Irene closed her lips firmly, and shook her head.
“Not musically inclined this evening?”
“No,” she replied.
“Got a regular stay-at-home feeling?”
“Enough,” said Hartley, with unshadowed good-humor, “we will stay at home.”
And he sung a snatch of the familiar song—“There’s no place like home,” rising, as he did so, from the table, and offering Irene his arm. She could do no less than accept the courtesy, and so they went up to their cozy sitting-room arm-in-arm—he chatty, and she almost silent.
“What’s the matter, petty?” he asked, in a fond way, after trying for some time, but in vain, to draw her out into pleasant conversation. “Ain’t you well to-night?”
Now, so far as her bodily state was concerned, Irene never felt better in her life. So she could not plead indisposition.
“I feel well,” she replied, glancing up into her husband’s face in a cold, embarrassed kind of way.
“Then your looks belie your condition—that’s all. If it isn’t the body, it must be the mind. What’s gone wrong, darling?”
The tenderness in Hartley’s tones was genuine, and the heart of Irene leaped to his voice with a responsive throe. But was he not her master and tyrant? How that thought chilled the sweet impulse!
“Nothing wrong,” she answered, with a sadness of tone which she was unable to conceal. “But I feel dull, and cannot help it.”
“You should have gone with me to laugh with Matthews. He would have shaken all these cobwebs from your brain. Come! it is not yet too late.”
But the rebel spirit was in her heart; and to have acceded to he husband’s wishes would have been to submit herself to control.
“You must excuse me,” she replied. “I feel as if home were the better place for me to-night.”
An impatient answer was on her tongue; but she checked its utterance, and spoke from a better spirit.
Not even as a lover had Hartley shown more considerate tenderness than marked all his conduct toward Irene this evening. His mind was in a clear-seeing region, and his feelings tranquil. The sphere of her antagonism failed to reach him. He did not understand the meaning of her opposition to his wishes, and so pride, self-love and self-will remained quiescent. How peacefully unconscious was he of the fact that his feet were standing over a mine, and that a single spark of passion struck from him would have sprung that mine in fierce explosion! He read to Irene from a volume which he knew to be a favorite; talked to her about Ivy Cliff and her father; suggested an early visit to the pleasant old river home; and thus charmed away the evil spirits which had found a lodgment in her bosom.
But how different it might have been!