“That is a bold assertion, Paul,” said Mrs. Denison, “and one that it pains me to hear you make.”
“It is true; but why does it give you pain?” he asked.
“Because it intimates the existence of an understanding between you and Mrs. Dexter, and looks to the confirmation of rumors that I have always considered as without a shadow of foundation.”
“My name has never been mentioned in connection with hers.”
“It is true.”
“I never heard it.”
“Nor I but once.”
“What was said?”
“That you were the individual against whom Mr. Dexter’s jealousy was excited, and that your clandestine meetings with his wife led to the separation.”
“I had believed,” said Hendrickson, after a pause, and in a voice that showed a depression of feeling, “that busy rumor had never joined our names together. That it has done so, I deeply regret. No voluntary action of mine led to this result; and it was my opinion that Dexter had carefully avoided any mention of my name, even to his most intimate friends.”
“I only heard the story once, and then gave it my emphatic denial,” said Mrs. Denison.
“And yet it was true, I believe, though in a qualified sense. We did meet, not clandestinely, however, nor with design.”
“But without a thought, much less a purpose of dishonor,” said Mrs. Denison, almost severely.
“Without even a thought of dishonor,” replied Hendrickson. “Both were incapable of that. She arrived at Newport when I was there. We met, suddenly and unexpectedly, face to face, and when off our guard. I read her heart, and she read mine, in lightning glimpses. The pages were shut instantly, and not opened again. We met once or twice after that, but as mere acquaintances, and I left on the day after she came, because I saw that the discipline was too severe for her, and that I was not only in an equivocal, but dangerous, if not dishonorable position. Dexter had his eyes on me all the while, and if I crossed his path suddenly he looked as if he would have destroyed me with a glance. The fearful illness, which came so near extinguishing the life of Mrs. Dexter, was, I have never doubted, in consequence of that meeting and circumstances springing directly therefrom. A friend of mine had a room adjoining theirs at Newport, and he once said to me, without imagining my interest in the case, that on the day before Mrs. Dexter’s illness was known, he had heard her voice pitched to a higher key than usual, and had caught a few words that too clearly indicated a feeling of outrage for some perpetrated wrong. There was stern defiance also, he said, in her tones. He was pained at the circumstance, for he had met Mrs. Dexter frequently, he said, at Newport, and was charmed with her fine intelligence and womanly attractions.