"Is Godwyn very ill, Dr Harcourt?" asked Sunny in a low tone, that would tremble in spite of her, and lifting her lovely brown eyes pleadingly as though he could alter the dread fact.
"You cannot hope to keep her long with you, Miss Haverford," answered John Harcourt, in grave sympathetic tones, "She may last for months, or the end may come in a week or two."
There was a long silence. Sunny was battling with her tears, resolutely forcing them back, and Dr Harcourt was well assured that conversation would be distasteful to her just now.
"This is our destination," he said, at last, as he drew up in front of a large handsome house. "Don't be too modest in your terms, Miss Haverford, they can afford to pay handsomely. I must leave you for a few minutes," he continued, as they were shown into the drawing-room. "I have a professional visit to pay to one of your future pupils." He was not long away, and soon returned, accompanied by Lady Stanton.
She greeted Sunny very kindly, and came to terms at once. "I thought of having Signor Mancini for my girls, and should have paid him seventy guineas a year for each. I will give you fifty each, if you decide to take them. I daresay you will think it rather unjust to offer you less, but, you see, Mancini has a name."
"I do not think it at all unjust," answered Sunny, with a pretty laugh. "I know a name is worth a great deal. I hope to have one myself some day."
"I suppose you will not object to let me hear you play," said Lady Stanton, moving across the room, and opening the piano; "you will find something you play here, I daresay."
Sunny chose the Sonata Pathetique, it was in accordance with her thoughts, and unconsciously she gave it wonderful expression that went to the hearts of her auditors. A short silence followed the closing notes.
"You play exquisitely," said Lady Stanton, at last.
They took their leave after a few more words; and John Harcourt divining Sunny's anxiety to be at home, turned his horse's head and drove back - not stopping to call elsewhere - and deemed himself amply repaid by a grateful glance from Sunny's brown eyes, and a low spoken word of thanks.
The two sisters exchanged news.
"I too am in employment now," said Mildred. "I went to the china-painters Miss Harcourt told me of. They were very pleased with my designs, and bought several, and have given an order for a heap more. so Godwyn can have all she requires now. Oh, Sunny, darling!" she broke off abruptly. "Do you know - has Dr Harcourt told you?-"
"That we cannot keep her long? Yes!"
Sunny turned abruptly away.
"Oh, Mildred! Mildred! it does seem hard."
It did seem hard, as days, weeks, even months went on, to see the lovely, gentle girl fading slowly, but only too surely, away. Doubly hard, too, when their fortunes were so steadily increasing.
Sunny found herself a fashionable musician, and had no lack of pupils; whilst Mildred had every spare moment taken up by her drawing.
Dr Harcourt and his sister were unremitting in their attentions.
"Janet," said John Harcourt, rather hesitatingly, one day.
"Well," answered Miss Harcourt, uncompromisingly, though there was a twinkle in her eyes.
"You have often said you wished I would get married," went on the doctor.
"Provided I approved of the bride elect," interrupted Miss Harcourt, sharply.
"Just so. Do you approve of Sunny Haverford?"
"Have you asked her to have you?" demanded Miss Harcourt, breaking her cotton viciously.
"Yes! She has accepted me."
"I do approve of her thoroughly," answered Janet, heartily. "She is a sweet-tempered, sensible, clever, and beautiful girl. I know of no one I should like better."
"Not even Miss Grand?" inquired the doctor mischievously.
"Don't be impertinent," replied Miss Harcourt, declining to discuss the young lady, she being the last of the matrimonial ventures she had propounded to her brother.
Dr Harcourt was crossing over the passage, when there came a hurried ring at the bell. Being near, he opened the door himself. Mrs Brown, flushed and panting stood there, her hand already raised for a second impatient summons.
"Please come at once, sir," she said wiping away a few tears. "They're afraid Miss Godwyn's dying, sir. And, please, she's asked for Miss Harcourt, too, sir, if she'll please come."
"Janet," shouted the doctor, "those poor girls want you."
Without waiting for an answer, he went away at a pace Mrs Brown found it difficult to keep up with.
He entered the dying girl's room, followed by his sister, gently and reverently. Godwyn lay back in Sunny's arms, panting slightly and deathly pale, otherwise she looked much as usual.
"Don't cry so, Milly, please," she said laying her transparent hand on the girl's bowed head.
Mildred with a mighty effort choked back her tears.
"I am afraid the girls will be lonely after I am gone. You will be kind to them, won't you, Janet?"
"My dear, of course I will," replied Miss Harcourt, taking the light burden from Sunny's arms, into her own.
"Can you do nothing?" asked Sunny, in an agonized whisper, turning to Harcourt.
"Nothing. She is out of my hands altogether."
"I wish they had a brother to take care of them," they heard Godwyn's faint voice saying.
John Harcourt came to her side, holding Sunny's hand, "Godwyn, would it make you happier to know they have a protector. Sunny has given herself to me, and I will be a brother to Mildred."
"I am so glad. I hoped it would be so," said Godwyn, smiling, and holding out her hand to Harcourt. he took it, and after a moment's hesitation bent down and kissed her cheek.
They laid her back on her pillows, and for an hour the stillness of the room was broken only by a smothered sob from Mildred.
Sunny, her grief sternly repressed, sat with her eyes fixed on Godwyn, her hands tightly clasped. Miss Harcourt, her face hidden in her hands, sat close to her; whilst John stood near them. All at once he touched his sister. She looked up.
Godwyn had raised herself, an unearthly radiance overspread her face. "Mother!" she gasped, "I am coming." And she sank back lifeless on her pillow.
Eighteen months after there was a quiet wedding, and John Harcourt and Sunny Haverford were made one.
"Won't you change your mind, dear?" asked Sunny after she had taken off her shimmering white robe, and donned her traveling dress.
"No," answered Mildred, with a smile. "Janet and I are going to take a little house by ourselves. We shall give you plenty of company, but we think it better to live by ourselves. Good-bye darling, John is impatient for you. Good-bye."
Competition winning story written by 'Darkie' - A Midnight Adventure from Sylvia's Home Journal 1886
And then there is the death-bed scene, I do wonder, has this author experienced a death-bed scene such as this? So very melodramatic - or perhaps real Victorian death-bed scenes were just too gruesome! The doctor certainly was totally useless!! But I thought his way of putting it... 'you cannot hope to keep her long' was rather sensitive and nice and altogether too well practiced... I guess doctor's in those days lost a lot of their patients. Had Darkie heard a doctor saying this? At any rate, he came good by marrying the girl and therefore rescuing her, but also her sister displays a certain amount of independence and desire to not want to be a 'kept' woman - some women were starting to show their independence at this time, but it might have been controvesrsial to make such an independent woman the heroine of the story. The style of writing aside (which can only be very old fashioned to us - and Darkie whoever she is, is no Jane Austin or Charlotte Bronte) but...What did you think of the story?