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“Is Mr. Todd in ?” he said to the managing clerk, who came forward bowing obsequiously to the richest man in Birmingham,
“Mr. Todd will be disengaged in a few minutes, sir," he said. “May I offer you the Times ?”
“Damn the Times !!” was the polite answer; “I don't come here to read newspapers. Tell Mr. Todd that I must see him at once, or else I shall go
elsewhere." "I am much afraid, sir," began the managing clerk.
Mr. Meeson jumped up and grabbed his hat. “Now then, which is it to be?” he said.
“Oh, certainly, sir; pray be seated,” answered the manager in great alarm; Meeson's business was not a thing to be lightly lost. “I will see Mr. Todd instantly," and he vanished.
Almost simultaneously with his departure an old lady was unceremoniously bundled out of an inner room, clutching feebly at a reticule full of papers, and proclaiming loudly that her head was going round and round. The poor old soul was just altering her will for the eighteenth time in favor of a brand-new charity, highly recommended by royalty; and to bo suddenly shot from the revered presence of her lawyer into the outer darkness of the clerk's office was really too much for her.
In another minute Mr. Meeson was being warmly, even enthusiastically, greeted by Mr. Todd himself. Mr. Todd was a nervous-looking, jumpy little man, who spoke in jerks and gushes in such a way as to remind one of a fire-hose through which water was being pumped intermittently.
“How do you do, my dear sir? Delighted to have this pleasure,” he began with a sudden gush, and then suddenly dried up as he noticed the ominous expression on the great man's brow. “I am sure I am very sorry that you were kept waiting, my dear sir; but I was at the moment engaged with an excellent and most Christian testator
Here he suddenly jumped and dried up again, for Mr. Meeson, without the slightest warning, ejaculated: “Curse your Christian testator! And, look here, Todd, just you see that it does not happen again. I'm a Christian testator, too; and Christians of my cut aren't accustomed to be kept standing about just like office-boys or authors. See that it don't happen again, Todd.”
“I am sure I am exceedingly grieved. Circumstances,” “Oh, never mind all that—I want my will."
" “Will—will— Forgive me—a little confused, that's all. Your manner is so full of hearty old middleage's kind of vigor_”
Here he stopped, more suddenly even than usual, for Mr. Meeson fixed him with his savage eye, and then jerked himself out of the room to look for the document in question.
“Little idiot!" muttered Meeson; “ I'll give him the sack, too, if he isn't more careful. By Jove! why should I not have my own resident solicitor? I could get a sharp hand with a damaged character for about £300 a year, and I pay that old Todd quite £2000. There is a vacant place in the Hutches that I could turn into an office. Hang me, if I don't do it. I will make that little chirping grasshopper jump to some purpose, I'll warrant," and he chuckled at the idea.
Just then Mr. Todd returned with the will, and before he could begin to make any explanations his employer cut him short with a sharp order to read the gist of it.
This the lawyer proceeded to do. It was very short, and, with the exception of a few legacies, amounting in all to about twenty thousand pounds, bequeathed all the testator's vast fortune and estates, including his (by far the largest) interest in the great publishing house, and his palace, with the paintings and other valuable contents, known as Pompadour Hall, to his nephew, Eustace H. Meeson.
* Very well,” he said, when the reading was finished ; “now give it to me.”
Mr. Todd obeyed, and handed the document to his patron, who deliberately rent it into fragments with his strong fingers, and then completed its destruction by tearing it with his big white teeth. This done, he mixed the little white pieces up, threw them on the floor, and stamped upon them with an air of malignity that almost frightened jerky little Mr. Todd.
‘Now, then,” he grimly said, “ there's an end of the old love; so let's on with the new. Take your pen and receive my instructions for my will."
Mr. Todd did as he was bid.
“I leave all my property, real and personal, to be divided in equal shares between my two partners, Alfred Tom Addison and Cecil Spooner Roscoe. There, that's short and sweet, and, one way and another, it means a couple of millions."
“Good heavens! sir," jerked out Mr. Todd. “Why, do you mean to quite cut out your nephew—and the other legatees?” he added, by way of an afterthought.
“Of course I do; that is, as regards my nephew. The legatees may stand as before."
“ Well, all I have to say," went on the little man, astonished into honesty,“is that it is the most shameful thing I ever heard of!"
Indeed, Mr. Todd, is it? Well, now may I ask you, am I leaving this property, or are you? Don't trouble yourself to answer that, however, but just attend. Either you draw up that will at once, while I wait, or you say good-bye to about £2000 a year; for that's what Meeson's business is worth, I reckon. Now you take your choice."
Mr. Todd did take his choice. In under an hour the will, which was very short, was drawn and engrossed.
“Now, then," said Meeson, addressing himself to Mr. Todd and the managing clerk, as he took the quill between his fingers to sign,“ do you two bear in mind that at the moment I execute this will I am of sound mind, memory, and understanding. There you are; now do you two witness."
It was night, and King Capital, in the shape of Mr. Meeson, sat alone at dinner in his palatial dining-room at Pompadour. Dinner was over. The powdered footmen had departed with stately tread, and the head butler was just placing the decanters of richly colored wine before this solitary lord of all. The dinner had been a melancholy failure. Dish after dish, the cost of any one of which would have fed a poor child for a month, had been brought up and handed to the master only to be found fault with and sent away. On that night Mr. Meeson had no appetite.
“ Johnson,” he said to the butler, when he was sure the footmen could not hear him, “has Mr. Eustace been here?"
“Yes, sir. He came to fetch his things, and then went away in a cab.”
66 Where to ?”
“I don't know, sir. He told the man to drive to Birmingham.”
“Did he leave any message ?"
“Yes, sir; he bade me say that you should not be troubled with him again; but that he was sorry that you had parted from him in anger.”
“Why did you not give me that message before?”
“ Because Mr. Eustace said I was not to give it unless you asked after him.
“Very good. Johnson !" “Yes, sir.”