Page:Court Royal.djvu/242

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seemed to take a fancy to my child, and she, poor thing, completely lost her heart to him. Of course I gave my consent. I was proud to think that my Dulcina would be a marchioness, and eventually a duchess. One loves title; it is born in one, I suppose; it is a weakness, but it is a weakness common to the whole human race.’

‘I congratulate you with all my heart. What can a father desire for his daughter better than the eight strawberry leaves?’

‘But—I consented in all simplicity, believing that a ducal coronet was a rock on which sure prosperity could be built, and now I find——’ He sighed, took off his hat, brushed his brow, and said, ‘My dear Ottley, for God’s sake tell me the truth about the family. Give me your advice. I am so perplexed, I do not know what to do.’

‘What am I to tell you? I have not my Peerage with me. I have it at home, and will lend it you, or we will put our heads together over it. The Marquess is here, in Plymouth, at the “Royal.”’

‘I know that. I want to know nothing that the Peerage can tell me. I have learned that by heart. I want to know about their circumstances.’

‘Oh, they are dipped, but so is every respectable old family. Have you ever been at Saint Jean de Luz? There the bathers spend hours in the water, only their heads emerging, and take their meals and their naps bathing. I have seen the whole bay full of heads, and heads only. It is so with all the landed gentry—with most families of distinction—they are all under water, only their heads out, but they do not drown.’

‘The Kingsbridge family are utterly ruined.’

‘I do not believe that. It takes gigantic efforts to ruin a duke. The great nobility stick in the social jaw in spite of ache and decay; they are fast by four or five fangs. As for you or me, we are only one-fang people, out, and our places taken by porcelain imitations, and no one cares. But your four and five-fanged people are different.’

‘You do not think the Duke ruined?’

‘I know nothing about him, more than that he lives quietly, never goes to town, and does good on all sides.’

‘You think that he is not in overwhelming difficulties?’

‘I should not suppose so, but I cannot tell.’

‘There is one thing more. What do you know about the Marquess of Saltcombe, who is engaged to my daughter?’

‘Not much either; of late nothing at all.’