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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I. An Arrival

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Had she been alone, there might have been an awkward pause; for if you expect a cousin, and there alights a butterfly of the tropics, what hospitality can you offer? But no sense of embarrassment ever came near Malbone, especially with the children to swarm over him and claim him for their own. Moreover, little Helen got in the first remark in the way of serious conversation.

"Let me tell him something!" said the child. "Philip! that doll of mine that you used to know, only think! she was sick and died last summer, and went into the rag-bag. And the other split down the back, so there was an end of her."

Polar ice would have been thawed by this reopening of communication. Philip soon had the little maid on his shoulder,--the natural throne of all children,--and they went in together to greet Aunt Jane.

Aunt Jane was the head of the house,--a lady who had spent more than fifty years in educating her brains and battling with her ailments. She had received from her parents a considerable inheritance in the way of whims, and had nursed it up into a handsome fortune. Being one of the most impulsive of human beings, she was naturally one of the most entertaining; and behind all her eccentricities there was a fund of the soundest sense and the tenderest affection. She had seen much and varied society, had been greatly admired in her youth, but had chosen to remain unmarried. Obliged by her physical condition to make herself the first object, she was saved from utter selfishness by sympathies as democratic as her personal habits were exclusive. Unexpected and commonly fantastic in her doings, often dismayed by small difficulties, but never by large ones, she sagaciously administered the affairs of all those around her,--planned their dinners and their marriages, fought out their bargains and their feuds.

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She hated everything irresolute or vague; people might play at cat's-cradle or study Spinoza, just as they pleased; but, whatever they did, they must give their minds to it. She kept house from an easy-chair, and ruled her dependants with severity tempered by wit, and by the very sweetest voice in which reproof was ever uttered. She never praised them, but if they did anything particularly well, rebuked them retrospectively, asking why they had never done it well before? But she treated them munificently, made all manner of plans for their comfort, and they all thought her the wisest and wittiest of the human race. So did the youths and maidens of her large circle; they all came to see her, and she counselled, admired, scolded, and petted them all. She had the gayest spirits, and an unerring eye for the ludicrous, and she spoke her mind with absolute plainness to all comers. Her intuitions were instantaneous as lightning, and, like that, struck very often in the wrong place. She was thus extremely unreasonable and altogether charming.

Such was the lady whom Emilia and Malbone went up to greet,--the one shyly, the other with an easy assurance, such as she always disliked. Emilia submitted to another kiss, while Philip pressed Aunt Jane's hand, as he pressed all women's, and they sat down.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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