As Hendrickson had rightly supposed, Jessie Loring came forth from her seclusion of years. Not all at once, but by gradual intrusions upon the social life around her. At first she went abroad on a mission of charity. Then her friend Mrs. De Lisle, drew her to her house, and there a new face that interested her awakened a new impulse in her mind. And so the work went on, and ere long she was in part restored to society. But how different from the one who had withdrawn from it years before! Suffering and discipline had left upon her their unmistakable signs. The old beauty of countenance had departed. The elegant style--the abounding grace of manner--the fascinating speech--all were gone. Only those to whom she had been most familiar, recognized in the pale, serene countenance, retiring grace and gentle speech of Jessie Loring, the once brilliant Mrs. Dexter.
And quite as different was the effect she produced upon those who came within the sphere of her chastened thoughts. Before, all admired her; now, all who could draw close enough, found in her speech an inspiration to good deeds. Some were wiser--all were better in right purposes--who met her in familiar intercourse. And the more intimately she was known, the more apparent became the higher beauty into which she had arisen; a celestial beauty, that gave angelic lustre at times to her countenance.
To no one did she mention the name of Hendrickson. If she missed him from the circles which had again opened to receive her, none knew that her eyes had ever looked for his presence. No one spoke to her of him, and so she remained for a time in ignorance of his singular disappearance. A caution from Mrs. De Lisle to Mrs. Loring, made that not over-cautious individual prudent in this case.
One day Jessie was visiting Mrs. Denison, to whom she had become warmly attached. She did not show her accustomed cheerfulness, and to the inquiries of Mrs. Denison as to whether she was as well as usual, replied, as it seemed to that lady, evasively. At length she said, with a manner that betrayed a deep interest in the subject:
"I heard a strange story yesterday about an old acquaintance whom I have missed--Mr. Hendrickson."
"What have you heard?" was inquired.
"That he left the city in a mysterious manner several months ago, and has not been heard of since."
"It is true," said Mrs. Denison.
"Was there anything wrong in his conduct?" asked Jessie Loring, her usually pale face showing the warmer hues of feeling.
"Nothing. Not even the breath of suspicion has touched his good name."
"What is the explanation?"
"Common rumor is singularly at fault in the case," replied Mrs. Denison. "I have heard no reason assigned that to me had any appearance of truth."
"Had he failed in business?" asked Miss Loring.
"No. He was in a good business, and accumulating property. But he sold out, and converting all that he was worth into money, took it with him, and left only his memory behind."
"Had he trouble with any one?"
Jessie looked concerned--almost sad.
"I would like to know the reason." She spoke partly to herself.
"I alone am in possession of the reason," said Mrs. Denison, after a silence of more than a minute.
Thrown off her guard, Jessie spoke eagerly and with surprise.
"Yes. He wrote me a letter at the time, stating in the clearest terms the causes which led to so strange a course of conduct.
"Did you approve of his reasons?" Miss Loring had regained much of her usual calm exterior.
"I accepted them," was answered. "Under all the circumstances of the case, his course was probably the wisest that could have been taken."
"Are you at liberty to state the reasons?" asked Miss Loring.
Mrs. Denison thought for some time.
"Do you desire to hear them?" she then asked, looking steadily into the face of her visitor.
"I do," was firmly answered.
"Then I will place his letter to me in your hands. But not now. When you leave, it will be time enough. You must read it alone."
A sudden gleam shot across the face of Jessie. But it died like a transient meteor.
"I will return home now, Mrs. Denison," she said, with a manner that showed a great deal of suppressed feeling. "You will excuse me, of course."
"Cannot you remain longer? I shall regret your going," said her kind friend.
"Not in my present state of mind. I can see from your manner that I have an interest in the contents of that letter, and I am impatient to know them."
It was all in vain that Jessie Loring sought to calm her feelings as she returned homeward with the letter of Paul Hendrickson held tightly in her hand. The suspense was too much for her. On entering the house of her aunt, she went with unusual haste to her own room, and without waiting to lay aside any of her attire, sat down and opened the letter. There was scarcely a sign of life while she read, so motionless did she sit, as if pulsation were stilled. After reading it to the last word she commenced folding up the letter, but her hands, that showed a slight tremor in the beginning, shook so violently before she was done, that the half closed sheet rattled like a leaf in the wind. Then tears gushed over the letter, falling upon it like rain.
There was no effort on the part of Jessie to repress this wild rush of feeling. Her heart had its own way for a time. In the deep hush that followed, she bowed herself, and kneeled reverently, lifting a sad face and tear-filled eyes upwards with her spirit towards Heaven. She did not ask for strength or comfort--she did not even ask for herself anything. Her soul's deep sympathies were all for another, towards whom a long cherished love had suddenly blazed up, revealing the hidden fires. But she prayed that at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances, he might be kept pure.
"Give him," she pleaded, "patient endurance and undying hope. Oh, make his fortitude like the rock, but his humanities yielding and all pervading as the summer airs laden with sweetness. Sustain him by the divine power of truth. Let Thy Word be a staff in his hand when travel-worn, and a sword when the enemy seeks his life. In his own strength he cannot walk in this way; in his own strength he cannot battle with his foes--but in Thy strength he will be strong as a lion, and as invincible as an army."
After rising from her knees, Miss Loring, over whose spirit a deep quietude had fallen, re-opened Hendrickson's letter and read it again; and not once only but many times, until every word and sentence were written on her memory.
"The way may be rough, and our feet not well shod for the long journey," she said, almost with a smile on her pure face, "the sky may be sunless and moonless, and thick clouds may hide even the stars--but there are soft green meadows beyond, and glorious sunshine. If I am not to meet him here, I shall be gathered lovingly into his arms there, and God will bless the union!"
When next Mrs. Denison saw this young martyr, there was even a serener aspect in her countenance than before. She was in possession of a secret that gave a new vitality to her existence. Until now, all in regard to Hendrickson had been vague and uncertain. Their few brief but disastrous meetings had only revealed an undying interest; but as to the quality of his love, his sentiments in regard to her, and his principles of life, she knew literally nothing. Now all was made clear; and her soul grew strong within her as she looked forward into the distance.
"I will keep that letter," she said to Mrs. Denison, in so firm a voice that her friend was surprised. "It is more really addressed to me than it is to you; and it was but fair that it should come into my possession. He is one of earth's nobler spirits."
"You say well, Miss Loring. He is one of earth's nobler spirits. I know him. How he would stand the fire, I could not tell. But I had faith in him; and my faith was but a prophecy. He has come out purified. I was not at first satisfied with this last step; but on close reflection, I am inclined to the belief that he was right. I do not think either of you are strong enough yet to meet. You would be drawn together by an attraction that might obscure your higher perceptions, and lead you to break over all impediments. That, with your views, would not be well. There would be a cloud in the sky of your happiness; a spot on your marriage garments; a shadow on your consciences."
"There would--there would!" replied Miss Loring with sudden feeling. Then, as the current grew placid again, she said:
"I can hardly make you comprehend the change which that letter has wrought in me. All the thick clouds that mantled my sky, have lifted themselves from the horizon, showing bright gleams of the far away blue; and sunrays are streaming down by a hundred rifts. Oh, this knowledge that I am so deeply, purely, faithfully loved, trammelled as I am, and forbidden to marry, fills my soul with happiness inexpressible. We shall be, when the hand of our wise and good Father leads us together, and His smile falls unclouded upon our union, more blessed a thousand fold than if, in the eagerness of natural impulses, we had let our feelings have sway."
"If you are both strong enough, you will have the higher blessing," was the only answer made by Mrs. Denison.
From that period a change in Jessie Loring was visible to all eyes. There came into her countenance a warmer hue of health; her bearing was more erect, yet not self-confident; her eyes were brighter, and occasionally the flash of old-time thought was in them. Everywhere she went, she attracted; and all who came into familiar intercourse with her, felt the sweetness of her lovely character. The secret of this change was known to but few, and they kept it sacred. Not even Mrs. Loring, the good-hearted aunt, who loved her with a mother's maternal fondness, was admitted into her confidence, for she felt that mere worldliness would bruise her heart by contact. But the change, though its causes were not seen, was perceived as something to love, by Aunt Phoebe, who felt for her niece a daily increasing attachment.
And so the weeks moved on; and so the years came and went. Little change was seen in Jessie Loring; except, that the smile which had been restored, gradually grew less, though it did not bear away the heavenly sweetness from her countenance. In all true charities that came within her sphere of action, whether the ministration were to bodily necessities, or moral needs, she was an angel of mercy; and few met her in life's daily walk, but had occasion to think of her as one living very near the sources of Divine love.
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