Abbildungen der Seite



HE 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 anywhere else.

"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

see; the Judge fixed it specially to suit the convenience.

of the Attorney-General.

He's on the other side, you

There are more than twenty

know," he added, with a sigh. "I'm sure I don't know how poor James will get on. 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 the case."

Meanwhile, they had been walking 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 been doubtful as to which road they should take it would have been speedily decided by the long string of wigs which was streaming away in the direction


of Divorce Court No. I. 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 on a similar space in the other court.

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 still 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 solicitors.

"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-bye, writes novels, like you do, only not half such good ones-romances, you know, mere romances and mostly plagiarised from the Book of Genesis and the Egyptian Novelists of the Ancient Empire; at least so I'm told in minor literary circles. 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 the defendants.

"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

« ZurückWeiter »