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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXIII. Requiescat

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THANK God! it is not within the power of one man's errors to blight the promise of a life like that of Hope. It is but a feeble destiny that is wrecked by passion, when it should be ennobled. Aunt Jane and Kate watched Hope closely during her years of probation, for although she fancied herself to be keeping her own counsel, yet her career lay in broad light for them. She was like yonder sailboat, which floats conspicuous by night amid the path of moonbeams, and which yet seems to its own voyagers to be remote and unseen upon a waste of waves.

Why should I linger over the details of her life, after the width of ocean lay between her and Malbone, and a manhood of self-denying usefulness had begun to show that even he could learn something by life's retributions? We know what she was, and it is of secondary importance where she went or what she did. Kindle the light of the light-house, and it has nothing to do, except to shine. There is for it no wrong direction. There is no need to ask, "How? Over which especial track of distant water must my light go forth, to find the wandering vessel to be guided in?" It simply shines. Somewhere there is a ship that needs it, or if not, the light does its duty. So did Hope.

We must leave her here. Yet I cannot bear to think of her as passing through earthly life without tasting its deepest bliss, without the last pure ecstasy of human love, without the kisses of her own children on her lips, their waxen fingers on her bosom.

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And yet again, is this life so long? May it not be better to wait until its little day is done, and the summer night of old age has yielded to a new morning, before attaining that acme of joy? Are there enough successive grades of bliss for all eternity, if so much be consummated here? Must all novels end with an earthly marriage, and nothing be left for heaven?

Perhaps, for such as Hope, this life is given to show what happiness might be, and they await some other sphere for its fulfilment. The greater part of the human race live out their mortal years without attaining more than a far-off glimpse of the very highest joy. Were this life all, its very happiness were sadness. If, as I doubt not, there be another sphere, then that which is unfulfilled in this must yet find completion, nothing omitted, nothing denied. And though a thousand oracles should pronounce this thought an idle dream, neither Hope nor I would believe them.

It was a radiant morning of last February when I walked across the low hills to the scene of the wreck. Leaving the road before reaching the Fort, I struck across the wild moss-country, full of boulders and footpaths and stunted cedars and sullen ponds. I crossed the height of land, where the ruined lookout stands like the remains of a Druidical temple, and then went down toward the ocean. Banks and ridges of snow lay here and there among the fields, and the white lines of distant capes seemed but drifts running seaward. The ocean was gloriously alive,--the blackest blue, with white caps on every wave; the shore was all snowy, and the gulls were flying back and forth in crowds; you could not tell whether they were the white waves coming ashore, or bits of snow going to sea. A single fragment of ship-timber, black with time and weeds, and crusty with barnacles, heaved to and fro in the edge of the surf, and two fishermen's children, a boy and girl, tilted upon it as it moved, clung with the semblance of terror to each other, and played at shipwreck.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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