“If you’re so sure of everything,” said I foolishly, relaxing grip on my self-control, “why did you hound him out of the place for a liar?”
He leaped to his feet and spread himself into a fighting attitude, for all the world like a half-dead bantam cock springing into a new lease of combative life.
“Do you think I’d let a dunghill beast like that crow over me? Do you think I’d let him imagine for a minute that anything he said could influence me in my public duty? By God, sir, what kind of a worm do you think I am?”
His sudden fury disconcerted me. All this time I had been wondering what kind of catastrophe was going to happen during the next few hours. I am afraid I haven’t made clear to you the ghastly racket in my brain. There was the town all beflagged, everyone making holiday, all the pomp and circumstance at our disposal awaiting the signal to be displayed. There was the blind conquering hero almost on his way to local apotheosis. And here were Sir Anthony and I with the revelation of the man Gedge. It was a fantastic, baffling situation. I had been haunted by the dread of discussing it. So in reply to his outburst I simply said:
“What are you going to do?”
He drew himself up, with his obstinate chin in the air, and looked at me straight.
“If God gives me strength, I am going to do what lies before me.”
At this moment Lady Fenimore came in.
“Mr. Winterbotham would like to speak to you a minute, Anthony. It’s something about the school children.”
“All right, my dear. I’ll go to him at once,” said Sir Anthony. “You’ll stay and lunch with us, Duncan?”
I declined on the plea that I should have to nurse myself for a strenuous day. Sir Anthony might play the Roman father, but it was beyond my power to play the Roman father’s guest.
How he passed through the ordeal I don’t know. If ever a man stood captain of his soul, it was Anthony Fenimore that day. And his soul was steel-armoured. Perhaps, if proof had come to him from an untainted source, it might have modified his attitude. I cannot tell. Without doubt the knavery of Gedge set aflame his indignation—or rather the fierce pride of the great old Tory gentleman. He would have walked through hell-fire sooner than yielded an inch to Gedge. So much would scornful defiance have done. But behind all this—and I am as certain of it as I am certain that one day I shall die—burned even fiercer, steadier, and clearer the unquenchable fire of patriotic duty. He was dealing not with a man who had sinned terribly towards him, but with a man who had offered his life over and over again to his country, a man who had given to his country the sight of his eyes, a man on whose breast the King himself had pinned the supreme badge of honour in his gift. He was dealing, not with a private individual, but with a national hero.