The colonel, who, head down, had been mounting the marble steps one at a time, inspecting each slab as he climbed, after the manner of men thoroughly satisfied with themselves, and who at the same time are conscious of the effect of their presence on those about them, raised his head and gazed in astonishment at the speaker. Then his body straightened up and he came to a stand-still. He looked first into St. George’s face, then into Harry’s, with a cold, rigid stare; his lips shut tight, his head thrown back, his whole frame stiff as an iron bar—and without a word of recognition of any kind, passed through the open door and into the wide hall. He had cut both of them dead.
Harry gave a half-smothered cry of anguish and turned to follow his father into the club.
St. George, purple with rage, laid his hand on the boy’s arm, so tight that the fingers sank into the flesh: there were steel clamps inside these delicate palms when occasion required.
“Keep still,” he hissed—“not a word, no outburst. Stay here until I come for you. Stop, Rutter: stand where you are!” The two were abreast of each other now. “You dare treat your son in that way? Horn —Murdoch—Warfield—all of you come out here! What I’ve got to say to Talbot Rutter I want you to hear, and I intend that not only you but every decent man and woman in Kennedy Square shall hear!”
The colonel’s lips quivered and his face paled, but he did not flinch, nor did his eyes drop.
“You are not a father, Talbot—you are a brute! There is not a dog in your kennels that would not treat his litter better than you have treated Harry! You turned him out in the night without a penny to his name; you break his mother’s heart; you refuse to hear a word he has to say, and then you have the audacity to pass him on the steps of this club where he is my guest—my guest, remember—look him squarely in the face and ignore him. That, gentlemen, is what Talbot Rutter did one minute ago. You have disgraced your blood and your name and you have laid up for your old age untold misery and suffering. Never, as long as I live, will I speak to you again, nor shall Harry, whom you have humiliated! Hereafter I am his father! Do you hear?”
During the whole outburst the colonel had not moved a muscle of his face nor had he shifted his body a quarter of an inch. He stood with his back to the door through which could be seen the amazed faces of his fellow-members—one hand tight shut behind his back, the other loose by his side, his eyes fixed on his antagonist. Then slowly, one word at a time, as if he had purposely measured the intervals of speech, he said, in a voice hardly heard beyond the door, so low was it:
“Yes, by God!—I am, and forever!”
“Then, gentlemen”—and he waved his hand courteously to the astounded listeners—“may I ask you all to join me? John, bring the juleps!”