‘Then the books. There are perches of volumes in the library no one ever looks into, some, doubtless, valuable; possibly some unique. Let us have down a London bookseller to value them, and if need be, purchase them. Which of us cares for old books now?’
‘They are all bound and impressed with our arms on the covers, or have our bookplates inside. I cannot endure the thought of them finding their way into the libraries of common Dicks and Harries. No—the books must not be sold.’
‘There is the family jewelry. There are magnificent sets of diamonds and other stones, never worn. Let them be disposed of.’
‘Not on any account. Saltcombe may marry, and his wife will need our jewelry. You would not have a Duchess of Kingsbridge without her diamonds?’
‘I give it up,’ said the General, distractedly, with his hand to his head.
‘My dear Ronald,’ said the Duke, ‘if we are to go down, which I will not for one moment admit, let us sink like Rienzi and his sister in the last scene of the opera, amid falling pillars of Church and State, of the moral and social order. I see on all sides threatenings of the dissolution of the bases of society. It may be that we, in England, will go through throes like those of the Revolution in France. It looks like it. All that we honour and hold sacred is menaced. There is no security anywhere. In the general social upheaval and constitutional overthrow, we may be crushed, but do not let us contribute to our own fall.’
‘I want to avert it,’ exclaimed the General.
‘Listen to me. I must trouble you not to interrupt me. There is one thing of which, if we be true to ourselves, we can never be despoiled—our dignity. Let us maintain that. Let us combat the powers of evil—I mean the democracy——’
‘But this is not a case of democracy at all, but of debt,’ interrupted the General.
‘You are again snapping the thread of my argument,’ said the Duke, offended; ‘and now I don’t know where I was, it has shrunk out of reach like a ruptured tendon. Do not let us cast away what is ours, as sops to Cerberus, to facilitate an Avernan descent.’
‘What about the charitable bequests? The honour of the family is at stake.’
‘Where the honour of the family is menaced, it must be