“Can you adduce the evidence, Mr. Dexter?” repeated Mrs. Loring.
“I may have been hasty,” he said, moving back into the room. “My words may have signified too much. But she has been imprudent.”
“It is not true, sir!”
The voice of Jessie startled them again. She stood almost on the spot from which they had turned a moment before.
“It is not true, sir!” she repeated her words. “Not true, in any degree! All is but the ghost of a jealous fancy! And now, sir, beware how you attempt to connect my name with evil reports or surmises! I may be stung into demanding of you the proof, and in another place than this! Never, even in thought, have I dishonored you. That is a lower deep into which my nature can never fall; and you should have known me well enough to have had faith. Alas that it was not so!”
She passed from her husband’s presence again, seeming almost to vanish where she stood.
“What is to be done?” said Mr. Dexter, turning towards Mrs. Loring, with a certain shame-facedness, that showed his own perception of the aspect in which his hasty conduct had placed him.
“It is impossible to answer that question now,” replied Mrs. Loring. “These muddy waters must have time to run clear. As for Jessie, it is plain that she needs seclusion, and freedom from all causes of excitement. That you have wronged her deeply by your suspicions, I have not the shadow of a doubt—how deeply, conceding her innocence, you can say better than I.”
“You will not encourage her in maintaining towards me her present attitude, Mrs. Loring?”
“Not if I see any hope of reconciliation. But I must know more of your lives during the past few months. I fear that you have wholly misunderstood your wife, and so alienated her that oblivion of the past is hopeless.”
“Think of the exposure and disgrace,” said Mr. Dexter.
“I do think of it; and the thought sickens me.”
“You will surely advise her to return.”
“I can promise nothing sir. Wait—wait—wait. I have no other advice to offer. My poor child has passed through fearful trials—that is plain; and she must have time for body and mind to recover themselves. Oh, sir! how could you, knowing her feeble condition, bear down upon her so heavily as you did this day. Your words must have fallen like heavy blows; for it seems that they struck her down senseless. A second attack of brain fever, should it unfortunately follow this agitation, will certainly prove fatal.”
Dexter was silent.
“We must keep our own counsel for the present,” he said, at length. “The public should know nothing of all this.”
“In that we are agreed,” answered Mrs. Loring. “My advice to you is, to leave Jessie, for the time being at least, to her own will. Serious prostration of all her faculties, I cannot but fear as a consequence. To-morrow, she will in all probability need her physician’s care.”