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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XXII. Out Of The Depths

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And not far from the vessel, in a chamber of the seaside farm-house, lay the tenderer and fairer wreck of Emilia. Her storms and her passions were ended. The censure of the world, the anguish of friends, the clinging arms of love, were nothing now to her. Again the soft shelter of unconsciousness had clasped her in; but this time the trance was longer and the faintness was unto death.

From the moment of her drifting ashore, it was the young boatman who had assumed the right to care for her and to direct everything. Philip seemed stunned; Harry was his usual clear-headed and efficient self; but to his honest eyes much revealed itself in a little while; and when Hope arrived in the early morning, he said to her, "This boatman, who once saved your life, is Emilia's Swiss lover, Antoine Marval."

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"More than lover," said the young Swiss, overhearing. "She was my wife before God, when you took her from me. In my country, a betrothal is as sacred as a marriage. Then came that man, he filled her heart with illusions, and took her away in my absence. When my brother was here in the corvette, he found her for me. Then I came for her; I saved her sister; then I saw the name on the card and would not give my own. I became her servant. She saw me in the yacht, only once; she knew me; she was afraid. Then she said, 'Perhaps I still love you,--a little; I do not know; I am in despair; take me from this home I hate.' We sailed that day in the small boat for Narragansett,--I know not where. She hardly looked up or spoke; but for me, I cared for nothing since she was with me. When the storm came, she was frightened, and said, 'It is a retribution.' I said, 'You shall never go back.' She never did. Here she is. You cannot take her from me."

Once on board the light-ship, she had been assigned the captain's state-room, while Antoine watched at the door. She seemed to shrink from him whenever he went to speak to her, he owned, but she answered kindly and gently, begging to be left alone. When at last the vessel parted her moorings, he persuaded Emilia to come on deck and be lashed to the mast, where she sat without complaint.

Who can fathom the thoughts of that bewildered child, as she sat amid the spray and the howling of the blast, while the doomed vessel drifted on with her to the shore? Did all the error and sorrow of her life pass distinctly before her? Or did the roar of the surf lull her into quiet, like the unconscious kindness of wild creatures that toss and bewilder their prey into unconsciousness ere they harm it? None can tell. Death answers no questions; it only makes them needless.

The morning brought to the scene John Lambert, just arrived by land from New York.

The passion of John Lambert for his wife was of that kind which ennobles while it lasts, but which rarely outlasts marriage. A man of such uncongenial mould will love an enchanting woman with a mad, absorbing passion, where self-sacrifice is so mingled with selfishness that the two emotions seem one; he will hungrily yearn to possess her, to call her by his own name, to hold her in his arms, to kill any one else who claims her. But when she is once his wife, and his arms hold a body without a soul,--no soul at least for him,--then her image is almost inevitably profaned, and the passion which began too high for earth ends far too low for heaven. Let now death change that form to marble, and instantly it resumes its virgin holiness; though the presence of life did not sanctify, its departure does. It is only the true lover to whom the breathing form is as sacred as the breathless.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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