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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XIII. Dreaming Dreams

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At these times she thought of Malbone, how gifted he was, how inexhaustible, how agreeable, with a faculty for happiness that would have been almost provoking had it not been contagious. Then she looked from her airy perch and smiled at him at the club-window, where he stood in the most negligent of attitudes, and with every faculty strained in observation. A moment and she was gone.

Then all was gone, and a mob of queens might have blocked the way, without his caring to discuss their genealogies, even with old General Le Breton, who had spent his best (or his worst) years abroad, and was supposed to have been confidential adviser to most of the crowned heads of Europe.

For the first time in his life Malbone found himself in the grasp of a passion too strong to be delightful. For the first time his own heart frightened him. He had sometimes feared that it was growing harder, but now he discovered that it was not hard enough.

He knew it was not merely mercenary motives that had made Emilia accept John Lambert; but what troubled him was a vague knowledge that it was not mere pique. He was used to dealing with pique in women, and had found it the most manageable of weaknesses. It was an element of spasmodic conscience than he saw here, and it troubled him.

Something told him that she had said to herself: "I will be married, and thus do my duty to Hope. Other girls marry persons whom they do not love, and it helps them to forget. Perhaps it will help me. This is a good man, they say, and I think he loves me."

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"Think?" John Lambert had adored her when she had passed by him without looking at him; and now when the thought came over him that she would be his wife, he became stupid with bliss. And as latterly he had thought of little else, he remained more or less stupid all the time.

To a man like Malbone, self-indulgent rather than selfish, this poor, blind semblance of a moral purpose in Emilia was a great embarrassment. It is a terrible thing for a lover when he detects conscience amidst the armory of weapons used against him, and faces the fact that he must blunt a woman's principles to win her heart. Philip was rather accustomed to evade conscience, but he never liked to look it in the face and defy it.

Yet if the thought of Hope at this time came over him, it came as a constraint, and he disliked it as such; and the more generous and beautiful she was, the greater the constraint. He cursed himself that he had allowed himself to be swayed back to her, and so had lost Emilia forever. And thus he drifted on, not knowing what he wished for, but knowing extremely well what he feared.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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