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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

IX. Dangerous Ways

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But when that soft, pleading voice came once more, and Emilia asked perhaps for luncheon, in tones fit for Ophelia, Aunt Jane instantly yielded. One might as well have tried to enforce indignation against the Babes in the Wood.

This perpetual mute appeal was further strengthened by a peculiar physical habit in Emilia, which first alarmed the household, but soon ceased to inspire terror. She fainted very easily, and had attacks at long intervals akin to faintness, and lasting for several hours. The physicians pronounced them cataleptic in their nature, saying that they brought no danger, and that she would certainly outgrow them. They were sometimes produced by fatigue, sometimes by excitement, but they brought no agitation with them, nor any development of abnormal powers. They simply wrapped her in a profound repose, from which no effort could rouse her, till the trance passed by. Her eyes gradually closed, her voice died away, and all movement ceased, save that her eyelids sometimes trembled without opening, and sweet evanescent expressions chased each other across her face,--the shadows of thoughts unseen. For a time she seemed to distinguish the touch of different persons by preference or pain; but soon even this sign of recognition vanished, and the household could only wait and watch, while she sank into deeper and yet deeper repose.

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There was something inexpressibly sweet, appealing, and touching in this impenetrable slumber, when it was at its deepest. She looked so young, so delicate, so lovely; it was as if she had entered into a shrine, and some sacred curtain had been dropped to shield her from all the cares and perplexities of life. She lived, she breathed, and yet all the storms of life could but beat against her powerless, as the waves beat on the shore. Safe in this beautiful semblance of death,--her pulse a little accelerated, her rich color only softened, her eyelids drooping, her exquisite mouth curved into the sweetness it had lacked in waking,--she lay unconscious and supreme, the temporary monarch of the household, entranced upon her throne. A few hours having passed, she suddenly waked, and was a self-willed, passionate girl once more. When she spoke, it was with a voice wholly natural; she had no recollection of what had happened, and no curiosity to learn.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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