TEN years had glided away, yet not in all that time had Jessie Loring received a word of intelligence from Paul Hendrickson. He had passed from sight like a ship when darkness falls upon the ocean--the morning sees her not again, and the billows give no record of the way she went. But still Jessie bore his image at her heart; still her love was undimmed, and her confidence unshaken--and still she felt herself bound by the old shackles, which no human hand could break from her fettered limbs.
One day, about this time, as Mrs. Denison sat reading, a servant came into her room and handing her a card, said:
"There is a gentleman waiting in the parlor to see you."
She looked at the card, and started with surprise. It bore the name of PAUL HENDRICKSON.
"My dear friend!" she exclaimed, grasping both of his hands, as she stood facing him a few moments afterwards.
"My best friend!" was the simple response, but in a voice tremulous with feeling.
A little while they stood, gazing curiously yet with affectionate interest, into each other's face.
"You are not much changed; and nothing for the worse," said Mrs. Denison.
"And you wear the countenance of yesterday," he replied, almost fondly. "How many thousands of times since we parted, have I desired to stand looking into your eyes as I do now! Dear friend! my heart has kept your memory fresh as spring's first offerings."
"Where have you been, in all these years of absence?" Mrs. Denison asked, as they sat down, still holding each other's hands tightly.
"Far away from here; but of that hereafter. You have already guessed the meaning of my return to the old places."
"What! Have you not heard of Mr. Dexter's decease?"
"Paul! is that so?" Mrs. Denison was instantly excited.
"It is. I had the information from a correspondent in London, who sent me a paper in which was a brief obituary. He died nearly three months ago, of fever contracted in a hospital, where he had gone to visit the captain of one of his vessels, just arrived from the coast of Africa. The notice speaks of him as an American gentleman of wealth and great respectability."
"And the name is Leon Dexter?" said Mrs. Denison.
"Yes. There is no question as to the identity. And now, my good friend, what of Jessie Loring? I pray you keep me not longer in suspense."
So wholly absorbed were they, that the ringing of the street door bell had not been heard, nor the movement of the servant along the passage. Ere Mrs. Denison could reply, the parlor door was pushed quietly open, and Miss Loring entered.
"She stands before you!" said Mrs. Denison, starting up and advancing a step or two.
Mr. Hendrickson uttered the name slowly, but in a voice touched with the profoundest emotion. He had arisen, but did not advance. She stood suddenly still, and held her breath, while a paleness overspread her features. But her long training had given her great self-control.
"Mr. Hendrickson," she said, advancing across the room.
He grasped her hand, but she did not return the ardent pressure, though the touch went thrilling to her heart. But the paleness had left her face.
At this moment Mrs. Denison came forward, and covering their clasped hands with hers, said in a low, but very emphatic voice:
"There is no impediment! God has removed the last obstruction, and your way is plain."
Instantly the whole frame of Miss Loring seemed jarred as by a heavy stroke; and she would have fallen through weakness, if Hendrickson had not thrown an arm around her. Bearing her to a sofa, he laid her, very tenderly, in a reclining position, with her head resting against Mrs. Denison. But he kept one of her hands tightly within his own; and she made no effort to withdraw it.
"There is no obstruction now, dear friends," resumed Mrs. Denison. "The long agony is over--the sad error corrected. The patience of hope, the fidelity of love, the martyr-spirit that could bear torture, yet not swerve from its integrity, are all to find their exceeding great reward. I did not look for it so soon. Far in advance of the present I saw the long road each had to travel, still stretching its weary length. But suddenly the pilgrimage has ended. The goal is won while yet the sun stands at full meridian--while yet the feet are strong, and the heart brave for endurance or battle. Heroes are ye, and this is my greeting!"
With eyes still closed, Jessie lay very still upon the bosom of this dear friend. But oh, what a revelation of joy was in the sweet, half-formed smile that arched her lips with beauty! Hendrickson stood, still grasping her hand, and looking down into her pure, tranquil face, with such a rapture pervading his soul, that he seemed as if entering upon the felicities of heaven.
"This is even better than my hopes," he said, speaking at length, but in a subdued voice.
Jessie opened her eyes, and now gazed at him calmly, but lovingly. What a manly presence was his! How wonderfully he was changed!--Thought, suffering, endurance, virtue, honor, had all been at work upon his face, cutting away the earthly and the sensual, until only the lines of that imperishable beauty which is of the spirit, remained. Every well-remembered feature was there; but the expression of his whole face was new.
A moment or two only did she look at him--but she read a volume in love's history at a glance--then closed her eyes again, and, as she did so, gave back to the hand that still held hers, an answering pressure.
The long, long trial of faith, love and high religious principle was over, and they were now standing at the open door of blessing.
And so the reward came at last, as come it always does, to the true, the faithful, the pure, and the loving--if not in this world, assuredly in the next--and the great error of their lives stood corrected.
But what a lesson for the heart! Oh, is there a more fearful consummation of error in the beginning of life than a wholly discordant marriage! This mating of higher and lower natures--of delicacy with coarseness--of sensuality with almost spiritual refinement--of dove-like meekness with falcon cruelty--of the lamb with the bear! It makes the very heart bleed to think of the undying anguish that is all around us, springing from this most frightful cause of misery!
In less than a month Paul Hendrickson again departed from B--, but this time not alone, nor with his destination involved in mystery. His second self went with him, and their faces were turned towards a southern island, where the earth was as rich in blossom and verdure as the bride's heart in undying love. Here his home had been for years; and here his name was an honored word among the people--synonymous with manly integrity, Christian virtue, and true benevolence.
After the long, fierce battle, peace had come with its tranquil blessings. After the storm, the sunshine had fallen in glorious beauty. After the night of suffering, morning had broken in joy.
We stand and gaze, with rapt interest, upon the river when it leaps wildly over the cataract, or sweeps foaming down perilous rapids, or rushes through mountain gorges; but turn away from its quiet beauty when it glides pleasantly along through green savannahs. Such is our interest in life. And so we drop the curtain, and close our history here.
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