The hour was midnight; and the friends, whom the most hospitable of men delighted to assemble round his dinner-table, had taken their leave with the exception of one guest specially detained by the host, who led him back to the dining-room.
"You were angry with our friends," Dick began, "when they asked you about that report of your marriage. You won't be angry with Me. Are you really going to be the old maid's husband?"
This plain question received a plain reply: "Yes, I am."
Dick took the young lord's hand. Simply and seriously, he said: "Accept my congratulations."
Howel Beaucourt started as if he had received a blow instead of a compliment.
"There isn't another man or woman in the whole circle of my acquaintance," he declared, "who would have congratulated me on marrying Miss Dulane. I believe you would make allowances for me if I had committed murder."
"I hope I should," Dick answered gravely. "When a man is my friend--murder or marriage--I take it for granted that he has a reason for what he does. Wait a minute. You mustn't give me more credit than I deserve. I don't agree with you. If I were a marrying man myself, I shouldn't pick an old maid--I should prefer a young one. That's a matter of taste. You are not like me. _You_ always have a definite object in view. I may not know what the object is. Never mind! I wish you joy all the same."
Beaucourt was not unworthy of the friendship he had inspired. "I should be ungrateful indeed," he said, "if I didn't tell you what my object is. You know that I am poor?"