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  Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

III. A Drive On The Avenue

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OLDPORT AVENUE is a place where a great many carriages may be seen driving so slowly that they might almost be photographed without halting, and where their occupants already wear the dismal expression which befits that process. In these fine vehicles, following each other in an endless file, one sees such faces as used to be exhibited in ball-rooms during the performance of quadrilles, before round dances came in,--faces marked by the renunciation of all human joy. Sometimes a faint suspicion suggests itself on the Avenue, that these torpid countenances might be roused to life, in case some horse should run away. But that one chance never occurs; the riders may not yet be toned down into perfect breeding, but the horses are. I do not know what could ever break the gloom of this joyless procession, were it not that youth and beauty are always in fashion, and one sometimes meets an exceptional barouche full of boys and girls, who could absolutely be no happier if they were a thousand miles away from the best society. And such a joyous company were our four youths and maidens when they went to drive that day, Emilia being left at home to rest after the fatigues of the voyage.

"What beautiful horses!" was Hope's first exclamation. "What grave people!" was her second.

    "What though in solemn silence all
    Roll round --"

quoted Philip.

"Hope is thinking," said Harry, "whether 'in reason's ear they all rejoice.'"

"How COULD you know that?" said she, opening her eyes.

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"One thing always strikes me," said Kate. "The sentence of stupefaction does not seem to be enforced till after five-and-twenty. That young lady we just met looked quite lively and juvenile last year, I remember, and now she has graduated into a dowager."

"Like little Helen's kitten," said Philip. "She justly remarks that, since I saw it last, it is all spoiled into a great big cat."

"Those must be snobs," said Harry, as a carriage with unusually gorgeous liveries rolled by.

"I suppose so," said Malbone, indifferently. "In Oldport we call all new-comers snobs, you know, till they have invited us to their grand ball. Then we go to it, and afterwards speak well of them, and only abuse their wine."

"How do you know them for new-comers?" asked Hope, looking after the carriage.

"By their improperly intelligent expression," returned Phil. "They look around them as you do, my child, with the air of wide-awake curiosity which marks the American traveller. That is out of place here. The Avenue abhors everything but a vacuum."

"I never can find out," continued Hope, "how people recognize each other here. They do not look at each other, unless they know each other: and how are they to know if they know, unless they look first?"

"It seems an embarrassment," said Malbone. "But it is supposed that fashion perforates the eyelids and looks through. If you attempt it in any other way, you are lost. Newly arrived people look about them, and, the more new wealth they have, the more they gaze. The men are uneasy behind their recently educated mustaches, and the women hold their parasols with trembling hands. It takes two years to learn to drive on the Avenue. Come again next summer, and you will see in those same carriages faces of remote superciliousness, that suggest generations of gout and ancestors."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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