Common courtesy forced her to comply. So Margaret seated herself on a little red rustic bench. In the moonlight—but I think I have mentioned how Margaret looked in the moonlight; and above her golden head the Eagle, sculptured over the door-way, stretched his wings to the uttermost, half-protectingly, half-threateningly, and seemed to view Mr. Jukesbury with a certain air of expectation.
“A beautiful evening,” Petheridge Jukesbury suggested, after a little cogitation.
She conceded that this was undeniable.
“Where Nature smiles, and only the conduct of man is vile and altogether what it ought not to be,” he continued, with unction—“ah, how true that is and how consoling! It is a good thing to meditate upon our own vileness, Miss Hugonin—to reflect that we are but worms with naturally the most vicious inclinations. It is most salutary. Even I am but a worm, Miss Hugonin, though the press has been pleased to speak most kindly of me. Even you—ah, no!” cried Mr. Jukesbury, kissing his finger-tips, with gallantry; “let us say a worm who has burst its cocoon and become a butterfly—a butterfly with a charming face and a most charitable disposition and considerable property!”
Margaret thanked him with a smile, and began to think wistfully of the Ladies’ League accounts. Still, he was a good man; and she endeavoured to persuade herself that she considered his goodness to atone for his flabbiness and his fleshiness and his interminable verbosity—which she didn’t.
Mr. Jukesbury sighed.
“A naughty world,” said he, with pathos—“a very naughty world, which really does not deserve the honour of including you in its census reports. Yet I dare say it has the effrontery to put you down in the tax-lists; it even puts me down—me, an humble worker in the vineyard, with both hands set to the plough. And if I don’t pay up it sells me out. A very naughty world, indeed! I dare say,” Mr. Jukesbury observed, raising his eyes—not toward heaven, but toward the Eagle, “that its conduct, as the poet says, creates considerable distress among the angels. I don’t know. I am not acquainted with many angels. My wife was an angel, but she is now a lifeless form. She has been for five years. I erected a tomb to her at considerable personal expense, but I don’t begrudge it—no, I don’t begrudge it, Miss Hugonin. She was very hard to live with. But she was an angel, and angels are rare. Miss Hugonin,” said Petheridge Jukesbury, with emphasis, “you are an angel.”
“Oh, dear, dear!” said Margaret, to herself; “I do wish I’d gone to bed directly after dinner!”
Above them the Eagle brooded.
“Surely,” he breathed, “you must know what I have so long wanted to tell you—”
“No,” said Margaret, “and I don’t want to know, please. You make me awfully tired, and I don’t care for you in the least. Now, you let go my hand—let go at once!”