Part 2 out of 5
and there isn't anything hardly that you wouldn't do if the spirit
was on you. I'm glad it's all right. Dear me! dear me!"
"Oh, I'm not quite so bad as you all make me out," said Irene,
"I don't think you are bad," answered Margaret, in kind deprecation,
yet with a freedom of speech warranted by her years and attachment
to Irene. "But you go off in such strange ways--get so wrong-headed
sometimes--that there's no counting on you."
Then, growing more serious, she added--
"The fact is, Miss Irene, you keep me feeling kind of uneasy all the
time. I dreamed about you last night, and maybe that has helped to
put me into a fluster now."
"Dreamed about me!" said Irene, with a degree of interest in her
"Yes. But don't stand here, Miss Irene; come over to your room."
"What kind of a dream had you, Margaret?" asked the young wife, as
she sat down on the side of the bed where, pillowed in sleep, she
had dreamed so many of girlhood's pleasant dreams.
"I was dreaming all night about you," replied Margaret, looking
"And you saw me in trouble?"
"Oh dear, yes; in nothing but trouble. I thought once that I saw you
in a great room full of wild beasts. They were chained or in cages;
but you would keep going close up to the bars of the cages, or near
enough for the chained animals to spring upon you. And that wasn't
all. You put the end of your little parasol in between the bars, and
a fierce tiger struck at you with his great cat-like paw, tearing
the flesh from your arm. Then I saw you in a little boat, down on
the river. You had put up a sail, and was going out all alone. I saw
the boat move off from the shore just as plainly as I see you now. I
stood and watched until you were in the middle of the river. Then I
thought Mr. Emerson was standing by me, and that we both saw a great
monster--a whale, or something else--chasing after your boat. Mr.
Emerson was in great distress, and said, 'I told her not to go, but
she is so self-willed.' And then he jumped into a boat and, taking
the oars, went gliding out after you as swiftly as the wind. I never
saw mortal arm make a boat fly as he did that little skiff. And I
saw him strike the monster with his oar just as his huge jaws were
opened to devour you. Dear! dear; but I was frightened, and woke up
all in a tremble."
"Before he had saved me?" said Irene, taking a deep breath.
"Yes; but I don't think there was any chance of saving there, and I
was glad that I waked up when I did."
"What else did you dream?" asked Irene.
"Oh, I can't tell you all I dreamed. Once I saw you fall from the
high rock just above West Point and go dashing down into the river.
Then I saw you chased by a mad bull."
"And no one came to my rescue?"
"Oh yes, there was more than one who tried to save you. First, your
father ran in between you and the bull; but he dashed over him. Then
I saw Mr. Emerson rushing up with a pitchfork, and he got before the
mad animal and pointed the sharp prongs at his eyes; but the bull
tore down on him and tossed him away up into the air. I awoke as I
saw him falling on the sharp-pointed horns that were held up to
"Well, Margaret, you certainly had a night of horrors," said Irene,
in a sober way.
"Indeed, miss, and I had; such a night as I don't wish to have
"And your dreaming was all about me?"
"And I was always in trouble or danger?"
"Yes, always; and it was mostly your own fault, too. And that
reminds me of what the minister told us in his sermon last Sunday.
He said that there were a great many kinds of trouble in this
world--some coming from the outside and some coming from the inside;
that the outside troubles, which we couldn't help, were generally
easiest to be borne; while the inside troubles, which we might have
prevented, were the bitterest things in life, because there was
remorse as well as suffering. I understood very well what he meant."
"I am afraid," said Irene, speaking partly to herself, "that most of
my troubles come from the inside."
"I'm afraid they do," spoke out the frank domestic.
"Indeed, miss, and I do think so. If you'd only get right
here"--laying her hand upon her breast--"somebody beside yourself
would be a great deal happier. There now, child, I've said it; and
you needn't go to getting angry with me."
"They are often our best friends who use the plainest speech," said
Irene. "No, Margaret, I am not going to be angry with one whom I
know to be true-hearted."
"Not truer-hearted than your husband, Miss Irene; nor half so
"Why did you say that?" Margaret started at the tone of voice in
which this interrogation was made.
"Because I think so," she answered naively.
Irene looked at her for some moments with a penetrating gaze, and
then said, with an affected carelessness of tone--
"Your preacher and your dreams have made you quite a moralist."
"They have not taken from my heart any of the love it has felt for
you," said Margaret, tears coming into her eyes.
"I know that, Margaret. You were always too kind and indulgent, and
I always too wayward and unreasonable. But I am getting years on my
side, and shall not always be a foolish girl."
Snow had now begun to fall thickly, and the late December day was
waning toward the early twilight. Margaret went down stairs and left
Irene alone in her chamber, where she remained until nearly tea-time
before joining her father.
Mr. Delancy did not altogether feel satisfied in his mind about this
unheralded visit from his daughter, with whose wayward moods he was
too familiar. It might be all as she said, but there were intrusive
misgivings that troubled him.
At tea-time she took her old place at the table in such an easy,
natural way, and looked so pleased and happy, that her father was
satisfied. He asked about her husband, and she talked of him without
"What day is Hartley coming up?" he inquired.
"I hope to see him on the day before Christmas," returned Irene.
There was a falling in her voice that, to the ears of Mr. Delancy,
betrayed a feeling of doubt.
"He will not, surely, put it off later," said the father.
"I don't know," said Irene. "He may be prevented from leaving early
enough to reach here before Christmas morning. If there should be a
cold snap, and the river freeze up, it will make the journey
difficult and attended with delay."
"I think the winter has set in;" and Mr. Delancy turned his ear
toward the window, against which the snow and hail were beating with
violence. "It's a pity Hartley didn't come up with you."
A sober hue came over the face of Irene. This did not escape the
notice of her father; but it was natural that she should feel sober
in thinking of her husband as likely to be kept from her by the
storm. That such were her thoughts her words made evident, for she
said, glancing toward the window--
"If there should be a deep snow, and the boats stop running, how can
Hartley reach here in time?"
On the next morning the sun rose bright and warm for the season.
Several inches of snow had fallen, giving to the landscape a wintry
whiteness, but the wind was coming in from the south, genial as
spring. Before night half the snowy covering was gone.
"We had our fears for nothing," said Mr. Delancy, on the second day,
which was as mild as the preceding one. "All things promise well. I
saw the boats go down as usual; so the river is open still."
Irene did not reply. Mr. Delancy looked at her curiously, but her
face was partly turned away and he did not get its true expression.
The twenty-fourth came. No letter had been received by Irene, nor
had she written to New York since her arrival at Ivy Cliff.
"Isn't it singular that you don't get a letter from Hartley?" said
Irene had been sitting silent for some time when her father made
"He is very busy," she said, in reply.
"That's no excuse. A man is never too busy to write to his absent
"I haven't expected a letter, and so am not disappointed. But he's
on his way, no doubt. How soon will the boat arrive?"
"Between two and three o'clock."
"And it's now ten."
The hours passed on, and the time of arrival came. The windows of
Irene's chamber looked toward the river, and she was standing at one
of them alone when the boat came in sight. Her face was almost
colorless, and contracted by an expression of deep anxiety. She
remained on her feet for the half hour that intervened before the
boat could reach the landing. It was not the first time that she had
watched there, in the excitement of doubt and fear, for the same
form her eyes were now straining themselves to see.
The shrill sound of escaping steam ceased to quiver on the air, and
in a few minutes the boat shot forward into view and went gliding up
the river. Irene scarcely breathed, as she stood, with colorless
face, parted lips and eager eyes, looking down the road that led to
the landing. But she looked in vain; the form of her husband did not
appear--and it was Christmas Eve!
What did it mean?
_YES_, what did it mean? Christmas Eve, and Hartley still absent?
Twilight was falling when Irene came down from her room and joined
her father in the library. Mr. Delancy looked into her face narrowly
as she entered. The dim light of the closing day was not strong
enough to give him its true expression; but he was not deceived as
to its troubled aspect.
"And so Hartley will not be here to-day," he said, in a tone that
expressed both disappointment and concern.
"No. I looked for him confidently. It is strange."
There was a constraint, a forced calmness in Irene's voice that did
not escape her father's notice.
"I hope he is not sick," said Mr. Delancy.
"Oh no." Irene spoke with a sudden earnestness; then, with failing
"He should have been here to-day."
She sat down near the open grate, shading her face with a
hand-screen, and remained silent and abstracted for some time.
"There is scarcely a possibility of his arrival to-night," said Mr.
Delancy. He could not get his thoughts away from the fact of his
"He will not be here to-night," replied Irene, a cold dead level in
her voice, that Mr. Delancy well understood to be only a blind
thrown up to conceal her deeply-disturbed feelings.
"Do you expect him to-morrow, my daughter?" asked Mr. Delancy, a few
moments afterward, speaking as if from a sudden thought or a sudden
purpose. There was a meaning in his tones that showed his mind to be
in a state not prepared to brook evasion.
"I do," was the unhesitating answer; and she turned and looked
calmly at her father, whose eyes rested with a fixed, inquiring gaze
upon her countenance. But half her face was lit by a reflection from
the glowing grate, while half lay in shadow. His reading, therefore
was not clear.
If Irene had shown surprise at the question, her father would have
felt better satisfied. He meant it as a probe; but if a tender spot
was reached, she had the self-control not to give a sign of pain. At
the tea-table Irene rallied her spirits and talked lightly to her
father; it was only by an effort that he could respond with even
Complaining of a headache, Irene retired, soon after tea, to her
room, and did not come down again during the evening.
The next day was Christmas. It rose clear and mild as a day in
October. When Irene came down to breakfast, her pale, almost
haggard, face showed too plainly that she had passed a night of
sleeplessness and suffering. She said, "A merry Christmas," to her
father, on meeting him, but there was no heart in the words. It was
almost impossible to disguise the pain that almost stifled
respiration. Neither of them did more than make a feint at eating.
As Mr. Delancy arose from the table, he said to Irene--
"I would like to see you in the library, my daughter."
She followed him passively, closing the door behind her as she
"Sit down. There." And Mr. Delancy placed a chair for her, a little
way from the grate.
Irene dropped into the chair like one who moved by another's
"Now, daughter," said Mr. Delancy, taking a chair, and drawing it in
front of the one in which she was seated, "I am going to ask a plain
question, and I want a direct answer."
Irene rallied herself on the instant.
"Did you leave New York with the knowledge and consent of your
The blood mounted to her face and stained it a deep crimson:
"I left without his knowledge. Consent I never ask."
The old proud spirit was in her tones.
"I feared as much," replied Mr. Delancy, his voice falling. "Then
you do not expect Hartley to-day?"
"I expected him yesterday. He may be here to-day. I am almost sure
he will come."
"Does he know you are here?"
"Why did you leave without his knowledge?"
"To punish him."
"I have answered without evasion. It was to punish him."
"I do not remember in the marriage vows you took upon yourselves
anything relating to punishments," said Mr. Delancy. "There were
explicit things said of love and duty, but I do not recall a
sentence that referred to the right of one party to punish the
Mr. Delancy paused for a few moments, but there was no reply to this
rather novel and unexpected view of the case.
"Did you by anything in the rite acquire authority to punish your
husband when his conduct didn't just suit your fancy?"
Mr. Delancy pressed the question.
"It is idle, father," said Irene, with some sharpness of tone, "to
make an issue like this. It does not touch the case. Away back of
marriage contracts lie individual rights, which are never
surrendered. The right of self-protection is one of these; and if
retaliation is needed as a guarantee of future peace, then the right
to punish is included in the right of self-protection."
"A peace gained through coercion of any kind is not worth having. It
is but the semblance of peace--is war in bonds," replied Mr.
Delancy. "The moment two married partners begin the work of coercion
and punishment, that moment love begins to fail. If love gives not
to their hearts a common beat, no other power is strong enough to do
the work. Irene, I did hope that the painful experiences already
passed through would have made you wiser. It seems not, however. It
seems that self-will, passion and a spirit of retaliation are to
govern your actions, instead of patience and love. Well, my child,
if you go on sowing this seed in your garden now, in the spring-time
of life, you must not murmur when autumn gives you a harvest of
thorns and thistles. If you sow tares in your field, you must not
expect to find corn there when you put in your sickle to reap. You
can take back your morning salutation. It is not a 'merry Christmas'
to you or to me; and I think we are both done with merry
The tone in which this word was uttered was almost a cry of pain.
"It is even so, my child--even so," replied Mr. Delancy, in a voice
of irrepressible sadness. "You have left your husband a second time.
It is not every man who would forgive the first offence; not one in
twenty who would pardon the second. You are in great peril, Irene.
This storm that you have conjured up may drive you to hopeless
shipwreck. You need not expect Hartley to-day. He will not come. I
have studied his character well, and know that he will not pass this
conduct over lightly."
Even while this was said a servant, who had been over to the
village, brought in a letter and handed it to Mr. Delancy, who,
recognizing in the superscription the handwriting of his daughter's
husband, broke the seal hurriedly. The letter was in these words:
"MY DEAR SIR: As your daughter has left me, no doubt with the
purpose of finally abandoning the effort to live in that harmony so
essential to happiness in married life, I shall be glad if you will
choose some judicious friend to represent her in consultation with a
friend whom I will select, with a view to the arrangement of a
separation, as favorable to her in its provisions as it can possibly
be made. In view of the peculiarity of our temperaments, we made a
great error in this experiment. My hope was that love would be
counselor to us both; that the law of mutual forbearance would have
rule. But we are both too impulsive, too self-willed, too
undisciplined. I do not pretend to throw all the blame on Irene. We
are as flint and steel. But she has taken the responsibility of
separation, and I am left without alternative. May God lighten the
burden of pain her heart will have to bear in the ordeal through
which she has elected to pass.
Your unhappy son,
Mr. Delancy's hand shook so violently before he had finished reading
that the paper rattled in the air. On finishing the last sentence he
passed it, without a word, to his daughter. It was some moments
before the strong agitation produced by the sight of this letter,
and its effect upon her father, could be subdued enough to enable
her to read a line.
"What does it mean, father? I don't understand it," she said, in a
hoarse, deep whisper, and with pale, quivering lips.
"It means," said Mr. Delancy, "that your husband has taken you at
"At my word! What word?"
"You have left the home he provided for you, I believe?"
Her eyes stood out staringly.
"Let me read the letter for you." And he took it from her hand.
After reading it aloud and slowly, he said--
"That is plain talk, Irene. I do not think any one can misunderstand
it. You have, in his view, left him finally, and he now asks me to
name a judicious friend to meet his friend, and arrange a basis of
separation as favorable to you in its provisions as it can possibly
"A separation, father! Oh no, he cannot mean that!" And she pressed
her hands strongly against her temples.
"Yes, my daughter, that is the simple meaning."
"Oh no, no, no! He never meant that."
"You left him?"
"But not in that way; not in earnest. It was only in fitful
anger--half sport, half serious."
"Then, in Heaven's name, sit down and write him so, and that without
the delay of an instant. He has put another meaning on your conduct.
He believes that you have abandoned him."
"Abandoned him! Madness!" And Irene, who had risen from her chair,
commenced moving about the room in a wild, irresolute kind of way,
something like an actress under tragic excitement.
"This is meant to punish me!" she said, stopping suddenly, and
speaking in a voice slightly touched with indignation. "I understand
it all, and see it as a great outrage. Hartley knows as well I do
that I left as much in sport as in earnest. But this is carrying the
joke too far. To write such a letter to you! Why didn't he write to
me? Why didn't he ask me to appoint a friend to represent me in the
"He understood himself and the case entirely," replied Mr. Delancy.
"Believing that you had abandoned him--"
"He didn't believe any such thing!" exclaimed Irene, in strong
"You are deceiving yourself, my daughter. His letter is calm and
deliberate. It was not written, as you can see by the date, until
yesterday. He has taken time to let passion cool. Three days were
permitted to elapse, that you might be heard from in case any change
of purpose occurred. But you remained silent. You abandoned him."
"Oh, father, why will you talk in this way? I tell you that Hartley
is only doing this to punish me; that he has no more thought of an
actual separation than he has of dying."
"Admit this to be so, which I only do in the argument," said Mr.
Delancy, "and what better aspect does it present?"
"The better aspect of sport as compared with earnest," replied
"At which both will continue to play until earnest is reached--and a
worse earnest than the present. Take the case as you will, and it is
one of the saddest and least hopeful that I have seen."
Irene did not reply.
"You must elect some course of action, and that with the least
possible delay," said Mr. Delancy. "This letter requires an
immediate answer. Go to your room and, in communion with God and
your own heart, come to some quick decision upon the subject."
Irene turned away without speaking and left her father alone in the
THE FLIGHT AND THE RETURN.
_WE_ will not speak of the cause that led to this serious rupture
between Mr. and Mrs. Emerson. It was light as vanity--an airy
nothing in itself--a spark that would have gone out on a baby's
cheek without leaving a sign of its existence. On the day that Irene
left the home of her husband he had parted from her silent, moody
and with ill-concealed anger. Hard words, reproaches and accusations
had passed between them on the night previous; and both felt
unusually disturbed. The cause of all this, as we have said, was
light as vanity. During the day Mr. Emerson, who was always first to
come to his senses, saw the folly of what had occurred, and when he
turned his face homeward, after three o'clock, it was with the
purpose of ending the unhappy state by recalling a word to which he
had given thoughtless utterance.
The moment our young husband came to this sensible conclusion his
heart beat with a freer motion and his spirits rose again into a
region of tranquillity. He felt the old tenderness toward his wife
returning, dwelt on her beauty, accomplishments, virtues and high
mental endowments with a glow of pride, and called her defects of
character light in comparison.
"If I were more a man, and less a child of feeling and impulse," he
said to himself, "I would be more worthy to hold the place of
husband to a woman like Irene. She has strong peculiarities--who has
not peculiarities? Am I free from them? She is no ordinary woman,
and must not be trammeled by ordinary tame routine. She has quick
impulses; therefore, if I love her, should I not guard them, lest
they leap from her feebly restraining hand in the wrong direction?
She is sensitive to control; why, then, let her see the hand that
must lead her, sometimes, aside from the way she would walk through
the promptings of her own will? Do I not know that she loves me? And
is she not dear to me as my own life? What folly to strive with each
other! What madness to let angry feelings shadow for an instant our
It was in this state of mind that Emerson returned home. There were
a few misgivings in his heart as he entered, for he was not sure as
to the kind of reception Irene would offer his overtures for peace;
but there was no failing of his purpose to sue for peace and obtain
it. With a quick step he passed through the hall, and, after
glancing into the parlors to see if his wife were there, went up
stairs with two or three light bounds. A hurried glance through the
chambers showed him that they had no occupant. He was turning to
leave them, when a letter, placed upright on a bureau, attracted his
attention. He caught it up. It was addressed to him in the
well-known hand of his wife. He opened it and read:
"I leave for Ivy Cliff to-day. IRENE."
Two or three times Emerson read the line--"I leave for Ivy Cliff
to-day"--and looked at the signature, before its meaning came fully
into his thought.
"Gone to Ivy Cliff!" he said, at last, in a low, hoarse voice.
"Gone, and without a word of intimation or explanation! Gone, and in
the heat of anger! Has it come to this, and so soon! God help us!"
And the unhappy man sunk into a chair, heart-stricken and weak as a
For nearly the whole of the night that followed he walked the floor
of his room, and the next day found him in a feverish condition of
both mind and body. Not once did the thought of following his wife
to Ivy Cliff, if it came into his mind, rest there for a moment. She
had gone home to her father with only an announcement of the fact.
He would wait some intimation of her further purpose; but, if they
met again, she must come back to him. This was his first,
spontaneous conclusion; and it was not questioned in his thought,
nor did he waver from it an instant. She must come back of her own
free will, if she came back at all.
It was on the twentieth day of December that Irene left New York.
Not until the twenty-second could a letter from her reach Hartley,
if, on reflection or after conference with her father, she desired
to make a communication. But the twenty-second came and departed
without a word from the absent one. So did the twenty-third. By this
time Hartley had grown very calm, self-adjusted and resolute. He had
gone over and over again the history of their lives since marriage
bound them together, and in this history he could see nothing
hopeful as bearing on the future. He was never certain of Irene.
Things said and done in moments of thoughtlessness or excitement,
and not meant to hurt or offend, were constantly disturbing their
peace. It was clouds, and rain, and fitful sunshine all the while.
There were no long seasons of serene delight.
"Why," he said to himself, "seek to prolong this effort to blend
into one two lives that seem hopelessly antagonistic. Better stand
as far apart as the antipodes than live in perpetual strife. If I
should go to Irene, and, through concession or entreaty, win her
back again, what guarantee would I have for the future? None, none
whatever. Sooner or later we must be driven asunder by the violence
of our ungovernable passions, never to draw again together. We are
apart now, and it is well. I shall not take the first step toward a
Hartley Emerson was a young man of cool purpose and strong will. For
all that, he was quick-tempered and undisciplined. It was from the
possession of these qualities that he was steadily advancing in his
profession, and securing a practice at the bar which promised to
give him a high position in the future. Persistence was another
element of his character. If he adopted any course of conduct, it
was a difficult thing to turn him aside. When he laid his hand upon
the plough, he was of those who rarely look back. Unfortunate
qualities these for a crisis in life such as now existed.
On the morning of the twenty-fourth of December, no word having come
from his wife, Emerson coolly penned the letter to Mr. Delancy which
is given in the preceding chapter, and mailed it so that it would
reach him on Christmas day. He was in earnest--sternly in
earnest--as Mr. Delancy, on reading his letter, felt him to be. The
honeymoon flight was one thing; this abandonment of a husband's
home, another thing. Emerson gave to them a different weight and
quality. Of the first act he could never think without a burning
cheek--a sense of mortification--a pang of wounded pride; and long
ere this he had made up his mind that if Irene ever left him again,
it would be for ever, so far as perpetuity depended on his action in
the case. He would never follow her nor seek to win her back.
Yes, he was in earnest. He had made his mind up for the worst, and
was acting with a desperate coolness only faintly imagined by Irene
on receipt of his letter to her father. Mr. Delancy, who understood
Emerson's character better, was not deceived. He took the
communication in its literal meaning, and felt appalled at the ruin
Emerson passed the whole of Christmas day alone in his house. At
meal-times he went to the table and forced himself to partake
lightly of food, in order to blind the servants, whose curiosity in
regard to the absence of Mrs. Emerson was, of course, all on the
alert. After taking tea he went out.
His purpose was to call upon a friend in whom he had great
confidence, and confide to him the unhappy state of his affairs. For
an hour he walked the streets in debate on the propriety of this
course. Unable, however, to see the matter clearly, he returned home
with the secret of his domestic trouble still locked in his own
It was past eight o'clock when he entered his dwelling. A light was
burning in one of the parlors, and he stepped into the room. After
walking for two or three times the length of the apartment, Mr.
Emerson threw himself on a sofa, a deep sigh escaping his lips as he
did so. At the same moment he heard a step in the passage, and the
rustling of a woman's garments, which caused him to start again to
his feet. In moving his eyes met the form of Irene, who advanced
toward him, and throwing her arms around his neck, sobbed,
"Dear husband! can you, will you forgive my childish folly?"
His first impulse was to push her away, and he, even grasped her
arms and attempted to draw them from his neck. She perceived this,
and clung to him more eagerly.
"Dear Hartley!" she said, "will you not speak to me ?"
"Irene!" His voice was cold and deep, and as he pronounced her name
he withdrew himself from her embrace. At this she grew calm and
stepped a pace back from him.
"Irene, we are not children," he said, in the same cold, deep voice,
the tones of which were even and measured. "That time is past. Nor
foolish young lovers, who fall out and make up again twice or thrice
in a fortnight; but man and wife, with the world and its sober
realities before us."
"Oh, Hartley," exclaimed Irene, as he paused; "don't talk to me in
this way! Don't look at me so! It will kill me. I have done wrong. I
have acted like foolish child. But I am penitent. It was half in
sport that I went away, and I was so sure of seeing you at Ivy Cliff
yesterday that I told father you were coming."
"Irene, sit down." And Emerson took the hand of his wife and led her
to a sofa. Then, after closing the parlor door, he drew a chair and
seated himself directly in front of her. There was a coldness and
self-possession about him, that chilled Irene.
"It is a serious thing," he said, looking steadily in her face, "for
a wife to leave, in anger, her husband's house for that of her
She tried to make some reply and moved her lips in attempted
utterance, but the organs of speech refused to perform their office.
"You left me once before in anger, and I went after you. But it was
clearly understood with myself then that if you repeated the act it
would be final in all that appertained to me; that unless you
returned, it would be a lifelong separation. You _have_ repeated the
act; and, knowing your pride and tenacity of will, I did not
anticipate your return. And so I was looking the sad, stern future
in the face as steadily as possible, and preparing to meet it as a
man conscious of right should be prepared to meet whatever trouble
lies in store for him. I went out this evening, after passing the
Christmas day alone, with the purpose of consulting an old and
discreet friend as to the wisest course of action. But the thing was
too painful to speak of yet. So I came back--and you are here!"
She looked at him steadily while he spoke, her face white as marble,
and her colorless lips drawn back from her teeth.
"Irene," he continued, "it is folly for us to keep on in the way we
have been going. I am wearied out, and you cannot be happy in a
relation that is for ever reminding you that your own will and
thought are no longer sole arbiters of action; that there is another
will and another thought that must at times be consulted, and even
obeyed. I am a man, and a husband; you a woman, and a wife,--we are
equal as to rights and duties--equal in the eyes of God; but to the
man and husband appertains a certain precedence in action; consent,
co-operation and approval, if he be a thoughtful and judicious man,
appertaining to the wife."
As Emerson spoke thus, he noticed a sign of returning warmth in her
pale face, and a dim, distant flash in her eyes. Her proud spirit
did not accept this view of their relation to each other. He went
"If a wife has no confidence in her husband's manly judgment, if she
cannot even respect him, then the case is altered. She must be
understanding and will to herself; must lead both him and herself if
he be weak enough to consent. But the relation is not a true one;
and marriage, under this condition of things, is only a semblance."
"And that is your doctrine?" said Irene. There was a shade of
surprise in her voice that lingered huskily in her throat.
"That is my doctrine," was Emerson's firmly spoken answer.
Irene sighed heavily. Both were silent for some moments. At length
Irene said, lifting her hands and bringing them down with an action
"In bonds! in bonds!"
"No, no!" Her husband replied quickly and earnestly. "Not in bonds,
but in true freedom, if you will--the freedom of reciprocal action."
"Like bat and ball," she answered, with bitterness in her tones.
"No, like heart and lungs," he returned, calmly. "Irene! dear wife!
Why misunderstand me? I have no wish to rule, and you know I have
never sought to place you in bonds. I have had only one desire, and
that is to be your husband in the highest and truest sense. But, I
am a man--you a woman. There are two wills and two understandings
that must act in the same direction. Now, in the nature of things,
the mind of one must, helped by the mind of the other to see right,
take, as a general thing, the initiative where action is concerned.
Unless this be so, constant collisions will occur. And this takes us
back to the question that lies at the basis of all order and
happiness--which of the two minds shall lead?"
"A man and his wife are equal," said Irene, firmly. The strong
individuality of her character was asserting its claims even in this
hour of severe mental pain.
"Equal in the eyes of God, as I have said before, but where action
is concerned one must take precedence of the other, for, it cannot
be, seeing that their office and duties are different, that their
judgment in the general affairs of life can be equally clear. A
man's work takes him out into the world, and throws him into sharp
collision with other men. He learns, as a consequence, to think
carefully and with deliberation, and to decide with caution, knowing
that action, based on erroneous conclusions, may ruin his prospects
in an hour. Thus, like the oak, which, grows up exposed to all
elemental changes, his judgment gains strength, while his
perceptions, constantly trained, acquire clearness. But a woman's
duties lie almost wholly within this region of strife and action,
and she remains, for the most part, in a tranquil atmosphere.
Allowing nothing for a radical difference in mental constitution,
this difference of training must give a difference of mental power.
The man's judgment in affairs generally must be superior to the
woman's, and she must acquiesce in its decisions or there can be no
right union in marriage."
"Must lose herself in him," said Irene, coldly. "Become a cypher, a
slave. That will not suit me, Hartley!" And she looked at him with
firmly compressed mouth and steady eyes.
It came to his lips to reply, "Then you had better return to your
father," but he caught the words back ere they leaped forth into
sound, and, rising, walked the floor for the space of more than five
minutes, Irene not stirring from the sofa. Pausing at length, he
said in a voice which had lost its steadiness:
"You had better go up to your room, Irene. We are not in a condition
to help each other now."
Mrs. Emerson did not answer, but, rising, left the parlor and went
as her husband had suggested. He stood still, listening, until the
sound of her steps and the rustle of her garments had died away into
silence, when he commenced slowly walking the parlor floor with his
head bent down, and continued thus, as if he had forgotten time and
place, for over an hour. Then, awakened to consciousness by a sense
of dizziness and exhaustion, he laid himself upon a sofa, and,
shutting his eyes, tried to arrest the current of his troubled
thoughts and sink into sleep and forgetfulness.
_FOR_ such a reception the young wife was wholly unprepared.
Suddenly her husband had put on a new character and assumed a right
of control against which her sensitive pride and native love of
freedom arose in strong rebellion. That she had done wrong in going
away she acknowledged to herself, and had acknowledged to him. But
he had met confession in a spirit so different from what was
anticipated, and showed an aspect so cold, stern, and exacting, that
she was bewildered. She did not, however, mistake the meaning of his
language. It was plain that she understood the man's position to be
one of dictation and control: we use the stronger aspect in which it
was presented to her mind. As to submission, it was not in all her
thoughts. Wrung to agony as her heart was, and appalled as she
looked, trembling and shrinking into the future, she did not yield a
moment to weakness.
Midnight found Irene alone in her chamber. She had flung herself
upon a bed when she came up from the parlor, and fallen asleep after
an hour of fruitless beating about in her mind. Awaking from a maze
of troubled dreams, she started up and gazed, half fearfully, around
the dimly-lighted room.
"Where am I?" she asked herself. Some moments elapsed before the
painful events of the past few days began to reveal themselves to
"And where is Hartley?" This question followed as soon as all grew
clear. Sleep had tranquilized her state, and restored a measure of
just perception. Stepping from the bed, she went from the room and
passed silently down stairs. A light still burned in the parlor
where she had left her husband some hours before, and streamed out
through the partly opened door. She stood for some moments,
listening, but there was no sound of life within. A sudden fear
crept into her heart. Her hand shook as she laid it upon the door
and pressed it open. Stepping within, she glanced around with a
On the sofa lay Hartley, with his face toward the light. It was wan
and troubled, and the brows were contracted as if from intense pain.
For some moments Irene stood looking at him; but his eyes were shut
and he lay perfectly still. She drew nearer and bent down over him.
He was sleeping, but his breath came so faintly, and there was so
little motion of his chest, that the thought flashed through her
with an electric thrill that he might be dying! Only by a strong
effort of self-control did she repress a cry of fear, or keep back
her hands from clasping his neck. In what a strong tide did love
rush back upon her soul! Her heart overflowed with tenderness, was
oppressed with yearning.
"Oh, Hartley, my husband, my dear husband!" she cried out, love,
fear, grief and anguish blending wildly in her voice, as she caught
him in her arms and awoke him with a rain of tears and kisses.
"Irene! Love! Darling! What ails you? Where are we?" were the
confusedly uttered sentences of Mr. Emerson, as he started from the
sofa and, holding his young wife from him, looked into her weeping
"Call me again 'love' and 'darling,' and I care not where we are!"
she answered, in tones of passionate entreaty. "Oh, Hartley, my
dear, dear husband! A desert island, with you, would be a paradise;
a paradise, without you, a weary desert! Say the words again. Call
me 'darling!'" And she let her head fall upon his bosom.
"God bless you!" he said, laying his hand upon her head. He was
awake and clearly conscious of place and position. His voice was
distinct, but tremulous and solemn. "God bless you, Irene, my wife!"
"And make me worthy of your love," she responded faintly.
"Mutually worthy of each other," said he. "Wiser--better--more
patient and forbearing. Oh, Irene," and his voice grew deep and
tender, "why may we not be to each other all that our hearts
"We can--we must--we will!" she answered, lifting her hidden face
from his bosom and turning it up fondly to his. "God helping me, I
will be to you a better wife in the future."
"And I a more patient, loving, and forbearing husband," he replied.
"Oh that our hearts might beat together as one heart!"
For a little while Irene continued to gaze into her husband's
countenance with looks of the tenderest love, and then hid her face
on his bosom again.
And thus were they again reconciled.
AFTER THE STORM.
_AFTER_ the storm. And they were reconciled. The clouds rolled back;
the sun came out again with his radiant smiles and genial warmth.
But was nothing broken? nothing lost? Did each flower in the garden
of love lift its head as bravely as before? In every storm of
passion something is lost. Anger is a blind fury, who tramples
ruthlessly on tenderest and holiest things. Alas for the ruin that
waits upon her footsteps!
The day that followed this night of reconciliation had many hours of
sober introversion of thought for both Emerson and his wife; hours
in which memory reproduced language, conduct and sentiments that
could not be dwelt upon without painful misgivings for the future.
They understood each other too well to make light account of things
said and done, even in anger.
In going over, as Irene did many times, the language used by her
husband on the night before, touching their relation as man and
wife, and his prerogative, she felt the old spirit of revolt
arising. She tried to let her thought fall into his rational
presentation of the question involving precedence, and even said to
herself that he was right; but pride was strong, and kept lifting
itself in her mind. She saw, most clearly, the hardest aspect of the
case. It was, in her view, command and obedience. And she knew that
submission was, for her, impossible.
On the part of Emerson, the day's sober thought left his mind in no
more hopeful condition than that of his wife. The pain suffered in
consequence of her temporary flight from home, though lessened by
her return, had not subsided. A portion of confidence in her was
lost. He felt that he had no guarantee for the future; that at any
moment, in the heat of passion, she might leave him again. He
remembered, too distinctly, her words on the night before, when he
tried to make her comprehend his view of the relation between man
and wife--"That will not suit me, Hartley." And he felt that she was
in earnest; that she would resist every effort he might make to lead
and control as a man in certain things, just as she had done from
In matrimonial quarrels you cannot kiss and make up again, as
children do, forgetting all the stormy past in the sunshiny present.
And this was painfully clear to both Hartley and Irene, as she,
alone in her chamber, and he, alone in his office, pondered, on that
day of reconciliation, the past and the future. Yet each resolved to
be more forbearing and less exacting; to be emulous of concession,
rather than exaction; to let love, uniting with reason, hold pride
and self-will in close submission.
Their meeting, on Hartley's return home, at his usual late hour in
the afternoon, was tender, but not full of the joyous warmth of
feeling that often showed itself. Their hearts were not light enough
for ecstasy. But they were marked in their attentions to each other,
emulous of affectionate words and actions, yielding and considerate.
And yet this mutual, almost formal, recognition of a recent state of
painful antagonism left on each mind a feeling of embarrassment,
checked words and sentences ere they came to utterance, and threw
amid their pleasant talks many intermittent pauses.
Often through the day had Mr. Emerson, as he dwelt on the unhappy
relation existing between himself and his wife, made up his mind to
renew the subject of their true position to each other, as briefly
touched upon in their meeting of the night before, and as often
changed his purpose, in fear of another rupture. Yet to him it
seemed of the first importance that this matter, as a basis of
future peace, should be settled between them, and settled at once.
If he held one view and she another, and both were sensitive,
quick-tempered and tenacious of individual freedom, fierce
antagonism might occur at any moment. He had come home inclined to
the affirmative side of the question, and many times during the
evening it was on his lips to introduce the subject. But he was so
sure that it would prove a theme of sharp discussion, that he had
not the courage to risk the consequences.
There was peace again after this conflict, but it was not, by any
means, a hopeful peace. It had no well-considered basis. The causes
which had produced a struggle were still in existence, and liable to
become active, by provocation, at any moment. No change had taken
place in the characters, dispositions, temperaments or general views
of life in either of the parties. Strife had ceased between them
only in consequence of the pain it involved. A deep conviction of
this fact so sobered the mind of Mr. Emerson, and altered, in
consequence, his manner toward Irene, that she felt its reserve and
coldness as a rebuke that chilled the warmth of her tender impulses.
And this manner did not greatly change as the days and weeks moved
onward. Memory kept too vividly in the mind of Emerson that one act,
and the danger of its repetition on some sudden provocation. He
could not feel safe and at ease with his temple of peace built close
to a slumbering volcano, which was liable at any moment to blaze
forth and bury its fair proportions in lava and ashes.
Irene did not comprehend her husband's state of mind. She felt
painfully the change in his manner, but failed in reaching the true
cause. Sometimes she attributed his coldness to resentment;
sometimes to defect of love; and sometimes to a settled
determination on his part to inflict punishment. Sometimes she spent
hours alone, weeping over these sad ruins of her peace, and
sometimes, in a spirit of revolt, she laid down for herself a line
of conduct intended to react against her husband. But something in
his calm, kind, self-reliant manner, when she looked into his face,
broke down her purpose. She was afraid of throwing herself against a
rock which, while standing immovable, might bruise her tender limbs
or extinguish life in the strong concussion.
A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
_BOTH_ Emerson and his wife came up from this experience changed in
themselves and toward each other. A few days had matured them beyond
what might have been looked for in as many years. Life suddenly put
on more sober hues, and the future laid off its smiles and
beckonings onward to greener fields and mountain-heights of
felicity. There was a certain air of manly self-confidence, a
firmer, more deliberate way of expressing himself on all subjects,
and an evidence of mental clearness and strength, which gave to
Irene the impression of power and superiority not wholly agreeable
to her self-love, yet awakening emotions of pride in her husband
when she contrasted him with other men. As a man among men, he was,
as he had ever been, her beau ideal; but as a husband, she felt a
daily increasing spirit of resistance and antagonism, and it
required constant watchfulness over herself to prevent this feeling
from exhibiting itself in act.
On the part of Emerson, the more he thought about this subject of
the husband's relative duties and prerogatives--thought as a man and
as a lawyer--the more strongly did he feel about it, and the more
tenacious of his assumed rights did he become. Matters which seemed
in the beginning of such light importance as scarcely to attract his
attention, now loomed up before him as things of moment. Thus, if he
spoke of their doing some particular thing in a certain way, and
Irene suggested a different way, instead of yielding to her view, he
would insist upon his own. If she tried to show him a reason why her
way was best, he would give no weight to her argument or
representation. On the other hand, it is but just to say that he
rarely opposed her independent suggestions or interfered with her
freedom; and if she had been as considerate toward him, the danger
of trouble would have been lessened.
It is the little foxes that spoil the tender grapes, and so it is
the little reactions of two spirits against each other that spoil
the tender blossoms of love and destroy the promised vintage.
Steadily, day by day, and week by week, were these light reactions
marring the happiness of our undisciplined young friends, and
destroying in them germ after germ, and bud after bud, which, if
left to growth and development, would have brought forth ripe,
luscious fruit in the later summer of their lives. Trifles, light as
air were noticed, and their importance magnified. Words, looks,
actions, insignificant in themselves, were made to represent states
of will or antagonism which really had no existence.
Unhappily for their peace, Irene had a brooding disposition. She
held in her memory utterances and actions forgotten by her husband,
and, by dwelling upon, magnified and gave them an importance to
which they were not entitled. Still more unhappily for their peace,
Irene met about this time, and became attached to, a lady of fine
intellectual attainments and fascinating manners, who was an
extremist in opinion on the subject of sexual equality. She was
married, but to a man greatly her inferior, though possessing some
literary talent, which he managed to turn to better account than she
did her finer powers. He had been attracted by her brilliant
qualities, and in approaching her scorched his wings, and ever after
lay at her feet. She had no very high respect for him, but found a
husband on many accounts a convenient thing, and so held on to the
appendage. If he had been man enough to remain silent on the themes
she was so fond of discussing on all occasions, people of common
sense and common perception would have respected him for what he was
worth. But he gloried in his bondage, and rattled his chains as
gleefully as if he were discoursing sweet music. What she announced
oracularly, he attempted to demonstrate by bald and feeble
arguments. He was the false understanding to her perverted will.
The name of this lady was Mrs. Talbot. Irene met her soon after her
marriage and removal to New York, and was charmed with her from the
beginning. Mr. Emerson, on the contrary, liked neither her nor her
sentiments, and considered her a dangerous friend for his wife. He
expressed himself freely in regard to her at the commencement of the
intimacy; but Irene took her part so warmly, and used such strong
language in her favor, that Emerson deemed it wisest not to create
new sentiments in her favor out of opposition to himself.
Within a week from that memorable Christmas day on which Irene came
back from Ivy Cliff, Mrs. Talbot, who had taken a fancy to the
spirited, independent, undisciplined wife of Emerson, called in to
see her new friend. Irene received her cordially. She was, in fact,
of all her acquaintances, the one she most desired to meet.
"I'm right glad you thought of making me a call," said Mrs. Emerson,
as they sat down together. "I've felt as dull all the morning as an
"You dull!" Mrs. Talbot affected surprise, as she glanced round the
tasteful room in which they were sitting. "What is there to cloud
your mind? With such a home and such a husband as you possess life
ought to be one long, bright holiday."
"Good things in their way," replied Mrs. Emerson. "But not
She said this in a kind of thoughtless deference to Mrs. Talbot's
known views on the subject of homes and husbands, which she had not
hesitated to call women's prisons and women's jailers.
"Indeed! And have you made that discovery?"
Mrs. Talbot laughed a low, gurgling sort of laugh, leaning, at the
same time, in a confidential kind of way, closer to Mrs. Emerson.
"It is no discovery," said Mrs. Emerson. "The fact is self-evident.
There is much that a woman needs for happiness beside a home and a
"Right, my young friend, right!" Mrs. Talbot's manner grew earnest.
"No truer words were ever spoken. Yes--yes--a woman needs a great
deal more than these to fill the measure of her happiness; and it is
through the attempt to restrict and limit her to such poor
substitutes for a world-wide range and freedom that she has been so
dwarfed in mental stature, and made the unhappy creature and slave
of man's hard ambition and indomitable love of power. There were
Amazons of old--as the early Greeks knew to their cost--strong,
self-reliant, courageous women, who acknowledged no human
superiority. Is the Amazonian spirit dead in the earth? Not so! It
is alive, and clothing itself with will, power and persistence.
Already it is grasping the rein, and the mettled steed stands
impatient to feel the rider's impulse in the saddle. The cycle of
woman's degradation and humiliation is completed. A new era in the
world's social history has dawned for her, and the mountain-tops are
golden with the coming day."
Irene listened with delight and even enthusiasm to these sentiments,
uttered with ardor and eloquence.
"It is not woman's fault, taking her in the aggregate, that she is
so weak in body and mind, and such a passive slave to man's will,"
continued Mrs. Talbot. "In the retrocession of races toward
barbarism mere muscle, in which alone man is superior to woman,
prevailed. Physical strength set itself up as master. Might made
right. And so unhappy woman was degraded below man, and held to the
earth, until nearly all independent life has been crushed out of
her. As civilization has lifted nation after nation out of the dark
depths of barbarism, the condition of woman physically has been
improved. For the sake of his children, if from no better motive,
man has come to treat his wife with a more considerate kindness. If
she is still but the hewer of his wood and the drawer of his water,
he has, in many cases, elevated her to the position of dictatress in
these humble affairs. He allows her 'help!' But, mentally and
socially, he continues to degrade her. In law she is scarcely
recognized, except as a criminal. She is punished if she does wrong,
but has no legal protection in her rights as an independent human
being. She is only man's shadow. The public opinion that affects her
is made by him. The earliest literature of a country is man's
expression; and in this man's view of woman is always apparent. The
sentiment is repeated generation after generation, and age after
age, until the barbarous idea comes down, scarcely questioned, to
the days of high civilization, culture and refinement.
"Here, my young friend, you have the simple story of woman's
degradation in this age of the world. Now, so long as she submits,
man will hold her in fetters. Power and dominion are sweet. If a man
cannot govern a state, he will be content to govern a household--but
govern he will, if he can find anywhere submissive subjects."
"He is born a tyrant; that I have always felt," said Mrs. Emerson.
"You see it in a family of sisters and brothers. The boys always
attempt to rule their sisters, and if the latter do not submit, then
comes discord and contention."
"I have seen this, in hundreds of instances," replied Mrs. Talbot.
"It was fully illustrated in my own case. I had two brothers, who
undertook to exercise their love of domineering on me. But they did
not find a passive subject--no, not by any means. I was never
obedient to their will, for I had one of my own. We made the house
often a bedlam for our poor mother; but I never gave way--no, not
for an instant, come what might. I had different stuff in me from
that of common girls, and in time the boys were glad to let me
"Are your brothers living?" asked Mrs. Emerson.
"Yes. One resides in New York, and the other in Boston. One is a
merchant, the other a physician."
"How was it as you grew older?"
"About the same. They are like nearly all men--despisers of woman's
Irene sighed, and, letting her eyes fall to the floor, sat lost in
thought for some moments. The suggestions of her friend were not
producing agreeable states of mind.
"They reject the doctrine of an equality in the sexes?" said Mrs.
"Of course. All men do that," replied Mrs. Talbot.
"Your husband among the rest?"
"Talbot? Oh, he's well enough in his way!" The lady spoke lightly,
tossing her head in a manner that involved both indifference and
contempt. "I never take him into account when discussing these
matters. That point was settled between us long and long ago. We jog
on without trouble. Talbot thinks as I do about the women--or
pretends that he does, which is all the same."
"A rare exception to the general run of husbands," said Irene,
thinking at the same time how immeasurably superior Mr. Emerson was
to this weakling, and despising him in her heart for submitting to
be ruled by a woman. Thus nature and true perception spoke in her,
even while she was seeking to blind herself by false reasonings.
"Yes, he's a rare exception; and it's well for us both that it is
so. If he were like your husband, for instance, one of us would have
been before the legislature for a divorce within twelve months of
our marriage night."
"Like my husband! What do you mean?" Mrs. Emerson drew herself up,
with half real and half affected surprise.
"Oh, he's one of your men who have positive qualities about
them--strong in intellect and will."
Irene felt pleased with the compliment bestowed upon her husband.
"But wrong in his ideas of woman."
"How do you know?" asked Irene.
"How do I know? As I know all men with whom I come in contact. I
"And you have probed my husband?"
"And do not regard him as sound on this subject?"
"No sounder than other men of his class. He regards woman as man's
"I think you state the case too strongly," said Mrs. Emerson, a red
spot burning on her cheek. "He thinks them mentally different."
"Of course he does."
"But not different as to superiority and inferiority," replied
"Mere hair-splitting, my child. If they are mentally different, one
must be more highly organized than the other, and of course,
superior. Mr. Emerson thinks a man's rational powers stronger than a
woman's, and that, therefore, he must direct in affairs generally,
and she follow his lead. I know; I've talked with and drawn him out
on this subject."
Mrs. Emerson sighed again faintly, while her eyes dropped from the
face of her visitor and sunk to the floor. A shadow was falling on
her spirit--a weight coming down with a gradually increasing
pressure upon her heart. She remembered the night of her return from
Ivy Cliff and the language then used by her husband on this very
subject, which was mainly in agreement with the range of opinions
attributed to him by Mrs. Talbot.
"Marriage, to a spirited woman," she remarked, in a pensive
undertone, "is a doubtful experiment."
"Always," returned her friend. "As woman stands now in the estimate
of man, her chances for happiness are almost wholly on the side of
old-maidism. Still, freedom is the price of struggle and combat; and
woman will first have to show, in actual strife, that she is the
equal of her present lord."
"Then you would turn every home into a battlefield?" said Mrs.
"Every home in which there is a tyrant and an oppressor," was the
prompt answer. "Many fair lands, in all ages, have been trampled
down ruthlessly by the iron feet of war; and that were better, as
the price of freedom, than slavery."
Irene sighed again, and was again silent.
"What," she asked, "if the oppressor is so much stronger than the
oppressed that successful resistance is impossible? that with every
struggle the links of the chain that binds her sink deeper into her
"Every age and every land have seen noble martyrs in the cause of
freedom. It is better to die for liberty than live an ignoble
slave," answered the tempter.
"And I will die a free woman." This Irene said in her heart.
_SENTIMENTS_ like these, coming to Irene as they did while she was
yet chafing under a recent collision with her husband, and while the
question of submission was yet an open one, were near proving a
quick-match to a slumbering mine in her spirit, and had not her
husband been in a more passive state than usual, there might have
been an explosion which would have driven them asunder with such
terrific force that reunion must have been next to impossible.
It would have been well if their effects had died with the passing
away of that immediate danger. But as we think so we incline to act.
Our sentiments are our governors; and of all imperious tyrants,
false sentiments are the most ruthless. The beautiful, the true, the
good they trample out of the heart with a fiery malignity that knows
no touch of pity; for the false is the bitter enemy of the true and
makes with it no terms of amity.
The coldness which had followed their reconciliation might have
gradually given way before the warmth of genuine love, if Irene had
been left to the counsels of her own heart; if there had been no
enemy to her peace, like Mrs. Talbot, to throw in wild, vague
thoughts of oppression and freedom among the half-developed opinions
which were forming in her mind. As it was, a jealous scrutiny of
words and actions took the place of that tender confidence which was
coming back to Irene's heart, and she became watchfully on the
alert; not, as she might have been, lovingly ministrant.
Only a few days were permitted to elapse after the call of this
unsafe friend before Irene returned the visit, and spent two hours
with her, conning over the subject of woman's rights and woman's
wrongs. Mrs. Talbot introduced her to writers on the vexed question,
who had touched the theme with argument, sarcasm, invective and
bold, brilliant, specious generalities; read to her from their
books; commented on their deductions, and uttered sentiments on the
subject of reform and resistance as radical as the most extreme.
"We must agitate--we must act--we must do good deeds of valor and
self-sacrifice for our sex," she said, in her enthusiastic way.
"Every woman, whether of high or low condition, of humble powers or
vigorous intellect, has a duty to perform, and she is false to the
honor and rights of her sex if she do not array herself on the side
of freedom. You have great responsibilities resting upon you, my
young friend. I say it soberly, even solemnly. Responsibilities
which may not be disregarded without evil consequences to yourself
and others. You are young, clear-thoughted and resolute--have will,
purpose and endurance. You are married to a young man destined, I
think, to make his mark in the world; but, as I have said before, a
false education has given him erroneous ideas on this great and
important subject. Now what is your duty?"
The lady paused as if for an answer.
"What is your duty, my dear young friend?" she repeated.
"I will answer for you," she continued. "Your duty is to be true to
yourself and to your sisters in bonds."
"In bonds! _I_ in bonds!" Mrs. Talbot touched her to the quick.
"Are you a free woman?" The inquiry was calmly made.
Irene started to the floor and moved across the room, then turned
and came back again. Her cheeks burned and her eyes flashed. She
stood before Mrs. Talbot and looked at her steadily.
"The question has disturbed you?" said the lady.
"It has," was the brief answer.
"Why should it disturb you?"
Irene did not answer.
"I can tell you."
"You are in bonds, and feel the fetters."
"It is so, my poor child, and you know it as well as I do. From the
beginning of our acquaintance I have seen this; and more than once,
in our various conversations, you have admitted the fact."
Irene let her thoughts run back through the sentiments and opinions
which she had permitted herself to utter in the presence of her
friend, to see if she had so fully betrayed herself. She could not
recall the distinct language, but it was plain that Mrs. Talbot had
her secret, and therefore reserve on the subject was useless.
"Well," she said, after standing for some time before Mrs. Talbot,
"if I am in bonds, it is not because I do not worship freedom."
"I know that," was the quickly-spoken answer. "And it is because I
wish to see you a free woman that I point to your bonds. Now is the
time to break them--now, before years have increased their
strength--now, before habit has made tyranny a part of your
husband's nature. He is your ruler, because the social sentiment is
in favor of manly domination. There is hope for you now, and now
only. You must begin the work of reaction while both are young. Let
your husband understand, from this time, that you are his equal. It
may go a little hard at first. He will, without doubt, hold on to
the reins, for power is sweet; but if there be true love for you in
his heart, he will yield in the struggle, and make you his companion
and equal, as you should be. If his love be not genuine, why--"
She checked herself. It might be going a step too far with her young
friend to utter the thought that was coming to her lips. Irene did
not question her as to what more she was about to say. There was
stimulus enough in the words already spoken. She felt all the
strength of her nature rising into opposition.
"Yes, I will be free," she said in her heart. "I will be his equal,
not his slave."
"It may cost you some pain in the beginning," resumed the tempter.
"I am not afraid of pain," said Irene.
"A brave heart spoke there. I wish we had more on our side with the
stuff you are made of. There would be hope of a speedier reform than
is now promised."
"Heaven send the reform right early! It cannot come a day too soon."
Irene spoke with rising ardor.
"It will be our own fault," said Mrs. Talbot, "if we longer bow our
necks to the yoke or move obedient to our task-masters. Let us lay
the axe to the very root of this evil and hew it down."
"Even if we are crushed by the tree in falling," responded Irene, in
the spirit of a martyr.
From this interview our wrong-directed young friend went home with
more clearly defined purposes touching her conduct toward her
husband than she had hitherto entertained. She saw him in a new
aspect, and in a character more definitely outlined. He loomed up in
more colossal proportions, and put on sterner features. All
disguises were thrown away, and he stood forth, not a loving
husband, but the tyrant of her home. Weak, jealous, passion-tost
child! how this strong, self-willed, false woman of the world had
bewildered her thoughts, and pushed her forth into an arena of
strife, where she could only beat about blindly, and hurt herself
and others, yet accomplish no good.
From her interview with Mrs. Talbot, Irene went home, bearing more
distinct ideas of resistance in her mind. In this great crisis of
her life she felt that she needed just such a friend, who could give
direction to her striving spirit, and clothe for her in thoughts the
native impulses that she knew only as a love of freedom. She
believed now that she understood herself better than before, and
comprehended more clearly her duties and responsibilities.
It was in this mood of mind that she met her husband when he
returned in the afternoon from his office. Happily for them, he was
in a quiet, non-resistant state, and in a special good-humor with
himself and the world. Professional matters had shaped themselves to
his wishes, and left his mind at peace. Irene had, in consequence,
everything pretty much her own way. Hartley did not fail to notice a
certain sharpness of manner about her, and a certain spiciness of
sentiment when the subject of their intermittent talks verged on
themes relating to women; but he felt no inclination whatever for
argument or opposition, and so her arrows struck a polished shield,
and went gracefully and harmlessly aside.
"Shall we go and have a merry laugh with Matthews to-night?" said
Hartley, as they sat at the tea-table. "I feel just in the humor."
"No, I thank you," replied Irene, curtly. "I don't incline to the
laughing mood, just now."
"Laughing is contagious," suggested Hartley.
"I shall not take the infection to-night." And she balanced her
little head with the perpendicularity of a plumb-line.
"Can't I persuade you?" He was in a real good-humor, and smiled as
he said this.
"No, sir. You may waive both argument and persuasion. I am in
"And when a woman is in earnest you might as well essay to move the
Pillars of Hercules."
"You might as well in my case," answered Irene, without any
softening of tone or features.
"Then I shall not attempt, after a hard day's work, a task so
difficult. I am in a mood for rest and quiet," said the young
"Perhaps," he resumed, after a little pause, "you may feel somewhat
musical. There is to be a vocal and instrumental concert to-night.
What say you to going there? I think I could enjoy some good
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
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
"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
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!
_SOCIAL_ theories that favor our passions, peculiarities, defects of
character or weaknesses are readily adopted, and, with minds of an
ardent temper, often become hobbies. There is a class of persons who
are never content with riding their own hobbies; they must have
others mount with them. All the world is going wrong because it
moves past them--trotting, pacing or galloping, as it may be, upon
its own hobbies. And so they try to arrest this movement or that,
or, gathering a company of aimless people, they galvanize them with
their own wild purposes, and start them forth into the world on
These persons are never content to wait for the slow changes that
are included in all orderly developments. Because a thing seems
right to them in the abstract, it must be done now. They cannot wait
for old things to pass away, as preliminary to the inauguration of
what is new.
"If I had the power," we have heard one of this class say, "evil and
sorrow and pain should cease from the earth in a moment." And in
saying this the thought was not concealed that God had this power,
but failed to exercise it. With them no questions of expediency, no
regard for time-endowed prejudices, no weak spirit of waiting, no
looking for the fullness of time could have any influence. What they
willed to be done must be done now; and they were impatient and
angry at every one who stood in their way or opposed their theories.
In most cases, you will find these "reformers," as they generally
style themselves, governed more by a love of ruling and influencing
others than by a spirit of humanity. They are one-sided people, and
can only see one side of a subject in clear light. It matters little
to them what is destroyed, so that they can build. If they possess
the gift of language, either as writers or talkers--have wit,
brilliancy and sarcasm--they make disciples of the less gifted, and
influence larger or smaller circles of men and women. Flattered by
this homage to their talents, they grow more ardent in the cause
which they have espoused, and see, or affect to see, little else of
any importance in the world. They do some good and much harm. Good,
in drawing general attention to social evils that need
reforming--evil, in causing weak people to forget common duties in
their ambition to set the world right.
There is always danger in breaking suddenly away from the regular
progression of things and taking the lead in some new and
antagonistic movement. Such things must and will be; but they who
set up for social reformers must be men and women of pure hearts,
clear minds and the broadest human sympathies. They must be lovers
of their kind, not lovers of themselves; brave as patriots, not as
soldiers of fortune who seek for booty and renown.
Not many of these true reformers--all honor to them!--are found
among the noisy coteries that infest the land and turn so many
foolish people away from real duties.
One of the dangers attendant on association with the class to which
we refer lies in the fact that they draw around them certain
free-thinking, sensual personages, of no very stable morality, who
are ready for anything that gives excitement to their morbid
conditions of mind. Social disasters, of the saddest kind, are
constantly occurring through this cause. Men and women become at
first unsettled in their opinions, then unsettled in their conduct,
and finally throw off all virtuous restraint.
Mrs. Talbot, the new friend of Mrs. Emerson, belonged to the better
sort of reformers in one respect. She was a pure-minded woman; but
this did not keep her out of the circle of those who were of freer
thought and action. Being an extremist on the subject of woman's
social position, she met and assimilated with others on the basis of
a common sentiment. This threw her in contact with many from whom
she would have shrunk with instinctive aversion had she known their
true quality. Still, the evil to her was a gradual wearing away, by
the power of steady attrition, of old, true, conservative ideas in
regard to the binding force of marriage. There was always a great
deal said on this subject, in a light way, by persons for whose
opinions on other subjects she had the highest respect, and this had
its influence. Insensibly her views and feelings changed, until she
found herself, in some cases, the advocate of sentiments that once
would have been rejected with instinctive repugnance.
This was the woman who was about acquiring a strong influence over
the undisciplined, self-willed and too self-reliant young wife of
Hartley Emerson; and this was the class of personages among whom her
dangerous friend was about introducing her. At the house of Mrs.
Talbot, where Irene became a frequent visitor, she met a great many
brilliant, talented and fascinating people, of whom she often spoke
to her husband, for she was too independent to have any
concealments. She knew that he did no like Mrs. Talbot, but this
rather inclined her to a favorable estimation, and really led to a
more frequent intercourse than would otherwise have been the case.
Once a week Mrs. Talbot held a kind of conversazione, at which
brilliant people and people with hobbies met to hear themselves
talk. Mr. and Mrs. Emerson had a standing invitation to be present
at these reunions, and, as Irene wished to go, her husband saw it
best not to interpose obstacles. Besides, as he knew that she went
to Mrs. Talbot's often in the day-time, and met a good many people
there, he wished to see for himself who they were, and judge for
himself as to their quality. Of the men who frequented the parlors
of Mrs. Talbot, the larger number had some prefix to their names, as
Professor, Doctor, Major, or Colonel. Most of the ladies were of a
decidedly literary turn--some had written books, some were magazine
contributors, one was a physician, and one a public lecturer.
Nothing against them in all this, but much to their honor if their
talents and acquirements were used for the common good.
The themes of conversation at these weekly gatherings were varied,
but social relations and social reform were in most cases the
leading topics. Two or three evenings at Mrs. Talbot's were enough
to satisfy Mr. Emerson that the people who met there were not of a
character to exercise a good influence upon his wife. But how was he
to keep her from associations that evidently presented strong
attractions? Direct opposition he feared to make, for the experience
of a few months had been sufficient to show him that she would
resist all attempts on his part to exercise a controlling influence.
He tried at first to keep her away by feigning slight indisposition,
or weariness, or disinclination to go out, and so lead her to
exercise some self-denial for his sake. But her mind was too firmly
bent on going to be turned so easily from its purpose; she did not
consider trifles like these of sufficient importance to interfere
with the pleasures of an evening at one of Mrs. Talbot's
conversaziones. Mr. Emerson felt hurt at his wife's plain disregard
of his comfort and wishes, and said within himself, with bitterness
of feeling, that she was heartless.
One day, at dinner-time, he said to her--
"I shall not be able to go to Mrs. Talbot's to-night."
"Why?" Irene looked at her husband in surprise, and with a shade of
disappointment on her countenance.
"I have business of importance with a gentleman who resides in
Brooklyn, and have promised to meet him at his house this evening."
"You might call for me on your return," said Irene.
"The time of my return will be uncertain. I cannot now tell how late
I may be detained in Brooklyn."
"I'm sorry." And Irene bent down her eyes in a thoughtful way. "I
promised Mrs. Talbot to be there to-night," she added.
"Mrs. Talbot will excuse you when she knows why you were absent."
"I don't know about that," said Irene.
"She must be a very unreasonable woman," remarked Emerson.
"That doesn't follow. You could take me there, and Mrs. Talbot find
me an escort home."
"Who?" Emerson knit his brows and glanced sharply at his wife. The
suggestion struck him unpleasantly.
"Major Willard, for instance;" and she smiled in a half-amused,
"You cannot be in earnest, surely?" said Emerson.
"Why not?" queried his wife, looking at her husband with calm,
"You would not, in the first place, be present there, unaccompanied
by your husband; and, in the second place, I hardly think my wife
would be seen in the street, at night, on the arm of Major Willard."
Mr. Emerson spoke like a man who was in earnest.
"Do you know anything wrong of Major Willard?" asked Irene.
"I know nothing about him, right or wrong," was replied. "But, if I
have any skill in reading men, he is very far from being a fine
"Why, Hartley! You have let some prejudice come in to warp your
"No. I have mixed some with men, and, though my opportunity for
observation has not been large, I have met two or three of your
Major Willards. They are polished and attractive on the surface, but
unprincipled and corrupt."
"I cannot believe this of Major Willard," said Irene.
"It might be safer for you to believe it," replied Hartley.
"Safer! I don't understand you! You talk in riddles? How safer?"
Irene showed some irritation.
"Safer as to your good name," replied her husband.
"My good name is in my own keeping" said the young wife, proudly.
"Then, for Heaven's sake, remain its safe custodian," replied
Emerson. "Don't let even the shadow of a man like Major Willard fall
"I am sorry to see you so prejudiced," said Irene, coldly; "and
sorry, still further, that you have so poor an opinion of your
"You misapprehend me," returned Hartley. "I am neither prejudiced
nor suspicious. But seeing danger in your way, as a prudent man I
lift a voice of warning. I am out in the world more than you are,
and see more of its worst side. My profession naturally opens to me
doors of observation that are shut to many. I see the inside of
character, where others look only upon the fair outside."
"And so learn to be suspicious of everybody," said Irene.
"No; only to read indices that to many others are unintelligible."
"I must learn to read them also."
"It would be well if your sex and place in the world gave the right
opportunity," replied Hartley.
"Truly said. And that touches the main question. Women, immured as
they now are, and never suffered to go out into the world unless
guarded by husband, brother or discreet managing friend, will
continue as weak and undiscriminating as the great mass of them now
are. But, so far as I am concerned, this system is destined to
change. I must be permitted a larger liberty, and opportunities for
independent observation. I wish to read character for myself, and
make up my own mind in regard to the people I meet."
"I am only sorry," rejoined her husband, "that your first effort at
reading character and making up independent opinions in regard to
men and principles had not found scope in another direction. I am
afraid that, in trying to get close enough to the people you meet at
Mrs. Talbot's for accurate observation, you will draw so near to
dangerous fires as to scorch your garments."
"Complimentary to Mrs. Talbot!"
"The remark simply gives you my estimate of some of her favored
"And complimentary to your wife," added Irene.
"My wife," said Hartley, in a serious voice, "is, like myself, young
and inexperienced, and should be particularly cautious in regard to
all new acquaintances--men or women--particularly if they be some
years her senior, and particularly if they show any marked desire to
cultivate her acquaintance. People with a large worldly experience,
like most of those we have met at Mrs. Talbot's, take you and I at
disadvantage. They read us through at a single sitting, while it may
take us months, even years, to penetrate the disguises they know so
well how to assume."
"Nearly all of which, touching the pleasant people we meet at Mrs.
Talbot's, is assumed," replied Irene, not at all moved by her
"You may learn to your sorrow, when the knowledge comes too late,"
he responded, "that even more than I have assumed is true."
"I am not in fear of the sorrow," was answered lightly.
As Irene, against all argument, persuasion and remonstrance on the
part of her husband, persisted in her determination to go to Mrs.
Talbot's, he engaged a carriage to take her there and to call for
her at eleven o'clock.
"Come away alone," he said, with impressive earnestness, as he
parted from her. "Don't let any courteous offer induce you to accept
an attendant when you return home."
A STARTLING EXPERIENCE.
_MRS. EMERSON_ did not feel altogether comfortable in mind as she
rode away from her door alone. She was going unattended by her
husband, and against his warmly-spoken remonstrance, to pass an
evening with people of whom she knew but little, and against whom he
had strong prejudices.
"It were better to have remained at home," she said to herself more
than once before her arrival at Mrs. Talbot's. The marked attentions
she received, as well from Mrs. Talbot as from several of her
guests, soon brought her spirits up to the old elevation. Among
those who seemed most attracted by her was Major Willard, to whom
reference has already been made.
"Where is your husband?" was almost his first inquiry on meeting
her. "I do not see him in the room."
"He had to meet a gentleman on business over in Brooklyn this
evening," replied Irene.
"Ah, business!" said the major, with a shrug, a movement of the
eyebrows and a motion in the corners of his mouth which were not
intelligible signs to Mrs. Emerson. That they meant something more
than he was prepared to utter in words, she was satisfied, but
whether of favorable or unfavorable import touching her absent
husband, she could not tell. The impression on her mind was not
agreeable, and she could not help remembering what Hartley had said
about the major.
"I notice," remarked the latter, "that we have several ladies here
who come usually without their husbands. Gentlemen are not always
attracted by the feast of reason and the flow of soul. They require
something more substantial. Oysters and terrapin are nearer to their
"Not more to my husband's fancy," replied Mrs. Emerson, in a tone of
vindication, as well as rebuke at such freedom of speech.
"Beg your pardon a thousand times, madam!" returned Major Willard,
"if I have even seemed to speak lightly of one who holds the honored
position of your husband. Nothing could have been farther from my
thought. I was only trifling."
Mrs. Emerson smiled her forgiveness, and the major became more
polite and attentive than before. But his attentions were not wholly
agreeable. Something in the expression of his eyes as he looked at
her produced an unpleasant repulsion. She was constantly remembering
some of the cautions spoken by Hartley in reference to this man, and
she wished scores of times that he would turn his attentions to some
one else. But the major seemed to have no eyes for any other lady in
In spite of the innate repulsion to which we have referred, Mrs.
Emerson was flattered by the polished major's devotion of himself
almost wholly to her during the evening, and she could do no less in
return than make herself as agreeable as possible.
At eleven o'clock she had notice that her carriage was at the door.
The major was by, and heard the communication. So, when she came
down from the dressing-room, he was waiting for her in the hall,
ready cloaked and gloved.
"No, Major Willard, I thank you," she said, on his making a movement
to accompany her. She spoke very positively.
"I cannot see you go home unattended." And the major bowed with
"Oh no," said Mrs. Talbot. "You must not leave my house alone.
Major, I shall expect you to attend my young friend."
It was in vain that Mrs. Emerson objected and remonstrated, the
gallant major would listen to nothing; and so, perforce, she had to
yield. After handing her into the carriage, he spoke a word or two
in an undertone to the driver, and then entering, took his place by
Mrs. Emerson felt strangely uncomfortable and embarrassed, and
shrunk as far from her companion as the narrow space they occupied
would permit; while he, it seemed to her, approached as she receded.
There was a different tone in his voice when he spoke as the
carriage moved away from any she had noticed heretofore. He drew his
face near to hers in speaking, but the rattling of the wheels made
hearing difficult. He had, during the evening, referred to a star
actress then occupying public attention, of whom some scandalous
things had been said, and declared his belief in her innocence. To
Mrs. Emerson's surprise--almost disgust--his first remark after they
were seated in the carriage was about this actress. Irene did not