“I will not believe it, Miss Loring! This is only a terrible dream!” exclaimed Hendrickson.
“A dream?” Jessie seemed clutching at the garments of some departing hope. “A dream!” She glanced around in a bewildered manner. “No—no—no.” Almost despairingly the words came from her lips. “It is no dream, Paul Hendrickson! but a stern reality. And now,” speaking quickly and with energy, “in Heaven’s name leave me!”
“Not yet—not yet,” said the young man, reaching for his hands and trying to take one of hers; but she put both of her hands behind her and stepped back several paces.
“Spare me the pain of a harsh word, Mr. Hendrickson. I have said—leave me!”
Her voice had acquired firmness.
“Oh, no! Smite me not with an unkind word,” said Hendrickson. “I would not have that added to the heavy burden I seem doomed to bear. But ere I go, I would fain have more light, even if it should make the surrounding darkness black as pall.”
His impassioned manner was gone.
“I am calm,” he added, “calm as you are now, Miss Loring. The billows have fallen to the level plain under the pressure of this sudden storm. You have told me it was too late. You have said, ‘leave me!’ I believe you, and I will go. But, may I ask one question?”
“Speak, Mr. Hendrickson; but beware how you speak.”
“Had I spoken as now this morning, would you have answered: ’Too late?’”
He was looking intently upon her face. She did not reply immediately, but seemed pondering. Hendrickson repeated the question.
“I have said that it was now too late.” Miss Loring raised her eyes and looked steadily upon him. “Go sir, and let this hour and this interview pass from your memory. If you are wise, you will forget it. Be just to me, sir. If I have betrayed the existence of any feeling towards you warmer than respect, it has been under sudden and strong temptation. As a man of honor, you must keep the secret inviolate.”
There was not a sign of girlish weakness about the calm speaker. Her small head was erect; her slight body drawn to its full height; her measured tones betrayed not a ripple of feeling.
“I am affianced, and know my duty,” she added. “Know it, and will perform it to the letter. And now, sir, spare me from this moment. And when we meet again, as meet no doubt we shall, let it be as friends—no more.”
The pressure of despair was on the heart of Paul Hendrickson. He was not able to rally himself. He could not retain the calm exterior a little while before assumed.
“We part, then,” he said, speaking in a broken voice—“part—and, ever after, a great gulf must lie between us! I go at your bidding,” and he moved towards the door. “Farewell, Miss Loring.” He extended his hand; she took it, and they stood looking into each other’s eyes.
“God bless you, and keep you spotless as the angels!” he added, suddenly raising her hand to his lips, and kissing it with wild fervor. In the next moment the bewildered girl was alone.