Page:Court Royal.djvu/321

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CHAPTER XLIV.
A STARTLING PROPOSAL.

The serenity of security was gone from Court Royal. Though all went on there unaltered to the eye of the casual visitor, a change had passed over the house, like the touch of the first October frost on the park trees. And as the trees show their sensibility of coming winter in various tints, the maple turning crimson and the beech gold, the oak russet and the sycamore brown, so did the threat of impending ruin affect the various members of the household variously. Hitherto the house of Kingsbridge had been regarded as unbreakable as the Bank of England, as unassailable as the British Constitution. Now the faith had received a shock so rude that it could never recover its child-like simplicity. The windows of heaven were open, the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and in the deluge what would survive? The ark had sprung a leak, and all the household were aware of it and restless. On every face a shadow had fallen. The members of the family talked each other into momentary encouragement, and then parted to fall back into despondency. The Duke was the least affected. After he had recovered the agitation into which he had been thrown by the paragraph in the Society paper, he put the whole matter from him. He had known all his life that the estates were encumbered, he had known also all his life that this had not precluded him from spending money. Hitherto, when he needed it, money had been raised, it could be raised again. There was always water in the well. The pump worked badly. The fault lay in Worthivale; he was old, and creaky, and clumsy.

Lord Ronald, on the other hand, worried himself with schemes for raising money. He came into his nephew’s room every day with a new suggestion as impracticable as the last, and when Saltcombe threw cold water over it he visited the Archdeacon, in hopes of gaining encouragement from him. At table, before company and the servants, the General was cheerful, told his old stories, abused the new army regulations, wondered what the service was coming to, when the first necessity for advancement was to gain the favour of the newspaper reporters. He was less sanguine in his views than heretofore,