My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins, Chapter 34

My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins

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Chapter XXXIV 
The End Which Was the Beginning

They were sorry they had let him come. A new night nurse was sent. Two doctors, now. And, either I dreamed it or, at the worse times, Eric was there as well. But always when I was myself, and the haunted night had given way to day, his face was gone. Yet his care was all about me. The doctors were friends of his; the nurses of his choosing.

I cannot explain why, but ferreting out these facts gave me something less than the comfort they might be thought to bring. Why was he troubling about me? Why was he not spending every thought and every hour in trying to find Bettina?

Ranny had meant it well, telling me I had something to live for besides Bettina, and giving that something a name. But it was an ill turn; a sword in my side for many a day and night. It gave me a ceaseless smart of anger against Eric. I was jealous, too, that it had been Ranny, and not Eric, who had been taking all these jour- 

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neys. Ranny had been working day and night. Ranny was the person we owed most to--Betty and I.

And was I to lie there, suffocated by all this care, and leave a boy like Ranny (a boy I had expected so little of) to spend himself, soul and substance, for my sister?

How dared Eric think that he and I were going to be happy, while Ranny searched the capitals of Europe, and while Bettina . . .

One night, or early morning rather, stands out clear. 

Vaguely I remembered a renewed struggle, and a fresh defeat. Now, strangely, unaccountably, I had waked out of deep sleep with a feeling quite safe and sure, at last, that Betty was free. 

The night-light had burned out. A pearly greyness filled the room. 

The nurse was sitting by the window, wrapped in a shawl.

Her head, leaning against the window-frame, was thrown back as though to look at something.

I don't know whether it was the shawl drawn 

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about drooped shoulders, or the association of a lifted face by the window, but I thought of the hop-picker. And of the promise I had made. Yes, and kept.

As long as I had been at Duncombe after that haggard woman passed, no other with my knowing had gone hungry away.

Not all suffering, then, was utterly vain.

What was the white-capped figure looking at--so steadily, so long?

I raised myself on my elbow, and leaned forward till I, too, could see. A tracery of branches, bare, against a clear-coloured sky; and through the crossing lines, a little white moon looked through its sky-lattice into the open window of my room.

I got up, so weak I had to cling hold of table and chair, till I stood by the nurse. She was asleep, poor soul! But I hardly noticed her then. I was looking up in a kind of ecstasy, for it seemed to me that a pale young face--not like the Bettina I had known, and still Bettina's face, was leaning down out of Heaven to bring me comfort.

But as I looked I saw there was high purpose as well as a world of pity in the face--as though 

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she would have me know that not in vain her innocence had borne the burden of sin.

And I was full of wondering. Till, suddenly, I realised that not to comfort me alone, nor mainly, was Betty leaning out of heaven . . . she was come to do for others what no one had done for her.

Then the agony of the sacrifice swept over me afresh. I remembered I had gone back into that last Darkness saying, as I had said ten thousand times before: "Why had this come to Betty?"

And now again I asked: "Why had it to be you?"

Through the gentle grey of morning Betty seemed to be leading me into the Light. For the answer to my question was that the suffering of evil-doers had never been fruitful as the suffering of the innocent had been.

Was there, then, some life-principle in such pain?

A voice said: "You shall find in mortal ill, the seed of Immortal Good."

I knelt down by the window and thanked my sister.

Others shall thank her, too. 

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Available since August 1997