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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VI. "Some Lover's Clear Day"

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When he went to his chamber that night, he drew from his pocket a little note in a girlish hand, which he lighted in the candle, and put upon the open hearth to burn. With what a cruel, tinkling rustle the pages flamed and twisted and opened, as if the fire read them, and collapsed again as if in agonizing effort to hold their secret even in death! The closely folded paper refused to burn, it went out again and again; while each time Philip Malbone examined it ere relighting, with a sort of vague curiosity, to see how much passion had already vanished out of existence, and how much yet survived. For each of these inspections he had to brush aside the calcined portion of the letter, once so warm and beautiful with love, but changed to something that seemed to him a semblance of his own heart just then,--black, trivial, and empty.

Then he took from a little folded paper a long tress of dark silken hair, and, without trusting himself to kiss it, held it firmly in the candle. It crisped and sparkled, and sent out a pungent odor, then turned and writhed between his fingers, like a living thing in pain. What part of us has earthly immortality but our hair? It dies not with death. When all else of human beauty has decayed beyond corruption into the more agonizing irrecov-erableness of dust, the hair is still fresh and beautiful, defying annihilation, and restoring to the powerless heart the full association of the living image. These shrinking hairs, they feared not death, but they seemed to fear Malbone. Nothing but the hand of man could destroy what he was destroying; but his hand shrank not, and it was done.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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