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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

V. A Multivalve Heart

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PHILIP MALBONE had that perfectly sunny temperament which is peculiarly captivating among Americans, because it is so rare. He liked everybody and everybody liked him; he had a thousand ways of affording pleasure, and he received it in the giving. He had a personal beauty, which, strange to say, was recognized by both sexes,--for handsome men must often consent to be mildly hated by their own. He had travelled much, and had mingled in very varied society; he had a moderate fortune, no vices, no ambition, and no capacity of ennui.

He was fastidious and over-critical, it might be, in his theories, but in practice he was easily suited and never vexed.

He liked travelling, and he liked staying at home; he was so continually occupied as to give an apparent activity to all his life, and yet he was never too busy to be interrupted, especially if the intruder were a woman or a child. He liked to be with people of his own age, whatever their condition; he also liked old people because they were old, and children because they were young. In travelling by rail, he would woo crying babies out of their mothers' arms, and still them; it was always his back that Irishwomen thumped, to ask if they must get out at the next station; and he might be seen handing out decrepit paupers, as if they were of royal blood and bore concealed sceptres in their old umbrellas. Exquisitely nice in his personal habits, he had the practical democracy of a good-natured young prince; he had never yet seen a human being who awed him, nor one whom he had the slightest wish to awe. His courtesy, had, therefore, that comprehensiveness which we call republican, though it was really the least republican thing about him. All felt its attraction; there was really no one who disliked him, except Aunt Jane; and even she admitted that he was the only person who knew how to cut her lead-pencil.

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That cheerful English premier who thought that any man ought to find happiness enough in walking London streets and looking at the lobsters in the fish-markets, was not more easily satisfied than Malbone. He liked to observe the groups of boys fishing at the wharves, or to hear the chat of their fathers about coral-reefs and penguins' eggs; or to sketch the fisher's little daughter awaiting her father at night on some deserted and crumbling wharf, his blue pea-jacket over her fair ring-leted head, and a great cat standing by with tail uplifted, her sole protector. He liked the luxurious indolence of yachting, and he liked as well to float in his wherry among the fleet of fishing schooners getting under way after a three days' storm, each vessel slipping out in turn from the closely packed crowd, and spreading its white wings for flight. He liked to watch the groups of negro boys and girls strolling by the window at evening, and strumming on the banjo,--the only vestige of tropical life that haunts our busy Northern zone. But he liked just as well to note the ways of well-dressed girls and boys at croquet parties, or to sit at the club window and hear the gossip. He was a jewel of a listener, and was not easily bored even when Philadelphians talked about families, or New Yorkers about bargains, or Bostonians about books. A man who has not one absorbing aim can get a great many miscellaneous things into each twenty-four hours; and there was not a day in which Philip did not make himself agreeable and useful to many people, receive many confidences, and give much good-humored advice about matters of which he knew nothing. His friends' children ran after him in the street, and he knew the pet theories and wines of elderly gentlemen. He said that he won their hearts by remembering every occurrence in their lives except their birthdays.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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