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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

XX. Aunt Jane To The Rescue

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She sent Ruth erelong to order the horses. Hope collected her various wrappers, and Ruth, returning, got her mistress into a state of preparation.

"If I might say one thing more," Hope whispered.

"Certainly," said her aunt. "Ruth, go to my chamber, and get me a pin."

"What kind of a pin, ma'am?" asked that meek handmaiden, from the doorway.

"What a question!" said her indignant mistress. "Any kind. The common pin of North America. Now, Hope?" as the door closed.

"I think it better, auntie," said Hope, "that Philip should not stay here longer at present. You can truly say that the house is full, and--"

"I have just had a note from him," said Aunt Jane severely. "He has gone to lodge at the hotel. What next?"

"Aunt Jane," said Hope, looking her full in the face, "I have not the slightest idea what to do next."

("The next thing for me," thought her aunt, "is to have a little plain speech with that misguided child upstairs.")

"I can see no way out," pursued Hope.

"Darling!" said Aunt Jane, with a voice full of womanly sweetness, "there is always a way out, or else the world would have stopped long ago. Perhaps it would have been better if it had stopped, but you see it has not. All we can do is, to live on and try our best."

She bade Hope leave Emilia to her, and furthermore stipulated that Hope should go to her pupils as usual, that afternoon, as it was their last lesson. The young girl shrank from the effort, but the elder lady was inflexible. She had her own purpose in it. Hope once out of the way, Aunt Jane could deal with Emilia.

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No human being, when met face to face with Aunt Jane, had ever failed to yield up to her the whole truth she sought. Emilia was on that day no exception. She was prostrate, languid, humble, denied nothing, was ready to concede every point but one. Never, while she lived, would she dwell beneath John Lambert's roof again. She had left it impulsively, she admitted, scarce knowing what she did. But she would never return there to live. She would go once more and see that all was in order for Mr. Lambert, both in the house and on board the yacht, where they were to have taken up their abode for a time. There were new servants in the house, a new captain on the yacht; she would trust Mr. Lambert's comfort to none of them; she would do her full duty. Duty! the more utterly she felt herself to be gliding away from him forever, the more pains she was ready to lavish in doing these nothings well. About every insignificant article he owned she seemed to feel the most scrupulous and wife-like responsibility; while she yet knew that all she had was to him nothing, compared with the possession of herself; and it was the thought of this last ownership that drove her to despair.

Sweet and plaintive as the child's face was, it had a glimmer of wildness and a hunted look, that baffled Aunt Jane a little, and compelled her to temporize. She consented that Emilia should go to her own house, on condition that she would not see Philip,--which was readily and even eagerly promised,--and that Hope should spend the night with Emilia, which proposal was ardently accepted.

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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