(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In the days of the Napoleonic wars, two sisters, Phoebe and Susan Throssel, lived in a little house in Quality Street, the main thoroughfare of a provincial English village. Both were single, both were pretty. One day they entertained a needlework party in their charming blue and white parlor. One of the ladies present repeated a rumor that a gentleman of the village had enlisted to go to the wars. All wondered who the gentleman could be.

Phoebe told her sister that Valentine Brown, a dashing doctor who had come to the village two years before, had walked with her in the street, and had said that he wanted to tell her something important. The retiring Phoebe had asked Brown to come to the house to tell her. Both sisters assumed that Brown was coming to propose marriage to Phoebe, a likely conclusion since a venture in which Brown had invested their savings had failed and he would naturally feel responsible for their welfare. In anticipation of his proposal, Susan gave Phoebe a wedding dress which she had made for her own marriage, a wedding which had never materialized.

But to Phoebe’s disappointment and humiliation, Brown said nothing of marriage. Instead, he told them that he was the man who had enlisted. He declared his friendship for both sisters and his liking for the little blue and white parlor, but he gave no indication of love for Phoebe, who had given her heart to him. Ironically, Phoebe revealed her disappointment by telling Brown that she had thought he was going to announce his marriage and that they were curious to know the name of the fortunate young lady. The sisters, out of pride, did not mention that the loss of their investment left them all but destitute. They planned to set up a school in their house.

Ten years later Susan and Phoebe were still conducting their school, which had prospered in spite of their many shortcomings as teachers. They were loved, but hardly respected by the older children. Dancing and the more gentle acquirements they taught with pleasure, but they detested Latin, and would teach algebra only at the request of their pupils’ parents. They could not bring themselves to whip the older boys, most of whom they feared.

The wars were over at last, and everywhere people were celebrating the victory at Waterloo. On Quality Street all but Susan and Phoebe were preparing for a village ball that night. While Phoebe was out of the house, Captain Valentine Brown, who had lost his left...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)