Abbildungen der Seite



ACCORDINGLY Augusta was sworn, and Eustace observed that when she removed her veil to kiss the Book the sight of her sweet face produced no small effect upon the crowded court.

Then James began his examination in chief, and, following the lines which he had laid down in his opening speech, led her slowly, while allowing her to tell her own story as much as possible, to the time of the tattooing of the will on Kerguelen Land. All along the history had evidently interested everybody in the court-not excepting the judge-intensely; but now the excitement rose to boiling-point.

"Well," said James, "tell his lordship exactly how it came to pass that the will of Mr. Meeson was tattooed upon your shoulders."

In quiet, but dramatic language, Augusta accordingly narrated every detail, from the time when Meeson confided to her his remorse at having disinherited his nephew up to the execution of the will, at her suggestion, by the sailor, upon her own shoulders.

"And now, Miss Smithers," said James, when she had done, "I am very sorry to do so, but I must ask you to exhibit the document to the court."

Poor Augusta colored up, and her eyes filled with tears, as she slowly undid the dust-cloak which hid her shoulders (for, of course, she had come in low dress). The judge, looking up sharply, observed her natural distress.

"If you prefer it, Miss Smithers," said his lordship, courteously, "I will order the court to be cleared of every one except those who are actually engaged in the case."

At these ominous words a shudder of disgust passed through the densely packed ranks. It would, indeed, they felt, after all their striving, be hard if they were deprived of the sight of Augusta's shoulders; and they stared at her despairingly, to see what she would an


"I thank your lordship," she said, with a little bow; "but there would still be so many left that I do not think that it would greatly matter. I hope that everybody will understand my position, and extend their consideration to me."

[ocr errors]

'Very well," said the judge, and without further ado she took off the cloak and the silk handkerchief beneath it, and stood before the court dressed in a low black dress.

"I am afraid that I must ask you to come up here," said his lordship. Accordingly she walked round, mounted the bench, and turned her back to the judge, in order that he might examine what was written on it. This he did very carefully, with the aid of a magnifying-glass, referring now and again to the photo

graphic copy which Doctor Probate had filed in the registry.

"Thank you," he said, presently; "that will do. I am afraid that the learned counsel below will wish to have an opportunity of inspection."

So Augusta had to descend, and slowly walk along the ranks, stopping before every learned leader to be carefully examined, while hundreds of eager eyes in the background were fixed upon her unfortunate shoulders. However, at last it came to an end.

"That will do, Miss Smithers," said the judge, for whose consideration she felt deeply grateful; "you can put on your cloak again now." Accordingly she clothed herself, and re-entered the box.

"The document which you have just shown the court, Miss Smithers," said James, "is the one which was executed upon your back in Kerguelen Land on or about the 22d day of December last year?"

"It is."

"It was, I understand, executed in the presence of the testator and the two attesting witnesses, all three being present together, and the signature of each being tattooed in the presence of the other?"

"It was.

"Was the testator, so far as you could judge, at the time of the dictation and execution of the will, of sound mind, memory, and understanding?"

"Most certainly he was."

"Did you, beyond the suggestions of which you have already given evidence, in any way unduly influ

ence the testator's mind, so as to induce him to make

this will?"

"I did not."

"And to those facts you swear?"

"I do."

Then he passed on to the history of the death of the two sailors who had attested the will, and to the account of Augusta's ultimate rescue, finally closing his examination-in-chief just as the clock struck four, whereon the court adjourned till the following day.

As may be imagined, though things had gone fairly well so far, nobody concerned of our party passed an over-comfortable night. The strain was too great to admit of it; and, really, they were all glad to find themselves in the court-which was, if possible, even more crowded on the following morning-filled with the hope that the day might see the matter decided one way or the other.

As soon as the judge had come in Augusta resumed her place in the witness-box, and the attorney-general rose to cross-examine her.

"You told the court, Miss Smithers, at the conclusion of your evidence, that you are now engaged to be married to Mr. Meeson, the plaintiff. Now, I am sorry to have to put a personal question to you, but I must ask you, Were you, at the time of the tattooing of the will, in love with Mr. Meeson ?"

This was a home-thrust, and poor Augusta colored up beneath it; however, her native wit came to her aid. "If you will define, sir, what being in love is, I will

do my best to answer your question," she said. Whereat the audience, including his lordship, smiled.

The attorney-general looked puzzled, as well he might; for there are some things which are beyond the learning of even an attorney-general.

"Well," he said, "were you matrimonially inclined towards Mr. Meeson ?"

"Surely, Mr. Attorney-General," said the judge, "the one thing does not necessarily include the oth


"I bow to your lordship's experience," said Mr. Attorney, tartly. "Perhaps I had better put my question this way-Had you, at that time, any prospect of becoming engaged to Mr. Meeson?"

"None whatever."

"Did you submit to this tattooing, which must have been painful, with a view of becoming engaged to the plaintiff ?"


Certainly not. I may point out," she added, with hesitation, "that such a disfigurement is not likely to add to anybody's attractions."

"Please answer my questions, Miss Smithers, and do not comment on them. How did you come, then, to submit yourself to such a disagreeable operation?"

"I submitted to it because I thought it right to do so, there being no other apparent means at hand of attaining the late Mr. Meeson's end. Also-" and she paused.

"Also what?"

"Also I had a regard for Mr. Eustace Meeson, and

« ZurückWeiter »