Trembling and crying, and too ignorant to realise the absurdity of this threat, Lucy swore to be silent; and then, to her intense relief, Mr. Vermont changed his mind as to staying the night, and announced his decision of returning to London.
On the night of that fateful trip, when Leroy returned to his chambers, he found Lady Constance’s letter. Already tired with the events of the day, and the struggle in the water, this proved an overwhelming blow. The thought that he had spent the day in idle dalliance, when he might have been with the woman he truly loved—might have basked in the warmth of her presence, even though she would never be his, drove him almost to madness.
Jasper Vermont, who had followed him back to town by the first train obtainable, called in at Jermyn Court, and found him pacing up and down the room, more troubled and unhappy than he had ever been in the whole course of his pampered, shielded life. Vermont listened and sympathised, and stabbed afresh, with his artful accounts of Lady Constance’s anger at the fancied slight. He was altogether delighted at the way in which things had turned out, though he did not know how Fortune had aided him still more at Waterloo Station.
On the following morning Leroy received a cypher note from Lady Merivale, saying that she had arrived home safely, and unnoticed; and, with a sigh of relief, he turned his attention to his own affairs. To Jasper’s supreme annoyance, he insisted on going through a pile of papers which Vermont had only meant him to sign; and to that gentleman’s chagrin he actually dared to interfere in the matter of rents and leases; which proceeding, naturally, did not tend to make Jasper feel the more kindly disposed to the world in general, and Adrien Leroy in particular.
When he had taken his departure, Adrien ordered the motor, and drove down to Barminster with the intention of offering an apology for his seeming discourtesy. He found all in confusion and excitement in view of the coming ball; and, whether by accident or design, he found it impossible to get a single word with Constance alone.
The two ladies received the explanation of his absence—a river-trip with a friend—with chilling indifference. To Miss Penelope nothing was of any importance except the decorations of the banqueting hall, while Lady Constance had the evidence of her own eyesight. He was compelled, therefore, to return to London the next day in the same unhappy state of mind. To distract his thoughts, he threw himself heart and soul into the preparations for the festive event; and even Jasper Vermont himself could not have worked harder.
The announcement of the fancy dress ball to be held at Barminster had made something like a sensation; for not only was the magnificence of the Castle well known, but the fact that it was so seldom used for festivities of any kind lent importance to the occasion, and had roused society, both in town and country, to the height of expectancy.