Thomas Jefferson knew music as the barbarian knows it, which is to say that it lighted strange fires in him; stirred and thrilled him in certain heart or soul labyrinths locked against all other influences. As Ardea’s fingers sought the changing chords he felt vaguely that she was speaking to him, now scorning, now rebuking, now pleading, but always in a tongue that he only half comprehended. He stole a glance at his watch, impatient to come to hand-grips with her and have it over. The suspense could not last much longer. It was past ten; the Major was dozing peacefully in his great arm-chair, and Miss Euphrasia yawned decorously behind her hand.
Ardea lingered lovingly on the closing harmonies of the nocturne, and when the final chord was struck her hands lingered on the keys until the sweet voices of the strings had sung themselves afar into the higher sound heaven. Then she turned quickly and surprised her anesthetized audience.
“You poor things!” she laughed. “In another five minutes the last one of you would have succumbed. Why didn’t somebody stop me?”
The iron-master said something about the heavy work of the day, and helped his wife to her feet. The Major came awake with a start and bestirred himself hospitably, and Miss Euphrasia rose to speed the parting guests—or rather the two of them who had been invited. In the drift down the wide hall Ardea fell behind with Tom, whom Cousin Euphrasia continued to ignore.
“I came to tell you,” he said in a low tone, snatching his opportunity. “I can’t sleep until I have fought it out with you.”
“You don’t deserve a hearing, even from your best friend,” was her discouraging reply; but when they were at the door she gave him a formal reprieve. “I shall walk for a few minutes on the portico to rest my nerves,” she said. “If you want to come back—”
He thanked her gravely, and went obediently when his mother called to him from the steps. But on the Woodlawn veranda he excused himself to smoke a cigar in the open; and when the door closed behind the two in-going, he swiftly recrossed the lawns to pay the penalty.
The front door of the manor-house was shut and the broad, pillared portico was untenanted. He sat down in one of the rustic chairs and searched absently in his pockets for a cigar. Before he could find it the door opened and closed and Ardea stood before him. She had thrown a wrap over her shoulders, and the light from the music-room windows illuminated her. There was cool scorn in the slate-blue eyes, but in Tom’s thought she had never appeared more unutterably beautiful and desirable—and unattainable.
“I have come,” she said, in a tone that cut him to the heart for its very indifference. “What have you to say for yourself?”
He rose quickly and offered her the chair; and when she would not take it, he put his back to the wall and stood with her.
“I’m afraid I haven’t left myself much to say,” he began penitently. “I was born foolish, and it seems that I haven’t outgrown it. But, really, if you could know—”