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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
famous, and more beautiful than ever, and when the people turn their heads as you come into the room, like we used to do 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 so just 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 upon the sofa. Presently there was 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, weep
Mr. Meeson's Will.
ing at the inevitable approach of that chill end, and still appearances must be kept up, even before a maidof-all-work. Society, even when represented by a maidof-all-work, cannot away with the intrusion of domestic griefs, or any other griefs, and in our hearts we know it and act up to it. Far gone, indeed, must we be in mental or physical agony before we abandon the attempt to keep up appearances.
Augusta drank a little tea and ate a very small bit of bread and butter. As in the case of Mr. Meeson, the events of the day had not tended to increase her appetite. Jeannie drank a little milk, but ate nothing. When this form had been gone through, and the maidof-all-work had once more made her appearance and cleared the table, Jeannie spoke again.
"Gus," she said, "I want you to put me to bed and then come and read to me out of 'Jemima's Vow'where poor Jemima dies, you know. It is the most beautiful thing in the book, and I want to hear it again."
Her sister did as she wished, and taking down "Jemima's Vow," Jeannie's own copy as it was called, being the very first that had come into the house, she opened it at the part Jeannie had asked for and read aloud, keeping her voice as steady as she could. As a matter of fact, however, the scene itself was as powerful as it was pathetic, and quite sufficient to account for any unseemly exhibitions of feeling on the part of the reader. However, she struggled through it till the last
sentence was reached. It ran thus: "And so Jemima stretched out her hand to him and said 'Good-bye.' And presently knowing that she had now kept her promise, and being happy because she had done so, she went to sleep."
"Ah!" murmured the blue-eyed child who listened. "I wish that I was as good as Jemima. But though I have no vow to keep I can say 'Good-bye,' and I can go to sleep."
Augusta made no answer, and presently Jeannie dozed off. Her sister looked at her with eager affection. "She is giving up," she said to herself, "and, if she gives up, she will die. I know it, it is because we are not going away. How can I get the money, now that that horrible man has gone? how can I get it?” and she buried her head in her hand and thought. sently an idea struck her: she might go back to Meeson and eat her words, and sell him the copyright of her new book for £100, as the agreement provided. That would not be enough, however; for travelling with an invalid is expensive; but she might offer to bind herself over to him for a term of years as a tame author, like those who worked in the Hutches. She was sure that he would be glad to get her, if only he could do so at his own price. It would be slavery worse than any penal servitude, and even now she shuddered at the prospect of prostituting her great abilities to the necessities of such work as Meeson's made their thousands out of-work out of which every spark of ori
ginality was stamped into nothingness, as though it were the mark of the Beast. Yes, it would be dreadful-it would break her heart; but she was prepared to have her heart broken and her genius wrung out of her by inches, if only she could get two hundred pounds wherewith to take Jeannie away to the South of France before the east wind came. Mr. Meeson would, no doubt, make a hard bargain-the hardest he could; but still, if she would consent to bind herself for a sufficient number of years at a sufficiently low salary, he would probably advance her a hundred pounds, besides the hundred for the copyright of the new book.
And so, having made up her mind to the sacrifice, with a sigh she went to bed, and, wearied out with misery, to sleep. And even as she slept, a Presence that she could not see was standing near her bed, and a Voice that she could not hear was calling through the gloom. Another mortal had bent low at the feet of that Unknown God whom men name Death, and been borne on his rushing pinions into the spaces of the Hid. One more human item lay still and stiff, one more account was closed for good or evil, the echo of one more tread had passed from the earth for ever. The old million-numbered tragedy in which all must take a part had repeated itself once more down to its last and most awful scene. Yes; the grim farce was played out, and the little actor Jeannie was white in death!
Just at the dawn, Augusta dreamed that somebody with cold breath was breathing on her face, and woke