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the personality of Miss Smithers so totally lost and merged in what, for want of a better term, I must call her documentary capacity as to take away from her the right to appear before this Court like any other sane human being, and give evidence of events connected with its execution?” “If
your Lordship pleases,” said James, “I maintain that this is not so. I maintain that the document remains the document; and that for all purposes, including the giving of evidence concerning its execution, Miss Smithers still remains Miss Smithers. It would surely be absurd to argue that because a person has a deed executed upon her she is, ipso facto, incapacitated from giving evidence concerning it, on the mere ground that she is it. Further, such a decision would be contrary to equity and good policy, for persons cannot so lightly be deprived of their natural rights. Also, in this case, the plaintiff's action would be absolutely put an end to by any such decision, seeing that the signature of Jonathan Meeson and the attesting witnesses to the will could not, of course, be recognised in their tattooed form, and there is no other living person who could depose under what circumstances the signature came to be there. I submit that the objection should be overruled.”
“This," said his Lordship, in giving his decision, "is a very curious point, and one which, when first raised by the learned Attorney-General, struck me with some force; but on considering it, and hearing Mr. Short,
I am convinced that it is an objection that cannot be supported”—(here Eustace gave a sigh of relief).—“It is argued on the part of the defendant that Miss Smithers is, for the purposes of this case, a document, and nothing but a document, and as such that her mouth is shut. Now, I think that the learned Attorney-General cannot have thought this matter out when he came to that conclusion. What are the circumstances? A will is supposed to have been tattooed upon this lady's skin; but is the skin the whole person? Does not the intelligence remain, and the individuality? I think that I can put what I mean more clearly by means of an illustration. Let us suppose that I were to uphold the defendant's objection, and that, as a consequence, the plaintiff's case were to break down. Then let us sup: pose that the plaintiff had persuaded the witness to be partially skinned”—(here Augusta nearly jumped from her seat)—"and that she, having survived the operation, was again tendered to the Court as a witness: would the Court then be able, under any possibility, to refuse to accept her evidence? The document, in the form of human parchment, would then be in the hands of the officers of the Court, and the person from whom the parchment had been removed would also be before the Court. Could it be still maintained that the two were so identical and inseparable that the disabilities attaching to a document must necessarily attach to the person? In my opinion, certainly not. Or, to take another case, let us suppose that the will had
been tattooed upon the leg of a person, and, under similar circumstances, the leg were cut off and produced before the Court, could it then be seriously advanced that because the inscribed leg-standing on the table before the Court—had once belonged to the witness sitting in the witness-box, therefore it was not competent for the witness to give evidence on account of his or her documentary attributes? Certainly it could not. Therefore, it seems to me that that which is separable must, for the purposes of law, be taken as already separated, and that the will tattooed on this witness must be looked upon as though it were in the hands, at this moment, of the officers of the Court, and, consequently, I overrule the objection.”
“Will your Lordship take a note of your Lordship's decision?” asked the Attorney-General, in view of an appeal.
“Certainly, Mr. Attorney. Let the witness be sworn.”
GRANT AS PRAYED.
ACCORDINGLY Augusta was sworn; and Eustace observed that when she removed her veil to kiss the Book the sight of her sweet face produced no small effect upon the crowded court.
Then James began his examination-in-chief, and following the lines which he had laid down in his opening speech, led her slowly, whilst allowing her to tell her own story as much as possible, to the time of the tattooing of the will on Kerguelen Land. All along, the history had evidently interested everybody in the court-not excepting the Judge-intensely, but now the excitement rose to boiling point.
“Well,” said James, “tell his Lordship exactly how it came to pass that the will of Mr. Meeson was tattooed upon you.”
In quiet but dramatic language Augusta accordingly narrated every detail, from the time when Meeson confided to her his remorse at having disinherited his nephew up to the execution of the will, at her suggestion, by the sailor upon her own neck.
“And now, Miss Smithers,” said James, when she had done, “I am very sorry to have to do so; but I must ask you to exhibit the document to the Court.”
Poor Augusta coloured and her eyes filled with tears as she slowly undid the dust-cloak which hid her shoulders (for, of course, she had come in low dress). The Judge, looking up sharply, observed her natural distress.
"If you prefer it, Miss Smithers," said his Lordship courteously, “I will order the court to be cleared of every one except those who are actually engaged in the case.”
At these ominous words a shudder of disgust passed through the densely packed ranks. It would indeed be hard, they felt, if, after all their striving, they were deprived of the sight of the will; and they stared at her despairingly, to see what she would answer.
“I thank your Lordship,” she said, with a little bow; “but there would still be so many left that I do not think it can greatly matter. I hope that everybody will understand my position, and extend their consideration to me.”
“Very well,” said the Judge, and without further ado she took off the cloak, and the silk handkerchief beneath it, and stood before the court dressed in a low black dress.
“I am afraid that I must ask you to come up here,” said his Lordship. Accordingly she walked round, mounted the bench, and turned her back to the Judge,