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0100_005E Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

III. A Drive On The Avenue

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"What a pity one feels," said Harry, "for these people who still suffer from lingering modesty, and need a master to teach them to be insolent!"

"They learn it soon enough," said Kate. "Philip is right. Fashion lies in the eye. People fix their own position by the way they don't look at you."

"There is a certain indifference of manner," philosophized Malbone, "before which ingenuous youth is crushed. I may know that a man can hardly read or write, and that his father was a ragpicker till one day he picked up bank-notes for a million. No matter. If he does not take the trouble to look at me, I must look reverentially at him."

"Here is somebody who will look at Hope," cried Kate, suddenly.

A carriage passed, bearing a young lady with fair hair, and a keen, bright look, talking eagerly to a small and quiet youth beside her.

Her face brightened still more as she caught the eye of Hope, whose face lighted up in return, and who then sank back with a sort of sigh of relief, as if she had at last seen somebody she cared for. The lady waved an un-gloved hand, and drove by.

"Who is that?" asked Philip, eagerly. He was used to knowing every one.

"Hope's pet," said Kate, "and she who pets Hope, Lady Antwerp."

"Is it possible?" said Malbone. "That young creature? I fancied her ladyship in spectacles, with little side curls. Men speak of her with such dismay."

"Of course," said Kate, "she asks them sensible questions."

"That is bad," admitted Philip. "Nothing exasperates fashionable Americans like a really intelligent foreigner. They feel as Sydney Smith says the English clergy felt about Elizabeth Fry; she disturbs their repose, and gives rise to distressing comparisons,--they long to burn her alive. It is not their notion of a countess."

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"I am sure it was not mine," said Hope; "I can hardly remember that she is one; I only know that I like her, she is so simple and intelligent. She might be a girl from a Normal School."

"It is because you are just that," said Kate, "that she likes you. She came here supposing that we had all been at such schools. Then she complained of us,--us girls in what we call good society, I mean,--because, as she more than hinted, we did not seem to know anything."

"Some of the mothers were angry," said Hope. "But Aunt Jane told her that it was perfectly true, and that her ladyship had not yet seen the best-educated girls in America, who were generally the daughters of old ministers and well-to-do shopkeepers in small New England towns, Aunt Jane said."

"Yes," said Kate, "she said that the best of those girls went to High Schools and Normal Schools, and learned things thoroughly, you know; but that we were only taught at boarding-schools and by governesses, and came out at eighteen, and what could we know? Then came Hope, who had been at those schools, and was the child of refined people too, and Lady Antwerp was perfectly satisfied."

"Especially," said Hope, "when Aunt Jane told her that, after all, schools did not do very much good, for if people were born stupid they only became more tiresome by schooling. She said that she had forgotten all she learned at school except the boundaries of ancient Cappadocia."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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