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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

IV. Aunt Jane Defines Her Position

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"Lord help the rest!" she answered. "Philip has a sort of refinement instead of principles, and a heart instead of a conscience,--just heart enough to keep himself happy and everybody else miserable."

"Do you mean to say," asked the obstinate Hal, "that there is no difference between refinement and coarseness?"

"Yes, there is," she said.

"Well, which is best?"

"Coarseness is safer by a great deal," said Aunt Jane, "in the hands of a man like Philip. What harm can that swearing coachman do, I should like to know, in the street yonder? To be sure it is very unpleasant, and I wonder they let people swear so, except, perhaps, in waste places outside the town; but that is his way of expressing himself, and he only frightens people, after all."

"Which Philip does not," said Hal.

"Exactly. That is the danger. He frightens nobody, not even himself, when he ought to wear a label round his neck marked 'Dangerous,' such as they have at other places where it is slippery and brittle. When he is here, I keep saying to myself, 'Too smooth, too smooth!'"

"Aunt Jane," said Harry, gravely, "I know Malbone very well, and I never knew any man whom it was more unjust to call a hypocrite."

"Did I say he was a hypocrite?" she cried. "He is worse than that; at least, more really dangerous. It is these high-strung sentimentalists who do all the mischief; who play on their own lovely emotions, forsooth, till they wear out those fine fiddlestrings, and then have nothing left but the flesh and the D. Don't tell me!"

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"Do stop, auntie," interposed Kate, quite alarmed, "you are really worse than a coachman. You are growing very profane indeed."

"I have a much harder time than any coachman, Kate," retorted the injured lady. "Nobody tries to stop him, and you are always hushing me up."

"Hushing you up, darling?" said Kate. "When we only spoil you by praising and quoting everything you say."

"Only when it amuses you," said Aunt Jane. "So long as I sit and cry my eyes out over a book, you all love me, and when I talk nonsense, you are ready to encourage it; but when I begin to utter a little sense, you all want to silence me, or else run out of the room! Yesterday I read about a newspaper somewhere, called the 'Daily Evening Voice'; I wish you would allow me a daily morning voice."

"Do not interfere, Kate," said Hal. "Aunt Jane and I only wish to understand each other."

"I am sure we don't," said Aunt Jane; "I have no desire to understand you, and you never will understand me till you comprehend Philip."

"Let us agree on one thing," Harry said. "Surely, aunt, you know how he loves Hope?"

Aunt Jane approached a degree nearer the equator, and said, gently, "I fear I do."


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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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