Now, in thus appealing to Dot, her father had appealed to just the one out of all his children who was least likely to disappoint him. To Dot and Henry had unmistakably been transmitted the largest share of their father’s spirituality. Esther was not actively religious, any more than she was actively poetic. Hers was one of those composite, admirably balanced natures which include most qualities and faculties, but no one in excess of another. Such make those engaging good women of the world, who are able to understand and sympathise with the most diverse interests and temperaments; as it is the characteristic of a good critic to understand all those various products of art, which it would be impossible for him to create. Thus Esther could have delighted a saint with her sympathetic comprehension, as she could have healed the wounds of a sinner by her comprehensive sympathy; but it was certain she would never be, in sufficient excess, spiritually wrought or sensually rebellious to be one or the other. She was beautifully, buoyantly normal, with a happy, expansive, enjoying nature, glad in the sunlight, brave in the shadow, optimistically looking forward to blithe years of life and love with Mike and her friends, and not feeling the necessity of being anxious about her soul, or any other world but this. She was not shallow; but she merely realised life more through her intelligence than through her feelings. To have become a Baptist would have offended her intelligence, without bringing any satisfaction to spiritual instincts not, in any event, clamorous.
As for Henry, it was not only activity of intelligence, but activity of spirituality, that made it impossible for him to embrace any such narrow creed as that proposed to him; and, for the present, that spiritual activity found ample scope for itself in poetry.
Dot’s, however, was an intermediate case. With an intelligence active too, she united a spirituality torturingly intense, but for which she had no such natural creative outlet as Henry. With her loss of the old creed,—in discarding which these three sisters had followed the lead of their brother with a curious instinctiveness, almost, it would seem, independent of reasoning,—her spirituality had been left somewhat bleakly houseless, and she had often longed for some compromise by which she could reconcile her intelligence to the acceptance of some established home of faith, whose kindly enclosing walls should be more genially habitable to the soul than the cold, star-lit spaces which Henry declared to be sufficient temple.
Perhaps Esther’s commiseration of her sisters’ narrow opportunities was, so far as it related to Dot, a little unnecessary, for indeed Dot’s ambitions were not social. By nature shy and meditative, and with her religious bias, had she been born into a Catholic family, she might not improbably have found the world well lost in a sisterhood. The Puritan conscience had an uncomfortable preponderance in the deep places of her nature, and, far down in her soul, like her father, she would ask herself if pleasure could be the end of life—was there not something serious each of us could and ought to do, to justify his place in the world? Were we not all under some mysterious solemn obligation to do something, however little, in return for life?