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THE

SPINSTERS OF BLATCHINGTON.

CHAPTER 1.

SPINSTERS ONE AND TWO.

A LITTLE bay on the Sussex coast, the curving line of grass-crested cliffs showing white under the moon. Far out in the sea a distant pier, carrying a friendly light; other lights appearing and disappearing with the passing skiffs and vessels to which they are attached. A line of shingle-beach, crossed by a rough path of sand-sorry counterfeit of a “promenade.” On the beach, an old clumsy fishing-boat of tub-like form and dimensions. In the boat, vis-à-vis, two girls — plus enormous woollen shawls, minus hats or bonnets.

The coastguard is not yet visible ; not a VOL. I.

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solitary “visitor" is to-night tempted to parade the rude promenade, not even the homely jumper of a sailor shows itself. They are alone, these two, curled up snugly in the fishing-boat, regardless equally of etiquette and wind. Their sole protector, a huge retriever, lies on the rough pebbles beside them, his muzzle between his paws.

I do not like the old Greek fashion of keeping out of sight at the commencement the chief figures of the dialogue. Therefore I have chosen the homely and unceremonious fashion of bringing them at once to the front of the stage. These frail simple human beings before you play their little parts throughout the scenes of our story. They are the daughters of Mr Bloomfield, quondam schoolmaster o place; and as the genius of romance withheld her presence at their christenings, they received the names of Anne and Mary, the latter familiarly corrupted into Molly. She to the right is Anne, the elder ;-a pensive face in repose, of full, dark, dreamy eyes, that can break into sudden light for all that langoureux look they wear ofttimes ; the calmest, firmest, red line of a mouth giving a certain definite decision to the

poetic countenance, half destroyed again by the witchery of the delicate-pointed chin, just now propped between two thin little brown hands; a forehead square and white, over which blows a refractory curly bit of soft hair, that has escaped from the confinement of its sister tresses, bound, with a pitiless defiance of chignon supremacy, in close braids to the small round head.

Very gentle, and tender, and pretty is Anne to look at, charming in that unobtrusive charm, that ethereal madonna fairness, that fails to arrest the careless eye, but grows upon you by degrees, and ever strengthens or fades according to the light in which it shows. Only in the shape of face and chin, in the dainty poise of the head, in general colouring of complexion and hair, would you recognise these two as sisters. They are at once so like and so unlike; you can read their different natures at a glance, in their very gestures and tone of voice. The one would, in olden times, have been from choice a Lollard or a Puritan, would have stolen away to secret haunts with the forbidden Book, or have donned the cap of gravity; the other would, in any age, have retained the stamp of individuality she wears now, and could have been naught but wild spoilt Molly, who must have her conventional missal about which she need not trouble to think, and her lovers, and plenty of fun. There she sits,—Anne, as it were, remoulded ; just Anne over again, only different, as we say ; taller and rounder, not so painfully reed-like and immaterial; just Anne with her bright hair unbound, a shade or two sunnier in colour, fluttering in bright waves about her shoulders, or raised to its extreme length above her head by the strong yet playful breeze ;Anne, with quenchless mischief in her eyes, and uncontrollable laughter bubbling on her lips, and inextinguishable merriment in her heart; Anne with rosier cheeks and a piquant nose and a dimple in her chin. The girls were taking their evening “mouthful of air,” as they termed it,—a mouthful of air that would have given any London belle the fashionable complaint "neuralgia” for the rest of her life. Below them lay the sleeping village, with its handful of dark houses and lowly line of fishermen's huts skirting the shingle, above which the old grey stone church raised its time-worn tower; yonder stretched the bare sweep of downs ; be

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