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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

An Artist's Creation

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Our Laura had that rich brunette beauty before which the mere snow and roses of the blonde must always seem wan and unimpassioned. In the superb suffusions of her cheek there seemed to flow a tide of passions and powers that might have been tumultuous in a meaner woman, but over which, in her, the clear and brilliant eyes and the sweet, proud mouth presided in unbroken calm. These superb tints implied resources only, not a struggle. With this torrent from the tropics in her veins, she was the most equable person I ever saw, and had a supreme and delicate good-sense, which, if not supplying the place of genius, at least comprehended its work. Not intellectually gifted herself, perhaps, she seemed the cause of gifts in others, and furnished the atmosphere in which all showed their best. With the steady and thoughtful enthusiasm of her Puritan ancestors, she combined that charm which is so rare among their descendants,--a grace which fascinated the humblest,while it would have been just the same in the society of kings. Her person had the equipoise and symmetry of her mind. While it had its separate points of beauty, each a source of distinct and peculiar pleasure,--as, the outline of her temples, the white line that parted her nightblack hair, the bend of her wrists, the moulding of her finger-tips,--yet these details were lost in the overwhelming sweetness of her presence, and the serene atmosphere that she diffused over all human life.

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A few days passed rapidly by us. We walked and rode and boated and read. Little Marian came and went, a living sunbeam, a self-sufficing thing. It was soon obvious that she was far less demonstrative toward her parents than toward me; while her mother, gracious to her as to all, yet rarely caressed her, and Kenmure, though habitually kind, was inclined to ignore her existence, and could scarcely tolerate that she should for one instant preoccupy his wife. For Laura he lived, and she must live for him. He had a studio, which I rarely entered and Marian never, though Laura was almost constantly there; and after the first cordiality was past, I observed that their daily expeditions were always arranged for only two. The weather was beautiful, and they led the wildest outdoor life, cruising all day or all night among the islands, regardless of hours, and almost of health. No matter: Kenmure liked it, and what he liked she loved. When at home, they were chiefly in the studio, he painting, modelling, poetizing perhaps, and she inseparably united with him in all. It was very beautiful, this unworldly and passionate love, and I could have borne to be omitted in their daily plans,--since little Marian was left to me,--save that it seemed so strange to omit her also. Besides, there grew to be something a little oppressive in this peculiar atmosphere; it was like living in a greenhouse.

Yet they always spoke in the simplest way of this absorbing passion, as of something about which no reticence was needed; it was too sacred not to be mentioned; it would be wrong not to utter freely to all the world what was doubtless the best thing the world possessed. Thus Kenmure made Laura his model in all his art; not to coin her into wealth or fame,--he would have scorned it; he would have valued fame and wealth only as instruments for proclaiming her. Looking simply at these two lovers, then, it was plain that no human union could be more noble or stainless. Yet so far as others were concerned, it sometimes seemed to me a kind of duplex selfishness, so profound and so undisguised as to make one shudder. "Is it," I asked myself at such moments, "a great consecration, or a great crime?" But something must be allowed, perhaps, for my own private dis-satisfactions in Marian's behalf.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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