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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XII. A New Engagement

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Sometimes he talked a little to his future brother-in-law, Harry,--assuming, as lovers are wont, that brothers see sisters on their ideal side. This was quite true of Harry and Hope, but not at all true as regarded Emilia. She seemed to him simply a beautiful and ungoverned girl whom he could not respect, and whom he therefore found it very hard to idealize. Therefore he heard with a sort of sadness the outpourings of generous devotion from John Lambert.

"I don't know how it is, Henry," the merchant would gravely say, "I can't get rightly used to it, that I feel so strange. Honestly, now, I feel as if I was beginning life over again. It ain't a selfish feeling, so I know there's some good in it. I used to be selfish enough, but I ain't so to her. You may not think it, but if it would make her happy, I believe I could lie down and let her carriage roll over me. By -----, I would build her a palace to live in, and keep the lodge at the gate myself, just to see her pass by. That is, if she was to live in it alone by herself. I couldn't stand sharing her. It must be me or nobody."

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Probably there was no male acquaintance of the parties, however hardened, to whom these fine flights would have seemed more utterly preposterous than to the immediate friend and prospective bridesmaid, Miss Blanche Ingleside. To that young lady, trained sedulously by a devoted mother, life was really a serious thing. It meant the full rigor of the marriage market, tempered only by dancing and new dresses. There was a stern sense of duty beneath all her robing and disrobing; she conscientiously did what was expected of her, and took her little amusements meanwhile. It was supposed that most of the purchasers in the market preferred slang and bare shoulders, and so she favored them with plenty of both. It was merely the law of supply and demand. Had John Lambert once hinted that he would accept her in decent black, she would have gone to the next ball as a Sister of Charity; but where was the need of it, when she and her mother both knew that, had she appeared as the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, she would not have won him? So her only resource was a cheerful acquiescence in Emilia's luck, and a judicious propitiation of the accepted favorite.

"I wouldn't mind playing Virtue Rewarded myself, young woman," said Blanche, "at such a scale of prices. I would do it even to so slow an audience as old Lambert. But you see, it isn't my line. Don't forget your humble friends when you come into your property, that's all." Then the tender coterie of innocents entered on some preliminary consideration of wedding-dresses.

When Emilia came home, she dismissed the whole matter lightly as a settled thing, evaded all talk with Aunt Jane, and coolly said to Kate that she had no objection to Mr. Lambert, and might as well marry him as anybody else.

"I am not like you and Hal, you know," said she. "I have no fancy for love in a cottage. I never look well in anything that is not costly. I have not a taste that does not imply a fortune. What is the use of love? One marries for love, and is unhappy ever after. One marries for money, and perhaps gets love after all. I dare say Mr. Lambert loves me, though I do not see why he should."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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