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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

II. Place Aux Dames!

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At the time now to be described, however, Kate's purse was well filled; and if she wore only second-best finery, it was because she had lent her very best to somebody else. All that her doting father asked was to pay for her dresses, and to see her wear them; and if her friends wore a part of them, it only made necessary a larger wardrobe, and more varied and pleasurable shopping. She was as good a manager in wealth as in poverty, wasted nothing, took exquisite care of everything, and saved faithfully for some one else all that was not needed for her own pretty person.

Pretty she was throughout, from the parting of her jet-black hair to the high instep of her slender foot; a glancing, brilliant, brunette beauty, with the piquant charm of perpetual spirits, and the equipoise of a perfectly healthy nature. She was altogether graceful, yet she had not the fresh, free grace of her cousin

Hope, who was lithe and strong as a hawthorne spray: Kate's was the narrower grace of culture grown hereditary, an in-door elegance that was born in her, and of which dancing-school was but the natural development. You could not picture Hope to your mind in one position more than in another; she had an endless variety of easy motion. When you thought of Kate, you remembered precisely how she sat, how she stood, and how she walked. That was all, and it was always the same. But is not that enough? We do not ask of Mary Stuart's portrait that it should represent her in more than one attitude, and why should a living beauty need more than two or three?

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Kate was betrothed to her cousin Harry, Hope's brother, and, though she was barely twenty, they had seemed to appertain to each other for a time so long that the memory of man or maiden aunt ran not to the contrary. She always declared, indeed, that they were born married, and that their wedding-day would seem like a silver wedding. Harry was quiet, unobtrusive, and manly. He might seem commonplace at first beside the brilliant Kate and his more gifted sister; but thorough manhood is never commonplace, and he was a person to whom one could anchor. His strong, steadfast physique was the type of his whole nature; when he came into the room, you felt as if a good many people had been added to the company. He made steady progress in his profession of the law, through sheer worth; he never dazzled, but he led. His type was pure Saxon, with short, curling hair, blue eyes, and thin, fair skin, to which the color readily mounted. Up to a certain point he was imperturbably patient and amiable, but, when overtaxed, was fiery and impetuous for a single instant, and no more. It seemed as if a sudden flash of anger went over him, like the flash that glides along the glutinous stem of the fraxinella, when you touch it with a candle; the next moment it had utterly vanished, and was forgotten as if it had never been.

Kate's love for her lover was one of those healthy and assured ties that often outlast the ardors of more passionate natures. For other temperaments it might have been inadequate; but theirs matched perfectly, and it was all sufficient for them. If there was within Kate's range a more heroic and ardent emotion than that inspired by Harry, it was put forth toward Hope. This was her idolatry; she always said that it was fortunate Hope was Hal's sister, or she should have felt it her duty to give them to each other, and not die till the wedding was accomplished. Harry shared this adoration to quite a reasonable extent, for a brother; but his admiration for Philip Malbone was one that Kate did not quite share. Harry's quieter mood had been dazzled from childhood by Philip, who had always been a privileged guest in the household. Kate's clear, penetrating, buoyant nature had divined Phil's weaknesses, and had sometimes laughed at them, even from her childhood; though she did not dislike him, for she did not dislike anybody. But Harry was magnetized by him very much as women were; believed him true, because he was tender, and called him only fastidious where Kate called him lazy.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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