‘You may refuse, father, to allow their affairs to be called desperate, but desperate they are.’
‘You forget yourself, Beavis. You take too much upon you. A raw hand lays on the paint too thick.’
‘Their affairs have got into such a condition that nothing save a miracle can stave off ruin; and the age of miracles is past.’
‘Now, Beavis, you impeach my administration of their property. If they come to ruin, I shall be blamed.’
‘Of course you will, father,’ said the young man. ‘I do not for a moment dispute your devotion to the Duke, your readiness to do all you can to promote his interests; you have looked at the sun so long, father, that you are dazzled, and cannot see the specks—specks!—the total eclipse that is stealing on.’
Mr. Worthivale was both surprised and offended at his son’s plain speaking. He who is dissatisfied with himself is readiest offended. He smoked without speaking, then took a sip at his cold whisky and water.
‘Who asked you to interfere? What right have you to meddle?’ he asked grumblingly.
‘No one has asked me to interfere; but my love for the family, and the long chain of obligations which binds me to it, forces me to break silence, and bark when burglars menace the house.’
‘Menace! What cock-and-bull story have you got hold of now?’
‘For heaven’s sake, father, be serious. I am down here for a short while, and I cannot in conscience allow matters to proceed without raising my voice to arrest them.’
‘Go on!’ said his father ill-humouredly. ‘Lord bless me. It seems to me that you were in petticoats only a few days ago, and I whipped you over my knee with the back of the hair-brush, and now you are grown so old that you stand up in judgment against your father, and put me on the rack.’
‘I entreat you to listen to me,’ said the young man. ‘No one will free you from blame when the crash comes.’
‘What crash?’ asked his father doggedly.
‘Open your eyes, your ears. I am not steward, but for all that, I can perceive the ripple and the run of the water before Niagara. Consider, what are the estates valued at?’
‘That is more than I can say now. With these bad years