- The reverend James Vaughan, narrow and intolerant, exercises his right as paterfamilias as if he were a minor Barrett of Wimpole Street.
- It is now 1907, however, and his daughters are not so easily quelled.
- Under the placid, Bible-reading surface, frustration simmers.
- On her twenty-first birthday Rachel is given a scarlet ribbon by her sister; this becomes the cause of the first glimmer of rebellion.
- A Valentine from the young curate, David (who provides his own shock by deciding to leave the church), and the offer of a job from a worldly aunt are further inducements towards a break-out: which Rachel finally symbolizes by buying herself a second scarlet ribbon.
- In the end even James's mild wife Catherine rebels - and James is left shattered and alone.
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