Often through the day had Mr. Emerson, as he dwelt on the unhappy relation existing between himself and his wife, made up his mind to renew the subject of their true position to each other, as briefly touched upon in their meeting of the night before, and as often changed his purpose, in fear of another rupture. Yet to him it seemed of the first importance that this matter, as a basis of future peace, should be settled between them, and settled at once. If he held one view and she another, and both were sensitive, quick-tempered and tenacious of individual freedom, fierce antagonism might occur at any moment. He had come home inclined to the affirmative side of the question, and many times during the evening it was on his lips to introduce the subject. But he was so sure that it would prove a theme of sharp discussion, that he had not the courage to risk the consequences.
There was peace again after this conflict, but it was not, by any means, a hopeful peace. It had no well-considered basis. The causes which had produced a struggle were still in existence, and liable to become active, by provocation, at any moment. No change had taken place in the characters, dispositions, temperaments or general views of life in either of the parties. Strife had ceased between them only in consequence of the pain it involved. A deep conviction of this fact so sobered the mind of Mr. Emerson, and altered, in consequence, his manner toward Irene, that she felt its reserve and coldness as a rebuke that chilled the warmth of her tender impulses.
And this manner did not greatly change as the days and weeks moved onward. Memory kept too vividly in the mind of Emerson that one act, and the danger of its repetition on some sudden provocation. He could not feel safe and at ease with his temple of peace built close to a slumbering volcano, which was liable at any moment to blaze forth and bury its fair proportions in lava and ashes.
Irene did not comprehend her husband’s state of mind. She felt painfully the change in his manner, but failed in reaching the true cause. Sometimes she attributed his coldness to resentment; sometimes to defect of love; and sometimes to a settled determination on his part to inflict punishment. Sometimes she spent hours alone, weeping over these sad ruins of her peace, and sometimes, in a spirit of revolt, she laid down for herself a line of conduct intended to react against her husband. But something in his calm, kind, self-reliant manner, when she looked into his face, broke down her purpose. She was afraid of throwing herself against a rock which, while standing immovable, might bruise her tender limbs or extinguish life in the strong concussion.
A new acquaintance.