All around Ivy Cliff, Irene and Rose were known as ministrant spirits to the poor and humble. The father of Rose was a man of wealth, and she had his entire sympathy and encouragement. Irene had no regular duties at home, Margaret being housekeeper and directress in all departments. So there was nothing to hinder the free course of her will as to the employment of time. With all her pride of independence, the ease with which Mrs. Talbot drew Irene in one direction, and now Miss Carman in another, showed how easily she might be influenced when off her guard. This is true in most cases of your very self-willed people, and the reason why so many of them get astray. Only conceal the hand that leads them, and you may often take them where you will. Ah, if Hartley Emerson had been wise enough, prudent enough and loving enough to have influenced aright the fine young spirit he was seeking to make one with his own, how different would the result have been!
In the region round about, our two young friends came in time to be known as the “Sisters of Charity.” It was not said of them mockingly, nor in gay depreciation, nor in mean ill-nature, but in expression of a common sentiment, that recognized their high, self-imposed mission.
Thus it had been with Irene since her return to the old home at Ivy Cliff.
YES, Irene had looked for this—looked for it daily for now more than a year. Still it came upon her with a shock that sent a strange, wild shudder through all her being. A divorce! She was less prepared for it than she had ever been.
What was beyond? Ah! that touched a chord which gave a thrill of pain. What was beyond? A new alliance, of course. Legal disabilities removed, Hartley Emerson would take upon himself new marriage vows. Could she say, “Yea, and amen” to this? No, alas! no. There was a feeling of intense, irrepressible anguish away down in heart-regions that lay far beyond the lead-line of prior consciousness. What did it mean? She asked herself the question with a fainting spirit. Had she not known herself? Were old states of tenderness, which she had believed crushed out and dead along ago, hidden away in secret places of her heart, and kept there safe from harm?
No wonder she sat pale and still, crumpling nervously that fatal document which had startled her with a new revelation of herself. There was love in her heart still, and she knew it not. For a long time she sat like one in a dream.
“God help me!” she said at length, looking around her in a wild, bewildered manner. “What does all this mean?”
There came at this moment a gentle tap at her door. She knew whose soft hand had given the sound.
“Irene,” exclaimed Rose Carman, as she took the hand of her friend and looked into her changed countenance, “what ails you?”