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  Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XIX. De Profundis

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THIS was the history of Emilia's concealed visits to Malbone.

One week after her marriage, in a crisis of agony, Emilia took up her pen, dipped it in fire, and wrote thus to him:--

"Philip Malbone, why did nobody ever tell me what marriage is where there is no love? This man who calls himself my husband is no worse, I suppose, than other men. It is only for being what is called by that name that I abhor him. Good God! what am I to do? It was not for money that I married him,--that you know very well; I cared no more for his money than for himself. I thought it was the only way to save Hope. She has been very good to me, and perhaps I should love her, if I could love anybody. Now I have done what will only make more misery, for I cannot bear it. Philip, I am alone in this wide world, except for you. Tell me what to do. I will haunt you till you die, unless you tell me. Answer this, or I will write again."

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Terrified by this letter, absolutely powerless to guide the life with which he had so desperately entangled himself, Philip let one day pass without answering, and that evening he found Emilia at his door, she having glided unnoticed up the main stairway. She was so excited, it was equally dangerous to send her away or to admit her, and he drew her in, darkening the windows and locking the door. On the whole, it was not so bad as he expected; at least, there was less violence and more despair. She covered her face with her hands, and writhed in anguish, when she said that she had utterly degraded herself by this loveless marriage. She scarcely mentioned her husband. She made no complaint of him, and even spoke of him as generous. It seemed as if this made it worse, and as if she would be happier if she could expend herself in hating him. She spoke of him rather as a mere witness to some shame for which she herself was responsible; bearing him no malice, but tortured by the thought that he should exist.

Then she turned on Malbone. "Philip, why did you ever interfere with my life? I should have been very happy with Antoine if you had let me marry him, for I never should have known what it was to love you. Oh! I wish he were here now, even he,--any one who loved me truly, and whom I could love only a little. I would go away with such a person anywhere, and never trouble you and Hope any more. What shall I do? Philip, you might tell me what to do. Once you told me always to come to you."

"What can you do?" he asked gloomily, in return.

"I cannot imagine," she said, with a desolate look, more pitiable than passion, on her young face. "I wish to save Hope, and to save my--to save Mr. Lambert. Philip, you do not love me. I do not call it love. There is no passion in your veins; it is only a sort of sympathetic selfishness. Hope is infinitely better than you are, and I believe she is more capable of loving. I began by hating her, but if she loves you as I think she does, she has treated me more generously than ever one woman treated another. For she could not look at me and not know that I loved you. I did love you. O Philip, tell me what to do!"

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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