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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VIII. Talking It Over

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"That was very wrong," said Kate, decisively. "You do not mean that. You only mean that you did not admire him very much."

"I never admired a dozen people in my life, Kate. I once made a list of them. There were six women, three men, and a Newfoundland dog."

"What happened?" said Kate. "The Is-raelites died after Pharaoh, or somebody, numbered them. Did anything happen to yours?"

"It was worse with mine," said Aunt Jane. "I grew tired of some and others I forgot, till at last there was nobody left but the dog, and he died."

"Was Philip's father one of them?"


"Tell me about him," said Kate, firmly.

"Ruth," said the elder lady, as her young handmaiden passed the door with her wonted demureness, "come here; no, get me a glass of water. Kate! I shall die of that girl. She does some idiotic thing, and then she looks in here with that contented, beaming look. There is an air of baseless happiness about her that drives me nearly frantic."

"Never mind about that," persisted Kate. "Tell me about Philip's father. What was the matter with him?"

"My dear," Aunt Jane at last answered,--with that fearful moderation to which she usually resorted when even her stock of superlatives was exhausted,--"he belonged to a family for whom truth possessed even less than the usual attractions."

This neat epitaph implied the erection of a final tombstone over the whole race, and Kate asked no more.

Meantime Malbone sat at the western door with Harry, and was running on with one of his tirades, half jest, half earnest, against American society.

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"In America," he said, "everything which does not tend to money is thought to be wasted, as our Quaker neighbor thinks the children's croquet-ground wasted, because it is not a potato field."

"Not just!" cried Harry. "Nowhere is there more respect for those who give their lives to intellectual pursuits."

"What are intellectual pursuits?" said Philip. "Editing daily newspapers? Teaching arithmetic to children? I see no others flourishing hereabouts."

"Science and literature," answered Harry.

"Who cares for literature in America," said Philip, "after a man rises three inches above the newspaper level? Nobody reads Thoreau; only an insignificant fraction read Emerson, or even Hawthorne. The majority of people have hardly even heard their names. What inducement has a writer? Nobody has any weight in America who is not in Congress, and nobody gets into Congress without the necessity of bribing or button-holing men whom he despises."

"But you do not care for public life?" said Harry.

"No," said Malbone, "therefore this does not trouble me, but it troubles you. I am content. My digestion is good. I can always amuse myself. Why are you not satisfied?"

"Because you are not," said Harry. "You are dissatisfied with men, and so you care chiefly to amuse yourself with women and children."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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