She sat silent in one corner of the darkened room. It was the bedroom that Frederick R. Woods formerly occupied—on the ground floor of Selwoode, opening into the living-hall—to which they had carried Billy.
Jukesbury had done what he could. In the bed lay Billy Woods, swathed in hot blankets, with bottles of hot water set to his feet. Jukesbury had washed his face clean of that awful red, and had wrapped bandages of cracked ice about his head and propped it high with pillows. It was little short of marvellous to see the pursy old hypocrite going cat-footed about the room on his stealthy ministrations, replenishing the bandages, forcing spirits of ammonia between Billy’s teeth, fighting deftly and confidently with death.
Billy still breathed.
The Colonel came and went uneasily. The clock on the mantel ticked. Margaret brooded in a silence that was only accentuated by that horrible wheezing, gurgling, tremulous breathing in the bed yonder. Would the doctor never come!
She was curiously conscious of her absolute lack of emotion.
But always the interminable thin whispering in the back of her head went on and on. “Oh, if he had only died four years ago! Oh, if he had only died the dear, clean-minded, honest boy I used to know! When that noise stops he will be dead. And then, perhaps, I shall be able to cry. Oh, if he had only died four years ago!”
And then da capo. On and on ran the interminable thin whispering as Margaret waited for death to come to Billy. Billy looked so old now, under his many bandages. Surely he must be very, very near death.
Suddenly, as Jukesbury wrapped new bandages about his forehead, Billy opened his eyes and, without further movement, smiled placidly up at him.
“Hello, Jukesbury,” said Billy Woods, “where’s my armour?”
Jukesbury, too, smiled. “The man is bringing it downstairs now,” he answered, quietly.
“Because,” Billy went on, fretfully, “I don’t propose to miss the Trojan war. The princes orgulous with high blood chafed, you know, are all going to be there, and I don’t propose to miss it.”
Behind his fat back, Petheridge Jukesbury waved a cautioning hand at Margaret, who had risen from her chair.
“But it is very absurd,” Billy murmured, in the mere ghost of a voice, “because men don’t propose by mistake except in farces. Somebody told me that, but I can’t remember who, because I am a misogynist. That is a Greek word, and I would explain it to Peggy, if she would only give me a chance, but she can’t because she has those seventeen hundred and fifty thousand children to look after. There must be some way to explain to her, though, because where there’s a will there is always a way, and there were three wills. Uncle Fred should not have left so many wills—who would have thought the old man had so much ink in him? But I will be a very great painter, Uncle Fred, and make her sorry for the way she has treated me, and then Kathleen will understand I was talking about Peggy.”