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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

IV. Aunt Jane Defines Her Position

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THE next morning had that luminous morning haze, not quite dense enough to be called a fog, which is often so lovely in Oldport. It was perfectly still; the tide swelled and swelled till it touched the edge of the green lawn behind the house, and seemed ready to submerge the slender pier; the water looked at first like glass, till closer gaze revealed long sinuous undulations, as if from unseen water-snakes beneath. A few rags of storm-cloud lay over the half-seen hills beyond the bay, and behind them came little mutterings of thunder, now here, now there, as if some wild creature were roaming up and down, dissatisfied, in the shelter of the clouds. The pale haze extended into the foreground, and half veiled the schooners that lay at anchor with their sails up. It was sultry, and there was something in the atmosphere that at once threatened and soothed. Sometimes a few drops dimpled the water and then ceased; the muttering creature in the sky moved northward and grew still. It was a day when every one would be tempted to go out rowing, but when only lovers would go. Philip and Hope went.

Kate and Harry, meanwhile, awaited their opportunity to go in and visit Aunt Jane. This was a thing that never could be done till near noon, because that dear lady was very deliberate in her morning habits, and always averred that she had never seen the sun rise except in a panorama. She hated to be hurried in dressing, too; for she was accustomed to say that she must have leisure to understand herself, and this was clearly an affair of time.

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But she was never more charming than when, after dressing and breakfasting in seclusion, and then vigilantly watching her handmaiden through the necessary dustings and arrangements, she sat at last, with her affairs in order, to await events. Every day she expected something entirely new to happen, and was never disappointed. For she herself always happened, if nothing else did; she could no more repeat herself than the sunrise can; and the liveliest visitor always carried away something fresher and more remarkable than he brought.

Her book that morning had displeased her, and she was boiling with indignation against its author.

"I am reading a book so dry," she said, "it makes me cough. No wonder there was a drought last summer. It was printed then. Worcester's Geography seems in my memory as fascinating as Shakespeare, when I look back upon it from this book. How can a man write such a thing and live?"

"Perhaps he lived by writing it," said Kate.

"Perhaps it was the best he could do," added the more literal Harry.

"It certainly was not the best he could do, for he might have died,--died instead of dried. O, I should like to prick that man with something sharp, and see if sawdust did not run out of him! Kate, ask the bookseller to let me know if he ever really dies, and then life may seem fresh again."

"What is it?" asked Kate.

"Somebody's memoirs," said Aunt Jane. "Was there no man left worth writing about, that they should make a biography about this one? It is like a life of Napoleon with all the battles left out. They are conceited enough to put his age in the upper corner of each page too, as if anybody cared how old he was."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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