Page:Court Royal.djvu/247

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235
BROKEN OFF

‘Oh, James, you have, you have!’

‘And I have had only my daughter to solace me in my loneliness. And now that daughter——

‘Is about to be translated to a loftier sphere.’

‘In matters of the heart, Eliza—in matters of the heart—I mean—I am confused. I have had much to think of. I did not intend to speak now, but I thought it best to do so to-night instead of delaying longer.’ Miss Stokes looked down. ‘Won’t you take a chair, my dear Eliza?’ She gracefully sank into one near the table. ‘You have been so good and devoted to Dulcina, my dear Eliza, that I have considered I could not do better than take you—ahem!—take you——

‘Oh, James! I never, never dreamed of the happiness.’

‘Take you into confidence before breaking the news to Dulcina. How she will bear it I tremble to think.’

‘Do not tremble, dear James. She is cordially attached to me, I may say she regards me—she has regarded me, though our respective ages hardly admit it, as a second mother.’

‘Then I can trust you to break the painful news to her, can I not?’

‘Not painful—do not say painful, James.’

‘Indeed, I hope and trust it will not be painful, but I greatly fear. Such deception, such heartlessness.’

‘What deception? What heartlessness, James? Not on my side; I have been all frankness—too much heart.’

‘I have been horribly deceived. It is all up with the engagement.’

‘Up! which engagement?’

‘Which? There has been only one. Dulcina must forget Lord Saltcombe.’

‘What—what?’ exclaimed Miss Stokes, pushing her chair back and looking blank. ‘I thought, James—but never mind what I thought.’

‘If you thought anything else you thought wrong,’ said he. ‘It is all up with the engagement. We have been grossly imposed upon. The Marquess was hunting Dulcina for her money; the family of the Duke are in desperate straits, and at any moment the creditors may be down on them, turn them out of Court Royal, and sell house and lands.’

Miss Stokes stared.

‘They were reckoning on paying their debts with my money—a pack of coroneted beggars! Lord Saltcombe does not care a snap of the fingers for Dulcina—he wanted only her money,