WHEN the news of Mr. Dexter's second marriage reached Mr. Hendrickson, he said:
"Now she is absolved!" but his friend Mrs. Denison, replied:
"I doubt if she will so consider it. No act of Mr. Dexter's can alter her relation to the Divine law. I am one of these who cannot regard him as wholly innocent. And yet his case is an extreme one; for his wife's separation was as final as if death had broken the bond. But I will not judge him; he is the keeper of his own conscience, and the All-Wise is merciful in construction."
"I believe Jessie Loring to be as free to give her hand as before her marriage."
"With her will rest the decision," was Mrs. Denison's answer.
"Have you seen her?" inquired Hendrickson.
"Has she been seen outside of her aunt's dwelling?"
"If so I have never heard of it."
"Do you think, if I were to call at Mrs. Loring's, she would see me?"
"I cannot answer the question."
"But what is your opinion?"
"If I were you," said Mrs. Denison, "I would not call at present."
"This act of her former husband is too recent. Let her have time to get her mind clear as to her new relation. She may break through her seclusion now, and go abroad into society again. If so you will meet her without the constraint of a private interview."
"But she may still shut herself out from the world. Isolation may have become a kind of second nature."
"We shall see," replied Mrs. Denison. "But for the present I think it will be wiser to wait."
Weeks, even months, passed, and Paul Hendrickson waited in vain. He was growing very impatient.
"I must see her! Suspense like this is intolerable!" he said, coming in upon Mrs. Denison one evening.
"I warn you against it," replied Mrs. Denison.
"I cannot heed the warning."
"Her life is very placid, I am told by Mrs. De Lisle. Would you throw its elements again into wild disturbance?"
"No; I would only give them their true activity. All is stagnation now. I would make her life one thrill of conscious joy."
"I have conversed with Mrs. De Lisle on this subject," said Mrs. Denison.
"You have? And what does she say?"
"She understands the whole case. I concealed nothing--was I right?"
"Yes. But go on."
"She does not think that Jessie will marry during the lifetime of Mr. Dexter," said Mrs. Denison.
Hendrickson became pale.
"I fear," he remarked, "that I did not read her heart aright. I thought that we were conjoined in spirit. Oh, if I have been in error here, the wreck is hopeless!"
He showed a sudden and extreme depression.
"I think you have not erred, Paul. But if Jessie regards the conditions of divorce, given in Matthew, as binding, she is too pure and true a woman ever to violate them. All depends upon that. She could not be happy with you, if her conscience were burdened with the conviction that your marriage was not legal in the Divine sense. Don't you see how such an act would depress her? Don't you see that, in gaining her, you would sacrifice the brightest jewel in her crown of womanhood?"
"Does Mrs. De Lisle know her views on this subject?" he asked.
A quick flush mantled Hendrickson's face.
"Well, what are they?" He questioned eagerly, and in a husky voice.
"She reads the law in Matthew and in Luke, literally."
"The cup is indeed broken, and the precious wine spilled!" exclaimed the unhappy man, rising in strong agitation.
"Paul," said Mrs. Denison, after this agitation had in a measure passed away; "all this I can well understand to be very hard for one who has been so patient, so true, so long suffering. But think calmly; and then ask yourself this question: Would you be willing to marry Jessie Loring while she holds her present views?"
Hendrickson bent his head to think.
"She believes," said Mrs. Denison, "that such a marriage would be adulterous. I put the matter before you in its plainest shape. Now, my friend, are you prepared to take a woman for your wife who is ready to come to you on such terms? I think not. No, not even if her name be Jessie Loring."
"I thank you, my friend, for setting me completely right," said Hendrickson. He spoke sadly, yet with the firmness of a true man. "I have now but one favor to ask. Learn from her own lips, if possible, her real sentiments on this subject."
"I will do so."
"Yes. To-morrow I will see Mrs. De Lisle, and confer with her on the subject, and then at the earliest practical moment call with her upon Jessie."
Two days afterwards, Mr. Hendrickson received a note from his friend, asking him to call.
"You have seen her?"
The young man was paler than usual, but calm. His voice was not eagerly expectant, but rather veiled with sadness, as if he had weighed all the chances in his favor, and made up his mind for the worst.
"I have," replied Mrs. Denison.
"She is much changed, I presume?"
"I would scarcely have known her," was answered.
"In what is she changed?"
"She has been growing less of the earth earthy, in all these years of painful discipline. You see this in her changed exterior; your ear perceives it in the tones of her voice; your mind answers to it in the pure sentiments that breathe from her lips. Her very presence gives an atmosphere of heavenly tranquillity."
It was some moments before Hendrickson made further remark. He then said:
"How long a time were you with her, Mrs. Denison?"
"We spent over an hour in her company."
"Was my name mentioned?"
"Nor the subject in which I feel so deep an interest?"
"Yes, we spoke of that!"
"And you were not in error as to her decision of the case?"
Hendrickson manifested no excitement.
"I was not."
He dropped his eyes again to the floor, and sat musing for some time.
"She does not consider herself free to marry again?"
He looked up with a calm face.
There was a sigh; a falling of the eyes; and a long, quiet silence.
"I was prepared for it, my friend," he said, speaking almost mournfully. "Since our last interview, I have thought on this subject a great deal, and looked at it from another point of vision. I hare imagined myself in her place, and then pondered the Record. It seemed more imperative. I could not go past it, and yet regard myself innocent, or pure. It seemed a hard saying--but it was said. The mountain was impassable. And so I came fortified for her decision."
"Would you have had it otherwise?" Mrs. Denison asked.
Hendrickson did not answer at once. The question evidently disturbed him.
"The heart is very weak," he said at length.
"But virtue is strong as another Samson," Mrs. Denison spoke quickly.
"Her decision does not produce a feeling of alienation. I am not angry. She stands, it is true, higher up and further off, invested with saintly garments. If she is purer, I must be worthier. I can only draw near in spirit--and there can be no spiritual nearness without a likeness of quality. If the stain of earth is not to be found on her vesture, mine must be white as snow."
"It is by fire we are purified, my friend," answered Mrs. Denison, speaking with unusual feeling.
Not many weeks after this interview with Mrs. Denison, she received a communication from Hendrickson that filled her with painful surprise. It ran thus:
"MY BEST FRIEND:--When this comes into your hands, I shall be away from B--. It is possible that I may never return again. I do not take this step hastily, but after deep reflection, and in the firm conviction that I am right. If I remain, the probabilities are that I shall meet Jessie Loring, who will come forth gradually from her seclusion; and I am not strong enough, nor cold enough for that. Nor do I think our meeting would make the stream of her life more placed. It has run in wild waves long enough--the waters have been turbid long enough--and mine is not the hand to swirl it with a single eddy. No--no. My love, I trust, is of purer essence. I would bless, not curse--brighten, not cloud the horizon of her life.
"And so I recede as she comes forth into the open day, and shall hide myself from her sight. As she advances by self denials and holy charities towards celestial purity, may I advance also, fast enough at least not to lose sight of her in the far off distance.
"You will meet her often, from this time, dear, true, faithful friend! And I pray you to keep my memory green in her heart. Not with such bold reference as shall disturb its tranquil life. Oh, do not give her pain! But with gentle insinuations; so that the thought of me have no chance to die. I will keep unspotted from the world; yet will I not withdraw myself, but manfully take my place and do battle for the right.
"And now, best of friends, farewell! I go out into the great world, to be absorbed from observation in the crowd. But my heart will remain among the old places, and beat ever faithful to its early loves.
He had withdrawn himself from all business connections, and sold his property. With his small fortune, realized by active, intelligent industry, and now represented by Certificates of Deposit in three of the city banks, he vanished from among those who had known and respected him for years, and left not a sign of the direction he had taken. Even idle rumor, so usually unjust, did him no wrong. He had been, in all his actions, too true a man for even suspicion to touch his name.
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