The visit of Hendrickson was an hour too late, Dexter had already been there, and pressed his suit to a formal issue. The bold suitor had carried off the prize, while the timid one yet hesitated. Jessie went back to her room, after her interview with Paul Hendrickson, in spiritual stature no longer a half developed girl, but a full woman grown. The girl’s strength would no longer have sustained her. Only the woman’s soul, strong in principle and strong to endure, could bear up now. And the woman’s soul shuddered in the conflict of passions that came like furies to destroy her—shuddered and bent, and writhed like some strong forest-tree in the maddening whirl of a tempest. But there was no faltering of purpose. She had passed her word—had made a solemn life-compact, and, she resolved to die, but not to waver.
The question as to whether she were right or wrong, it is not for us here to decide. We but record the fact. Few women after such a discovery would have ventured to move on a step farther. But Jessie was not an ordinary woman. She possessed a high sense of personal honor; and looked upon any pledge as a sacred obligation. Having consented to become the wife of Leon Dexter, she saw but one right course, and that was to perform, as best she could, her part of the contract.
How envied she was! Many wondered that Dexter should have turned aside for a portionless girl, when he might have led a jewelled bride to the altar. But though superficial, he had taste and discrimination enough to see that Jessie Loring was superior to all the maidens whom it had been his fortune to meet. And so, without pausing to look deeply into her heart, or take note of its peculiar aspirations and impulses, he boldly pressed forward resolved to win. And he did win; and in winning, thought, like many another foolish man, that to win the loveliest, was to secure the highest happiness. Fatal error! Doubly fatal!
It is impossible for any woman to pass through an ordeal like the one that was testing the quality of Jessie Loring, and not show signs of the inward strife. It is in no way surprising, therefore, that, in her exterior, a marked change soon became visible. There was a certain dignity and reserve, verging, at times, on coldness, not seen prior to her (sic) engagment—and a quiet suppression of familiarity, even with her most intimate friends. The same marked change was visible in her intercourse with Mr. Dexter. She did not meet him with that kind of repulsion which is equivalent to pushing back with the hand. She accepted his loving ardor of speech and act; but passively. There was no responsive warmth.