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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

An Artist's Creation

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"Your feeling does not seem natural," I said, hardly knowing what to answer.

"What good does it serve to know that?" she said, defiantly. "I say it to myself every day. Once when she was ill, and was given back to me in all the precious helplessness of babyhood, there was such a strange sweetness in it, I thought the charm might remain; but it vanished when she could run about once more. And she is such a healthy, self-reliant little thing," added Laura, glancing toward the bed with a momentary look of motherly pride that seemed strangely out of place amid these self-denunciations. "I wish her to be so," she added. "The best service I can do for her is to teach her to stand alone. And at some day," continued the beautiful woman, her whole face lighting up with happiness, "she may love as I have loved."

"And your husband," I said, after a pause,--"does your feeling represent his?"

"My husband," she said, "lives for his genius, as he should. You that know him, why do you ask?"

"And his heart?" I said, half frightened at my own temerity.

"Heart?" she answered. "He loves me."

Her color mounted higher yet; she had a look of pride, almost of haughtiness. All else seemed forgotten; she had turned away from the child's little bed, as if it had no existence. It flashed upon me that something of the poison of her artificial atmosphere was reaching her already.

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Kenmure's step was heard in the hall, and, with fire in her eyes, she hastened to meet him. I found myself actually breathing more freely after the departure of that enchanting woman, in danger of perishing inwardly, I said to myself, in an air too lavishly perfumed. Bending over Marian, I wondered if it were indeed possible that a perfectly healthy life had sprung from that union too intense and too absorbed. Yet I had often noticed that the child seemed to wear the temperaments of both her parents as a kind of playful disguise, and to peep at you, now out of the one, now from the other, showing that she had her own individual life behind.

As if by some infantine instinct, the darling turned in her sleep, and came unconsciously nearer me. With a half-feeling of self-reproach, I drew around my neck, inch by inch, the little arms that tightened with a delicious thrill; and so I half reclined there till I myself dozed, and the watchful Janet, looking in, warned me away. Crossing the entry to my own chamber, I heard Kenmure and Laura down stairs, but I knew that I should be superfluous, and felt that I was sleepy.

I had now, indeed, become always superfluous when they were together, though never when they were apart. Even they must be separated sometimes, and then each sought me, in order to discourse about the other. Kenmure showed me every sketch he had ever made of Laura. There she was, through all the range of her beauty,--there she was in clay, in cameo, in pencil, in water-color, in oils. He showed me also his poems, and, at last, a longer one, for which pencil and graver had alike been laid aside. All these he kept in a great cabinet she had brought with her to their housekeeping; and it seemed to me that he also treasured every flower she had dropped, every slender glove she had worn, every ribbon from her hair. I could not wonder, seeing his passion as it was. Who would not thrill at the touch of some such slight memorial of Mary of Scotland, or of Heloise? and what was all the regal beauty of the past to him? He found every room adorned when she was in it, empty when she had gone,--save that the trace of her was still left on everything, and all appeared but as a garment she had worn. It seemed that even her great mirror must retain, film over film, each reflection of her least movement, the turning of her head, the ungloving of her hand. Strange! that, with all this intoxicating presence, she yet led a life so free from self, so simple, so absorbed, that all trace of consciousness was excluded, and she was as free from vanity as her own child.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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