There was enough of contempt in the tones of Mr. Dexter to wound the pride and fire the self-love of Mrs. Loring; and enough of angry excitement about him, to give her a new impression of his character.
“You cannot see Jessie to-night,” she answered firmly. “She has flown back to me in wild affright—the mere wreck of what she was, poor child! when I gave her into your keeping—and the inviolable sanctity of my house is around her. I much fear, Leon Dexter, that you have proved recreant to your trust—that you have not loved, protected, and cherished that delicate flower. The sweetness of her life is gone?”
The woman of the world had (sic) actally warmed into sentiment.
“It is I who have suffered wrong,” said Mr. Dexter. “Sit down, Mrs. Loring, and hear me. If I cannot see my wife—if she willfully persists in the step she has taken—then will I clear my skirts. You, at least, if not the world, must know the truth. Sit down, madam, and listen.”
They moved back from the door, and crossing the parlor, sat down together on a sofa.
“What is wrong?” asked Mrs. Loring, the manner and words of Mr. Dexter filling her mind with vague fear.
“Much,” was answered.
“Your niece, I have reason to believe, is not true to me,” said Dexter.
“Sir!” Astonishment and indignation blended in the tone of Mrs. Loring’s voice.
“I happened to come upon her unawares to-day, taking her in the very act of encouraging the attentions of a man whose presence and detected intimacy with her, at Newport, were the causes of her illness there.”
“It is false!”
Both Dexter and Mrs. Loring started to their feet.
There stood Jessie, just within the door at the lower end of the parlor, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes bright with indignation.
“It is false, sir!” she repeated, in strong, clear tones.
Mr. Dexter, after the first moment of bewildering surprise, advanced towards his wife.
“It is false—false as the evil spirit who suggested a thought of your wife’s dishonor!”
Saying this, Mrs. Dexter turned and glided away. Her husband made a motion to follow, but Mrs. Loring laid her hand upon his arm.
“Light breaks into my mind,” she said. “It was because you charged her with dishonorable intent that she fled from you? A man should be well fortified with proofs before he ventures so far. I will believe nothing against her, except on the clearest evidence. Can you adduce it?”
There was a homely force in this mode of presenting the subject that had the effect to open the eyes of Dexter a little to the unpleasant aspect of his position. What proof had he of his wife’s infidelity—and yet he had gone so far as to say that he had reason to believe her not true to him, and that she had been detected in questionable intimacy with some one at Newport!