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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XVII. Discovery

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Relieved of that slight shudder at the supernatural which sometimes affects the healthiest nerves, Hope paused to consider. To alarm the neighborhood was her first thought. A slight murmuring from above dispelled it; she must first reconnoitre a few steps farther. As she ascended a little way, a gleam shone upon her, and down the damp stairway came a fragrant odor, as from some perfumed chamber. Then a door was shut and reopened. Eager beyond expression, she followed on. Another step, and she stood at the door of Malbone's apartment.

The room was brilliant with light; the doors and windows were heavily draped. Fruit and flowers and wine were on the table. On the sofa lay Emilia in a gay ball-dress, sunk in one of her motionless trances, while Malbone, pale with terror, was deluging her brows with the water he had just brought from the well below.

Hope stopped a moment and leaned against the door, as her eyes met Malbone's. Then she made her way to a chair, and leaning on the back of it, which she fingered convulsively, looked with bewildered eyes and compressed lips from the one to the other. Malbone tried to speak, but failed; tried again, and brought forth only a whisper that broke into clearer speech as the words went on. "No use to explain," he said. "Lambert is in New York. Mrs. Meredith is expecting her--to-night after the ball. What can we do?"

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Hope covered her face as he spoke; she could bear anything better than to have him say "we," as if no gulf had opened between them. She sank slowly on her knees behind her chair, keeping it as a sort of screen between herself and these two people,--the counterfeits, they seemed, of her lover and her sister. If the roof in falling to crush them had crushed her also, she could scarcely have seemed more rigid or more powerless. It passed, and the next moment she was on her feet again, capable of action.

"She must be taken," she said very clearly, but in a lower tone than usual, "to my chamber." Then pointing to the candles, she said, more huskily, "We must not be seen. Put them out." Every syllable seemed to exhaust her. But as Philip obeyed her words, he saw her move suddenly and stand by Emilia's side.

She put out both arms as if to lift the young girl, and carry her away.

"You cannot," said Philip, putting her gently aside, while she shrank from his touch. Then he took Emilia in his arms and bore her to the door, Hope preceding.

Motioning him to pause a moment, she turned the lock softly, and looked out into the dark entry. All was still. She went out, and he followed with his motionless burden. They walked stealthily, like guilty things, yet every slight motion seemed to ring in their ears. It was chilly, and Hope shivered. Through the great open window on the stairway a white fog peered in at them, and the distant fog-whistle came faintly through; it seemed as if the very atmosphere were condensing about them, to isolate the house in which such deeds were done. The clock struck twelve, and it seemed as if it struck a thousand.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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