Then she gave a little gasp and tore it open and read it by the firelight.
Miss Hugonin subsequently took credit to herself for not going into hysterics. And I think she had some reason to; for she found the paper a duplicate of the one Billy had taken out of the secret drawer, with his name set in the place of hers. At the last Frederick R. Woods had relented toward his nephew.
Margaret laughed a little; then she cried a little; then she did both together. Afterward she sat in the firelight, very puzzled and very excited and very penitent and very beautiful, and was happier than she had ever been in her life.
“He had it in his pocket,” her dear voice quavered; “he had it in his pocket, my brave, strong, beautiful Billy did, when he asked me to marry him. It was King Cophetua wooing the beggar-maid—and the beggar was an impudent, ungrateful, idiotic little piece!” Margaret hissed, in her most shrewish manner. “She ought to be spanked. She ought to go down on her knees to him in sackcloth, and tears, and ashes, and all sorts of penitential things. She will, too. Oh, it’s such a beautiful world—such a beautiful world! Billy loves me—really! Billy’s a millionaire, and I’m a pauper. Oh, I’m glad, glad, glad!”
She caressed the paper that had rendered the world such a goodly place to live in—caressed it tenderly and rubbed her check against it. That was Margaret’s way of showing affection, you know; and I protest it must have been very pleasant for the paper. The only wonder was that the ink it was written in didn’t turn red with delight.
Then she read it through again, for sheer enjoyment of those beautiful, incomprehensible words that disinherited her. How lovely of Uncle Fred! she thought. Of course, he’d forgiven Billy; who wouldn’t? What beautiful language Uncle Fred used! quite prayer-booky, she termed it. Then she gasped.
The will in Billy’s favour was dated a week earlier than the one they had found in the secret drawer. It was worthless, mere waste paper. At the last Frederick R. Woods’s pride had conquered his love.
“Oh, the horrid old man!” Margaret wailed; “he’s left me everything he had! How dare he disinherit Billy! I call it rank impertinence in him. Oh, boy dear, dear, dear boy!” Miss Hugonin crooned, in an ecstacy of tenderness and woe. “He found this first will in one of the other drawers, and thought he was the rich one, and came in a great whirl of joy to ask me to marry him, and I was horrid to him! Oh, what a mess I’ve made of it! I’ve called him a fortune-hunter, and I’ve told him I love another man, and he’ll never, never ask me to marry him now. And I love him, I worship him, I adore him! And if only I were poor—”
Ensued a silence. Margaret lifted the two wills, scrutinised them closely, and then looked at the fire, interrogatively.
“It’s penal servitude for quite a number of years,” she said. “But, then, he really couldn’t tell any one, you know. No gentleman would allow a lady to be locked up in jail. And if he knew—if he knew I didn’t and couldn’t consider him a fortune-hunter, I really believe he would—”