Page:Court Royal.djvu/261

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‘I cannot do so. Mr. Rigsby does not wish it. He has been frightened by gossip about our difficulties, and he thinks we will involve him and throw away his daughter’s fortune.’

‘But he ought to be proud, happy to contribute——

‘Perhaps he ought, but he is not. On the contrary, he declines the honour.’

‘Heaven help us, we are lost! Do you know, Saltcombe, that some of the mortgages are called up, and unless we find the money we shall be compelled to sell? It is too dreadful!’

‘I have done what I could. To bear to be taken to task by that Mr. Rigsby exceeded my endurance.’

‘Did you break with him, or he with you?’

‘He came to me, as I believe, with the express purpose of bringing about a rupture. He charged us with being ruined, and wanting to stave off ruin with his money.’

‘That is true.’

‘It may be true, but it is impertinence to say it.’

‘So you flared up and upset the salt?’

‘I declined to be cross-questioned.’

‘What is to be done about conveying this news to the Duke? It must be done gently, lest it excite him and affect his heart.’

‘If you think best, uncle, that I should take all the blame on myself, I will do so. Let my father suppose me capricious, he will be annoyed, but it will pass. He did not look cordially on this engagement. He did not care for the connection. If he thinks that the planter broke it off his pride will be hurt, he will feel it as an insult, and that will agitate him profoundly. No; best let me bear the blame.’

Lord Ronald put his hand to his head. He was too bewildered to think; he looked at the Marquess, then at the fire, almost stupidly. Both were silent for some time.

‘I came in quietly, without being observed,’ said Lord Saltcombe. ‘I wished to have a word with you before I saw anyone else. I had rather not meet Grace to-night.’

‘The Duke must be prepared for this. You have shaken me, I cannot collect my thoughts. We must telegraph for the Archdeacon. We shall want his advice. What a card castle we have been erecting, Saltcombe! and now with a puff it is down in ruins.’

‘I will go and sleep at the lodge. Beavis will give me a shakedown. I do not wish to meet Grace till I am more composed, and I do not want the news of my return to be carried to my father till you have prepared him.’