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0100_005E Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I. An Arrival

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None of the family had seen Emilia since her wandering mother had taken her abroad, a fascinating spoiled child of four, and they were all eager to see in how many ways the succeeding twelve years had completed or corrected the spoiling. As for Philip, he had been spoiled, as Aunt Jane declared, from the day of his birth, by the joint effort of all friends and neighbors. Everybody had conspired to carry on the process except Aunt Jane herself, who directed toward him one of her honest, steady, immovable dislikes, which may be said to have dated back to the time when his father and mother were married, some years before he personally entered on the scene.

The New York steamer, detained by the heavy fog of the night before, now came in unwonted daylight up the bay. At the first glimpse, Harry and the boys pushed off in the row-boat; for, as one of the children said, anybody who had been to Venice would naturally wish to come to the very house in a gondola. In another half-hour there was a great entanglement of embraces at the water-side, for the guests had landed.

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Malbone's self-poised easy grace was the same as ever; his chestnut-brown eyes were as winning, his features as handsome; his complexion, too clearly pink for a man, had a sea bronze upon it: he was the same Philip who had left home, though with some added lines of care. But in the brilliant little fairy beside him all looked in vain for the Emilia they remembered as a child. Her eyes were more beautiful than ever,--the darkest violet eyes, that grew luminous with thought and almost black with sorrow. Her gypsy taste, as everybody used to call it, still showed itself in the scarlet and dark blue of her dress; but the clouded gypsy tint had gone from her cheek, and in its place shone a deep carnation, so hard and brilliant that it appeared to be enamelled on the surface, yet so firm and deep-dyed that it seemed as if not even death could ever blanch it. There is a kind of beauty that seems made to be painted on ivory, and such was hers. Only the microscopic pencil of a miniature-painter could portray those slender eyebrows, that arched caressingly over the beautiful eyes,--or the silky hair of darkest chestnut that crept in a wavy line along the temples, as if longing to meet the brows,--or those unequalled lashes! "Unnecessarily long," Aunt Jane afterwards pronounced them; while Kate had to admit that they did indeed give Emilia an overdressed look at breakfast, and that she ought to have a less showy set to match her morning costume.

But what was most irresistible about Emilia,--that which we all noticed in this interview, and which haunted us all thenceforward,--was a certain wild, entangled look she wore, as of some untamed out-door thing, and a kind of pathetic lost sweetness in her voice, which made her at once and forever a heroine of romance with the children. Yet she scarcely seemed to heed their existence, and only submitted to the kisses of Hope and Kate as if that were a part of the price of coming home, and she must pay it.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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