Both Mrs. Arden and her daughter seemed annoyed at this defence of a woman against whom they had so readily accepted the common rumor. But they said nothing farther. After that an unusual embarrassment marked their intercourse. As early as he could, with politeness, retire, Hendrickson went away. He did not err in his own elucidation of the mystery; for he remembered well the vision of Mrs. Dexter’s face at the window—her instant sign of feeling—his own quick but not meditated response—and the sudden appearance of her husband, whose clouded countenance was full of angry suspicion.
“To this!—and so soon!” said Hendrickson to himself, as he left the house of Mrs. Arden. “Oh, that I could stretch out my hand to save her!—That I could shield her from the tempests!—That I could shelter her from the burning heats! But I cannot. There is a great gulf between us, and I may not pass to her, nor she to me. Oh, my soul! is this separation to be for all time?”
There was rebellion in the heart of Paul Hendrickson when he reached his home; and a wild desire to overleap all barriers of separation.
“There will be a divorce in all probability,” so he began talking with himself. “Jessie will never return to him after this violent separation; and he, after a time, will ask to have the marriage annulled. He will not be able to bring proof of evil against her—will, I am sure, not even attempt it; for no evidence exists. But her steady refusal to live with him as his wife, will enable him, it may be, to get a divorce. And then!”
There was a tone of exultation in his voice at the closing words.
“And whosoever marrieth her which is put away, committeth adultery.”
Hendrickson started to his feet, his face as pale as ashes, and glanced almost fearfully about the room. The voice seemed spoken in the air—but it was not so. The warning had reached his sense of hearing by an inner way.
Then he sat down, and pondered this new question, so suddenly presented for solution, turning it towards every light—viewing it now from the side of human feeling and human reason—and now with the light of Divine Revelation shining upon it. But he was not satisfied. The letter of the record was against him; but nature cried out for some different reading. At length he made an effort to thrust the subject aside.
“What folly is this?” he said, still talking with himself. “Wait! wait! wait!—the time is not yet. Separation only exists. There is no divorce. The great, impassable gulf is yet between us. I cannot go to her. She cannot come to me. I must wait, hopefully, if not patiently, the issue of events.”
The thoughts of Hendrickson had once more been turning themselves towards Miss Arden, and he had felt the glow of warmer feelings. He had even begun to think again of marriage.
“Let that illusion go!” he said. “It must no longer tempt me to the commission of an act that reason and conscience both pronounce wrong. I do not love Mary Arden; therefore, I will not marry her. I settle that matter now, and forever.”