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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XI. Descensus Averni

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"Everything," said she. "If she has your society, she will not care for those people, so much her inferiors in character. Devote yourself to her for a time."

"And leave you?" said Philip, hesitatingly.

"Anything, anything," said she. "If I do not see you for a month, I can bear it. Only promise me two things. First, that you will go to her this very day. She dines with Mrs. Ingleside."

Philip agreed.

"Then," said Hope, with saddened tones, "you must not say it was I who sent you. Indeed you must not. That would spoil all. Let her think that your own impulse leads you, and then she will yield. I know Emilia enough for that."

Malbone paused, half in ecstasy, half in dismay. Were all the events of life combining to ruin or to save him? This young girl, whom he so passionately loved, was she to be thrust back into his arms, and was he to be told to clasp her and be silent? And that by Hope, and in the name of duty?

It seemed a strange position, even for him who was so eager for fresh experiences and difficult combinations. At Hope's appeal he was to risk Hope's peace forever; he was to make her sweet sisterly affection its own executioner. In obedience to her love he must revive Emilia's. The tender intercourse which he had been trying to renounce as a crime must be rebaptized as a duty. Was ever a man placed, he thought, in a position so inextricable, so disastrous? What could he offer Emilia? How could he explain to her his position? He could not even tell her that it was at Hope's command he sought her.

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He who is summoned to rescue a drowning man, knowing that he himself may go down with that inevitable clutch around his neck, is placed in some such situation as Philip's. Yet Hope had appealed to him so simply, had trusted him so nobly! Suppose that, by any self-control, or wisdom, or unexpected aid of Heaven, he could serve both her and Emilia, was it not his duty? What if it should prove that he was right in loving them both, and had only erred when he cursed himself for tampering with their destinies? Perhaps, after all, the Divine Love had been guiding him, and at some appointed signal all these complications were to be cleared, and he and his various loves were somehow to be ingeniously provided for, and all be made happy ever after.

He really grew quite tender and devout over these meditations. Phil was not a conceited fellow, by any means, but he had been so often told by women that their love for him had been a blessing to their souls, that he quite acquiesced in being a providential agent in that particular direction. Considered as a form of self-sacrifice, it was not without its pleasures.

Malbone drove that afternoon to Mrs. Ingleside's charming abode, whither a few ladies were wont to resort, and a great many gentlemen. He timed his call between the hours of dining and driving, and made sure that Emilia had not yet emerged. Two or three equipages beside his own were in waiting at the gate, and gay voices resounded from the house. A servant received him at the door, and taking him for a tardy guest, ushered him at once into the dining-room. He was indifferent to this, for he had been too often sought as a guest by Mrs. Ingleside to stand on any ceremony beneath her roof.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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