Soon the great silences overawed him—periods of loneliness when he sat confronting his soul, his conscience on the bench as judge; his affections a special attorney:—silences of the night, in which he would listen for the strong, quick, manly footstep and the closing of the door in the corridor beyond:—silences of the dawn, when no clatter of hoofs followed by a cheery call rang out for some one to take Spitfire:—silences of the breakfast table, when he drank his coffee alone, Alec tip-toeing about like a lost spirit. Sometimes his heart would triumph and he begin to think out ways and means by which the past could be effaced. Then again the flag of his pride would be raised aloft so that he and all the people could see, and the old hard look would once more settle in his face, the lips straighten and the thin fingers tighten. No—no! No assassins for him—no vulgar brawlers—and it was at best a vulgar brawl—and this too within the confines of Moorlands, where, for five generations, only gentlemen had been bred!
And yet, product as he was of a regime that worshipped no ideals but its own; hide-bound by the traditions of his ancestry; holding in secret disdain men and women who could not boast of equal wealth and lineage; dictatorial, uncontradictable; stickler for obsolete forms and ceremonies—there still lay deep under the crust of his pride the heart of a father, and, by his standards, the soul of a gentleman.
What this renegade son of his thought of it all; this disturber of his father’s sleeping and waking hours, was far easier to discover. Dazed as Harry had been at the parental verdict and heart-broken as he still was over the dire results, he could not, though he tried, see what else he could have done. His father, he argued to himself, had shot and killed a man when he was but little older than himself, and for an offence much less grave than Willits’s insult to Kate: he had frequently boasted of it, showing him the big brass button that had deflected the bullet and saved his life. So had his Uncle George, five years before—not a dead man that time, but a lame one—who was still limping around the club and very good friends the two, so far as he knew. Why then blame him? As for the law of hospitality being violated, that was but one of the idiosyncrasies of his father, who was daft on hospitality. How could Willits be his guest when he was his enemy? St. George had begged the wounded man to apologize; if he had done so he would have extended his hand and taken him to Kate, who, upon a second apology, would have extended her hand, and the incident would have been closed. It was Willits’s stubbornness and bad breeding, then, that had caused the catastrophe—not his own bullet.
Besides no real harm had been done—that is, nothing very serious. Willits had gained strength rapidly—so much so that he had sat up the third day. Moreover, he had the next morning been carried to one of the downstairs bedrooms, where, he understood, Kate had sent her black mammy for news of him, and where, later on, he had been visited by both Mrs. Rutter and Kate—a most extraordinary condescension on the young girl’s part, and one for which Willits should be profoundly grateful all the days of his life.