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therefore, unable to kick and fight his way through the ring which surrounded Augusta and Mrs. Thomas, seized upon little Dick, and commenced to chirp and snap his fingers at him in the intervals of asking him such questions as he thought suitable to his years.
Dick, dreadfully alarmed, fled with a howl; but this did not prevent a column and a half of matter, headed “The Infant's Tale of Woe,” from appearing the next day in a journal noted for the accuracy and unsensational character of its communications. Nor was the army of interviewers the only terror that they had to face. Little girls gave them bouquets; an old lady, whose brain was permeated with the idea that shipwrecked people went about in a condition of undress for much longer than is necessary after the event, rived with an armful of underclothing streaming on the breeze; and last, but not least, a tall gentleman, with a beautiful moustache, thrust into Augusta's hand a note hastily written in pencil, which, when opened, proved to be an offer of marriage!
However, at last they found themselves in a firstclass carriage, ready to start, or rather starting. The interviewing pressmen, two of whom had their heads jammed through the window, were forcibly torn away -still asking questions, by the officials of the company—the tall gentleman with the mustachios, who was hovering in the background, smiled a soft farewell, in which modesty struggled visibly with hope, the station
master took off his cap, and in another minute they were rolling out of Southampton Station.
Augusta sank back with a sigh of relief, and then burst out laughing at the thought of the gentleman with the fair mustachios. On the seat opposite to her somebody had thoughtfully placed a number of the day's journals. She took up the first that came to hand, and glanced at it idly with the idea of trying to pick up the thread of events. Turning the paper over,
she came upon the reports of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division of the High Court. The first report ran thus:
BEFORE THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE PRESIDENT.
IN THE MATTER OF MEESON, DECEASED.
This was an application arising out of the loss of the R.M.S. Kangaroo on the eighteenth of December last. It will be remembered that out of about a thousand souls on board that vessel the occupants of one boat only-twenty-five people in all—were saved. Among the drowned was Mr. Meeson, the head of the well-known Birmingham publishing company of Meeson, Addison, Roscoe, & Co., who was at the time on a visit to New Zealand and Australia in connection with the business of the company.
Mr. Fiddlestick, Q.C., who with Mr. Pearl appeared for the applicants (and who was somewhat imperfectly heard), stated that the facts connected with the sinking of the Kangaroo would probably still be so fresh in his Lordship's mind that it would not be necessary for him to detail them, although he had them upon affidavit before him. His Lordship would remember that but one boat-load of people had survived from this, perhaps the most terrible shipwreck of the generation. Among the drowned was Mr. Meeson; and this application was on behalf of the executors of his will for leave to presume his death. The property which passed under the will was very large indeed; amounting in all, Mr. Fiddlestick understood, to about two millions sterling, which, perhaps, might incline his Lordship to proceed very carefully in allowing probate to issue.
The President: Well--the amount of the property has got no. thing to do with the principles on which the Court acts with regard to the presumption of death, Mr. Fiddlestick.
Quite so, my Lord, and I think that in this case your Lordship will be satisfied that there is no reason why probate should not issue. It is, humanly speaking, impossible that Mr. Meeson can have escaped the general destruction.
The President: Have you an affidavit from anybody who saw Mr. Meeson in the water?
No, my Lord: I have an affidavit from a sailor named Okers, the only man who was picked up in the water after the Kangaroo foundered, which states that he believes that he saw Mr. Meeson spring from the ship into the water, but the affidavit does not carry the matter further. He cannot swear that it was Mr. Meeson.
The President: Well, I think that that will do. The Court is necessarily adverse to allowing the presumption of death, except on evidence of the most satisfactory nature. Still, considering that nearly four months have now passed since the foundering of the Kangaroo under circumstances which make it exceedingly improbable that there were any other survivors, I think that it may fairly presume that Mr. Meeson shared the fate of the other passengers.
Mr. Fiddlestick: The death to be presumed from the eighteenth of December.
The President: Yes, from the eighteenth.
Augusta put down the paper with a gasp. There was she, safe and sound, with the true last will of Mr. Meeson tattooed upon her; and “probate had issued” —whatever that mysterious formula might mean--of another will, not the real last will. It meant (as she in her ignorance supposed) that her will was no good, that she had endured that abominable tattooing to no purpose, and was to no purpose scarred for life.
It was too much; and, in a fit of vexation, she flung the Times out of the window, and cast herself back on the cushions, feeling very much inclined
EUSTACE BUYS A PAPER.
In due course the train that bore Augusta and her fortunes, timed to reach Waterloo at 5.4 P.M., rolled into the station. The train was a fast one, but the telegraph had been faster. All the evening papers had come out with accounts, more or less accurate, of their escape, and most of them had added that the two survivors would reach Waterloo by the 5.4 express. The consequence was, that when the train drew up at the platform, Augusta, on looking out, was horrified to see a dense mass of human beings being kept in check by a line of policemen.
However, the guard was holding the door open, so there was nothing for it but to get out, which she did, taking Dick by the hand, a proceeding that necessarily put her identity beyond a doubt. The moment she got her foot on to the platform, the crowd saw her, and there arose such a tremendous shout of welcome that she very nearly took refuge again in the carriage. For a moment she stood hesitating, and the crowd,
Mr. Meeson's Will,
seeing how sweet and beautiful she was (for the three months of sea air had made her stouter and even more lovely), cheered again with that peculiar enthusiasm which a discerning public always shows for a pretty face. But even while she stood bewildered on platform she heard a loud “Make way-make way there!" and saw the multitude being divided by a little knot of officials, who were escorting somebody dressed in widow's weeds.
In another second there was a cry of joy, and a sweet, pale-faced little lady had run at the child Dick, and was hugging him against her heart, and sobbing and laughing both at once.
“Oh! my boy! my boy!” cried Lady Holmhurst, for it was she, “I thought you were dead-long ago dead!”
And then she turned, and, before all the people, clung about Augusta's neck and kissed her and blessed her, because she had saved her only child, and half removed the dead weight of her desolation. Whereat the crowd cheered, and wept, and yelled, and swore with excitement, and blessed their stars that they were there to see.
And then, in a haze of noise and excitement, they were led through the cheering mob to where a carriage and pair were standing, and helped into it, Mrs. Thomas being placed on the front seat and Lady Holmhurst and Augusta on the back, the former with the gasping Dick upon her knee.