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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VII. An International Exposition

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The prince might have felt that his summons was abrupt, but knew not that it was ungrammatical, and so was led away in triumph. He had been but a month or two in this country, and so spoke our language no more correctly than Mrs. Brash, but only with more grace. There was no great harm in Mrs. Brash; like most loquacious people, she was kind-hearted, with a tendency to corpulence and good works. She was also afflicted with a high color, and a chronic eruption of diamonds. Her husband had an eye for them, having begun life as a jeweller's apprentice, and having developed sufficient sharpness of vision in other directions to become a millionnaire, and a Congressman, and to let his wife do as she pleased.

What goes forth from the lips may vary in dialect, but wine and oysters speak the universal language. The supper-table brought our party together, and they compared notes.

"Parties are very confusing," philosophized Hope,--"especially when waiters and partners dress so much alike. Just now I saw an ill-looking man elbowing his way up to Mrs. Meredith, and I thought he was bringing her something on a plate. Instead of that, it was his hand he held out, and she put hers into it; and I was told that he was one of the leaders of society. There are very few gentlemen here whom I could positively tell from the waiters by their faces, and yet Harry says the fast set are not here."

"Talk of the angels!" said Philip. "There come the

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Through the door of the supper-room they saw entering the drawing-room one of those pretty, fair-haired women who grow older up to twenty-five and then remain unchanged till sixty. She was dressed in the loveliest pale blue silk, very low in the neck, and she seemed to smile on all with her white teeth and her white shoulders. This was Mrs. Ingleside. With her came her daughter Blanche, a pretty blonde, whose bearing seemed at first as innocent and pastoral as her name. Her dress was of spotless white, what there was of it; and her skin was so snowy, you could hardly tell where the dress ended. Her complexion was exquisite, her eyes of the softest blue; at twenty-three she did not look more than seventeen; and yet there was such a contrast between these virginal traits, and the worn, faithless, hopeless expression, that she looked, as Philip said, like a depraved lamb. Does it show the higher nature of woman, that, while "fast young men" are content to look like well-dressed stable boys and billiard-markers, one may observe that girls of the corresponding type are apt to addict themselves to white and rosebuds, and pose themselves for falling angels?

Mrs. Ingleside was a stray widow (from New Orleans via Paris), into whose antecedents it was best not to inquire too closely. After many ups and downs, she was at present up. It was difficult to state with certainty what bad deed she had ever done, or what good deed. She simply lived by her wits, and perhaps by some want of that article in her male friends. Her house was a sort of gentlemanly clubhouse, where the presence of two women offered a shade less restraint than if there had been men alone. She was amiable and unscrupulous, went regularly to church, and needed only money to be the most respectable and fastidious of women. It was always rather a mystery who paid for her charming little dinners; indeed, several things in her demeanor were questionable, but as the questions were never answered, no harm was done, and everybody invited her because everybody else did. Had she committed some graceful forgery tomorrow, or some mild murder the next day, nobody would have been surprised, and all her intimate friends would have said it was what they had always expected.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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