Court Royal/Chapter XXXI

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CHAPTER XXXI.
A SPOKE IN THE WHEEL.

Mr. Rigsby had taken a handsome house for the winter at Stoke, above Devonport, or rather between Devonport and Plymouth. The house commanded a view over the entire harbour, with Maker Point and Mount Edgcumbe. A more beautiful bay is not to be found the world over. The hills are bold, some bare, others richly wooded; the creeks are numerous, the beautiful Hamoaze opening into the bay is like a hand, every finger of which is a lovely blue estuary, and this fair hand is full of vessels. Far away to the head of the water rise the peaks of Dartmoor above rolling woods and hills, studded with white houses and grey church towers. Mr. Rigsby was not easily satisfied; he was determined to have a good house, and he got the best, with large gardens sloping down the hill, lawns, tennis-ground enclosed within yew hedges, and terraces with roses.

He had roughed it in Ceylon in old days; the bungalow in which Dulcina had been brought up was plain, and slenderly furnished. In England Mr. Rigsby was exacting. Dulcina would be a duchess, and he must show the world that he had a fortune that allowed him to live like a prince. He bought carriages and horses, and engaged servants, put the men in the Rigsby livery of buff and blue, made his coachman powder his hair and sit on a hammer-cloth. He sent orders to town for pictures, and had the house put into the hands of a decorative adviser.

‘I know nothing about art furniture,’ he said. ‘So long as I have a chair to sit on, it is all one to me what is the shape, but—one must be in fashion, or risk being thought a boor.’

He had his own rooms plainly furnished—a hard bed, and no carpets on the floors. ‘I like to spit,’ he said, ‘and carpets get in the way of spitting.’ He had his Cingalese man-servant, who understood his wants, and none of the other men were allowed near him. He lived very much to himself, smoking and reading Indian papers in his snuggery, and it was with difficulty that he could be drawn from it to entertain guests in the drawing-room.

He was sitting in his room, with a fire in the grate, and his feet against the marble jambs, when he was told that a visitor was desirous of speaking to him on urgent business.

‘Who is it? a gentleman or a lady? A gentleman! Show him in here. Confound it all, can I not be left an hour in peace? In the drawing-room, is he? Has he not given you his card? No! Deuce take it, I suppose I must go in to him. Here, take off my smoking jacket, and help me into my coat. I can’t go in my slippers. Give me my boots. What a life I lead here? I wish I were back in Ceylon!’

As soon as he was presentable Mr. Rigsby went to the drawing-room. He saw there a stoutly built man with grey black hair, and dark eyes like sloes. There was no mistaking his nationality. Nose and eyes and cheek-bones proclaimed it. He was well dressed. As Mr. Rigsby entered he rose and bowed.

‘I beg your pardon,’ said Mr. Rigsby, with some stiffness, ‘I did not learn your name. Perhaps my man forgot it, perhaps you did not give it. You said you had business with me.’

‘My name is of little importance,’ said the stranger. ‘It is quite true that I have called on business. I have heard, sir, that you are desirous of furnishing this most charming residence with everything that taste and luxury demands. My name, sir, is Lazarus—Emmanuel Lazarus, of the “Golden Balls,” Barbican. I happen to have, sir, a very choice collection of artistic odds and ends, which I offer at a ridiculously low price. I am a collector of objects of art and antiquity, and it is my pleasure to furnish gentlemen of taste and means with the best treasures of the past. I have also some very nice old Spanish lace, which your beautiful young lady might like to see. I got the spoils of several churches at a bargain, the lace is from the altars, and I shall be proud to think that one whom I hear on all sides spoken of as an Oriental star should wear it. Old china, sir! no man can call himself a gentleman, whatever his birth and fortune, or invite friends to his house without a blush, if he has not his cheffoniers and side-table and walls covered with old china. Old silver also, sir, is greatly in request. I happen to have some very choice apostle spoons. No one can hold up his head in society without at least a couple of apostle spoons in Dutch silver sugar basins.’

‘Thank you,’ said Mr. Rigsby; ‘I understand none of these things. I have put myself into the hands of a decorator.’

‘Would you mind telling me, sir, the style in which the decorator is going to do you up? Louis Quatorze, Queen Anne, Chippendale, or Victorian? Are you going to be painted over with cranes and sunflowers? I’ve known a lady dadoed round, with a skirting of Japanese rush mats, all gilt, and very effective it was. If you’ll allow me to suggest you that, sir, you would find it neat and warm. I happen to have a quantity of these rush mats all plaited in different patterns. Or are you going into Chippendale, and have your legs curved, and turned fine, and fluted? I don’t hold to having your legs made too spindly. There is a loss of strength. Still, fashion is for it. I have some of the very finest Chippendale ever seen in stock; I can give you legs that are in the first style, and yet are not spindly. Or—if I may make so bold as to ask—are you going to be Rococo?’

Mr. Rigsby stared. ‘I do not understand——

‘A combination of rock and shell. Are they going to encrust you with rockwork and shellwork, and scoop out curves in you and fill in with flowers, and not leave you a straight line anywhere, and gild you from top to toe? The effect is gorgeous rather than classic. The First Empire is a reaction against that, severe, subdued—nude. Are you going in for that? If so, I have some choice little articles, clocks and side-tables and mirrors.’

Mr. Rigsby stood up. ‘Sir, I am very busy; I leave all this to the decorator. I am incompetent to judge for myself. One thing you may be quite sure of: I will never go in for the nude. The climate don’t admit of it. It is different altogether in Ceylon. I wish you good morning.’

‘Stay, stay!’ exclaimed the Jew, alarmed at the prospect of losing his opportunity in his over-eagerness to deal. ‘Might I ask one thing more, sir? I have matter of the utmost importance to communicate. I cannot speak of the matter in this room. I am afraid of being overheard. It is not about Louis Quatorze, or Rococo, or First Empire.’

‘There is no one here. We are quite alone, but I cannot imagine you can have anything to communicate that will interest me. I have put myself into the hands of a decorator, and given him carte blanche.’

‘If you wish it. Will you hear me patiently for five minutes?’

Mr. Rigsby looked at the French clock. It had stopped. He took out his watch. ‘I can only spare you three. I am most busy.’

‘I will crush all I have to say into three minutes. Only I entreat you, my dear sir, to have patience with me, and allow me fully to explain the circumstances to you. In your presence, sir, in the presence, sir, of a man of your colossal fortune, I feel myself so agitated, so unable to gather my thoughts, that——

‘I am ready to listen to you during three minutes. I cannot allow more. My time is of exceeding value, I am pressed with business which may not be postponed. I see by my watch that only two minutes remain.’

‘I will make haste, sir, but the presence of a Goliath of wealth overawes me. I have heard, sir, of the immensity of your fortune, and I know that such a fortune could not be accumulated without great genius.’

Mr. Rigsby spread his breast by putting his thumbs through his waistcoat armholes. Peacocks, when vain, spread their tails; men, when proud, their bosoms.

‘I admit that I am not a fool, if that satisfies you,’ said Mr. Rigsby, ‘but please proceed to business.’

‘You will excuse me when I say that your fortune, acquired by hard labour and racking of brain, must not be thrown away blindly.’

‘Set your mind quite at ease, Mr. Lazarus; my property is safe, and its security in no way concerns you.’

‘You must excuse me if I dispute this; I see you on the point of throwing everything away.’

Mr. Rigsby assumed a stare of disgust and indignation.

‘You are presuming. One minute more.’

‘I understand that you are about to see your most beautiful, talented, and fascinating daughter married to the Marquess of Saltcombe.’

Mr. Rigsby rose. ‘Really, Mr. Lazarus, I must decline to have my private affairs discussed by you.’

‘I am not discussing them, sir; I am here to warn you.’

‘To warn me of what? of sitting on spindle-legged Chippendale? Five seconds more.’

‘Of marrying your daughter to a bankrupt profligate!’ exclaimed Lazarus, rising.

‘What do you mean? The words are insulting.’

‘The epithets describe him exactly. Bankrupt he and all his family are; and he is only seeking the hand of your daughter to save himself and his whole house from utter, irretrievable ruin.’

‘Good God!’ exclaimed the planter. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean what I say. If you want proof, I have it. I have it by me here.’

Mr. Rigsby burst out laughing. ‘Preposterous! The Duke has an enormous fortune, to which mine is a fleabite, I have seen how he lives.’

‘The Duke is over head and ears in debt. He cannot pay interest on his mortgages. He has borrowed money right and left, and lives from hand to mouth. In a month, I—that is, the creditors—will take steps to foreclose; it is because the Marquess and his family hope to stave off ruin with your money that they stoop to accept your daughter into the family.’

‘Stoop! stoop to Dulcina!’ exclaimed Mr. Rigsby. ‘Come into my smoking-room. This matter must not be discussed here. Miss Rigsby, or Miss Stokes, or one of the flunkeys might be dropping in—visitors calling—Heaven knows what. Follow me into my study. I have plenty of time at my disposal. I have nothing to do, and will hear you patiently. Good Heavens! Bankrupt! Ruined! Dulcina snapped at for her money! Thunder and blazes! Follow me.’

He led the way into his smoking-room, which he called his study, though no books were in it.

‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I cannot think in this coat. My ideas won’t move in boots. Allow me to put on my smoking jacket and slippers; my time is at your disposal.’

‘I have here,’ said the Jew, taking a chair by the table—‘I have in this little book a précis of the income and expenditure and debts of the family. I have got more; I have here a packet of notes of hand, and a couple of mortgages, one on Court Royal manor and estate, which will convince you that I am not exaggerating when I say that the family is on the verge of ruin. Please cast your eye over these accounts; they were extracted by a confidential agent from the books in the steward’s office, without his knowledge. In love and war and business, everything is fair.’

Mr. Rigsby sat down. His face became mottled, he could not sit comfortably on his chair; he turned it, then turned it again. ‘Good Heavens!’ he said, ‘who would have thought it? It is impossible.’

‘It is true, absolutely true.’

Mr. Rigsby stood up and walked to the window, where he stood for some minutes drumming on the glass with his fingers.

‘I was not told this,’ he said.

‘Of course you were kept in the dark.’

‘I shall tie everything up to my daughter’s sole use.’

‘Then they will not say “Thank you” for your daughter. They only want her because they expect through her to get at your purse.’

Mr. Rigsby came back to the table, and took up the schedule of debts, bills, and mortgages.

‘Some of these are for enormous sums, of old standing, never redeemed.’

‘Never likely to be redeemed, unless you find the money.’

‘But I cannot find the amount. I should sink everything.’

‘This is the state of affairs; I have felt it my duty to inform you of it. If the young people love each other so dearly that your daughter is ready to make the sacrifice, then I have nothing to say against the marriage; but I think it well that both she and you should be made aware of the character of the man to whom she is about to entrust the happiness of her life. I have shown you that there is reason to believe that the marriage is desired by the family for the sake of your money. You are not perhaps aware why it is that the Marquess has not been married already.’

‘No, I do not know.’

‘I will tell you. Because of a scandal. He ran away with a beautiful woman, the wife of a respectable man of business. The woman is now an actress. You have seen her, Palma Kaminska.

Mr. Rigsby looked at him with pale face and open mouth.

‘He fell in love with her a few years ago, and carried her away with him to Sicily. After a while they parted, but whether the scandal has stood in the way of a woman of character accepting him as husband, or whether he has never ceased to love her, I cannot say. She disappeared for a while; where she has been living, whether under his protection or not, I do not know. You saw her yesterday. You noticed his agitation when an accident happened to her.’

‘Merciful Heaven!’ exclaimed Mr. Rigsby, putting his hands to his brow, and leaning his elbows on the table. ‘What a wicked world this is! I wish I were back in Ceylon!’

‘He visited the house where she lodged, after the accident. Let us hope it was only to say good-bye for ever, before marrying your daughter.’

‘If this be true he never shall marry my daughter. Oh dear, oh dear! What misery might have ensued had she become his—and this not have come out till after! Poor Dulcina! But—’ he raised himself on one elbow—‘I cannot understand your motive coming here and telling me this. What is the happiness of Dulcina to you? What concern is it of yours whether I lose my fortune among titled adventurers?’

‘None at all,’ answered the Jew drily.

‘I don’t believe a word about the actress,’ exclaimed the planter desperately. ‘Why should I not use my money, if I please, to extricate the estate? It will come to my daughter in the end. I shall not lose my money. Whatever I do is for my child. As for this scandalous story, I don’t and I won’t believe it. I will ask Saltcombe the truth about it myself.’

‘Do so; he will not deny what occurred.’

‘I should like to know, sir, what your motive is in coming here and troubling me with these stories. If you hold one or two of the mortgages you ought not to regret the chance of having them paid off. Why do you seek to set me against the Marquess?’

‘The woman he ran away with was my wife.’ When Lazarus said this he rose. ‘Now you understand why I put a spoke in his wheel! Is he to be happy, released from his cares, and I to be miserable, weighed down with trouble? Is he to have a wife and home, and children on his knees, and I to have a cold and solitary hearth?’ Lazarus stood in the door. ‘I have said my say. Act as you think best for the happiness of your child.’

He bowed and left the room. Mr. Rigsby laid his brow on the table, groaned, and said, ‘I wish I were back in Ceylon!’