Page:Court Royal.djvu/260

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Lord Saltcombe shook his head.

‘Your father is put out at your not writing. I thought that sickness might account for the neglect.’

‘I have not been ill.’

‘Then why have you not written? I found the Duke this morning in a tantrum about it. He will call you sharply to task. What have you been doing with yourself?’

‘I am sorry if I have given my father pain. I would spare him every annoyance. What I have to communicate now is likely to disturb him. Miss Rigsby and I have not succeeded in liking each other more, the more we have seen of each other.’

‘What? How? You don’t mean to say——you!—you surely are not going to tell me——

‘That the engagement is at an end.’

Lord Ronald started. ‘At an end! Herbert, you are out of your senses, or I am dreaming.’

‘It is true. The engagement has been broken off. Mr. Rigsby must have picked up exaggerated reports of the state of our pecuniary affairs, and he began impertinently to catechise me about them. I could do no other than refuse to answer his questions.’

The General clasped his hands on his knees, wrung them, and groaned. ‘Saltcombe! do you know that we have been building on your marriage? Do you know that without it we are hopelessly lost? Your marriage was the one cord to which we clung. That gone, we sink. There is no salvation anywhere.’

‘I know it,’ answered the Marquess, gloomily. ‘I know more than that. We drag others who have trusted us into ruin along with us. But it cannot be helped. I have done my utmost. I am not to blame—not in this matter, at least. I did what was required of me. I constrained myself to be civil and play the lover to a girl I could not like, to one with whom I could not associate with any pleasure. I proposed to her. I never betrayed my feelings by a look, a gesture, or a word. I was prepared to make her my wife, and when she was my wife you may rely on me I would have failed in no duty towards her. But I could not endure to be treated with impertinence—not by such as Rigsby.’

‘Rigsby treat you with impertinence! It is inconceivable, you have misunderstood him. I will go post-haste to Plymouth and explain matters, and effect a reconciliation. You must marry the girl, you must.’