The query—as possibly you may have divined—was addressed to Mr. Woods. He was standing by the fireplace in the hallway, and his tall figure was outlined sharply against the flame of the gas-logs that burned there. His shoulders had a pathetic droop, a listlessness.
Billy was reading a paper of some kind by the firelight, and the black outline of his face smiled grimly over it. Then he laughed and threw it into the fire.
“Billy!” a voice observed—a voice that was honey and gold and velvet and all that is most sweet and rich and soft in the world.
Mr. Woods was aware of a light step, a swishing, sibilant, delightful rustling—the caress of sound is the rustling of a well-groomed woman’s skirts—and of an afterthought of violets, of a mere reminiscence of orris, all of which came toward him through the dimness of the hall. He started, noticeably.
“Billy,” Miss Hugonin stated, “I’m sorry for what I said to you. I’m not sure it isn’t true, you know, but I’m sorry I said it.”
“Bless your heart!” said Billy; “don’t you worry over that, Peggy. That’s all right. Incidentally, the things you’ve said to me and about me aren’t true, of course, but we won’t discuss that just now. I—I fancy we’re both feeling a bit fagged. Go to bed, Peggy! We’ll both go to bed, and the night will bring counsel, and we’ll sleep off all unkindliness. Go to bed, little sister!—get all the beauty-sleep you aren’t in the least in need of, and dream of how happy you’re going to be with the man you love. And—and in the morning I may have something to say to you. Good-night, dear.”
And this time he really went. And when he had come to the bend in the stairs his eyes turned back to hers, slowly and irresistibly, drawn toward them, as it seemed, just as the sunflower is drawn toward the sun, or the needle toward the pole, or, in fine, as the eyes of young gentlemen ordinarily are drawn toward the eyes of the one woman in the world. Then he disappeared.
The mummery of it vexed Margaret. There was no excuse for his looking at her in that way. It irritated her. She was almost as angry with him for doing it as she would have been for not doing it.
Therefore, she bent an angry face toward the fire, her mouth pouting in a rather inviting fashion. Then it rounded slowly into a sanguine O, which of itself suggested osculation, but in reality stood for “observe!” For the paper Billy had thrown into the fire had fallen under the gas-logs, and she remembered his guilty start.
“After all,” said Margaret, “it’s none of my business.”
So she eyed it wistfully.
“It may be important,” she considerately remembered. “It ought not to be left there.”
So she fished it out with a big paper-cutter.
“But it can’t be very important,” she dissented afterward, “or he wouldn’t have thrown it away.”
So she looked at the superscripture on the back of it.