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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

V. A Multivalve Heart

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If it was sometimes forced upon him that all this ended in anguish to some of these various charmers, first or last, then there was always in reserve the pleasure of repentance. He was very winning and generous in his repentances, and he enjoyed them so much they were often repeated. He did not pass for a weak person, and he was not exactly weak; but he spent his life in putting away temptations with one hand and pulling them back with the other. There was for him something piquant in being thus neither innocent nor guilty, but always on some delicious middle ground. He loved dearly to skate on thin ice,--that was the trouble,--especially where he fancied the water to be just within his depth. Unluckily the sea of life deepens rather fast.

Malbone had known Hope from her childhood, as he had known her cousins, but their love dated from their meetings beside the sickbed of his mother, over whom he had watched with unstinted devotion for weary months. She had been very fond of the young girl, and her last earthly act was to place Hope's hand in Philip's. Long before this final consecration, Hope had won his heart more thoroughly, he fancied, than any woman he had ever seen. The secret of this crowning charm was, perhaps, that she was a new sensation. He had prided himself on his knowledge of her sex, and yet here was a wholly new species. He was acquainted with the women of society, and with the women who only wished to be in society. But here was one who was in the chrysalis, and had never been a grub, and had no wish to be a butterfly, and what should he make of her? He was like a student of insects who had never seen a bee. Never had he known a young girl who cared for the things which this maiden sought, or who was not dazzled by things to which Hope seemed perfectly indifferent. She was not a devotee, she was not a prude; people seemed to amuse and interest her; she liked them, she declared, as much as she liked books. But this very way of putting the thing seemed like inverting the accustomed order of affairs in the polite world, and was of itself a novelty.

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Of course he had previously taken his turn for a while among Kate's admirers; but it was when she was very young, and, moreover, it was hard to get up anything like a tender and confidential relation with that frank maiden; she never would have accepted Philip Malbone for herself, and she was by no means satisfied with his betrothal to her best beloved. But that Hope loved him ardently there was no doubt, however it might be explained. Perhaps it was some law of opposites, and she needed some one of lighter nature than her own. As her resolute purpose charmed him, so she may have found a certain fascination in the airy way in which he took hold on life; he was so full of thought and intelligence; possessing infinite leisure, and yet incapable of ennui; ready to oblige every one, and doing so many kind acts at so little personal sacrifice; always easy, graceful, lovable, and kind. In her just indignation at those who called him heartless, she forgot to notice that his heart was not deep. He was interested in all her pursuits, could aid her in all her studies, suggest schemes for her benevolent desires, and could then make others work for her, and even work himself. People usually loved Philip, even while they criticised him; but Hope loved him first, and then could not criticise him at all.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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