“So many people,” she informed him, confidentially, “will pursue you with adulation now that you are wealthy. Oh, yes, you will find that wealth makes a great difference, Billy. But not with Adele and me—no, dear boy, despise us if you will, but my child and I are not mercenary. Money makes no difference with us; we shall be the same to you that we always were—sincerely interested in your true welfare, overjoyed at your present good fortune, prayerful as to your brilliant future, and delighted to have you drop in any evening to dinner. We do not consider money the chief blessing of life; no, don’t tell me that most people are different, Billy, for I know it very well, and many is the tear that thought has cost me. We live in a very mercenary world, my dear boy; but our thoughts, at least, are set on higher things, and I trust we can afford to despise the merely temporal blessings of life, and I entreat you to remember that our humble dwelling is always open to the son of my old, old friend, and that there is always a jug of good whiskey in the cupboard.”
Thus in the shadow of the Eagle babbled the woman whom—for all her absurdities—Margaret had loved as a mother.
Billy thanked her with an angry heart.
“And this”—I give you the gist of his meditations—“this is Peggy’s dearest friend! Oh, Philanthropy, are thy protestations, then, all void and empty, and are thy noblest sentiments—every one of ’em—so full of sound and rhetoric, so specious, so delectable—are these, then, but dicers’ oaths!”
Aloud, “I’m rather surprised, you know,” he said, slowly, “that you take it just this way, Mrs. Haggage. I should have thought you’d have been sorry on—on Miss Hugonin’s account. It’s awfully jolly of you, of course—oh, awfully jolly, and I appreciate it at its true worth, I assure you. But it’s a bit awkward, isn’t it, that the poor girl will be practically penniless? I really don’t know whom she’ll turn to now.”
Then Billy, the diplomatist, received a surprise.
“She’ll come with me, of course,” said Mrs. Haggage.
Mr. Woods made an—unfortunately—inaudible observation.
“I beg your pardon?” she queried. Then, obtaining no response, she continued, with perfect simplicity: “Margaret’s quite like a daughter to me, you know. Of course, she and the Colonel will come with us—at least, until affairs are a bit more settled. Even afterward—well, we have a large house, Billy, and I don’t see that they’d be any better off anywhere else.”
Billy’s emotions were complex.
“You big-hearted old parasite,” his own heart was singing. “If you could only keep that ring of truth that’s in your voice for your platform utterances—why, in less than no time you could afford to feed your Afro-Americans on nightingales’ tongues and clothe every working-girl in the land in cloth of gold! You’ve been pilfering from Peggy for years—pilfering