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The Misses Pinks had lived in Crookshaw Lane for a very great number of years.  Nobody knew exactly how many, nor could they by any possible means get to know.  It seemed as if nobody else had lived there, though there were only a few who had the faintest remembrance of their predecessors.  They were quite reserved, and only mixed in select circles.  There were five of them, all bordering on the age of twenty or thereabouts, and had been for a considerable time.  Rumour said that they had all been favoured with proposals of marriage from persons of the highest rank, but, for some unimaginable reason, they had all been declined.  The eldest Miss Pinks would, on more important occasions, and in very intelligent company, speak a few words on the question of women’s rights, and would be reported in full in the morning papers.  The youngest Miss Pinks was one of the principal contributors to a paper specially devoted to the advocacy of the same great subject.  The third Miss Pinks would scribble a few lines of poetry to adorn the speeches of her eldest and the literary productions of her youngest sister.  She also wrote complete poems for the furtherance of the same views.  The other two Misses Pinks were deeply conversant in this important topic, and were invariably in attendance upon the eldest Miss Pinks, when she had to address a meeting, to clap their dainty little hands when occasion required.  They would also sit by the side of the youngest Miss Pinks, when she was engaged upon a bold leader, to suggest such improvements as they might deem necessary.  Nor did the third Miss Pinks ever compose a single verse without submitting it to them for approval, and, if she was ever at a loss for a word to make the rhyme, she had nothing to do but to inform them of her difficulty and they would supply it immediately.

The Misses Pinks lived about half-way down Crookshaw Lane, on the right-hand side of the road, and a young man named Richard Brittles lived about half-way up on the other side.  The Misses Pinks had never spoken to Mr. Brittles, nor had Mr. Brittles ever spoken to the Misses Pinks, although they saw one another frequently.  Mr. Brittles got up out of bed every morning at about forty-five minutes past seven.  So did the Misses Pinks.  They dressed at the same time, and looked through the window at the same time to see what kind of a moming it was.  The first thing that Mr. Brittles saw was the Misses Pinks, and the Misses Pinks never looked for anything else until they had had a glance at Mr. Brittles.  The Misses Pinks used to take milk from an old man who went round with a donkey.  Mr. Brittles did the same; and from some cause or other quite unknown to anybody — for Mr. Brittles could not say what it was, and the Misses Pinks really could not fathom it — but certain it was that, when Mr. Brittles opened his door every morning to get his milk, one of the Misses Pinks would be sure to be opening theirs for the same purpose.  But Mr. Brittles always got his milk without speaking, and the Misses Pinks followed his example, and the man and the donkey conducted themselves in a similarly comfortable fashion.

The Misses Pinks attended a little chapel in the centre of the town every Sunday morning and evening, and sat in a very neat, cushioned pew, in the left gallery.  Mr. Brittles attended too, and occupied a seat exactly opposite the Misses Pinks, in the right gallery.  The Misses Pinks were quite endeared to the little old chapel, and to the little old parson who preached there, and who had done so for the last nineteen years, without missing once.  They were also very much attached to the dear little choir which sang there.  Its music was so sweet, and fell with such lovely accents upon the Misses Pinks’ ears that they were often heard to declare that it was perfectly heavenly.  But though the choir sang so well, and although there were so many happy reminiscences of the little old chapel and notwithstanding that the little old parson preached very earnestly and eloquently, the Misses Pinks often forgot them all, and, in spite of their utmost endeavours, they could not resist peeping now and then at Mr. Brittles.  They did not mean any harm — not they, indeed! for there never were such dear religious beings in the world.  They would do their very best to attend to the service, but somehow their eyes would again wander in the direction of Mr. Brittles, and remain there for some time.  Even when the parson was praying, and the Misses Pinks should have held down their heads in reverent submission, they would occasionally — though quite unknowingly — lift them up to see if Mr. Brittles held his down too.

When service was over, Mr. Brittles would walk out in a very easy but dignified manner.  So did the Misses Pinks — at least so far as regarded dignity.  They generally reached the door about the same time, but passed out without speaking.  They never walked on the same side of the road.  If the Misses Pinks did not cross over Mr. Brittles would; and if the Misses Pinks did cross over, Mr. Brittles wouldn‘t.  At first the Misses Pinks could not understand this, but, as it continued, they concluded that it must be bashfulness.

The Misses Pinks received a letter every morning on business.  So did Mr. Brittles.  Mr. Brittles often posted a letter in reply the same evening.  He invariably found one of the Misses Pinks posting one too.  The Misses Pinks could not conceive what Mr. Brittles had to write so many letters about, neither could Mr. Brittles think why in the world the Misses Pinks should write so often.  They never told one another, but still pursued the same mysterious course.

One night, when the youngest Miss Pinks went to post the usual letter, she had to go into the post office to purchase some stamps.  Mr. Brittles was in, purchasing some too.  He had a large letter — at least, a large envelope, if not a letter — in his hand, which Miss Pinks eyed very curiously.  It could not be a business letter.  The envelope was quite a fancy one, with a great many crosses and re-crosses upon it, and only a small, oblong space left in the centre for the address.  Miss Pinks guessed in a minute what it was.  Mr. Brittles was really sending a valentine.  But to whom?  Miss Pinks would have given the whole world — had she possessed it — to know.  She tried hard to get a glimpse of the address, but she couldn‘t.  She stood on her tip-toes, and peeped over Mr. Brittles’ shoulder — for he was only a little fellow — but she couldn’t make it out.  When Mr. Brittles turned round, he blushed to find Miss Pinks in the room, Miss Pinks saw it, and blushed too, and both having deposited their letters in the box, went home.

Miss Pinks told her sisters all that had occurred, and ventured a hint that it must be St. Valentine’s Day on the morrow.  The eldest Miss Pinks thought the same, and the third Miss Pinks quite coincided with that opinion.  The other two Misses Pinks, however, having to be consulted upon it, rather doubted it, whereupon a general search had to be made for an almanack, to see whether it were so or not.  But the almanack wouldn’t be found.  The eldest Miss Pinks looked in every likely place, but without success; the youngest Miss Pinks looked in every unlikely place, but couldn’t come across it.  The third Miss Pinks and the other two Misses Pinks looked nearly everywhere, but could see no signs of it.  The eldest Miss Pinks declared that it was a most stupid little thing.  The youngest Miss Pinks said that it was a naughty, vexing pousement.  The other Misses Pinks maintained that it was always so, when they wanted to find a thing they never could, and when they didn’t want it, it was sure to be in their way.

Still, they would not give up the search.  The youngest Miss Pinks wondered if it were in a little drawer of the dressing table upstairs.  No; there was no such thing in the little drawer.  Could it possibly have got in one of the bonnet boxes?  No; it was not in one of the bonnet boxes.  Where could it be? The eldest Miss Pinks looked on the pot shelf, and the youngest Miss Pinks looked in the pantry, and the third Miss Pinks looked all about the beds, and the other two Misses Pinks looked on the floor, and — found it.  Then the eldest Miss Pinks, and the youngest Miss Pinks, and the third Miss Pinks set to blaming themselves (which, by-the-bye, is a very easy thing to do, and is generally resorted to as being a most satisfactory method of getting out of difficulties) for not having looked there first.

The little almanack confirmed the youngest Miss Pinks’ hint that it would be St. Valentine’s Day on the morrow, and thereby put all the Misses Pinks in terrible fluster.  The eldest Miss Pinks should have prepared a great speech which she was to make the following evening, but the more she tried to collect her scattered thoughts the more they wandered, until they were completely out of her reach, and nothing but valentines were before her.  There was nothing for it but to go to bed, and get up early in the morning and finish her task.  So she went.  The youngest Miss Pinks had a startling article to get up for a paper which was to appear the day but one following, and which was to take the world by surprise.  She had got half-way through it, but couldn’t go any farther.  In vain did she try to put a few crushing condemnations of the cruel conduct of men.  They wouldn’t run smoothly.  She could think of nothing but valentines.  She followed her sister’s example, and went to bed too.  The third Miss Pinks was no better off.  She had promised to contribute a few lines to a very high-class periodical which was then commencing, and the fact had been extensively placarded about the town.  But she couldn
t get the rhymes.  Do as she would, the word “valentine” would keep chasing to and fro in her mind, and popping out when it was least wanted.  It seemed as though nothing else would rhyme.

Let men beware, lest off the line
They’re headlong pitched by Valentine.
Men have their rights and I’ll have mine,
I’ll send them all a
― valentine.

The third Miss Pinks went to bed also.  The other two Misses Pinks only remained up for a very short time, and then they followed, and ere long the whole Pinks family were in calm repose.  They seemed to sleep quite peacefully, and if they did dream, their dreams must have been pleasant ones.  They looked much prettier too, for their faces were not screwed up, and their mouths and eyes assumed their more natural positions.

As the neighbourhood was a quiet one, they slept on undisturbed till the morning dawned.  They awoke a little earlier than usual, but would not get out of bed until the little bedroom clock had struck eight o’clock, which it always did a quarter of an hour before the time.  They were all very impatient to go to the window to see if Mr. Brittles was at his window as usual.  They were just in time to see that gentleman emerge from the street door, and run down the lane, apparently in a great hurry.  They wondered whatever could be the matter.  Could the time be really farther on than the little bedroom clock indicated?  It was scarcely credible, for that very clock had gone for more than fifteen years without either gaining or losing more than fifteen minutes per week.  And yet the morning had seemed extremely long.

They finished dressing as hastily as possible, and went down the stairs, and got the kettle a-boiling ready for breakfast.  But breakfast could not be had until they got the morning’s milk, and the old gentleman and his donkey had not yet made their usual call.  They couldn’t tell what detained them.  Surely he had nothing to do with valentines.  There was the postman behind time too.  Everything appeared to be going the wrong way, and they were unable to understand it.  One minute they said that the little bedroom clock was right, and the milkman would be right, and the postman right in the end, and nobody wrong but Mr. Brittles.  The next minute they would say that the little bedroom clock was wrong, and the milkman and the postman were wrong too, and nobody right but Mr. Brittles and themselves.

They sat waiting — waiting.  The water in the kettle boiled away, and fresh was put in, and that boiled too before the milkman came.  The youngest Miss Pinks took out a jug for the milk, and wanted to know why he couldn’t come sooner.  The man gruffly replied that he had come as soon as usual, and muttered something about people always grumbling about nothing.  Having thus satisfied himself on this point; he commanded his donkey to “gee up,” and both went on their way.

Miss Pinks went into the house, and poured a few drops of the milk, and put a spoonful and a half of sugar in the five cups which were in readiness.  The eldest Miss Pinks poured out tea, and the third Miss Pinks having said grace in a very pathetic style, the breakfast commenced.  It proceeded slowly.  They were all so full of an invisible something that there was no room for food.  They all seemed to be expecting something, but didn’t know when it would come, or what it would be when it came.  They would stare in vacancy, and see nothing, and continue staring, very silently.  About every seven minutes the eldest Miss Pinks would take just a little sip of her tea, and her sisters would follow her example.

After a while the eldest Miss Pinks remarked — quite casually, of course — that the postman was very late.  The youngest Miss Pinks said the same, and the third Miss Pinks quite acquiesced.  The eldest Miss Pinks then took another sip of her tea, as though she was drinking the postman’s health, and her sisters drank his health too.  By and by he came.  He had a few letters for Miss Pinks, though not all for the same Miss Pinks.  There was one from the secretary of the Women’s Rights Association, reminding the eldest Miss Pinks of her engagement that evening.  One to the youngest Miss Pinks, concerning her article for the morrow’s paper; and one to the third Miss Pinks, relative to the poem she was writing.  There was another addressed to “Miss Pinks,” which had nothing to do with either Women’s Rights Association, high-class periodicals, or anything of that description.  The youngest Miss Pinks vowed that it was the very same envelope that she had seen Mr. Brittles put in the letter box the preceding evening, which statement put all the Misses Pinks in such a state of nervousness that they could not possibly stand still; and when the eldest Miss Pinks opened it, and extracted a little valentine, representing a little angel, with extraordinarily large wings, they scarcely knew what to do.  The eldest Miss Pinks said that it was hers, but she had not finished the sentence before she was flatly contradicted by the youngest Miss Pinks, who declared most positively that it was hers, and that Mr. Brittles would not have blushed as he did when she saw him had he not meant it for her.  The third Miss Pinks maintained that it was hers, and so did each of the others.

The eldest Miss Pinks couldn’t think of making a speech that evening now, for she said to herself, what would Mr. Brittles say if he heard about it?  She, therefore, wrote a short note to the secretary, saying that she was extremely sorry, but, in consequence of being a little unwell, she could not possibly be with them that evening.  This little note was read at the meeting, and created much sympathy.  The chairman appeared much affected, and suggested that a deputation should wait upon Miss Pinks to express their condolence.  Unfortunately, however, for the chairman (who wished to be one of the deputation), it was pointed out that such a course would probably excite Miss Pinks, and it was, therefore, deemed advisable that the secretary should write to her, which that gentleman did at once, and which Miss Pinks received in a very becoming manner.  The chairman was beaten but he found some consolation in going to the Misses Pinks’ house, and walking round it several times, and peeping in at the window, and seeing the eldest Miss Pinks nursing the cat, and wishing he were the cat very much.

The youngest Miss Pinks gave up the startling article, and informed the editor of the paper that, as she was suffering from the effects of a very severe cold, she did not feel capable of writing it creditably.  Poetic Miss Pinks put the unfinished poem in the fire, with the idea that she would certainly be married in a few months.  The other two Misses Pinks became more reserved than usual, and began to study a celebrated work on cooking very seriously.  The eldest Miss Pinks wondered how the name “Mrs. Brittles” would sound, and satisfied herself that it would be very pretty indeed.  The youngest Miss Pinks pictured to herself the happy time when she would be confidingly called “ma,” and fondled and caressed by a loving pa.

Days passed by, and Saturday came, and with it the usual weekly newspaper.  Of course, the first thing to be read in a weekly newspaper is the record of marriages; and, as the Misses Pinks fancied themselves about to be married, they were very anxious to see who else had been equally fortunate.  The third Miss Pinks read aloud to her attentive sisters.  All went on smoothly until she came to this announcement:—“On Monday, the 14th inst., at St. Luke’s Church, Mr. Richard Brittles, of Crookshaw Lane, Mugglesby, to Miss
――――”  But she never went any farther.  The eldest Miss Pinks fainted, and then came round, and fainted again, but nobody took any notice of her.  The youngest Miss Pinks screamed, and cried, and sobbed most piteously.  The third Miss Pinks received such a nervous shock that she was not set right for some days.  The other two Misses Pinks bore their fate more calmly, but there were evidences of much internal grief, for tears would often trickle down their cheeks when there appeared to be the least occasion for them.

Another week passed by, and Mr. and Mrs. Brittles returned.  The Misses Pinks saw her when she fetched the moming’s milk, and from that moment they recovered rapidly.  They considered her such a worthless little woman that it was not worth while troubling themselves about her, and they pronounced Mr. Brittles a fool for ever marrying such a woman.  So the eldest Miss Pinks began to speechify again, the youngest to write leaders, the third Miss Pinks to scribble poetry, and things went on as before.

Weeks and months rolled on, and St. Valentine’s Day came again.  Another fancy envelope, containing another little angel, with large wings, came to Miss Pinks as before.  Again the eldest Miss Pinks had to address a meeting that evening, and she went.  There was the same chairman as on the former occasion, and, he expressed his happiness at seeing Miss Pinks present.  After the meeting he met Miss Pinks in private, and told her how glad he was to see her, and how he was always glad to see her, and how her image was imprinted on his heart, and how he loved her, and how he wanted her to marry him.  To which Miss Pinks replied that she was very grateful for his kind sentiments, and that she should take a little time to consider his proposal, which proposal she did consider, and condescended to accept.  She then learned who it was that had sent the other two little angels with large wings.  The youngest Miss Pinks and the third Miss Pinks still advocate the great question of women’s rights, and the other two still converse and give advice upon the subject; but the late Miss Pinks has now something else to do than bother with it, and her husband has long since ceased to be the chairman, for he has come to the conclusion that women have sufficient rights at present, without asking for more.


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