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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XI. Descensus Averni

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Till now he had hardly dared to look at Emilia. He saw with a thrill of love that she was the one person in the room who appeared out of place or ill at ease. She did not glance at him, but held her cigarette in silence and refused to light it. She had boasted to him once of having learned to smoke at school.

"What's the matter, Emmy?" suddenly exclaimed Blanche. "Are you under a cloud, that you don't blow one?"

"Blanche, Blanche," said her mother, in sweet reproof. "Mr. Malbone, what shall I do with this wild girl? Such a light way of talking! But I can assure you that she is really very fond of the society of intellectual, superior men. I often tell her that they are, after all, her most congenial associates. More so than the young and giddy."

"You'd better believe it," said the unabashed damsel. "Take notice that whenever I go to a dinner-party I look round for a clergyman to drink wine with."

"Incorrigible!" said the caressing mother. "Mr. Malbone would hardly imagine you had been bred in a Christian land."

"I have, though," retorted Blanche. "My esteemed parent always accustomed me to give up something during Lent,--champagne, or the New York Herald, or something."

The young men roared, and, had time and cosmetics made it possible, Mrs. Ingleside would have blushed becomingly. After all, the daughter was the better of the two. Her bluntness was refreshing beside the mother's suavity; she had a certain generosity, too, and in a case of real destitution would have lent her best ear-rings to a friend.

By this time Malbone had edged himself to Emilia's side. "Will you drive with me?" he murmured in an undertone.

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She nodded slightly, abruptly, and he withdrew again.

"It seems barbarous," said he aloud, "to break up the party. But I must claim my promised drive with Miss Emilia."

Blanche looked up, for once amazed, having heard a different programme arranged. Count Posen looked up also. But he thought he must have misunderstood Emilia's acceptance of his previous offer to drive her; and as he prided himself even more on his English than on his gallantry, he said no more. It was no great matter. Young Jones's dog-cart was at the door, and always opened eagerly its arms to anybody with a title.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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