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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

II. Place Aux Dames!

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Kate was spending that summer with her aunt Jane, whose especial pet and pride she was. Hope was spending there the summer vacation of a Normal School in which she had just become a teacher. Her father had shared in the family ups and downs, but had finally stayed down, while the rest had remained up. Fortunately, his elder children were indifferent to this, and indeed rather preferred it; it was a tradition that Hope had expressed the wish, when a child, that her father might lose his property, so that she could become a teacher. As for Harry, he infinitely preferred the drudgery of a law office to that of a gentleman of leisure; and as for their step-mother, it turned out, when she was left a widow, that she had secured for herself and Emilia whatever property remained, so that she suffered only the delightful need of living in Europe for economy.

The elder brother and sister had alike that fine physical vigor which New England is now developing, just in time to save it from decay. Hope was of Saxon type, though a shade less blonde than her brother; she was a little taller, and of more commanding presence, with a peculiarly noble carriage of the shoulders. Her brow was sometimes criticised as being a little too full for a woman; but her nose was straight, her mouth and teeth beautiful, and her profile almost perfect. Her complexion had lost by out-door life something of its delicacy, but had gained a freshness and firmness that no sunlight could impair. She had that wealth of hair which young girls find the most enviable point of beauty in each other. Hers reached below her knees, when loosened, or else lay coiled, in munificent braids of gold, full of sparkling lights and contrasted shadows, upon her queenly head.

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Her eyes were much darker than her hair, and had a way of opening naively and suddenly, with a perfectly infantine expression, as if she at that moment saw the sunlight for the first time. Her long lashes were somewhat like Emilia's, and she had the same deeply curved eyebrows; in no other point was there a shade of resemblance between the half-sisters. As compared with Kate, Hope showed a more abundant physical life; there was more blood in her; she had ampler outlines, and health more absolutely unvaried, for she had yet to know the experience of a day's illness. Kate seemed born to tread upon a Brussels carpet, and Hope on the softer luxury of the forest floor. Out of doors her vigor became a sort of ecstasy, and she walked the earth with a jubilee of the senses, such as Browning attributes to his Saul.

This inexhaustible freshness of physical organization seemed to open the windows of her soul, and make for her a new heaven and earth every day. It gave also a peculiar and almost embarrassing directness to her mental processes, and suggested in them a sort of final and absolute value, as if truth had for the first time found a perfectly translucent medium. It was not so much that she said rare things, but her very silence was eloquent, and there was a great deal of it. Her girlhood had in it a certain dignity as of a virgin priestess or sibyl. Yet her hearty sympathies and her healthy energy made her at home in daily life, and in a democratic society. To Kate, for instance, she was a necessity of existence, like light or air. Kate's nature was limited; part of her graceful equipoise was narrowness. Hope was capable of far more self-abandonment to a controlling emotion, and, if she ever erred, would err more widely, for it would be because the whole power of her conscience was misdirected. "Once let her take wrong for right," said Aunt Jane, "and stop her if you can; these born saints give a great deal more trouble than children of this world, like my Kate." Yet in daily life Hope yielded to her cousin nine times out of ten; but the tenth time was the key to the situation. Hope loved Kate devotedly; but Kate believed in her as the hunted fugitive believes in the north star.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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