The colonel, towering above them, looked the scene over, then he confronted Harry, who had straightened to his feet on seeing his father.
“A pretty piece of work—and on a night like this! A damnable piece of work, I should say, sir! ... Has he killed him, Teackle?”
The young doctor shook his head ominously.
“I cannot tell yet—his heart is still beating.”
St. George now joined the group. He and Gilbert and the other seconds had, in order to maintain secrecy, been rounding up the few negroes who had seen the encounter, or who had been attracted to the spot by the firing.
“Harry had my full consent, Talbot—there was really nothing else to do. Only an ounce of cold lead will do in some cases, and this was one of them.” He was grave and deliberate in manner, but there was an infinite sadness in his voice.
“He did—did he?” retorted the colonel bitterly. “Your full consent! Yours! and I in the next room!” Here he beckoned to one of the negroes who, with staring eyeballs, stood gazing from one to the other. “Come closer, Eph—not a whisper, remember, or I’ll cut the hide off your back in strips. Tell the others what I say—if a word of this gets into the big house or around the cabins I’ll know who to punish. Now two or three of you go into the greenhouse, pick up one of those wide planks, and lift this gentleman onto it so we can carry him. Take him into my office, doctor, and lay him on my lounge. He’d better die there than here. Come, Kate—do you go with me. Not a syllable of this, remember, Kate, to Mrs. Rutter, or anybody else. As for you, sir”—and he looked Harry squarely in the face—“you will hear from me later on.”
With the same calm determination, he entered the ballroom, walked to the group forming the reel, and, with a set smile on this face indicating how idle had been everybody’s fears, said loud enough to be heard by every one about him:
“Only one of the men, my dear young people, who has been hurt in the too careless use of some firearms. As to dear Kate—she has been so upset—she happened unfortunately to see the affair from the window—that she has gone to her room and so you must excuse her for a little while. Now everybody keep on with the dance.”
With his wife he was even more at ease. “The same old root of all evil, my dear,” he said with a dry laugh—“too much peach brandy, and this time down the wrong throats—and so in their joy they must celebrate by firing off pistols and wasting my good ammunition,” an explanation which completely satisfied the dear lady—peach brandy being capable of producing any calamity, great or small.
But this would not do for Mrs. Cheston. She was a woman who could be trusted and who never, on any occasion, lost her nerve. He saw from the way she lifted her eyebrows in inquiry, instead of framing her question in words, that she fully realized the gravity of the situation. The colonel looked at her significantly, made excuse to step in front of her, his back to the room, and with his forefinger tapping his forehead, whispered: