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.’