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After the Storm by T. S. Arthur

Part 5 out of 5

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three hours she remained completely absorbed in what she was
reading. Then her mind began to wander and dwell on themes that made
the even pulses of her heart beat to a quicker measure; yet still
her eyes remained fixed on the book she held in her hand. At length
she became aware that some one was near her, by the falling of a
shadow on the page she was trying to read. Lifting her head, she met
the eyes of Hartley Emerson. He was standing close to her, his hand
resting on the back of a chair, which he now drew nearly in front of
her.

"Irene," he said, in a low, quiet voice, "I am glad to meet you
again in this world." And he reached out his hand as he spoke.

For a moment Irene sat very still, but she did not take her eyes
from Mr. Emerson's face; then she extended her hand and let it lie
in his. He did not fail to notice that it had a low tremor.

Thus received, he sat down.

"Nearly twenty years have passed, Irene, since a word or sign has
passed between us."

Her lips moved, but there was no utterance.

"Why should we not, at least, be friends?"

Her lips moved again, but no words trembled on the air.

"Friends, that may meet now and then, and feel kindly one toward the
other."

His voice was still event in tone--very even, but very distinct and
impressive.

At first Irene's face had grown pale, but now a warm flush was
pervading it.

"If you desire it, Hartley," she answered, in a voice that trembled
in the beginning, but grew firm ere the sentence closed, "it is not
for me to say, 'No.' As for kind feelings, they are yours
always--always. The bitterness passed from my heart long ago."

"And from mine," said Mr. Emerson.

They were silent for a few moments, and each showed embarrassment.

"Nearly twenty years! That is a long, long time, Irene." His voice
showed signs of weakness.

"Yes, it is a long time." It was a mere echo of his words, yet full
of meaning.

"Twenty years!" he repeated. "There has been full time for
reflection, and, it may be, for repentance. Time for growing wiser
and better."

Irene's eyelids drooped until the long lashes lay in a dark fringed
line on her pale cheeks. When she lifted them they were wet.

"Yes, Hartley," she answered with much feeling, "there has been,
indeed, time for reflection and repentance. It is no light thing to
shadow the whole life of a human being."

"As I have shadowed yours."

"No, no," she answered quickly, "I did not mean that; as I have
shadowed yours."

She could not veil the tender interest that was in her eyes; would
not, perhaps, if it had been in her power.

At this moment a bell rang out clear and loud. Irene started and
glanced from the window; then, rising quickly, she said--

"We are at the landing."

There was a hurried passage from cabin to deck, a troubled confusion
of thought, a brief period of waiting, and then Irene stood on the
shore and Hartley Emerson on the receding vessel. In a few hours
miles of space lay between them.

"Irene, darling," said Mrs. Everet, as they met at Ivy Cliff on the
next day, "how charming you look! This pure, sweet, bracing air has
beautified you like a cosmetic. Your cheeks are warm and your eyes
are full of light. It gives me gladness of heart to see in your face
something of the old look that faded from it years ago."

Irene drew her arm around her friend and kissed her lovingly.

"Come and sit down here in the library. I have something to tell
you," she answered, "that will make your heart beat quicker, as it
has mine."

"I have met him," she said, as they sat down and looked again into
each other's faces.

"Him! Who?"

"Hartley."

"Your husband?"

"He who was my husband. Met him face to face; touched his hand;
listened to his voice; almost felt his heart beat against mine. Oh,
Rose darling, it has sent the blood bounding in new life through my
veins. He was on the boat yesterday, and came to me as I sat
reading. We talked together for a few minutes, when our landing was
reached, and we parted. But in those few minutes my poor heart had
more happiness than it has known for twenty years. We are at peace.
He asked why we might not be as friends who could meet now and then,
and feel kindly toward each other? God bless him for the words!
After a long, long night of tears, the sweet morning has broken!"

And Irene laid her head down against Rose, hiding her face and
weeping from excess of joy.

"What a pure, true, manly face he has!" she continued, looking up
with swimming eyes. "How full it is of thought and feeling! You
called him my husband just now, Rose. My husband!" The light went
back from her face. "Not for time, but--" and she glanced upward,
with eyes full of hope--"for the everlasting ages! Oh is it not a
great gain to have met here in forgiveness of the past--to have
looked kindly into each other's faces--to have spoken words that
cannot die?"

What could Rose say to all this? Irene had carried her out of her
depth. The even tenor of her life-experiences gave no deep sea-line
that could sound these waters. And so she sat silent, bewildered and
half afraid.

Margaret came to the library, and, opening the door, looked in.
There was a surprised expression on her face.

"What is it?" Irene asked.

"A gentleman has called, Miss Irene."

"A gentleman!"

"Yes, miss; and wants to see you."

"Did he send his name?"

"No, miss."

"Do you know him, Margaret?"

"I can't say, miss, for certain, but--" she stopped.

"But what, Margaret?"

"It may be just my thought, miss; but he looks for all the world as
if he might be--"

She paused again.

"Well?"

"I can't say it, Miss Irene, no how, and I won't. But the gentleman
asked for you. What shall I tell him?"

"That I will see him in a moment," answered Irene.

Margaret retired.

The face of Irene, which flushed at first, now became pale as ashes.
A wild hope trembled in her heart.

"Excuse me for a few minutes," she said to Mrs. Everet, and, rising,
left the room.

It was as Irene had supposed. On entering the parlor, a gentleman
advanced to meet her, and she stood face to face with Hartley
Emerson!

"Irene," he said, extending his hand.

"Hartley," fell in an irrepressible throb from her lips as she put
her hand in his.

"I could not return to New York without seeing you again," said Mr.
Emerson, as he stood holding the hand of Irene. "We met so briefly,
and were thrown apart again so suddenly, that some things I meant to
say were left unspoken."

He led her to a seat and sat down beside her, still looking intently
in her face. Irene was far from being as calm as when they sat
together the day before. A world of new hopes had sprung up in her
heart since then. She had lain half asleep and half awake nearly all
night, in a kind of delicious dream, from which the morning awoke
her with a cold chill of reality. She had dreamed again since the
sun had risen; and now the dream was changing into the actual.

"Have I done wrong in this, Irene?" he asked.

And she answered,

"No, it is a pleasure to meet you, Hartley."

She had passed through years of self-discipline, and the power
acquired during this time came to her aid. And so she was able to
answer with womanly dignity. It was a pleasure to meet him there,
and she said so.

"There are some things in the past, Irene," said Mr. Emerson, "of
which I must speak, now that I can do so. There are confessions that
I wish to make. Will you hear me?"

"Better," answered Irene, "let the dead past bury its dead."

"I do not seek to justify myself, but you, Irene."

"You cannot alter the estimate I have made of my own conduct," she
replied. "A bitter stream does not flow from a sweet fountain. That
dead, dark, hopeless past! Let it sleep if it will!"

"And what, then, of the future?" asked Mr. Emerson.

"Of the future!" The question startled her. She looked at him with a
glance of eager inquiry.

"Yes, of the future, Irene. Shall it be as the past? or have we both
come up purified from the fire? Has it consumed the dross, and left
only the fine gold? I can believe it in your case, and hope that it
is so in mine. But this I do know, Irene: after suffering and trial
have done their work of abrasion, and I get down to the pure metal
of my heart, I find that your image is fixed there in the
imperishable substance. I did not hope to meet you again in this
world as now--to look into your face, to hold your hand, to listen
to your voice as I have done this day--but I have felt that God was
fitting us through earthly trial, for a heavenly union. We shall be
one hereafter, dear Irene--one and for ever!"

The strong man broke down. His voice fell into low sobs--tears
blinded his vision. He groped about for the hand of Irene, found it,
and held it wildly to his lips.

Was it for a loving woman to hold back coldly now? No, no, no! That
were impossible.

"My husband!" she said, tenderly and reverently, as she placed her
saintly lips on his forehead.

There was a touching ceremonial at Ivy Cliff on the next day--one
never to be forgotten by the few who were witnesses. A white-haired
minister--the same who, more than twenty years before, had said to
Hartley Emerson and Irene Delancy, "May your lives flow together
like two pure streams that meet in the same valley,"--again joined
their hands and called them "husband and wife." The long, dreary,
tempestuous night had passed away, and the morning arisen in
brightness and beauty.

THE END.

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