Malbone: An Oldport Romance

PRELUDE.

AS one wanders along this south-western promontory of the Isle of Peace, and looks down upon the green translucent water which forever bathes the marble slopes of the Pirates’ Cave, it is natural to think of the ten wrecks with which the past winter has strewn this shore. Though almost all trace of their presence is already gone, yet their mere memory lends to these cliffs a human interest. Where a stranded vessel lies, thither all steps converge, so long as one plank remains upon another. There centres the emotion. All else is but the setting, and the eye sweeps with indifference the line of unpeopled rocks. They are barren, till the imagination has tenanted them with possibilities of danger and dismay. The ocean provides the scenery and properties of a perpetual tragedy, but the interest arrives with the performers. Till then the shores remain vacant, like the great conventional arm-chairs of the French drama, that wait for Rachel to come and die.

Yet as I ride along this fashionable avenue in August, and watch the procession of the young and fair, — as I look at stately houses, from each of which has gone forth almost within my memory a funeral or a bride, —then every thoroughfare of human life becomes in fancy but an ocean shore, with its ripples and its wrecks. One learns, in growing older, that no fiction can be so strange nor appear so improbable as would the simple truth ; and that doubtless even Shakespeare did but timidly transcribe a few of the deeds and passions he had personally known. For no man of middle age can dare trust himself to portray life in its full intensity, as he has studied or shared it; he must resolutely set aside as indescribable the things most worth describing, and must expect to be charged with exaggeration, even when he tells the rest.

I.

AN ARRIVAL.

It was one of the changing days of our Oldport midsummer. In the morning it had rained in rather a dismal way, and Aunt Jane had said she should put it In her diary. It was a very serious thing for the elements when they got into Aunt Jane’s diary. By noon the sun came out as clear and sultry as if there had never been a cloud, the northeast wind died away, the bay was motionless, the first locust of the summer shrilled from the elms, and the robins seemed to be serving up butterflies hot for their insatiable second-brood, while nothing seemed desirable for a human luncheon except ice-cream and fans. In the afternoon the southwest wind came up the bay, with its line of dark-blue ripple and its delicious coolness; while the hue of the water grew more and more intense, till we seemed to be living in the heart of a sapphire.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by FIELDS, OSGOOD, & Co., in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.

The household sat beneath the large western doorway of the old Maxwell Blouse, — the rear door, which looks on the water. The house had just been reoccupied by my aunt Jane, whose great-grandfather had built it, though it bad for several generations been out of the family. I know no finer specimen of those large colonial houses in which the genius of Sir Christopher Wren bequeathed traditions of stateliness to our democratic days. Its central hall has a carved archway; most of the rooms have painted tiles and are wainscoted to the ceiling ; the sashes are red-cedar, the great staircase mahogany ; there are pilasters with delicate Corinthian capitals ; there are cherubs’ heads and wings that go astray and lose themselves in closets and behind glass-doors ; there are curling acanthus-leaves that cluster over shelves and ledges, and there are those graceful shell-patterns which one often sees on old furniture, but rarely in houses. The high front-door still retains its Ionic cornice ; and the western entrance, looking on the bay, is surmounted by carved fruit and flowers, and is crowned, as is the roof, with that pineapple in whose symbolic wealth the rich merchants of the last century delighted.

Like most of the statelier houses in that region of Oldport, this abode had its rumors of a ghost and of secret chambers. The ghost had never been properly lionized nor laid, for Aunt Jane, the neatest of housekeepers, had discouraged all silly explorations, had at once required all barred windows to be opened, all superfluous partitions to be taken down, and several highly eligible dark-closets to be nailed up. If there was anything she hated, it was nooks and odd corners. Yet there had been times that year, when the household would have been glad to find a few more such hiding-places ; for during the first few weeks the house had been crammed with guests so closely that the very mice had been ill accommodated and obliged to sit up all night, which had caused them much discomfort and many audible disagreements.

But this first tumult had passed away; and now there remained only the various nephews and nieces of the house, including a due proportion of small children. Two final guests were to arrive that day, bringing the latest breath of Europe on their wings, — Philip Malbone, Hope’s betrothed ; and little Emilia, Hope’s half-sister.

None of the family had seen Emilia since her wandering mother had taken her abroad, a fascinating spoiled child of four, and they were all eager to see in how many ways the succeeding twelve years had completed or corrected the spoiling. As for Philip, he had been spoiled, as Aunt Jane declared, from the time of his birth, by the joint effort of all friends and neighbors. Everybody had conspired to carry on the process except Aunt Jane herself, who directed toward him one of her honest, steady, immovable dislikes which may be said to have dated back to the time when his father and mother were married, some years before he personally entered on the scene.

The New York steamer, detained by the heavy fog of the night before, now came in unwonted daylight up the bay. At the first glimpse, Harry and the boys pushed off in the row-boat; for, as one of the children said, anybody who had been to Venice would naturally wish to come to the very house in a gondola. In another half-hour there was a great entanglement of embraces at the water-side, for the guests had landed.

Malbone’s self-poised easy grace was the same as ever ; his chestnut-brown eyes were as winning, his features as handsome ; his complexion, too clearly pink for a man, had a sea bronze upon it : he was the same Philip who had left home, though with some added lines of care. But in the brilliant little fairy beside him all looked in vain for the Emilia they remembered as a child. Her eyes were more beautiful than ever, — the darkest violet eyes, that grew luminous with thought and almost-black with sorrow. Her gypsy taste, as everybody used to call it, still showed itself in the scarlet and dark blue of her dress ; but the clouded gypsy tint had gone from her cheek, and in its place shone a deep carnation, so hard and brilliant that it appeared to be enamelled on the surface, yet so firm and deep-dyed that it seemed as if not even death could ever blanch it. There is a kind of beauty that seems made to be painted on ivory, and such was hers. Only the microscopic pencil of a miniature-painter could portray those slender eyebrows, that arched caressingly over the beautiful eyes, — or the silky hair of darkest chestnut that crept in a wavy line along the temples, as if longing to meet the brows, — or those unequalled lashes ! “ Unnecessarily long,” Aunt Jane afterwards pronounced them ; while Kate had to admit that they did indeed give Emilia an overdressed look at breakfast, and that she ought to have a less showy set to match her morning costume.

But what was most irresistible about Emilia, — that which we all noticed in this interview, and which haunted us all thenceforward, — was a certain wild, entangled look she wore, as of some untamed out-door thing, and a kind of pathetic lost sweetness in her voice, which made her at once and forever a heroine of romance with the children. Yet she scarcely seemed to heed their existence, and only submitted to the kisses of Hope and Kate as if that were a part of the price of coming home, and she must pay it.

Had she been alone, there might have been an awkward pause ; for if you expect a cousin, and there alights a butterfly of the tropics, what hospitality can you offer ? But no sense of embarrassment ever came near Malbone, especially with the children to swarm over him and claim him for their own. Moreover, little Helen got in the first remark in the way of serious conversation.

“Let me tell him something!” said the child. “Philip! that doll of mine that you used to know, only think ! she was sick and died last summer, and went into the rag-bag. And the other split down the back, so there was an end of her”

Polar ice would have been thawed by this reopening of communication. Philip soon had the little maid on his shoulder, — the natural throne of all children, — and they all went in together to greet Aunt Jane.

Aunt Jane was the head of the house, — a lady who had spent more than fifty years in educating her brains and battling with her ailments. She had received from her parents a considerable inheritance in the way of whims, and had nursed it up into a handsome fortune. Being one of the most impulsive of human beings, she was naturally one of the most entertaining ; and behind all her eccentricities there was a fund of the soundest sense and the tenderest affection. She had seen much and varied society, had been much admired in her youth, but had chosen to remain unmarried. Obliged by her physical condition to make herself the first object, she was saved from utter selfishness by sympathies as democratic as her personal habits were exclusive. Unexpected and commonly fantastic in her doings, often dismayed by small difficulties, but never by large ones, she sagaciously administered the affairs of all those around her, — planned their dinners and their marriages, fought out their bargains and their feuds.

She hated everything irresolute or vague ; people might play at cat’s-cradle or study Spinoza, just as they pleased ; but, whatever they did, they must give their minds to it. She kept house from an easy-chair, and ruled her dependants with severity tempered by wit, and by the very sweetest voice in which reproof was ever uttered. She never praised them ; but if they did anything particularly well, rebuked them retrospectively, asking why they had never done it well before ? But she treated them munificently, made all manner of plans for their comfort, and they all thought her the wisest and wittiest of the human race. So did the youths and maidens of her large circle ; they all came to see her, and she counselled, admired, scolded, and petted them all. She had the gayest spirits, and an unerring eye for the ludicrous, and she spoke her mind with absolute plainness to all comers. Her intuitions were instantaneous as lightning, and, like that, struck very often in the wrong place. She was thus extremely unreasonable and altogether charming.

Such was the lady whom Emilia and Malbone went up to greet, — the one shyly, the other with an easy assurance, such as she always disliked. Emilia submitted to another kiss while Philip pressed Aunt Jane’s hand, as he pressed all women’s, and they sat down.

“Now begin to tell your adventures,” said Kate. “ People always tell their adventures till tea is ready.”

“Who can have any adventures left,’ said Philip, “after such letters as I wrote you all ? ”

“ Of which we got precisely one ! ” said Kate. “ That made it such an event, after we had wondered in what part of the globe you might be looking for the post-office ! It was like finding a letter in a bottle, or disentangling a person from the Dark Ages.”

“I was at Neuchâtel two months; but I had no adventures. I lodged with a good pasteur, who taught me geology and German.”

“ That is suspicious,” said Kate. “ Had he a daughter passing fair ? ”

“ Indeed he had.”

“ And you taught her English ? That is what these beguiling youths always do in novels.”

“ Yes.”

“ What was her name ? ”

“ Lili.”

“ What a pretty name ! How old was she ? ”

“ She was six.”

“ O Philip ! ” cried Kate ; “ but I might have known it. Did she love you very much ? ”

Hope looked up, her eyes full of mild reproach at the possibility of doubting any child’s love for Philip. He had been her betrothed for more than a year, during which time she had habitually seen him wooing every child he had met as if it were a woman, — which, for Philip, was saying a great deal. Happily they had in common the one trait of perfect amiability, and she knew no more how to be jealous than he to be constant.

“ Lili was easily won,” he said. “ Other things being equal, people of six prefer that man who is tallest.”

“ Philip is not so very tall,” said the eldest of the boys, who was listening eagerly, and growing rapidly.

“No,” said Philip, meekly. “But then the pasteur was short, and his brother was a dwarf.”

“ When Lili found that she could reach the ceiling from Mr. Malbone’s shoulder,” said Emilia, “ she asked no more.”

“ Then you knew the pastor’s family also, my child,” said Aunt Jane, looking at her kindly and a little keenly.

“ I was allowed to go there sometimes,” she began, timidly.

“ To meet her American Cousin,” interrupted Philip. “ I got some relaxation in the rules of the school. But, Aunt Jane, you have told us nothing about your health.”

“ There is nothing to tell,” she answered. “ I should like, if it were convenient, to be a little better. But in this life, If one can walk across the floor, and not be an idiot, it is something. That is all I aim at.”

“Is n’t it rather tiresome?” said Emilia, as the elder lady happened to look at her.

“Not at all,” said Aunt Jane, composedly. 41 I naturally fall back into happiness, when left to myself.”

So you have returned to the house of your fathers,” said Philip. 44I hope you like it.”

“ It is commonplace in one respect,” said Aunt Jane. 44 General Washington once slept here.”

“ Oh ! ” said Philip. “ It is one of that class of houses ? ”

44 Yes,” said she. 44 There is not a village in America that has not half a dozen of them, not counting those where he only breakfasted. Did ever man sleep like that man ? What else could he ever have done ? Who governed, I wonder, while he was asleep ? How he must have travelled! The swiftest horse could scarcely have carried him from one of these houses to another.”

I never was attached to the memory of Washington,” meditated Philip; “ but I always thought it was the peartree. It must have been that he was such a very unsettled person.”

44 He certainly was not what is called a domestic character,” said Aunt Jane.

44I suppose you are, Miss Maxwell,” said Philip. “ Do you often go out ? ” “Sometimes, to drive,” said Aunt Jane. 44 Yesterday I went shopping with Kate, and sat in the carriage while she bought undersleeves enough for a centipede. It is always so with that child. People talk about the trouble of getting a daughter ready to be married ; but it is like being married once a month to live with her.”

44I wonder that you take her to drive with you,” suggested Philip, sympathetically.

“ It is a great deal worse to drive without her,” said the impetuous lady. “She is the only person who lets me enjoy things, and now I cannot enjoy them in her absence. Yesterday I drove alone over the three beaches, and left her at home with a dress-maker. Never did I see so many lines of surf; but they only seemed to me like some of Kate’s ball-dresses, with the prevailing flounces six deep. I was so enraged that she was not there I wished to cover my face with my handkerchief. By the third beach I was ready for the madhouse.”

“Is Oldport a pleasant place to live in ?” asked Emilia, eagerly.

44 It is amusing in the summer,” said Aunt Jane, 44 though the society is nothing but a pack of visiting-cards. In winter it is too dull for young people, and only suits quiet old women like me, who merely live here to keep the Ten Commandments and darn their stockings.”

Meantime the children were aiming at Emilia, whose butterfly looks amazed and charmed them, but who evidently did not know what to do with their eager affection.

“I know about you,” said little Helen ; 44 I know what you said when you were little.”

41 Did I say anything ? ” asked Emilia, carelessly.

44 Yes,” replied the child, and began to repeat the oft-told domestic tradition in an accurate way, as if it were a school lesson, “ Once you had been naughty, and your papa thought it his duty to slap you, and you cried ; and he told you in French, because he always spoke French with you, that he did not punish you for his own pleasure. Then you stopped crying, and asked, 4 Pour le plaisir de qui alors ? ’ That means 4 For whose pleasure then ?7 Hope said it was a droll question for a little girl to ask.”

44 I do not think it was Emilia who asked that remarkable question, little girl,77 said Kate.

44I dare say it was,” said Emilia ; 44I have been asking it all my life.” Her eyes grew very moist, what with fatigue and excitement. But just then, as is apt to happen in this world, they were all suddenly recalled from tears to tea, and the children smothered their curiosity in strawberries and cream.

They sat again beside the western door, after tea. The young moon came from a cloud and dropped a broad path of glory upon the bay; a black yacht glided noiselessly in, and anchored amid this tract of splendor. The shadow of its masts was on the luminous surface, while their reflection lay at a different angle, and seemed to penetrate far below. Then the departing steamer went flashing across this bright realm with gorgeous lustre ; its red and green lights were doubled in the paler waves, its four reflected chimneys chased each other among the reflected masts. This jewelled wonder passing, a single fishing-boat drifted silently by, with its one dark sad ; and then the moon and the anchored yacht were left alone.

Presently some of the luggage came from the wharf. Malbone brought out presents for everybody ; then all the family went to Europe in photographs, and with some reluctance came back to America for bed.

II.

PLACE AUX DAMES !

In every town there is one young maiden who is the universal favorite, who belongs to all sets and is made an exception to all family feuds, who is the confidante of all girls and the adopted sister of all young men up to the time when they respectively offer themselves to her, and again after they are rejected. This post was filled in Oldport, in those days, by my cousin Kate.

Born into the world with many other gifts, this last and least definable gift of popularity was added to complete them all. Nobody criticised her, nobody was jealous of her, her very rivals lent her their new music and their lovers ; and her own discarded wooers always sought her to be a bridesmaid when they married somebody else.

She was one of those persons who seem to have come into the world welldressed. There was an atmosphere of elegance around her, like a costume ; every attitude implied a presencechamber or a ball-room. The girls complained that in private theatricals no combination of disguises could reduce Kate to the ranks, nor give her the “ make-up ” of a waiting-maid. Yet as her father was a New York merchant of the precarious or spasmodic description, she had been used from childhood to the wildest fluctuations of wardrobe ; — a year of Paris dresses, — then another year spent in making over ancient finery, that never looked like either finery or antiquity when it came from her magic hands. Without a particle of vanity or fear, secure in health and good-nature and invariable prettiness, she cared little whether the appointed means of grace were ancient silk or modern muslin. In her periods of poverty, she made no secret of the necessary devices ; the other girls, of course, guessed them, but her lovers never did, because she always told them in advance. There was one particular tarlatan dress of hers which was a sort of local institution. It was known to all her companions, like the State House. There was a report that she had first worn it at her christening : the report originated with herself. The young men knew that she was going to the party if she could turn that pink tarlatan once more; but they had only the vaguest impression what a tarlatan was, and cared little on which side it was worn, so long as Kate was inside.

During these epochs of privation her life in respect to dress was a perpetual Christmas-tree of second-hand gifts. Wealthy aunts supplied her with castoff shoes of all sizes from two and a half up to five, and she used them all. She was reported to have worn one straw hat through five changes of fashion. It was averred that, when square crowns were in vogue, she flattened it over a tin-pan ; and that, when round crowns returned, she bent it on the bedpost. There was such a charm in her way of adapting these treasures, that the other girls liked to test her with new problems in the way of millinery and dress-making ; millionnaire friends implored her to trim their hats, and lent her their own things in order to learn how to wear them. This applied especially to certain rich cousins, shy and studious girls, who adored her, and to whom society only ceased to be alarming when the brilliant Kate took them under her wing, and graciously accepted a few of their newest feathers. Well might they acquiesce, for she stood by them superbly, and her most favored partners found no way to her hand so sure as to dance systematically through that staid sisterhood. Dear, sunshiny, gracious, generous Kate! — who has ever done justice to the charm given to this grave old world by the presence of one free-hearted and joyous girl ?

At the time now to be described, however, Kate’s purse was well-filled; and if she wore only second-best finery, it was because she had lent her very best to somebody else. All that her doting father asked was to pay for her dresses and to see her wear them ; and if her friends wore a part of them, it only made necessary a larger wardrobe, and more varied and pleasurable shopping. She was as good a manager in wealth as in poverty, wasted nothing, took exquisite care of everything, and saved faithfully for some one else all that was not needed for her own pretty person.

Pretty she was throughout, from the parting of her raven hair to the high instep of her slender foot; a glancing, brilliant brunette beauty, with the piquant charm of perpetual spirits and the equipoise of a perfectly healthy nature. She was altogether graceful, yet she had not the fresh, free grace of her cousin Hope, who was lithe and strong as a hawthorn spray: Kate’s was the narrower grace of culture grown hereditary, an in-door elegance that was born in her, and of which dancing-school was but the natural development. You could not picture Hope to your mind in one position more than in another; she had an endless variety of easy motion. When you thought of Kate, you remembered precisely how she sat, how she stood, and how she walked. That was all, and it was always the same. But is not that enough ? We do not ask of Mary Stuart’s portrait that it should represent her in more than one attitude, and why should a living beauty need more than two or three ?

Kate was betrothed to her cousin Harry, Hope’s brother; and, though she was barely twenty, they had seemed to appertain to each other for a time so long that the memory of man or maiden aunt ran not to the contrary. She always declared, indeed, that they were born married, and that their wedding-day would seem like a silver wedding. Harry was quiet, unobtrusive, and manly. He might seem commonplace at first beside the brilliant Kate and his more gifted sister ; but thorough manhood is never commonplace, and he was a person to whom one could anchor. His strong, steadfast physique was the type of his whole nature ; when he came into the room, you felt as if a good many people had been added to the company. He made steady progress in his profession of the law, through sheer worth ; he never dazzled, but he led. His type was pure Saxon, with short curling hair, blue eyes, and thin, fair skin, to which the color readily mounted. Up to a certain point he was imperturbably patient and amiable, but, when over-taxed, was fiery and impetuous for a single instant, and no more. It seemed as if a sudden flash of anger went over him, like the flash that glides along the glutinous stem of the fraxinella, when you touch it with a candle ; the next moment it had utterly vanished, and was forgotten as if it had never been.

Kate’s love for her lover was one of those healthy and assured ties that often outlast the ardors of more passionate natures. For other temperaments it might have been inadequate ; but theirs matched perfectly, and it was all-sufficient for them. If there was within Kate’s range a more heroic and ardent emotion than that inspired by Harry, it was put forth toward Hope. I his was her idolatry; she always said that it was fortunate Hope was Hal’s sister, or she should have felt it her duty to give them to each other, and not die till the wedding was accomplished. Harry shared this adoration to quite a reasonable extent, for a brother; but his admiration for Philip Malbone was one that Kate did not quite share. Harry’s quieter nature had been dazzled from childhood by Philip, who had always been a privileged guest in the household. Kate’s clear, penetrating, buoyant nature had divined Phil’s weaknesses, and had sometimes laughed at them, even from her childhood ; though she did not dislike him, for she did not dislike anybody. But Harry was magnetized by him very much as women were ; believed him true, because he was tender, and called him only fastidious where Kate called him lazy.

Kate was spending that summer with her aunt Jane, whose especial pet and pride she was. Hope was spending there the summer vacation of a Normal School in which she had just become a teacher. Her father had shared in the family ups and downs, but had finally stayed down, while the rest had remained up. Fortunately, his elder children were indifferent to this, and indeed rather preferred it; it was a tradition that Hope had expressed the wish, when a child, that her father might lose his property, so that she could become a teacher. As for Harry, he infinitely preferred the drudgery of a law office to that of a gentleman of leisure ; and as for their step-mother, it turned out, when she was left a widow, that she had secured for herself and Emilia whatever property remained, so that she suffered only the delightful need of living in Europe for economy.

The elder brother and sister had alike that fine physical vigor which New England is now developing, just in time to save it from decay. Hope was of Saxon type, though a shade less blond than her brother; she was a little taller, and of more commanding presence, with a peculiarly noble carriage of the shoulders. Her brow was sometimes criticised as being a little too full for a woman ; but her nose was straight, her mouth and teeth beautiful, and her profile almost perfect. Her complexion had lost by out-door life something of its delicacy, but had gained a freshness and firmness that no sunlight could impair. She had that wealth of hair which young girls find the most enviable point of beauty in each other. Hers reached below her knees, when loosened, or else lay coiled, in munificent braids of gold, full of sparkling lights and contrasted shadows, upon her queenly head.

Her eyes were much darker than her hair, and had a way of opening naively and suddenly, with a perfectly infantine expression, as if she at that moment saw the sunlight for the first time. Her long lashes were somewhat like Emilia’s, and she had the same deeply curved eyebrows ; in no other point was there a shade of resemblance between the half-sisters. As compared with Kate, Hope showed a more abundant physical life ; there was more blood in her ; she had ampler outlines, and health more absolutely unvaried, for she had yet to know the experience of a day’s illness. Kate seemed born to tread upon a Brussels carpet, and Hope on the softer luxury of the forest floor. Out of doors her vigor became a sort of ecstasy, and she walked the earth with a jubilee of the senses, such as Browning attributes to his Saul.

This inexhaustible freshness of physical organization seemed to open the windows of her soul, and make for her a new heaven and earth every day. It gave also a peculiar and almost embarrassing directness to her mental processes, and suggested in them a sort of final and absolute value, as if truth had for the first time found a perfectly translucent medium. It was not so much that she said rare things, but her very silence was eloquent, and there was a great deal of it. Her girlhood had in it a certain dignity, as of a virgin priestess or sibyl. Yet her hearty sympathies and her healthy energy made her at home in daily life, and in a democratic society. To Kate, for instance, she was a necessity of existence, like light or air. Kate’s nature was limited ; part of her graceful equipoise was narrowness. Hope was capable of far more self-abandonment to a controlling emotion, and, if she ever erred, would err more widely, for it would be because the whole power of her conscience was misdirected. “ Once let her take wrong for right,” said Aunt Jane, “and stop her if you can; these born saints give a great deal more trouble than children of this world, like my Kate.” Yet in daily life Hope yielded to her cousin nine times out of ten; but the tenth time was the key to the situation. Hope loved Kate devotedly; but Kate believed in her as the hunted fugitive believes in the north star.

To these maidens, thus united, came Emilia home from Europe. The father of Harry and Hope had been lured into a second marriage with Emilia’s mother, a charming and unscrupulous woman, born with an American body and a French soul. She having once won him to Paris, held him there life-long, and kept her step-children at a safe distance. She arranged that, even after her own death, her daughter should still remain abroad for education; nor was Emilia ordered back until she brought down some scandal by a romantic attempt to elope from boarding-school with a Swiss servant. It was by weaning her heart from this man that Philip Malbone had earned the thanks of the whole household during his hasty flight through Europe. He possessed some skill in withdrawing the female heart from an undesirable attachment, though it was apt to be done by substituting another. It was fortunate that, in this case, no fears could be entertained. Since his engagement Philip had not permitted himself so much as a flirtation ; he and Hope were to be married soon ; he loved and admired her heartily, and had an indifference to her want of fortune that was quite amazing, when we consider that he had a fortune of his own.

III.

A DRIVE ON THE AVENUE.

Oldport Avenue is a place where a great many carriages may be seen driving so slowly that they might almost be photographed without halting, and where their occupants already wear the dismal expression which befits that process. In these fine vehicles, following each other in an endless file, one sees such faces as used to be exhibited in ball-rooms during the performance of quadrilles, before round dances came in, — faces marked by the renunciation of all human joy. Sometimes a faint suspicion suggests itself on the Avenue, that these torpid faces might be roused to life, in case some horse should run away. But that one chance never occurs ; the riders may not yet be toned down into perfect breeding, but the horses are. I do not know what could ever break the gloom of this joyless procession, were it not that youth and beauty are always in fashion, and one sometimes meets an exceptional barouche full of boys and girls, who could absolutely be no happier if they were a thousand miles away from the best society. And such a joyous company were our four youths and maidens when they went to drive that day, Emilia being left at home to rest after the fatigues of the voyage.

“ What beautiful horses ! ” was Hope’s first exclamation. “ What grave people ! ” was her second.

“ What though in solemn silence all Roll round —”

quoted Philip.

“Hope is thinking,” said Harry, “whether ‘in reason’s ear they all rejoice.’ ”

“How could you know that?” said she, opening her eyes.

“One thing always strikes me,” said Kate. “The sentence of stupefaction does not seem to be enforced till after five-and-twenty. That young lady we just met looked quite lively and juvenile last year, I remember, and now she has graduated into a dowager.”

“Like little Helen’s kitten,” said Philip. “ She justly remarks that, since I saw it last, it is all spoiled into a great big cat.”

“ Those must be snobs,” said Harry, as a carriage with unusually gorgeous liveries rolled by.

“ I suppose so,” said Malbone, indifferently. “ In Oldport we call all newcomers snobs, you know, till they have invited us to their grand ball. Then we go to it, and afterwards speak well of them, and only abuse their wine.”

“ How do you know them for newcomers ? ” asked Hope, looking after the carriage.

“ By their improperly intelligent expression,” returned Phil. “ They look around them as you do, my child, with the air of wide-awake curiosity which marks the American traveller. That is out of place here. The Avenue abhors everything but a vacuum.”

“ I never can find out,” continued Hope, “how people recognize each other here. They do not look at each other unless they know each other; and how are they to know if they know, unless they look first ? ”

“ It seems an embarrassment,” said Malbone. “ But it is supposed that fashion perforates the eyelids and looks through. If you attempt it in any other way, you are lost. Newly arrived people look about them, and, the more new wealth they have, the more they gaze. The men are uneasy behind their recently educated mustaches, and the women hold their parasols with trembling hands. It takes two years to learn to drive on the Avenue. Come again next summer, and you will see in those same carriages faces of remote superciliousness, that suggest generations of gout and ancestors.”

“What a pity one feels,” said Harry, “for these people who still suffer from lingering modesty, and need a master to teach them to be insolent!”

“ They learn it soon enough,” said Kate. “Philip is right. Fashion lies in the eye. People fix their own position by the way they don’t look at you.”

“ There is a certain indifference of manner,” philosophized Malbone, “before which ingenuous youth is crushed. I may know that a man can hardly read or write, and that his father was a ragpicker till one day he picked up banknotes for a million. No matter. If he does not take the trouble to look at me, I must look reverentially at him.”

“Here is somebody who will look at Hope,” cried Kate, suddenly.

A carriage passed, bearing a young lady with fair hair and a keen bright look, talking eagerly to a small and quiet youth beside her. Her face brightened still more as she caught the eye of Hope, whose face lighted up in return, and who then sank back with a sort of sigh of relief, as if she had at last seen somebody she cared for. The lady waved an ungloved hand, and drove by.

“ Who is that ?” asked Philip, eagerly. He was used to knowing every one.

“ Hope’s pet,” said Kate, “and she who pets Hope, Lady Antwerp.”

“ Is it possible ? ” said Malbone. “That young creature? I fancied her ladyship in spectacles, with little side curls. Men speak of her with such dismay.”

“ Of course,” said Kate, “ she asks them sensible questions.”

“That is bad,” admitted Philip. “ Nothing exasperates fashionable Americans like a really intelligent foreigner. They feel as Sydney Smith says the English clergy felt about Elizabeth Fry; she disturbs their repose, and gives rise to distressing comparisons, — they long to burn her alive. It is not their notion of a countess.”

“I am sure itwas not mine,”said Hope, “ I can hardly remember that she is one ; I only know that I like her, she is so simple and intelligent. She might be a girl from a Normal School.”

“It is because you are just that,” said Kate, “that she likes you. She came here supposing that we had all been at such schools. Then she complained of us, — us girls in what we call good society, I mean, — because, as she more than hinted, we did not seem to know anything.”

“Some of the mothers were angry,” said Hope. “But Aunt Jane told her that it was perfectly true, and that her ladyship had not yet seen the best-educated girls in America, who were generally the daughters of old ministers and well-to-do shopkeepers in small New England towns, Aunt Jane said.”

“ Yes,” said Kate, “ she said that the best of those girls went to High Schools and Normal Schools, and learned things thoroughly, you know; but that we were only taught at boarding-schools and by governesses, and came out at eighteen, and what could we know ? Then came Hope, who had been at those schools, and was the child of refined people too, and Lady Antwerp was perfectly satisfied.”

“Especially,” said Hope, “when Aunt Jane told her that, after all, schools did not do very much good, for if people were born stupid they only became more tiresome by schooling. She said that she had forgotten all she learned at school except the boundaries of Ancient Cappadocia.”

Aunt Jane’s fearless sayings always passed current among her nieces, and they drove on ; Hope not being lowered in Philip’s estimation, nor raised in her own, by being the pet of a passing countess.

Who would not be charmed (he thought to himself) by this noble girl, who walks the earth fresh and strong as a Greek goddess, pure as Diana, stately as Juno ? She belongs to the unspoiled womanhood of another age, and is wasted among these dolls and butterflies.

He looked at her. She sat erect and graceful, unable to droop into the debility of fashionable reclining, — her breezy hair lifted a little by the soft wind, her face flushed, her full brown eyes looking eagerly about, her mouth smiling happily. To be with those she loved best, and to be driving over the beautiful earth ! She was so happy that no mob of fashionables could have lessened her enjoyment, or made her for a moment conscious that anybody looked at her. The brilliant equipages which they met each moment were not wholly uninteresting even to her, for her affections went forth to some of the riders and to all the horses. She was as well contented at that moment, on the glittering Avenue, as if they had all been riding home through country lanes, and in constant peril of being jolted out among the whortleberry-bushes.

Her face brightened yet more as they met a carriage containing a graceful lady, dressed with that exquisiteness of taste that charms both man and woman, even if no man can analyze and no woman rival its effect. She had a perfectly highbred look, and an eye that in an instant would calculate one’s ancestors as far back as Nebuchadnezzar, and bow to them all together. She smiled goodnaturedly on Hope and kissed her hand to Kate.

“So, Hope,” said Philip, “you are bent on teaching music to Mrs. Meredith’s children.”

“ Indeed I am ! ” said Hope, eagerly. “O Philip, I shall enjoy it so! I do not care so very much about her, but she has dear little girls. And you know I am a born drudge. I have not been working hard enough to enjoy an entire vacation ; but I shall be so very happy here if I can have some real work for an hour or two every other day.”

“ Hope ! ” said Philip, gravely, “ look steadily at these people whom we are meeting, and reflect. Should you like to have them say, ‘There goes Mrs. Meredith’s music-teacher ? ’ ”

“Why not?” said Hope, with surprise. “ The children are young, and it is not very presumptuous. I ought to know enough for that.”

Malbone looked at Kate, who smiled with delight, and put her hand on that of Hope. Indeed, she kept it there so long that one or two passing ladies stopped their salutations in mid career, and actually looked after them in amazement at their attitude, as who should say, “What a very mixed society!”

So they drove on, — meeting four-inhands, and tandems, and donkey-carts, and a goat-cart, and basket-wagons driven by pretty girls, with uncomfortable youths in or out of livery behind. They met, had they but known it, many who were aiming at notoriety, and some who had it; many who looked contented with their lot, and some who actually were so. They met some who put on courtesy and grace with their kid gloves, and laid away those virtues in their glove-boxes afterwards ; while to others the mere consciousness of kid gloves brought uneasiness, redness of the face, and a general impression of being all made of hands. They met the four white horses of an ex-harness-maker, and the superb harnesses of an exhorse-dealer. Behind these came the gayest and most plebeian equipage of all, a party of journeyman carpenters returning from their work in a fourhorse-wagon. Their only fit compeers were an Italian opera-troupe, who were chatting and gesticulating on the piazza of the great hotel, and planning, amid jest and laughter, their future campaigns. Their work seemed like play, while the play around them seemed like work. Indeed, most people on the Avenue seemed to be happy in inverse ratio to their income list.

As our youths and maidens passed the hotel, a group of French naval officers strolled forth, some of whom had a good deal of inexplicable gold lace dangling in festoons from their shoulders, — “top-sail-halyards ” the American midshipmen called them. Philip looked hard at one of these gentlemen.

“ I have seen that young fellow before,” said he, “or his twin brother. But who can swear to the personal identity of a Frenchman?”