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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XII. A New Engagement

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TEN days later Philip came into Aunt Jane's parlor, looking excited and gloomy, with a letter in his hand. He put it down on her table without its envelope,--a thing that always particularly annoyed her. A letter without its envelope, she was wont to say, was like a man without a face, or a key without a string,--something incomplete, preposterous. As usual, however, he strode across her prejudices, and said, "I have something to tell you. It is a fact."

"Is it?" said Aunt Jane, curtly. "That is refreshing in these times."

"A good beginning," said Kate. "Go on. You have prepared us for something incredible."

"You will think it so," said Malbone. "Emilia is engaged to Mr. John Lambert." And he went out of the room.

"Good Heavens!" said Aunt Jane, taking off her spectacles. "What a man! He is ugly enough to frighten the neighboring crows. His face looks as if it had fallen together out of chaos, and the features had come where it had pleased Fate. There is a look of industrious nothingness about him, such as busy dogs have. I know the whole family. They used to bake our bread."

"I suppose they are good and sensible," said Kate.

"Like boiled potatoes, my dear," was the response,--"wholesome but perfectly uninteresting."

"Is he of that sort?" asked Kate.

"No," said her aunt; "not uninteresting, but ungracious. But I like an ungracious man better than one like Philip, who hangs over young girls like a soft-hearted avalanche. This Lambert will govern Emilia, which is what she needs."

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"She will never love him," said Kate, "which is the one thing she needs. There is nothing that could not be done with Emilia by any person with whom she was in love; and nothing can ever be done with her by anybody else. No good will ever come of this, and I hope she will never marry him."

With this unusual burst, Kate retreated to Hope. Hope took the news more patiently than any one, but with deep solicitude. A worldly marriage seemed the natural result of the Ingleside influence, but it had not occurred to anybody that it would come so soon. It had not seemed Emilia's peculiar temptation; and yet nobody could suppose that she looked at John Lambert through any glamour of the affections.

Mr. John Lambert was a millionnaire, a politician, and a widower. The late Mrs. Lambert had been a specimen of that cheerful hopelessness of temperament that one finds abundantly developed among the middle-aged women of country towns. She enjoyed her daily murders in the newspapers, and wept profusely at the funerals of strangers. On every occasion, however felicitous, she offered her condolences in a feeble voice, that seemed to have been washed a great many times and to have faded. But she was a good manager, a devoted wife, and was more cheerful at home than elsewhere, for she had there plenty of trials to exercise her eloquence, and not enough joy to make it her duty to be doleful. At last her poor, meek, fatiguing voice faded out altogether, and her husband mourned her as heartily as she would have bemoaned the demise of the most insignificant neighbor. After her death, being left childless, he had nothing to do but to make money, and he naturally made it. Having taken his primary financial education in New England, he graduated at that great business university, Chicago, and then entered on the public practice of wealth in New York.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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