They did not speak nor pass a sign of recognition. But the instant their eyes withdrew from each other Irene turned from the picture and left the rooms.
When Mr. Emerson looked back into the face of his companion, its charm was gone. Beside that of the fading countenance, so still and nun-like, upon which he had gazed a moment before, it looked coarse and worldly. When she spoke, her tones no longer came in chords of music to his ears, but jarred upon his feelings. He grew silent; cold, abstracted. The lady noted the change, and tried to rally him; but her efforts were vain. He moved by her side like an automaton, and listened to her comments on the pictures they paused to examine in such evident absent-mindedness that she became annoyed, and proposed returning home. Mr. Emerson made no objection, and they left the quiet picture-gallery for the turbulence of Broadway. The ride home was a silent one, and they separated in mutual embarrassment, Mr. Emerson going back to his rooms instead of to his office, and sitting down in loneliness there, with a shuddering sense of thankfulness at his heart for the danger he had just escaped.
“What a blind spell was on me!” he said, as he gazed away down into his soul—far, far deeper than any tone or look from Mrs. Eager had penetrated—and saw needs, states and yearnings there which must be filled or there could be no completeness of life. And now the still, pale face of Irene stood out distinctly; and her deep, weird, yearning eyes looked into his with a fixed intentness that stirred his heart to its profoundest depths.
Mr. Emerson was absent from his office all that day. But on the next morning he was at his post, and it would have taken a close observer to have detected any change in his usually quiet face. But there was a change in the man—a great change. He had gone down deeper into his heart than he had ever gone before, and understood himself better. There was little danger of his ever being tempted again in this direction.
EFFECTS OF THE STORM.
IT was more than a week before Mr. Emerson called again upon the lady friend who had shown so strong a desire to procure him a wife. He expected her to introduce the name of Mrs. Eager, and came prepared to talk in a way that would for ever close the subject of marriage between them. The lady expressed surprise at not having seen him for so long a time, and then introduced the subject nearest her thought.
“What was the matter with you and Mrs. Eager?” she asked, her face growing serious.
Mr. Emerson shook his head, and said, “Nothing,” with not a shadow of concern in his voice.
“Nothing? Think again. I could hardly have been deceived.”
“Why do you ask? Did the lady charge anything ungallant against me?”
Mr. Emerson was unmoved.
“Oh no, no! She scarcely mentioned your name after her return from viewing the pictures. But she was not in so bright a humor as when she went out, and was dull up to the hour of her departure for Boston. I’m afraid you offended her in some way—unconsciously on your part, of course.”