Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ing of the £600 which she had left behind her. The two girls had, indeed, lived economically enough in a couple of small rooms in a back street; but their expenses had been enormously increased by the serious illness, from a pulmonary complaint, of little Jeannie, now a child between twelve and thirteen years of age. On that very morning, Augusta had seen the doctor and been crushed into the dust by the expression of his conviction, that, unless her sister was moved to a warmer climate, for a period of at least a year, she would not live through the winter, and might die at any

moment.

Take Jeannie to a warmer climate! He might as well have told Augusta to take her to the moon. Alas, she had not the money and did not know where to turn to get it! Reader, pray to Heaven that it may never be your lot to see your best beloved die for the want of a little miserable money wherewith to save her life!

It was in this terrible emergency that she haddriven thereto by her agony of mind-tried to get something beyond her strict and legal due out of Meeson's-Meeson's, that had made hundreds and hundreds out of her book and paid her fifty pounds. We know how she fared in that attempt. On leaving their office, Augusta bethought her of her banker. Perhaps he might be willing to advance something. It was a horrible task, but she determined to undertake it; so she walked to the bank and asked to see the

manager. He was out, but would be in at three o'clock. She 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 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 lightesthearted, happiest mortal to the very gates of despair, when Augusta, wet, wearied, and almost crying, at last entered the door of their sitting-room. She came in 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 she was asleep.

There was a fire in the grate, a small one, for the coal was economised by means of two large fire-bricks, and on a table (Augusta's writing-table), placed at the

further side of the room, was a paraffin-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 ghost 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 clenched her fists, while a lump rose in her throat, and her grey 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

" and

once, Gussie, or you will soon be as ill ashere 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 grew 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 of 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 an 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!"

[ocr errors]

Jeannie laid her hot hand upon Augusta's arm. "Try and listen to me, dear," she said, "even if it hurts, because I do so want to say something. Why should you be so frightened about me? Can any place that I may 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 Printer-devil 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 to be 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 the money. And then, when you are great and rich and

« ZurückWeiter »