“Come to the point, sir,” the Colonel interrupted him. “What—do you—mean?”
“I mean,” said Felix Kennaston, sadly, “that—he is afraid—Mr. Woods will never recover consciousness.”
Colonel Hugonin stared at him. The skin of his flabby, wrinkled old throat was working convulsively.
Then, “You’re wrong, sir,” the Colonel said. “Billy shan’t die. Damn Jukesbury! Damn all doctors, too, sir! I put my trust in my God, sir, and not in a box of damn’ sugar-pills, sir. And I tell you, sir, that boy is not going to die.”
Afterward he turned and went into Selwoode defiantly.
In the living-hall the Colonel found Margaret, white as paper, with purple lips that timidly smiled at him.
“Why ain’t you in bed?” the old gentleman demanded, with as great an affectation of sternness as he could muster. To say the truth, it was not much; for Colonel Hugonin, for all his blustering optimism, was sadly shaken now.
“Attractive,” said Margaret, “I was, but I couldn’t stay there. My—my brain won’t stop working, you see,” she complained, wearily. “There’s a thin little whisper in the back of it that keeps telling me about Billy, and what a liar he is, and what nice eyes he has, and how poor Billy is dead. It keeps telling me that, over and over again, attractive. It’s such a tiresome, silly little whisper. But he is dead, isn’t he? Didn’t Mr. Kennaston tell me just now that he was dead?—or was it the whisper, attractive?”
The Colonel coughed. “Kennaston—er—Kennaston’s a fool,” he declared, helplessly. “Always said he was a fool. We’ll have Jeal in presently.”
“No—I remember now—Mr. Kennaston said Billy would die very soon. You don’t like people to disagree with you, do you, attractive? Of course, he will die, for the man hit him very, very hard. I’m sorry Billy is going to die, though, even if he is such a liar!”
“Don’t!” said the Colonel, hoarsely; “don’t, daughter! I don’t know what there is between you and Billy, but you’re wrong. Oh, you’re very hopelessly wrong! Billy’s the finest boy I know.”
Margaret shook her head in dissent.
“No, he’s a very contemptible liar,” she said, disinterestedly, “and that is what makes it so queer that I should care for him more than I do for anything else in the world. Yes, it’s very queer.”
Then Margaret went into the room opening into the living-hall, where Billy Woods lay unconscious, pallid, breathing stertorously. And the Colonel stared after her.
“Oh, my God, my God!” groaned the poor Colonel; “why couldn’t it have been I? Why couldn’t it have been I that ain’t wanted any longer? She’d never have grieved like that for me!”
And indeed, I don’t think she would have.
For to Margaret there had come, as, God willing, there comes to every clean-souled woman, the time to put away all childish things, and all childish memories, and all childish ties, if need be, to follow one man only, and cleave to him, and know his life and hers to be knit up together, past severance, in a love that death itself may not affright nor slay.