« ZurückWeiter »
leaving the two girls, then respectively nineteen and nine years of age, to mourn her loss, and, friendless as they were, to fight their way in the hard world.
Mrs. Smithers had been a saving woman, and, on her death, it was found that, after paying all debts, there remained a sum of £600 for the two girls to live on, and nothing else; for their mother's fortune died with her. Now, it will be obvious that the interest arising from £600 is not sufficient to support two young people, and therefore Augusta was forced to live upon the principal. From an early age, however, she had shown a strong literary tendency, and shortly after her mother's death she published her first book, at her own expense. It was a dead failure, and cost her fiftytwo pounds, the balance between the profit and loss account. After a while, however, Augusta recovered from this blow, and wrote “Jemima's Vow," which was taken up by Meeson's; and strange as it may seem, proved the success of the year. Of the nature of the agreement into which she entered with Meeson's the reader is already informed, and he will not therefore be surprised to learn that under its cruel provisions, notwithstanding her name and fame, Augusta was absolutely prohibited from reaping the fruits of her suc
She could only publish with Meeson's, and at the fixed pay of seven per cent. on the advertised price of her work. Now, something over three years had elapsed since the death of Mrs. Smithers, and it will therefore be obvious that there was not much remainAlas,
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. 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 had driven 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 dyingdying 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 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
“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!”