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He bowed, wondering what was coming next. Rising from her chair, Augusta led the way to a door which opened out of the sitting-room, and gently turning the handle, entered, Eustace following her. The room was a small bed-room, of which the faded calico blind had been pulled down; but as it happened, the sunlight, such as it was, beat full upon the blind, and came through it in yellow bars. They fell upon the furniture of the bare little room; they fell upon the iron bedstead, and upon something lying on it, which he did not at first notice, because it was covered with a sheet.
Augusta walked up to the bed and gently lifted the sheet, revealing the sweet face, fringed round about with golden hair, of little Jeannie in her coffin.
Eustace gave an exclamation, aud started back violently. He had not been prepared for such a sight; indeed, it was the first such sight that he had ever seen, and it shocked him beyond words. Augusta, familiarised as she was herself with the companionship of this beauteous clay-cold Terror, had forgotten that, suddenly and without warning, to bring the living into the presence of the dead, is not the wisest or the kindest thing to do. For, to the living, and more especially to the young, the sight of death is horrible. It is such a fearsome comment on their health and strength. Youth and strength are merry; but who can be merry with yon dead thing in the upper chamber? Take it away! thrust it under ground! it is an insult
to us; it reminds us that we, too, die like others. What business has its pallor to 'show itself against our ruddy cheeks?
“I beg your pardon," whispered Augusta, realising something of all this in a flash, “I forgot; you do not know—you must be shocked-- Forgive me!”
“Who is it?” he said, gasping to get back his breath.
“My sister,” she answered. “It was to try and save her life that I wanted the money. When I told her that I could not get it, she gave up and died. Your uncle killed her. Come.”
Greatly shocked, he followed her back into the sitting-room, and then-as soon as he recovered his composure — apologised for having intruded himself upon her in such an hour of desolation.
"I am glad to see you,” she said simply; "I have seen nobody except the doctor once, and the undertaker twice. It is dreadful to sit alone hour after hour face to face with the irretrievable. If I had not been so foolish as to enter into that agreement with Messrs. Meeson, I could have got the money by selling my new book easily enough; and I should have been able to take Jeannie abroad, and I believe that she would have lived
-at least I hoped so. But now it is finished, and cannot be helped."
“I wish I had known," blundered Eustace. “I could have lent you the money. I have a hundred and fifty pounds."
“You are very good," she answered gently; “but it is no use talking about it now, it is finished.”
Then Eustace rose and went away; and it was not till he found himself in the street that he remembered that he had never asked Augusta what her plans were. Indeed, the sight of poor Jeannie had put everything else out of his head. However, he consoled himself with the reflection that he could call again a week or ten days after the funeral.
Two days later, Augusta followed the remains of her dearly loved sister to their last resting-place, and then came home on foot (for she was the only mourner), and sat in her black gown before the little fire, reflecting upon her position. What was she to do? She could not stay in these rooms. It made her heart ache every time that her eyes fell upon the empty sofa opposite, dinted as it was with the accustomed weight of poor Jeannie's frame. Where was she to go, and what was she to do? She might get literary employment, but then her agreement with Messrs. Meeson stared her in the face. That agreement was very widely drawn. It bound her to offer all literary work of any sort, that might come from her pen during the next five years, to Messrs. Meeson at the fixed rate of seven per cent. on the published price. Obviously, as it seemed to her, though perhaps erroneously, this clause might be stretched to include even a newspaper article; and she knew the malignant nature of Mr. Meeson well enough to be quite certain that, if possible, this would be done. She might manage, it was true, to make a bare living out of her work, even at the beggarly way of seven per cent.; but Augusta was a person of spirit, and she was determined that she would rather starve than that Meeson's should again make huge profits out of her labour. This avenue being closed to her, she turned her mind elsewhere; but, look where she might, the prospect was equally dark.
Augusta's remarkable literary success had not been of much practical advantage to her, for in this country literary success does not mean so much as it does in some others.
As a matter of fact, indeed, the average Briton has, at heart, a considerable contempt, if not for literature, at least for those who produce it. Literature, in his mind, is connected with the idea of garrets and extreme poverty; and therefore, having the national respect for money, he in secret, if not in public, despises it. A tree is known by its fruits, says he. Let a man succeed at the Bar, and he makes thousands upon thousands a year, and is promoted to the highest offices in the State. Let a man succeed in art, and he will be paid one or two thousand pounds apiece for his most “potboilery” portraits. But your literary men-why, with
” a few fortunate exceptions, the best of them barely make a living. What can literature be worth, if a man can't make a fortune out of it? So argues the Briton
-no doubt with some of his sound common-sense. Not that he has no respect for genius. All men bow to true genius, even when they fear and envy it. But he
thinks a good deal more of genius dead than genius living. That is a thing to revile and throw stones at. However this may be, there is no doubt but that if through any cause---such, for instance, as the sudden discovery by the great and highly civilised American people that the eighth commandment was probably intended for the protection of authors, amongst the rest of the world—the pecuniary rewards of literary labour should be put more upon an equality with those of other trades, literature--as a profession--will go up many steps in popular esteem. At present, if a member of a family has betaken himself to the high and honourable calling of letters (for, surely, it is both), his friends and relations are apt to talk about him in a shy and diffident, not to say apologetic, manner; much as they would had he adopted another sort of book-making as a means of livelihood.
Thus it was that, notwithstanding her success, Augusta had nowhere to turn in her difficulty. had absolutely no literary connection. Nobody had called upon her, or sought her out in consequence of her book. One or two authors in London, and a few unknown people from different parts of the country and abroad, had written to her—that was all. Had she lived in town it might have been different; but, unfortunately for her, she did not.
The more she thought, the less clear did her path become; until, at last, she found inspiration. Why not leave England altogether? There was nothing to keep