“Affianced!” she said a little while after, as thought went back to the interview between herself and Mrs. Loring which had just closed. “Affianced! Yes, that was the word. ’He regards you as affianced, and so do I!’ How completely has this web invested me! Is there no way of escape?” A slight shudder went through her frame. “Ah, well, well!”—low and mournfully—“It may be that my woman’s ideal has been too exalted, and above the standard of real men. Mr. Dexter is handsome; kind-hearted enough, no doubt; moderately well cultivated; rich, elegant in manner, though a little too demonstrative; and, most to be considered, loves me—or, at least, declares himself my lover. That he is sincere I cannot doubt. His was not the role of a skillful actor, but living expression. I ought to be flattered if not won by the homage he pays me.”
Then she sat down, and began looking into her heart again, her keen vision penetrating to its farthest recesses. A long fluttering sigh breathed at length through her lips, and starting up she said,
“I am weak and foolish! Life is a reality; not a cycle of dreamy romance. All poetry lies in the dim distance—a thing of memory or anticipation—the present is invariably prose. How these vague ideals do haunt the mind! Love! Love! I had imagined something deeper, purer, holier than anything stirring in my heart for Leon Dexter! Was I deceived? Is the poet’s song but jingling rhyme?—a play of words in trancing measure? Let me bind back into quietude these wildly leaping impulses, and clip the wings of these girlish fancies. They lead not the soul to happiness in a world like ours.”
Again her form drooped, and again she sat for a long period so lost in the mazes of her own thoughts, that time and place receded alike from her consciousness. Not until dinner-time did she join her aunt. Her cousins had returned from school, and she met them as usual at the table. Her exterior was carefully controlled, so that the only change visible was a slight pallor and a graver aspect. Mrs. Loring scrutinized her countenance closely. This she bore without a sign of embarrassment. She partook but lightly of food. After the meal closed she retired to her own room, once more to torture her brain in a fruitless effort to solve this great problem of her life.
When Paul Hendrickson left the house of Mrs. Loring, his mind was in a state of painful excitement. The inopportune appearance of Dexter had so annoyed him, that he had found it impossible to assume the easy, cheerful air of a visitor. He was conscious, therefore, of having shown himself in the eyes of Miss Loring to very poor advantage. Her manner at parting had, however, reassured him. As they stood for a moment in the vestibule he saw her in a new light. The aspect of her countenance was changed, the eyes, that fell beneath his earnest gaze, burned with a softened light, and he read there a volume of tender interest at a single glance.