‘Yes—I suppose so,’ said Lord Ronald. ‘And yet—she will feel the loss more than any of us.’
‘She will have Lucy.’
‘Of course, Lucy will never leave her, good, faithful girl.’
‘Uncle Ronald, you may as well know everything. My notes of hand have all been called up. You know how extravagant I was some years ago, when in the army. Well, the sum, compared with the mortgages, is nothing, but for all that, in our present distress, whence is the money to come?’
‘Pitiful powers,’ cried the General, ‘troubles are raining on us as fire and brimstone out of heaven, and what have we done to deserve it?’ He stood still, put his hand to his forehead, and thrust his fingers through his white hair. ‘My head spins. I cannot think.’
‘The first thing to be done,’ said Lord Saltcombe, ‘is for us to collect our plate and finest pictures, and send them to Christie’s, and have them sold.’
The General withdrew his hand from his face, and stood staring blankly at his nephew. Then two clear drops ran down his furrowed cheeks. He hastily took out his handkerchief and blew his nose, to disguise what he was ashamed to have seen.
‘Yes, uncle—this must be.’
‘The Duke will never consent.’
‘Then it must be done without his consent.’
‘Herbert! not possible.’
The Marquess said no more; he caught his uncle by the arm, and made him continue with him the mechanical walk. He did it to enable the old man to overcome or disguise his emotion.
‘I never was sanguine,’ said Lord Saltcombe. ‘I have felt that a storm was gathering over our heads, and that no conductors would divert the flashes into innocuous channels. You and the Archdeacon were more hopeful, so was Worthivale, who, of all others, had best reason to know how matters stood. But when Beavis spoke out so plainly, and Uncle Edward and you refused to accept his opinion, then I knew that the end was near at hand. For myself, I care nothing. Life has little of interest, and is void of ambitions for me. But if it were possible to do anything to soften the blow to Grace and my father, I would do it. There is, however, nothing—only the sad duty of preparing them for the worst, and that I take upon myself. With Grace it will be easy. With the Duke