“I have reason to fear, Mr. Dexter,” continued Mrs. Denison, seeing that her visitor did not attempt to reply, but sat looking at her in a kind of bewildered surprise, “that you pressed your suit too eagerly, and gained a half unwilling consent. Now, if this be so, you are in great danger of making shipwreck. An ordinary woman—worldly, superficial, half-hearted, or no-hearted—even if she did not really love you, would find ample compensation in your fortune, and in the social advantages it must secure. But depend upon it, sir, these will not fill the aching void that must be in Jessie Loring’s heart, if you have no power to fill it with your image—for she is no ordinary woman. I have observed her carefully since this engagement, and grieve to see that she is not happy. Have you seen no change?”
Mrs. Denison waited for an answer.
“She is not so cheerful; I have noticed that,” replied the young man.
“Have you ever questioned in your own mind as to the cause?”
“And what was the solution!”
“I remain ignorant of the cause.”
“Mr. Dexter; I am not ignorant of the cause!”
“Speak, then, in Heaven’s name!”
The young man betrayed a deeper excitement than he wished to manifest. He had been struggling with himself.
“Her heart is not yours!” said Mrs. Denison, with suppressed feeling. “It is a hard saying, but I speak it in the hope of saving both you and the maiden from a life of wretchedness.”
“By what authority and under what instigation do you say this?” was demanded almost angrily. “You are going a step too far, madam!”
The change in his manner was very sudden.
“I speak from myself only,” replied Mrs. Denison, calmly.
“If her heart is not mine, whose is it?” Dexter showed strong excitement.
“I am not her confidant.”
“Who is? Somebody must speak from her, if I am to credit your assertion.”
“Calm yourself, my young friend,” said Mrs. Denison; “there are signs which a woman can read as plainly as if they were written words; and I have felt too deep an interest in this matter not to have marked every sign. Miss Loring is not happy, and the shadow upon her spirit grows darker every day. Before this engagement, her glad soul looked ever out in beauty from her eyes; now—but I need not describe to you the change. You have noted its progress. It is an extreme conclusion that her heart is not in the alliance she is about to form.”
A long silence followed.
“If you were certain that I am right—if, with her own lips, Jessie Loring were to confirm what I have said—what then?”
“I would release her from this engagement; and she might go her ways! The world is wide.”
He spoke with some bitterness.