Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Part 3 out of 3
up by Aunt Jane's Robinson Crusoe, who had at last unmoored his
pilot-boat and was rounding the light-house for the outer
She and the child were soon landed, and given over to the
ladies. Due attention was paid to her young rescuer, whose
dripping garments seemed for the moment as glorious as a
blood-stained flag. He seemed a simple, frank young fellow of
French or German origin, but speaking English remarkably well;
he was not high-bred, by any means, but had apparently the
culture of an average German of the middle class. Harry fancied
that he had seen him before, and at last traced back the
impression of his features to the ball for the French officers.
It turned out, on inquiry, that he had a brother in the
service, and on board the corvette; but he himself was a
commercial agent, now in America with a view to business,
though he had made several voyages as mate of a vessel, and
would not object to some such berth as that. He promised to
return and receive the thanks of the family, read with interest
the name on Harry's card, seemed about to ask a question, but
forbore, and took his leave amid the general confusion, without
even giving his address. When sought next day, he was not to
be found, and to the children he at once became as much a
creature of romance as the sea-serpent or the Flying Dutchman.
Even Hope's strong constitution felt the shock of this
adventure. She was confined to her room for a week or two, but
begged that there might be no postponement of the wedding,
which, therefore, took place without her. Her illness gave
excuse for a privacy that was welcome to all but the
bridesmaids, and suited Malbone best of all.
ON THE STAIRS.
AUGUST drew toward its close, and guests departed from the
"What a short little thing summer is," meditated Aunt Jane,
"and butterflies are caterpillars most of the time after all.
How quiet it seems. The wrens whisper in their box above the
window, and there has not been a blast from the peacock for a
week. He seems ashamed of the summer shortness of his tail. He
keeps glancing at it over his shoulder to see if it is not
looking better than yesterday, while the staring eyes of the
old tail are in the bushes all about."
"Poor, dear little thing!" said coaxing Katie. "Is she tired
of autumn, before it is begun?"
"I am never tired of anything," said Aunt Jane, "except my maid
Ruth, and I should not be tired of her, if it had pleased
Heaven to endow her with sufficient strength of mind to sew on
a button. Life is very rich to me. There is always something
new in every season; though to be sure I cannot think what
novelty there is just now, except a choice variety of spiders.
There is a theory that spiders kill flies. But I never miss a
fly, and there does not seem to be any natural scourge divinely
appointed to kill spiders, except Ruth. Even she does it so
feebly, that I see them come back and hang on their webs and
make faces at her. I suppose they are faces; I do not
understand their anatomy, but it must be a very unpleasant
"You are not quite satisfied with life, today, dear," said
Kate; "I fear your book did not end to your satisfaction."
"It did end, though," said the lady, "and that is something.
What is there in life so difficult as to stop a book?" If I
wrote one, it would be as long as ten 'Sir Charles Grandisons,'
and then I never should end it, because I should die. And there
would be nobody left to read it, because each reader would have
been dead long before."
"But the book amused you!" interrupted Kate. "I know it did."
"It was so absurd that I laughed till I cried; and it makes no
difference whether you cry laughing or cry crying; it is
equally bad when your glasses come off. Never mind. Whom did
you see on the Avenue?"
"O, we saw Philip on horseback. He rides so beautifully; he
seems one with his horse."
"I am glad of it," interposed his aunt. "The riders are
generally so inferior to them."
"We saw Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, too. Emilia stopped and asked
after you, and sent you her love, auntie."
"Love!" cried Aunt Jane. "She always does that. She has sent
me love enough to rear a whole family on,--more than I ever
felt for anybody in all my days. But she does not really love
"I hope she will love her husband," said Kate, rather
"Mark my words, Kate!" said her aunt. "Nothing but unhappiness
will ever come of that marriage. How can two people be happy
who have absolutely nothing in common?"
"But no two people have just the same tastes," said Kate,
"except Harry and myself. It is not expected. It would be
absurd for two people to be divorced, because the one preferred
white bread and the other brown."
"They would be divorced very soon," said Aunt Jane, "for the
one who ate brown bread would not live long."
"But it is possible that he might live, auntie, in spite of
your prediction. And perhaps people may be happy, even if you
and I do not see how."
"Nobody ever thinks I see anything," said Aunt Jane, in some
dejection. "You think I am nothing in the world but a sort of
old oyster, making amusement for people, and having no more to
do with real life than oysters have."
"No, dearest!" cried Kate. "You have a great deal to do with
all our lives. You are a dear old insidious sapper-and-miner,
looking at first very inoffensive, and then working your way
into our affections, and spoiling us with coaxing. How you
behave about children, for instance!"
"How?" said the other meekly. "As well as I can."
"But you pretend that you dislike them."
"But I do dislike them. How can anybody help it? Hear them
swearing at this moment, boys of five, paddling in the water
there! Talk about the murder of the innocents! There are so
few innocents to be murdered! If I only had a gun and could
"You may not like those particular boys," said Kate, "but you
like good, well-behaved children, very much."
"It takes so many to take care of them! People drive by here,
with carriages so large that two of the largest horses can
hardly draw them, and all full of those little beings. They
have a sort of roof, too, and seem to expect to be out in all
"If you had a family of children, perhaps you would find such a
travelling caravan very convenient," said Kate.
"If I had such a family," said her aunt, "I would have a
separate governess and guardian for each, very moral persons.
They should come when each child was two, and stay till it was
twenty. The children should all live apart, in order not to
quarrel, and should meet once or twice a day and bow to each
other. I think that each should learn a different language, so
as not to converse, and then, perhaps, they would not get each
other into mischief."
"I am sure, auntie," said Kate, "you have missed our small
nephews and nieces ever since their visit ended. How still the
house has been!"
"I do not know," was the answer. "I hear a great many noises
about the house. Somebody comes in late at night. Perhaps it
is Philip; but he comes very softly in, wipes his feet very
gently, like a clean thief, and goes up stairs."
"O auntie!" said Kate, "you know you have got over all such
"They are not fancies," said Aunt Jane. "Things do happen in
houses! Did I not look under the bed for a thief during fifteen
years, and find one at last? Why should I not be allowed to
hear something now?"
"But, dear Aunt Jane," said Kate, "you never told me this
"No," said she. "I was beginning to tell you the other day,
but Ruth was just bringing in my handkerchiefs, and she had
used so much bluing, they looked as if they had been washed in
heaven, so that it was too outrageous, and I forgot everything
"But do you really hear anything?"
"Yes," said her aunt. "Ruth declares she hears noises in those
closets that I had nailed up, you know; but that is nothing; of
course she does. Rats. What I hear at night is the creaking
of stairs, when I know that nobody ought to be stirring. If you
observe, you will hear it too. At least, I should think you
would, only that somehow everything always seems to stop, when
it is necessary to prove that I am foolish."
The girls had no especial engagement that evening, and so got
into a great excitement on the stairway over Aunt Jane's
solicitudes. They convinced themselves that they heard all
sorts of things,--footfalls on successive steps, the creak of a
plank, the brushing of an arm against a wall, the jar of some
suspended object that was stirred in passing. Once they heard
something fall on the floor, and roll from step to step; and
yet they themselves stood on the stairway, and nothing passed.
Then for some time there was silence, but they would have
persisted in their observations, had not Philip come in from
Mrs. Meredith's in the midst of it, so that the whole thing
turned into a frolic, and they sat on the stairs and told ghost
stories half the night.
THE next evening Kate and Philip went to a ball. As Hope was
passing through the hall late in the evening, she heard a
sudden, sharp cry somewhere in the upper regions, that sounded,
she thought, like a woman's voice. She stopped to hear, but
there was silence. It seemed to come from the direction of
Malbone's room, which was in the third story. Again came the
cry, more gently, ending in a sort of sobbing monologue.
Gliding rapidly up stairs in the dark, she paused at Philip's
deserted room, but the door was locked, and there was profound
stillness. She then descended, and pausing at the great
landing, heard other steps descending also. Retreating to the
end of the hall, she hastily lighted a candle, when the steps
ceased. With her accustomed nerve, wishing to explore the
thing thoroughly, she put out the light and kept still. As she
expected, the footsteps presently recommenced, descending
stealthily, but drawing no nearer, and seeming rather like
sounds from an adjoining house, heard through a party-wall.
This was impossible, as the house stood alone. Flushed with
excitement, she relighted the hall candles, and, taking one of
them, searched the whole entry and stairway, going down even to
the large, old-fashioned cellar.
Looking about her in this unfamiliar region, her eye fell on a
door that seemed to open into the wall; she had noticed a
similar door on the story above,--one of the closet doors that
had been nailed up by Aunt Jane's order. As she looked,
however, a chill breath blew in from another direction,
extinguishing her lamp. This air came from the outer door of
the cellar, and she had just time to withdraw into a corner
before a man's steps approached, passing close by her.
Even Hope's strong nerves had begun to yield, and a cold
shudder went through her. Not daring to move, she pressed
herself against the wall, and her heart seemed to stop as the
unseen stranger passed. Instead of his ascending where she had
come down, as she had expected, she heard him grope his way
toward the door she had seen in the wall.
There he seemed to find a stairway, and when his steps were
thus turned from her, she was seized by a sudden impulse and
followed him, groping her way as she could. She remembered
that the girls had talked of secret stairways in that house,
though she had no conception whither they could lead, unless to
some of the shut-up closets.
She steadily followed, treading cautiously upon each creaking
step. The stairway was very narrow, and formed a regular spiral
as in a turret. The darkness and the curving motion confused
her brain, and it was impossible to tell how high in the house
she was, except when once she put her hand upon what was
evidently a door, and moreover saw through its cracks the lamp
she had left burning in the upper hall. This glimpse of
reality reassured her. She had begun to discover where she
was. The doors which Aunt Jane had closed gave access, not to
mere closets, but to a spiral stairway, which evidently went
from top to bottom of the house, and was known to some one else
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
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?"
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
"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
When they reached Hope's door, she turned and put out her arms
for Emilia, as for a child. Every expression had now gone from
Hope's face but a sort of stony calmness, which put her
infinitely farther from Malbone than had the momentary
struggle. As he gave the girlish form into arms that shook and
trembled beneath its weight, he caught a glimpse in the
pier-glass of their two white faces, and then, looking down,
saw the rose-tints yet lingering on Emilia's cheek. She, the
source of all this woe, looked the only representative of
innocence between two guilty things.
How white and pure and maidenly looked Hope's little
room,--such a home of peace, he thought, till its door suddenly
opened to admit all this passion and despair! There was a great
sheaf of cardinal flowers on the table, and their petals were
drooping, as if reluctant to look on him. Scheffer's Christus
Consolator was upon the walls, and the benign figure seemed to
spread wider its arms of mercy, to take in a few sad hearts
Hope bore Emilia into the light and purity and warmth, while
Malbone was shut out into the darkness and the chill. The only
two things to which he clung on earth, the two women between
whom his unsteady heart had vibrated, and both whose lives had
been tortured by its vacillation, went away from his sight
together, the one victim bearing the other victim in her arms.
Never any more while he lived would either of them be his
again; and had Dante known it for his last glimpse of things
immortal when the two lovers floated away from him in their sad
embrace, he would have had no such sense of utter banishment as
had Malbone then.
HAD Emilia chosen out of life's whole armory of weapons the
means of disarming Hope, she could have found nothing so
effectual as nature had supplied in her unconsciousness.
Helplessness conquers. There was a quality in Emilia which
would have always produced something very like antagonism in
Hope, had she not been her sister. Had the ungoverned girl now
been able to utter one word of reproach, had her eyes flashed
one look of defiance, had her hand made one triumphant or angry
gesture, perhaps all Hope's outraged womanhood would have
coldly nerved itself against her. But it was another thing to
see those soft eyes closed, those delicate hands powerless,
those pleading lips sealed; to see her extended in graceful
helplessness, while all the concentrated drama of emotion
revolved around her unheeded, as around Cordelia dead. In what
realms was that child's mind seeking comfort; through what thin
air of dreams did that restless heart beat its pinions; in what
other sphere did that untamed nature wander, while shame and
sorrow waited for its awakening in this?
Hope knelt upon the floor, still too much strained and
bewildered for tears or even prayer, a little way from Emilia.
Once having laid down the unconscious form, it seemed for a
moment as if she could no more touch it than she could lay her
hand amid flames. A gap of miles, of centuries, of solar
systems, seemed to separate these two young girls, alone within
the same chamber, with the same stern secret to keep, and so
near that the hem of their garments almost touched each other
on the soft carpet. Hope felt a terrible hardness closing over
her heart. What right had this cruel creature, with her fatal
witcheries, to come between two persons who might have been so
wholly happy? What sorrow would be saved, what shame, perhaps,
be averted, should those sweet beguiling eyes never open, and
that perfidious voice never deceive any more? Why tend the
life of one who would leave the whole world happier, purer,
freer, if she were dead?
In a tumult of thought, Hope went and sat half-unconsciously by
the window. There was nothing to be seen except the steady
beacon of the light-house and a pale-green glimmer, like an
earthly star, from an anchored vessel. The night wind came
softly in, soothing her with a touch like a mother's, in its
grateful coolness. The air seemed full of half-vibrations,
sub-noises, that crowded it as completely as do the insect
sounds of midsummer; yet she could only distinguish the ripple
beneath her feet, and the rote on the distant beach, and the
busy wash of waters against every shore and islet of the bay.
The mist was thick around her, but she knew that above it hung
the sleepless stars, and the fancy came over her that perhaps
the whole vast interval, from ocean up to sky, might be densely
filled with the disembodied souls of her departed human
kindred, waiting to see how she would endure that path of grief
in which their steps had gone before. "It may be from this
influence," she vaguely mused within herself, "that the ocean
derives its endless song of sorrow. Perhaps we shall know the
meaning when we understand that of the stars, and of our own
She rose again and went to the bedside. It all seemed like a
dream, and she was able to look at Emilia's existence and at
her own and at all else, as if it were a great way off; as we
watch the stars and know that no speculations of ours can reach
those who there live or die untouched. Here beside her lay one
who was dead, yet living, in her temporary trance, and to what
would she wake, when it should end? This young creature had
been sent into the world so fresh, so beautiful, so richly
gifted; everything about her physical organization was so
delicate and lovely; she had seemed like heliotrope, like a
tube-rose in her purity and her passion (who was it said, "No
heart is pure that is not passionate"?); and here was the end!
Nothing external could have placed her where she was, no
violence, no outrage, no evil of another's doing, could have
reached her real life without her own consent; and now what
kind of existence, what career, what possibility of happiness
remained? Why could not God in his mercy take her, and give
her to his holiest angels for schooling, ere it was yet too
Hope went and sat by the window once more. Her thoughts still
clung heavily around one thought, as the white fog clung round
the house. Where should she see any light? What opening for
extrication, unless, indeed, Emilia should die? There could be
no harm in that thought, for she knew it was not to be, and
that the swoon would not last much longer. Who could devise
anything? No one. There was nothing. Almost always in
perplexities there is some thread by resolutely holding to
which one escapes at last. Here there was none. There could
probably be no concealment, certainly no explanation. In a few
days John Lambert would return, and then the storm must break.
He was probably a stern, jealous man, whose very dulness, once
aroused, would be more formidable than if he had possessed
Still her thoughts did not dwell on Philip. He was simply a
part of that dull mass of pain that beset her and made her
feel, as she had felt when drowning, that her heart had left
her breast and nothing but will remained. She felt now, as
then, the capacity to act with more than her accustomed
resolution, though all that was within her seemed boiling up
into her brain. As for Philip, all seemed a mere negation;
there was a vacuum where his place had been. At most the
thought of him came to her as some strange, vague thrill of
added torture, penetrating her soul and then passing; just as
ever and anon there came the sound of the fog-whistle on
Brenton's Reef, miles away, piercing the dull air with its
shrill and desolate wail, then dying into silence.
What a hopeless cloud lay upon them all forever,--upon Kate,
upon Harry, upon their whole house! Then there was John
Lambert; how could they keep it from him? how could they tell
him? Who could predict what he would say? Would he take the
worst and coarsest view of his young wife's mad action or the
mildest? Would he be strong or weak; and what would be
weakness, and what strength, in a position so strange? Would
he put Emilia from him, send her out in the world desolate, her
soul stained but by one wrong passion, yet with her reputation
blighted as if there were no good in her? Could he be asked to
shield and protect her, or what would become of her? She was
legally a wife, and could only be separated from him through
Then, if separated, she could only marry Philip. Hope nerved
herself to think of that, and it cost less effort than she
There seemed a numbness on that side, instead of pain. But
granting that he loved Emilia ever so deeply, was he a man to
surrender his life and his ease and his fair name, in a
hopeless effort to remove the ban that the world would place on
her. Hope knew he would not; knew that even the simple-hearted
and straightforward Harry would be far more capable of such
heroism than the sentimental Malbone. Here the pang suddenly
struck her; she was not so numb, after all!
As the leaves beside the window drooped motionless in the dank
air, so her mind drooped into a settled depression. She pitied
herself,--that lowest ebb of melancholy self-consciousness. She
went back to Emilia, and, seating herself, studied every line
of the girl's face, the soft texture of her hair, the veining
of her eyelids. They were so lovely, she felt a sort of
physical impulse to kiss them, as if they belonged to some
utter stranger, whom she might be nursing in a hospital. Emilia
looked as innocent as when Hope had tended her in the cradle.
What is there, Hope thought, in sleep, in trance, and in death,
that removes all harsh or disturbing impressions, and leaves
only the most delicate and purest traits? Does the mind
wander, and does an angel keep its place? Or is there really
no sin but in thought, and are our sleeping thoughts incapable
of sin? Perhaps even when we dream of doing wrong, the dream
comes in a shape so lovely and misleading that we never
recognize it for evil, and it makes no stain. Are our lives
ever so pure as our dreams?
This thought somehow smote across her conscience, always so
strong, and stirred it into a kind of spasm of introspection.
"How selfish have I, too, been!" she thought. "I saw only what
I wished to see, did only what I preferred. Loving Philip"
(for the sudden self-reproach left her free to think of him),
"I could not see that I was separating him from one whom he
might perhaps have truly loved. If he made me blind, may he
not easily have bewildered her, and have been himself
bewildered? How I tried to force myself upon him, too!
Ungenerous, unwomanly! What am I, that I should judge another?"
She threw herself on her knees at the bedside.
Still Emilia slept, but now she stirred her head in the
slightest possible way, so that a single tress of silken hair
slipped from its companions, and lay across her face. It was a
faint sign that the trance was waning; the slight pressure
disturbed her nerves, and her lips trembled once or twice, as
if to relieve themselves of the soft annoyance. Hope watched
her in a vague, distant way, took note of the minutest motion,
yet as if some vast weight hung upon her own limbs and made all
interference impossible. Still there was a fascination of
sympathy in dwelling on that atom of discomfort, that tiny
suffering, which she alone could remove. The very vastness of
this tragedy that hung about the house made it an inexpressible
relief to her to turn and concentrate her thoughts for a moment
on this slight distress, so easily ended.
Strange, by what slender threads our lives are knitted to each
other! Here was one who had taken Hope's whole existence in her
hands, crushed it, and thrown it away. Hope had soberly said
to herself, just before, that death would be better than life
for her young sister. Yet now it moved her beyond endurance to
see that fair form troubled, even while unconscious, by a
feather's weight of pain; and all the lifelong habit of
tenderness resumed in a moment its sway.
She approached her fingers to the offending tress, very slowly,
half withholding them at the very last, as if the touch would
burn her. She was almost surprised that it did not. She looked
to see if it did not hurt Emilia. But it now seemed as if the
slumbering girl enjoyed the caressing contact of the smooth
fingers, and turned her head, almost imperceptibly, to meet
them. This was more than Hope could bear. It was as if that
slight motion were a puncture to relieve her overburdened
heart; a thousand thoughts swept over her,--of their father, of
her sister's childhood, of her years of absent expectation; she
thought how young the girl was, how fascinating, how
passionate, how tempted; all this swept across her in a great
wave of nervous reaction, and when Emilia returned to
consciousness, she was lying in her sister's arms, her face
bathed in Hope's tears.
THIS was the history of Emilia's concealed visits to Malbone.
One week after her marriage, in a crisis of agony, Emilia took
up her pen, dipped it in fire, and wrote thus to him:--
"Philip Malbone, why did nobody ever tell me what marriage is
where there is no love? This man who calls himself my husband
is no worse, I suppose, than other men. It is only for being
what is called by that name that I abhor him. Good God! what
am I to do? It was not for money that I married him,--that you
know very well; I cared no more for his money than for himself.
I thought it was the only way to save Hope. She has been very
good to me, and perhaps I should love her, if I could love
anybody. Now I have done what will only make more misery, for I
cannot bear it. Philip, I am alone in this wide world, except
for you. Tell me what to do. I will haunt you till you die,
unless you tell me. Answer this, or I will write again."
Terrified by this letter, absolutely powerless to guide the
life with which he had so desperately entangled himself, Philip
let one day pass without answering, and that evening he found
Emilia at his door, she having glided unnoticed up the main
stairway. She was so excited, it was equally dangerous to send
her away or to admit her, and he drew her in, darkening the
windows and locking the door. On the whole, it was not so bad
as he expected; at least, there was less violence and more
despair. She covered her face with her hands, and writhed in
anguish, when she said that she had utterly degraded herself by
this loveless marriage. She scarcely mentioned her husband.
She made no complaint of him, and even spoke of him as
generous. It seemed as if this made it worse, and as if she
would be happier if she could expend herself in hating him. She
spoke of him rather as a mere witness to some shame for which
she herself was responsible; bearing him no malice, but
tortured by the thought that he should exist.
Then she turned on Malbone. "Philip, why did you ever
interfere with my life? I should have been very happy with
Antoine if you had let me marry him, for I never should have
known what it was to love you. Oh! I wish he were here now,
even he,--any one who loved me truly, and whom I could love
only a little. I would go away with such a person anywhere, and
never trouble you and Hope any more. What shall I do? Philip,
you might tell me what to do. Once you told me always to come
"What can you do?" he asked gloomily, in return.
"I cannot imagine," she said, with a desolate look, more
pitiable than passion, on her young face. "I wish to save
Hope, and to save my--to save Mr. Lambert. Philip, you do not
love me. I do not call it love. There is no passion in your
veins; it is only a sort of sympathetic selfishness. Hope is
infinitely better than you are, and I believe she is more
capable of loving. I began by hating her, but if she loves you
as I think she does, she has treated me more generously than
ever one woman treated another. For she could not look at me
and not know that I loved you. I did love you. O Philip, tell
me what to do!"
Such beauty in anguish, the thrill of the possession of such
love, the possibility of soothing by tenderness the wild mood
which he could not meet by counsel,--it would have taken a
stronger or less sympathetic nature than Malbone's to endure
all this. It swept him away; this revival of passion was
irresistible. When her pent-up feeling was once uttered, she
turned to his love as a fancied salvation. It was a terrible
remedy. She had never looked more beautiful, and yet she seemed
to have grown old at once; her very caresses appeared to burn.
She lingered and lingered, and still he kept her there; and
when it was no longer possible for her to go without disturbing
the house, he led her to a secret spiral stairway, which went
from attic to cellar of that stately old mansion, and which
opened by one or more doors on each landing, as his keen eye
had found out. Descending this, he went forth with her into the
dark and silent night. The mist hung around the house; the wet
leaves fluttered and fell upon their cheeks; the water lapped
desolately against the pier. Philip found a carriage and sent
her back to Mrs. Meredith's, where she was staying during the
brief absence of John Lambert.
These concealed meetings, once begun, became an absorbing
excitement. She came several times, staying half an hour, an
hour, two hours. They were together long enough for suffering,
never long enough for soothing. It was a poor substitute for
happiness. Each time she came, Malbone wished that she might
never go or never return. His warier nature was feverish with
solicitude and with self-reproach; he liked the excitement of
slight risks, but this was far too intense, the vibrations too
extreme. She, on the other hand, rode triumphant over waves of
passion which cowed him. He dared not exclude her; he dared
not continue to admit her; he dared not free himself; he could
not be happy. The privacy of the concealed stairway saved them
from outward dangers, but not from inward fears. Their
interviews were first blissful, then anxious, then sad, then
stormy. It was at the end of such a storm that Emilia had
passed into one of those deathly calms which belonged to her
physical temperament; and it was under these circumstances that
Hope had followed Philip to the door.
AUNT JANE TO THE RESCUE.
THE thing that saves us from insanity during great grief is
that there is usually something to do, and the mind composes
itself to the mechanical task of adjusting the details. Hope
dared not look forward an inch into the future; that way
madness lay. Fortunately, it was plain what must come
first,--to keep the whole thing within their own walls, and
therefore to make some explanation to Mrs. Meredith, whose
servants had doubtless been kept up all night awaiting Emilia.
Profoundly perplexed what to say or not to say to her, Hope
longed with her whole soul for an adviser. Harry and Kate were
both away, and besides, she shrank from darkening their young
lives as hers had been darkened. She resolved to seek counsel
in the one person who most thoroughly distrusted Emilia,--Aunt
This lady was in a particularly happy mood that day. Emilia,
who did all kinds of fine needle-work exquisitely, had just
embroidered for Aunt Jane some pillow-cases. The original
suggestion came from Hope, but it never cost Emilia anything to
keep a secret, and she had presented the gift very sweetly, as
if it were a thought of her own. Aunt Jane, who with all her
penetration as to facts was often very guileless as to motives,
was thoroughly touched by the humility and the embroidery.
"All last night," she said, "I kept waking up, and thinking
about Christian charity and my pillow-cases."
It was, therefore, a very favorable day for Hope's
consultation, though it was nearly noon before her aunt was
visible, perhaps because it took so long to make up her bed
with the new adornments.
Hope said frankly to Aunt Jane that there were some
circumstances about which she should rather not be questioned,
but that Emilia had come there the previous night from the
ball, had been seized with one of her peculiar attacks, and had
stayed all night. Aunt Jane kept her eyes steadily fixed on
Hope's sad face, and, when the tale was ended, drew her down
and kissed her lips.
"Now tell me, dear," she said; "what comes first?"
"The first thing is," said Hope, "to have Emilia's absence
explained to Mrs. Meredith in some such way that she will think
no more of it, and not talk about it."
"Certainly," said Aunt Jane. "There is but one way to do that.
I will call on her myself."
"You, auntie?" said Hope.
"Yes, I," said her aunt. "I have owed her a call for five
years. It is the only thing that will excite her so much as to
put all else out of her head."
"O auntie!" said Hope, greatly relieved, "if you only would!
But ought you really to go out? It is almost raining."
"I shall go," said Aunt Jane, decisively, "if it rains little
"But will not Mrs. Meredith wonder--?" began Hope.
"That is one advantage," interrupted her aunt, "of being an
absurd old woman. Nobody ever wonders at anything I do, or
else it is that they never stop wondering."
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
"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
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
It occurred to Aunt Jane that nothing better could happen than
for John Lambert, on returning, to find his wife at home; and
to secure this result, if possible, she telegraphed to him to
come at once.
Meantime Hope gave her inevitable music-lesson, so absorbed in
her own thoughts that it was all as mechanical as the
metronome. As she came out upon the Avenue for the walk home,
she saw a group of people from a gardener's house, who had
collected beside a muddy crossing, where a team of cart-horses
had refused to stir. Presently they sprang forward with a
great jerk, and a little Irish child was thrown beneath the
wheel. Hope sprang forward to grasp the child, and the wheel
struck her also; but she escaped with a dress torn and smeared,
while the cart passed over the little girl's arm, breaking it
in two places. She screamed and then grew faint, as Hope lifted
her. The mother received the burden with a wail of anguish;
the other Irishwomen pressed around her with the dense and
suffocating sympathy of their nation. Hope bade one and another
run for a physician, but nobody stirred. There was no surgical
aid within a mile or more. Hope looked round in despair, then
glanced at her own disordered garments.
"As sure as you live!" shouted a well-known voice from a
carriage which had stopped behind them. "If that isn't Hope
what's-her-name, wish I may never! Here's a lark! Let me come
there!" And the speaker pushed through the crowd.
"Miss Ingleside," said Hope, decisively, "this child's arm is
broken. There is nobody to go for a physician. Except for the
condition I am in, I would ask you to take me there at once in
your carriage; but as it is--"
"As it is, I must ask you, hey?" said Blanche, finishing the
sentence. "Of course. No mistake. Sans dire. Jones, junior,
this lady will join us. Don't look so scared, man. Are you
anxious about your cushions or your reputation?"
The youth simpered and disclaimed.
"Jump in, then, Miss Maxwell. Never mind the expense. It's
only the family carriage;--surname and arms of Jones. Lucky
there are no parents to the fore. Put my shawl over you, so."
"O Blanche!" said Hope, "what injustice--"
"I've done myself?" said the volatile damsel. "Not a doubt of
it. That's my style, you know. But I have some sense; I know
who's who. Now, Jones, junior, make your man handle the
ribbons. I've always had a grudge against that ordinance about
fast driving, and now's our chance."
And the sacred "ordinance," with all other proprieties, was
left in ruins that day. They tore along the Avenue with
unexplained and most inexplicable speed, Hope being concealed
by riding backward, and by a large shawl, and Blanche and her
admirer receiving the full indignation of every chaste and
venerable eye. Those who had tolerated all this girl's previous
improprieties were obliged to admit that the line must be drawn
somewhere. She at once lost several good invitations and a
matrimonial offer, since Jones, junior, was swept away by his
parents to be wedded without delay to a consumptive heiress who
had long pined for his whiskers; and Count Posen, in his
Souvenirs, was severer on Blanche's one good deed than on the
worst of her follies.
A few years after, when Blanche, then the fearless wife of a
regular-army officer, was helping Hope in the hospitals at
Norfolk, she would stop to shout with delight over the
reminiscence of that stately Jones equipage in mad career, amid
the barking of dogs and the groaning of dowagers. "After all,
Hope," she would say, "the fastest thing I ever did was under
THE members of the household were all at the window about noon,
next day, watching the rise of a storm. A murky wing of cloud,
shaped like a hawk's, hung over the low western hills across
the bay. Then the hawk became an eagle, and the eagle a
gigantic phantom, that hovered over half the visible sky.
Beneath it, a little scud of vapor, moved by some cross-current
of air, raced rapidly against the wind, just above the horizon,
like smoke from a battle-field.
As the cloud ascended, the water grew rapidly blacker, and in
half an hour broke into jets of white foam, all over its
surface, with an angry look. Meantime a white film of fog
spread down the bay from the northward. The wind hauled from
southwest to northwest, so suddenly and strongly that all the
anchored boats seemed to have swung round instantaneously,
without visible process. The instant the wind shifted, the
rain broke forth, filling the air in a moment with its volume,
and cutting so sharply that it seemed like hail, though no
hailstones reached the ground. At the same time there rose upon
the water a dense white film, which seemed to grow together
from a hundred different directions, and was made partly of
rain, and partly of the blown edges of the spray. There was but
a glimpse of this; for in a few moments it was impossible to
see two rods; but when the first gust was over, the water
showed itself again, the jets of spray all beaten down, and
regular waves, of dull lead-color, breaking higher on the
shore. All the depth of blackness had left the sky, and there
remained only an obscure and ominous gray, through which the
lightning flashed white, not red. Boats came driving in from
the mouth of the bay with a rag of sail up; the men got them
moored with difficulty, and when they sculled ashore in the
skiffs, a dozen comrades stood ready to grasp and haul them in.
Others launched skiffs in sheltered places, and pulled out
bareheaded to bail out their fishing-boats and keep them from
swamping at their moorings.
The shore was thronged with men in oilskin clothes and by women
with shawls over their heads. Aunt Jane, who always felt
responsible for whatever went on in the elements, sat in-doors
with one lid closed, wincing at every flash, and watching the
universe with the air of a coachman guiding six wild horses.
Just after the storm had passed its height, two veritable wild
horses were reined up at the door, and Philip burst in, his
usual self-composure gone.
"Emilia is out sailing!" he exclaimed,--"alone with Lambert's
boatman, in this gale. They say she was bound for
"Impossible!" cried Hope, turning pale. "I left her not three
hours ago." Then she remembered that Emilia had spoken of going
on board the yacht, to superintend some arrangements, but had
said no more about it, when she opposed it.
"Harry!" said Aunt Jane, quickly, from her chair by the window,
"see that fisherman. He has just come ashore and is telling
something. Ask him."
The fisherman had indeed seen Lambert's boat, which was well
known. Something seemed to be the matter with the sail, but
before the storm struck her, it had been hauled down. They
must have taken in water enough, as it was. He had himself
been obliged to bail out three times, running in from the reef.
"Was there any landing which they could reach?" Harry asked.
There was none,--but the light-ship lay right in their track,
and if they had good luck, they might get aboard of her.
"The boatman?" said Philip, anxiously,--"Mr. Lambert's boatman;
is he a good sailor?"
"Don't know," was the reply. "Stranger here. Dutchman,
Frenchman, Portegee, or some kind of a foreigner."
"Seems to understand himself in a boat," said another.
"Mr. Malbone knows him," said a third. "The same that dove
with the young woman under the steamboat paddles."
"Good grit," said the first.
"That's so," was the answer. "But grit don't teach a man the
All agreed to this axiom; but as there was so strong a
probability that the voyagers had reached the light-ship, there
seemed less cause for fear.
The next question was, whether it was possible to follow them.
All agreed that it would be foolish for any boat to attempt it,
till the wind had blown itself out, which might be within half
an hour. After that, some predicted a calm, some a fog, some a
renewal of the storm; there was the usual variety of opinions.
At any rate, there might perhaps be an interval during which
they could go out, if the gentlemen did not mind a wet jacket.
Within the half-hour came indeed an interval of calm, and a
light shone behind the clouds from the west. It faded soon
into a gray fog, with puffs of wind from the southwest again.
When the young men went out with the boatmen, the water had
grown more quiet, save where angry little gusts ruffled it. But
these gusts made it necessary to carry a double reef, and they
made but little progress against wind and tide.
A dark-gray fog, broken by frequent wind-flaws, makes the
ugliest of all days on the water. A still, pale fog is
soothing; it lulls nature to a kind of repose. But a windy fog
with occasional sunbeams and sudden films of metallic blue
breaking the leaden water,--this carries an impression of
something weird and treacherous in the universe, and suggests
As the boat floated on, every sight and sound appeared strange.
The music from the fort came sudden and startling through the
vaporous eddies. A tall white schooner rose instantaneously
near them, like a light-house. They could see the steam of the
factory floating low, seeking some outlet between cloud and
water. As they drifted past a wharf, the great black piles of
coal hung high and gloomy; then a stray sunbeam brought out
their peacock colors; then came the fog again, driving
hurriedly by, as if impatient to go somewhere and enraged at
the obstacle. It seemed to have a vast inorganic life of its
own, a volition and a whim. It drew itself across the horizon
like a curtain; then advanced in trampling armies up the bay;
then marched in masses northward; then suddenly grew thin, and
showed great spaces of sunlight; then drifted across the low
islands, like long tufts of wool; then rolled itself away
toward the horizon; then closed in again, pitiless and gray.
Suddenly something vast towered amid the mist above them. It
was the French war-ship returned to her anchorage once more,
and seeming in that dim atmosphere to be something spectral and
strange that had taken form out of the elements. The muzzles of
great guns rose tier above tier, along her side; great boats
hung one above another, on successive pairs of davits, at her
stern. So high was her hull, that the topmost boat and the
topmost gun appeared to be suspended in middle air; and yet
this was but the beginning of her altitude. Above these were
the heavy masts, seen dimly through the mist; between these
were spread eight dark lines of sailors' clothes, which, with
the massive yards above, looked like part of some ponderous
framework built to reach the sky. This prolongation of the
whole dark mass toward the heavens had a portentous look to
those who gazed from below; and when the denser fog sometimes
furled itself away from the topgallant masts, hitherto
invisible, and showed them rising loftier yet, and the tricolor
at the mizzen-mast-head looking down as if from the zenith,
then they all seemed to appertain to something of more than
human workmanship; a hundred wild tales of phantom vessels came
up to the imagination, and it was as if that one gigantic
structure were expanding to fill all space from sky to sea.
They were swept past it; the fog closed in; it was necessary to
land near the Fort, and proceed on foot. They walked across the
rough peninsula, while the mist began to disperse again, and
they were buoyant with expectation. As they toiled onward, the
fog suddenly met them at the turn of a lane where it had
awaited them, like an enemy. As they passed into those gray and
impalpable arms, the whole world changed again.
They walked toward the sound of the sea. As they approached
it, the dull hue that lay upon it resembled that of the leaden
sky. The two elements could hardly be distinguished except as
the white outlines of the successive breakers were lifted
through the fog. The lines of surf appeared constantly to
multiply upon the beach, and yet, on counting them, there were
never any more. Sometimes, in the distance, masses of foam rose
up like a wall where the horizon ought to be; and, as the
coming waves took form out of the unseen, it seemed as if no
phantom were too vast or shapeless to come rolling in upon
their dusky shoulders.
Presently a frail gleam of something like the ghost of dead
sunshine made them look toward the west. Above the dim roofs
of Castle Hill mansion-house, the sinking sun showed luridly
through two rifts of cloud, and then the swift motion of the
nearer vapor veiled both sun and cloud, and banished them into
almost equal remoteness.
Leaving the beach on their right, and passing the high rocks of
the Pirate's Cave, they presently descended to the water's edge
once more. The cliffs rose to a distorted height in the
dimness; sprays of withered grass nodded along the edge, like
Ossian's spectres. Light seemed to be vanishing from the
universe, leaving them alone with the sea. And when a solitary
loon uttered his wild cry, and rising, sped away into the
distance, it was as if life were following light into an equal
annihilation. That sense of vague terror, with which the ocean
sometimes controls the fancy, began to lay its grasp on them.
They remembered that Emilia, in speaking once of her intense
shrinking from death, had said that the sea was the only thing
from which she would not fear to meet it.
Fog exaggerates both for eye and ear; it is always a
sounding-board for the billows; and in this case, as often
happens, the roar did not appear to proceed from the waves
themselves, but from some source in the unseen horizon, as if
the spectators were shut within a beleaguered fortress, and
this thundering noise came from an impetuous enemy outside.
Ever and anon there was a distinct crash of heavier sound, as
if some special barricade had at length been beaten in, and the
garrison must look to their inner defences.
The tide was unusually high, and scarcely receded with the ebb,
though the surf increased; the waves came in with constant rush
and wail, and with an ominous rattle of pebbles on the little
beaches, beneath the powerful suction of the undertow; and
there were more and more of those muffled throbs along the
shore which tell of coming danger as plainly as minute-guns.
With these came mingled that yet more inexplicable humming
which one hears at intervals in such times, like strains of
music caught and tangled in the currents of stormy
air,--strains which were perhaps the filmy thread on which
tales of sirens and mermaids were first strung, and in which,
at this time, they would fain recognize the voice of Emilia.
OUT OF THE DEPTHS.
AS the night closed in, the wind rose steadily, still blowing
from the southwest. In Brenton's kitchen they found a group
round a great fire of driftwood; some of these were fishermen
who had with difficulty made a landing on the beach, and who
confirmed the accounts already given. The boat had been seen
sailing for the Narragansett shore, and when the squall came,
the boatman had lowered and reefed the sail, and stood for the
light-ship. They must be on board of her, if anywhere.
"There are safe there?" asked Philip, eagerly.
"Only place where they would be safe, then," said the
"Unless the light-ship parts," said an old fellow.
"Parts!" said the other. "Sixty fathom of two-inch chain, and
old Joe talks about parting."
"Foolish, of course," said Philip; "but it's a dangerous
"That's so," was the answer. "Never saw so many lines of reef
show outside, neither."
"There's an old saying on this shore," said Joe:--
"When Price's Neck goes to Brenton's Reef,
Body and soul will come to grief.
But when Brenton's Reef comes to Price's Neck,
Soul and body are both a wreck."
"What does it mean?" asked Harry.
"It only means," said somebody, "that when you see it white all
the way out from the Neck to the Reef, you can't take the
"But what does the last half mean?" persisted Harry.
"Don't know as I know," said the veteran, and relapsed into
silence, in which all joined him, while the wind howled and
whistled outside, and the barred windows shook.
Weary and restless with vain waiting, they looked from the
doorway at the weather. The door went back with a slam, and
the gust swooped down on them with that special blast that
always seems to linger just outside on such nights, ready for
the first head that shows itself. They closed the door upon
the flickering fire and the uncouth shadows within, and went
forth into the night. At first the solid blackness seemed to
lay a weight on their foreheads. There was absolutely nothing
to be seen but the two lights of the light-ship, glaring from
the dark sea like a wolf's eyes from a cavern. They looked
nearer and brighter than in ordinary nights, and appeared to
the excited senses of the young men to dance strangely on the
waves, and to be always opposite to them, as they moved along
the shore with the wind almost at their backs.
"What did that old fellow mean?" said Malbone in Harry's ear,
as they came to a protected place and could hear each other,
"by talking of Brenton's Reef coming to Price's Neck."
"Some sailor's doggerel," said Harry, indifferently. "Here is
Price's Neck before us, and yonder is Brenton's Reef."
"Where?" said Philip, looking round bewildered.
The lights had gone, as if the wolf, weary of watching, had
suddenly closed his eyes, and slumbered in his cave.
Harry trembled and shivered. In Heaven's name, what could this
Suddenly a sheet of lightning came, so white and intense, it
sent its light all the way out to the horizon and exhibited
far-off vessels, that reeled and tossed and looked as if
wandering without a guide. But this was not so startling as
what it showed in the foreground.
There drifted heavily upon the waves, within full view from the
shore, moving parallel to it, yet gradually approaching, an
uncouth shape that seemed a vessel and yet not a vessel; two
stunted masts projected above, and below there could be read,
in dark letters that apparently swayed and trembled in the wan
lightning, as the thing moved on,
Philip, leaning against a rock, gazed into the darkness where
the apparition had been; even Harry felt a thrill of
half-superstitious wonder, and listened half mechanically to a
rough sailor's voice at his ear:--
"God! old Joe was right. There's one wreck that is bound to
make many. The light-ship has parted."
"Drifting ashore," said Harry, his accustomed clearness of head
coming back at a flash. "Where will she strike?"
"Price's Neck," said the sailor.
Harry turned to Philip and spoke to him, shouting in his ear
the explanation. Malbone's lips moved mechanically, but he said
nothing. Passively, he let Harry take him by the arm, and lead
Following the sailor, they rounded a projecting point, and
found themselves a little sheltered from the wind. Not knowing
the region, they stumbled about among the rocks, and scarcely
knew when they neared the surf, except when a wave came
swashing round their very feet. Pausing at the end of a cove,
they stood beside their conductor, and their eyes, now grown
accustomed, could make out vaguely the outlines of the waves.
The throat of the cove was so shoal and narrow, and the mass of
the waves so great, that they reared their heads enormously,
just outside, and spending their strength there, left a lower
level within the cove. Yet sometimes a series of great billows
would come straight on, heading directly for the entrance, and
then the surface of the water within was seen to swell suddenly
upward as if by a terrible inward magic of its own; it rose and
rose, as if it would ingulf everything; then as rapidly sank,
and again presented a mere quiet vestibule before the excluded
They saw in glimpses, as the lightning flashed, the shingly
beach, covered with a mass of creamy foam, all tremulous and
fluctuating in the wind; and this foam was constantly torn away
by the gale in great shreds, that whirled by them as if the
very fragments of the ocean were fleeing from it in terror, to
take refuge in the less frightful element of air.
Still the wild waves reared their heads, like savage, crested
animals, now white, now black, looking in from the entrance of
the cove. And now there silently drifted upon them something
higher, vaster, darker than themselves,--the doomed vessel. It
was strange how slowly and steadily she swept in,--for her
broken chain-cable dragged, as it afterwards proved, and kept
her stern-on to the shore,--and they could sometimes hear amid
the tumult a groan that seemed to come from the very heart of
the earth, as she painfully drew her keel over hidden reefs.
Over five of these (as was afterwards found) she had already
drifted, and she rose and fell more than once on the high waves
at the very mouth of the cove, like a wild bird hovering ere it
Then there came one of those great confluences of waves
described already, which, lifting her bodily upward, higher and
higher and higher, suddenly rushed with her into the basin,
filling it like an opened dry-dock, crashing and roaring round
the vessel and upon the rocks, then sweeping out again and
leaving her lodged, still stately and steady, at the centre of
They could hear from the crew a mingled sound, that came as a
shout of excitement from some and a shriek of despair from
others. The vivid lightning revealed for a moment those on
shipboard to those on shore; and blinding as it was, it lasted
long enough to show figures gesticulating and pointing. The old
sailor, Mitchell, tried to build a fire among the rocks nearest
the vessel, but it was impossible, because of the wind. This
was a disappointment, for the light would have taken away half
the danger, and more than half the terror. Though the cove was
more quiet than the ocean, yet it was fearful enough, even
there. The vessel might hold together till morning, but who
could tell? It was almost certain that those on board would try
to land, and there was nothing to do but to await the effort.
The men from the farmhouse had meanwhile come down with ropes.
It was simply impossible to judge with any accuracy of the
distance of the ship. One of these new-comers, who declared
that she was lodged very near, went to a point of rocks, and
shouted to those on board to heave him a rope. The tempest
suppressed his voice, as it had put out the fire. But perhaps
the lightning had showed him to the dark figures on the stern;
for when the next flash came, they saw a rope flung, which fell
short. The real distance was more than a hundred yards.
Then there was a long interval of darkness. The moment the
next flash came they saw a figure let down by a rope from the
stern of the vessel, while the hungry waves reared like wolves
to seize it. Everybody crowded down to the nearest rocks,
looking this way and that for a head to appear. They pressed
eagerly in every direction where a bit of plank or a
barrel-head floated; they fancied faint cries here and there,
and went aimlessly to and fro. A new effort, after half a dozen
failures, sent a blaze mounting up fitfully among the rocks,
startling all with the sudden change its blessed splendor made.
Then a shrill shout from one of the watchers summoned all to a
cleft in the cove, half shaded from the firelight, where there
came rolling in amidst the surf, more dead than alive, the body
of a man. He was the young foreigner, John Lambert's boatman.
He bore still around him the rope that was to save the rest.
How pale and eager their faces looked as they bent above him!
But the eagerness was all gone from his, and only the pallor
left. While the fishermen got the tackle rigged, such as it
was, to complete the communication with the vessel, the young
men worked upon the boatman, and soon had him restored to
consciousness. He was able to explain that the ship had been
severely strained, and that all on board believed she would go
to pieces before morning. No one would risk being the first to
take the water, and he had at last volunteered, as being the
best swimmer, on condition that Emilia should be next sent,
when the communication was established.
Two ropes were then hauled on board the vessel, a larger and a
smaller. By the flickering firelight and the rarer flashes of
lightning (the rain now falling in torrents) they saw a hammock
slung to the larger rope; a woman's form was swathed in it; and
the smaller rope being made fast to this, they found by pulling
that she could be drawn towards the shore. Those on board
steadied the hammock as it was lowered from the ship, but the
waves seemed maddened by this effort to escape their might, and
they leaped up at her again and again. The rope dropped beneath
her weight, and all that could be done from shore was to haul
her in as fast as possible, to abbreviate the period of
buffeting and suffocation. As she neared the rocks she could be
kept more safe from the water; faster and faster she was drawn
in; sometimes there came some hitch and stoppage, but by steady
patience it was overcome.
She was so near the rocks that hands were already stretched to
grasp her, when there came one of the great surging waves that
sometimes filled the basin. It gave a terrible lurch to the
stranded vessel hitherto so erect; the larger rope snapped
instantly; the guiding rope was twitched from the hands that
held it; and the canvas that held Emilia was caught and swept
away like a shred of foam, and lost amid the whiteness of the
seething froth below. Fifteen minutes after, the hammock came
ashore empty, the lashings having parted.
The cold daybreak was just opening, though the wind still blew
keenly, when they found the body of Emilia. It was swathed in
a roll of sea-weed, lying in the edge of the surf, on a broad,
flat rock near where the young boatman had come ashore. The
face was not disfigured; the clothing was only torn a little,
and tangled closely round her; but the life was gone.
It was Philip who first saw her; and he stood beside her for a
moment motionless, stunned into an aspect of tranquility.
This, then, was the end. All his ready sympathy, his wooing
tenderness, his winning compliances, his self-indulgent
softness, his perilous amiability, his reluctance to give pain
or to see sorrow,--all had ended in this. For once, he must
force even his accommodating and evasive nature to meet the
plain, blank truth. Now all his characteristics appeared
changed by the encounter; it was Harry who was ready,
thoughtful, attentive,--while Philip, who usually had all these
traits, was paralyzed among his dreams. Could he have fancied
such a scene beforehand, he would have vowed that no hand but
his should touch the breathless form of Emilia. As it was, he
instinctively made way for the quick gathering of the others,
as if almost any one else had a better right to be there.
The storm had blown itself out by sunrise; the wind had
shifted, beating down the waves; it seemed as if everything in
nature were exhausted. The very tide had ebbed away. The
light-ship rested between the rocks, helpless, still at the
mercy of the returning waves, and yet still upright and with
that stately look of unconscious pleading which all shipwrecked
vessels wear. it is wonderfully like the look I have seen in
the face of some dead soldier, on whom war had done its worst.
Every line of a ship is so built for motion, every part, while
afloat, seems so full of life and so answering to the human
life it bears, that this paralysis of shipwreck touches the
imagination as if the motionless thing had once been animated
by a soul.
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."
"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.
That ideality of nature which love had developed in this man,
and which had already drooped a little during his brief period
of marriage, was born again by the side of death. While Philip
wandered off silent and lonely with his grief, John Lambert
knelt by the beautiful remains, talking inarticulately, his
eyes streaming with unchecked tears. Again was Emilia, in her
marble paleness, the calm centre of a tragedy she herself had
caused. The wild, ungoverned child was the image of peace; it
was the stolid and prosperous man who was in the storm. It was
not till Hope came that there was any change. Then his
prostrate nature sought hers, as the needle leaps to the iron;
the first touch of her hand, the sight of her kiss upon
Emilia's forehead, made him strong. It was the thorough
subjection of a worldly man to the higher organization of a
noble woman, and thenceforth it never varied. In later years,
after he had foolishly sought, as men will, to win her to a
nearer tie, there was no moment when she had not full control
over his time, his energies, and his wealth.
After it was all ended, Hope told him everything that had
happened; but in that wild moment of his despair she told him
nothing. Only she and Harry knew the story of the young Swiss;
and now that Emilia was gone, her early lover had no wish to
speak of her to any but these two, or to linger long where she
had been doubly lost to him, by marriage and by death. The
world, with all its prying curiosity, usually misses the key to
the very incidents about which it asks most questions; and of
the many who gossiped or mourned concerning Emilia, none knew
the tragic complication which her death alone could have
solved. The breaking of Hope's engagement to Philip was
attributed to every cause but the true one. And when the storm
of the great Rebellion broke over the land, its vast calamity
absorbed all minor griefs.
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
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
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.
The rocks were dark with moisture, steaming in the sun. Great
sheets of ice, white masks of departing winter, clung to every
projecting cliff, or slid with crash and shiver into the surge.
Icicles dropped their slow and reverberating tears upon the
rock where Emilia once lay breathless; and it seemed as if
their cold, chaste drops were sent to cleanse from her memory
each scarlet stain, and leave it virginal and pure.
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