Charles looked intently in her face,
‘Do you really mean this, Lady Grace?’
‘What I say, I mean,’ she answered, with a slight tremor in her voice.
Lucy, frightened, looked at her, and saw two fiery spots in her cheeks.
‘I have no pride. If it lay with me, I would sacrifice myself, were my sacrifice worth anything to anyone.’
No more was said. They were in the park. They saw Lord Ronald walking towards them, without his hat, his white hair raised by the wind. He was looking excited.
‘I want you, Grace. There is a telegram—from Edward. No, I do not mean that—about your Uncle Edward. A telegram from Glastonbury, from Elizabeth; come in. Saltcombe and I must be off immediately. The carriage is being got ready without delay. We must catch the 7.40 up train. That, however, sticks at Exeter, and we shall have to waste over an hour of precious time on the platform. It cannot be helped, though the Duke urges our telegraphing for a special.’
‘What is it?—Oh, uncle!’ exclaimed Lady Grace, with fluttering heart, ‘tell me the worst—is he——?’
‘No, not that,’ answered Lord Ronald hastily, but he turned his head aside and wiped his eyes; ‘whilst there is life there is hope. A seizure. How severe, the telegram, that is, Elizabeth, does not say. Saltcombe and I are requested to hurry to Sleepy Hollow. The wording is short. Elizabeth might have been fuller. We have not told the Duke all; only that we are wanted, and that—that Edward is unwell. That has made him uneasy. You must go to him, and pacify him, and in an hour or so show him the telegram. I am afraid, Grace, that this is a serious case. How blows do fall one after another! and Edward the one man of the family on whom one leaned! My God! if we lose him, what shall—what shall we do?’
As Charles parted with them at the door, Lady Grace said to him, in a sad, plaintive voice, ‘I am sorry I cannot keep my promise. You see the reason. I cannot attend the ball.’
That evening, in her room, Lucy said to her, ‘Oh, Grace! what am I to understand? You gave Mr. Cheek such encouragement! After that—he will be daring to ask for your hand.’
‘If he does I will give it him.’