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These frank remarks would have been trying to any man; much more were they so to this opulent merchantprince, who had always set the highest value on what Bill rudely called his “hide.”
“There's the infant,” went on Bill meditatively. “He's young and white, and I fancy his top-crust would work wonderful easy; but you'd have to hold him, for I expect that he'd yell proper."
“Yes,” said Mr. Meeson; “let the will be tattooed upon the child. He'd be some use that way.”
“Yes," said Bill; "and there'd allus be something left to remind him of a very queer time, provided he lives to get out of it, which is doubtful. Cuttle-ink won't rub out, I'll warrant."
"I won't have Dick touched," said Augusta indignantly. “It would frighten the child into fits; and, besides, nobody has a right to mark him for life in that way.”
“Well, then, there's about an end of the question," said Bill; "and this gentleman's money must go wherever it is he don't want it to.”
"No," said Augusta, with a sudden flush, “there is not. Mr. Eustace Meeson was once very kind to me, and rather than he should lose the chance of getting what he ought to have, I-I will be tattooed.”
“Well, bust me!” said Bill, with enthusiasm, “bust me! if you ain't a good-plucked one for a female woman; and if I was that there young man I should make bold to tell you so.”
“Yes," said Mr. Meeson, that is an excellent idea. You are young and strong, and as there is lots of food here, I daresay that you will take a long time to die. You might even live for some months. Let us begin at once. I feel dreadfully weak. I don't think that I can live through the night, and if I know that I have done all I can to make sure that Eustace gets his own, perhaps dying will be a little easier!”
Mr. Meeson's Will,
THE LAST OF MR. MEESON.
AUGUSTA turned from the old man with a gesture of impatience not unmixed with disgust. His selfishness was of an order that revolted ber.
“I suppose," she said sharply to Bill, “that I must have this will tattooed upon my neck.”
“Yes, Miss; that's it," said Bill. “You see, Miss, one wants space for a doccymint. If it were a ship or a flag, now, or a fancy pictur of your young man, I might manage it on your arm; but there must be breadth for a legal doccymint, more especially as I should like to make a good job of it while I is about it. I don't want none of them laryers a-turning up
their noses at Bill Jones' tattooing."
“Very well,” said Augusta, with an inward sinking of the heart; "I will go and get ready."
Accordingly she adjourned into the hut and removed the body of her dress aud turned down the flannel garment underneath it in such a fashion as to leave as much of her neck bare as is to be seen when a lady wears a moderately low dress. Then she came out again, dressed, or rather undressed, for the sacrifice.
Meanwhile, Bill had drawn out the ink-bag of the cuttle, prepared a little round fragment of wood which he sharpened like a pencil by rubbing it against a stone, and put a keen edge on to a long white fishbone that he had selected.
“Now, Mr. Bill, I am ready," said Augusta, seating herself resolutely upon a flat stone and setting her teeth.
“My word, Miss; you are a plucky one!” said the sailor, contemplating her neck with the eye of an artist. "I never had such a bit of material to work on afore. Hang me if it ain't almost a pity to mark it! Not but what high-class tattooing is an ornimint to anybody, from a princess down; and in that you are fortunit, Miss, for I larnt tattooing from them as can tattoo, I did.”
Augusta bit her lip, and the tears came into her eyes. She was only a woman, and had a woman's little weakness; and, though she had never appeared in a low dress in her life, she knew that her neck was one of her greatest beauties, and was proud of it. It was hard to think that she would be marked all her life with this ridiculous will—that is, if she escapedand, what was more, for the benefit of a young man who had no claim upon her at all.
That was what she said to herself; but as she said it, something in her told her that it was not true. Something told her that this young Mr. Eustace Meeson had a claim upon her—the highest claim that a man
can have upon a woman, for the truth must out-she loved him. It seemed to have come home to her quite clearly here in this dreadful desolate place, here in the very shadow of an awful death, that she did love him, truly and deeply. And that being so, she would not have been what she was-a gentle-natured, devoted woman-had she not at heart rejoiced at this opportunity of self-sacrifice, even though that self-sacrifice was of the hardest sort, seeing that it involved what all women hate—the endurance of a ridiculous position. For love can do all things: it can even make its votaries brave ridicule.
“Go on,” she said sharply, "and let us get it over as soon as possible.”
“Very well, Miss. What is it to be, old gentleman? Cut it short, you know.”
“I leave all my property to Eustace H. Meeson,' that's as short as I can get it; and if properly witnessed, I think that it will cover everything," said Mr. Meeson, with a feeble air of triumph. “Anyhow, I
' never heard of a will that is to carry about two millions being got into nine words before."
Bill poised his fishbone, and, next second, Augusta gave a start and a little shriek, for the operation had begun.
“Never mind, Miss," said Bill consolingly; "you'll soon get used to it."
After that Augusta set her teeth and endured in silence, though it really hurt her very much, for Bill