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The rental of Lingborough did more. How much more the little old ladies
did not know themselves, and no one else shall know, till that which was
done in secret is proclaimed from the housetops.
For they had had a religious scruple, founded upon a literal reading of
the scriptural command that a man's left hand should not know what has
right hand gives in alms, and this scruple had been ingeniously set at
rest by the parson, who, failing in an attempt to explain the force of
Eastern hyperbole to the little ladies' satisfaction, had said that Miss
Betty, being the elder, and the head of the house, might be likened to
the right hand, and Miss Kitty, as the younger, to the left, and that if
they pursued their good works without ostentation, or desiring the
applause even of each other, the spirit of the injunction would be
The parson was a good man and a clever. He had (as Miss Betty justly
said) a very spiritual piety. But he was also gifted with much
shrewdness in dealing with the various members of his flock. And his
word was law to the sisters.
Thus it came about that the little ladies' charities were not known even
to each other--that Miss Betty turned her morning camlet twice instead
of once, and Miss Kitty denied herself in sugar, to carry out benevolent
little projects which were accomplished in secret, and of which no
record appears in the Lingborough Ledger.
AT TEA WITH MRS. DUNMAW.
The little ladies of Lingborough were very sociable, and there was, as
they said, "as much gaiety as was good for anyone" within their reach.
There were at least six houses at which they drank tea from time to
time, all within a walk. As hosts or guests, you always met the same
people, which was a friendly arrangement, and the programmes of the
entertainments were so uniform, that no one could possibly feel awkward.
The best of manners and home-made wines distinguished these tea parties,
where the company was strictly genteel, if a little faded. Supper was
served at nine, and the parson and the lawyer played whist for love with
different partners on different evenings with strict impartiality.
Small jealousies are apt to be weak points in small societies, but there
was a general acquiescence in the belief that the parson had a friendly
preference for the little ladies of Lingborough.
He lived just beyond them, too, which led to his invariably escorting
them home. Miss Betty and Miss Kitty would not for worlds have been so
indelicate as to take this attention for granted, though it was a custom
of many years' standing. The older sister always went through the form
of asking the younger to "see if the servant had come," and at this
signal the parson always bade the lady of the house good night, and
respectfully proffered his services as an escort to Lingborough.
It was a lovely evening in June, when the little ladies took tea with
the widow of General Dunmaw at her cottage, not quite two miles from
their own home.
It was a memorable evening. The tea party was an agreeable one. The
little ladies had new tabbinets on, and Miss Kitty wore the diamond
brooch. Miss Betty had played whist with the parson, and the younger
sister (perhaps because of the brooch) had been favoured with a good
deal of conversation with the lawyer. It was an honour, because the
lawyer bore the reputation of an _esprit fort_, and was supposed to
have, as a rule, a contempt for feminine intellects, which good manners
led him to veil under an almost officious politeness in society. But
honours are apt to be uneasy blessings, and this one was at least as
harassing as gratifying. For a somewhat monotonous vein of sarcasm, a
painful power of producing puns, and a dexterity in suggesting doubts of
everything, were the main foundation of his intellectual reputation, and
Miss Kitty found them hard to cope with. And it was a warm evening.
But women have much courage, especially to defend a friend or a faith,
and the less Miss Kitty found herself prepared for the conflict the
harder she esteemed it her duty to fight. She fought for Church and
State, for parsons and poor people, for the sincerity of her friends,
the virtues of the Royal Family, the merit of Dr. Drugson's
prescriptions, and for her favourite theory that there is some good in
everyone and some happiness to be found every where.
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