The doctors did not err in their estimate of the case. The illness of Mrs. Dexter proved to be very serious. It was a brain fever. Four weeks elapsed before she was able to be removed from Newport to her home, and then she was so feeble in body and mind as to present but the shadowy semblance of her former self.
Very slowly did health flow back through her exhausted system. But a cheerful mind did not come with returning vigor. Her, spirit had bowed itself towards the earth; and power to rise again into the bracing atmosphere and warm sunshine, was not restored for a long period.
AT Albany, Mr. Hendrickson found Miss Arden awaiting him. The warmth of her reception showed that he was more in her eyes than a pleasant friend. And in his regard she held the highest place—save one.
The meeting with Mrs. Dexter at Newport was unfortunate. Hendrickson had looked right down into her heart; reading a page, the writing on which she would have died rather than have revealed. Her pure regard for him was her own deeply hidden secret. It was a lamp burning in the sepulchre of buried hope. She could no more extinguish the sacred fire than quench her own existence.
But thrown suddenly off her guard, she had betrayed this secret to unlawful eyes. Hendrickson had read it. And she too had read his heart. After the lapse of more than a year they had met; and without wrong on either side had acknowledged a mutual inextinguishable love.
“You are not well, Mr. (sic) Henrickson.” Many times, and with undisguised concern, was this said by Miss Arden, during the journey to Niagara.
“Only a slight headache;” or, “I’m well enough, but feel dull;” or, “The trip from Newport fatigued me,” would be answered, and an effort made to be more companionable. But the task was difficult, and the position in which the young man found himself particularly embarrassing. His thoughts were not with Miss Arden, but with Mrs. Dexter. Before the unexpected meeting at Newport, he had believed himself so far released from that entanglement of the heart, as to be free to make honorable advances to Miss Arden. But he saw his error now. With him marriage was something more than a good matrimonial arrangement, in which parties secure external advantages. To love Miss Arden better than any other living woman, he now saw to be impossible—and unless he could so love her, he dared not marry her. That was risking a great deal too much. His position became, therefore, an embarrassing one. Her brother was an old friend. They had been college companions. The sister he had known for some years, but had never been particularly interested in her until within a few months. Distancing his observation, her mind had matured; and the graces of art, education and accomplishment, had thrown their winning attractions around her. First, almost as a brother, he began to feel proud of her beauty and intelligence; admiration followed, and, before he was aware of the tendency of his feelings, they had taken on a warmer than fraternal glow.