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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VIII. Talking It Over

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"Hope looked up, full of sympathy. She thought Helen must be some disappointed school-teacher, and felt an interest in her immediately. 'Will there not be another examination?' she asked. 'What an odd phrase,' said Mrs. Meredith, looking rather disdainfully at Hope. 'No, I suppose we must give it up, if that is what you mean. The only remaining chance is in the skating. I had particular attention paid to Helen's skating on that very account. How happy shall I be, if my foresight is rewarded!'

"Hope thought this meant physical education, to be sure, and fancied that handsome Helen Meredith opening a school for calisthenics in Paris! Luckily she did not say anything. Then the other lady said, solemnly, 'My dear Mrs. Meredith, it is too true. No one can tell how things will turn out in society. How often do we see girls who were not looked at in America, and yet have a great success in Paris; then other girls go out who were here very much admired, and they have no success at all.'

"Hope understood it all then, but she took it very calmly. I was so indignant, I could hardly help speaking. I wanted to say that it was outrageous. The idea of American mothers training their children for exhibition before what everybody calls the most corrupt court in Europe! Then if they can catch the eye of the Emperor or the Empress by their faces or their paces, that is called success!"

"Good Americans when they die go to Paris," said Philip, "so says the oracle. Naughty Americans try it prematurely, and go while they are alive. Then Paris casts them out, and when they come back, their French disrepute is their stock in trade."

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"I think," said the cheerful Hope, "that it is not quite so bad." Hope always thought things not so bad. She went on. "I was very dull not to know what Mrs. Meredith was talking about. Helen Meredith is a warm-hearted, generous girl, and will not go far wrong, though her mother is not as wise as she is well-bred. But Kate forgets that the few hundred people one sees here or at Paris do not represent the nation, after all."

"The most influential part of it," said Emilia.

"Are you sure, dear?" said her sister. "I do not think they influence it half so much as a great many people who are too busy to go to either place. I always remember those hundred girls at the Normal School, and that they were not at all like Mrs. Meredith, nor would they care to be like her, any more than she would wish to be like them."

"They have not had the same advantages," said Emilia.

"Nor the same disadvantages," said Hope. "Some of them are not so well bred, and none of them speak French so well, for she speaks exquisitely. But in all that belongs to real training of the mind, they seem to me superior, and that is why I think they will have more influence."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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