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0105_001E Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XIX. De Profundis

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Such beauty in anguish, the thrill of the possession of such love, the possibility of soothing by tenderness the wild mood which he could not meet by counsel,--it would have taken a stronger or less sympathetic nature than Malbone's to endure all this. It swept him away; this revival of passion was irresistible. When her pent-up feeling was once uttered, she turned to his love as a fancied salvation. It was a terrible remedy. She had never looked more beautiful, and yet she seemed to have grown old at once; her very caresses appeared to burn. She lingered and lingered, and still he kept her there; and when it was no longer possible for her to go without disturbing the house, he led her to a secret spiral stairway, which went from attic to cellar of that stately old mansion, and which opened by one or more doors on each landing, as his keen eye had found out. Descending this, he went forth with her into the dark and silent night. The mist hung around the house; the wet leaves fluttered and fell upon their cheeks; the water lapped desolately against the pier. Philip found a carriage and sent her back to Mrs. Meredith's, where she was staying during the brief absence of John Lambert.

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These concealed meetings, once begun, became an absorbing excitement. She came several times, staying half an hour, an hour, two hours. They were together long enough for suffering, never long enough for soothing. It was a poor substitute for happiness. Each time she came, Malbone wished that she might never go or never return. His warier nature was feverish with solicitude and with self-reproach; he liked the excitement of slight risks, but this was far too intense, the vibrations too extreme. She, on the other hand, rode triumphant over waves of passion which cowed him. He dared not exclude her; he dared not continue to admit her; he dared not free himself; he could not be happy. The privacy of the concealed stairway saved them from outward dangers, but not from inward fears. Their interviews were first blissful, then anxious, then sad, then stormy. It was at the end of such a storm that Emilia had passed into one of those deathly calms which belonged to her physical temperament; and it was under these circumstances that Hope had followed Philip to the door.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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