Page:Court Royal.djvu/296

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‘You have not invited me, sir. Are you Mr. Worthivale?’

‘The same. Steward to his Grace the Duke of Kingsbridge. We have a nice little place, Court Royal Lodge, and would have been proud to see you in it. I did not invite you? Bless my soul! how careless of me! I have intended to do so, and tied knots in my pocket-handkerchief several times to remind me to write; but when I came to find the knot I always recollected some omissions in my duty to his Grace, and thought the knot was tied in reference to that. You must excuse my neglect. I am so overwhelmed with business that I have no time to think of private affairs. You may be sure that you would always be welcome at the Lodge.’

‘I dare say you have much to occupy you now,’ said Charles Cheek. ‘There is much talk in Plymouth about the break-up in the Duke’s affairs. I hear they are in a very ugly mess.’

‘Mess!’ exclaimed Mr. Worthivale, bridling; ‘mess is not a word that is seemly in such connection. A duke’s affairs may become embroiled, an earl’s involved, an ordinary squire’s may fall into confusion, but only a tradesman’s can get into a mess. There has been agricultural depression felt in the Midlands and in the east of England, where much corn is grown, and some of the great landowners have had to retrench, and the smaller have been reduced to difficulties; but here it is not so. A duke is something very different from a country squire.’

Not a trace of a blush appeared on the steward’s face as he told this lie. He was a man of scrupulous integrity, but to save the honour of the house he served he was ready to say anything—who can tell?—even do anything. Mr. Worthivale, who told this falsehood, was actually on his way to town to see the father of Charles Cheek, the wealthy tradesman, and to try to inveigle him into lending money to relieve the distress of the family, he had written to Crudge, as agent for Mr. Emmanuel, requesting him to call at his house on a certain day. He had written to the other mortgagees, who were anxious and troublesome, to pacify them with words if possible. And the words he had used to them were not strictly true. He was not satisfied that Emmanuel, and Emmanuel alone, would be satisfied with only promises. He had tortured his brains for many nights with schemes for raising money without a sale of property. All at once a brilliant idea flashed into his mind. He recollected Mr. Cheek, of the monokeratic system, who had married his pretty and sweet cousin, a Worthivale. He had not met Cheek since the funeral of Mrs. Cheek, but he knew about him