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went to a shop near and got a bun and glass of milk, and waited till she was ashamed to wait any longer, and then she walked about the streets till three o'clock. At the stroke of the hour she returned, and was shown into the manager's private room, where a dry, unsympathetic-looking little man was sitting before a big book. It was not the same man whom Augusta had met before, and her heart sank proportionately.
What followed need not be repeated here. The manager listened to her faltering tale with a few stereotyped expressions of sympathy, and, when she had done, “regretted” that speculative loans were contrary to the custom of the bank, and politely bowed her out.
It was nearly four o'clock upon a damp, drizzling afternoon, a November afternoon that hung like a living misery over the black slush of the Birmingham streets, and would in itself have sufficed to bring the lightest-hearted, happiest mortal to the very gates of despair, when Augusta, wet, wearied, and almost crying, at last entered the door of the little sitting-room. She entered very quietly, for the maid-of-all-work had met her in the passage and told her that Miss Jeannie was asleep. She had been coughing very much about dinner-time, but now was asleep.
There was a fire in the grate, a small one, for the coal was economized by means of two large fire-bricks, and on a table (Augusta's writing-table), placed at the farther side of the room, was a paraffine-lamp turned low. Drawn up in front, but a little to one side of the fire, was a sofa, covered with red rep, and on the sofa lay a fair-haired little form, so thin and fragile that it looked like the gbost or outline of a girl, rather than a girl herself. It was Jeannie, her sick sister, and she was asleep. Augusta stole softly up to look at her. It was a sweet little face that her eyes fell on, although it was so shockingly thin, with long curved lashes, delicate nostrils, and a mouth shaped like a bow. All the lines and grooves which the chisel of Pain knows so well how to carve were smoothed out of it now, and in their place lay the shadow of a smile.
Augusta looked at her and clinched her fists, while a lump rose in her throat, and her gray eyes filled with tears. How could she get the money to save her? The year before a rich man, a man who was detestable to her, had wanted to marry her, and she would have nothing to say to him. He had gone abroad, else she would have gone back to him and married him—at a price. Marry him ? yes, she would marry him; she would do anything for money to take her sister away! What did she care for herself when her darling was dying-dying for the want of two hundred pounds.
Just then Jeannie woke up, and stretched her arms out to her.
“So you are back at last, dear,” she said, in her sweet, childish voice. “It has been so lonely without you. Why, how wet you are! Take off your jacket at once, Gussie, or you will soon be as ill as—” And here she broke out into a terrible fit of coughing,
that seemed to shake her tender frame as the wind shakes a reed.
Her sister turned and obeyed, and then came and sat by the sofa and took the thin little hand in hers.
• Well, Gussie, and how did you get on with the Printer-devil” (this was her impolite name for the great Meeson); “will he give you any more money ?"
“No, dear; we quarrelled, that was all, and I came away.”
“Then I suppose that we can't go abroad ?”
Augusta was too moved to answer; she only shook her head. The child buried her face in the pillow and gave a sob or two. Presently she was quiet, and lifted it again. “Gussie, love,” she said, “don't be angry, but I want to speak to you. Listen, my sweet Gussie, my angel. Oh, Gussie, you don't know how I love you! It is all no good, it is useless struggling against it, I must die sooner or later; though I am only twelve, and you think me such a child, I am old enough to understand that. I think,” she added, after pausing to cough, “ that pain makes one old: I feel as though I were fifty. Well, so you see I may as well give up fighting against it and die at once. I am only a burden and anxiety to you; I may as well die at once and go to sleep."
“Don't Jeannie! don't !” said her sister, in a sort of cry; “you are killing me !"
Jeannie laid her hot hand upon Augusta's arm. “Try and listen to me, dear," she said, even if it hurts, be
, cause I do so want to say something. Why should you be so frightened about me? Can any place that I can go to be worse than this place ? Can I suffer more pain anywhere, or be more hurt when I see you crying? Think how wretched it has all been. There has only been one beautiful thing in our lives for years and years, and that was your book. Even when I am feeling worst — when my chest aches, you know — I
grow quite happy when I think of what the papers wrote about you: the Times and the Saturday Review, and the Spectator, and the rest of them. They said that you had genius-true genius, you remember, and that they expected one day to see you at the head of the literature of the time, or near it. The Printerdevil can't take away that, Gussie. He can take the money, but he can't say that he wrote the book; though,” she added, with a touch of childish spite and vivacity,“ I have no doubt that he would if he could. And then there were those letters from the great authors up in London; yes, I often think of them too. Well, dearest old girl, the best of it is that I know it is all true. I know, I can't tell you how, that you will be a great woman in spite of all the Meesons in creation; for somehow you will get out of his power, and, if you don't, five years is not all one's life—at least, not if people have a life. At the worst, he can only take all the money. And then, when you are great and rich and famous, and more beautiful than ever, and when the people turn their heads as you come into the room, like we used to at school when the missionary came to lecture, I know that you will think of me (because you won't forget me as some sisters do), and of how, years and years before, so long ago that the time looks quite small when you think of it, I told you that it would be just so before I died.”
Here the girl, who had been speaking with a curious air of certainty and with a gravity and deliberation extraordinary for one so young, suddenly broke off to cough. Her sister threw herself on her knees beside her, and, clasping her in her arms, implored her in broken accents not to talk of dying. Jeannie drew Augusta's golden head down on to her breast and stroked it.
“Very well, Gussie, I won't say any more about it,” she said ; “ but it is no good hiding the truth, dear. I am tired of fighting against it; it is no good-none at all. Anyhow, we have loved each other very much, dear, and perhaps--somewhere else—we may again—" And the brave little heart broke down, and, overcome by the prescience of approaching separation, they both sobbed bitterly there upon the sofa. Presently came a knock at the door, and Augusta sprang up and turned to hide her tears. It was the maid-of-all-work bringing the tea; and as she came blundering in a sense of the irony of things forced itself into Augusta's soul. Here they were plunged into the most terrible sorrow, weeping at the inevitable approach of that chill end, and still appearances must be kept up, even before a maid-of-all-work. Society, even when represented by a maid-of-all-work, cannot away with the intrusion of domestic griefs, or any other griefs, and in