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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XIII. Dreaming Dreams

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Philip was getting into a dangerous mood with his sentimentalism. No lawful passion can ever be so bewildering or ecstatic as an unlawful one. For that which is right has all the powers of the universe on its side, and can afford to wait; but the wrong, having all those vast forces against it, must hurry to its fulfilment, reserve nothing, concentrate all its ecstasies upon to-day. Malbone, greedy of emotion, was drinking to the dregs a passion that could have no to-morrow.

Sympathetic persons are apt to assume that every refined emotion must be ennobling. This is not true of men like Malbone, voluptuaries of the heart. He ordinarily got up a passion very much as Lord Russell got up an appetite,--he, of Spence's Anecdotes, who went out hunting for that sole purpose, and left the chase when the sensation came. Malbone did not leave his more spiritual chase so soon,--it made him too happy. Sometimes, indeed, when he had thus caught his emotion, it caught him in return, and for a few moments made him almost unhappy. This he liked best of all; he nursed the delicious pain, knowing that it would die out soon enough, there was no need of hurrying it to a close. At least, there had never been need for such solicitude before.

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Except for his genius for keeping his own counsel, every acquaintance of Malbone's would have divined the meaning of these reveries. As it was, he was called whimsical and sentimental, but he was a man of sufficiently assured position to have whims of his own, and could even treat himself to an emotion or so, if he saw fit. Besides, he talked well to anybody on anything, and was admitted to exhibit, for a man of literary tastes, a good deal of sense. If he had engaged himself to a handsome schoolmistress, it was his fancy, and he could afford it. Moreover she was well connected, and had an air. And what more natural than that he should stand at the club-window and watch, when his young half-sister (that was to be) drove by with John Lambert? So every afternoon he saw them pass in a vehicle of lofty description, with two wretched appendages in dark blue broadcloth, who sat with their backs turned to their masters, kept their arms folded, and nearly rolled off at every corner. Hope would have dreaded the close neighborhood of those Irish ears; she would rather have ridden even in an omnibus, could she and Philip have taken all the seats. But then Hope seldom cared to drive on the Avenue at all, except as a means of reaching the ocean, whereas with most people it appears the appointed means to escape from that spectacle. And as for the footmen, there was nothing in the conversation worth their hearing or repeating; and their presence was a relief to Emilia, for who knew but Mr. Lambert himself might end in growing sentimental?

Yet she did not find him always equally tedious. Their drives had some variety. For instance, he sometimes gave her some lovely present before they set forth, and she could feel that, if his lips did not yield diamonds and rubies, his pockets did. Sometimes he conversed about money and investments, which she rather liked; this was his strong and commanding point; he explained things quite clearly, and they found, with mutual surprise, that she also had a shrewd little brain for those matters, if she would but take the trouble to think about them. Sometimes he insisted on being tender, and even this was not so bad as she expected, at least for a few minutes at a time; she rather enjoyed having her hand pressed so seriously, and his studied phrases amused her. It was only when he wished the conversation to be brilliant and intellectual, that he became intolerable; then she must entertain him, must get up little repartees, must tell him lively anecdotes, which he swallowed as a dog bolts a morsel, being at once ready for the next. He never made a comment, of course, but at the height of his enjoyment he gave a quick, short, stupid laugh, that so jarred upon her ears, she would have liked to be struck deaf rather than hear it again.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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