The old lady paled, but she did not change her expression.
“And Harry?” she murmured in return.
The colonel kept his eyes upon her, but he made no answer. A hard, cold look settled on his face—one she knew—one his negroes feared when he grew angry.
Again she repeated Harry’s name, this time in alarm:
“Quick!—tell me—not killed?”
“No—I wish to God he were!”
The wounded man lay on a lounge in the office room, which was dimly lighted by the dying glow of the outside torches and an oil lamp hurriedly brought in. No one was present except St. George, Harry, the doctor, and a negro woman who had brought in some pillows and hot water. All that could be done for him had been done; he was unconscious and his life hung by a thread. Harry, now that the mysterious thing called his “honor” had been satisfied, was helping Teackle wash the wound prior to an attempt to probe for the ball.
The boy was crying quietly—the tears streaming unbidden down his cheeks—it was his first experience at this sort of thing. He had been brought up to know that some day it might come and that he must then face it, but he had never before realized the horror of what might follow. And yet he had not reached the stage of regret; he was sorry for the wounded man and for his suffering, but he was not sorry for his own share in causing it. He had only done his duty, and but for a stroke of good luck he and Willits might have exchanged places. Uncle George had expressed his feelings exactly when he said that only a bit of cold lead could settle some insults, and what insult could have been greater than the one for which he had shot Willits? What was a gentleman to do? Go around meeting his antagonist every day?—the two ignoring each other? Or was he to turn stable boy, and pound him with his fists?—or, more ridiculous still, have him bound over to keep the peace, or bring an action for—Bah!—for what?—Yes—for what? Willits hadn’t struck him, or wounded him, or robbed him. It had been his life or Willits’s. No—there was no other way—couldn’t be any other way. Willits knew it when he tore up Kate’s card—knew what would follow. There was no deception—nothing underhand. And he had got precisely what he deserved, sorry as he felt for his sufferings.
Then Kate’s face rose before him—haunted him. Why hadn’t she seen it this way? Why had she refused to look at him—refused to answer him—driven him away from her side, in fact?—he who had risked his life to save her from insult! Why wouldn’t she allow him to even touch her hand? Why did she treat Willits—drunken vulgarian as he was—differently from the way she had treated him? She had broken off her engagement with him because he was drunk at Mrs. Cheston’s ball, where nobody had been hurt but himself, and here she was sympathizing with another drunken man who had not only outraged all sense of decency toward her, but had jeopardized the life of her affianced husband who defended her against his insults; none of which would have happened had the man been sober. All this staggered him.