“If I did not know how kind-hearted you were, Purviance, and how thoughtless you can sometimes be in your criticisms, I might ask you to apologize to both Mr. Poe and myself. Would it surprise you to know that there is no more truth in what you say than there is in the reports of that gentleman’s habitual drunkenness? It was but a year ago that I met him at his cousin’s house and I shall never forget him. Would it also surprise you to learn that he has the appearance of a man of very great distinction?—that he was faultlessly attired in a full suit of black and had the finest pair of eyes in his head I have ever looked into? Mr. Poe is not of your world, or of mine—he is above it. There is too much of this sort of ill-considered judgment abroad in the land. No—my dear Purviance—I don’t want to be rude and I am sure you will not think I am personal. I am only trying to be just to one of the master spirits of our time so that I won’t be humiliated when his real worth becomes a household word.”
The women took a different view.
“I can’t understand what Mr. Temple is thinking of,” said the wife of the archdeacon to Mrs. Cheston. “This Mr. Poe is something dreadful—never sober, I hear. Mr. Temple is invariably polite to everybody, but when he goes out of his way to do honor to a man like this he only makes it harder for those of us who are trying to help our sons and brothers—” to which Mrs. Cheston had replied with a twinkle in her mouse eyes and a toss of her gray head:—“So was Byron, my dear woman—a very dreadful and most disreputable person, but I can’t spare him from my Library, nor should you.”
None of these criticisms would have affected St. George had he heard them, and we may be sure no one dared tell him. He was too busy, in fact—and so was Harry, helping him for that matter—setting his house in order for the coming function.
That the table itself might be made the more worthy of the great man, orders were given that the big silver loving-cup—the one presented to his father by no less a person than the Marquis de Castellux himself— should be brought out to be filled later on with Cloth of Gold roses so placed that their rich color and fragrance would reach both the eyes and the nostrils of his guests, while the rest of the family silver, brightened to a mirror finish by Todd, was either sent down to Aunt Jemima to be ready for the special dishes for which the house was famous, or disposed on the side-board and serving-table for instant use when required. Easy-chairs were next brought from upstairs—tobacco and pipes, with wax candles, were arranged on teak-wood trays, and an extra dozen or so of bubble-blown glasses banked on a convenient shelf. The banquet room too, for it was late summer, was kept as cool as the season permitted, the green shutters being closed, thus barring out the heat of early September—and the same precaution was taken in the dressing-room, which was to serve as a receptacle for hats and canes.