When he followed his uncle and aunt into the room Mrs. Shirley came forward, her thin veil again covering her face.
“I must go,” she said. “Thank you once more for letting me come.”
With a curious young touch of solemnity Hugh laid the brown case in her hands. “This belongs to you,” he said, “and I wanted them to see you receive it.”
* * * * *
“And you intend to permit this, Winthrop?”
Miss Fowler turned on her brother. She had suppressed her emotions before the intruder; she had even said some proper things without unduly speeding the parting guest. But if you can’t be hateful to your own family, to whom, in the name of the domestic pieties, can you be hateful?
Mr. Fowler swiveled on her the glassy eye of one who does not suffer fools gladly. “I permit anything,” he responded, icily, “that will keep that boy ... sane.” He retired anew behind the monastic newspaper and rattled it.
Miss Maria received a sudden chill apprehension that Winthrop was looking much older lately. “But—” she faltered. Then she resolutely returned to the baiting. “I suppose you recall her saying that she has a daughter. Probably,” admitted Miss Maria, grudgingly, “an attractive daughter.”
“It might be a very good thing,” said the world-weary voice, and left her gasping. “Two excellent Virginia families.” He faced his sister’s appalled expression. “He might do something much more impossible—marry a cheap actress or go into a monastery. His behaviour to-day prepares me for anything. And”—a note of difficulty came into what Hugh had once called his uncle’s chiselled voice—“you do not appear to realize, Maria, that what Mrs. Shirley has done is rather a remarkable thing, a thing that you and I, with our undoubted appreciation of the value of money, should probably have felt that we could not afford to do.”
Hugh came in blithely, bringing a spring-smelling whiff of outdoors with him. “I got her a taxi,” he announced, “and she asked me to come down to their place for Easter. There’s a hunting club. Oh cheer up, Aunt Maria! At least she left the money behind.”
“Look at my needle!” cried the long-suffering lady. “You did that. I must say, Hugh, I find your conduct most disrespectful.”
“All right, I grovel,” Hugh agreed, pleasantly. He picked up the cat and rubbed her tenderly the wrong way.
“As for the money, I don’t see how her conscience could have allowed her to accept everything. And she married somebody else, too.”
“So did Dante’s girl. That doesn’t seem to make all the difference. Conscience?” Hugh went on, absently. “Conscience? Haven’t I heard that word somewhere before? You are the only person I know, Aunt Maria, who has a really good, staunch, weather-proof one, because, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, it altereth not.”
“I should hope not, indeed,” said Miss Fowler, half mollified.