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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XVIII. Hope's Vigil

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HAD Emilia chosen out of life's whole armory of weapons the means of disarming Hope, she could have found nothing so effectual as nature had supplied in her unconsciousness. Helplessness conquers. There was a quality in Emilia which would have always produced something very like antagonism in Hope, had she not been her sister. Had the ungoverned girl now been able to utter one word of reproach, had her eyes flashed one look of defiance, had her hand made one triumphant or angry gesture, perhaps all Hope's outraged womanhood would have coldly nerved itself against her. But it was another thing to see those soft eyes closed, those delicate hands powerless, those pleading lips sealed; to see her extended in graceful helplessness, while all the concentrated drama of emotion revolved around her unheeded, as around Cordelia dead. In what realms was that child's mind seeking comfort; through what thin air of dreams did that restless heart beat its pinions; in what other sphere did that untamed nature wander, while shame and sorrow waited for its awakening in this?

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Hope knelt upon the floor, still too much strained and bewildered for tears or even prayer, a little way from Emilia. Once having laid down the unconscious form, it seemed for a moment as if she could no more touch it than she could lay her hand amid flames. A gap of miles, of centuries, of solar systems, seemed to separate these two young girls, alone within the same chamber, with the same stern secret to keep, and so near that the hem of their garments almost touched each other on the soft carpet. Hope felt a terrible hardness closing over her heart. What right had this cruel creature, with her fatal witcheries, to come between two persons who might have been so wholly happy? What sorrow would be saved, what shame, perhaps, be averted, should those sweet beguiling eyes never open, and that perfidious voice never deceive any more? Why tend the life of one who would leave the whole world happier, purer, freer, if she were dead?

In a tumult of thought, Hope went and sat half-unconsciously by the window. There was nothing to be seen except the steady beacon of the light-house and a pale-green glimmer, like an earthly star, from an anchored vessel. The night wind came softly in, soothing her with a touch like a mother's, in its grateful coolness. The air seemed full of half-vibrations, sub-noises, that crowded it as completely as do the insect sounds of midsummer; yet she could only distinguish the ripple beneath her feet, and the rote on the distant beach, and the busy wash of waters against every shore and islet of the bay. The mist was thick around her, but she knew that above it hung the sleepless stars, and the fancy came over her that perhaps the whole vast interval, from ocean up to sky, might be densely filled with the disembodied souls of her departed human kindred, waiting to see how she would endure that path of grief in which their steps had gone before. "It may be from this influence," she vaguely mused within herself, "that the ocean derives its endless song of sorrow. Perhaps we shall know the meaning when we understand that of the stars, and of our own sad lives."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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