; "we are the survivors of the Kangaroo, which sank
in a collision with a whaler about a week ago."
"Ah!" said the captain, "with a whaler? Then I guess that's where my
consort has gone to. She's been missing about a week, and I put in here
to see if I could get upon her tracks—also to fill up with water. Well,
she was well insured, anyway, and when last we spoke her, she had made a
very poor catch. But perhaps, Miss, you will, at your convenience, favour
me with a few particulars?"
Accordingly, Augusta sketched the history of their terrible adventure in
as few words as possible; and the tale was one that made even the
phlegmatic Yankee captain stare. Then she took him, followed by the crew,
to the hut where Meeson lay dead, and to the other hut, where she and
Dick had slept upon the previous night.
"Wall, Miss," said the captain, whose name was Thomas, "I guess that you
and the youngster will be almost ready to vacate these apartments; so, if
you please, I will send you off to the ship, the Harpoon—that's her
name—of Norfolk, in the United States. You will find her well flavoured
with oil, for we are about full to the hatches; but, perhaps, under the
circumstances, you will not mind that. Anyway, my Missus, who is
aboard—having come the cruise for her health—and who is an Englishwoman
like you, will do all she can to make you comfortable. And I tell you
what it is, Miss; if I was in any way pious, I should just thank the
Almighty that I happened to see that there bit of a flag with my spyglass
as I was sailing along the coast at sun-up this morning, for I had no
intention of putting in at this creek, but at one twenty miles along. And
now, Miss, if you'll go aboard, some of us will stop and just tuck up the
dead gentleman as well as we can."
Augusta thanked him from her heart, and, going into the hut, got her hat
and the roll of sovereigns which had been Mr. Meeson's, but which he had
told her to take, leaving the blankets to be brought by the men.
Then two of the sailors got into the little boat belonging to the
Kangaroo, in which Augusta had escaped, and rowed her and Dick away from
that hateful shore to where the whaler—a fore-and-aft-schooner—was
lying at anchor. As they drew near, she saw the rest of the crew of the
Harpoon, among whom was a woman, watching their advent from the deck,
who, when she got her foot upon the companion ladder, one and all set up
a hearty cheer. In another moment she was on deck—which,
notwithstanding its abominable smell of oil, seemed to her the fairest
and most delightful place that her eyes had ever rested on—and being
almost hugged by Mrs. Thomas, a pleasant-looking woman of about thirty,
the daughter of a Suffolk farmer who had emigrated to the States. And
then, of course, she had to tell her story all over again; after which
she was led off to the cabin occupied by the captain and his wife (and
which thenceforth was occupied by Augusta, Mrs. Thomas, and little
Dick), the captain shaking down where he could. And here, for the first
time for nearly a week, she was able to wash and dress herself properly.
And oh, the luxury of it! Nobody knows what the delights of clean linen
really mean till he or she has had to dispense with it under
circumstances of privation; nor have they the slightest idea of what a
difference to one's well-being and comfort is made by the possession or
non-possession of an article so common as a comb. Whilst Augusta was
still combing out her hair with sighs of delight, Mrs. Thomas knocked at
the door and was admitted.
"My! Miss; what beautiful hair you have, now that it is combed out!" she
said in admiration; "why, whatever is that upon your shoulders?"
Then Augusta had to tell the tale of the tattooing, which by-the-way, it
struck her, it was wise to do so, seeing that she thus secured a witness
to the fact, that she was already tattooed on leaving Kerguelen Land,
and that the operation had been of such recent infliction that the flesh
was still inflamed with it. This was the more necessary as the tattooing
Mrs. Thomas listened to the story with her mouth open, lost between
admiration of Augusta's courage, and regret that her shoulders should
have been ruined in that fashion.
"Well, the least that he" (alluding to Eustace) "can do is to marry you
after you have spoilt yourself in that fashion for his benefit," said the
practical Mrs. Thomas.
"Nonsense! Mrs. Thomas," said Augusta, blushing till the tattoo marks on
her shoulders looked like blue lines in a sea of crimson, and stamping
her foot with such energy that her hostess jumped.
There was no reason why she should give an innocent remark such a
warm reception; but then, as the reader will no doubt have observed,
the reluctance that some young women show to talking of the
possibility of their marriage to the man they happen to have set
their hearts on, is only equalled by the alacrity with which they
marry him when the time comes.
Having set Dick and Augusta down to a breakfast of porridge and coffee,
which both of them thought delicious, though the fare was really rather
coarse, Mrs. Thomas, being unable to restrain her curiosity, rowed off to
the land to see the huts and also Mr. Meeson's remains, which, though not
a pleasant sight, were undoubtedly an interesting one. With her, too,
went most of the crew, bent upon the same errand, and also on obtaining
water, of which the Harpoon was short.
As soon as she was left alone, Augusta went back to the cabin, taking
Dick with her, and laid down on the berth with a feeling of safety and
thankfulness to which she had long been a stranger, where very soon she
fell sound asleep.
When Augusta opened her eyes again she became conscious of a violent
rolling motion that she could not mistake. They were at sea.
She got up, smoothed her hair, and went on deck, to find that she had
slept for many hours, for the sun was setting. She went aft to where Mrs.
Thomas was sitting near the wheel with little Dick beside her, and after
greeting them, turned to watch the sunset. The sight was a beautiful one
enough, for the great waves, driven by the westerly wind, which in these
latitudes is nearly always blowing half a gale, were rushing past them
wild and free, and the sharp spray of their foaming crests struck upon
her forehead like a whip. The sun was setting, and the arrows of the
dying light flew fast and far across the billowy bosom of the deep. Fast
and far they flew from the stormy glory in the west, lighting up the pale
surfaces of cloud, and tinging the grey waters of that majestic sea with
a lurid hue of blood. They kissed the bellying sails, and seemed to rest
upon the vessel's lofty trucks, and then travelled on and away, and away,
through the great empyrean of space till they broke and vanished upon the
horizon's rounded edge. There behind them—miles behind—Kerguelen Land
reared its fierce cliffs against the twilight sky. Clear and desolate
they towered in an unutterable solitude, and on their snowy surfaces the
sunbeams beat coldly as the warm breath of some human passion beating on
Aphrodite's marble breast.
Augusta gazed upon those drear cliffs that had so nearly proved her
monumental pile and shuddered. It was as a hideous dream.
And then the dark and creeping shadows of the night threw their veils
around and over them, and they vanished. They were swallowed up in
blackness, and she lost sight of them and of the great seas that forever
beat and churn about their stony feet; nor except in dreams, did she
again set her eyes upon their measureless solitude.
The Night arose in strength and shook a golden dew of stars from the
tresses of her streaming clouds, till the wonderful deep heavens sparkled
with a myriad gemmy points. The west wind going on his way sung his wild
chant amongst the cordage, and rushed among the sails as with a rush of
wings. The ship leant over like a maiden shrinking from a kiss, then,
shivering, fled away, leaping from billow to billow as they rose and
tossed their white arms about her, fain to drag her down and hold her to
ocean's heaving breast.
The rigging tautened, and the huge sails flapped in thunder as the
Harpoon sped upon her course, and all around was greatness and the
present majesty of power. Augusta looked aloft and sighed, she knew not
why. The swift blood of youth coursed through her veins, and she rejoiced
exceedingly that life and all its possibilities yet lay before her. But a
little more of that dreadful place and they would have lain behind. Her
days would have been numbered before she scarce had time to strike a blow
in the great human struggle that rages ceaselessly from age to age. The
voice of her genius would have been hushed just as its notes began to
thrill, and her message would never have been spoken in the world. But
now Time was once more before her, and oh! the nearness of Death had
taught her the unspeakable value of that one asset on which we can
rely—Life. Not, indeed, that life for which so many live—the life led
for self, and having for its principle, if not its only end, the
gratification of the desires of self; but an altogether higher life—a
life devoted to telling that which her keen instinct knew was truth, and,
however imperfectly, painting with the pigment of her noble art those
visions of beauty which sometimes seemed to rest upon her soul like
shadows from the heaven of our hones.
* * * * *
Three months have passed—three long months of tossing waters and
ever-present winds. The Harpoon, shaping her course for Norfolk, in the
United States, had made but a poor passage of it. She got into the
south-east trades, and all went well till they made St. Paul's Rocks,
where they were detained by the doldrums and variable winds. Afterwards
she passed into the north-east trades, and then, further north, met a
series of westerly gales, that ultimately drove her to the Azores, just
as her crew were getting very short of water and provisions. And here
Augusta bid farewell to her friend the Yankee skipper; for the whaler
that had saved her life and Dick's, after refitting once more, set sail
upon its almost endless voyage. She stood on the breakwater at Ponta
Delgada, and watched the Harpoon drop past. The men recognized her and
cheered lustily, and Captain Thomas took off his hat; for the entire
ship's company, down to the cabin-boy, were head-over-heels in love with
Augusta; and the extraordinary offerings that they had made her on
parting, most of them connected in some way or other with that noble
animal the whale, sufficed to fill a good-sized packing-case. Augusta
waved her handkerchief to them in answer; but she could not see much of
them, because her eyes were full of tears. She had had quite enough of
the Harpoon, and yet she was loth so say farewell to her; for her days on
board had in many respects been restful and happy ones; they had given
her space and time to brace herself up before she plunged once more into
the struggle of active life. Besides, she had throughout been treated
with that unvarying kindness and consideration for which the American
people are justly noted in their dealings with all persons in misfortune.
But Augusta was not the only person who with sorrow watched the departure
of the Harpoon. First, there was little Dick, who had acquired a fine
Yankee drawl, and grown quite half an inch on board of her, and who
fairly howled when his particular friend, a remarkably fierce and
grisly-looking boatswain, brought him as a parting offering a large
whale's tooth, patiently carved by himself with a spirited picture of
their rescue on Kerguelen Land. Then there was Mrs. Thomas herself. When
they finally reached the island of St. Michael, in the Azores, Augusta
had offered to pay fifty pounds, being half of the hundred sovereigns
given to her by Mr. Meeson, to Captain Thomas as a passage fee, knowing
that he was by no moans overburdened with the goods of this world. But he
stoutly declined to touch a farthing, saying that it would be unlucky to
take money from a castaway. Augusta as stoutly insisted; and, finally, a
compromise was come to. Mrs. Thomas was anxious, being seized with that
acute species of home-sickness from which Suffolk people are no more
exempt than other folk, to visit the land where she was born and the
people midst whom she was bred up. But this she could not well afford to
do. Therefore, Augusta's proffered fifty pounds was appropriated to this
purpose, and Mrs. Thomas stopped with Augusta at Ponta Delgada, waiting
for the London and West India Line Packet to take them to Southampton.
So it came to pass that they stood together on the Ponta Delgada
breakwater and together saw the Harpoon sail off towards the setting sun.
Then came a soft dreamy fortnight in the fair island of St. Michael,
where nature is ever as a bride, and never reaches the stage of the
hard-worked, toil-worn mother, lank and lean with the burden of
maternity. The mental act of looking back to this time, in after years,
always recalled to Augusta's senses the odor of orange-blossoms, and the
sight of the rich pomegranate-bloom blushing the roses down. It was a
pleasant time, for the English Consul there most hospitably entertained
them—with much more personal enthusiasm, indeed, than he generally
considered it necessary to show towards shipwrecked voyagers—a class of
people of whom consular representatives abroad must get rather tired
with their eternal misfortunes and their perennial want of clothes.
Indeed, the only drawback to her enjoyment was that the Consul, a
gallant official, with red hair, equally charmed by her adventures, her
literary fame, and her person, showed a decided disposition to fall in
love with her, and a red-haired and therefore ardent Consular officer
is, under those circumstances, a somewhat alarming personage. But the
time went on without anything serious happening; and, at last, one
morning after breakfast, a man came running up with the information that
the mail was in sight.
And so Augusta took an affectionate farewell of the golden-haired Consul,
who gazed at her through his eyeglass, and sighed when he thought of what
might have been in the sweet by-and-by; and the ship's bell rang, and the
screw began to turn, leaving the Consul still sighing on the horizon; and
in due course Augusta and Mrs. Thomas found themselves standing on the
quay at Southampton, the centre of an admiring and enthusiastic crowd.
The captain had told the extraordinary tale to the port officials when
they boarded the vessel, and on getting ashore the port officials had
made haste to tell every living soul they met the wonderful news that two
survivors of the ill-fated Kangaroo—the history of whose tragic end had
sent a thrill of horror through the English-speaking world—were safe and
sound on board the West India boat. Thus, by the time that Augusta, Mrs.
Thomas, and Dick were safe on shore, their story, or rather sundry
distorted versions of it, was flashing up the wires to the various press
agencies, and running through Southampton like wild-fire. Scarcely were
their feet set upon the quay, when, with a rush and a bound, wild men,
with note-books in their hands, sprang upon them, and beat them down with
a rain of questions. Augusta found it impossible to answer them all at
once, so contented herself with saying, "Yes," "Yes," "Yes," to
everything, out of which mono-syllable, she afterwards found to her
surprise, these fierce and active pressmen contrived to make up a
sufficiently moving tale; which included glowing accounts of the horrors
of the shipwreck, and, what rather took her aback, a positive statement
that she and the sailors had lived for a fortnight upon the broiled
remains of Mr. Meeson. One interviewer, being a small man, and,
therefore, unable to kick and fight his way through the ring which
surrounded Augusta and Mrs. Thomas, seized upon little Dick, and
commenced to chirp and snap his fingers at him in the intervals of asking
him such questions as he thought suitable to his years.
Dick, dreadfully alarmed, fled with a howl; but this did not prevent a
column and a half of matter, headed "The Infant's Tale of Woe," from
appearing that very day in a journal noted for the accuracy and
unsensational character of its communications. Nor was the army of
interviewers the only terror that they had to face. Little girls gave
them bouquets; an old lady, whose brain was permeated with the idea that
shipwrecked people went about in a condition of undress for much longer
than was necessary after the event, arrived with an armful of
under-clothing streaming on the breeze; and last, but not least, a tall
gentleman, with a beautiful moustache, thrust into Augusta's hand a note
hastily written in pencil, which, when opened, proved to be an offer of
However, at last they found themselves in a first-class carriage, ready
to start, or rather starting. The interviewing gentlemen, two of whom
had their heads jammed through the window, were forcibly drawn
away—still asking questions, by the officials—the tall gentleman with
the moustache, who was hovering in the background, smiled a soft
farewell, in which modesty struggled visibly with hope, the
station-master took off his cap, and in another minute they were rolling
out of Southampton Station.
Augusta sank back with a sigh of relief, and then burst out laughing at
the thought of the gentleman with the fair moustachios. On the seat
opposite to her somebody had thoughtfully placed a number of the day's
papers. She took up the first that came to hand and glanced at it idly
with the idea of trying to pick up the thread of events. Her eyes fell
instantly upon the name of Mr. Gladstone printed all over the sheet in
type of varying size, and she sighed. Life on the ocean wave had been
perilous and disagreeable enough, but at any rate she had been free from
Mr. Gladstone and his doings. Whatever evil might be said of him, he was
not an old man of the sea. Turning the paper over impatiently she came
upon the reports of the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division of the
High Court. The first report ran thus:—
* * * * *
BEFORE THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE PRESIDENT.
IN THE MATTER OF MEESON, DECEASED.
This was an application arising out of the loss of R.M.S. Kangaroo, on
the eighteenth of December last. It will be remembered that out of about
a thousand souls on board that vessel the occupants of one boat
only—twenty-five people in all—were saved. Among the drowned was Mr.
Meeson, the head of the well-known Birmingham publishing company of
Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe, and Co. (Limited), who was at the time on a
visit to New Zealand and Australia in connection with the business of
Mr. Fiddlestick, Q.C., who with Mr. Pearl appeared for the applicants
(and who was somewhat imperfectly heard), stated that the facts connected
with the sinking of the Kangaroo would probably still be so fresh in his
Lordship's mind that it would not be necessary for him to detail them,
although he had them upon affidavit before him. His Lordship would
remember that but one boat-load of people had survived from this, perhaps
the most terrible, shipwreck of the generation. Among the drowned was
Mr. Meeson; and this application was on behalf of the executors of his
will for leave to presume his death. The property which passed under the
will was very large indeed; amounting in all, Mr. Fiddlestick understood,
to about two millions sterling, which, perhaps, might incline his
Lordship to proceed very carefully in allowing probate to issue.
The President: Well—the amount of the property has got nothing to do
with the principles on which the Court acts with regard to the
presumption of death, Mr. Fiddlestick.
Quite so, my Lord, and I think that in this case your Lordship will be
satisfied that there is no reason why probate should not issue. It is,
humanly speaking, impossible that Mr. Meeson can have escaped the general
The President: Have you any affidavit from anybody who saw Mr. Meeson in
No, my Lord; I have an affidavit from a sailor named Okers, the only man
who was picked up in the water after the Kangaroo foundered, which states
that he believes that he saw Mr. Meeson spring from the ship into the
water, but the affidavit does not carry the matter further. He cannot
swear that it was Mr. Meeson.
The President: Well, I think that that will do. The Court is necessarily
adverse to allowing the presumption of death, except on evidence of the
most satisfactory nature. Still, considering that nearly four months have
now passed since the foundering of the Kangaroo under circumstances which
make it exceedingly improbable that there were any other survivors, I
think that it may fairly presume that Mr. Meeson shared the fate of the
Mr. Fiddlestick: The death to be presumed from the 18th of December.
The President: Yes, from the eighteenth.
Mr. Fiddlestick: If your Lordship pleases.
* * * * *
Augusta put down the paper with a gasp. There was she, safe and sound,
with the true last will of Mr. Meeson tattooed upon her; and "probate had
issued"—whatever that mysterious formula might mean—to another will,
not the real last will. It meant (as she in her ignorance supposed) that
her will was no good, that she had endured that abominable tattooing to
no purpose, and was, to no purpose, scarred for life.
It was too much; and, in a fit of vexation, she flung the Times out of
the window, and cast herself back on the cushion, feeling very much
inclined to cry.
EUSTACE BUYS A PAPER.
In due course the train that bore Augusta and her fortunes, timed to
reach Waterloo at 5.40 p.m., rolled into the station. The train was a
fast one, but the telegraph had been faster. All the evening papers had
come out with accounts, more or less accurate, of their escape, and most
of them had added that the two survivors would reach Waterloo by the 5.40
train. The consequence was, that when the train drew up at the platform,
Augusta, on looking out, was horrified to see a dense mass of human
beings being kept in check by a line of policemen.
However, the guard was holding the door open, so there was nothing for it
but to get out, which she did, taking Dick by the hand, a proceeding that
necessarily put her identity beyond a doubt. The moment she got her foot
on to the platform, the crowd saw her, and there arose such a tremendous
shout of welcome that she very nearly took refuge again in the carriage.
For a moment she stood hesitating, and the crowd, seeing how sweet and
beautiful she was (for the three months of sea air had made her stouter
and even more lovely), cheered again with that peculiar enthusiasm which
a discerning public always shows for a pretty face. But even while she
stood bewildered on the platform she heard a loud "Make way—make way
there!" and saw the multitude being divided by a little knot of
officials, who were escorting somebody dressed in widow's weeds.
In another second there was a cry of joy, and a sweet, pale faced little
lady had run at the child Dick, and was hugging him against her heart,
and sobbing and laughing both at once.
"Oh! my boy! my boy!" cried Lady Holmhurst, for it was she, "I thought
you were dead—long ago dead!"
And then she turned, and, before all the people there, clung about
Augusta's neck and kissed her and blessed her, because she had saved her
only child, and half removed the deadweight of her desolation. Whereat
the crowd cheered, and wept, and yelled, and swore with excitement, and
blessed their stars that they were there to see.
And then, in a haze of noise and excitement, they were led through the
cheering mob to where a carriage and pair were standing, and were helped
into it, Mrs. Thomas being placed on the front seat, and Lady Holmhurst
and Augusta on the back, the former with the gasping Dick upon her knee.
And now little Dick is out of the story.
Then another event occurred, which we must go back a little to explain.
When Eustace Meeson had come to town, after being formally disinherited,
he had managed to get a billet as Latin, French, and Old English reader
in a publishing house of repute. As it happened, on this very afternoon
he was strolling down the Strand, having finished a rather stiff day's
work, and with a mind filled with those idle and somewhat confused odds
and ends of speculation with which most brain workers will be acquainted.
He looked older and paler than when we last met him, for sorrow and
misfortune had laid their heavy hands upon him. When Augusta had
departed, he had discovered that he was head over heels in love with her
in that unfortunate way—for ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is
unfortunate—in which many men of susceptibility do occasionally fall in
love in their youth—a way that brands the heart for life in a fashion
that can no more be effaced than the stamp of a hot iron can be effaced
from the physical body. Such an affection—which is not altogether of the
earth—will, when it overcomes a man, prove either the greatest blessing
of his life or one of the heaviest, most enduring curses that a malignant
fate can heap upon his head. For if he achieves his desire, even though
he serve his seven years, surely for him life will be robbed of half its
evil. But if he lose her, either through misfortune or because he gave
all this to one who did not understand the gift, or one who looked at
love and on herself as a currency wherewith to buy her place and the
luxury of days, then he will be of all men among the most miserable. For
nothing can give him back that which has gone from him.
Eustace had never seen Augusta but twice in his life; but then passion
does not necessarily depend upon constant previous intercourse with its
object. Love at first sight is common enough, and in this instance
Eustace was not altogether dependent upon the spoken words of his
adored, or on his recollection of her very palpable beauty. For he had
her books. To those who know something of the writer—sufficient, let us
say, to enable him to put an approximate value on his or her sentiments,
so as to form a more or less accurate guess as to when, he is speaking
from his own mind, when he is speaking from the mind of the puppet in
hand, and when he is merely putting a case—a person's books are full of
information, and bring that person into a closer and more intimate
contact with the reader than any amount of personal intercourse. For
whatever is best and whatever is worst in an individual will be reflected
in his pages, seeing that, unless he is the poorest of hack authors, he
must of necessity set down therein the images that pass across the
mirrors of his heart.
Thus it seemed to Eustace, who knew "Jemima's Vow" and also her
previous abortive work almost by heart, that he was very intimately
acquainted with Augusta, and as he was walking home that May evening,
he was reflecting sadly enough of all that he had lost through that
cruel shipwreck. He had lost Augusta, and, what was more, he had lost
his uncle and his uncle's vast fortune. For he, too, had seen the
report of the application re Meeson in the Times, and, though he knew
that he was disinherited, it was a little crushing. He had lost the
fortune for Augusta's sake, and now he had lost Augusta also; and he
reflected, not without dismay, on the long dreary existence that
stretched away before him, filled up as it were with prospective piles
of Latin proofs. With a sigh he halted at the Wellington-street
crossing in the Strand, which, owing to the constant stream of traffic
at this point, is one of the worst in London. There was a block at the
moment, as there generally is, and he stood for some minutes watching
the frantic dashes of an old woman, who always tried to cross it at the
wrong time, not without some amusement. Presently, however, a boy with
a bundle of unfolded Globes under his arm came rushing along, making
the place hideous with his howls.
"Wonderful escape of a lady and han infant!" he roared. "Account of the
survivors of the Kangaroo—wonderful escape—desert island—arrival of
the Magnolia with the criminals."
Eustace jumped, and instantly bought a copy of the paper, stepping into
the doorway of a shop where they sold masonic jewels of every size and
hue, in order to read it. The very first thing that his eye fell on was
an editorial paragraph.
"In another column," ran the paragraph, "will be found a short account,
telegraphed to us from Southampton just as we are going to press, of the
most remarkable tale of the sea that we are acquainted with. The escape
of Miss Augusta Smithers and of the little Lord Holmhurst—as we suppose
that we must now call him—from the ill-fated Kangaroo, and their
subsequent rescue, on Kerguelen Land, by the American whaler, will
certainly take rank as the most romantic incident of its kind in the
recent annals of shipwreck. Miss Smithers, who will be better known to
the public as the authoress of that charming book 'Jemima's Vow,' which
took the town by storm about a year ago, will arrive at Waterloo Station
by the 5.40 train, and we shall then—"
Eustace read no more. Sick and faint with an extraordinary revulsion of
feeling, he leant against the door of the masonic shop, which promptly
opened in the most hospitable manner, depositing him upon his back on the
floor of the establishment. In a second he was up, and had bounded out of
the shop with such energy that the shopman was on the point of holloaing
"Stop thief!" It was exactly five o'clock, and he was not more than a
quarter of a mile or so from Waterloo Station. A hansom was sauntering
along in front of him, he sprang into it. "Waterloo, main line," he
shouted, "as hard as you can go," and in another moment he was rolling
across the bridge. Five or six minutes' drive brought him to the station,
to which an enormous number of people were hurrying, collected together
partly by a rumour of what was going on, and partly by that magnetic
contagion of excitement which runs through a London mob like fire through
He dismissed the hansom, throwing the driver half-a-crown, which,
considering that half-crowns were none too plentiful with him, was a rash
thing to do, and vigorously shouldered his way through the crush till he
reached the spot where the carriage and pair were standing. The carriage
was just beginning to move on.
"Stop!" he shouted at the top of his voice to the coachman, who pulled up
again. In another moment he was alongside, and there, sweeter and more
beautiful than in ever, he once more saw his love.
She started at his voice, which she seemed to know, and their eyes
met. Their eyes met and a great light of happiness shot into her sweet
face and shone there till it was covered up and lost in the warm blush
He tried to speak, but could not. Twice he tried, and twice he failed,
and meanwhile the mob shouted like anything. At last, however, he got it
out—"Thank God!" he stammered, "thank God you are safe!"
For answer, she stretched out her hand and gave him one sweet look. He
took it, and once more the carriage began to move on.
"Where are you to be found?" he had the presence of mind to ask.
"At Lady Holmhurst's. Come to-morrow morning; I have something to tell
you," she answered, and in another minute the carriage was gone, leaving
him standing there in a condition of mind which really "can be better
imagined than described."
Eustace could never quite remember how he got through the evening of that
eventful day. Everything connected with it seemed hazy to him. As,
however, fortunately for the reader of this history, we are not
altogether dependent on the memory of a young man in love, which is
always a treacherous thing to deal with, having other and exclusive
sources of information, we may as well fill the gap. First of all he went
to his club and seized a "Red-book," in which he discovered that Lord
Holmhurst's, or, rather, Lady Holmhurst's, London house was in
Hanover-square. Then he walked to his rooms in one of the little
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 were 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 £500 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 as 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 file 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 célèbre 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 his 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
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 absolute
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 £180 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 Augusta'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.