Part 3 out of 4
"And _I will not_ bear such imputations," was firmly rejoined.
Mr. Dexter arose, and commenced the unsatisfactory movement of
pacing the floor. Mrs. Dexter remained sitting firmly erect, her
eyes following the form of her husband.
"We will drop the subject now and forever," said the former,
stopping, at length, in front of his wife.
Mrs. Dexter did not reply.
"I may have been too hasty."
"_May_ have been!" There was contempt on the lip, and indignation in
the voice of Mrs. Dexter.
"Yes, _may_. We are certain of nothing in this world," said her
husband, coldly; "and now, as I said, we will drop the subject."
"It is easier to say than to unsay, Mr. Dexter. The sentiment is
very trite, but it involves a world of meaning sometimes, and"--she
paused, then added, with marked emphasis--"_does now_!"
Mr. Dexter made no response, and there the matter ended for the
time; each of the ill-assorted partners farther from happiness than
they had yet been since the day of their unfortunate union.
AN hour later: Scene, the public parlor.
The lady rose, a pleasant smile animating her face, and returned the
gentleman's courteous greeting.
"Mr. Hendrickson." Yes, that was the name on her lips.
"You arrived to-day," he said, and he took a place at the other end
of the _tete-a-tete_.
"From Saratoga, I believe?"
"Yes. How long have you been at Newport?"
"I arrived only this morning. You are looking very well, Mrs.
"Yes. Time lays his hands upon you lightly!"
The shadow of another's presence came between them.
"Mr. Dexter, my husband; Mr. Hendrickson, from B--," said Mrs.
Dexter, with the most perfect ease of manner, presenting the two
gentlemen. They had met before, as the reader knows, and had good
reason for remembering each other. They touched hands, Dexter
frowning, and Hendrickson slightly embarrassed. Mrs. Dexter entirely
herself, smiling, talkative, and with an exterior as unruffled as a
"How long will you remain?" she asked, speaking to Mr. Hendrickson.
"Ah! I am pleased to hear you say so. I left some very pleasant
friends at Saratoga, but yours is the only familiar face I have yet
"I saw Mr. and Mrs. Florence just now," said Mr. Dexter.
"Yes. There they are, at the lower end of the parlor. Do you see
Mrs. Dexter turned her eyes in the direction indicated by her
husband, and replied in an indifferent manner:
"Mrs. Florence is looking at you now. Won't you go over and see
"After a while," replied Mrs. Dexter. Then turning to Mr.
Hendrickson, she said:
"These summer resorts are the dullest places imaginable without
"So I should think. But you can scarcely know the absence of these.
I heard of you at Saratoga, as forming the centre of one of the most
agreeable and intelligent circles there."
"Ah!" Mrs. Dexter was betrayed into something like surprise.
"Yes. I saw Miss Arden in New York, as I came through. She had been
"Miss Arden? I don't remember her," said Mrs. Dexter.
"She resides in B--."
"Miss Arden? Miss Arden?" Mrs. Dexter seemed curious. "What is her
"Tall, with a very graceful figure. Complexion dark enough to make
her pass for a brunette. Large black eyes and raven hair."
"In company with her mother?" said Mrs. Dexter.
"I remember her now. She was quite the belle at Saratoga. But I was
not so fortunate as to make her acquaintance. She sings wonderfully.
Few professional artists are so gifted."
"You have used the right word," said Mr. Hendrickson. "Her musical
powers are wonderful. I wish you knew her, she is a charming girl."
"You must help me to that knowledge on our return to B--."
"Nothing would give me more pleasure. I am sure you will like each
other," said Hendrickson, warmly.
From that point in the conversation Mrs. Dexter began to lose her
self-possession, and free, outspoken manner. The subject was
changed, but the airiness of tone and lightness of speech was gone.
Just in time, Mrs. Florence came across the room, joined the circle,
and saving her from a betrayal of feelings that she would not, on
any account, have manifested.
Mrs. Florence was a woman of taste. She had been in New York a few
days previously, whither she had gone to hear a celebrated European
singer, whose fame had preceded her. Her allusion to this fact led
to an introduction of the subject of music. Hendickson made some
remarks that arrested her attention, when quite an animated
conversation sprung up between them. Mrs. Dexter did not join in it;
but sat a closely observant listener. The young man's criticisms on
the art of music surprised her. They were so new, so analytical, and
so comprehensive. He had evidently studied the subject, not as an
artist, but as a philosopher--but with so clear a comprehension of
the art, that from the mere science, he was able to lead the mind
upward into the fullest appreciation of the grander ideal.
Now and then as he talked, Mr. Dexter passed in a brief sentence;
but to the keen, intelligent perception of his wife, what mere
sounding words were his empty common-places! The contrast between
him and Hendrickson was painful. It was in vain that she tried not
to make this contrast. It thrust itself upon her, in spite of all
Mr. Florence had crossed the room with his wife, and joined the
little circle. He did not take part in the conversation, and now
said, rising as he spoke.
"Come, Dexter; let's you and I have a game of billiards."
He laid his band familiarly on the arm of Mr. Dexter, and that
individual could not refuse to accept the invitation. They left the
room together. This withdrawal of Mr. Dexter put both his wife and
Mr. Hendrickson more at their ease. Both felt his absence as a
relief. For a time the conversation was chiefly conducted by the
latter and Mrs. Florence, only an occasional remark falling from the
lips of Mrs. Dexter, and that almost extorted by question or
reference. But gradually she was drawn in, and led on, until she was
the talker and they the listeners.
When interested in conversation, a fine enthusiasm always gave to
the manners of Mrs. Dexter a charming grace, and to her beautiful
countenance a higher beauty. She was almost fascinating. Never had
Hendrickson felt her power as he felt it now, while looking into her
animated face, and listening to sentiment, description, criticism or
anecdote, flowing from her lips in eloquent language, and evincing a
degree of taste, discrimination, refinement and observation he could
scarcely have imagined in one of her age.
He was leaning towards her, and listening with rapt interest, his
countenance and eyes full of admiration, when a quick, impatient
_ahem_ caused him to look up. As he did so, he encountered the
severe face and piercing eyes of Mr. Dexter. The sudden change in
the expression of his countenance warned Mrs. Dexter of the presence
of her husband, who had approached quietly, and was standing a pace
or two behind his wife. But not the slightest consciousness of this
presence did her manner exhibit. She kept on talking as before, and
talking to Mr. Hendrickson.
"Will you go with me now, Mrs. Dexter?" said her husband, coming
forward, and making a motion as if about to offer his arm.
"Not yet if you please, Mr. Dexter," was smilingly answered. "I am
too much interested in this good company. Come, sit down here," and
she made room for him on the sofa.
But he stood still.
"Then amuse yourself a little longer," said his wife, in a gay
voice. "I will be ready to go with you after a while."
Mr. Dexter moved away, disappointed, and commenced pacing the floor
of the long parlor. At every turn his keen eyes took in the aspect
of the little group, and particularly the meaning of his wife's
face, as it turned to Mr. Hendrickson, either in the play of
expression or warm with the listener's interest. The sight half
maddened him. Three times, in the next half hour, he said to his
wife, as he paused in his restless promenade before her--
But she only threw him a smiling negative, and became still more
interesting to her friends. At last, and of her own will, she arose,
and bowing, with a face all smiles and eyes dancing in light, to Mr.
Hendrickson and Mrs. Florence, she stepped forward, and placing her
hand on the arm of her husband, went like a sunbeam from the room.
They had reached their own apartments, and Mrs. Dexter was moving
forward past her husband. The stern imperative utterance caused her
to pause and turn round.
"We leave for home in the morning!" said Mr. Dexter.
"_We_?" His wife looked at him fixedly as she made the simple
"Yes, _we_!" was answered, and in the voice of one who had made up
his mind, and did not mean to be thwarted in his purpose.
"Mr. Dexter!" his wife stood very erect before him; her eyes did not
quail beneath his angry glances; nor was there any sign of weakness
in her low, even tones. "Let me warn you now--and regard the warning
as for all time--against any attempt to coerce me into obedience to
your arbitrary exactions. Your conduct to-night was simply
disgraceful--humiliating to yourself, and mortifying and unjust to
your wife. Let us have no more of this. There is a high wall between
us, Mr. Dexter--high as heaven and deep as--." Her feelings were
getting the rein and she checked herself. "Your own hands have built
it," she resumed in a colder tone, "but your own hands, I fear, have
not the strength to pull it down. Love you I never did, and you knew
it from the beginning; love you I never can. That is a simple
impossibility. But true to you as steel to the magnet in all the
externals of my life, I have been and shall continue to be, even to
the end of this unhappy union. As a virtuous woman, I could be
nothing less. The outrage I have suffered this day from your hands,
is irreparable. I never imagined it would come to this. I did not
dream that it was in you to charge upon your wife the meditation of
a crime the deepest it is possible for a woman to commit. That you
were weakly jealous, I saw; and I came here in cheerful acquiescence
to your whim, in order to help you to get right. But this very act
of cheerful acquiescence was made the ground of a charge that
shocked my being to the inmost and changed me towards you
The stern angry aspect of Mr. Dexter was all gone. It seemed as if
emotion had suddenly exhausted itself.
"We had better go home to-morrow." He spoke in a subdued voice.
"Neither of us can find enjoyment here."
"I shall not be ready to morrow, nor the next day either," was the
out-spoken reply. "To go thus hurriedly, after your humiliating
exhibition of distrust, would only be to give free rein to the
tongue of scandal; and that I wish to avoid."
"It has free rein already," said Mr. Dexter. "At Saratoga I heard
your name lightly spoken and brought you away for that very reason.
You are not chary enough of yourself in these public places. I know
men better than you do."
"If a light word was spoken of me, sir, at Saratoga or anywhere
else, you alone are to blame. My conduct has warranted no such
freedom of speech. But I can easily imagine how men will think
lightly of a woman when her husband shows watchfulness and
suspicion. It half maddens me, sir, to have this disgrace put upon
me. To-morrow week I will go home if you then desire it--not a day
earlier. And I warn you against any more such exhibitions as we have
had to-night. If you cannot take pleasure in society that is
congenial to my taste, leave me to my enjoyment, but don't mar it
with your cloudy presence. And set this down as a truism--the wife
that must be watched, is not worth having."
For utterances like these, Mr. Dexter was not prepared. They stunned
and weakened him. He felt that he had a spirit to deal with that
might easily be driven to desperation. A man, if resolute, he had
believed might control the actions of almost any woman--that woman
being his wife. And he had never doubted the result of marital
authority, should he at any time deem it necessary to lay upon Mrs.
Dexter an iron hand. The occasion, as he believed, had arrived; the
hand was put forth; the will was resolute; but his vice-like grip
closed upon the empty air! The spirit with which he had to deal was
of subtler essence and more vigorous life than he had imagined.
How suddenly were Mrs. Dexter's wifely, unselfish and self-denying
purposes in regard to her husband scattered upon the winds! She had
come to Newport, resolved to be all to him that it was possible for
her to be--even to the withdrawing of herself more from social
circles in which attractive men formed a part. The admonitions of
Mrs. De Lisle sunk deeply into her heart. She saw her relation to
her husband in a new aspect. He had larger claims upon her than she
had admitted heretofore. If she had been partly coerced into the
compact, he had been deceived by her promises at the altar into
expecting more than it was in her power to give. She owed him not
only a wife's allegiance, but a wife's tender consideration.
Alas! how suddenly had all these good purposes been withered up,
like tender flowers in the biting frost! And now there was strife
between them--bitterness, anger, scorn, alienation. The uneasiness
which her husband had manifested for some months previously,
whenever she was in free, animated conversation with gentlemen,
annoyed her slightly; but she had never regarded it as a very
serious affection on his part, and, conscious of her own purity,
believed that he would ere long see the evidence thereof, and cease
to give himself useless trouble. His conduct at Saratoga, followed
by the conversations with Mrs. De Lisle and Mrs. Anthony, aroused
her to a truer sense of his actual state of mind. His singular,
stealthy scanning of her countenance, immediately after their
arrival at Newport, following, as she rightly concluded, his
unexpected meeting with Hendrickson, considerably disturbed the
balance of mind she had sought to gain, and this dimmed her clear
perceptions of duty. His direct reference to Mr. Hendrickson, after
her hurried meeting with him, filled her with indignation, and
simply prepared the way for this last defiant position. She felt
deeply outraged, and wholly estranged.
Icy reserve and distant formality now marked the intercourse of Mr.
and Mrs. Dexter. It was all in vain that he sought to win back that
semblance of affection which he had lost. Mrs. Dexter was too
sincere a woman--too earnest and true--for broad disguises. She
could be courteous, regardful, attentive to all the needs of her
husband; but she could not pretend to love, when daily her heart
experienced new occasions of dislike.
On the next morning, Mrs. Dexter, on going into one of the parlors,
met Mr. Hendrickson. From his manner, it was evident that he had
been waiting there in hopes to gain an interview. Mrs. Dexter felt
displeased. She was a lawful wife, and it struck her as an
implication on his part of possible dishonor on hers. He came
forward to meet her as she entered the room, with a pleased smile on
his face, but she gave his warm greeting but a cold return. An
instant change in his manner, showed the effect upon his feelings.
"I shall leave to-day," he said.
"So soon? I thought you purposed remaining for several days."
"So I did. But I have a letter this morning from the brother of Miss
Arden, of whom I spoke last evening. He leaves her at Albany to-day,
and asks me to join her to-morrow. They were on their way to
Niagara; but unexpected business--he is a lawyer--requires him to
return home; and I am to be the young lady's escort. So they have
arranged the matter, and I cannot decline, of course."
"Why should you?" Mrs. Dexter schooled her voice. Its natural
expression, at that time, might have betrayed a state of feeling
that it would have been treason to exhibit.
"True. Why should I? The lady is charming. I was going to say that
she has not her peer."
"Why not say it?" remarked Mrs. Dexter.
"Because," replied Mr. Hendrickson, as his eyes withdrew themselves
from the face of Mrs. Dexter, "I do not believe it. She has her
"She must be a lovely woman so to captivate your fancy," said Mrs.
"Did I say that she had captivated my fancy?" asked Hendrickson.
"If not in so many formally spoken words, yet in a language that we
ladies can read at a glance," replied Mrs. Dexter, affecting a gay
smile. "Well," she added, "as you are to be so largely the gainer by
this sudden withdrawal from Newport, we quiet people, who cannot but
miss your pleasant company, have nothing left but acquiescence. I
hope to make Miss Arden's acquaintance on our return to B--."
The voice of Mrs. Dexter had a faint huskiness and there were signs
of depression which she was not able to conceal. These the watchful
eyes of Mr. Hendrickson detected. But so far from taking any
advantage thereof, he made an effort to divert both her mind and his
own by the introduction of a more indifferent subject. They
conversed for half an hour longer, but no further reference was made
to Miss Arden. Then Mr. Hendrickson excused himself. Mrs. Dexter did
not see him again.
He left for Boston soon after, on his way to join Miss Arden at
From the parlor Mrs. Dexter returned to her own rooms, and did not
leave them during the day. She had felt feverish on rising, and was
conscious of a pressure on the brain, accompanied by a feeling of
lassitude that was unusual. This condition of the system increased,
as the day wore on. At dinner-time, her husband urged her to go with
him to the table; but she had a loathing for food, and declined. He
ordered a servant to take tea, with toast and some delicacies, to
her room; but when he came up again, he found them untasted.
"Was this a disease of mind or body?" Mr. Dexter asked himself the
question, and studied over the solution. Notwithstanding the
disturbed interview with his wife on the previous evening, he had
kept his eyes on her, and noticed her meeting with Hendrickson in
the parlor. Her warning, however, had proved effectual in preventing
his intrusion upon them. He saw Hendrickson leave her, and noticed
that she sat in deep abstraction for some time afterwards, and that
when she arose, and went up to her own apartments, her face wore an
expression that was unusual. Much to his surprise, he saw
Hendrickson leave soon after for Boston. On examining the register,
he learned that his destination was Albany.
A momentary relief was experienced at this departure; but soon
mystery was suggested, and a mutual understanding between his wife
and Hendrickson imagined. And so fuel was heaped on the fires of
jealousy, which blazed up again as fiercely as ever. The seclusion
of herself in her own room by Mrs. Dexter, following as it did
immediately on the departure of Hendrickson, confirmed him in the
impression that she was deeply interested in her old lover. How else
could he interpret her conduct? If she were really sick, conflict of
feeling, occasioned by his presence, was the cause. That to his mind
was clear. And he was not so far wrong; for, in part, here lay the
origin of her disturbed condition of mind and body. Still, his
conclusions went far beyond the truth.
Mrs. Dexter was lying on the bed when her husband came up from
dinner. She did not stir on his entrance. Her face was turned away,
and partly hidden by the fringe of a pillow.
"You must eat something," he said, speaking kindly. But she neither
moved nor replied.
"Jessie." No motion or response.
"Jessie!" Mr. Dexter stood a few feet from the bed, looking at her.
"She may be sleeping," he thought, and stepping forward, he bent
down and laid his fingers lightly on her cheek. It was unnaturally
hot. "Jessie"--he uttered her name again--"are you asleep?"
"No." She replied in a feeble murmur.
"Won't you have a cup of tea?"
"Are you sick?"
She did not answer. He laid his hand upon her cheek again.
"You have fever."
A low sigh was the only response.
"Does your head ache?"
Something was said in reply, but the ear of Mr. Dexter could not
make out the words.
"Jessie! Jessie! Why don't you answer me? Are you sick?"
Mr. Dexter spoke with rising impatience. Still and silent as an
effigy she remained. For a moment or two he strode about the room,
and then went out abruptly. He came back in half an hour.
There lay his wife as he had left her, and without the appearance of
having stirred. A shadow of deeper concern now fell upon his
spirits. Bending over the bed, and laying his hand upon her face
again, he perceived that it was not only flushed, but hotter than
before. He spoke, but her ears seemed shut to his voice.
"Jessie! Jessie!" He moved her gently, turning her face towards him.
Her eyes were closed, her lips shut firmly, and wearing an
expression of pain, her forehead slightly contracted.
"Shall I call a physician?" he asked.
But she did not reply. Sudden alarm awakened in the heart of Mr.
Dexter. Going to the bell, he rang it violently. To the servant who
came he said, hurriedly--
"Go and find Dr. G--, and tell him that I wish to see him
The servant departed, and Dexter went back to the bed. No change had
occurred in his wife. She still lay, to all appearance, in a stupor.
It was nearly a quarter of an hour before Dr. G--came; the waiter
had been at some trouble to find him.
"My wife seems quite ill," said Mr. Dexter, as he entered, "and, I
think requires medical attention."
Dr. G--went to the bedside and stood looking at the flushed face
of Mrs. Dexter for some moments. Then he laid his hand against her
cheek, and then took hold of her wrist. Mr. Dexter, whose eyes were
on him, thought he saw him start and change countenance at the first
stroke of the pulse that played against his fingers.
"How long has she been in this condition?" asked the doctor, turning
with a serious aspect to Mr. Dexter.
"She has not seemed well since morning" was replied. "I noticed that
she scarcely tasted food at breakfast, and she has kept her room for
most of the day, lying down for a greater part of the time. I left
her on the bed when I went to dinner. She did not complain of
indisposition, but seemed listless and out of spirits. I ordered tea
sent up, but, as you perceive, it has not been tasted. On my return,
I found her in the condition in which she now lies--(sic)appparently
in a heavy sleep."
The physician did not seem to get any light from this statement. He
turned his eyes again upon the face of Mr. Dexter, and stood in
thought for almost a minute. Then he examined her pulse again. It
had a strong, rapid, wiry beat. Stooping, he looked very closely at
the condition of her skin; then shook his head, and said something
in an under tone.
"Do you think her seriously ill?" inquired Mr. Dexter.
"Has there been any unusual exposure; or any strong mental
disturbance?" asked the doctor, not seeming to have heard the
"There has been mental disturbance," said Mr. Dexter.
"Of a violent character?"
"She was strongly agitated last night, at something that happened."
"Was it of a nature to leave a permanent impression on her
"Yes." The answers were made with evident reluctance.
"Her condition is an unusual one," said the doctor, musing; and he
resumed his examination of the case.
"Dr. R--, from Boston, arrived to-day;" he looked up, and
presented a very grave face to the now seriously alarmed husband. "I
think he had better be consulted."
"Oh, by all means," said Mr. Dexter. "Shall I go in search of him?"
"Do you know (sic) kim?"
"I do not."
"I will go then. It may save time, and that is important."
The doctor went out hurriedly, and in less than five minutes
returned with Doctor R--. The two physicians conferred for some
time, speaking in under tones. Mr. Dexter heard the words
"congestion of the brain" and "brain fever," with increasing alarm.
"Well, doctors, how do you decide the case?" he inquired anxiously,
as their conference terminated.
"There is a strong tendency to congestion of the brain," was replied
by Doctor G--, "but, it is our opinion that we can check this
tendency. Your wife, Mr. Dexter, is seriously ill. An experienced
nurse must be had without delay. And every possible attention given,
so as to second at all points the treatment under which she will be
placed. A favorable result will doubtless crown our efforts. I
present the case as a serious one, because it is so in its
requirement of skill and unfailing attention."
The doctors did not err in their estimate of the case. The illness
of Mrs. Dexter proved to be very serious. It was a brain fever. Four
weeks elapsed before she was able to be removed from Newport to her
home, and then she was so feeble in body and mind as to present but
the shadowy semblance of her former self.
Very slowly did health flow back through her exhausted system. But a
cheerful mind did not come with returning vigor. Her, spirit had
bowed itself towards the earth; and power to rise again into the
bracing atmosphere and warm sunshine, was not restored for a long
AT Albany, Mr. Hendrickson found Miss Arden awaiting him. The warmth
of her reception showed that he was more in her eyes than a pleasant
friend. And in his regard she held the highest place--save one.
The meeting with Mrs. Dexter at Newport was unfortunate. Hendrickson
had looked right down into her heart; reading a page, the writing on
which she would have died rather than have revealed. Her pure regard
for him was her own deeply hidden secret. It was a lamp burning in
the sepulchre of buried hope. She could no more extinguish the
sacred fire than quench her own existence.
But thrown suddenly off her guard, she had betrayed this secret to
unlawful eyes. Hendrickson had read it. And she too had read his
heart. After the lapse of more than a year they had met; and without
wrong on either side had acknowledged a mutual inextinguishable
"You are not well, Mr. (sic) Henrickson." Many times, and with
undisguised concern, was this said by Miss Arden, during the journey
"Only a slight headache;" or, "I'm well enough, but feel dull;" or,
"The trip from Newport fatigued me," would be answered, and an
effort made to be more companionable. But the task was difficult,
and the position in which the young man found himself particularly
embarrassing. His thoughts were not with Miss Arden, but with Mrs.
Dexter. Before the unexpected meeting at Newport, he had believed
himself so far released from that entanglement of the heart, as to
be free to make honorable advances to Miss Arden. But he saw his
error now. With him marriage was something more than a good
matrimonial arrangement, in which parties secure external
advantages. To love Miss Arden better than any other living woman,
he now saw to be impossible--and unless he could so love her, he
dared not marry her. That was risking a great deal too much. His
position became, therefore, an embarrassing one. Her brother was an
old friend. They had been college companions. The sister he had
known for some years, but had never been particularly interested in
her until within a few months. Distancing his observation, her mind
had matured; and the graces of art, education and accomplishment,
had thrown their winning attractions around her. First, almost as a
brother, he began to feel proud of her beauty and intelligence;
admiration followed, and, before he was aware of the tendency of his
feelings, they had taken on a warmer than fraternal glow.
All things tended to encourage this incipient regard; and, as Miss
Arden herself favored it, and ever turned towards Hendrickson the
sunniest side of her character, he found himself drawn onwards
almost imperceptibly; and had even begun to think seriously of her
as his wife, when the meeting with Mrs. Dexter revealed the
existence of sentiments on both sides that gave the whole subject a
A very difficult problem now presented itself to the mind of Mr.
Hendrickson, involving questions of duty, questions of honor, and
questions of feeling. It is not surprising that Miss Arden found a
change in her travelling companion, nor that her visit to Niagara
proved altogether unsatisfactory. No one could have been kindlier,
more attentive, or more studious to make her visit attractive. But
his careful avoidance of all compliments, and the absence of every
thing lover-like, gave her heart the alarm. It was in vain that she
put forth every chaste, womanly allurement; his eyes did not
brighten, nor his cheeks glow, nor his tones become warmer. He was
not to be driven from the citadel of his honor. A weaker, more
selfish, and more external man, would have yielded. But Hendrickson,
like the woman he had lost, was not made of "common clay," nor cast
in any of humanity's ruder moulds. He was of purer essence and
higher spiritual organization than the masses; and principle had now
quite as much to do with his actions as feeling. He could be a
martyr, but not a villain.
Two days were spent at Niagara, and then Hendrickson and Miss Arden
returned, and went to Saratoga. It did not, of course, escape the
notice of Hendrickson, that his manner to his travelling companion
was effecting a steady change in her spirits; and he was not lacking
in perception as to the cause. It revealed to him the sincerity of
her regard; but added to the pain from which he was suffering,
increasing it almost to the point where endurance fails.
It was a relief to Hendrickson when he was able to place Miss Arden
under the care of her mother, who had remained at Saratoga. On the
evening after his arrival, he was sitting alone in one of the
drawing-rooms, when a lady crossed from the other side, and joined
another lady near him.
"Mrs. De Lisle," said the latter, as she arose.
"Good evening, Mrs. Anthony!" and the ladies sat down together.
"I have just received a sad letter from Newport," said Mrs. De
"Indeed! What has happened there?"
"Our sweet young friend is dangerously ill."
"Who? Mrs. Dexter?"
"Mrs. De Lisle! She was in perfect health, to all appearance, when
she left here."
"So I thought. But she has suddenly been stricken down with a brain
fever, and her physicians regard her condition as most critical."
"You distress me beyond measure!" said Mrs. Anthony.
"My friend writes that three physicians are in attendance; and that
they report her case as dangerous in the extreme. I did not intend
going there until next week, but, unless my husband strongly
objects, I will leave to-morrow. Good nursing is quite as essential
as medical skill."
"Go, by all means, if you can," replied Mrs. Anthony. "Dear child! I
shouldn't wonder if that jealous husband of hers had done something
to induce this attack. Brain fever don't come on without mental
excitement of some kind. I can't bear him; and I believe, if the
truth were known, it would be found that she hates the very sight of
him. He's a man made of money; and that's saying the best that can
be said. As to qualities of the mind and heart, she ranks, in
everything, his superior. What a sacrifice of all that such a woman
holds dear must have been made when she consented to become the
wedded wife of Leon Dexter!"
Hendrickson heard no more, for a third party coming up at the
moment, led to a change in the conversation. At the same instant
Mrs. Arden and her daughter entered the room, and he arose and
stepped forward to meet them.
"How pale you look, Mr. Hendrickson!" said Mrs. Arden, with concern.
"Are you not well?"
"I have not felt as bright as usual, for some days," he answered,
trying to force a smile, but without success. "Your daughter has, no
doubt, already informed you that I proved myself one of the dullest
of travelling companions."
"Oh, no," Miss Arden spoke up quickly. "Ma knows that I gave you
credit for being exceedingly agreeable. But, indeed, Mr.
Hendrickson, you look ill."
"I am slightly indisposed," he answered, "and with your leave will
retire to my room. I shall feel better after lying down."
"Go by all means," said Mrs. Arden.
Hendrickson bowed low, and, passing them, left the parlor almost
"Dangerously ill! A brain fever!" he said aloud, as he gained his
own apartment and shut the door behind him. He was deeply disturbed.
That their unexpected meeting had something to do with this sudden
sickness he now felt sure. Her strong, though quickly controlled
agitation he had seen; it was a revelation never to be forgotten;
and showed the existence of a state of feeling in regard to her
husband which must render her very existence a burden. That she was
closely watched, he had seen, as well as heard. And it did not
appear to him improbable, considering the spirit he had observed her
display, that coincident with his departure from Newport, some
jealous accusations had been made, half maddening her spirit, and
stunning her brain with excitement.
"Angel in the keeping of a fiend!" he exclaimed, as imagination drew
improbable scenes of persecution. "How my heart aches for
you--yearns towards you--longs for the dear privilege of making all
your paths smooth and fragrant; all your hours golden-winged; all
your states peaceful! How precious you are to me! Precious as my own
soul--dear counterpart! loving complement! Vain, as your own strife
with yourself, has been my strife. The burden has been too heavy for
us; the ordeal too fiery. My brain grows wild at thought of this
The image of Miss Arden flitted before him.
"Beautiful--loving--pure!" he said, "I might win you for my bride;
but will not so wrong you as to offer a divided heart. All things
Mr. Hendrickson did not leave his room that evening. At ten o'clock
a servant knocked at his door. Mrs. Arden had sent her compliments,
and desired to know if he were better than when he left her?
"Much better," he answered; and the servant departed.
Midnight found him still in strife with himself. Now he walked the
floor in visible agitation; and now sat motionless, with head bowed,
and arms folded across his bosom. The impression of sleep was far
from his overwrought brain. One thing he decided, and that was to
leave Saratoga by the earliest morning train, and go with all
possible haste to Newport. Suspense in regard to Mrs. Dexter he felt
it would be impossible for him to bear.
"But what right have you to take all this interest in a woman who is
another's lawful wife?" he asked, in the effort to stem the tide of
"I will not stop to debate questions of right," so he answered
within his own thoughts. "She _is_ the wife of another, and I would
die rather than stain her pure escutcheon with a thought of
dishonor. I cease to love her when I imagine her capable of being
false, in even the smallest act, to her marriage vows. But the right
to love, Heaven gave me when my soul was created to make one with
hers. I will keep myself pure that I may remain worthy of her."
On the evening of the next day Hendrickson arrived at Newport.
Almost the first man he encountered was Dexter.
"How is Mrs. Dexter?" he asked, forgetting in his anxiety and
suspense the relation he bore to this man. His eager inquiry met a
cold response accompanied by a scowl.
"I am not aware that you have any particular interest in Mrs.
And the angry husband turned from him abruptly.
"How unfortunate!" Hendrickson said to himself as he passed.
At the office he put the same inquiry.
"Very ill," was the answer.
"Is she thought to be dangerous?"
"I believe so."
Beyond this he gained no further intelligence from the clerk. A
little while afterwards he saw Mrs. Florence in one of the parlors,
and joined her immediately. From her he learned that Mrs. Dexter
remained wholly unconscious, but that the physicians regarded her
symptoms as favorable.
"Do they think her out of danger?" he asked, with more interest in
his manner than he wished to betray.
He could scarcely withhold an exclamation.
"What do you think, madam?" he inquired.
"I cannot see deeper than a physician," she answered. "But my
observation does not in anything gainsay the opinion which has been
expressed. I am encouraged to hope for recovery."
"Do you remain here any time?"
"I shall not leave until I see Mrs. Dexter on the safe side and in
good hands," was replied.
"Have you heard any reason assigned for this fearful attack?"
Mrs. Florence shook her head.
Not caring to manifest an interest in Mrs. Dexter that might attract
attention, or occasion comment, Hendrickson dropped the subject.
During the evening he threw himself in the way of the physician, and
gathered all he desired to know from him. The report was so
favorable that he determined to leave Newport by the midnight boat
for New York and return home, which he accordingly did.
THE season at Newport closed, and the summer birds of fashion
flitted away. But Mrs. Dexter still remained, and in a feeble
condition. It was as late as November before the physician in
attendance would consent to her removal. She was then taken home,
but so changed that even her nearest friends failed to recognize in
her wan, sad, dreary face, anything of its old expression.
No man could have been kinder--no man could have lavished warmer
attentions on another than were lavished on his wife by Mr. Dexter.
With love-like assiduity, he sought to awaken her feelings to some
interest in life; not tiring, though she remained as coldly passive
as marble. But she gave him back no sign. There was neither
self-will, perverseness, nor antagonism, in this; but paralysis
instead. Emotion had died.
It was Christmas before Mrs. Dexter left her room--and then she was
so weak as to need a supporting arm. Tonics only were administered
by her physician; but if they acted at all, it was so feebly that
scarcely any good result appeared. The cause of weakness lay far
beyond the reach of his medicines.
With the slow return of bodily strength and mental activity, was
developed in the mind of Mrs. Dexter a feeling of repugnance to her
husband that went on increasing. She did not struggle against this
feeling, because she knew, by instinct, that all resistance would be
vain. It was something over which she could not possibly have
control; the stern protest of nature against an alliance unblessed
One day, during mid-winter, her best friend, Mrs. De Lisle, in
making one of her usual visits, found her sitting alone, and in
tears. It was the first sign of struggling emotion that she had yet
seen, and she gladly recognized the tokens of returning life.
"Showers for the heart," she said, almost smiling, as she kissed the
pale invalid. "May the green grass and the sweet smiling violets
Mrs. Dexter did not reply, but with unusual signs of feeling, hid
her face in the garments of her friend.
"How are you to-day?" asked Mrs. De Lisle, after she had given time
for emotion to subside.
"About as usual," was answered, and Mrs. Dexter looked with
regaining calmness into her face.
"I have not seen you so disturbed for weeks," said Mrs. De Lisle.
"I have not felt so wild a strife in my soul for months," was
answered. "Oh, that I could die! It was this prayer that unlocked
the long closed fountain of tears."
"With God are the issues of life," said Mrs. De Lisle. "We must each
of us wait His good time--patiently, hopefully, self-denyingly
"I know! I know!" replied Mrs. Dexter. "But I cannot look along the
way that lies before me without a shudder. The path is too
"You will surely receive strength."
"I would rather die!" A slight convulsion ran through her frame.
"Don't look into the future, dear young friend! Only to-day's duties
are required; and strength ever comes with the duty."
"Not even God can give strength for mine," said Mrs. Dexter, almost
"Hush! hush! the thought is impious!" Mrs. De Lisle spoke in warning
"Not impious, but true. God did not lay these heavy burdens on me.
My own hands placed them there. If I drag a pillar down upon myself,
will God make my bones iron so that they shall not be broken? No,
Mrs. De Lisle; there is only one hope for me, and that is in death;
and I pray for it daily."
"You state the case too strongly," said Mrs. De Lisle. "God prevides
as well as provides. His providence determining what is best for us;
and His previdence counteracts our ignorance, self-will, or evil
purposes, and saves us from the destruction we would blindly meet.
He never permits any act in His creatures, for which He does not
previde an agency that turns the evil that would follow into good.
Your case is parallel to thousands. As a free woman, you took this
most important step. God could not have prevented it without
destroying that freedom which (sic) constitues your individuality,
and makes you a recipient of life from Him. But He can sustain you
in the duties and trials you have assumed; and He will do it, if you
permit Him to substitute His divine strength for your human
weakness. In all trial, affliction, calamity, suffering, there is a
germ of angelic life. It is through much tribulation that the
Kingdom of Heaven is gained. Some spirits require intenser fires for
purification than others; and yours may be of this genus. God is the
refiner and the purifier; and He will not suffer any of the gold and
silver to be lost. Dear friend! do not shrink away from the ordeal."
"I am not strong enough yet." It was all the reply Mrs. Dexter made.
Her voice was mournful in the extreme.
"Wait for strength. As your day is, so shall it be."
Mrs. Dexter shook her head.
"What more can I say?" Mrs. De Lisle spoke almost sadly, for she
could not see that her earnestly spoken counsel had wrought any good
"Nothing! nothing! dear friend!" answered Mrs. Dexter, still very
A little while she was silent; and seemed in debate with herself. At
length she said--
"Dear Mrs. De Lisle! To you I have unveiled my heart more than to
any other human being. And I am constrained to draw the veil a
little farther aside. To speak will give relief; and as you are
wiser, help may come. At Saratoga, I confided to you something on
that most delicate of all subjects, my feelings towards my husband.
I have yet more to say! Shall I go farther in these painful, almost
"Say on," was the answer, "I shall listen with no vain curiosity."
"I am conscious," Mrs. Dexter began, "of a new feeling towards my
husband. I call it new, for, if only the fuller development of an
old impression, it has all the vividness of a new-born emotion.
Before my illness, I saw many things in him to which I could attach
myself; and I was successful, in a great measure, in depressing what
was repellant, and in magnifying the attractive. But now I seem to
have been gifted with a faculty of sight that enables me to look
through the surface as if it were only transparent glass; and I see
qualities, dispositions, affections, and tendencies, against which
all my soul revolts. I do not say that they are evil; but they are
all of the earth earthy. Nor do I claim to be purer and better than
he is--only so different, that I prefer death to union. It is in
vain to struggle against my feelings, and I have ceased to
"You are still weak in body and mind," answered Mrs. De Lisle. "All
the pulses of returning life are feeble. Do not attempt this
"It must be now, or never," was returned. "The current is bearing me
away. A little while, and the most agonizing strife with wave and
tempest will prove of no avail."
"Look aloft, dear friend! Look aloft!" said Mrs. De Lisle. "Do not
listen to the maddening dash of waters below, nor gaze at the
shuddering bark; but upwards, upwards, through cloud-rifts, into
"I have tried to look upwards--I _have_ looked upwards--but the
sight of heaven only makes earth more terrible by contrast."
"Who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the
Lamb?" asked Mrs. De Lisle, in a deep, earnest voice. A pause, and
then--"They who have come up through great tribulation! Think of
this, dear friend. Heaven may be beautiful in your eyes, but the way
to heaven is by earthly paths. You cannot get there, except by the
way of duty; and your duty is not to turn away from, but to your
husband, in the fulfillment of your marriage vows--to the letter. I
say nothing of the spirit, but the letter of this law you must keep.
Mr. Dexter is not an evil-minded man. He is a good citizen, and
desires to be a good husband. His life, to the world, is
irreproachable. The want of harmony in taste, feeling and character,
is no reason for disseverance. You cannot leave him, and be
guiltless in the eyes of God or man."
"I did not speak of leaving him," said Mrs. Dexter, looking up
strangely into the face of Mrs. De Lisle.
"But you have thought of it," was answered. A flush dyed the pale
face of Mrs. Dexter. "Oh, my friend, beware of evil counsellors!
"Has never looked into my heart. It is shut and fastened with clasps
of iron when she is near," returned Mrs. Dexter.
"The presence of such a woman suggests rebellion," said Mrs. De
Lisle; "her thoughts are communicated by another way than speech. Is
it not so?"
"Perhaps it is. I feel the spirit of antagonism rising whenever I am
with her. I grow restive--impatient of these bonds--indignant
towards my husband; though the subject is never mentioned."
"Be on your guard against her, my young friend. Her principles are
not religiously sound. This I say to you, because duty requires me
to say it. Placed in your position, and with your feelings towards
her husband, if no personal and selfish consideration came in to
restrain her, she would not hesitate at separation--nay, I fear, not
even at a guilty compact with another."
"You shock me!" said Mrs. Dexter.
"I speak to you my real sentiments; and in warning. In your present
state of mind, be very reserved towards her. You are not strong
enough to meet her quick intelligence, nor able to guard yourself
against her subtle insinuations. When was she here last?"
A sudden thought prompted the question.
"She left just before you came in," answered Mrs. Dexter.
"And your mind has been disturbed, not tranquillized, by her visit?"
"I am disturbed, as you see."
"On what subject did she speak?" asked Mrs. De Lisle.
"You know her usual theme?"
"I do not wonder that you were disturbed. How could it be
"She gives utterance to many truths," said Mrs. Dexter.
"But even truth may be so spoken as to have all the evil effect of
error," was promptly answered.
"Can truth ever do harm? Is it not the mind's light? Truth shows us
the way in which we may walk safely," said Mrs. Dexter, with some
earnestness of manner.
"Light, by which the eye sees, will become a minister of
destruction, if the eye is inflamed. A mind diseased cannot bear
strong gleams of truth. They will blind and deceive, rather than
illustrate. The rays must be softened. Of the many truths to which
Mrs. Anthony gave utterance this morning, which most affected your
"She spoke," said Mrs. Dexter, after a little reflection, "of
natural affinities and repulsions, which take on sometimes the
extreme condition of idiosyncrasies. Of conjunctions of soul in true
marriages, and of disjunction and disgust where no true marriage
"Did she explain what she understood by a true marriage?" asked Mrs.
"I do not remember any formal explanation. But her meaning was
"What, then, did she mean?"
A little while Mrs. Dexter thought, and then answered--
"She thinks that men and women are born partners, and that only they
who are fortunate enough to meet are ever happy in marriage--are, in
fact, really married."
"How is a woman to know that she is rightly mated?" asked Mrs. De
"By the law of affinities. The instincts of our nature are never at
"So the thief who steals your watch will say the instincts of his
nature all prompted to the act. If our lives were orderly as in the
beginning, Mrs. Dexter, we might safely follow the soul's unerring
instincts. But, unfortunately, this is not the case; and instinct
needs the law of revelation and the law of reason for its guide."
"You believe in true, interior marriages?" said Mrs. Dexter.
"Yes, marriages for eternity."
"And that they are made here?"
Mrs. De Lisle did not answer immediately.
"The preparation for eternal marriage is here," she said, speaking
Mrs. Dexter looked at her like one in doubt as to the meaning of
what she heard. She then said:
"In a true marriage, souls must conjoin by virtue of an original
affinity. In a word, the male and the female must be born for each
"There are a great many vague notions afloat on this subject," said
Mrs. De Lisle; "and a great deal of flippant talk. If there are men
and women born for each other, one thing is very certain, both need
a great deal of alteration before they can unite perfectly; and the
trial will, in most cases, not so fully prove this theory of quality
in sexual creation as you might suppose. 'Behold, I was shapen in
iniquity!' If this were not true of every one, there might be a
little more hope for happiness in marriage. Let us imagine the union
of two persons, born with that original containing affinity of which
you speak--and the existence of which I do not deny. We will suppose
that the man inherits from his ancestors certain evil and selfish
qualities; and that the woman inherits from her ancestors certain
evil and selfish qualities also. They marry young, and before either
is disciplined by right principle, or regenerated by Divine truth.
Now, this being the case, do you suppose that, in the beginning,
their pulses will beat in perfect harmony? That there will be no
jarring in the machinery of their lives?"
Mrs. De Lisle paused, but received no answer.
"In just the degree," she continued, "that each is selfish, and
fails to repress that selfishness, will the other suffer pain or
feel repulsion? And they will not come into the true accordance of
their lives until both are purified through a denial of self, and an
elevation of the spiritual above the natural. For it is in the
spiritual plane where true marriages take place; and only with those
who are regenerated. All that goes before is preparation."
Mrs. Dexter continued looking earnestly into the face of Mrs. De
"Does your thought follow me?" asked the latter.
"Yes," was all the answer.
"If true marriages are for eternity, each of the partners must be
born into spiritual life; and that birth is always with pain. The
husband, instead of being a mere natural and selfish man, must be a
lover of higher and purer things. He must be a seeker after Divine
intelligence, that he may be lifted with wisdom coming from the
infinite Source of wisdom. And the wife, elevating her affections
through self-denial and repression of the natural, must acquire a
love for the spiritual wisdom of her husband before her soul can
make one with his. Do you comprehend this?"
"Dimly. He must be wise in heavenly love; and she a lover of
"There must be something more," said Mrs. De Lisle.
"No two masculine souls are alike, and heavenly wisdom is infinite.
The finite mind receives only a portion of the Divine intelligence.
Each, therefore, is in the love of growing wise in a certain degree
or direction. The feminine soul, to make conjunction perfect, must
be a lover of wisdom in that degree, or direction."
"You bewilder me," said Mrs. Dexter.
"Let me rather enlighten. The great truth I wish to make clear to
you is that there can be no marriage in the higher sense without
spiritual regeneration. By nature we are evil--that is selfish; for
self love is the very essence of all evil--and until heavenly life
is born in us there can be no interior marriage conjunction. It is
possible, then--and I want you to look the proposition fairly in the
face--for two who are created for each other, to live very unhappily
together during the first years of their married life. Do you ask
why? Because both are selfish by nature; and self seeks its own
delight. I have sometimes thought," continued Mrs. De Lisle, "in
pondering this subject, that those who are born for each other are
not often permitted to struggle together in painful antagonism
during the stern ordeals through which so many have to pass ere self
is subdued, and the fires of Divine love kindled on the heart's
"Meeting life's discipline apart, or in strife with an alien," said
"As you will. But the lesson, I trust, is clear. Only they who bear
the cross can wear the crown. The robes must be made white in the
blood of the Lamb. And now, dear friend! if you would be worthy of
an eternal marriage, take up your cross. If there is a noble, manly
soul to which you would be conjoined forever, set earnestly about
the task of preparation for that union. The wedding garment must be
wrought; the lamps trimmed and burning. Not in neglect of duty; not
in weak repinings, or helpless despondency is this work done; but in
daily duty. The soul of your husband is precious in the eyes of God
as your own. Never forget this. And it may be a part of your
heaven-assigned work--nay, is--to help him to rise into a higher
life. May you grow angel-minded in the good work!"
"How tranquil I have become," said Mrs. Dexter, a little while
afterwards. "The heavy pressure on heart and brain is removed."
"You have not been thinking of yourself; and that has brought a
change in your state of feeling. Cease to struggle in your bonds;
but rise up and go forward with brave heart, and be true as steel to
all your obligations. The way may look dark, the burdens heavy; but
fear not. Move on, and Divine light will fall upon your path; stoop
to the burden, and Divine strength will be given. So I counsel you,
dear sister! And I pray you heed the counsel."
ON the day after the interview with Mrs. De Lisle, Mrs. Dexter,
whose mind had been lifted quite above its morbid state, was sitting
alone at one of the parlor windows. She had been noting, with
curious interest, the types of character in faces that met her eyes,
and then disappeared to give place to others as singularly varied,
when a new countenance, on which her eyes fell, lighted up suddenly.
It was that of Hendrickson, whom she had not seen since their
parting at Newport. He paused, lifted his hat, bowed and went on. It
was no cold, formal recognition; but one full of earnest life, and
warm with sudden feeling. Mrs. Dexter was conscious of a quick
heart-throb that sent a glow to her pale cheeks.
Unfortunate coincidence! The next face, presenting itself almost in
the same instant of time, was that of her husband. It was full two
hours earlier than the period of his usual return home.
He had seen the expression of Hendrickson's countenance; and also
the responsive change in that of his wife. At once it occurred to
him that an understanding had been established between him and Mrs.
Dexter, and that this was the beginning of a series of interviews,
to be carried on during his absence. Mr. Dexter was an impulsive
man. Without giving himself time for reflection, he strode into the
parlor, and said with a cutting sneer--
"You have your own entertainments, I see, in your husband's absence.
But"--and his manner grew stern, while his tones were threatening,
"you must not forget that we are in America and not Paris; and that
I am an American, and not a French husband. You are going a step too
Too much confounded for speech, Mrs. Dexter, into whose face the
blood had rushed, dying it to a deep crimson, sat looking at her
husband, an image, in his eyes, of guilt confessed.
"I warn you," he added, "not to presume on me in this direction! And
I further warn you, that if I ever catch that scoundrel in my house,
or in your company, I will shoot him down like a dog!"
Mrs. Dexter was too feeble for a shock like this. The crimson left
her face. While her husband yet glared angrily upon her, a deathly
hue overspread her features, and she fainted, falling forward upon
the floor. He sprung to catch her in his arms, but it was too late.
She struck with a heavy concussion, against temple and cheek,
bruising them severely.
When Mrs. Dexter recovered, she was in her own room lying upon her
bed. No one was there but her husband. He looked grave to sadness.
She looked at him a single moment, then shut her eyes and turned her
face away. Mr. Dexter neither moved nor spoke. A more wretched man
was scarcely in existence. He believed all against his wife that his
words expressed; yet was he conscious of unpardonable
indiscretion--and he was deeply troubled as to the consequences of
his act. Mrs. Dexter was fully restored to consciousness, and
remembered distinctly, the blasting intimations of her husband. But,
she was wholly free from excitement, and was thinking calmly.
"Will you send for my aunt?" Mrs. Dexter turned her face from the
wall as she said this, speaking in a low but firm voice.
"Not now. Why do you wish to see her?" Mr. Dexter's tones were low
and firm also.
"I shall return to her," said Mrs. Dexter.
"What do you mean?" Feeling betrayed itself.
"As I am a degraded being in your eyes, you do not, of course, wish
me to remain under your roof. And, as you have degraded me by foul
and false accusations, against the bare imagination of which my soul
revolts, I can no longer share your home, nor eat the bread which
your hand provides for me. Where there is no love on one side and no
faith on the other, separation becomes inevitable."
"You talk madly," said Mr. Dexter.
"Not madly, but soberly," she answered. "There is an unpardonable
sin against a virtuous wife, and you have committed it. Forgiveness
is impossible. I wish to see my aunt. Will you send for her, Mr.
"It was a dark day for me, Jessie, when I first looked upon your
face," said Mr. Dexter.
"And darker still for me, sir. Yet, after my constrained marriage, I
tried, to the best of my ability, to be all you desired. That I
failed, was no fault of mine."
"Nor mine," was answered.
"Let us not make matters worse by crimination and recrimination,"
said Mrs. Dexter. "It will take nothing from our future peace to
remember that we parted in forbearance, instead of with passionate
"You are surely beside yourself, Jessie!" exclaimed Mr. Dexter.
She turned her face away, and made no response.
Dexter was frightened. "Could it be possible," he asked himself,
"that his wife really purposed a separation?" The fact loomed up
before his imagination with all of its appalling consequences.
A full half hour passed, without a word more from the lips of
either. Then Mr. Dexter quietly retired from the room. He had no
sooner done this, than Mrs. Dexter arose from the bed, and commenced
making changes in her dress. Her face was very white, and her
movements unsteady, like the movements of a person just arisen from
an exhausting sickness. There was some appearance of hurry and
agitation in her manner.
About an hour later, and just as twilight had given place to
darkness, Mrs. Loring who was sitting with her daughters, lifted her
eyes from the work in her hands, and leaned her head in a listening
attitude. The door bell had rung, and a servant was moving along the
passage. A moment of suspense, and then light steps were heard and
the rustling of a woman's garments.
"Jessie!" exclaimed Mrs. Loring, as Mrs. Dexter entered the
sitting-room." She was enveloped in a warm cloak, with a hood drawn
over her head. As she pushed the latter from her partly hidden face,
her aunt saw a wildness about her eyes, that suggested, in
connection with this unheralded visit of the feeble invalid, the
idea of mental derangement. Starting forward, and almost encircling
her with her arms, she said--
"My dear child! what is the meaning of this visit? Where is Mr.
Dexter? Did he come with you?"
"I am cold," she answered, with a shiver. "The air is piercing." And
she turned towards the grate, spreading her hands to the genial
"Did Mr. Dexter come with you?" Mrs. Loring repeated the question.
"No; I came alone," was the quietly spoken answer.
"You did not walk?"
"Why, Jessie! You imprudent child! Does Mr. Dexter know of this?"
There was no reply to this question.
"Aunt Phoebe," said Mrs. Dexter, turning from the fire, "can I see
"Certainly, dear," and placing an arm around her, Mrs. Loring went
with her niece from the room.
"You have frightened me, child," said the aunt, as soon as they were
alone. "What has happened? Why have you come at this untimely hour,
and with such an imprudent exposure of your health?"
"_I have come home, Aunt Phoebe_!" Mrs. Dexter stood and looked
steadily into the face of her aunt.
"Home, Jessie?" Mrs. Loring was bewildered.
"I have no other home in the wide world, Aunt Phoebe." The sadness
of Jessie's low, steady voice, went deep down into the worldly heart
of Mrs. Loring.
"Child! child! What _do_ you mean?" exclaimed the astonished woman.
"Simply, that I have come back to you again--to die, I trust, and
that right early!"
"Where is Mr. Dexter? What has happened? Oh, Jessie! speak plainly!"
said Mrs. Loring, much agitated.
"I have left Mr. Dexter, Aunt Phoebe." She yet spoke in a calm
voice. "And shall not return to him. If you will let me have that
little chamber again, which I used to call my own, I will bless you
for the sanctuary, and hide myself in it from the world. I do not
think I shall burden you a long time, Aunt Phoebe. I am passing
through conflicts and enduring pains that are too severe for me.
Feeble nature is fast giving way. The time will not be long, dear
"Sit down, child! There! Sit down." And Mrs. Loring led her niece to
a chair. "This is a serious business, Jessie," she added, in a
troubled voice. "I am bewildered by your strange language. What does
it mean? Speak to me plainly. I am afraid you are dreaming."
"I wish it were a dream, aunt. But no--all is fearfully real. For
causes of which I cannot now speak, I have separated myself from Mr.
Dexter, and shall never live with him again. Our ways have parted,
"Jessie! Jessie! What madness! Are you beside yourself? Is this a
step to be taken without a word of consultation with friends?"
Mrs. Loring, as soon as her mind began clearly to comprehend what
her niece had done, grew strongly excited. Mrs. Dexter did not
reply, but let her eyes fall to the floor, and remained silent. She
had no defence to make at any human tribunal.
"Why have you done this, Jessie?" demanded her aunt.
"Forgive my reply, Aunt Phoebe; I can make no other now. _The reason
is with God and my own heart._ He can look deeper than any human
eyes have power to see; and comprehend more than I can put in words.
My cause is with Him. If my burdens are too heavy, He will not turn
from me because I fall fainting by the way."
"Jessie, what is the meaning of this?" Mrs. Loring spoke in a
suddenly changed voice, and coming close to her niece, looked
earnestly into her face. "Here is a bad bruise on your right cheek,
and another on the temple just above. And the skin is inflamed
around the edges of these bruises, showing them to be recent. How
came this, Jessie?"
"Bruises? Are you certain?"
"Why, yes, child! and bad ones, too."
Mrs. Dexter looked surprised. She raised her hand to her cheek and
temple, and pressing slightly, was conscious of pain.
"I believe I fainted in the parlor this afternoon," she said; "I
must have fallen to the floor."
"Fainted! From what cause?" asked Mrs. Loring.
Mrs. Dexter was silent.
"Was it from sudden illness?"
Mrs. Loring was not satisfied with this brief answer. Imagination
suggested some personal outrage.
"Was Mr. Dexter in the parlor when you fainted?" she asked.
"Why did he not save you from falling?"
"I am very cold, aunt; and my head turns. Let me lie down." Mrs.
Dexter made an effort to rise. As Mrs. Loring caught her arms, she
felt them shiver. Quickly leading her to the bed, she laid her in
among the warm blankets; but external warmth could not subdue the
nervous chill that shook her frame in every part.
"The doctor must be sent for," said Mrs. Loring--and she was about
leaving the bedside.
"No, no, aunt!" Mrs. Dexter caught her hand, and held her back. "I
want no physician--only quiet and seclusion. Have my own little room
prepared for me, and let me go there to-night."
Mrs. Loring sat down undecided, and in great perplexity of mind.
"Listen!" Some one had rung the door-bell violently.
"Aunt!" Mrs. Dexter started up and laid her hand on the arm of Mrs.
Loring. "If that is Mr. Dexter, remember that I positively refuse to
meet him. I am ill, as you can see; and I warn you that the
agitation of a forced interview may cost me my life."
"If it is Mr. Dexter, what shall I say? Hark! Yes! It is his step,
and his voice."
"Say that I cannot be seen, and that I have left him forever."
"Aunt Loring, remonstrance is vain! I have not taken this step
without a deep consciousness of being right; and no power on earth
can lead me to retrace it. Let him comprehend that, in its plain
significance; the sooner he does so the better will it be for both."
"Mr. Dexter wishes to see you," said a servant, coming to the door.
"Say that I will be down in a moment."
Mrs. Loring stood for some time, endeavoring to collect her thoughts
and calm her feelings. She then went down to the parlor.
"Is Jessie here?" inquired Mr. Dexter, in a hurried manner.
"She is," replied Mrs. Loring.
"I wish to see her."
"Sit down, Mr. Dexter. I want to speak with you about Jessie."
Mr. Dexter sat down, though with signs of impatience.
"What is the meaning of this? What has happened, Mr. Dexter?"
"Only a slight misunderstanding. Jessie is over sensitive. But I
must see her immediately; and alone, if you please, Mrs. Loring."
"I am sorry, Mr. Dexter, but Jessie will not see you."
"Not see me!"
"Go and say that I am here, and that I must see her, if only for a
"She knows you are here, Mr. Dexter; and her message is--'Say that I
"Where is she?" Mr. Dexter moved towards the door; but Mrs. Loring,
who had taken it into her head that personal abuse--a blow,
perhaps--was the cause of Jessie's flight from the residence of her
husband--(she could understand and be properly indignant at such an
outrage), stepping before him said--
"Don't forget, sir, that this is my house! You cannot pass into any
of its apartments unless I give permission. And such permission is
now withheld. My niece is in no condition for exciting interviews.
There has been enough of that for one day, I should think."
"What do you mean? What has she said?" demanded Mr. Dexter, looking
almost fiercely at Mrs. Loring.
"Nothing!" was replied. "She refuses to answer my questions. But I
see that her mind is greatly agitated, while her person bears
evidence of cruel treatment."
"Mrs. Loring!" Dexter understood her meaning, and instantly grew
calm. "Evidences of cruel treatment!"
"Yes, sir! Her cheek and temple are discolored from a recent bruise.
How came this?"
"She fainted, and struck herself in falling."
"In your presence?"
"And you did not put forth a hand to save her!"
Mrs. Loring's foregone conclusions were running away with her.
"Excuse me madam," said Mr. Dexter, coldly, "you are going beyond
the record. I am not here at the confessional, but to see my wife.
Pray, do do not interpose needless obstacles."
There was enough of contempt in the tones of Mr. Dexter to wound the
pride and fire the self-love of Mrs. Loring; and enough of angry
excitement about him, to give her a new impression of his character.
"You cannot see Jessie to-night," she answered firmly. "She has
flown back to me in wild affright--the mere wreck of what she was,
poor child! when I gave her into your keeping--and the inviolable
sanctity of my house is around her. I much fear, Leon Dexter, that
you have proved recreant to your trust--that you have not loved,
protected, and cherished that delicate flower. The sweetness of her
life is gone?"
The woman of the world had (sic) actally warmed into sentiment.
"It is I who have suffered wrong," said Mr. Dexter. "Sit down, Mrs.
Loring, and hear me. If I cannot see my wife--if she willfully
persists in the step she has taken--then will I clear my skirts.
You, at least, if not the world, must know the truth. Sit down,
madam, and listen."
They moved back from the door, and crossing the parlor, sat down
together on a sofa.
"What is wrong?" asked Mrs. Loring, the manner and words of Mr.
Dexter filling her mind with vague fear.
"Much," was answered.
"Your niece, I have reason to believe, is not true to me," said
"Sir!" Astonishment and indignation blended in the tone of Mrs.
"I happened to come upon her unawares to-day, taking her in the very
act of encouraging the attentions of a man whose presence and
detected intimacy with her, at Newport, were the causes of her
"It is false!"
Both Dexter and Mrs. Loring started to their feet.
There stood Jessie, just within the door at the lower end of the
parlor, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes bright with indignation.
"It is false, sir!" she repeated, in strong, clear tones.
Mr. Dexter, after the first moment of bewildering surprise, advanced
towards his wife.
"It is false--false as the evil spirit who suggested a thought of
your wife's dishonor!"
Saying this, Mrs. Dexter turned and glided away. Her husband made a
motion to follow, but Mrs. Loring laid her hand upon his arm.
"Light breaks into my mind," she said. "It was because you charged
her with dishonorable intent that she fled from you? A man should be
well fortified with proofs before he ventures so far. _I_ will
believe nothing against her, except on the clearest evidence. Can
you adduce it?"
There was a homely force in this mode of presenting the subject that
had the effect to open the eyes of Dexter a little to the unpleasant
aspect of his position. What proof had he of his wife's
infidelity--and yet he had gone so far as to say that he had reason
to believe her not true to him, and that she had been detected in
questionable intimacy with some one at Newport!
"Can you adduce the evidence, Mr. Dexter?" repeated Mrs. Loring.
"I may have been hasty," he said, moving back into the room. "My
words may have signified too much. But she has been imprudent."
"It is not true, sir!"
The voice of Jessie startled them again. She stood almost on the
spot from which they had turned a moment before.
"It is not true, sir!" she repeated her words. "Not true, in any
degree! All is but the ghost of a jealous fancy! And now, sir,
beware how you attempt to connect my name with evil reports or
surmises! I may be stung into demanding of you the proof, and in
another place than this! Never, even in thought, have I dishonored
you. That is a lower deep into which my nature can never fall; and
you should have known me well enough to have had faith. Alas that it
was not so!"
She passed from her husband's presence again, seeming almost to
vanish where she stood.
"What is to be done?" said Mr. Dexter, turning towards Mrs. Loring,
with a certain shame-facedness, that showed his own perception of
the aspect in which his hasty conduct had placed him.
"It is impossible to answer that question now," replied Mrs. Loring.
"These muddy waters must have time to run clear. As for Jessie, it
is plain that she needs seclusion, and freedom from all causes of
excitement. That you have wronged her deeply by your suspicions, I
have not the shadow of a doubt--how deeply, conceding her innocence,
you can say better than I."
"You will not encourage her in maintaining towards me her present
attitude, Mrs. Loring?"
"Not if I see any hope of reconciliation. But I must know more of
your lives during the past few months. I fear that you have wholly
misunderstood your wife, and so alienated her that oblivion of the
past is hopeless."
"Think of the exposure and disgrace," said Mr. Dexter.
"I do think of it; and the thought sickens me."
"You will surely advise her to return."
"I can promise nothing sir. Wait--wait--wait. I have no other advice
to offer. My poor child has passed through fearful trials--that is
plain; and she must have time for body and mind to recover
themselves. Oh, sir! how could you, knowing her feeble condition,
bear down upon her so heavily as you did this day. Your words must
have fallen like heavy blows; for it seems that they struck her down
senseless. A second attack of brain fever, should it unfortunately
follow this agitation, will certainly prove fatal."
Dexter was silent.
"We must keep our own counsel for the present," he said, at length.
"The public should know nothing of all this."
"In that we are agreed," answered Mrs. Loring. "My advice to you is,
to leave Jessie, for the time being at least, to her own will.
Serious prostration of all her faculties, I cannot but fear as a
consequence. To-morrow, she will in all probability need her
"How will you account for her condition, should his attendance be
Mrs. Loring shook her head.
"Events," she answered, "are too recent, and my mind too much
bewildered to say what course I may deem it the wisest policy to
pursue. I must await the occasion, and govern myself accordingly."
"Be very prudent, madam," said Mr. Dexter. "A single error may wreck
"Her reputation is as dear to me as my own," replied Mrs. Loring,
"and you may be very sure, that I will guard it as a most precious
thing. The warning as to circumspection I pass to you."
Mr. Dexter made a movement to retire.
"I will see you in the morning," he said, "and in the meantime,
account for Jessie's absence, by saying that she paid you a visit,
going out imprudently, and found herself too much indisposed to
Mrs. Loring merely inclined her head. A little while Dexter stood
looking at her, embarrassment and trouble written on every feature.
Then bowing coldly, he retired.
WHEN Mrs. Loring went back to her chamber, after Mr. Dexter withdrew
from the house, she found Jessie in bed, lying as still as if
asleep. She looked up when her aunt came to the bedside--at first
with stealthy, half-timid glances--then with more of trust, that
changed into loving confidence. Mrs. Loring bent down and kissed
"Oh, Aunt Phoebe! that was very cruel in him."
"What was cruel, dear?"
The thoughts of Mrs. Loring went farther back than to the interview
in her parlor.
"He tried to ruin me even in your regard."
"But he failed, Jessie. I will not believe the lowest whisper of an
evil report against you."
"I am as pure in thought and as true in purpose, Aunt Phoebe, as
when I went out from you. I do not love Mr. Dexter--I never loved
him. Still that is no crime--only a necessity. He understood this in
the beginning, and took the risk of happiness--so did I. But he was
not satisfied with all that I could give. He wanted a heart, as well
as a hand--a living, loving spirit, as well as a body. These he
could not possess in me--for the heart loves not by compulsion. Then
jealousy was born in his soul, and suspicion followed. Both were
groundless. I felt a degrading sense of wrong; and at times, a
spirit of rebellion. But I never gave place to a wandering
thought--never gave occasion for wrong construction of my conduct.
Ah, Aunt Phoebe! that marriage was a sad mistake. A union unblessed
by love, is the commencement of a wretched life. It is the old
story; and never loses its tragic interest. It was folly in the
beginning, and it is madness now."
Mrs. Loring would have questioned her niece closely as to the
meaning of Mr. Dexter's allusion to a certain individual as having
been too intimate with his wife, but these closing remarks fell like
rebuke upon her ears. She remembered how almost like a victim-lamb,
Jessie had been led up to the marriage altar; and how she had
overruled all objections, and appealing to her honor, had almost
constrained her into the fulfillment of a promise that should never
have been extorted. And so she remained silent.
"I knew it must come to this sooner or later," Jessie went on; "I
knew that a time must arrive when the only alternative for me would
be death or separation. The separation has taken place sooner than I
had dared to hope; and for the act, I do not hold myself
responsible. He flung me off! To a spirit like mine, his language
was a strong repulsion; and I swept away from him with a force it
would have been vain to resist. We are apart now, and apart
"You are too much excited, Jessie," said Mrs. Loring, laying her
finger upon the lips of her niece, "and I must enjoin silence and
rest. I have faith in you. I will be your friend, though all the
world pass coldly on in scorn."
Tears glistened in the eyes of Mrs. Dexter as she lifted them, with
a thankful expression, to the face of her aunt, from whom she had
not dared to hope for so tender a reception. She knew Mrs. Loring to
be worldly-minded; she knew her to be a woman of not over delicate
feelings; and as one easily affected by appearances. That she would
blame, denounce, threaten, she had no doubt. A thought of approval,
sympathy, aid or comfort in this fearful trial had not stirred in
her imagination. This unlooked for kindness on the part of her aunt
touched her deeply.
The fact was, Mr. Dexter had gone a step too far. The grossness of
this outrage upon his wife, Mrs. Loring could appreciate, and it was
just of the kind to arouse all her womanly indignation. A more
refined act of cruelty she would not have understood; and might have
adjudged her niece as capricious.
"Thank you, dear Aunt Phoebe, for this love and kindness!" Jessie
could not help saying. "I need it; and, for all I have been as a
wife, am worthy to receive it. As pure in thought and act as when I
parted from you do I return; and now all I ask is to become again
the occupant of that little chamber I once called my own; there to
hide myself from all eyes--there to remain, forgotten by the gay
circles in which I moved for a brief season."
"Dear heart! will you not be quiet?" said Mrs. Loring; laying her
fingers once more upon her lips.
Mrs. Dexter sighed as her lashes drooped upon her cheeks. Very still
she lay after this, and as her aunt stood looking upon her white,
shrunken face and hollow eyes, and noted the purple stain on her
cheek and temple, tears of compassion filled her eyes, and tender
pity softened all her feelings.
That night Jessie slept in her aunt's room. Morning found her in a
calmer state, and with less prostration of body than Mrs. Loring had
feared would ensue. She did not rise until late, but met her cousins
while yet in bed, with a quiet warmth of manner that placed both
them and herself at ease with one another, They bad been frightened
witnesses of the exciting scenes in the parlor, when Mrs. Dexter
twice confronted her husband and met his intimations of wrong with
indignant denial. Beyond this their mother had informed them that
their cousin had left her home and might not again return to it. For
the present she enjoined silence as to what had occurred; and
reserve or evasion of questions should curious inquirers approach
them at school or elsewhere.
Before Jessie had arisen, Mr. Dexter called. He looked worn and
troubled. It was plain that his night had been sleepless.
"How is she?" he asked of Mrs. Loring, almost fearfully, as if
dreading the answer. He did not pronounce the name of his wife.
"Better than I had hoped," was replied.
"Has she required the attention of a physician?"
Mr. Dexter seemed relieved.
"What is her state of mind?"
"She is more tranquil than I had expected to find her."
Mrs. Loring's manner was cold.
"Have you conversed with her this morning?"
"Will she see me?"
"I think not."
"Will you ask her?"
"Not now. She is too weak to bear a recurrence of agitating scenes."
Mr. Dexter bit his lips firmly as if striving with his feelings.
"When can I see her?"
"That question I am unable now to answer, Mr. Dexter. But my own
opinion is that it will be better for you to see her to-morrow than
to-day: better next week than to-morrow. You must give time for
calmness and reflection."
"She is my wife!" exclaimed Mr. Dexter, not able to control himself.
The manner in which this was said conveyed clearly his thought to
Mrs. Loring, and she replied with equal feeling--
"But not your slave to command!"
"Madam! I warn you not to enter into this league against me--not to
become a party in this wicked scheme! If you do, then you must bear
the consequences of such blind folly. I am not the man to submit
tamely. I will not submit."
"You are simply beating the air," replied Mrs. Loring. "There is no
league against you--no wicked scheme--nothing beyond your own
excited imagination; and I warn you, in turn, not to proceed one
step further in this direction."
"Madam! can I see my wife?" The attitude of Mr. Dexter was
"No, sir. Not now," was the firmly spoken answer.
He turned to go.
"Well? Say on."
"I do not wish you to call here again."
"Madam! my wife is harboring here."
"I will give my servant orders not to admit you!" said Mrs. Loring,
outraged by this remark.