For she was—let us say, interested—in Mr. Van Orden. That was tolerably well known. In fact, Margaret—prompted by Mrs. Haggage, it must be confessed—had invited him to Selwoode for the especial purpose of entertaining Miss Adele Haggage; for he was a good match, and Mrs. Haggage, as an experienced chaperon, knew the value of country houses. Very unexpectedly, however, the boy had developed a disconcerting tendency to fall in love with Margaret, who snubbed him promptly and unmercifully. He had accordingly fallen back on Adele, and Mrs. Haggage had regained both her trust in Providence and her temper.
In the breakfast-room, where luncheon was laid out, the Colonel greeted Mr. Woods with the enthusiasm a sailor shipwrecked on a desert island might conceivably display toward the boat-crew come to rescue him. The Colonel liked Billy; and furthermore, the poor Colonel’s position at Selwoode just now was not utterly unlike that of the suppositious mariner; were I minded to venture into metaphor, I should picture him as clinging desperately to the rock of an old fogeyism and surrounded by weltering seas of advanced thought. Colonel Hugonin himself was not advanced in his ideas. Also, he had forceful opinions as to the ultimate destination of those who were.
Then Billy was presented to the men of the party—Mr. Felix Kennaston and Mr. Petheridge Jukesbury. Mrs. Haggage he knew slightly; and Kathleen Saumarez he had known very well indeed, some six years previously, before she had ever heard of Miguel Saumarez, and when Billy was still an undergraduate. She was a widow now, and not well-to-do; and Mr. Woods’s first thought on seeing her was that a man was a fool to write verses, and that she looked like just the sort of woman to preserve them.
His second was that he had verged on imbecility when he fancied he admired that slender, dark-haired type. A woman’s hair ought to be an enormous coronal of sunlight; a woman ought to have very large, candid eyes of a colour between that of sapphires and that of the spring heavens, only infinitely more beautiful than either; and all petticoated persons differing from this description were manifestly quite unworthy of any serious consideration.
So his eyes turned to Margaret, who had no eyes for him. She had forgotten his existence, with an utterness that verged on ostentation; and if it had been any one else Billy would have surmised she was in a temper. But that angel in a temper!—nonsense! And, oh, what eyes she had! and what lashes! and what hair!—and altogether, how adorable she was, and what a wonder the admiring gods hadn’t snatched her up to Olympus long ago!
Thus far Mr. Woods.
But if Miss Hugonin was somewhat taciturn, her counsellors in divers schemes for benefiting the universe were in opulent vein. Billy heard them silently.