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Clara Hopgood   By: (1831-1913)

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About ten miles north east of Eastthorpe lies the town of Fenmarket, very like Eastthorpe generally; and as we are already familiar with Eastthorpe, a particular description of Fenmarket is unnecessary. There is, however, one marked difference between them. Eastthorpe, it will be remembered, is on the border between the low uplands and the Fens, and has one side open to soft, swelling hills. Fenmarket is entirely in the Fens, and all the roads that lead out of it are alike level, monotonous, straight, and flanked by deep and stagnant ditches. The river, also, here is broader and slower; more reluctant than it is even at Eastthorpe to hasten its journey to the inevitable sea. During the greater part of the year the visitor to Fenmarket would perhaps find it dull and depressing, and at times, under a grey, wintry sky, almost unendurable; but nevertheless, for days and weeks it has a charm possessed by few other landscapes in England, provided only that behind the eye which looks there is something to which a landscape of that peculiar character answers. There is, for example, the wide, dome like expanse of the sky, there is the distance, there is the freedom and there are the stars on a clear night. The orderly, geometrical march of the constellations from the extreme eastern horizon across the meridian and down to the west has a solemn majesty, which is only partially discernible when their course is interrupted by broken country.

On a dark afternoon in November 1844, two young women, Clara and Madge Hopgood, were playing chess in the back parlour of their mother's house at Fenmarket, just before tea. Clara, the elder, was about five and twenty, fair, with rather light hair worn flat at the side of her face, after the fashion of that time. Her features were tolerably regular. It is true they were somewhat marred by an uneven nasal outline, but this was redeemed by the curved lips of a mouth which was small and rather compressed, and by a definite, symmetrical and graceful figure. Her eyes were grey, with a curious peculiarity in them. Ordinarily they were steady, strong eyes, excellent and renowned optical instruments. Over and over again she had detected, along the stretch of the Eastthorpe road, approaching visitors, and had named them when her companions could see nothing but specks. Occasionally, however, these steady, strong, grey eyes utterly changed. They were the same eyes, the same colour, but they ceased to be mere optical instruments and became instruments of expression, transmissive of radiance to such a degree that the light which was reflected from them seemed insufficient to account for it. It was also curious that this change, though it must have been accompanied by some emotion, was just as often not attended by any other sign of it. Clara was, in fact, little given to any display of feeling.

Madge, four years younger than her sister, was of a different type altogether, and one more easily comprehended. She had very heavy dark hair, and she had blue eyes, a combination which fascinated Fenmarket. Fenmarket admired Madge more than it was admired by her in return, and she kept herself very much to herself, notwithstanding what it considered to be its temptations. If she went shopping she nearly always went with her sister; she stood aloof from all the small gaieties of the town; walked swiftly through its streets, and repelled, frigidly and decisively, all offers, and they were not a few, which had been made to her by the sons of the Fenmarket tradesfolk. Fenmarket pronounced her 'stuck up,' and having thus labelled her, considered it had exhausted her. The very important question, Whether there was anything which naturally stuck up? Fenmarket never asked. It was a great relief to that provincial little town in 1844, in this and in other cases, to find a word which released it from further mental effort and put out of sight any troublesome, straggling, indefinable qualities which it would otherwise have been forced to examine and name... Continue reading book >>

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