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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VII. An International Exposition

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Meantime the entertainment went on.

"I shall not have scalloped oysters in heaven," lamented Kate, as she finished with healthy appetite her first instalment.

"Are you sure you shall not?" said the sympathetic Hope, who would have eagerly followed Kate into Paradise with a supply of whatever she liked best.

"I suppose you will, darling," responded Kate, "but what will you care? It seems hard that those who are bad enough to long for them should not be good enough to earn them."

At this moment Blanche Ingleside and her train swept into the supper-room; the girls cleared a passage, their attendant youths collected chairs. Blanche tilted hers slightly against a wall, professed utter exhaustion, and demanded a fresh bottle of champagne in a voice that showed no signs of weakness. Presently a sheepish youth drew near the noisy circle.

"Here comes that Talbot van Alsted," said Blanche, bursting at last into a loud whisper. "What a goose he is, to be sure! Dear baby, it promised its mother it wouldn't drink wine for two months. Let's all drink with him. Talbot, my boy, just in time! Fill your glass. Stosst an!"

And Blanche and her attendant spirits in white muslin thronged around the weak boy, saw him charged with the three glasses that were all his head could stand, and sent him reeling home to his mother. Then they looked round for fresh worlds to conquer.

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"There are the Maxwells!" said Miss Ingleside, without lowering her voice. "Who is that party in the high-necked dress? Is she the schoolmistress? Why do they have such people here? Society is getting so common, there is no bearing it. That Emily who is with her is too good for that slow set. She's the school-girl we heard of at Nice, or somewhere; she wanted to elope with somebody, and Phil Malbone stopped her, worse luck. She will be for eloping with us, before long."

Emilia colored scarlet, and gave a furtive glance at Hope, half of shame, half of triumph. Hope looked at Blanche with surprise, made a movement forward, but was restrained by the crowd, while the noisy damsel broke out in a different direction.

"How fiendishly hot it is here, though! Jones junior, put your elbow through that window! This champagne is boiling. What a tiresome time we shall have to-morrow, when the Frenchmen are gone! Ah, Count, there you are at last! Ready for the German? Come for me? Just primed and up to anything, and so I tell you!"

But as Count Posen, kissing his hand to her, squeezed his way through the crowd with Hal, to be presented to Hope, there came over Blanche's young face such a mingled look of hatred and weariness and chagrin, that even her unobserving friends saw it, and asked with tender commiseration what was up.

The dancing recommenced. There was the usual array of partners, distributed by mysterious discrepancies, like soldiers' uniforms, so that all the tall drew short, and all the short had tall. There were the timid couples, who danced with trembling knees and eyes cast over their shoulders; the feeble couples, who meandered aimlessly and got tangled in corners; the rash couples, who tore breathlessly through the rooms and brought up at last against the large white waistcoat of the violon-cello. There was the professional lady-killer, too supreme and indolent to dance, but sitting amid an admiring bevy of fair women, where he reared his head of raven curls, and pulled ceaselessly his black mustache. And there were certain young girls who, having astonished the community for a month by the lowness of their dresses, now brought to bear their only remaining art, and struck everybody dumb by appearing clothed. All these came and went and came again, and had their day or their night, and danced until the robust Hope went home exhausted and left her more fragile cousins to dance on till morning. Indeed, it was no easy thing for them to tear themselves away; Kate was always in demand; Philip knew everybody, and had that latest aroma of Paris which the soul of fashion covets; Harry had the tried endurance which befits brothers and lovers at balls; while Emilia's foreign court held out till morning, and one handsome young midshipman, in special, kept revolving back to her after each long orbit of separation, like a gold-laced comet.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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