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Owen's Communion of Saints, 483.
Rodwell's Prophecies of Isaiah, 238.
THE WYNNES ; OR MANY MEN, MANY MINDS,” “PHIL'S
66 We women ...
strain our natures at doing something great
E. BARRETT BROWNING. Aurora Leigh.
“In short, Aunt Elizabeth,-just like that dear old apricot tree, we need thinning out!"
Aunt and niece were walking briskly up and down a sheltered gravel walk bordering a spacious bed of mixed herbaceous plants, behind which stood the southern side of the large square red-brick wall enclosing the old kitchen-garden of Brayscombe Rectory. On a ladder against this sheltering wall stood old Andrew Shadbolt thinning-outand not for the first time—the over-abundant fruit of a far spreading Moor Park apricot.
“ The house is too full-the rooms are too full,—there are too
many of us,—we have not the mere physical space, much less the needful mental space for so many grown-up daughters,-oh yes, you may smile, but it's very true! and since Friedeswide, Kathleen, and Isabel are no longer juniors to exercise our teaching powers uponnot even still-absent school-girls like Molly and Dora—but very present and never self-forgetting, nor to be forgotten, young ladies of this overcrowded nineteenth century, the dear old house is in every sense too small for us. Five grown-up daughters still at home, —and two more to follow them—absurd ! if you take it only as a mere waste of material.”
The speaker's foot touched, and sent rattling along the hard wellkept gravel, two or three rejected and shrivelled little apricots, as she spoke; and at the same moment Andrew descended and passed the pair, a basketful of his better thinnings on his arm; a touch of his forelock, a smile half-pléased, half-regretful on his withered face, and the words,
“Never see'd the old tree so full of fruit! Master will have many a green tart from her this year; but I'd liefer have fewer and them a grander lot, Miss 'Lizbeth !”
Miss Elizabeth smiled and nodded—Andrew was one of the oldest memories of her life,—and as he passed out of sight remarked,
“ I often wonder how many men will be needed to take old Andrew's place whenever he is, please God, gently shaken, full ripe, off the
“Yes, ‘full ripe !'—Happy old man! good and faithful servant ! dear wise old Christian !- I love and honour-I'm afraid I envy, old Andrew. But then he grew up in the good old-fashioned days when to do one's duty in one's natural state of life was easy,—because there was a duty for each person to do, and plenty of room to do it in! Now—now every city, parish, household, -seems to need some Higher Andrew to thin them out. You see, as Friedeswide reminded us this morning, the Chinese are wiser and get rid of their superfluous females as mere infants."
Elizabeth Erle was silent a moment, then said quietly,
“But let us keep to England and Brayscombe, and the seven present Miss Erles, and three Mr. and Master Erles.”
“Ten in all! at least we might have been decimated !”
“But thinning implies more than mere decimation : I should think Andrew took away at least one-third of the fruit of that great branch
just now—probably he did the same a few weeks back, will again a few weeks hence--and that the grander lot left for future desserts"
“Oh, Aunt Elizabeth! what are three-thirds of a fourpenny piece ?” and Dulcibella Erle turned round with a smile not only of amusement, but delight, on the elder Miss Erle within whose slender arm her own was tenderly locked.
Aunt Elizabeth smiled too. “I never attempt to answer your modern arithmetical puzzles,” she answered with sweet content, “but I should like to help you in more personal ones, they seem all new since I was last here at dear little Diana's wedding—and this thinning out, where would you begin ? This shrivelled undeveloped little thing,” as another withered apricot span before them on the lawn, “suggests—"
“ Poor little Mary! oh, auntie !” Miss Erle pressed the girl's arm, I think we mustn't begin with her, not for her sake, but our own! I know she ought to go, first of all, if all this modern cant about 'survival of the fittest and elimination of the weakly' be true—but then I would eliminate the weakly and misguided in will, not in mere body; and yet-and yet—"
“ You dare not 'eliminate’ Arthur,” said Aunt Elizabeth very gently, “even in imagination."
“No! the wheat and tares must grow together until the harvest.I must hope on about him to the end! In one sense one may say Arthur has already decimated us by throwing up his profession, by his foolish hasty marriage, and general self-will. Father's one way of being able to endure all the vexatious disappointments his eldest son has caused him is never even to name him or them.-Yes! we are but nine that are left of the old home party as it closed up after Diana's marriage. But,” and with an effort she forced back the threatening tears, “I will try to answer your question, with whom would I begin ?'—with myself, sometimes very gladly, except that I do want to see the end of so many things, even how decimating or threethirding us would work! I must, if only from mere curiosity, be the one miraculously-surviving eleventh out of ten apricots—to serve for the family dessert some day!”
“You say the house is too small, the rooms too small”.
“Yes, how can eleven grown or growing up people even sit healthily in our dining-room or drawing-room-yes, ten when George, Charlie, Molly, and Dora are at home. Don't smile in that provoking way! Every National School girl is now provided with a fixed cubic feet
allowance of space. I can't recall exactly what, but Freda could tell you in a moment :-mental and spiritual breathing-room they are, happily, not yet old enough to need.”
“I was only thinking that we were at one time thirteen and in smaller rooms : and I am afraid we wise maiden-aunts thought your father needlessly extravagant, and sadly affected by modern ways of life, when he threw out the large oriel-bows to the dining and drawingrooms on marrying your dear mother, thirty years ago, though she had come to him so well-portioned—”
“And then, as soon as he had got over restoring the church, he threw the old ‘little parlour into the hall, and built his own library and our new nurseries.”
“And ever since the dear old house has seemed spoilt to me! onesided like a lop-eared rabbit.”
George will put that to rights for you, auntie, whenever he becomes king; the want of symmetry affects his mind and eye just as it does yours; and then he means to have a large parish-room in place of the dear old school-room, and a good bedroom and dressing-room above it; so that, at least, there may be two decently sized bedrooms in the house.”
“Well! George is not extravagant; will not spend money for nought, I mean,—and loves the old place"
“ Yes! will not first run into debt at Oxford, and then cast away his birthright, for what ? a pretty foolish little widow and starvation."
“Dear Dulcie ! it is that bitter disappointment that has made this to me so blissful life to you so sour."
“Yes-no—I am not sure., I think, to be perfectly honest, I had once or twice before just been beginning to suspect that my doll was stuffed with sawdust, but ostrich-like had covered my eyes and would not see it. No doubt Arthur's madness opened my bandaged eyes, and very abruptly, to the truth. And he had just seemed to be return. ing to our old dear conscientious Arthur, had been working so hard in that curacy, was so beloved ! for the first time in his life, since going to Oxford, was living within his income! Father and I had stayed with him and we came away so happy-oh! it was cruel, very cruel so to startle and disappoint us !"
“His refusal to take priest's orders and so secure the reversion of this family living was a grievous vexation and disappointment even to me, poor darling! but—"