“Ah-h-h!” said Mr. Flinks. He drew back and stared stupidly at that sprawling flesh which just now had been a man, and was seized with uncontrollable shuddering. “Ah-h-h!” said Mr. Flinks, very quietly.
And Margaret went mad. The earth and the sky dissolved in many floating specks and then went red—red like that heap yonder. The veneer of civilisation peeled, fell from her like snow from a shaken garment. The primal beast woke and flicked aside the centuries’ work. She was the Cave-woman who had seen the death of her mate—the brute who had been robbed of her mate.
“Damn you! Damn you!” she screamed, her voice high, flat, quite unhuman; “ah, God in Heaven damn you!” With inarticulate bestial cries she fell upon the man who had killed Billy, and her violet fripperies fluttered, her impotent little hands beat at him, tore at him. She was fearless, shameless, insane. She only knew that Billy was dead.
With an oath the man flung her from him and turned on his heel. She fell to coaxing the heap in the grass to tell her that he forgave her—to open his eyes—to stop bloodying her dress—to come to luncheon...
A fly settled on Billy’s face and came in his zig-zag course to the red stream trickling from his nostrils, and stopped short. She brushed the carrion thing away, but it crawled back drunkenly. She touched it with her finger, and the fly would not move. On a sudden, every nerve in her body began to shake and jerk like a flag snapping in the wind.
Some ten minutes afterward, as the members of the house-party sat chatting on the terrace before Selwoode, there came among them a mad woman in violet trappings that were splotched with blood.
“Did you know that Billy was dead?” she queried, smilingly. “Oh, yes, a man killed Billy just now. Wasn’t it too bad? Billy was such a nice boy, you know. I—I think it’s very sad. I think it’s the saddest thing I ever knew of in my life.”
Kathleen Saumarez was the first to reach her. But she drew back quickly.
“No, ah, no!” she said, with a little shudder. “You didn’t love Billy. He loved you, and you didn’t love him. Oh, Kathleen, Kathleen, how could you help loving Billy? He was such a nice boy. I—I’m rather sorry he’s dead.”
Then she stood silent, picking at her dress thoughtfully and still smiling. Afterward, for the first and only time in history, Miss Hugonin fainted—fainted with an anxious smile.
Petheridge Jukesbury caught her as she fell, and began to blubber like a whipped schoolboy as he stood there holding her in his arms.
But Billy was not dead. There was still a feeble, jerky fluttering in his big chest when Colonel Hugonin found him. His heart still moved, but under the Colonel’s hand its stirrings were vague and aimless as those of a captive butterfly.