Day was abroad when Emerson awoke the next morning, and the sun shining from an angle that showed him to be nearly two hours above the horizon. It was late for Mr. Emerson. Rising hurriedly, and in some confusion of thought, he went down stairs. His mind, as the events of the last evening began to adjust themselves, felt an increasing sense of oppression. How was he to meet Irene? or was he to meet her again? Had she relented? Had a night of sober reflection wrought any change? Would she take the step he had warned her as a fatal one?
With such questions crowding upon him, Hartley Emerson went down stairs. In passing their chamber-door he saw that it stood wide open, and that Irene was not there. He descended to the parlors and to the sitting-room, but did not find her. The bell announced breakfast; he might find her at the table. No—she was not at her usual place when the morning meal was served.
“Where is Mrs. Emerson?” he asked of the waiter.
“I have not seen her,” was replied.
Mr. Emerson turned away and went up to their chambers. His footsteps had a desolate, echoing sound to his ears, as he bent his way thither. He looked through the front and then through the back chamber, and even called, faintly, the name of his wife. But all was still as death. Now a small envelope caught his eye, resting on a casket in which Irene had kept her jewelry. He lifted it, and saw his name inscribed thereon. The handwriting was not strange. He broke the seal and read these few words:
“I have gone. IRENE.”
The narrow piece of tinted paper on which this was written dropped from his nerveless fingers, and he stood for some moments still as if death-stricken, and rigid as stone.
“Well,” he said audibly, at length, stepping across the floor, “and so the end has come!”
He moved to the full length of the chamber and then stood still—turned, in a little while, and walked slowly back across the floor—stood still again, his face bent down, his lips closely shut, his finger-ends gripped into the palms.
“Gone!” He tried to shake himself free of the partial stupor which had fallen upon him. “Gone!” he repeated. “And so this calamity is upon us! She has dared the fatal leap! has spoken the irrevocable decree! God help us both, for both have need of help; I and she, but she most. God help her to bear the burden she has lifted to her weak shoulders; she will find it a match for her strength. I shall go into the world and bury myself in its cares and duties—shall find, at least, in the long days a compensation in work—earnest, absorbing, exciting work. But she? Poor Irene! The days and nights will be to her equally desolate. Poor Irene! Poor Irene!”
YOUNG, BUT WISE.