“Oh, you beauty!” his meditations ran.
He had some excuse. In the soft, rosy twilight of the room—the study at Selwoode is panelled in very dark oak, and the doors and windows are screened with crimson hangings—her parti-coloured red-and-yellow gown might have been a scrap of afterglow left over from an unusually fine sunset. In a word, Miss Hugonin was a very quaint and colourful and delectable figure as she came a little further into the room. Her eyes shone like blue stars, and her hair shone—there must be pounds of it, Billy thought—and her very shoulders, plump, flawless, ineffable, shone with the glow of an errant cloud-tatter that is just past the track of dawn, and is therefore neither pink nor white, but manages somehow to combine the best points of both colours.
“Ah, indeed?” said Miss Hugonin. Her tone imparted a surprising degree of chilliness to this simple remark.
“No,” she went on, very formally, “this is not a private room; you owe me no apology for being here. Indeed, I am rather obliged to you, Mr. Woods, for none of us knew of these secret drawers. Here is the key to the central compartment, if you will be kind enough to point out the other one. Dear, dear!” Margaret concluded, languidly, “all this is quite like a third-rate melodrama. I haven’t the least doubt you will discover a will in there in your favour, and be reinstated as the long-lost heir and all that sort of thing. How tiresome that will be for me, though.”
She was in a mood to be cruel to-night. She held out the keys to him, in a disinterested fashion, and dropped them daintily into his outstretched palm, just as she might have given a coin to an unusually grimy mendicant. But the tips of her fingers grazed his hand.
That did the mischief. Her least touch was enough to set every nerve in his body a-tingle. “Peggy!” he said hoarsely, as the keys jangled to the floor. Then Mr. Woods drew a little nearer to her and said “Peggy, Peggy!” in a voice that trembled curiously, and appeared to have no intention of saying anything further.
Indeed, words would have seemed mere tautology to any one who could have seen his eyes. Margaret looked into them for a minute, and her own eyes fell before their blaze, and her heart—very foolishly—stood still for a breathing-space. Subsequently she recalled the fact that he was a fortune-hunter, and that she despised him, and also observed—to her surprise and indignation—that he was holding her hand and had apparently been doing so for some time. You may believe it, that she withdrew that pink-and-white trifle angrily enough.
“Pray don’t be absurd, Mr. Woods,” said she.