thought he had been too short with his brother in the forenoon, and regretted it. This, no doubt, was distressing Lord Ronald. Lady Grace was always quiet; she could talk pleasantly, but lacked the power of originating and keeping up a conversation. Lucy threw herself into the gap; she was skilful to maintain a conversation, and give it a fillip when it flagged. An invaluable person at table when spirits were low.
‘You good little maid,’ said the Duke, ‘you are to me an unfailing source of admiration. Always lively, with your dark eyes sparkling, and your fresh cheek blooming, and your tongue never lacking a happy speech.’
‘It could not be otherwise, your Grace, when you are always flattering,’ said Lucy.
When Lady Grace and Miss Worthivale retired the Duke passed the port to his brother. ‘You never touch claret, I think?’ Then, noticing that Lord Ronald’s hand shook as he filled his glass, he asked, ‘What ails you, Ronald, to-day? You look out of sorts.’
‘I have received unpleasant news from Plymouth.’
‘From Plymouth!’ repeated the Duke. ‘Not a letter from Saltcombe, surely?’
‘No, Saltcombe has not written to me, but I have heard something affecting him which I do not like.’
‘What do you mean? Is he ill?’
‘No, not that.’
‘What is it, then?’
‘I don’t fancy his love-making is proceeding smoothly.’
‘The course of true love never did run smooth,’ said the Duke. ‘Lovers always fall out, and make up their quarrels next day. That is a commonplace in Cupid’s maxims.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ said the General. He was uneasy: strict in his ideas of right and wrong, he was unskilled to act a part and speak half the truth. He turned hot, then cold.
‘What is it, then?’
‘I believe Dulcina Rigsby dresses very badly.’
‘I did not like her taste here, but that is a matter for ladies to consider, not men. For my part, I think the modern fashions detestable.’
‘I hear she makes herself ridiculous by her outrageous style.’
The Duke frowned.
‘Of course Saltcombe does not like his future wife to become the laughing-stock of Plymouth.’