“Willful, wayward one!” he said many, many times. “You, of all, will suffer most. No woman can take a step like this without drinking of pain to the bitterest dregs. If you can hide the anguish, well. But I fear the trial will be too hard for you—the burden too heavy. Poor, mistaken one!”
For a month the household arrangements of Mr. Emerson continued as when Irene left him. He did not intermit for a day or an hour his business duties, and came home regularly at his usual times—always, it must be said, with a feeble expectation of meeting his wife in her old places; we do not say desire, but simply expectation. If she had returned, well. He would not have repulsed, nor would he have received her with strong indications of pleasure. But a month went by, and she did not return nor send him any word. Beyond the brief “I have gone,” there had come from her no sign.
Two months elapsed, and then Mr. Emerson dismissed the servants and shut up the house, but he neither removed nor sold the furniture; that remained as it was for nearly a year, when he ordered a sale by auction and closed the establishment.
Hartley Emerson, under the influence of business and domestic trouble, matured rapidly, and became grave, silent and reflective beyond men of his years. Companionable he was by nature, and during the last year that Irene was with him, failing to receive social sympathy at home, he had joined a club of young men, whose association was based on a declared ambition for literary excellence. From this club he withdrew himself; it did not meet the wants of his higher nature, but offered much that stimulated the grosser appetites and passions. Now he gave himself up to earnest self-improvement, and found in the higher and wider range of thought which came as the result a partial compensation for what he had lost. But he was not happy; far, very far from it. And there were seasons when the past came back upon him in such a flood that all the barriers of indifference which he had raised for self-protection were swept away, and he had to build them up again in sadness of spirit. So the time wore on with him, and troubled life-experiences were doing their work upon his character.
THE IRREVOCABLE DECREE.
IT is two years since the day of separation between Irene and her husband. Just two years. And she is sitting in the portico at Ivy Cliff with her father, looking down upon the river that lies gleaming in sunshine—not thinking of the river, however, nor of anything in nature.
They are silent and still—very still, as if sleep had locked their senses. He is thin and wasted as from long sickness, and she looks older by ten years. There is no fine bloom on her cheeks, from which the fullness of youth has departed.
It is a warm June day, the softest, balmiest, brightest day the year has given. The air comes laden with delicate odors and thrilling with bird melodies, and, turn the eye as it will, there is a feast of beauty.