His voice died away, and Margaret sat with wide eyes listening for it again. Would the doctor never come!
Billy was smiling and picking at the sheets.
“But Peggy is so rich,” the faint voice presently complained—“so beastly rich! There is gold in her hair, and if you will look very closely you will see that her lashes were pure gold until she dipped them in the ink-pot. Besides, she expects me to sit up and beg for lumps of sugar, and I never take sugar in my coffee. And Peggy doesn’t drink coffee at all, so I think it is very unfair, especially as Teddy Anstruther drinks like a fish and she is going to marry him. Peggy, why won’t you marry me? You know I’ve always loved you, Peggy, and now I can tell you so because Uncle Fred has left me all his money. You think a great deal about money, Peggy. You said it was the greatest thing in the world. And it must be, because it is the only thing—the only thing, Peggy—that has been strong enough to keep us apart. A part is never greater than the whole, Peggy, but I will explain about that when you open that desk. There are sharks in it. Aren’t there, Peggy?—aren’t there?”
His voice had risen to a querulous tone. Gently the fat old man restrained him.
“Yes,” said Petheridge Jukesbury; “dear me, yes. Why, dear me, of course.”
But his warning hand held Margaret back—Margaret, who stood with big tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Dearer than life itself,” Billy assented, wearily, “but before God, loving you as I do, I wouldn’t marry you now for all the wealth in the world. I forget why, but all the world is a stage, you know, and they don’t use stages now, but only railroads. Is that why you rail at me so, Peggy? That is a joke. You ought to laugh at my jokes, because I love you, but I can’t ever, ever tell you so because you are rich. A rich man cannot pass through a needle’s eye. Oh, Peggy, Peggy, I love your eyes, but they’re so big, Peggy!”
So Billy Woods lay still and babbled ceaselessly. But through all his irrelevant talk, as you may see a tributary stream pulse unsullied in a muddied river, ran the thought of Peggy—of Peggy, and of her cruelty, and of her beauty, and of the money that stood between them.
And Margaret, who could never have believed him in his senses, listened and knew that in his delirium, the rudder of his thoughts snapped, he could not but speak truth. As she crouched in the corner of the room, her face buried in an arm-chair, her gold hair half loosened, her shoulders monotonously heaving, she wept gently, inaudibly, almost happily.
Almost happily. Billy was dying, but she knew now, past any doubting, that he loved her. The dear, clean-minded, honest boy had come back to her, and she could love him now without shame, and there was only herself to be loathed.
[Illustration: “Regarded them with alert eyes.”]