“The way is plain, then. From what I have said, you are fully warranted in talking to her without reserve. Quote me if you please. Say that I made bold to assert that you did not possess the key that would unlock the sacred places of her heart; and you may add further, that I say the key is held by another. This will bring the right issue. If she truly loves you, there will be no mistaking her response. If she accepts the release you offer, happy will you be in making the most fortunate escape of your life.”
“I will do it!” exclaimed Dexter, rising, “and this very night!”
“If done at all, it were well done quickly,” said Mrs. Denison, rising also. “And now, my young friend, let what will be the result, think of me as one who, under the pressure of a high sense of responsibility, has simply discharged a painful duty. I have no personal or private ends to gain; all I desire is to save two hearts from making shipwreck. If successful, I shall have my reward.”
“One question, Mrs. Denison,” said Dexter, as they were about separating. “Its answer may give me light, and the strength to go forward. I have marked your words and manner very closely; and this is my conclusion: You not only believe that I do not possess the love of Jessie Loring, but your thought points to another man whom you believe does rule in her affections. Am I wrong?”
The suddenness of the question confused Mrs. Denison. Her eyes sunk under his gaze, and for some moments her self possession was lost. But, rallying herself, she answered:
“Not wholly wrong.”
Dexter’s countenance grew dark.
“His name!—give me his name!”
He spoke with agitation.
“That is going a step too far,” said Mrs. Denison, with firmness.
“Is it Hendrickson?”
Dexter looked keenly into the lady’s face.
“A step too far, sir,” she repeated. “I cannot answer your inquiry.”
“You must answer it, madam!” He was imperative. “I demand the yes or no. Is it or is it not Paul Hendrickson?”
“Your calmer reason, sir, will tell you to-morrow that I was right in refusing to give any man’s name in this connection,” replied Mrs. Denison. “I am pained to see you so much disturbed. My hope was, that you would go to Miss Loring in the grave dignity of manhood—But, while in this spirit of angry excitement, I pray you keep far from her.”
“Hendrickson is the man!” said Dexter, his brows still contracting heavily. “But if he still hopes to rival me in Jessie’s love, he will find himself vastly in error. No, no, madam! If it is for him you are interested, you had better give it up. I passed him in the race long ago!”
A feeling of disgust arose in the mind of Mrs. Denison, mingled with a stronger feeling of contempt. But she answered without a visible sign of either.
“I am sorry that you have let the form of any person come in to give right thought and honorable purpose a distorting bias. I did hope that you would see Miss Loring under the influence of a better state. And I pray you still to be calm, rational, generous, manly. Go to her in a noble, unselfish spirit. If you love her truly you desire her happiness; and to make her happy, would even release her pledged hand, were such a sacrifice needed.”