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Chapter 14

AN hour later: Scene, the public parlor.

"Mrs. Dexter."

The lady rose, a pleasant smile animating her face, and returned the gentleman's courteous greeting.

"Mr. Hendrickson." Yes, that was the name on her lips.

"You arrived to-day," he said, and he took a place at the other end of the tete-a-tete.

"Yes."

"From Saratoga, I believe?"

"Yes. How long have you been at Newport?"

"I arrived only this morning. You are looking very well, Mrs. Dexter."

"Am I?"

"Yes. Time lays his hands upon you lightly!"

The shadow of another's presence came between them.

"Mr. Dexter, my husband; Mr. Hendrickson, from B--," said Mrs. Dexter, with the most perfect ease of manner, presenting the two gentlemen. They had met before, as the reader knows, and had good reason for remembering each other. They touched hands, Dexter frowning, and Hendrickson slightly embarrassed. Mrs. Dexter entirely herself, smiling, talkative, and with an exterior as unruffled as a mountain lake.

"How long will you remain?" she asked, speaking to Mr. Hendrickson.

"Several days."

"Ah! I am pleased to hear you say so. I left some very pleasant friends at Saratoga, but yours is the only familiar face I have yet seen here."

"I saw Mr. and Mrs. Florence just now," said Mr. Dexter.

"Did you?"

"Yes. There they are, at the lower end of the parlor. Do you see them?"

Mrs. Dexter turned her eyes in the direction indicated by her husband, and replied in an indifferent manner:

"Oh, yes."

"Mrs. Florence is looking at you now. Won't you go over and see her?"

"After a while," replied Mrs. Dexter. Then turning to Mr. Hendrickson, she said:

"These summer resorts are the dullest places imaginable without congenial friends."

"So I should think. But you can scarcely know the absence of these. I heard of you at Saratoga, as forming the centre of one of the most agreeable and intelligent circles there."

"Ah!" Mrs. Dexter was betrayed into something like surprise.

"Yes. I saw Miss Arden in New York, as I came through. She had been to Saratoga."

"Miss Arden? I don't remember her," said Mrs. Dexter.

"She resides in B--."

"Miss Arden? Miss Arden?" Mrs. Dexter seemed curious. "What is her appearance?"

"Tall, with a very graceful figure. Complexion dark enough to make her pass for a brunette. Large black eyes and raven hair."

"In company with her mother?" said Mrs. Dexter.

"Yes."

"I remember her now. She was quite the belle at Saratoga. But I was not so fortunate as to make her acquaintance. She sings wonderfully. Few professional artists are so gifted."

"You have used the right word," said Mr. Hendrickson. "Her musical powers are wonderful. I wish you knew her, she is a charming girl."

"You must help me to that knowledge on our return to B--."

"Nothing would give me more pleasure. I am sure you will like each other," said Hendrickson, warmly.

From that point in the conversation Mrs. Dexter began to lose her self-possession, and free, outspoken manner. The subject was changed, but the airiness of tone and lightness of speech was gone. Just in time, Mrs. Florence came across the room, joined the circle, and saving her from a betrayal of feelings that she would not, on any account, have manifested.

Mrs. Florence was a woman of taste. She had been in New York a few days previously, whither she had gone to hear a celebrated European singer, whose fame had preceded her. Her allusion to this fact led to an introduction of the subject of music. Hendickson made some remarks that arrested her attention, when quite an animated conversation sprung up between them. Mrs. Dexter did not join in it; but sat a closely observant listener. The young man's criticisms on the art of music surprised her. They were so new, so analytical, and so comprehensive. He had evidently studied the subject, not as an artist, but as a philosopher--but with so clear a comprehension of the art, that from the mere science, he was able to lead the mind upward into the fullest appreciation of the grander ideal.

Now and then as he talked, Mr. Dexter passed in a brief sentence; but to the keen, intelligent perception of his wife, what mere sounding words were his empty common-places! The contrast between him and Hendrickson was painful. It was in vain that she tried not to make this contrast. It thrust itself upon her, in spite of all resistance.

Mr. Florence had crossed the room with his wife, and joined the little circle. He did not take part in the conversation, and now said, rising as he spoke.

"Come, Dexter; let's you and I have a game of billiards."

He laid his band familiarly on the arm of Mr. Dexter, and that individual could not refuse to accept the invitation. They left the room together. This withdrawal of Mr. Dexter put both his wife and Mr. Hendrickson more at their ease. Both felt his absence as a relief. For a time the conversation was chiefly conducted by the latter and Mrs. Florence, only an occasional remark falling from the lips of Mrs. Dexter, and that almost extorted by question or reference. But gradually she was drawn in, and led on, until she was the talker and they the listeners.

When interested in conversation, a fine enthusiasm always gave to the manners of Mrs. Dexter a charming grace, and to her beautiful countenance a higher beauty. She was almost fascinating. Never had Hendrickson felt her power as he felt it now, while looking into her animated face, and listening to sentiment, description, criticism or anecdote, flowing from her lips in eloquent language, and evincing a degree of taste, discrimination, refinement and observation he could scarcely have imagined in one of her age.

He was leaning towards her, and listening with rapt interest, his countenance and eyes full of admiration, when a quick, impatient ahem caused him to look up. As he did so, he encountered the severe face and piercing eyes of Mr. Dexter. The sudden change in the expression of his countenance warned Mrs. Dexter of the presence of her husband, who had approached quietly, and was standing a pace or two behind his wife. But not the slightest consciousness of this presence did her manner exhibit. She kept on talking as before, and talking to Mr. Hendrickson.

"Will you go with me now, Mrs. Dexter?" said her husband, coming forward, and making a motion as if about to offer his arm.

"Not yet if you please, Mr. Dexter," was smilingly answered. "I am too much interested in this good company. Come, sit down here," and she made room for him on the sofa.

But he stood still.

"Then amuse yourself a little longer," said his wife, in a gay voice. "I will be ready to go with you after a while."

Mr. Dexter moved away, disappointed, and commenced pacing the floor of the long parlor. At every turn his keen eyes took in the aspect of the little group, and particularly the meaning of his wife's face, as it turned to Mr. Hendrickson, either in the play of expression or warm with the listener's interest. The sight half maddened him. Three times, in the next half hour, he said to his wife, as he paused in his restless promenade before her--

"Come, Jessie."

But she only threw him a smiling negative, and became still more interesting to her friends. At last, and of her own will, she arose, and bowing, with a face all smiles and eyes dancing in light, to Mr. Hendrickson and Mrs. Florence, she stepped forward, and placing her hand on the arm of her husband, went like a sunbeam from the room.


T.S. Arthur

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