THE effort to interest her husband in things purely intellectual failed, and a shade of disappointment settled on the feelings of Mrs. Dexter. She soared, altogether, too far up into the mental atmosphere for him. He thought her ideal and transcendental; and she felt that only the sensual principles in his mind were living and active. Conversation died between them, and both relapsed into that abstracted silence--musing on one side and moody on the other--which filled so large a portion of their time when together.
"Shall we go down to the parlors?" said Mr. Dexter, rousing himself. "The afternoon is running away fast towards evening."
"I am more fatigued than usual," was answered, "and do not care to make my appearance before tea-time. You go down; and I will occupy myself with a book. When the tea-bell rings, I will wait for you to come and escort me to the table."
Mr. Dexter did not urge his wife to leave their rooms, but went down as she had suggested. The moment he left her, there occurred a great change in her whole appearance. She was sitting on a lounge by the window. Instead of rising to get a book, or seeking for any external means of passing a solitary hour, she shrunk down in her seat, letting her eyes droop gradually to the floor. At first, her countenance was disturbed; but its aspect changed to one of deep abstraction. And thus she sat for nearly an hour. The opening of her room door startled her into a life of external (sic) conciousness. Her husband entered. She glanced at his face, and saw that something had occurred to ruffle his feelings. He looked at her strangely for some moments, as if searching for expected meanings in her countenance.
"Are you not well?" Mrs. Dexter asked.
"Oh, yes, I'm well enough," he answered with unusual abruptness of manner.
She said no more, and he commenced pacing the floor of their small parlor backwards and forwards with restless footsteps.
Once, without moving her head or body, Mrs. Dexter stole a glance towards her husband; she encountered his eyes turning stealthily upon her, and scanning her face with an earnest scrutiny. A moment their eyes lingered, mutually spell-bound, and then the glances were mutually withdrawn. Mr. Dexter continued his nervous perambulations, and his wife remained seated and silent.
The ringing of the bell announced tea. Mr. Dexter paused, and Mrs. Dexter, rising without remark, took his arm, and they went down to the dining-hall, neither of them speaking a word. On taking her place at the table, Mrs. Dexter's eyes ran quickly up and down the lines of faces opposite.
This was done with so slight a movement of the head, that her husband, who was on the alert, did not detect the rapid observation. For some three or four minutes the guests came filing in, and all the while Mrs. Dexter kept glancing from face to face. She did not move her head or seem interested in the people around her; but her eyes told a very different story. Twice the waiter asked if she would take tea or coffee, before she noticed him, and her answer, "Coffee," apprised her watchful husband of the fact that she was more than usually lost in thought.
"Not coffee?" Mr. Dexter bent to his wife's ear.
"No, black tea," she said, quickly, partly turning to the waiter. "I was not thinking," she added, speaking to her husband. At the moment Mrs. Dexter turned towards the waiter, she leaned forward, over the table, and gave a rapid glance down at the row of faces on that side; and in replying to her husband, she managed to do the same thing for the other end of the table. No change in her countenance attested the fact that her search for some desired or expected personage had been successful. The half emptied cup of tea, and merely broken piece of toast lying on her plate, showed plainly enough that either indisposition or mental disturbance, had deprived her of appetite.
From the tea table they went to one of the parlors. Only a few gentlemen and ladies were there, most of the guests preferring a stroll out of doors, or an evening drive.
"Shall we ride? It is early yet, and the full moon will rise as the sun goes down."
"I have ridden enough to day," Mrs. Dexter answered. "Fatigue has made me nervous. But don't let that prevent your taking a drive."
"I shall not enjoy it unless you are with me," said Mr. Dexter.
"Then I will go." Mrs. Dexter did not speak fretfully, nor in the martyr tone we often hear, but in a voice of unexpected cheerfulness. "Order the carriage," she added, as she rose; "I will get my bonnet and shawl, and join you here by the time it is at the door."
"No--no, Jessie! Not if you are so fatigued. I had forgotten our journey to-day," interposed Mr. Dexter.
"A ride in the bracing salt air will do me good, perhaps. I am, at least, disposed to make the trial. So order the carriage, and I will be with you in a moment."
Mrs. Dexter spoke with a suddenly outflashing animation, and then left her husband to make preparations for accompanying him in the drive. She had passed through the parlor door on to one of the long porticoes of the building, and was moving rapidly, when, just before reaching the end, where another door communicated with a stairway, she suddenly stood still, face to face with a man who had stepped from that door out upon the portico.
"Jess--Mrs. Dexter!" the man checked the unguarded utterance of her familiar Christian name, and gave the other designation.
Only for an instant did Mrs. Dexter betray herself; but in that instant her heart was read, as if a blaze of lightning had flashed over one of its pages, long hidden away in darkness, and revealed the writing thereon in letters of gleaming fire.
"You arrived to day?" Mr. Hendrickson also regained the even balance of mind which had momentarily been lost, and regained it as quickly as the lady. He spoke with the pleased air of an acquaintance--nothing more.
"This afternoon," replied Mrs. Dexter in a quiet tone, and with a smile in which no casual observer could have seen anything deeper than pleasant recognition.
"How long will you remain?"
"It is not certain; perhaps until the season closes."
Mrs. Dexter made a motion to pass on. Mr. Hendrickson raised his hat and bowed very respectfully; and thus the sudden interview ended.
Mr. Dexter had followed his wife to the door of the parlor, and stood looking at her as she retired along the portico. This meeting with Hendrickson was therefore in full view. A sudden paleness overspread his countenance; and from his convulsed lips there fell a bitter imprecation.
On reaching her apartments, Mrs. Dexter was so weak that she was forced to sit down upon the first chair she could obtain. A dead pallor was in her face.
"Oh, give me strength--self control--motives to duty!"--in weakness and fear her quivering heart cried upwards.
"Jessie!" How long she had been sitting thus Mrs. Dexter knew not. She started. It was the voice of her husband.
"Not ready yet, I see!" His tones were rough--his manner excited. "And the carriage has stood at the door for ten minutes."
"I am ready!" she answered, starting up, and lifting her bonnet from the bed.
"It is no matter now. The sun is setting, and I have ordered the carriage back to the stable. You only consented to go on my account; and I am impatient under mere acquiescence."
"You wrong me, Mr. Dexter," said his wife, with (sic) unusal earnestness of manner. "I am ready to go with you at all times; and I strive in all things to give you pleasure. Did I hesitate a moment when you suddenly declared your wish to leave Saratoga for Newport?"
"No, of course you did not; for you were too glad of the opportunity to get here." There was a strange gleam in the eyes of Mr. Dexter as he said this; and his voice had in it an angry bitterness never before observed.
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded the outraged wife, turning upon her husband abruptly, and showing an aspect so stern and fierce, that the astonished man retreated a pace or two as if in fear. Never before had he seen in that beautiful face the reflection of a spirit so wildly disturbed by passion.
"Speak out, Leon Dexter! What do you mean?"
And her eyes rested on his with a glance as steady as an eagle's.
"I saw your meeting a little while ago."
Mr. Dexter rallied a little.
"What meeting?" There was no betraying sign in Mrs. Dexter's face, nor the least faltering in her tones.
"Your meeting with him."
"With whom? Speak out plainly, sir! I am in no mood for trifling, and in no condition for solving riddles."
"With Paul Hendrickson." Dexter pronounced the name slowly, and with all the meaning emphasis he could throw into his voice.
"Well, sir, what of that?" Still neither eye nor voice faltered.
"Much! You see that I understand you!"
"I see that you do not understand me," was firmly answered. "And now, sir, will you suffer me to demand an explanation of your language just now. I want no evasion--no faltering--no holding back. 'Too glad of an opportunity to get here!' That was the sentence. Its meaning, sir?"
The small head of Mrs. Dexter was erect; her nostrils distended; her lips closely laid upon each other; her eyes full fixed and almost fiery in their intense light. Suddenly she was transformed in the eyes of her husband from a yielding, gentle, though cold woman into the very spirit of accusation and defiance. He was silent; for he saw that he had gone too far.
"That must be explained, sir!" She was not to be turned aside. "I have noted your capricious conduct; your singular glances at times; your strange moodiness without apparent cause. A little light has given a faint impression of their meaning. But I must have the full blaze of your thoughts. Nothing else will satisfy me now."
She paused. Mr. Dexter had indeed gone a step too far, a fact of which he was painfully aware. He had conjured up a spirit that it might not be easy to lay.
"You are too excited. Calm yourself," he said.
Turning from her husband, Mrs. Dexter crossed the room, and seating herself upon a sofa, said, in a quiet way--
"Sit down beside me, Mr. Dexter. I am calm. Sit down and speak; for your recent language must be explained. Evasion will be fruitless--I will not accept of it."
"I spoke hastily. Forget my words."
Mr. Dexter sat down beside his wife, and spoke in a gentle soothing manner.
"It is all in vain, Mr. Dexter! All in vain! Yours were no idle words; and I can never forget them. You have greatly misapprehended your wife, I see; and the quicker you know this the better it will be for both of us. The time has come for explanation--and it shall be made! Why did I wish to come to Newport?"
"You knew that Paul Hendrickson was here," said Mr. Dexter; "that was the reason!"
"It is false, sir!" was the quick and sharp rejoinder.
"Jessie! beware how you speak!" The angry blood mounted to the very brow of the husband.
"It is false, sir!" she repeated, even more emphatically, if that were possible. "Of his movements I am as ignorant as you are!"
"I cannot tamely bear such words," said Mr. Dexter, still much excited.
"And I will not bear such imputations," was firmly rejoined.
Mr. Dexter arose, and commenced the unsatisfactory movement of pacing the floor. Mrs. Dexter remained sitting firmly erect, her eyes following the form of her husband.
"We will drop the subject now and forever," said the former, stopping, at length, in front of his wife.
Mrs. Dexter did not reply.
"I may have been too hasty."
"May have been!" There was contempt on the lip, and indignation in the voice of Mrs. Dexter.
"Yes, may. We are certain of nothing in this world," said her husband, coldly; "and now, as I said, we will drop the subject."
"It is easier to say than to unsay, Mr. Dexter. The sentiment is very trite, but it involves a world of meaning sometimes, and"--she paused, then added, with marked emphasis--"does now!"
Mr. Dexter made no response, and there the matter ended for the time; each of the ill-assorted partners farther from happiness than they had yet been since the day of their unfortunate union.
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