Abbildungen der Seite

"Very well," said Eustace, and he took a pencil and wrote "Declined with thanks" at the foot of the offer.

Just at that moment there came a dull roar from the passage beyond. The doors of the court were being opened. Another second, and in rushed and struggled a hideous sea of barristers. Heavens, how they fought and kicked! A maddened herd of buffaloes could not have behaved more desperately. On rushed the white wave of wigs, bearing the strong men who held the door before them like wreckage on a breaker. On they came, and in forty seconds the court was crowded to its utmost capacity and still there were hundreds of white-wigged men behind. It was a fearful scene.

"Good gracious!" thought Augusta to herself, "how on earth do they all get a living?" a question that many of them would have found it hard enough to


Then suddenly an old gentleman near her, whom she discovered to be the usher, jumped up and called silence in commanding accents, without producing much effect, however, on the palpitating mass of humanity in front. Then in came the officers of the court; and a moment afterwards everybody rose as the judge entered, and looking, as Augusta thought, very cross when he saw the crowded condition of the court, bowed to the bar and took his seat.



THE registrar, not Augusta's dear Doctor Probate, but another registrar, rose and called on the case of Meeson v. Addison and Another, and in an instant the wretched James Short was on his legs to open the case.

"What is that gentleman's name?" Augusta heard the judge ask of the clerk, after making two or three frantic efforts to attract his attention-a proceeding that the position of his desk rendered very difficult. "Short, my Lord."

"Do you appear alone for the plaintiff, Mr. Short?" asked the judge, with emphasis.

"Yes, my lord; I do," answered James, and as he said it every pair of eyes in that crowded assembly fixed themselves upon him, and a sort of audible smile seemed to run round the court. The thing not unnaturally struck the professional mind as ludicrous and without precedent.

"And who appears for the defendant?"

"I understand, my lord,” said the learned attorneygeneral, "that all my learned friends on these two benches appear, together with myself, for one or other of the defendants, or are watching the case in the interest of legatees."

Here a decided titter interrupted him.

"I may add that the interests involved in this case are very large indeed, which accounts for the number of counsel connected in one way or other with the defence."

"Quite so, Mr. Attorney," said the judge; "but, really, the forces seem a little out of proportion. Of course the matter is not one in which the court can interfere."

"If your lordship will allow me," said James, "the only reason that the plaintiff is so poorly represented is that the funds to brief other counsel were, I understand, not forthcoming. I am, however, well versed in the case, and, with your lordship's permission, will do my best with it."

“Very well, Mr. Short," said the learned judge, looking at him almost with pity; "state your case."

James, in the midst of a silence that could be felt, unfolded his pleadings, and, as he did so for the first time, a sickening sense of nervousness took hold of him and made him tremble, and, of a sudden, his mind became dark. Most of us have undergone this sensa. tion at one time or another, with less cause than had poor James. There he was, put up almost for the first time in his life, to conduct, single-handed, a most important case, upon which it was scarcely too much to say the interest of the entire country was concentrated. Nor was this all. Opposed to him were about twenty counsel, all of them men of experience, and including in their ranks some of the most famous leaders in

[ocr errors]

England; and, what was more, the court was densely crowded with scores of men of his own profession, every one of whom was, he felt, regarding him with curiosity not unmixed with pity. Then, there was the tremendous responsibility which literally seemed to crush him, though he had never quite realized it before. "May it please your lordship," he began; and then, as I have said, his mind became a ghastly blank, in which dim and formless ideas flitted vaguely to and fro. There was a pause-a painful pause.

"Read your pleadings aloud," whispered a barrister who was sitting next him, and realized his plight.

This was an idea. One can read pleadings when one cannot collect one's ideas to speak. It is not usual to do so. The counsel in a cause states the substance of the pleadings, leaving the court to refer to them if it thinks necessary. But still there was nothing absolutely wrong about it; so he snatched at the papers, and promptly began:

"(I.) The plaintiff is the sole and universal legatee under the true last will of Jonathan Meeson, deceased, late of Pompadour Hall, in the county of Warwick, who died on the 23d of December, 1885, the said will being undated, but duly executed on, or subsequent to, the 22d day of December, 1885."

Here the learned judge lifted his eyebrows in remonstrance, and cleared his throat preparatory to interfering; but apparently thought better of it, for he took up a blue pencil and made a note of the date of the will.


(II.)” went on James. "On the 21st day of May, 1886, probate of an alleged will of the said Jonathan Meeson was granted to the defendants, the said will bearing date the 10th day of November, 1885. The plaintiff claims

"(1.) That the court shall revoke probate of the said alleged will of the said Jonathan Meeson, bearing date the 10th day of November, 1885, granted to the defendants on the 21st day of May, 1886.

"(2.) A grant of letters of administration to the plaintiff with the will executed on or subsequent to the 22d day of December, 1885, annexed. (Signed) "JAMES SHORT."

"May it please your lordship," James began, again feeling dimly that he had read enough pleadings, "the defendants have filed an answer pleading that the will of the 22d of December was not duly executed in accordance with the statute, and that the testator did not know and approve its contents, and an amended answer pleading that the said alleged will, if executed, was obtained by the undue influence of Augusta Smithers"-and once more his nervousness overcame him, and he pulled up with a jerk.

Then came another pause even more dreadful than the first.

The judge took another note, as slowly as he could, and once cleared his throat; but poor James could not go on. He could only wish that he might then and there expire, rather than face the hideous humiliation of such a failure. But he would have failed, for his

« ZurückWeiter »