AND what of Paul Hendrickson during these years of isolation, in which no intelligence could be gained of Jessie, beyond vague rumors? For a time, he secluded himself. Then he returned to a few of the old social circles, not much changed to the common eye. His countenance was a little graver; his voice a little lower; his manner a trifle more subdued. But he was a cheerful, intelligent companion, and always a welcome guest.
To no one, not even to his old friend, Mrs. Denison, did he speak of Mrs. Dexter. What right had he to speak of her? She was still the lawful wife of another man, though separated from him by her own act. But not to think of her was as impossible as not to think at all—not to gaze upon her image as impossible as to extinguish the inner vision. She was always by his side, in spirit; her voice always in his ears; her dear face always before him. “The cup is dashed to pieces at my feet, and the precious wine spilled!” How many, many, many times, each day, did he hear these words uttered, always in that sad, half-desponding voice that first brought them to his ears; and they kept hope in the future alive.
The separation which had taken place Hendrickson regarded as one step in the right direction. When the application for a divorce was made, he hailed it with a degree of inward satisfaction that a little startled himself. “It is another step in the right direction,” he said, on the instant’s impulse.
Reflection a little sobered him. “Even if the divorce is granted, what will be her views of the matter?”
There came no satisfactory answer to this query.
A thick curtain still veiled the future. Many doubts troubled him.
Next, in the order of events, came the decision by which the marriage contract between Dexter and his wife was annulled. On the evening of the same day on which the court granted the petitioner’s prayer, Hendrickson called upon Mrs. Denison. She saw the moment he came in that he was excited about something.
“Have you heard the news?” he inquired.
“What news?” Mrs. Denison looked at him curiously.
“Leon Dexter has obtained a divorce.”
“Yes. And so that long agony is over! She is free again.”
Hendrickson was not able to control the intense excitement he felt.
Mrs. Denison looked at him soberly and with glances of inquiry.
“You understand me, I suppose?”
“Perhaps I do, perhaps not,” she answered.
“Mrs. Denison,” said the young man, with increasing excitement, “I need scarcely say to you that my heart has never swerved from its first idolatry. To love Jessie Loring was an instinct of my nature—therefore, to love her once was to love her forever. You know how cruelly circumstances came with their impassable barriers. They were only barriers, and destroyed nothing. As brightly as ever burned the fires—as ardently as ever went forth love’s strong impulses with every heart-beat. And her heart remained true to mine as ever was needle to the pole.”