« ZurückWeiter »
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 necessity."
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 not 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 oldish 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 à 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 snowy skin 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 emphasized 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 to 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 next second started back with an indignant exclamation. "No wonder!" for the photograph was one of herself as she had been 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 evening paper
Description and picture of the back of the lovely 'eroine of the Cockatoo," he yelled, "with the will tattooed upon it! Taken from the original photograph! Fac-simile picture!”
“Oh, dear me,” said Augusta to the maid, "this 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 enclosing 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 identified.