“This does not place me where I was,” Jessie replied.
“Why not? The law has cancelled your marriage!” said Mrs. Loring. “You stand in your old relation to the world.”
“But not to myself,” Jessie answered with a deep sigh; and leaving her aunt, she went away to her little chamber, there to sit in solemn debate over this new aspect of affairs in her troubled life.
No—no. She did not stand in her old relation to herself. She was not a maiden with lips free from the guile of a false marriage promise; but a divorced wife. A thing questionably recognized, both in human opinion and divine law. Deeply and solemnly did this conviction weigh upon her thoughts. View the case in any of the lights which shone into her mind, she could not discover an aspect that gave her real comfort. It is true she was free from all legal obligations to her former husband, and that was something gained. But what of that husband’s position under the literal reading of the divine law? No doubt he contemplated marriage. But could he marry, conscience clear? Had not her false vows cursed both their lives?—imposed on each almost impossible necessities?
Such were the questions that thrust themselves upon her, and clamored for solution.
She had not solved them when the intelligence came of Mr. Dexter’s marriage in England.
“I have news that will surprise you,” said Mrs. Loring, coming into the sitting-room where Jessie was at work on a piece of embroidery.
“What is it?” she asked, looking up almost with a start, for something in her aunt’s manner told her that she had a personal interest in the news.
“Mr. Dexter is married!”
Instantly a pallor overspread Jessie’s face.
“Married to an English lady,” said Mrs. Loring.
Jessie looked at her aunt for a little while, but without a remark. She then turned her eyes again upon her embroidery, lifting it close to her face. But her hand trembled so that she could not take a stitch.
“I hope he’s satisfied now,” said Mrs. Loring. “He’s married an heiress—so the story goes; and is going to reside with her in England. I’m glad of that any how. It might not be so pleasant for you to meet them—sensitive thing that you are! But it wouldn’t trouble me. I could look them both in the face and not blink. Much joy may he have with his English bride! Bless me, child, how you do tremble!” she added, as she noticed the fingers of her niece trying in vain to direct the needle she held upon the face of the embroidery. “It’s nothing more than you had to expect. And, besides, what is Leon Dexter to you now? Only as another man?”
Jessie arose without speaking, and kissing her aunt in token of love, passed quickly from the room.
“Dear! dear! what a strange child it is!” said Aunt Loring, as she wiped off a tear which had fallen from Jessie’s eyes upon her cheek. “Just like her mother for all the world in some things”—the last part of the sentence was in a qualifying tone—“though,” she went on, “her mother hadn’t anything like her trials to endure. Oh, that Dexter! if I only had my will of him!”