Lucy looked at her friend with surprise. Hitherto she had not spoken on this subject to a stranger, and now she was courting conversation thereon.
‘Let us hope for the best,’ said Charles.
‘It is of no avail hoping. We have cast out the anchor, and there is no bottom in which it will bite. A fig tree in our garden has been failing for some years. Last autumn I pointed it out to old Jonathan. “Please, my lady,” he said, “the fig is going home.” This spring the wood is dead, and Jonathan is stubbing up the roots. “He’s gone home, as I said,” was his remark. Well! the old tree of Eveleigh is also going home, and next year we shall be stubbed up out of Court Royal, and gone home altogether.’
Young Cheek did not relish a dismal subject. He tried to brighten the conversation by changing the topic.
‘Do you ever go to the Plymouth balls? They are select and good.’
‘I have not been for some years. At one time, but not since Saltcombe has not cared to attend.’
‘Won’t you come to the next, at Easter?’
Lady Grace paused, looked down, and said, ‘If you wish it.’
Lucy started, glanced at her timidly, and coloured. Even Charles was surprised. He said quickly, ‘Wish it! It will crown the ball with perfection. Oh! Lady Grace, how delightful! Then Lucy also will come, and, no doubt, Lord Saltcombe also. That will be charming indeed! How pleased the Plymouth people will be!’
Charles Cheek found a bank of blue borage and pink crane’s-bill, and some golden celandine—the two former had lingered through the mild winter, untouched by frost. He made two little bouquets, and presented one to each of the ladies. On their way home the conversation reverted to the family troubles. Lucy was puzzled. She did not say much; she left the other two to talk. Her mind was engaged wondering at her friend’s manner, which seemed changed.
‘I wish—oh! how I wish,’ said Lady Grace, ‘that there were some means by which our ruin might be averted. I would do much—I would do anything that lay in my own power—to save my dear father the sorrow, and to give my brother a chance of beginning life again, uncrushed by the consciousness of the impending Götterdämmerung. The knowledge of what was coming has blighted his life, once so bright with promise.’