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The Mayor's Wife

13. A Discovery
Mrs. Packard came in very soon after this. She was accompanied by two friends
and I could hear them talking and laughing in her room upstairs all the afternoon.
It gave me leisure, but leisure was not what I stood in need of, just now. I desired
much more an opportunity to pursue my inquiries, for I knew why she had
brought these friends home with her and lent herself to a merriment that was not
natural to her. She wished to forestall thought; to keep down dread; to fill the
house so full of cheer that no whisper should reach her from that spirit-world she
had come to fear. She had seen--or believed that she had seen--a specter, and
she had certainly heard a laugh that had come from no explicable human source.
The brightness of the sunshiny day aided her unconsciously in this endeavor. But
I foresaw the moment when this brightness would disappear and her friends say
good-by. Then the shadows must fall again more heavily than ever, because of
their transient lifting. I almost wished she had indeed gone with her husband, and
found myself wondering why he had not asked her to do so when he found what
it was that depressed her. Perhaps he had, and it was she who had held back.
She may have made up her mind to conquer this weakness, and to conquer it
where it had originated and necessarily held the strongest sway. At all events, he
was gone and she was here, and I had done nothing as yet to relieve that
insidious dread with which she must anticipate a night in this house without his
presence.
I wondered if it would be any relief to her to have Mr. Steele remain upon the
premises. I had heard him come in about three o'clock and go into the study, and
when the time came for her friends to take their leave, and their voices in merry
chatter came up to my ear from the open boudoir door, I stole down to ask her if I
could suggest it to him. But I was too late. Just as I reached the head of the stairs
on the second floor he came out of the study below and passed, hat in hand,
toward the front door.
"What a handsome man!" came in an audible whisper from one of the ladies,
who now stood in the lower hall.
"Who is he?" asked the other.
I thought he held the door open one minute longer than was necessary to catch
her reply. It was a very cold and unenthusiastic one.
"That is Mr. Packard's secretary," said she. "He will join the mayor just as soon
as he has finished certain preparations intrusted to him."
"Oh !" was their quiet rejoinder, but a note of disappointment rang in both voices
as the door shut behind him.
 
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