More astounding still was her indifference. She had not even asked if he had escaped unhurt, but had concentrated all her interest upon the man who had insulted her. As to his own father’s wrath—that he had expected. It was his way to break out, and this he knew would continue until he realized the enormity of the insult to Kate and heard how he and St. George had tried to ward off the catastrophe. Then he would not only change his opinion, but would commend him for his courage.
Outside the sick-room such guests as could be trusted were gathered together in the colonel’s den, where they talked in whispers. All agreed that the ladies and the older men must be sent home as soon as possible, and in complete ignorance of what had occurred. If Willits lived—of which there was little hope—his home would be at the colonel’s until he fully recovered, the colonel having declared that neither expense nor care would be spared to hasten his recovery. If he died, the body would be sent to his father’s house later on.
With this object in view the dance was adroitly shortened, the supper hurried through, and within an hour after midnight the last carriage and carryall of those kept in ignorance of the duel had departed, the only change in the programme being the non-opening of the rare old bottle of Madeira and the announcement of Harry’s and Kate’s engagement—an omission which provoked little comment, as it had been known to but few.
Kate remained. She had tottered upstairs holding on to the hand-rail and had thrown herself on a bed in the room leading out of the dressing-room, where she lay in her mud-stained dress, the silken petticoat torn and bedraggled in her leap from the window. She was weeping bitterly, her old black mammy sitting beside her trying to comfort her as best she could.
With the departure of the last guest—Mr. Seymour among them; the colonel doing the honors; standing bare-headed on the porch, his face all smiles as he bade them good-by—the head of the house of Rutter turned quickly on his heel, passed down the corridor, made his way along the long narrow hall, and entered his office, where the wounded man lay. Harry, the negro woman, and Dr. Teackle alone were with him.
“Is there any change?” he asked in a perfectly even voice. Every vestige of the set smile of the host had left his face. Harry he did not even notice.
“Not much—he is still alive,” replied the doctor.
“Have you found the ball?”
“No—I have not looked for it—I will presently.”
The colonel moved out a chair and sat down beside the dying man, his eyes fixed on the lifeless face. Some wave of feeling must have swept through him, for after a half-stifled sigh, he said in a low voice, as if to himself:
“This will be a fine story to tell his father, won’t it?—and here too—under my roof. My God!—was there ever anything more disgraceful!” He paused for a moment, his eyes still on the sufferer, and then went on—this time to the doctor—“His living so long gives me some hope—am I right, Teackle?”