“Yes,” answered the old lady.
“Tea, Mr. Arkwright?”
“Thanks, no, Mrs. Severence. I’m just going. I merely looked in to—to congratulate Rita.”
Madam Bowker clutched her staff. “To congratulate
granddaughter? Upon what, pray?”
Arkwright simulated a look of surprise. “Upon her engagement.”
“Her what?” demanded the old lady, while Roxana sat holding a lump of sugar suspended between bowl and cup.
“Her engagement to Josh Craig.”
“No such thing!” declared the old lady instantly. “Really, sir, it is disgraceful that my granddaughter’s name should be associated in any connection with such a person.”
Here Margaret entered the room by the French windows by which she had left. She advanced slowly and gracefully, amid a profound silence. Just as she reached the tea-table her grandmother said in a terrible voice: “Margaret!”
“Yes, Grandmother,” responded Margaret smoothly, without looking at her.
“Mr. Arkwright here has brought in a scandalous story about your being engaged to that—that Josh person—the clerk in one of the departments. Do you know him?”
“Yes, Grandma. But not very well.”
Madam Bowker glanced triumphantly at Arkwright; he was gazing amazedly at Margaret.
“You see, Grant,” said Roxana, with her foolish, pleasant laugh, “there is nothing in it.”
“In what?” asked Margaret innocently, emptying the hot water from her cup.
“In the story of your engagement, dear,” said her mother.
“Oh, yes, there is,” replied Margaret with a smiling lift of her brows. “It’s quite true.” Then, suddenly drawing herself up, she wheeled on Grant with a frown as terrible as her grandmother’s own. “Be off!” she said imperiously.
Arkwright literally shrank from the room. As he reached the door he saw her shiver and heard her mutter, “Reptile!”
MADAM BOWKER HEARS THE NEWS
In the midst of profound hush Madam Bowker was charging her heavy artillery, to train it upon and demolish the engagement certainly, and probably Margaret, too. Just as she was about to open fire callers were ushered in. As luck had it they were the three Stillwater girls, hastily made-over Westerners, dressed with great show of fashion in what purported to be imported French hats and gowns. An expert eye, however, would instantly have pierced the secret of this formidable array of plumes and furbelows. The Stillwaters fancied they had exquisite taste and real genius in the art of dress. Those hats were made at home, were adaptations of the imported hats—adaptations of the kind that “see” the original and “go it a few better.” As for the dresses, the Stillwaters had found one of those treasures dear to a certain kind of woman, had found a “woman just round the corner, and not established yet”—“I assure you, my dear, she takes a mental picture of the most difficult dress to copy, and you’d never know hers from the original—and so reasonable!”