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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XIII. Dreaming Dreams

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SO short was the period between Emilia's betrothal and her marriage, that Aunt Jane's sufferings over trousseau and visits did not last long. Mr. Lambert's society was the worst thing to bear.

"He makes such long calls!" she said, despairingly. "He should bring an almanac with him to know when the days go by."

"But Harry and Philip are here all the time," said Kate, the accustomed soother.

"Harry is quiet, and Philip keeps out of the way lately," she answered. "But I always thought lovers the most inconvenient thing about a house. They are more troublesome than the mice, and all those people who live in the wainscot; for though the lovers make less noise, yet you have to see them."

"A necessary evil, dear," said Kate, with much philosophy.

"I am not sure," said the complainant. "They might be excluded in the deed of a house, or by the terms of the lease. The next house I take, I shall say to the owner, 'Have you a good well of water on the premises? Are you troubled with rats or lovers?' That will settle it."

It was true, what Aunt Jane said about Malbone. He had changed his habits a good deal. While the girls were desperately busy about the dresses, he beguiled Harry to the club, and sat on the piazza, talking sentiment and sarcasm, regardless of hearers.

"When we are young," he would say, "we are all idealists in love. Every imaginative boy has such a passion, while his intellect is crude and his senses indifferent. It is the height of bliss. All other pleasures are not worth its pains. With older men this ecstasy of the imagination is rare; it is the senses that clutch or reason which holds."

"Is that an improvement?" asked some juvenile listener.

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"No!" said Philip, strongly. "Reason is cold and sensuality hateful; a man of any feeling must feed his imagination; there must be a woman of whom he can dream."

"That is," put in some more critical auditor, "whom he can love as a woman loves a man."

"For want of the experience of such a passion," Malbone went on, unheeding, "nobody comprehends Petrarch. Philosophers and sensualists all refuse to believe that his dream of Laura went on, even when he had a mistress and a child. Why not? Every one must have something to which his dreams can cling, amid the degradations of actual life, and this tie is more real than the degradation; and if he holds to the tie, it will one day save him."

"What is the need of the degradation?" put in the clear-headed Harry.

"None, except in weakness," said Philip. "A stronger nature may escape it. Good God! do I not know how Petrarch must have felt? What sorrow life brings! Suppose a man hopelessly separated from one whom he passionately loves. Then, as he looks up at the starry sky, something says to him: 'You can bear all these agonies of privation, loss of life, loss of love,--what are they? If the tie between you is what you thought, neither life nor death, neither folly nor sin, can keep her forever from you.' Would that one could always feel so! But I am weak. Then comes impulse, it thirsts for some immediate gratification; I yield, and plunge into any happiness since I cannot obtain her. Then comes quiet again, with the stars, and I bitterly reproach myself for needing anything more than that stainless ideal. And so, I fancy, did Petrarch."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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