“I wish it were a dream, aunt. But no—all is fearfully real. For causes of which I cannot now speak, I have separated myself from Mr. Dexter, and shall never live with him again. Our ways have parted, and forever.”
“Jessie! Jessie! What madness! Are you beside yourself? Is this a step to be taken without a word of consultation with friends?”
Mrs. Loring, as soon as her mind began clearly to comprehend what her niece had done, grew strongly excited. Mrs. Dexter did not reply, but let her eyes fall to the floor, and remained silent. She had no defence to make at any human tribunal.
“Why have you done this, Jessie?” demanded her aunt.
“Forgive my reply, Aunt Phoebe; I can make no other now. The reason is with God and my own heart. He can look deeper than any human eyes have power to see; and comprehend more than I can put in words. My cause is with Him. If my burdens are too heavy, He will not turn from me because I fall fainting by the way.”
“Jessie, what is the meaning of this?” Mrs. Loring spoke in a suddenly changed voice, and coming close to her niece, looked earnestly into her face. “Here is a bad bruise on your right cheek, and another on the temple just above. And the skin is inflamed around the edges of these bruises, showing them to be recent. How came this, Jessie?”
“Bruises? Are you certain?”
“Why, yes, child! and bad ones, too.”
Mrs. Dexter looked surprised. She raised her hand to her cheek and temple, and pressing slightly, was conscious of pain.
“I believe I fainted in the parlor this afternoon,” she said; “I must have fallen to the floor.”
“Fainted! From what cause?” asked Mrs. Loring.
Mrs. Dexter was silent.
“Was it from sudden illness?”
Mrs. Loring was not satisfied with this brief answer. Imagination suggested some personal outrage.
“Was Mr. Dexter in the parlor when you fainted?” she asked.
“Why did he not save you from falling?”
“I am very cold, aunt; and my head turns. Let me lie down.” Mrs. Dexter made an effort to rise. As Mrs. Loring caught her arms, she felt them shiver. Quickly leading her to the bed, she laid her in among the warm blankets; but external warmth could not subdue the nervous chill that shook her frame in every part.
“The doctor must be sent for,” said Mrs. Loring—and she was about leaving the bedside.
“No, no, aunt!” Mrs. Dexter caught her hand, and held her back. “I want no physician—only quiet and seclusion. Have my own little room prepared for me, and let me go there to-night.”
Mrs. Loring sat down undecided, and in great perplexity of mind.
“Listen!” Some one had rung the door-bell violently.
“Aunt!” Mrs. Dexter started up and laid her hand on the arm of Mrs. Loring. “If that is Mr. Dexter, remember that I positively refuse to meet him. I am ill, as you can see; and I warn you that the agitation of a forced interview may cost me my life.”