“I—I can’t,” said Miss Hugonin, promptly.
“Why?” demanded her father.
“Because——” said Miss Hugonin; and after giving this really excellent reason, reflected for a moment and strengthened it by adding, “Because——”
“See here,” her father questioned, “what did you two quarrel about, anyway?”
“I—I really don’t remember,” said she, reflectively; then continued, with hauteur and some inconsistency, “I am not aware that Mr. Woods and I have ever quarrelled.”
“By gad, then,” said the Colonel, “you may as well prepare to, for I intend to marry you to Billy some day. Dear, dear, child,” he interpolated, with malice aforethought, “have you a fever?—your cheek’s like a coal. Billy’s a man, I tell you—worth a dozen of your Kennastons and Charterises. I like Billy. And besides, it’s only right he should have Selwoode—wasn’t he brought up to expect it? It ain’t right he should lose it simply because he had a quarrel with Frederick, for, by gad—not to speak unkindly of the dead, my dear—Frederick quarrelled with every one he ever knew, from the woman who nursed him to the doctor who gave him his last pill. He may have gotten his genius for money-making from Heaven, but he certainly got his temper from the devil. I really believe,” said the Colonel, reflectively, “it was worse than mine. Yes, not a doubt of it—I’m a lamb in comparison. But he had his way, after all; and even now poor Billy can’t get Selwoode without taking you with it,” and he caught his daughter’s face between his hands and turned it toward his for a moment. “I wonder now,” said he, in meditative wise, “if Billy will consider that a drawback?”
It seemed very improbable. Any number of marriageable males would have sworn it was unthinkable.
However, “Of course,” Margaret began, in a crisp voice, “if you advise Mr. Woods to marry me as a good speculation—”
But her father caught her up, with a whistle. “Eh?” said he. “Love in a cottage?—is it thus the poet turns his lay? That’s damn’ nonsense! I tell you, even in a cottage the plumber’s bill has to be paid, and the grocer’s little account settled every month. Yes, by gad, and even if you elect to live on bread and cheese and kisses, you’ll find Camembert a bit more to your taste than Sweitzer.”
“But I don’t want to marry anybody, you ridiculous old dear,” said Margaret.
“Oh, very well,” said the old gentleman; “don’t. Be an old maid, and lecture before the Mothers’ Club, if you like. I don’t care. Anyhow, you meet Billy to-day at twelve-forty-five. You will?—that’s a good child. Now run along and tell the menagerie I’ll be down-stairs as soon as I’ve finished dressing.”
And the Colonel rang for his man and proceeded to finish his toilet. He seemed a thought absent-minded this morning.
“I say, Wilkins,” he questioned, after a little. “Ever read any of Ouida’s books?”