When there was nothing more to be seen she went back to the hotel and called up the Young-Dicksons, whose cottage commanded a short-range view of the Gordon plant. It was Mrs. Young-Dickson who answered the telephone. Yes; the fire was one of the foundry buildings—the office, she believed. Mr. Young-Dickson had gone over, and she would have him call up when he should return, if Miss Dabney wished.
Ardea said it did not matter, and having exhausted this small vein of distraction she returned to the music-room and the Bach fugue, as one, who has had a fall, rises and tries to go on as before, ignoring the shock and the bruisings. But the shock had been too severe. Tom Gordon had proved himself a wretch, beyond the power of speech to portray, and—she loved him! Not all the majestic harmonies of the inspired Kapellmeister could drown that terrible discord.
The next day it was worse. There was a goodly number of South Tredegar people summering at the Inn, and hence no lack of companionship. But the social distractions were powerless in the field where Bach and the piano had failed, and after luncheon Ardea shut herself in her room, desperately determined to try what solitude would do.
That failed, too, more pathetically than the other expedients. It was to no purpose that she went bravely into the torture chamber of opprobrium and did penance for the sudden lapse into the elemental. It was the passion of the base-born, she cried bitterly. He was unworthy, unworthy! Why had he come? Why had she not refused to see him—to speak to him?
Such agonizing questions flung themselves madly on the spear points of fact and were slain. He had come; she had spoken. Never would she forget the look in his eyes when he had said, “Good night, and—good-by;” nor could she pass over the half-threat in the words that had gone before the leave-taking. To what deeper depth despicable could he plunge, having already sounded the deepest of them all—that of unfaith, of infidelity alike to the woman he had wronged and to the woman he professed to love?
At dinner-time she sent word to her grandfather and her cousin that she was not feeling well, which was a mild paraphrasing of the truth, and had a piece of toast and a cup of tea sent to her room. The bare thought of going down to the great dining-room and sitting through the hour-long dinner was insupportable. She made sure every eye would see the shame in her face.
With the toast and tea the servant brought the evening paper, sent up by a doting Major Caspar, thoughtful always for her comfort. A marked item in the social gossip transfixed her as if it had been an arrow. The Farleys had sailed from Southampton, and the house renovators were already busy at Warwick Lodge.
After that the toast proved too dry to be eaten and the tea took on the taste of bitter herbs. Vincent Farley was returning, coming to claim the fulfilment of her promise. She had never loved him; she knew it as she had not known it before; and that was dreadful enough. But now there were a thousand added pangs to go with the conviction. For in the interval love had been found—found and lost in the same moment—and the solid earth was still reeling at the shock.