The recognised Church charities of Broadminster are numerous and constantly increasing. To be connected in some way with a charitable organisation seems to offer an irresistible attraction to some people, chiefly ladies; and every now and again a new lady starts up in Church circles with a new scheme of compelling people to accept alms or the equivalent, or of increasing the usefulness of the Church. The amount of time these masterful persons expend in reading papers embodying the most appalling of platitudes of sentiment, and betraying even a more astounding ignorance of political economy than a Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever revealed in a Budget speech, is astounding. All these papers, so far as I can gather, assume that only what their patrons call “the lower classes” stand in need of the reforms they suggest. They take it for granted that a cottage-mother, who has had perhaps thirty years' experience of making a pound a week do duty for twenty-five shillings, stands in need of instruction at the hands of a mansion-mother who cannot keep out of debt with an income of a thousand a year.

If I were a person in authority with a voice in framing the conditions which must be conformed with by all ladies who put themselves forward in the advocacy of some of these great social schemes, I would decree that no lady who uses a tortoiseshell lorgnette with a long handle should be permitted to read a paper, or to receive the laissez-passer of any organisation to a house the valuation of which is less than twenty-five pounds a year. As a medium of insulting patronage, nothing that has ever been invented approaches in power this particular weapon in the well-gloved hands of a well-furred, middle-aged lady who studies with some reason all advertisements addressed to those with a tendency to stoutness. (I have gone a long way about to avoid hurting the susceptibilities of any one.)

Only once did I see an attack with this weapon successfully repulsed. There was an extremely pretty girl in the centre of the drawing-room, when a couple of those ladies whose existence I have hinted at entered and immediately began a frontal attack through the glazed tortoiseshell with the long handles, and the little forced smiles that accompanied the movement showed them to be old campaigners. They brought the pretty girl into focus, conning her from head to foot and exchanging whispered comments upon the result of their scrutiny. The girl saw them, and, to paraphrase the poet, they “by tact of trade were well aware that that girl knew they were looking at her”; but that fact had no effect upon them. They continued their scrutiny and their whisperings, and I saw the girl's face become rosy. But then I saw that she was “limbering up” and would go into action in a moment.

She did. She was talking to an elder lady, who might have been her mother, and the latter had one of the same long-handled glasses lying on her muff. In an instant the girl had possessed herself of it, slipped it off its swivel, and was using it precisely as the others were using theirs, only returning their fire, so to speak. Then she whispered something over her hand to her companion, who laughed outright. That was enough for the attacking force: their battery was silenced; but the girl refused to withdraw, and for quite five minutes, I think, they were well aware that her eyes were upon them. Wherever they went they felt that they were still within her range, and that her innocent smile was playing about them. I never saw two more uneasy ladies in my life, and I trust that they learned their lesson.

The most singular point in this connection is that the girl was known to her friends as shy and retiring by nature—a less self-assertive girl could not be imagined. It seems to me that there is a lesson to be learned from this fact in addition to that which it is to be hoped she taught her elders, who certainly did not possess her shyness: it is the lesson of the rousing of a feminine instinct of defence, which is exhibited in another form when the defence is that of offspring. Even the most timid feminine thing will act in direct opposition to its reputed nature when called on to defend its young; and even the most retiring girl may assume an offensive attitude under the provocation of poised tortoiseshell and elevated eyebrows.

But I am pretty sure that that nice girl, when she went home and was alone in her room, sang no song of Miriam as she recalled her triumph. No, if she did not shed some tears at the thought of how she had behaved in so unaccountable away, I am greatly mistaken.

The comedy of the administration of charity has yet to be written; but when such a work is taken in hand I trust that a chapter will be devoted to the self-denying industry of the Misses Gifford. These two elderly ladies are the daughters of a deceased jerry-builder, and they enjoy a large income, the greater portion of which is derived from insanitary house property; and they are devoted to good works, including the amelioration of the condition of the poor. Every year they issue invitations to a show of their good works at their own house, and these are found to take the form of coarsely knitted woollen socks, thick mufflers made of the cheapest materials, petticoats constructed out of blankets that have been consigned to the rag-basket, and aprons out of tablecloths that have been rescued from the dustbin. Some of the articles of clothing seem to represent in themselves the heterogeneousness of a jumble sale, and all are cheap, shoddy, and shapeless. And yet this pair of feminine philanthropists show all comers round the room where they are exhibited with sparkling eyes and faces glowing with proper pride at the result of their industry. They worry the local newspapers for a paragraph that shall make all the world acquainted with their benevolence, and now and again their importunity is rewarded.

What becomes of the conglomeration of horrors which they create in the name of charity no one seems to know; but it is impossible to imagine any self-respecting family so far forgetting what is due to themselves as to wear such things. For themselves, it is well known that the Misses Gifford never forget what is due to them, or to insist on its payment on the day that it becomes due. They have a brother who, without being an active philanthropist, is well worthy of them. He collects the rents from their insanitary tenements, and he does so with a ruthless hand. There is no measure of bluff or bluster of which he is not a master. But there are scores of people in their own town who see the dear old maiden ladies in church and say that they remind them of Cranford and Quality Street!

But knowing as I did a good deal about them, I was reminded more of an earlier work still in which the devourers of widows' houses were said to be Pharisees as well. Such a pair of feminine Pharisees as those whom I call the Misses Gifford—Gifford is not, of course, their real name—are hardly to be found outside their own town.

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