‘Do not distress yourself,’ said the Marquess, quietly. ‘I will spare you the pain of asking questions. You are quite right in desiring to secure the happiness of your daughter. I obeyed the wishes of my family, and proposed to Miss Rigsby, satisfied in my mind that, having taken on me sacred responsibilities, I should honourably fulfil them. Of this you may be certain: if Miss Rigsby become my wife, never will I show her the slightest want of courtesy and deference.’
‘She must have more than that. Do you love her?’
‘Mr. Rigsby,’ said the Marquess, ‘I do not press my pretensions to your daughter’s hand. I tell you that I am resolved to do my duty; there is no other living woman who has any share in my affections, always excepting my sister.’
The planter was uneasy. He did not know how to approach the delicate questions he wanted to put. He fumbled with his hat and grew dark red in the face.
‘I beg your pardon, Saltcombe,’ he said, ‘if I touch on subjects that are tender. I am very much shocked—very, so is Dulcina, by the dreadful incident at the theatre. I thought at the time you seemed overcome. I was not then aware of the—of the——’
Lord Saltcombe could hardly become paler than he was before, but the shadows in his face became deeper. He rose from his chair, and said with the greatest composure, ‘Mr. Rigsby, I will not require you to continue. If you doubt me, we had better part. I am returning to Court Royal. Pray excuse the abruptness of my departure to Miss Rigsby and Miss Stokes. I offer them the humblest apologies.’
Mr. Rigsby could hardly believe his ears. He was still sitting. He got up without his hat, then stooped, picked it up, let it fall, and picked it up again. Instead of taking his future son-in-law to task, he was being shown the door with cool politeness. The Marquess was proud and dignified; he shook Dulcina off as if she were not worth having. Mr. Rigsby had not intended to quarrel with the Marquess, he had desired the allaying of his own anxieties. A word of regret for past follies, an assurance that the fortunes of the family were not completely wrecked, would have sufficed. He believed that Dulcina was so much in love with Lord Saltcombe that a disappointment would half kill her. He was ready to meet the Marquess halfway, to accept an assurance of repentance, and to pay off one or two of the mortgages at once, and secure the rest of his property to his daughter.