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chat to him in their pretty bright care-free way when he comes in tired or vexed; enjoys having such young, attractive, and happy companions to any garden or dinner-party or meeting, in the neighbourhood; even plays lawn-tennis with the same zeal that he did his beloved and exquisitely-played croquet, for their sake, though once he abhorred this innovator and usurper, and I delight in seeing them together again. I think there is something so beautiful in his tender love and care for them, and patience with their follies ; none of the shortness or sternness we elders still sometimes meet with, who grew up with that protecting 'mother-love' to shelter us.”
• But the poor eldest daughter, after the long five years' strain of trying to take her mother's place to all around her, finds herself left out in the cold.”
“Not wilfully or consciously by any one, only in the natural course of events. And so gradually that perhaps it is only Dora's going to school, and Molly to the seaside with the Deacons, that awakens me to the fact that my work at home seems ended at eight and twenty; and yet at home I have promised to stay !”
Your father still loves your music.”
Yes, he still likes it to go on and on when he is reading or writing; but Isabel plays far better than I ever did even before mother fell ill, and I had no time to practise; and Kathleen's singing is sweet, and her playing on the violin so pretty and finished ; perfection for so young a girl who, but for that violin, might now be almost supposed to be without a soul, one cannot hear her play and think so! Even Friedeswide had quite ordinary musical talent; but wisely persuaded father and mother to let her give up music to have more time for drawing and literature long ago, and has a real talent for catching likenesses, and is longing to get back to Kensington to study from the life.' You dear old aunts must have had all this musical talent latent in you, for it must have come from that old cathedral organist with whose pretty daughter our great-grandfather ran away, but, I suppose, no opportunities for cultivation ?"
“None compared to what our nieces have had ; and I think our father so little liked the remembrance of a connection that would be thought little of now, but a hundred years ago was a sad mésalliance, that he rather repressed than encouraged our musical tastes. I remember the delight it was to me to find, the year my mother and I kept house for your dear father before he married, that he not only liked me to 'go on' playing, sometimes the whole evening long, but even made me teach him his notes, and in the long winter evenings took to practising. He used to scrape away on an old violin in the attics on holidays, I remember, and had always played a little by ear; but had been generally bidden to leave off idling and disturbing others, and get something useful to do. Still I often wonder that he consented to Kathleen's learning the violin, I was glad to hear her last night, but would not look at her; my little bit of vain prudish protest against the changes of tastes and customs in the present education of women.”
“Father did not like it himself, but was over-persuaded; it was one of the wonderful effects of Aunt Kathleen swooping down upon us full of good and kindly intentions when dear mother was so entirely laid by. She thought me overworked, also a most inefficient educator of these younger girls ; had a large house at Kensington, one daughter just married, the other still pursuing music and art at the Royal Academy and South Kensington; and very kindly persisted till she carried off Friedeswide, Kathleen, and Isabel to share Gertrude's advantages; with tears in her eyes she pleaded, when he hesitated, who could so well take his sick wife's place to his girls as her own sister ? But his consent has cost me my three children for ever.”
“ Isabel is very pretty."
“Yes: oh, I am proud of my changelings; but dear pretty little doll that Isa, as they call her now, seems to me to have dwarfed intowhat will re-awaken in her the beautiful soul of my pet child of old?”
“The old, old story, love, I imagine,” said Aunt Elizabeth, with a smile.
“But love seems to me to have quenched Amabel's soul; stopped its growth, so completely satisfies her.”
“ How sweet-tempered she is over this long, tryingly long engagement; I wish I had seen Captain Lawson, if only just for once, to be able better to sympathize with her ; but I always love sailors, and the letter she read me last night, bore just the simple sense of faith and duty that she had led me to expect. But doubtless it is Diana's marriage and Amy's engagement and the return of these three lively girls as grown-up women to the home, that have left you, as you call it, stranded ; and then these younger girls having grown up away from home, have grown away from the old Brayscombe traditions ; dear old Brayscombe traditions to me, and I am thankful my second Dulcibella clung so fast to them, though it were to her own hindrance, but only in this world, not the other, dear.”
Dulcibella looked up gratefully, then drew her aunt's arm closer, “ You always call me your second Dulcibella, as if the greatest endearment you could show me; I know your first was your youngest sister, and her grave is in the churchyard, but the letters are full of lichen and moss, and father does not like them cleaned, and the stone looks
“Yes, it was five and thirty years ago; it was with her that God began our thinning out."
“ The thinning out of thirteen !”
“And now only four leaves remain on the old tree. Perhaps you can understand how small the greatest of past sorrows and troubles seem looked back on from fifty years of life, small where there has been no sin, only sorrow, connected with them. Dulcie was my darling, my pet, my pupil, my plaything; it seemed to break my heart to lose her, so full of promise, life, and love, at only seven ; yet had she lived I might, with you, have lost her in a far harder way than by death; and perhaps though I had always tried from the first to feel as well as to say “Thy will be done,' I had never pictured the possibility of this greater loss till you spoke of the sad change in your relations with Isabel and Freda. But have patience with the waywardness and vagaries of youth; if not, to us old people, very lovely."
“Yes, one must remember Edward Irving's marvel long ago-not, with most of the world, that so wonderful a being as a man should be developed from so puny a thing as an infant, but that a being full of such glorious promise as an infant should ever be dwarfed into so paltry a thing as man, as oneself.”
One or two more turns in silence watching the lights and shadows on the rectory ivied gables, the white summer clouds sailing silently across the dark June sky, the happy never-interfered-with birds feasting on the ripening gooseberries, and then they turned towards the house, Dulcibella murmuring, "What a growl I've had, how ashamed I feel of myself, how good you have been not to call me Ursula, if not Ursa Major, as poor Arthur used to do after one of my long tirades. I think I ought to drop my old Dulcie for this now better fitting prefix : all I really want is 'a grateful heart to taste my gifts with joy,' and the next best thing is to have a dear old auntie to grumble to.”
Old Auntie ? you mean Aunt Elizabeth,” cried Friedeswide, lawn-tennis bat in hand, flying towards them, “ seeing only your backs I should have thought her—"
“The youngest of the two ?” said Dulcibella.
Dulcibella smiled, “Serves me right for my impertinence to you about three-thirds of a fourpenny piece."
“Which I suppose would as in all other cases result in a whole, and so no apricots have been left for
one's dessert.” “No, but if I have always loved that old apricot tree, I shall more than ever now; it will remind me of all manner of pleasant things ; this one real walk and talk with you, after two whole years' famine of you, the best of all. Don't betray my“ growl,' it is my first to any one; and shall be the last till I get you again, if not last entirely. Freda is right, eight and twenty is very old ; and far older I am sure than fifty,—youth fading—"
“ Youth fading !" cried Mr. Erle, pursuing his younger daughter, fellow tennis-bat in hand, “yours, Dulcie ? Some women are far better looking at eight and twenty than at eighteen, I can tell you, yourself among the number. Yes, Freda, coming !"
Dulcibella smiled once more, “Dear father,” she said, tenderly, “ life has, with two exceptions, been so prosperous and happy as well as so well spent, with him, he cannot bear to see any one unhappy, and yet—"
They mustn't, some of them, be happy except in his own way. You look shocked, or would if I had not been so outspoken to you just now that you are still sorry for me. You never talked over or criticized father or mother in your young days, I suppose ?”
“And were far happier. It must be railroads and certificated schools, and higher education that have broken up the good old simple rule of Brayscombe. You seem to have grown up and lived in a cool glade, we in a hot glare. Yes, Sarah," as the parlour-maid of twenty years' standing approached them.
“Mr. Macdonald, Miss Dulcie. I told him Master was out, and. I thought Miss Amy too, but he said you would do."
Dulcibella smiled, amused rather than pleased, “Poor father will be glad I am looking young to-day," was the half-amused, half-sad thought within her; but traditions of earlier respect and reticence kept the words from passing her lips even to her aunt. “ He is the Vicar of that outlying bit of parish that has grown up near the new mills since your good old times, Aunt Elizabeth. The bit that lazy Isabel and Kathleen rejoiced to have taken so entirely off our time and consciences. Father found these new people rough and unruly, and growing beyond his walking powers; and, with an octave of daughters had an instinctive dread of curates, -you know his one experience was not happy,—and so he suffered Sir Charles Wollaston to get the Bishop to let that and Burnt Ash Common be formed into a separate parish. I think I was 'old Erle' enough to be sorry to part with any bit of Brayscombe; but it is a great relief to father to have no more work left him than he can still do, and well do, himself, and of the old kindlier kind he loves. Only unfortunately this new Vicar is so very young. Come in and help me out with him, and cheer him up with his too much work as you have me with my too little.”
Miss Erle complied. Dulcibella once or twice proposed an adjournment to the lawn-tennis ground, cutting rather cruelly into Mr. Macdonald's, to himself, all absorbing tales of parish difficulties, but her aunt, at least, was still listening to them when the tea-bell rang, and Mr. Erle entering, kindly pressed him to stay and share the meal ; and on seeing his genuine regret that an evening service—“though there will be no one there,”-prevented this, begged him to walk over and join them any evening he was free. Then came farewells with the returning younger tennis party; and meanwhile Dulcibella had slipped away, and was quietly refreshing her own toilette, repeating in mental unconsciousness,
“Who sweeps a floor as to God's law
“You saw Macdonald,” Mr. Erle said to his sister the next morning as they were walking up and down the little wayside stationplatform of Burnt Ash, awaiting the train to carry her up to town.
“Yes," and a smile flickered across Elizabeth's face; she was very fond of her brother, and on perfectly good terms with him, though still and always a girl, in some ways, in the eyes of a brother ten years older than herself, “but-it won't do !"
“No ? I thought she would be happier in such a field ; surely she craves for fresh work and love, here are both close at band, 'to be