Night had risen about him in bland emptiness. There were no stars overhead, but a patient, wearied, ancient moon pushed through the clouds. The trees and the river conferred with one another doubtfully.
He paced up and down the beach....
Musgrave laughed in the darkness. His heart was racing, racing in him, and his thoughts were blown foam. He raised his hat and bowed fantastically in the darkness, because the colonel loved his gesture.
“Signor Lucifer, I present my compliments. You have discoursed with me very plausibly. I honor your cunning, signor, but if you are indeed a gentleman, as I have always heard, you will now withdraw and permit me to regard the matter from a standpoint other than my own. For the others are weak, signor; as you have doubtless discovered, good women and bad men are the weakest of their sex. I am the strongest among them, for all that I am no Hercules; and the outcome of this matter must rest with me.”
So he sat presently upon the log, where Charteris had sat when Musgrave came to this beach at sunset. Very long ago that seemed now. For now the colonel was tired—physically outworn, it seemed to him, as if after prolonged exertion—and now the moon looked down upon him, passionless, cold, inexorable, and seemed to await the colonel’s decision.
And it was woefully hard to come to any decision. For, as you know by this, it was the colonel’s besetting infirmity to shrink from making changes; instinctively he balked—under shelter of whatever grandiloquent excuse—against commission of any action which would alter his relations with accustomed circumstances or persons. To guide events was never his forte, as he forlornly knew; and here he was condemned perforce to play that uncongenial role, with slender chances of reward.
Yet always Anne’s face floated in the darkness. Always Anne’s voice whispered through the lisping of the beeches, through the murmur of the water....
He sat thus for a long while.
Musgrave was, not unnaturally, late for supper. It is not to be supposed that at this meal the colonel faltered in his duties as a host, for, to the contrary, he narrated several anecdotes in his neatest style. It was with him a point of honor always to be in company the social triumph of his generation. He observed with idle interest that Charteris and Patricia avoided each other in a rather marked manner. Both seemed a trifle more serious than they were wont to be.
After supper, Tom Gelwix brought forth a mandolin, and most of the house-party sang songs, sentimental and otherwise, upon the front porch of Matocton. Anne had disappeared somewhere. Musgrave subsequently discovered her in one of the drawing-rooms, puzzling over a number of papers which her maid had evidently just brought to her.
Mrs. Charteris looked up with a puckered brow. “Rudolph,” said she, “haven’t you an account at the Occidental Bank?”