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was more careful of the artistic effect and the permanence of the work than of the feelings of his subject. Fiat experimentum in corpore vili, he would have said, had he been conversant with the classics, without much consideration for the corpus vile. So he pricked and dug away with his fishbone, which he dipped continually in the cuttle-ink, and also with the sharp piece of wood, till Augusta began to feel perfectly faint.
For three hours the work continued, and at the end of that time the body of the will was finished-for Bill was a rapid worker-being written in medium-sized letters right across her shoulders. But the signatures yet remained to be affixed.
Bill asked her if she would like to let them stand over till the morrow?—but this, although she felt ill with the pain, she declined to do. She was marked now, marked with the ineffaceable mark of Bill, so she might as well be marked to some purpose. off the signing of the document till the morrow, it might be too late; Mr. Meeson might be dead, Johnnie might have changed his mind, or a hundred things. So she told them to go on and finish it as quickly as possible, for there were only about two hours more daylight.
Fortunately Mr. Meeson was more or less acquainted with the formalities that are necessary in the execution of a will, namely, that the testator and the two witnesses should all sign in the presence of each other. He also knew that it was sufficient, if, in cases of illness,
If she put
some third person held the pen between the testator's fingers and assisted him to write his name, or even if some one signed for the testator in his presence and by his direction; and, arguing from this knowledge, he came to the conclusion — afterwards justified in the great case of Meeson v. Addison and Another—that it would be sufficient if he inflicted the first prick of his signature, and then kept his hand upon Bill's while the rest was done. This accordingly he did, clumsily running the point of the sharp bone so deep into the unfortunate Augusta that she cried aloud, and then keeping his hand upon the sailor's arm while he worked in the rest of the signature, “J. Meeson.”
When it was done, the turn of Johnnie came. Johnnie had at length aroused himself to some interest in what was going on, and had stood by watching all the time, since Mr. Meeson, having laid his finger upon Augusta's shoulder, had solemnly declared the writing thereon to be his last will and testament. As he (Johnnie) could not tattoo, the same process was gone through with reference to his signature, as in the case of Mr. Meeson. Then Bill Jones signed his own name, as the second witness to the will; and just as the light went out of the sky the document was finally executed —the date of the execution being alone omitted. Augusta got up off the flat stone where, for something like five hours, she had been seated during this torture, and staggering into the hut, threw herself down upon the sail, and went off into a dead faint. It was indeed
only by a very strong exercise of the will that she had kept herself from fainting long before.
The next thing she was conscious of was a dreadful smarting in her back, and opened her eyes to find that it was quite dark in the hut. So weary was she, however, that after stretching out her hand to assure herself that Dick was safe by her side, she shut her eyes again and went fast asleep. When she woke, the daylight was creeping into the damp and squalid hut, revealing the heavy form of Mr. Meeson tossing to and fro in a troubled slumber on the further side. She got up, feeling dreadfully sore and weak; awoke the child, and taking him out to the stream of water washed him and herself as well as she could. It was very cold outside; so cold that Dick cried, and the rain-clouds were coming up fast, so she hurried back to the hut, and, together with Dick, made her breakfast off some biscuit and some roast penguin's eggs, which were not at all bad eating. She was, indeed, quite faint with hunger, having swallowed no food for many hours, and felt proportionately better after it.
Then she turned to examine the condition of Mr. Meeson. The will had been executed none too soon, for it was evident to her that he was in a very bad way indeed. His face was sunken and hectic with fever, his teeth were chattering, and his talk, though he was now awake, was quite incoherent. She tried to get him to take some food; but he would swallow nothing but water. Having done all that she could for him,
she went out to see the sailors, and met them coming down from the flag-staff. They had evidently, though not to any great extent, been at the rum-cask again, for Bill looked sheepish and shaky, while the ill-favoured Johnnie was more sulky than ever. She gazed at them reproachfully, and then asked them to collect some more penguin's eggs, which Johnnie refused point-blank to do, saying that he wasn't going to collect eggs for landlubbers to eat; she might collect eggs for herself. Bill, however, started on the errand, and in about an hour's time returned, just as the rain set in in good earnest, bearing six or seven dozen fresh
up in his coat.
Augusta, with the child by her, sat in the miserable hut attending to Mr. Meeson; while outside the pitiless rain poured down in a steady unceasing sheet of water that came through the wretched roof in streams. She did her best to keep the dying man dry, but it proved to be almost an impossibility, for even when she succeeded in preventing the wet from falling on him from above, it got underneath him from the reeking floor, while the heavy damp of the air gathered on his garments till they were quite sodden.
As the hours went on his consciousness came back to him, and with it his terror for the end and his remorse for his past life, for, alas! the millions he had amassed could not avail him now.
"I am going to die!” he groaned. “I am going to die, and I've been a bad man: I've been the head of a publishing company all my life!”
Augusta gently pointed out to him “that publishing was a very respectable business when fairly and properly carried on, and not one that ought to weigh heavily upon a man at the last like the record of a career of successful usury or burgling.”
He shook his heavy head. “Yes, yes," he groaned; “but you don't know Meeson's—you don't know the customs of the trade at Meeson's."
Augusta reflected that she knew a good deal more about Meeson's than she liked.
"Listen," he said, with desperate energy, sitting up upon the sail, “and I will tell you—I must tell you.”
Asterisks, so dear to the heart of the lady novelist, will best represent the confession that followed; words are not equal to the task.
Augusta listened with rising hair, and realised how very trying must be the life of a private confessor.
“Oh, please stop!” she said faintly, at last. “I can't bear it-I can't, indeed.”
“Ah!” he said, as he sank back exhausted. “I thought that when you understood the customs at Meeson's you would feel for me in my present position. Think, girl, think what I must suffer, with such a past, standing face to face with an unknown future!”
Then came a silence.