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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XV. Across The Bay

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THE children, as has been said, were all devoted to Malbone, and this was, in a certain degree, to his credit. But it is a mistake to call children good judges of character, except in one direction, namely, their own. They understand it, up to the level of their own stature; they know who loves them, but not who loves virtue. Many a sinner has a great affection for children, and no child will ever detect the sins of such a friend; because, toward them, the sins do not exist.

The children, therefore, all loved Philip, and yet they turned with delight, when out-door pleasures were in hand, to the strong and adroit Harry. Philip inclined to the daintier exercises, fencing, billiards, riding; but Harry's vigorous physique enjoyed hard work. He taught all the household to swim, for instance. Jenny, aged five, a sturdy, deep-chested little thing, seemed as amphibious as himself. She could already swim alone, but she liked to keep close to him, as all young animals do to their elders in the water, not seeming to need actual support, but stronger for the contact. Her favorite position, however, was on his back, where she triumphantly clung, grasping his bathing-dress with one hand, swinging herself to and fro, dipping her head beneath the water, singing and shouting, easily shifting her position when he wished to vary his, and floating by him like a little fish, when he was tired of supporting her. It was pretty to see the child in her one little crimson garment, her face flushed with delight, her fair hair glistening from the water, and the waves rippling and dancing round her buoyant form. As Harry swam farther and farther out, his head was hidden from view by her small person, and she might have passed for a red seabird rocking on the gentle waves. It was one of the regular delights of the household to see them bathe.

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Kate came in to Aunt Jane's room, one August morning, to say that they were going to the water-side. How differently people may enter a room! Hope always came in as the summer breeze comes, quiet, strong, soft, fragrant, resistless. Emilia never seemed to come in at all; you looked up, and she had somehow drifted where she stood, pleading, evasive, lovely. This was especially the case where one person was awaiting her alone; with two she was more fearless, with a dozen she was buoyant, and with a hundred she forgot herself utterly and was a spirit of irresistible delight.

But Kate entered any room, whether nursery or kitchen, as if it were the private boudoir of a princess and she the favorite maid of honor. Thus it was she came that morning to Aunt Jane.

"We are going down to see the bathers, dear," said Kate. "Shall you miss me?"

"I miss you every minute," said her aunt, decisively. "But I shall do very well. I have delightful times here by myself. What a ridiculous man it was who said that it was impossible to imagine a woman's laughing at her own comic fancies. I sit and laugh at my own nonsense very often."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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