The colonel turned quickly: “Resent it here! under his own roof, and the man his guest? That is one thing, my dear, a Rutter never violates, no matter what the provocation. I have made a special exception in Mr. Willits’s favor to-night and Harry knows it. It was at your dear father’s request that I invited the young fellow. And then again, I hear the most delightful things about his own father, who though a plain man is of great service to his county—one of Mr. Clay’s warmest adherents. All this, you see, makes it all the more incumbent that both my son and myself should treat him with the utmost consideration, and, as I have said, Harry understands this perfectly. You don’t know my boy; I would disown him, Kate, if he laid a hand on Mr. Willits—and so should you.”
When Dr. Teackle shut the door of the ballroom upon himself and Mark Gilbert the two did not tarry long in the colonel’s den, which was still occupied by half a dozen of the older men, who were being beguiled by a relay of hot terrapin that Alec had just served. On the contrary, they continued on past the serving tables, past old Cobden Dorsey, who was steeped to the eyes in Santa Cruz rum punch; past John Purviance, and Gatchell and Murdoch, smacking their lips over the colonel’s Madeira, dived through a door leading first to a dark passage, mounted to a short flight of steps leading to another dark passage, and so on through a second door until they reached a small room level with the ground. This was the colonel’s business office, where he conducted the affairs of the estate—a room remote from the great house and never entered except on the colonel’s special invitation and only then when business of importance necessitated its use.
That business of the very highest importance—not in any way connected with the colonel, though of the very gravest moment—was being enacted here to-night, could be seen the instant Teackle, with Gilbert at his heels, threw open the door. St. George and Harry were in one corner—Harry backed against the wall. The boy was pale, but perfectly calm and silent. On his face was the look of a man who had a duty to perform and who intended to go through with it come what might. On the opposite side of the room stood Willits with two young men, his most intimate friends. They had followed him out of the ballroom to learn the cause of his sudden outburst, and so far had only heard Willits’s side of the affair. He was now perfectly sober and seemed to feel his position, but he showed no fear. On the desk lay a mahogany case containing the colonel’s duelling pistols. Harry had taken them from his father’s closet as he passed through the colonel’s den.
St. George turned to the young doctor. His face was calm and thoughtful, and he seemed to realize fully the gravity of the situation.
“It’s no use, Teackle,” St. George said with an expressive lift of his fingers. “I have done everything a man could, but there is only one way out of it. I have tried my best to save Kate from every unhappiness to-night, but this is something much more important than woman’s tears, and that is her lover’s honor.”