“The indisposition of mind was on my part.”
“On your part? Oh dear! That alters the case. And, pray, what occasioned this indisposition? Not a previous mental surfeit, I hope.”
“Oh no. I never get a surfeit in good company. But people’s states vary, as you are aware. I had a stay-at-home feeling last night, and indulged myself.”
“Very prettily said, my dear. I understand you entirely, and like your frank, outspoken way. This is always best with friends. I desire all of mine to enjoy the largest liberty—to come and see me when they feel like it, and to stay away when they don’t feel like coming. We had a delightful time. Major Willard was there. He’s a charming man! Several times through the evening he asked for you. I really think your absence worried him. Now, don’t blush! A handsome, accomplished man may admire a handsome and accomplished woman, without anything wrong being involved. Because one has a husband, is she not to be spoken to or admired by other men? Nonsense! That is the world’s weak prudery, or rather the common social sentiment based on man’s tyranny over woman.”
As Mrs. Talbot ran on in this strain, Mrs. Emerson had time to reflect and school her exterior. Toward Major Willard her feelings were those of disgust and detestation. The utterance of his name shocked her womanly delicacy, but when it was coupled with a sentiment of admiration for her, and an intimation of the probable existence of something reciprocal on her part, it was with difficulty that she could restrain a burst of indignant feeling. But her strong will helped her, and she gave no intelligible sign of what was really passing in her thoughts. The subject being altogether disagreeable, she changed it as soon as possible.
In this interview with Mrs. Talbot a new impression in regard to her was made on the mind of Mrs. Emerson. Something impure seemed to pervade the mental atmosphere with which she was surrounded, and there seemed to be things involved in what she said that shadowed a latitude in morals wholly outside of Christian duty. When they separated, much of the enthusiasm which Irene had felt for this specious, unsafe acquaintance was gone, and her power over her was in the same measure lessened.
BUT it is not so easily escaping from a woman like Mrs. Talbot, when an acquaintanceship is once formed. In less than a week she called again, and this time in company with another lady, a Mrs. Lloyd, whom she introduced as a very dear friend. Mrs. Lloyd was a tall, spare woman, with an intellectual face, bright, restless, penetrating eyes, a clear musical voice, subdued, but winning manners. She was a little past thirty, though sickness of body or mind had stolen the bloom of early womanhood, and carried her forward, apparently, to the verge of forty. Mrs. Emerson had never before heard of this lady.