In the silent hall, hat in hand, his whole body tense with expectancy, stood Harry. He had killed time by walking up and down the long strip of carpet between the front door and the staircase, measuring his nervous steps to the length of the pattern, his mind distracted by his fears for the outcome—his heart thumping away at his throat, a dull fright gripping him when he thought of losing her altogether.
St. George’s quick step, followed by his firm clutch of the inside knob, awoke him to consciousness. He sprang forward to catch his first word.
“Can I go in?” he stammered.
St. George grabbed him by the shoulder, wheeled him around, and faced him.
“Yes, you reprobate, and when you get in go down on your knees and beg her pardon, and if I ever catch you causing her another heartache I’ll break your damned neck!—do you hear?”
With the shutting of the swinging gate the wily old diplomat regained his normal good-humored poise, his face beaming, his whole body tingling at his success. He knew what was going on behind the closed curtains, and just how contrite and humble the boy would be, and how Kate would scold and draw herself up—proud duchess that she was—and how Harry would swear by the nine gods, and an extra one if need be—and then there would come a long, long silence, broken by meaningless, half-spoken words—and then another silence—so deep and absorbing that a full choir of angels might have started an anthem above their heads and neither of them would have heard a word or note.
And so he kept on his way, picking his steps between the moist places in the path to avoid soiling his freshly varnished boots; tightening the lower button of his snug-fitting plum-colored coat as a bracing to his waist-line; throwing open the collar of his overcoat the wider to give his shoulders the more room—very happy—very well satisfied with himself, with the world, and with everybody who lived in it.
Moorlands was ablaze!
From the great entrance gate flanked by moss-stained brick posts capped with stone balls, along the avenue of oaks to the wide portico leading to the great hall and spacious rooms, there flared one continuous burst of light. On either side of the oak-bordered driveway, between the tree-trunks, crackled torches of pine knots, the glow of their curling flames bringing into high relief the black faces of innumerable field-hands from the Rutter and neighboring plantations, lined up on either side of the gravel road—teeth and eyeballs flashing white against the blackness of the night. Under the porches hung festoons of lanterns of every conceivable form and color, while inside the wide baronial hall, and in the great drawing-room with the apartments beyond, the light of countless candles, clustered together in silver candelabras, shed a soft glow over the groups of waiting guests.