So the table-talk went on, and now Margaret bore a part therein.
* * * * *
However, I do not think we need record it further.
Mr. Woods listened in a sort of a daze. Adele Haggage and Hugh Van Orden were conversing in low tones at one end of the table; the Colonel was eating his luncheon, silently and with a certain air of resignation; and so Billy Woods was left alone to attend and marvel.
The ideas they advanced seemed to him, for the most part, sensible. What puzzled him was the uniform gravity which they accorded equally—as it appeared to him—to the discussion of the most pompous platitudes and of the most arrant nonsense. They were always serious; and the general tone of infallibility, Billy thought, could be warranted only by a vast fund of inexperience.
But, in the main, they advocated theories he had always held—excellent theories, he considered. And he was seized with an unreasonable desire to repudiate every one of them.
For it seemed to him that every one of them was aimed at Margaret’s approval. It did not matter to whom a remark was ostensibly addressed—always at its conclusion the speaker glanced more or less openly toward Miss Hugonin. She was the audience to which they zealously played, thought Billy; and he wondered.
I think I have said that, owing to the smallness of the house-party, luncheon was served in the breakfast-room. The dining-room at Selwoode is very rarely used, because Margaret declares its size makes a meal there equivalent to eating out-of-doors.
And I must confess that the breakfast-room is far cosier. The room, in the first place, is of reasonable dimensions; it is hung with Flemish tapestries from designs by Van Eyck representing the Four Seasons, but the walls and ceiling are panelled in oak, and over the mantel carved in bas-relief the inevitable Eagle is displayed.
The mantel stood behind Margaret’s chair; and over her golden head, half-protectingly, half-threateningly, with his wings outstretched to the uttermost, the Eagle brooded as he had once brooded over Frederick R. Woods. The old man sat contentedly beneath that symbol of what he had achieved in life. He had started (as the phrase runs) from nothing; he had made himself a power. To him, the Eagle meant that crude, incalculable power of wealth he gloried in. And to Billy Woods, the Eagle meant identically the same thing, and—I am sorry to say—he began to suspect that the Eagle was really the audience to whom Miss Hugonin’s friends so zealously played.
Perhaps the misanthropy of Mr. Woods was not wholly unconnected with the fact that Margaret never looked at him. She’d show him!—the fortune-hunter!