“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.