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“But it would have been worse if he had taken them only to secure a livelihood ! oh yes, and it would have been worse had rheumatic fever left dear little Molly an idiot—or actually crippled—instead of only hopelessly delicate and maimed for any fair fighting in the Battle of Life; and yet, oh, Aunt Elizabeth! you know that both disappointments are grievous enough! don't wonder that, at least, some mercy was shown us !”
“Some! how much ? Think if Arthur had taken to gambling or drinking ; had even proceeded to priest's orders before he had met this pretty penniless widow-how great would have been the temptation to him to smother down all misgivings,-even to his own conscience, and far more to his father,—so that her future assured provision here should not have been imperilled.”
“ Ab, Auntie! even you would not have liked Adelina Potticary to be queen regnant of Brayscombe Rectory after all.”
“No; it is such a blessed, blissful resting place to me, present or absent from it; absent—I think of it with no bow-windows, no lawn tennis ground, no fernery, the old brick passages and cold stone floors; but always with a sense of rest and peace. What happy years your aunts and great-aunts, even great-great-aunts have known in it these hundred years. I can't bear my little Dulcie to despise her birthright.”
“It is only, I suppose, that we have too many of what the world calls blessings--good means, just that well-established position that I know does add much to the comfortable enjoyment of life, good enough wits, good parents, average health, and tempers, and looks; but, we elder ones, beginning to have nothing to do."
“My dear child, I cannot bear to hear you reverting again and again to want of occupation; housekeeping and parish-duties, with your Latin, your German, your music, big-lad Sunday classes, cottagevisiting"
"Perhaps,-oh! is it that I am very wicked, or cannot I help it ? but just a whisper of cui bono is coming over it all. That Sunday class, with what prayer, faith, hope, love, I began it, how I loved to prepare for it ;– I still prepare for it, for in some senses I still have it, but the patience of poor disappointed eight and twenty is very different from the hopeful ardour of valiant eighteen; and certainly Sunday schools will never mend village morals, enough if they do not destroy them; no second Andrew Shadbolt will ever be the outcome of my
teaching, Aunt Elizabeth! I only hope I have not marred successors of God's making."
“Nay, dear, 'tis but that the old order changeth, and giveth place to the new.' But to keep to the home party, we were eight sisters, and at one time our grandmother and an aunt were living with us, and yet,
“Did not you sometimes wish to run away from the other seven ? to become a Sister, a Nurse, or a Doctor, or lawyer ? you can, now, even that, can't you ? or National school-mistress, or even housemaid ? anything but a cook or a barmaid—of course, you, as a vegetarian and total abstainer, could never have honestly been either a kitchen or a barmaid.”
“But any other careers for women had not, in my youth, even been thought of, and so could not be longed for."
No, I suppose that made matrimony the one end of life, in a place with any so-called society, the first half of the century. I think, perhaps, judging from Miss Austen, the girls of the period' were even more hatefully commonplace then than now; or we should never have had her tiresome, maundering Janes, Emmas, and Elizabeths,don't start, I dare say I've got the names quite wrong, -and even vulgarer men in her Eltons and Bennets who seem to think women only made to flirt with them, and to minister to their self-glory. Friedeswide went in for all Miss Austen's novels at the last Cambridge Local; she must coach me up in the names and people I really mean;
Ι of course they are English classics, &c., but I could never read a chapter of one of them without longing to escape from such odious commonplace creatures, to get a breath of fresher air somewhere, even dear old Andrew is a natural gentleman and old Nurse a perfect lady compared to them. But you aunts were always so different, so blissfully pure and good in this then isolated country place; ten miles from the county town; three miles from the nearest coach-road, and with no wayside station cast down, on one extreme of the parish, to bring all the evils of modern civilization and cockneydom in its train."
“One power has not diminished in you, Dulcie, the old Irish flow of words."
“ But it has except to such a safe dear old uncritical auditor as to you; Friedeswide's accurately trained mind and ear could never have borne such a tirade as I have just lavished upon you, and very unfairly, Freda would have espied the anachronism at once of thinking
you could be like Miss Austen's heroines or unheroines, yours was the next generation, a much nicer one.”
“ Thanks perhaps to the long purifying strain that may be summed up in Trafalgar and Waterloo. Women upreared in that atmosphere of constant parting from and losing of their dearest and their best-in the then long suspense and famine of news from the seat of war, of that long terrible struggle of which I have of late heard some lips say cui bono ?—made noble wives and mothers. Selfsacrifice and endurance purify and ennoble individual lives whether the material gain be lasting or not. Yes, we led very quiet existences, marvellously free from outer temptation.”
“And I don't think your lives were planted in a transition period as mine is. There Friedeswide has a great advantage over Amy and myself, only Amy is so blissfully unconscious of any of the needs I feel to break away from the bonds traditionally fettering the Miss Erles of Brayscombe. Friedeswide, you will yet see burst deftly away from them all; it may be by marriage like poor dear Diana, (oh auntie ! fancy being tied for life, even a year, to Diana's George-yet he had the wit to choose the best as well as the best looking of us all !) but it will be more likely by choosing a profession--don't start, auntie, I really mean it! that strong straight chin was not given her for nothing ; and those straight capable deft fingers, the very hand for a surgeon as Arthur himself once said, she may, some day, even think wasted on handling artist's mahlsticks,-nor those good wits and self-reliant temper, and that perfect contentment with her own opinions and wishes. She will have the will and the power to make a life of her own.”
“Public opinion has so much changed, even in five years, perhaps your father would not mind Freda obtaining a few months' hospital training.”
“Oh but she will not want to benefit her fellow-creatures, but herself, that is another change of the last few years. She has a clear head, a capital memory, a pretty figure, great self-possession and a musical voice, considerable powers of imitation, some imagination; could she be her own niece and be living 1895 instead of 1875, I think she would consider the stage her appointed place of developement; no, not as it is, auntie, though she would make a charming little Portia now!—but she will know what she wishes to be when the time comes; only I feel sure that, whatever it is, she will compass
it without angering or distressing our father as I did when I made my feeble attempt to have six months' training in nursing five years ago ; or, if she do, not mind it, far less feel as ungrateful and undutiful as any Regan or Goneril, and fall weeping, at his shocked looks, upon his neck, promising unasked “never to do so no more though she live to be fifty,' and, even five years later, only speak thus lightly because of the pang at her heart at the mere remembrance of the grief and annoyance her very wish occasioned him. Friedeswide will wait a little perhaps, she is wise, but her purpose deep-rooted, and then try again; and, if again refused, say calmly, perhaps suppressing her superior smile, that, after one and twenty, a woman is as much master of her actions as a man of his; that, thanks to the good education her father has given her, she need not starve, can earn her bread, and go off with never a qualm nor a quarrel, and so be able to come back whenever she pleases; and probably, by her success in whatever path she chooses, win him, in the end, to being glad that she defied him."
“Your father is so proud of Freda.”
"Ah, if she had but been a son, do you know, auntie, it strikes me the fame of the Erles of Brayscombe might have extended a little farther than is ever likely to be the case with Arthur, George, or Charlie. Yes, father is proud of Freda, and very fond of her also; but, I am not, nor she of me. Young girls who can take such perfect good care of themselves and of their own interests, are not interesting, however pretty, clever, or artistically attired ; are they?”
1 “Well! will you begin by weeding out Friedeswide ?”
“Well ! she is useful in giving one something bright and young, and still in full enjoyment of life to look at, and amuses one's friends, can entertain a roomful if needful; and father likes her saucy speeches."
“She was your pet pupil.”
“ Yes ; is it not that which makes my heart so sore about her ? А. mother is only pleased and proud when her daughters grow her compeers in wit or use or beauty, even surpass her ; but, I suppose, a
I middle-aged elder sister of eight and twenty feels stranded and left on one side, and her uses disappearing, as one younger sister after another is returned upon the family home with advantages of education, even of dress, which she never had at their age; and perhaps with allowance of more independence of thought and action than she will ever have ! Do you remember how I lost a visit to you that last summer you and grandmamma were at Lincoln, because no escort could be found ? I faintly reminded father I was two and twenty, and surely might travel alone to London if some one met me there and took me across; but I saw this was thought undutiful presumption, and I apologised and subsided at once in, to all outward appearance, satisfied submission ; you know it was just when mother's health was beginning to break down and the great thing seemed to be to cost neither her nor father any avoidable concern. But really I cried myself to sleep night after night longing for you and dear old grandmamma; you, who knew something, and so the very being near you would have soothed one, even had you never named him.”
“I do not like to name him now, my poor second Dulcibella.”
“No, it is all over long ago : but it seems to me, now I am older, that mine has been a strange fate ; surely I have really been a dutiful daughter, and yet I believe considered the one undutiful one, of whose possible vagaries dear old father still has a secret terror, the most undutiful of all the seven, self-pleasing as Freda, Kathleen, and Isabel are, if in very different ways. You see those young girls' clear, cold, sensible way of looking at everything, straight from their hateful High Schools and London Classes, is infecting even me. I used only to see myself with father's eyes; and it was far happier to feel penitent, than the least self-pitiful, or possibly illused.”
“Dear Dulcie !"
“And yet, Aunt Elizabeth, do not think I regret either of those great sacrifices to duty, if sacrifices they were. Perhaps I ought not to call only doing one's duty in that state of life to which one is called, by any approach to such a name, any more than Andrew counts as such the spending of all his life, health and strength in another's service, a mere hireling after all, from dawn to dark.”
“And yet if to him it may be said 'good and faithful servant,' surely not the less to you.”
"Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, such an unworthy servant," and Dulcibella's eyes swam once more with tears, " when I think what it is that is really making me feel so useless at home, the greatest blessing that could have befallen us all, father having at last regained health and spirits after our dear mother's long ill-health and death, I may well feel worse than an infidel. You see how he delights in having the three girls home again to walk and potter about with him, for I do not think he is quite as strong as he was before his quarrel with Arthur ;