Thompson. Turn the servants out. I don’t want all the world here.—Please leave my chair, Lucy.—Grace, I had rather you were not in the room. What have you all come tumbling in on me for in this fashion? I am not dying. The room is not in flames. I pray you—leave me alone with my brothers.’
‘Please let me stay by you, papa,’ said Lady Grace.
He made an impatient gesture with his head, but she would take no denial. She stepped back behind his chair, and Lucy left the room.
When the Duke saw that he had only his son and brothers before him, he recovered himself, and, holding out the paper, exclaimed, ‘I have been insulted—grossly insulted. Look at this!’
The Archdeacon took the paper from his hand, and read it.
‘What is it, Edward?’ asked the General.
‘Hand him the paper, Edward, when you have done reading the precious production. What do you think it dares—actually dares to say? Upon my word, the temerity of the press is inconceivable. It has the audacity to declare that we are ruined; that I—I, the Duke of Kingsbridge, am living on the forbearance of my creditors. Bless my soul! where are the lightnings of heaven, that they do not flash on heads that dare think, and tongues and hands that dare speak and write, such outrages?’
The General turned white and looked down. The Archdeacon folded the paper with trembling hands, and laid it on the table.
‘I wish,’ said Lord Ronald, ‘that the old times were back, when I might call the editor out and put a pistol-shot through his head.’
‘That cannot be. It is impossible now. A gentleman cannot redress a wrong,’ said the Duke. ‘If he takes a horsewhip and touches a dog that has snarled at him, he has to endure the indignity of being summoned for assault. You have not read the paragraph, Ronald. You had better not. It will fire your blood, and you will be committing some indiscretion. It dares to insinuate that we sent the Marquess hunting that girl for her money wherewith to buy off our creditors and secure prolongation of days to ourselves.’
Lord Ronald was too confused to speak, his temples became spotted red. He took the paper and read it.