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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

III. A Drive On The Avenue

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Aunt Jane's fearless sayings always passed current among her nieces; and they drove on, Hope not being lowered in Philip's estimation, nor raised in her own, by being the pet of a passing countess.

Who would not be charmed (he thought to himself) by this noble girl, who walks the earth fresh and strong as a Greek goddess, pure as Diana, stately as Juno? She belongs to the unspoiled womanhood of another age, and is wasted among these dolls and butterflies.

He looked at her. She sat erect and graceful, unable to droop into the debility of fashionable reclining,--her breezy hair lifted a little by the soft wind, her face flushed, her full brown eyes looking eagerly about, her mouth smiling happily. To be with those she loved best, and to be driving over the beautiful earth! She was so happy that no mob of fashionables could have lessened her enjoyment, or made her for a moment conscious that anybody looked at her. The brilliant equipages which they met each moment were not wholly uninteresting even to her, for her affections went forth to some of the riders and to all the horses. She was as well contented at that moment, on the glittering Avenue, as if they had all been riding home through country lanes, and in constant peril of being jolted out among the whortleberry-bushes.

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Her face brightened yet more as they met a carriage containing a graceful lady dressed with that exquisiteness of taste that charms both man and woman, even if no man can analyze and no woman rival its effect. She had a perfectly high-bred look, and an eye that in an instant would calculate one's ancestors as far back as Nebuchadnezzar, and bow to them all together. She smiled good-naturedly on Hope, and kissed her hand to Kate.

"So, Hope," said Philip, "you are bent on teaching music to Mrs. Meredith's children."

"Indeed I am!" said Hope, eagerly. "O Philip, I shall enjoy it so! I do not care so very much about her, but she has dear little girls. And you know I am a born drudge. I have not been working hard enough to enjoy an entire vacation, but I shall be so very happy here if I can have some real work for an hour or two every other day."

"Hope," said Philip, gravely, "look steadily at these people whom we are meeting, and reflect. Should you like to have them say, 'There goes Mrs. Meredith's music teacher'?"

"Why not?" said Hope, with surprise. "The children are young, and it is not very presumptuous. I ought to know enough for that."

Malbone looked at Kate, who smiled with delight, and put her hand on that of Hope. Indeed, she kept it there so long that one or two passing ladies stopped their salutations in mid career, and actually looked after them in amazement at their attitude, as who should say, "What a very mixed society!"

So they drove on,--meeting four-in-hands, and tandems, and donkey-carts, and a goat-cart, and basket-wagons driven by pretty girls, with uncomfortable youths in or out of livery behind. They met, had they but known it, many who were aiming at notoriety, and some who had it; many who looked contented with their lot, and some who actually were so. They met some who put on courtesy and grace with their kid gloves, and laid away those virtues in their glove-boxes afterwards; while to others the mere consciousness of kid gloves brought uneasiness, redness of the face, and a general impression of being all made of hands. They met the four white horses of an ex-harness-maker, and the superb harnesses of an ex-horse-dealer. Behind these came the gayest and most plebeian equipage of all, a party of journeymen carpenters returning from their work in a four-horse wagon. Their only fit compeers were an Italian opera-troupe, who were chatting and gesticulating on the piazza of the great hotel, and planning, amid jest and laughter, their future campaigns. Their work seemed like play, while the play around them seemed like work. Indeed, most people on the Avenue seemed to be happy in inverse ratio to their income list.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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