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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I. An Arrival

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"Not at all," said Aunt Jane, composedly. "I naturally fall back into happiness, when left to myself."

"So you have returned to the house of your fathers," said Philip. "I hope you like it."

"It is commonplace in one respect," said Aunt Jane. "General Washington once slept here."

"Oh!" said Philip. "It is one of that class of houses?"

"Yes," said she. "There is not a village in America that has not half a dozen of them, not counting those where he only breakfasted. Did ever man sleep like that man? What else could he ever have done? Who governed, I wonder, while he was asleep? How he must have travelled! The swiftest horse could scarcely have carried him from one of these houses to another."

"I never was attached to the memory of Washington," meditated Philip; "but I always thought it was the pear-tree. It must have been that he was such a very unsettled person."

"He certainly was not what is called a domestic character," said Aunt Jane.

"I suppose you are, Miss Maxwell," said Philip. "Do you often go out?"

"Sometimes, to drive," said Aunt Jane. "Yesterday I went shopping with Kate, and sat in the carriage while she bought under-sleeves enough for a centipede. It is always so with that child. People talk about the trouble of getting a daughter ready to be married; but it is like being married once a month to live with her."

"I wonder that you take her to drive with you," suggested Philip, sympathetically.

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"It is a great deal worse to drive without her," said the impetuous lady. "She is the only person who lets me enjoy things, and now I cannot enjoy them in her absence. Yesterday I drove alone over the three beaches, and left her at home with a dress-maker. Never did I see so many lines of surf; but they only seemed to me like some of Kate's ball-dresses, with the prevailing flounces, six deep. I was so enraged that she was not there, I wished to cover my face with my handkerchief. By the third beach I was ready for the madhouse."

"Is Oldport a pleasant place to live in?" asked Emilia, eagerly.

"It is amusing in the summer," said Aunt Jane, "though the society is nothing but a pack of visiting-cards. In winter it is too dull for young people, and only suits quiet old women like me, who merely live here to keep the Ten Commandments and darn their stockings."

Meantime the children were aiming at Emilia, whose butterfly looks amazed and charmed them, but who evidently did not know what to do with their eager affection.

"I know about you," said little Helen; "I know what you said when you were little."

"Did I say anything?" asked Emilia, carelessly.

"Yes," replied the child, and began to repeat the oft-told domestic tradition in an accurate way, as if it were a school lesson. "Once you had been naughty, and your papa thought it his duty to slap you, and you cried; and he told you in French, because he always spoke French with you, that he did not punish you for his own pleasure. Then you stopped crying, and asked, 'Pour le plaisir de qui alors?' That means 'For whose pleasure then?' Hope said it was a droll question for a little girl to ask."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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