And Aunt Loring, in her rising indignation, actually clenched her hand and shook it in the air.
“It has come to this at last,” said Jessie as soon as she had gained the sanctuary of her little chamber, where she could think without interruption. “And I knew it must come; but oh, how I have dreaded the event! Is he innocent in the sight of heaven? Ah, if I could only have that question answered in the affirmative, a crushing weight would be lifted from my soul. If he is not innocent, the stain of his guilt rests upon my garments! He is not alone responsible. Who can tell the consequences of a single false step in life?”
From a small hanging shelf she took a Bible, and opening to a marked page, read over three or four verses with earnest attention.
“I can see no other meaning,” she said with a painful sigh, closing the book and restoring it to its place on the shelf. It was all in vain that Jessie Loring sought for light and comfort in this direction. They were not found. When she joined her aunt, some hours afterwards, her face had not regained its former placidity.
“Well, dear,” said Mrs. Loring, speaking in what sounded to the ear of her niece a light tone, “have you got it all right with yourself?”
Jessie smiled faintly, and merely answered—
“It will take time. But I trust that all will come out truly adjusted in the end.”
She had never ventured to bring to her aunt’s very external judgment the real questions that troubled her. Mrs. Loring’s prompt way of sweeping aside these cobwebs of the brain, as she called the finer scruples of conscience, could not satisfy her yearning desire for light.
“Yes; time works wonders. He is the great restorer. But why not see clearly at once; and not wait in suffering for time’s slow movements? I am a wiser philosopher than you are, Jessie; and try to gain from the present all that it has to give.”
“Some hearts require a severer discipline than others,” said Jessie. “And mine, I think, is one of them.”
“All that is sickly sentiment, my dear child! as I have said to you a hundred times. It is not shadow, but sunshine that your heart wants—not discipline, but consolation—not doubt, but hope. You are as untrue to yourself as the old anchorites. These self-inflicted stripes are horrible to think of, for the pain is not salutary, but only increases the morbid states of mind that ever demand new flagellations.”
“We are differently made, Aunt Phoebe,” was the quiet answer.
“No, we are not, but we make ourselves different,” replied Mrs. Loring a little hastily.
“The world would be a very dead-level affair, if we were all made alike,” said Jessie, forcing a smile, and assuming a lighter air, in order to lead her aunt’s mind away from the thought of her as too painfully disturbed by the announcement of Mr. Dexter’s marriage. And she was successful. The subject was changed to one of a less embarrassing character. And this was all of the inner life of Jessie Loring that showed itself on the surface.