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and there are peculiar circumstances of some sort in the case ???
“Yes, sir; there are," said Mr. John Short, with much meaning. “The will to be filed in the registry is the last true will of Jonathan Meeson, of Pompadour Hall, in the county of Warwick, and the property concerned amounts to about two millions. Upon last motion day, the death of Jonathan Meeson, who was supposed to have sunk in the Kangaroo, was allowed to be presumed, and probate has been taken out. As a matter of fact, however, the said Jonathan Meeson perished in Kerguelen Land some days after the shipwreck, and before he died he duly executed a fresh will in favor of his nephew, Eustace H. Meeson, the gentleman before you. Miss Augusta Smithers—”
“What,” said the learned registrar, “is this Miss Smithers whom we have been reading so much about lately—the Kerguelen Land heroine ?"
“Yes; I am Miss Smithers,” she said, with a little blush; "and this is Lady Holmhurst, whose husband—” and she checked herself.
"It gives me much pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Smithers," said the learned doctor, courteously shaking hands, and bowing to Lady Holmhurst -proceedings which Eustace watched with the jaundiced eye of suspicion. “He's beginning already, the old viper," said that ardent lover to himself. “I knew how it would be. Trust my Gus into his custody ?-never. I had rather be committed for contempt.”
“The best thing that I can do, sir,” went on John Short, impatiently, for, to his severe eye, these interruptions were not seemly,“ will be to at once offer you inspection of the document, which, I may state, is of an unusual character," and he looked at Augusta, who, poor girl, colored to the eyes.
“Quite so, quite so,” said the learned registrar. “Well, has-Miss Smithers got the will? Perhaps sho will produce it.”
“Miss Smithers is the will,” said Mr. John Short. “Oh-I am afraid that I do not quite understand—”
“To be more precise, sir, the will is tattooed on Miss Smithers.”
“What?” almost shouted the learned doctor, literally bounding from his chair.
“The will is tattooed upon Miss Smithers's back," continued Mr. John Short, in a perfectly unmoved tone; "and it
" and it is now my duty to offer you inspection of the document, and to take your instructions as to how you propose to file it in the registry—"
Inspection of the document?— inspection of the document ?” gasped the astonished doctor; “good heavens! sir, I am a family man, with a reputation to maintain." Reputation !” said Eustace to himself; “after
practising for twenty years in the Divorce Court he has the impudence to say that he has a reputation! What next, I wonder ?”
“I must leave it 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."
“I say, Lady Holmhurst,” said the doctor aside to Lady Holmhurst, who was nearest to him; forgive me for asking such a question, but-hum!-ha!-is it very low down?"
“Not very,” said Lady Holmhurst, solemnly; though she was, as a matter of fact, almost bursting with laughter, for anything more absurd than this learned gentleman 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."
“Old hypocrite!” said Eustace to himself, with a snarl.
“ Therefore," he went on with an air of judicial sternness—"therefore, Miss Smithers, I must trouble you to show me your back. 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 had better lock the door. I suppose she is hardened,” he continued to himself as he did so; “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 a rather low evening dress, and had a white silk scarf over her shoulders. This she removed as the learned registrar returned.
“Oh," he said, “I see—in evening dress. Well, of course, that is quite a different matter. Ladies need never wear anything to speak of in the evening. 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 stand any more tattooing. It was all done at one sitting, and I got 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
“Ah," muttered Eustace, “he's beginning to pay compliments now, insidious old ruffian!"
“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 it is clear that I cannot put any restraint upon 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 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 an idea. With Miss Smithers's 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 objections 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,” said 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.”