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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XVIII. Hope's Vigil

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Then, if separated, she could only marry Philip. Hope nerved herself to think of that, and it cost less effort than she expected.

There seemed a numbness on that side, instead of pain. But granting that he loved Emilia ever so deeply, was he a man to surrender his life and his ease and his fair name, in a hopeless effort to remove the ban that the world would place on her. Hope knew he would not; knew that even the simple-hearted and straightforward Harry would be far more capable of such heroism than the sentimental Malbone. Here the pang suddenly struck her; she was not so numb, after all!

As the leaves beside the window drooped motionless in the dank air, so her mind drooped into a settled depression. She pitied herself,--that lowest ebb of melancholy self-consciousness. She went back to Emilia, and, seating herself, studied every line of the girl's face, the soft texture of her hair, the veining of her eyelids. They were so lovely, she felt a sort of physical impulse to kiss them, as if they belonged to some utter stranger, whom she might be nursing in a hospital. Emilia looked as innocent as when Hope had tended her in the cradle. What is there, Hope thought, in sleep, in trance, and in death, that removes all harsh or disturbing impressions, and leaves only the most delicate and purest traits? Does the mind wander, and does an angel keep its place? Or is there really no sin but in thought, and are our sleeping thoughts incapable of sin? Perhaps even when we dream of doing wrong, the dream comes in a shape so lovely and misleading that we never recognize it for evil, and it makes no stain. Are our lives ever so pure as our dreams?

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This thought somehow smote across her conscience, always so strong, and stirred it into a kind of spasm of introspection. "How selfish have I, too, been!" she thought. "I saw only what I wished to see, did only what I preferred. Loving Philip" (for the sudden self-reproach left her free to think of him), "I could not see that I was separating him from one whom he might perhaps have truly loved. If he made me blind, may he not easily have bewildered her, and have been himself bewildered? How I tried to force myself upon him, too! Ungenerous, unwomanly! What am I, that I should judge another?"

She threw herself on her knees at the bedside.

Still Emilia slept, but now she stirred her head in the slightest possible way, so that a single tress of silken hair slipped from its companions, and lay across her face. It was a faint sign that the trance was waning; the slight pressure disturbed her nerves, and her lips trembled once or twice, as if to relieve themselves of the soft annoyance. Hope watched her in a vague, distant way, took note of the minutest motion, yet as if some vast weight hung upon her own limbs and made all interference impossible. Still there was a fascination of sympathy in dwelling on that atom of discomfort, that tiny suffering, which she alone could remove. The very vastness of this tragedy that hung about the house made it an inexpressible relief to her to turn and concentrate her thoughts for a moment on this slight distress, so easily ended.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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