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Chapter 1
"Since I can do no good because a woman,
Reach constantly at something that is near it.
--The Maid's Tragedy: BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor
dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not
less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian
painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the
more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion
gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,--or from one of
our elder poets,--in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper. She was usually spoken
of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more
common-sense. Nevertheless, Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was
only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade
of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to
mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies
had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly
aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a
generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying
forefathers--anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even
an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but
afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the
proprietor of a respectable family estate. Young women of such birth, living in a
quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor,
naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter. Then there
was well-bred economy, which in those days made show in dress the first item to
be deducted from, when any margin was required for expenses more distinctive
of rank. Such reasons would have been enough to account for plain dress, quite
apart from religious feeling; but in Miss Brooke's case, religion alone would have
determined it; and Celia mildly acquiesced in all her sister's sentiments, only
infusing them with that common-sense which is able to accept momentous
doctrines without any eccentric agitation. Dorothea knew many passages of
Pascal's Pensees and of Jeremy Taylor by heart; and to her the destinies of
mankind, seen by the light of Christianity, made the solicitudes of feminine
fashion appear an occupation for Bedlam. She could not reconcile the anxieties
of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and
artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its
nature after some lofty conception of the world which might frankly include the
parish of Tipton and her own rule of conduct there; she was enamoured of
intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have
those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur
martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it. Certainly such
elements in the character of a marriageable girl tended to interfere with her lot,
and hinder it from being decided according to custom, by good looks, vanity, and
merely canine affection. With all this, she, the elder of the sisters, was not yet