“But I’m not an eavesdropper,” Mr. Woods protested, half angrily.
I fear Margaret was not properly impressed.
“Please, Billy,” she pleaded, in a shrill whisper, “please let’s listen. He’s going to propose to her now, and you’ve no idea how funny he is when he proposes. Oh, don’t be so pokey, Billy—do let’s listen!”
But Mr. Woods had risen with a strange celerity and was about to leave the summer-house.
Margaret pouted. Mrs. Saumarez and Mr. Kennaston were seated not twenty feet from the summer-house, on the bench which Miss Hugonin had just left. And when that unprincipled young woman finally rose to her feet, it must be confessed that it was with a toss of the head and with the reflection that while to listen wasn’t honourable, it would at least be very amusing. I grieve to admit it, but with Billy’s scruples she hadn’t the slightest sympathy.
Then Kennaston cried, suddenly: “Why, you’re mad, Kathleen! Woods wants to marry you! Why, he’s heels over head in love with Miss Hugonin!”
Miss Hugonin turned to Mr. Woods with a little intake of the breath.
No, I shall not attempt to tell you what Billy saw in her countenance. Timanthes-like, I drape before it the vines of the summer-house. For a brief space I think we had best betake ourselves outside, leaving Margaret in a very pitiable state of anger, and shame, and humiliation, and heartbreak—leaving poor Billy with a heart that ached, seeing the horror of him in her face.
Mrs. Saumarez laughed bitterly.
“No,” she said, “Billy cared for me, you know, a long time ago. And this morning he told me he still cared. Billy doesn’t pretend to be a clever man, you see, and so he can afford to practice some of the brute virtues, such as constancy and fidelity.”
There was a challenging flame in her eyes, but Kennaston let the stab pass unnoticed. To do him justice, he was thinking less of himself, just now, than of how this news would affect Margaret; and his face was very grave and strangely tender, for in his own fashion he loved Margaret.
“It’s nasty, very nasty,” he said, at length, in a voice that was puzzled. “Yet I could have sworn yesterday——” Kennaston paused and laughed lightly. “She was an heiress yesterday, and to-day she is nobody. And Mr. Woods, being wealthy, can afford to gratify the virtues you commend so highly and, with a fidelity that is most edifying, return again to his old love. And she welcomes him—and the Woods millions—with open arms. It is quite affecting, is it not, Kathleen?”
“You needn’t be disagreeable,” she observed.