"Familiar in their Mouths as HOUSEHOLD WORDS"- Shakespeare.
A WEEKLY JOURNAL.
CONDUCTED BY CHARLES DICKENS.
|No. 302.]||SATURDAY, JANUARY 5, 1856.||Price 2d.|
IN FOUR CHAPTERS. CHAPTER I.
No one would have believed them to be sisters yet sisters they were: loving each other with more passion than calm affection; for they had passed no great part of their lives together. They were at their window, watching the fiery glow of the sunset, burning itself upon the golden limes and copper-coloured beeches on the other side of the road, and struggling through the blackness of a great yew overshadowing one half their garden.
Hildred, the elder, stood erect; the rich light falling full upon her broad brow and dark eyes. Those eyes did not flinch or seek to veil themselves from the radiance; rather, they seemed to dilate, as if endeavouring to receive all the glory. Against Hildred, a slighter figure leant; a fair head lay upon her shoulder, somewhat hidden by the black tresses that, though looped up behind, fell loosely and low down upon each side of a stately throat. It was some time since either had spoken, when Hildred said:
"So you think he loves you, Millie?"
A smile that had had a dash of disdain in it, grew wholly tender as she glanced down upon the delicate face, and saw how the drooping eyelids drooped yet more, and the faint colour flushed rosier as she spoke. She threw herself into a great chair that stood near. Millie slipped down, on to a cushion at her feet, having given no answer. Hildred repeated her question, passing her hand caressingly over the beautifully-shaped oval head resting against her, as she did so. No word yet ; but, bending forward, she caught the last flicker of a smile dying from off the rosy mouth, and took that for a sufficient reply.
"Ah, child!" she said, "no need for further answer. God bless you!" Then she added, "I am very glad!" Millie's soft little hand stole up into Hildred's. She did not cry out, though her sister's fervent clasp pained her.
"I should not have liked to speak of this yet," the elder went on, glancing at the mourning they both wore; "but it is needful I should know. I have to plan for the future. We stand alone now—you have only me to take care of you at present."
"But Hildred," Millie said, "we need not do anything different, need we? We may live together now? You will stay with me always, won't you?"
"That is impossible, Millie," was said very decidedly.
"Why impossible?" Millie asked, earnestly.
"Indeed, I can't do without you."
"You soon will learn to do without me, child. Never fear ! I shall not leave you till there is a dearer some one else to care for you. You are one of those who ought always to have strong arms round you, Millie."
"But why leave me? You say you love me very much. If you think I could be happy knowing you left alone, it is not kind of you to judge me so. You ought not to be proud to me, Hildred, although I am rich!"
"Bravely said, Millie mine; but listen. You think this pretty place yours—left you by your uncle—"
"Our uncle. You are my sister, and must share his gift. If—if—I should ever go to live anywhere else, it might be all yours, if you won't come with me."
"I say your uncle, Millie. He did not hold me as his niece; he had heard how like I am to my father!"
"If he had only known you, sister, he would have loved you in spite—"
"Would I be loved in spite of what I glory in?" Hildred said, vehemently. "No, child. We must not stop to quarrel, for I have something to tell you:—Millie, you are not rich. You know uncle died suddenly; he was always irresolute, procrastinating, weak—a good man, though, for loving you so well as he did. He had made no will when he died, and an heir-at-law has turned up."
Millie raised her head, and looked up at Hildred inquiringly. Hildred went on: "I should have enjoyed the excitement of disputing his claim ; but it would be of no use. I should not like to be beaten; so you must give up to him quietly."
"Then the dear old place is not mine? I can not give it you?" Millie said, in pained surprise.
"I should not, could not have taken it, dear one. I must and will be independent. No, child, nothing at least, almost nothing—is yours. You are mine, and I am glad—"