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James saw the whole thing, and, forgetting his position, laughed too; and, for some mysterious reason, with the laugh his nervousness passed away.
The usher shouted “Silence!” with tremendous energy, and before the sound had died away James was addressing the Court in a clear and vigorous voice, conscious that he was a thorough master of his case, and the words to state it in would not fail him. Fiddlestick, Q.C., had saved him!
“May it please your Lordship,” he began, “the details of this case are of as remarkable an order as any that, to my knowledge, have been brought before the Court. The plaintiff, Eustace Meeson, is the sole nextof-kin of Jonathan Meeson, Esquire, the late head of the well-known Birmingham publishing firm of Meeson, Addison, and Roscoe. Under a will, bearing date the
, 8th day of May 1880, the plaintiff was left sole heir to the great wealth of his uncle—that is, with the exception of some legacies. Under a second will, now relied on by the defendants, and dated the roth November 1885, the plaintiff was entirely disinherited, and the present defendants, together with some six or eight legatees, were constituted the sole beneficiaries. On or about the 22nd December 1885, however, the testator executed a third testamentary document, under which the plaintiff takes the entire property, and this is the document now propounded. This testamentary document, or, rather, will—for I submit that it is in every sense a properly executed will—is tattooed upon
the shoulders"-(sensation in the court)—“is tattooed upon the shoulders of a young lady, Miss Augusta Smithers, who will presently be called before your Lordship; and to prevent any misunderstanding, I may as well at once state that since that event this lady has become engaged to be married to the plaintiff-(renewed sensation)
“Such, my Lord, are the main outlines of the case that I have to present for the consideration of the Court, which I think your Lordship will understand is of so remarkable and unprecedented a nature that I must crave your Lordship’s indulgence if I go on to open it at some length, beginning the history at its commencement.”
By this time James Short had completely recovered his nerve, and was, indeed, almost oblivious of the fact that there was anybody present in the court except the learned Judge and himself. Going back to the beginning, he detailed the early history of the relationship between Eustace Meeson and his uncle the publisher, with which this record has nothing to do. Thence he passed to the history of Augusta's relations with the firm of Meeson & Co., which, as nearly everybody in the Court, not excepting the Judge, had read “Jemima's Vow," was very interesting to his auditors. Then he went on to the scene between Augusta and the publisher, and detailed how Eustace had interfered, which interference had led to a violent quarrel resulting in the young man's disinheritance. Passing on, he detailed
how the publisher and the publishee had taken passages in the same vessel, and the tragic occurrences which followed, down to Augusta's final rescue and arrival in England, and finally ended his spirited opening by appealing to the Court not to allow its mind to be influenced by the fact that since these events the two chief actors had become engaged to be married, which struck him, he said, as a very fitting climax to so romantic a story.
At last he ceased, and amidst a little buzz of applause--for the speech had really been a fine one-sat down. As he did so he glanced at the clock. He had been on his legs for nearly two hours, and yet it seemed to him but a very little while. In another moment he was up again, and had called his first witness--Eustace Meeson.
Eustace's evidence was of a rather formal order, and was necessarily limited to an account of the relations between his uncle and himself and between himself and Augusta. Such as it was, however, he gave it very well, and with a complete openness that appeared to produce a favourable impression on the Court.
Then Fiddlestick, Q.C., rose to cross-examine, devoting his efforts to trying to make Eustace admit that his behaviour had been of a nature to amply justify his uncle's conduct. But there was not very much to be made out of it. Eustace detailed all that had passed freely enough, and it simply amounted to the fact, that there had been angry words between the two as regards
the treatment that Augusta had met with at the hands of the firm. In short, Fiddlestick could not do anything with him, and after ten minutes of it, sat down without having advanced his case to any appreciable extent. Then several of the other counsel asked a question or two apiece, after which Eustace was told to stand down, and Lady Holmhurst was called. Lady Holmhurst's evidence was very short, merely amounting to the fact that she had seen Augusta's neck on board the Kangaroo, and that there was not then a sign of tattoo marks upon it, and when she saw it again in London it was tattooed. No attempt was made to cross-examine her, and on the termination of her evidence the Court adjourned for lunch. When it reassembled James Short called Augusta, and a murmur of expectation arose from the densely crowded audience as, feeling very faint at heart, but looking more beautiful than ever, she stepped towards the box.
As she did so the Attorney-General rose.
"I must object, my Lord," he said, "on behalf of the defendants, to this witness being allowed to enter the box.”
“Upon what grounds, Mr. Attorney?" said his Lordship.
“Upon the grounds that her mouth is, ipso facto, closed. If we are to believe the plaintiff's story, this young lady is herself the will of Jonathan Meeson, and being so, is certainly, I submit, not competent to give evidence. There is no precedent for a document giving
Mr. Meeson's Will.
evidence, and I presume that the witness must be looked
I upon as a document.”
“But, Mr. Attorney," said the Judge, “a document is evidence, and evidence of the best sort."
“Undoubtedly, my Lord; and we have no objection to the document being exhibited for the Court to draw its conclusions from, but we deny that it is entitled to speak in its own explanation. A document is a thing which speaks by its written characters. It cannot take to itself a tongue and speak by word of mouth also; and in support of this, I may call your Lordship's attention to the general principles of law governing the interpretation of written documents.”
“I am quite aware of those principles, Mr. Attorney, and I cannot see that they touch this question.”
"As your Lordship pleases. Then I will fall back upon my main contention, that Miss Smithers is, for the purposes of this case, a document, and nothing but a document, and has no more right to open her mouth in support of the plaintiff's case than would any paper will, if it could be miraculously endowed with speech."
"Well,” said the Judge, “it certainly strikes me as a novel point. What have you to say to it,
All eyes were now turned upon James, for it was felt that if the point were decided against him the case was lost.
“The point to which I wish you to address yourself, Mr. Short,” went on the learned Judge, "is—Is