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  Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XI. Descensus Averni

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MALBONE stood one morning on the pier behind the house. A two days' fog was dispersing. The southwest breeze rippled the deep blue water; sailboats, blue, red, and green, were darting about like white-winged butterflies; sloops passed and repassed, cutting the air with the white and slender points of their gaff-topsails. The liberated sunbeams spread and penetrated everywhere, and even came up to play (reflected from the water) beneath the shadowy, overhanging counters of dark vessels. Beyond, the atmosphere was still busy in rolling away its vapors, brushing the last gray fringes from the low hills, and leaving over them only the thinnest aerial veil. Farther down the bay, the pale tower of the crumbling fort was now shrouded, now revealed, then hung with floating lines of vapor as with banners.

Hope came down on the pier to Malbone, who was looking at the boats. He saw with surprise that her calm brow was a little clouded, her lips compressed, and her eyes full of tears.

"Philip," she said, abruptly, "do you love me?"

"Do you doubt it?" said he, smiling, a little uneasily.

Fixing her eyes upon him, she said, more seriously: "There is a more important question, Philip. Tell me truly, do you care about Emilia?"

He started at the words, and looked eagerly in her face for an explanation. Her expression only showed the most anxious solicitude.

For one moment the wild impulse came up in his mind to put an entire trust in this truthful woman, and tell her all. Then the habit of concealment came back to him, the dull hopelessness of a divided duty, and the impossibility of explanations. How could he justify himself to her when he did not really know himself? So he merely said, "Yes."

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"She is your sister," he added, in an explanatory tone, after a pause; and despised himself for the subterfuge. It is amazing how long a man may be false in action before he ceases to shrink from being false in words.

"Philip," said the unsuspecting Hope, "I knew that you cared about her. I have seen you look at her with so much affection; and then again I have seen you look cold and almost stern. She notices it, I am sure she does, this changeableness. But this is not why I ask the question. I think you must have seen something else that I have been observing, and if you care about her, even for my sake, it is enough."

Here Philip started, and felt relieved.

"You must be her friend," continued Hope, eagerly. "She has changed her whole manner and habits very fast. Blanche Ingleside and that set seem to have wholly controlled her, and there is something reckless in all her ways. You are the only person who can help her."


"I do not know how," said Hope, almost impatiently. "You know how. You have wonderful influence. You saved her before, and will do it again. I put her in your hands."

"What can I do for her?" asked he, with a strange mingling of terror and delight.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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