Court Royal/Chapter XLVIII
Lord Ronald and the Marquess reached Bridgewater at midnight. There they engaged a fly, and drove across country to Sleepy Hollow. The drive was long. There was no train so late from Highbridge to Glastonbury, consequently they had no choice. When they drew up at the rectory door the hour was early in the morning, and the first streaks of dawn appeared. A light was in an upper window.
Lady Elizabeth appeared. She had expected them, and sat up; she was calm and collected. Lord Edward was no more. He had not recovered from his stroke. The archdeaconry of Wellington, a canonry in Glastonbury, and the rectory of Sleepy Hollow, were open for eager applicants.
A bright fire was burning in the study, and the table was laid near it. The cook was up, and a smell of mutton-chops pervaded the house.
‘Will you have some hot wine and water, or stout?’ asked Lady Elizabeth. ‘Dear old man. He seemed to know me. I held his hand, and he pressed it when I spoke to him. There is Worcester sauce, if you like it. He seemed very unlike himself when he returned from Court Royal. I am afraid he over-exerted his brain. I know you all thought him very clever. I always considered him very good. There is cold rabbit pie, if you prefer it; but I have no doubt you are chilly, and would like what is hot. At this hour there is no choice—chops and mashed potatoes, or cold meat. There was a worry, moreover, about repairs. Nothing has been done to the house for some time—in fact, we have not had the money to execute necessary repairs. Now we shall have a terrible bill for dilapidations. Edward got a builder to go over the roof with him, because the rain came in. I think he caught a chill, and being below par he succumbed. He was a very good man, and so dear to me!’ Lady Elizabeth began to cry. ‘I know the chops are tender,’ she said, after having wiped her eyes. ‘One of our own sheep—we killed on Monday. I do not know why it is that when we buy mutton we give tenpence to tenpence-halfpenny, and when we sell we get only sixpence. We could not eat all the sheep ourselves, so what we did not want was sold to our workmen and parishioners. Edward let them have it at sixpence. He was so kind—so over-kind. He was easily imposed upon. He did not sufficiently consider himself.’ Presently, after another suffusion of tears, ‘You must eat. There is ground rice in a shape, and strawberry jam. I know you are unhappy. You loved Edward. So did I; but we are human, and must care for our bodies. Eat, eat, Ronald. Finish that bottle; you shall have another uncorked in a minute. That insufferable curate of ours has mounted the blue ribbon. The last word I heard him murmur was “Ichabod;” that means “The glory is departed.” I am alluding to Edward, not the curate. I thought he wanted to leave me a message. His lips moved, though his eyes were closed, so I leaned over him and said, “Yes, Edward, dear, what is it?” Then he sighed heavily, and pressed my hand, and opened his eyes, and said, “Ichabod!” I believe after that he had not a conscious moment. Never mind, Ronald, the gravy has not gone through.’ This referred to a spill of the juice from the chops on the tablecloth. The General’s hand had trembled as he helped himself to the gravy. ‘I think you had better not see him to-night. He looks so sweet and peaceful, as if he were twenty years younger. Dear, dear fellow! What shall I do without him? You had better he down; do go to bed for a few hours. You shall not be disturbed; you have had a long and harassing journey, and you, Ronald, at your time of life, cannot bear these strains like the young. Now, of course, nothing can be done. If he had lived till your arrival it would have been different. Your beds are aired, have no fear; and there are fires in your rooms.’
Lord Ronald and the Marquess remained till after the funeral. The funeral was conducted with some state; Lord Edward was an Archdeacon, Canon of the Cathedral of Glastonbury, and last, but not least, son of a Duke. All the principal clergy and gentry of the neighbourhood attended, and the parishioners showed and wept, the women especially. Would the next rector let them have his mutton at sixpence?
The Hon. Cadogan Square, brother of Lady Elizabeth, was there. The Squares were a great legal family, the head of which had been created a peer.
When the Archdeacon’s will was read, it was found that he left all his personalty to his wife, five hundred pounds to the Cathedral of Glastonbury, five hundred to the widows and orphans of the diocese, four hundred to the County Hospital, one hundred to the S.P.G., and one hundred to the C.M.S. All the rest of his property was to go to his niece Grace. But when his affairs were looked into, it was further discovered that his real property had been got rid of, sunk in the great Kingsbridge vortex in loan upon loan. Further, it was discovered that dilapidations on the rectory, and the chancel, and some cottages on the glebe, would amount to a thousand pounds, which the widow would be called upon by that horse-leech Queen Anne to pay.
It was further discovered that Lord Edward was several hundred pounds in arrear to the Glastonbury Bank. Also, that the butcher’s bill (mutton never below tenpence) for the last eighteen months was unpaid, and amounted to one hundred and forty pounds four shillings and five pence three farthings. The grocer’s bill for the last two years had been a running account, with running discharges of a few pounds at random; the wine merchant’s had not been attempted to be paid except by fresh orders. Lord Ronald was executor. It cost him fifty pounds to prove a will which left nothing to anybody but debts. The Madras Railway bonds had been sold a week before the death of the Archdeacon, and what had become of the money nobody knew. No money was found in the house, except thirteen shillings and sixpence, the proceeds of the sale of part of the sheep to parishioners, at sixpence per pound.
Lord Ronald was obliged to write to the Duke to entreat him to send him some money to cover immediate expenses. This the Duke was fortunately able to do out of the proceeds of the Madras Railway bonds, which had gone to him, and he had given the Archdeacon a note of hand for the amount, which somehow could not be found.
Most fortunately the club accounts, and the church accounts, were in perfect order, as were those of the diocesan societies of which the Archdeacon was treasurer. This was only so because these were managed by Lady Elizabeth, who kept all the money received in green baize bags, properly labelled, in a locked cupboard, suspended to pegs, like Bluebeard’s wives. The curate, however, had not received his salary for the last half-year. The servants had all been paid recently. Lady Elizabeth discharged their wages out of her private purse. Unfortunately for the curate, she did not pay his. As soon as he was able to get away, Lord Ronald returned to Court Royal. He had been very warmly attached to his brother Edward, whom he had reverenced as a pillar of orthodoxy—a pillar he was, like that of Pompey, supporting Nothing—and an ultimate appeal in all matters of difficulty relating to the farms. Lord Ronald was a man with a very gentle, tender heart, and Edward had been associated with his happy boyish days. They had been at school together; they had been companions in the holidays together. In after life, Ronald had always made of his brother Edward his closest friend and confidant, and adviser. Consequently the death of the Archdeacon shook the old man profoundly. The troubles and difficulties involved in his executorship bewildered and depressed him.
The Duke was shocked to see how altered he was when he returned to Court Royal. He lost his memory now and then, and seemed dazed, and had to hold his hand to his head to recollect himself. His face was more lined, his hair whiter, it looked thinner; he was less carefully dressed, and his hands shook. His back was bent, and his tread had lost its firmness.
The Duke clasped his brother’s hand. ‘You have felt the loss of Edward severely, Ronald. So have I. Dear, good, loving soul, full of honour and charity! And what a brain! clear, sound, well balanced. He ought to have been a bishop. Well! the world of this nineteenth century was not worthy of him. There is one great and good man the less, the like of whom will not be met with again.’
After a pause he continued: ‘I do not know what we are coming to. The spirit of the age has affected our excellent Worthivale. He demurred to my putting all the servants in mourning. He said the expense would be so great, as all the men must have new black liveries, and the women each a pair of black gowns and a bonnet apiece. I overrode his objections. I have no patience with this peddling spirit of retrenchment, whether in the affairs of the nation or of this house. It would be a scandal not to go into mourning for Lord Edward. The expense is unavoidable. I presume he has left a handsome sum behind him. I think you told me in your letter that he had left everything, except a few trifles in charity, to Grace. As for Elizabeth, she is provided for by her marriage settlement.’
‘I am afraid Grace’s chance of getting anything is very small,’ said the General; ‘and we shall be hard put to, to find money for the charities. I don’t quite know what is to be done about the debts—is Elizabeth to pay them? They are heavy. As for the charities, they amount to sixteen hundred pounds, and this we must find; if we do not find it voluntarily, the Dean and Chapter, and the officers of the Widows and Orphans, and Propagation of Heathens, and Church Missionary can force us. It would be a scandal——’
‘My dear Ronald, everything shall be paid at once. I shall see Worthivale to-day.’
‘Let Saltcombe and me settle that,’ said the General. Do not concern yourself further in this matter. I do not know whether Saltcombe has spoken to you about the mortgages on Court Royal and Kingsbridge. They have to be met very speedily. Indeed, time is flying, and the money must be raised. I have been thinking—what do you say, Duke, to the sale of Kingsbridge House? It is of no manner of use to you now?’
‘Good Heavens!’ The Duke rose in his chair. ‘Do I hear you aright? The sale of Kingsbridge House? Your wits are leaving you, Ronald. How can we sell that? We must have a town house. Why, Saltcombe will be marrying—he may be Duke shortly, and then he must spend the season in London. No, not another word of that. The Duke without a town residence! like a foreign yellow-backed book, published without a cover!’
‘We cannot make bricks without straw,’ murmured the General.
‘How, bricks without straw?’ asked the Duke, testily.
‘We are in a condition in which we do not know where to look for money, and yet we have to pay Edward’s bequests, some at least of his debts, and the mortgages on the very heart of the property.
‘Worthivale will manage it.’
‘Worthivale cannot work miracles. The Alvinston mortgages are also called in, and the Loddiswell threatened.’
‘Send Saltcombe to me. We will arrange for a fresh mortgage, or get these transferred. They have been transferred already—at least some of them.’
‘But more money must be found, and a transfer is not easy in these unsettled times. The property is burdened beyond what it can bear in prosperous times.’
The Duke bit his lips and frowned. ‘We have managed very well hitherto, and we shall manage in the future.’
‘We have managed in the way of the ostrich—the family crest, and not an inappropriate one—by putting our heads into a bush, and thinking, because we see no danger, that none menaces.’
‘Really, Ronald, your anxiety as executor to Edward’s will has ruffled your temper.’
‘Not a bit. Something must be done, and I do not know what to do, now Edward is gone. I expected Saltcombe to have told you all—he undertook to do so. As he has failed, I must. Emmanuel’s mortgages must be paid at once—those of Moses and Levi within three months—bills have been called in, which we must meet. Here are our debts to Edward, which must be cancelled within a twelvemonth, and the charitable societies satisfied. It will never do for them to say that the poor and the heathen have been cheated of a few pounds by the noble house of Kingsbridge. Then there is the Loddiswell mortgage—and others that are sure to come.’
‘These things right themselves,’ said the Duke. ‘“Tout vient à celui qui sait attendre.” Let Saltcombe take those troubles off your mind.’
‘Saltcombe is prepared to sell.’
‘To that I will never consent.’
‘If you will not sell voluntarily, the mortgagees will sell from under your feet.’
‘Nonsense. Worthivale will satisfy them all without their coming to extremities; besides, if it did come to that—well—rather be robbed than voluntarily alienate the patrimony of our ancestors.’
‘Look here, Duke. Let us sell those Rubens at Kingsbridgo House. Some of them arc scarcely decent—fat nude females and satyrs tumbling amid goats, and peaches, and grapes, and cherubs, and red and blue drapery, which is everywhere except where it ought to be. One of them, you know, is covered with a curtain. Of what good to us are these pictures? Let them be sold. They are worth a great deal of money, and we should be thankful to be rid of such voluptuous nightmares.’
‘They were presented to the Field-Marshal by the grateful City of Antwerp. They are heirlooms. They have a history. They have been engraved. We cannot part with them.’
‘There is a quantity of old plate here—I should say tons of it, which is never used. Why should not that be sold?’
‘For the best possible reason, that each piece has a history. Some were presented for services rendered, others are works of high art, some came to us through distinguished marriages. No, the plate cannot be parted with.’
‘Then the books. There are perches of volumes in the library no one ever looks into, some, doubtless, valuable; possibly some unique. Let us have down a London bookseller to value them, and if need be, purchase them. Which of us cares for old books now?’
‘They are all bound and impressed with our arms on the covers, or have our bookplates inside. I cannot endure the thought of them finding their way into the libraries of common Dicks and Harries. No—the books must not be sold.’
‘There is the family jewelry. There are magnificent sets of diamonds and other stones, never worn. Let them be disposed of.’
‘Not on any account. Saltcombe may marry, and his wife will need our jewelry. You would not have a Duchess of Kingsbridge without her diamonds?’
‘I give it up,’ said the General, distractedly, with his hand to his head.
‘My dear Ronald,’ said the Duke, ‘if we are to go down, which I will not for one moment admit, let us sink like Rienzi and his sister in the last scene of the opera, amid falling pillars of Church and State, of the moral and social order. I see on all sides threatenings of the dissolution of the bases of society. It may be that we, in England, will go through throes like those of the Revolution in France. It looks like it. All that we honour and hold sacred is menaced. There is no security anywhere. In the general social upheaval and constitutional overthrow, we may be crushed, but do not let us contribute to our own fall.’
‘I want to avert it,’ exclaimed the General.
‘Listen to me. I must trouble you not to interrupt me. There is one thing of which, if we be true to ourselves, we can never be despoiled—our dignity. Let us maintain that. Let us combat the powers of evil—I mean the democracy——’
‘But this is not a case of democracy at all, but of debt,’ interrupted the General.
‘You are again snapping the thread of my argument,’ said the Duke, offended; ‘and now I don’t know where I was, it has shrunk out of reach like a ruptured tendon. Do not let us cast away what is ours, as sops to Cerberus, to facilitate an Avernan descent.’
‘What about the charitable bequests? The honour of the family is at stake.’
‘Where the honour of the family is menaced, it must be maintained at all cost. “L’honneur avant la vie.” But I can see no dignity in the lizard, which when pursued slips joint after joint of his tail, and is content if he lives, a maimed and despicable trunk.’
Lord Ronald was trifling with a bronze lizard paper-weight on the table as the Duke spoke, and his Grace’s eyes were on it. ‘There is something to me unspeakably contemptible in attempting to conciliate the masses by dropping privilege after privilege, and selling estate after estate to satisfy Jewish money-lenders—it is all the same.’ He paused, still looking at the lizard. ‘I do not see how it is possible that Edward can have left so little. He had a good income from several quarters, and Elizabeth was not penniless.’
‘He has left nothing but debts.’
‘What sort of debts?’
‘Butcher’s bill, grocer, shoemaker, clerical tailor, fruiterer—I cannot tell you all. There is quite a commotion among the shopkeepers of Glastonbury; they think they will be done out of their money.’
The Duke reddened. ‘Done out of their money! Nonsense, Ronald! With me to fall back on? Write to them at once. I make myself solely responsible for all my brother’s debts. Every man shall be paid, and paid promptly.’
Lord Ronald still stood playing with the bronze lizard.
‘Well!’ said the Duke, looking up, ‘that settles everything, I trust.’
‘But whence is the money to come?’
‘My dear fellow, I cannot attend to such trifles. Worthivale will manage that. Let him have the figures.’
‘And the charities?’
‘All shall be paid—to the fraction of a penny.’
‘That is not your affair. It can be done, of course. I pledge myself to pay.’
The General sighed. ‘Oh, Edward! Edward!’ he moaned, as he walked away more dispirited than when he entered the room. ‘Only your genius could now disperse the cloud of difficulties! And you are gone. One pillar is fallen, and the whole building will go to pieces.’