In Selwoode I can fancy how the Eagle screamed his triumph.
But Billy’s face was ashen.
“Before God!” he said, between his teeth, “loving you as I do, I wouldn’t marry you now for all the wealth in the world! The money has ruined you—ruined you, Peggy.”
For a little she stared at him. By and bye, “I dare say it has,” she said, in a strangely sober tone. “I’ve been scolding like a fishwife. I beg your pardon, Mr. Woods—not for what I’ve said, because I meant every word of it, but I beg your pardon for saying it. Don’t come with me, please.”
Blindly she turned from him. Her shoulders had the droop of an old woman’s. Margaret was wearied now, weary with the weariness of death.
For a while Mr. Woods stared after the tired little figure that trudged straight onward in the sunlight, stumbling as she went. Then a pleached walk swallowed her, and Mr. Woods groaned.
“Oh, Peggy, Peggy!” he said, in bottomless compassion; “oh, my poor little Peggy! How changed you are!”
Afterward Mr. Woods sank down upon the bench and buried his face in his hands. He sat there for a long time. I don’t believe he thought of anything very clearly. His mind was a turgid chaos of misery; and about him the birds shrilled and quavered and carolled till the air was vibrant with their trilling. One might have thought they choired in honour of the Eagle’s triumph, in mockery of poor Billy.
Then Mr. Woods raised his head with a queer, alert look. Surely he had heard a voice—the dearest of all voices.
“Billy!” it wailed; “oh, Billy, Billy!”
For at the height of this particularly mischancy posture of affairs the meddlesome Fates had elected to dispatch Cock-eye Flinks to serve as our deus ex machina. And just as in the comedy the police turn up in the nick of time to fetch Tartuffe to prison, or in the tragedy Friar John manages to be detained on his journey to Mantua and thus bring about that lamentable business in the tomb of the Capulets, so Mr. Flinks now happens inopportunely to arrive upon our lesser stage.
Faithfully to narrate how Cock-eye Flinks chanced to be at Selwoode were a task of magnitude. That gentleman travelled very quietly; and for the most part, he journeyed incognito under a variety of aliases suggested partly by a fertile imagination and in part by prudential motives. For his notions of proprietary rights were deplorably vague, and his acquaintance with the police, in consequence, extensive. And finally, that he was now at Selwoode was not in the least his fault, but all the doing of an N. & O. brakesman, who had in uncultured argument, reinforced by a coupling-pin, persuaded Mr. Flinks to disembark from the northern freight on the night previous.
Mr. Flinks, then, sat leaning against a tree in the gardens of Selwoode, some thirty feet from the wall that stands between Selwoode and Gridlington, and nursed his pride and foot, both injured in that high debate of last evening, and with a jackknife rounded off the top of a substantial staff designed to alleviate his present lameness. Meanwhile, he tempered his solitude with music, whistling melodiously the air of a song that pertained to the sacredness of home and of a white-haired mother.