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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XVIII. Hope's Vigil

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She rose again and went to the bedside. It all seemed like a dream, and she was able to look at Emilia's existence and at her own and at all else, as if it were a great way off; as we watch the stars and know that no speculations of ours can reach those who there live or die untouched. Here beside her lay one who was dead, yet living, in her temporary trance, and to what would she wake, when it should end? This young creature had been sent into the world so fresh, so beautiful, so richly gifted; everything about her physical organization was so delicate and lovely; she had seemed like heliotrope, like a tube-rose in her purity and her passion (who was it said, "No heart is pure that is not passionate"?); and here was the end! Nothing external could have placed her where she was, no violence, no outrage, no evil of another's doing, could have reached her real life without her own consent; and now what kind of existence, what career, what possibility of happiness remained? Why could not God in his mercy take her, and give her to his holiest angels for schooling, ere it was yet too late?

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Hope went and sat by the window once more. Her thoughts still clung heavily around one thought, as the white fog clung round the house. Where should she see any light? What opening for extrication, unless, indeed, Emilia should die? There could be no harm in that thought, for she knew it was not to be, and that the swoon would not last much longer. Who could devise anything? No one. There was nothing. Almost always in perplexities there is some thread by resolutely holding to which one escapes at last. Here there was none. There could probably be no concealment, certainly no explanation. In a few days John Lambert would return, and then the storm must break. He was probably a stern, jealous man, whose very dulness, once aroused, would be more formidable than if he had possessed keener perceptions.

Still her thoughts did not dwell on Philip. He was simply a part of that dull mass of pain that beset her and made her feel, as she had felt when drowning, that her heart had left her breast and nothing but will remained. She felt now, as then, the capacity to act with more than her accustomed resolution, though all that was within her seemed boiling up into her brain. As for Philip, all seemed a mere negation; there was a vacuum where his place had been. At most the thought of him came to her as some strange, vague thrill of added torture, penetrating her soul and then passing; just as ever and anon there came the sound of the fog-whistle on Brenton's Reef, miles away, piercing the dull air with its shrill and desolate wail, then dying into silence.

What a hopeless cloud lay upon them all forever,--upon Kate, upon Harry, upon their whole house! Then there was John Lambert; how could they keep it from him? how could they tell him? Who could predict what he would say? Would he take the worst and coarsest view of his young wife's mad action or the mildest? Would he be strong or weak; and what would be weakness, and what strength, in a position so strange? Would he put Emilia from him, send her out in the world desolate, her soul stained but by one wrong passion, yet with her reputation blighted as if there were no good in her? Could he be asked to shield and protect her, or what would become of her? She was legally a wife, and could only be separated from him through convicted shame.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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