BOOK I. MISS BROOKE.
1. CHAPTER I.
"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 twenty,
and they had both been educated, since they were about twelve years old
and had lost their parents, on plans at once narrow and promiscuous,
first in an English family and afterwards in a Swiss family at Lausanne,
their bachelor uncle and guardian trying in this way to remedy the
disadvantages of their orphaned condition.