Slowly he descended, his ear bent to the windows, listening—slowly, still listening, he moved onwards again; his whole being convulsed in a stronger conflict of passion than he had ever known—reason at fault and perception blindfold.
A full half hour had elapsed, when Dexter reappeared. He was in a calmer frame of mind. Reason was less at fault, and perception clearer. His purpose was to go in now, confront Jessie and Mr. Hendrickson, and act from that point onward as the nature of the case might suggest. He glanced at the parlor windows. There was no light there now. The visitor had departed. He felt relieved, yet disappointed.
“Is Miss Loring at home?” he asked of the servant.
“Yes, sir.” And he entered. The lights, which were burning low in the parlors, were raised, and Dexter sat down and awaited the appearance of Jessie.
How should he meet her? With the warmth of a lover, or the distance of a mere acquaintance? Would it be wise to speak of his interview with Mrs. Denison, or let that subject pass untouched by even the remotest allusion? Mr. Dexter was still in debate, when he heard some one descending the stairs. Steps were in the passage near the door. He arose, and stood expectant.
“Miss Loring says, will you please excuse her this evening?”
“Excuse her!” Mr. Dexter could not veil his surprise. “Why does she wish to be excused, Mary?”
“I don’t know sir. She didn’t say.”
“Is she sick?”
“I don’t think she is very well. Something isn’t right with her, poor child!”
“What isn’t right with her?”
“I don’t know, sir. But she was crying when I went into her room.”
“Yes, sir; and she cries a great deal, all alone there by herself, sir,” added Mary, who had her own reasons for believing that Dexter was not really the heart-choice of Jessie—and with the tact of her sex, took it upon herself to throw a little cold water over his ardor. It may be that she hoped to give it a thorough chill.
“What does she cry about, Mary?”
“Dear knows, sir! I often wonder to see it, and she so soon to be married. It doesn’t look just natural. There’s something wrong.”
“Wrong? How wrong, Mary?”
“That’s just what I asked myself over and over again,” replied the girl.
“She had a visitor here to-night,” said Dexter, after a moment or two. He tried to speak indifferently; but the quick perception of Mary detected the covert interest in his tones.
“Yes.” A single cold (sic) monosylable was her reply.
“Who was he?”
“’Deed I don’t know, sir.”
“Was he a stranger?”
“I didn’t see him, sir,” answered Mary.
“You let him in?”
“No, sir. The cook went to the door.”
Dexter bit his lips with disappointment.
“Will you say to Miss Loring that I wish to see her particularly to-night.”