To such an atmosphere of potential social ostracism Tom returned after the final scholastic triumph in Boston; and for the first few days he escaped asphyxiation chiefly because the affairs of Gordon and Gordon and the Chiawassee Consolidated gave him no time to test its quality.
But after the first week he began to breathe it unmistakably. One evening he called on the Farnsworths; the ladies were not at home to him. The next night he saddled Saladin and rode over to Fairmont; the Misses Harrison were also unable to see him, and the butler conveyed a deftly-worded intimation pointing to future invisibilities on the part of his mistresses. The evening being still young, Tom tried Rockwood and the Dell, suspicion settling into conviction when the trim maidservant at the Stanley villa went near to shutting the door in his face. At the Dell he fared a little better. The Young-Dicksons were going out for an after-dinner call on one of the neighbors, and Tom met them at the gate as he was dismounting. There were regrets apparently hearty; but in recasting the incident later, Tom remembered that it was the husband who did the talking, and that Mrs. Young-Dickson stood in the shadow of the gate tree, frigidly silent and with her face averted.
“Once more, old boy, and then we’ll quit,” he said to Saladin at the remounting, and the final rein-drawing was at the stone-pillared gates of Rook Hill. Again the ladies were not at home, but Mr. Vancourt Henniker came out and smoked a cigar with his customer on the piazza. The talk was pointedly of business, and the banker was urbanely gracious—and mildly inquisitive. Would there be a consolidation of the allied iron industries of Gordonia when the Farleys should return? Mr. Henniker thought it would be undeniably profitable to all concerned, and offered his services as financiering promoter and intermediary. Would Mr. Gordon come and talk it over with him—at the bank?
Tom found his father smoking a bedtime pipe on the picturesque veranda at Woodlawn when he reached home. Whistling for William Henry Harrison to come and take his horse, he drew up one of the porch chairs and filled and lighted his own pipe. For a time there was such silence as stands for communion between men of one blood, and it was the father who first broke it.
“Been out callin’, son?” he asked, marking the Tuxedo and the white expanse of shirt front.
“No, I reckon not,” was the reply, punctuated by a short laugh. “The Avenue seems to be depopulated.”
“So? I hadn’t heard of anybody goin’ away,” said Caleb the literal.
“Nor I,” said Tom curtly; and the conversation paused until the iron-master had deliberately refilled and lighted his corn-cob.
“It’s a-plenty onprofitable, Buddy, don’t you reckon?” he ventured, referring to the social diversion.
There was a picric quality in Tom’s tone when he replied: “The calling act?—I have certainly found it so to-night.” Then, more humanely: “But as a means of relaxation it beats sitting here in the dark and stewing over to-morrow’s furnace run—which is what you’ve been doing.”