All this was not mere acting on the part of Mr. Dexter. He did love the sweet young girl as truly as men of his peculiar character are capable of loving. He was deeply in earnest. There was a charm about Jessie Loring which had captivated him in the beginning. She was endowed with rich mental gifts, as well as personal beauty; and with both, Dexter was charmed even to fascination. Superficial, vain of his person, and self-satisfied from his position, he had not been much troubled by doubts touching his ability to secure the hand of Miss Loring, and by his very boldness and ardor, won his suit ere she had sufficient warning of his purpose to throw a mail-clad garment around her.
Dexter remained for only a short period after this ardent declaration. He had penetration enough to see that Miss Loring was profoundly disturbed, and that she desired to be alone. He saw with concern that her countenance was losing its fine warmth, and that the lustre of her eyes was failing. Her look was becoming more inverted each moment. She was trying to read her heart, and understand the writing inscribed thereon.
“I will see you this evening, Jessie,” said Mr. Dexter, on rising to depart. Their intercourse had already been touched with a shade of embarrassment.
Miss Loring forced a smile and simply inclined her head. He bent forward and kissed her. Passively—almost coldly was the salute received. Then they parted. A film of ice had already formed itself between them.
On leaving Mr. Dexter, Jessie Loring almost flew to her room, like one escaping from peril. Closing and locking the door, she crossed the apartment, and falling forward against the bed, sunk down upon her knees and buried her face in a pillow. She did not pray. There was no power in her to lift a petition upwards. But weak, in bewilderment of spirit and abandonment of will she bent in deep prostration of soul and body.
It was nearly an hour before she arose. Very calm had her mind become in this long interval—very calm and very clear. With the plummet line of intense thought, quickened by keen perception, she had sounded the depths of her heart. She found places there—capacities for loving—intense yearnings—which had remained hidden until now. The current of her life had hitherto run smoothly in the sunshine, its surface gleaming and in breezy ripples. But the stream had glided from the open meadows and the sunshine, and the shadow of a great rock had fallen upon it. The surface was still as glass; and now looking downward, she almost shuddered as sight descended away, away into bewildering depths. She held her breath as she gazed like one suspended in mid-air.
“Too late! too late!” she murmured, as she lifted herself up. “Too late!”
Her countenance was pale, even haggard. There was no color in her lips—her eyes were leaden—her aspect like one who had been shocked with the news of a great calamity.