I see them now as they filed into court—yellow in the gills, shaking between present fear and the ebb of excess. But I see Sir Felix also, a trifle red in the face, gripping the arms of his chair, bending forward and confronting them.
For a moment I imagined he meant to address them as a crowd. But his fine sense of business prevailed, and he signed to the Clerk to read the first charge.
He dealt with the charges, one by one, and in detail. Alone he inflicted the fines, while we sat and listened with eyes glued upon the baize table. And the fines were heavy—too heavy. It was not for us to interfere.
At the end I expected some few words of general rebuke. I believe the culprits themselves would have been glad of a tongue-lashing. But he uttered none. To the end he dealt out justice, none aiding him; and when the business was over, pushed back his chair.
We filed out after him. I believe that he has paid all the fines out of his own pocket.
And Troy laughs. But I believe it is safe to say that, while Sir Felix lives, Kirris-vean will not hold a second Regatta.
Outside the railway station Colonel Baigent handed his carpet-bag to the conductor of the hotel omnibus, and stood for a moment peering about in the dusk, as if to take his bearings.
‘For The Dragon, sir?’ asked the conductor.
‘The Dragon?’ Yes, certainly,’ echoed Colonel Baigent, aroused by the name from the beginnings of a brown study. ’So The Dragon is still standing, eh?’
‘’Twas standing all right when I left it, twenty minutes ago,’ the man answered flippantly; for to-night was Christmas Eve, and English hotel servants do not welcome guests who stay over Christmas.
But the colonel remarked nothing amiss in his tone. In fact, he was not listening. He stared out into the mirk beyond the flare of gas in the entrance-way, slowly bringing his mind to bear on the city at his feet, with its maze of dotted lights. The afternoon had been cold and gusty, with now and then a squall of hail from the north-west. The mass of the station buildings behind him blotted out whatever of daylight yet lingered. Eastward a sullen retreating cloud backed the luminous haze thrown up from hundreds of street-lamps and shop-windows—a haze that faintly silhouetted the clustered roofs. The roofs were wet. The roadway, narrowing as it descended the hill, shone with recent rain.
‘You may carry down my bag,’ said the colonel. ’I will walk. Somewhere to the right here should be a road leading to Westgate, eh?’
‘Tisn’t the shortest way,’ the conductor objected.
‘I have plenty of time,’ said the colonel mildly.
Indeed, a milder-looking man for a hero—he had earned and won his V.C.—or a gentler of address, could scarcely be conceived; or an older-fashioned. His voice, to be sure, had a latent tone of command. But the patient face, with its drooping moustache and long gray side-whiskers; the short yet attenuated figure, in a tweed suit of no particular cut; the round felt hat, cheap tie, and elastic-sided boots—all these failed very signally to impress the conductor, who flung the carpet-bag inside the omnibus with small ceremony, and banged the door.