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"Inspection of the document-inspection of the document!” gasped the astonished Doctor; "how am I to inspect the document?”
“I must leave that to you, sir,” said Mr. John Short, regarding the learned Registrar's shrinking form with contempt not unmixed with pity. “The will is on the lady's back, and I, on behalf of the plaintiff, mean to get a grant with the document annexed.”.
Lady Holmhurst began to laugh; and as for the learned Doctor, anything more absurd than he looked, entrenched as he was behind his office chair, with perplexity written on his face, it would be impossible to imagine.
“Well," he said at length, "I suppose that I must come to a decision. It is a painful matter, very, to a person of modest temperament. However, I cannot shrink from my duty, and must face it. Therefore,” he went on, with an air of judicial sternness, “therefore, Miss Smithers, I must trouble you to show me this alleged will. There is a cupboard there," and he pointed to the corner of the room, “where you can make--'um-make the necessary preparations."
“Oh, it isn't quite so bad as that,” said Augusta with a sigh, as she began to remove her jacket.
“Dear me!” he said, observing her movement with alarm. “I suppose she is hardened,” he continued to himself; “but I dare say that one gets used to this sort of thing upon desert islands."
Meanwhile poor Augusta had got her jacket off. She was dressed in an evening dress, and had a white silk scarf over her shoulders; this she removed.
“Oh,” he said, “I see—in evening dress. Well, of course, that is quite a different matter. And so that is the will—well, I have had some experience, but I never saw or heard of anything like it before. Signed and attested, but not dated. Ah! unless,” he added, “the date is lower down."
“No," said Augusta, “there is no date; I could not bear any more tattooing. It was all done at one sitting, and I grew faint."
“I don't wonder at it, I am sure. I think it is the bravest thing I ever heard of,” and he bowed with much grace.
“Ah," muttered Eustace, "he's beginning to pay compliments now, insidious old hypocrite."
“Well,” went on the innocent and eminently respectable object of his suspicions, “of course the absence of a date does not invalidate a will—it is matter for proof, that is all. But there, I am not in a position to give any opinion about the case; it is quite beyond me, and besides, that is not my business. But now, Miss Smithers, as you have once put yourself in the custody of the Registry in the capacity of a will, might I ask if you have any suggestion to make as to how you are to be dealt with. Obviously, you cannot be locked up with the other wills, and equally obviously it is against the rules to allow a will to go out of the custody of the Court, unless by especial permission of the Court. Also Mr. Meeson's Will.
it is clear that I cannot put any
the liberty of the subject, and order you to remain with me. Indeed, I doubt if it would be possible to do so by any means short of an Act of Parliament. Under these circumstances I am, I confess, a little confused as to what course should be taken with reference to this important alleged will."
“What I have to suggest, sir,” said Mr. Short, “is that a certified copy of the will should be filed, and that there should be a special paragraph inserted in the affidavit of scripts detailing the circumstances.”
“Ah,” said the learned Doctor, polishing his eyeglasses, "you have given me
With Miss Smithers' consent we will file something better than a certified copy of the will—we will file a photographic copy. The inconvenience to Miss Smithers will be trifling, and it may prevent questions being raised hereafter."
“Have you any objection to that, my dear?” asked Lady Holmhurst.
“Oh, no, I suppose not,” said Augusta mournfully; “I seem to be public property now.”
“Very well, then; excuse me for a moment, the learned Doctor. “There is a photographer close by whom I have had occasion to employ officially. I will write and see if he can come round.”
In a few minutes an answer came back from the photographer to the effect that he would be happy to
wait upon Doctor Probate at three o'clock, up to which hour he was engaged.
“Well,” said the Doctor, “it is clear that I cannot let Miss Smithers out of the custody of the Court till the photograph is taken. Let me see, I think that yours was my last appointment this morning. Now, what do you say to the idea of something to eat? We are not five minutes' drive from Simpson's, and I shall feel delighted if you will make a pleasure of a necessity."
Lady Holmhurst, who was getting very hungry, said that she should be most pleased; and, accordingly, they all—with the exception of Mr. John Short, who departed about some business, saying that he would return at three o'clock-drove off in Lady Holmhurst's carriage to the restaurant, where this delightful specimen of the genus Registrar stood them a most sumptuous champagne lunch, and made himself so agreeable that both the ladies nearly fell in love with him, and even Eustace was constrained to admit to himself that good things can come out of the Divorce Court. Finally, the Doctor wound up the proceedings, which were of a most lively order, and included an account of Augusta's adventures, with a toast.
“I hear from Lady Holmhurst,” he said, “that you two young people are going to get married. Now, matrimony is, according to my somewhat extended experience, an undertaking of a venturesome order, though cases occasionally come under one's observation where the results have proved to be in every way satisfactory;
and I must say that, if I may form an opinion from the facts as they are before me, I never knew an engagement entered into under more promising or more romantic auspices. Here the young gentleman quarrels with his uncle in taking the part of the young lady, and thereby is disinherited of vast wealth. Then the young lady, under the most terrible circumstances, takes steps of a nature that not one woman in five hundred would have done to restore to him that wealth. Whether or no those steps will ultimately prove successful I do not know, and if I did, like Herodotus, I should prefer not to say; but, whether the wealth comes or goes, it is impossible but that a sense of mutual confidence and a mutual respect and admiration—that is, if a more quiet thing, certainly, also a more enduring thing, than mere 'love'-must and will result from them. Mr. Meeson, you are indeed a fortunate man. In Miss Smithers you are going to marry beauty, courage, and genius, and if you will allow an oldish man of some experience to drop the official and give you a word of advice, it is this: always try to deserve your good fortune, and remember that a man who, in his youth, finds such a woman, and is enabled by circumstances to marry her, is indeed
Smiled on by Joy, and cherished of the Gods. And now I will end my sermon, and wish you both health and happiness and fulness of days," and he drank off his glass of champagne, and looked so pleasant and kindly that Augusta longed to kiss him on the