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"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 rumcask, graciously assented, saying that he had seen some sharp fishbones 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, damned first.
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 that damned 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 is 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 nor 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 him 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. Your skin is very white, quite as white and soft as the child's, and 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 to Bill, with another blush, "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's 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 and shoulders 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