« ZurückWeiter »
of the windows was open, so that the lamplight 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 recognizing 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 ordered him to move on.
To gaze at one's only love through an open window is, no doubt, a delightful occupation, if a somewhat tantalizing 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 heard of.”
"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 your honorable wounds 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 back."
"I have not observed," said Lady Holmhurst, dryly, "that ladies, as a rule, have an insuperable objection to showing their backs, or their fronts either. If you have any doubt on that 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, especially," she added, "as they are such very pretty ones."
"I have never worn a low dress," said Augusta, "and I do not want to show Mr. Meeson my shoulders."
"Ah, well," said Lady Holmhurst, darkly; "I dare say 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
"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 offence-compound felony."
"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 learned 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 the 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 back, 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 that 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 in came 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 I have not come too early," he said, in great confusion, as he perceived his mistake. "I thought that you would have done breakfast."