“You mean to tell me, Uncle George, that you can’t stop this!” Teackle whispered with some heat, his eyes strained, his lips twitching. Here he faced Harry. “You sha’n’t go on with this affair, I tell you, Harry. What will Kate say? Do you think she wants you murdered for a foolish thing like this!—and that’s about what will happen.”
The boy made no reply, except to shake his head. He knew what Kate would say—knew what she would do, and knew what she would command him to do, could she have heard Willits’s continued insults in this very room but a moment before while St. George was trying to make him apologize to his host and so end the disgraceful incident.
“Then I’ll go and bring in the colonel and see what he can do!” burst out Teackle, starting for the door. “It’s an outrage that—”
“You’ll stay here, Teackle,” commanded St. George—“right where you stand! This is no place for a father. Harry is of age.”
“But what an ending to a night like this!”
“I know it—horrible!—frightful!—but I would rather see the boy lying dead at my feet than not defend the woman he loves.” This came in a decisive tone, as if he had long since made up his mind to this phase of the situation.
“But Langdon is Harry’s guest,” Teackle pleaded, dropping his voice still lower to escape being heard by the group at the opposite end of the room—“and he is still under his roof. It is never done—it is against the code. Besides”—and his voice became a whisper—“Harry never levelled a pistol at a man in his life, and this is not Langdon’s first meeting. We can fix it in the morning. I tell you we must fix it.”
Harry, who had been listening quietly, reached across the table, picked up the case of pistols, handed it to Gilbert, whom he had chosen as his second, and in a calm, clear, staccato tone—each word a bullet rammed home—said:
“No—Teackle, there will be no delay until to-morrow. Mr. Willits has forfeited every claim to being my guest and I will fight him here and now. I could never look Kate in the face, nor would she ever speak to me again, if I took any other course. You forget that he virtually told Kate she lied,” and he gazed steadily at Willits as if waiting for the effect of his shot.
St. George’s eyes kindled. There was the ring of a man in the boy’s words. He had seen the same look on the elder Rutter’s face in a similar situation twenty years before. As a last resort he walked toward where Willits stood conferring with his second.
“I ask you once more, Mr. Willits”—he spoke in his most courteous tones (Willits’s pluck had greatly raised him in his estimation)—“to apologize like a man and a gentleman. There is no question in my mind that you have insulted your host in his own house and been discourteous to the woman he expects to marry, and that the amende honorable should come from you. I am twice your age and have had many experiences of this kind, and I would neither ask you to do a dishonorable thing nor would I permit you to do it if I could prevent it. Make a square, manly apology to Harry.”