« ZurückWeiter »
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 favor was that the case, although of a most remarkable nature, was comparatively simple, and did not involve any great mass of documentary evidence.
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 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 sick. 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 the case."
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. 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 realized 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 courts. 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 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 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 solicitors.
"Heavens!" said Eustace to Augusta, counting the heads; "there are twenty-three counsel against us.