Mr. Woods stood in the vestibule of his own house.
“By gad!” said Colonel Hugonin, very grimly, “anybody would think you’d just lost a fortune instead of inheriting one! Wish you joy of it, Billy. I ain’t saying, you know, we shan’t miss it, my daughter and I—no, begad, for it’s a nice pot of money, and we’ll miss it damnably. But since somebody had to have it, I’d much rather it was you, my boy, than a set of infernal, hypocritical, philanthropic sharks, and I’m damn’ glad Frederick has done the square thing by you—yes, begad!”
The old gentleman was standing beside Mr. Woods in the vestibule of Selwoode, some distance from the other members of the house-party, and was speaking in confidence. He was sincere; I don’t say that the thought of facing the world at sixty-five with practically no resources save his half-pay—I think I have told you that the Colonel’s diversions had drunk up his wife’s fortune and his own like a glass of water—I don’t say that this thought moved him to hilarity. Over it, indeed, he pulled a frankly grave face.
But he cared a deal for Billy; and even now there was balm—soothing, priceless balm—to be had of the reflection that this change in his prospects affected materially the prospects of those cultured, broad-minded, philanthropic persons who had aforetime set his daughter to requiring of him a perusal of Herbert Spencer.
Billy was pretty well aware how monetary matters stood with the old wastrel; and the sincerity of the man affected him far more than the most disinterested sentiments would have done. Mr. Woods accordingly shook hands, with entirely unnecessary violence.
“You’re a trump, that’s what you are!” he declared; “oh, yes, you are, Colonel! You’re an incorrigible, incurable old ace of trumps—the very best there is in the pack—and it’s entirely useless for you to attempt to conceal it.”
“Gad——!” said the Colonel.
“And don’t you worry about that will,” Mr. Woods advised. “I—I can’t explain things just now, but it’s all right. You just wait—just wait till I’ve seen Peggy,” Billy urged, in desperation, “and I’ll explain everything.”
“By gad——!” said the Colonel. But Mr. Woods was half-way out of the vestibule.
Mr. Woods was in an unenviable state of perturbation.
He could not quite believe that Peggy had destroyed the will; the thing out-Heroded Herod, out-Margareted Margaret. But if she had, it struck him as a high-handed proceeding, entailing certain vague penalties made and provided by the law to cover just such cases—penalties of whose nature he was entirely ignorant and didn’t care to think. Heavens! for all he knew, that angel might have let herself in for a jail sentence.
Billy pictured that queen among women! that paragon! with her glorious hair cropped and her pink-tipped little hands set to beating hemp—he had a shadowy notion that the lives of all female convicts were devoted to this pursuit—and groaned in horror.