Page:Court Royal.djvu/78

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a railway, is not the place where many people can be found to be impressed by that state.

After a while his eyes opened to the real condition of affairs, and he was fain to admit to himself that it was a happy thing for the family it had an excuse for not spending the season in town. The General tried to shut his eyes to the truth, tried to disbelieve what he could hardly credit. Without being remarkably sharp-sighted, Lord Ronald had a sound judgment. The future began to alarm him. He was much attached to his nephew, but he was angry with him.

‘Why the deuce does he not marry an heiress?’ he muttered to himself, as he sat smoking, oppressed with low spirits. ‘It is high time that the wretched affair which came to an end at Palermo should be forgotten, and the consequences effaced. The creature was not worth fretting over. It was a bad job, but it is done with, and the volume containing that romance should be shut and put away. Is the title to become extinct, the family to die out, because of that piece of damaged goods? What is Saltcombe waiting for? There is nothing to expect. Why is he not man enough to shake himself free of the recollection as he shook himself free of the entanglement? The hope of the family hangs on him. Upon my soul, Saltcombe is enough to drive one mad.’

Heated by his reflections, Lord Ronald had attacked his nephew on the subject more than once, and had been repelled with such coldness that he had retired each time without effecting anything, and thoroughly disconcerted. He lost patience, but did not know what to do. He spoke to the Duke, and his Grace once or twice addressed his son on the advisability of his marrying. But that led to no alteration in his conduct.

Lord Ronald suspected more than he knew. As there was a constantly recurring difficulty about the payment of his annuity, he allowed it to fall into arrears, content if he had enough to defray his ordinary trifling expenses. The Marquess, who was supposed to see to business for his father, apologised to him for the delay, but the General always passed the matter over with a joke about his having no wants in a house where his wishes were forestalled. As his annuity was in arrear he forbore making inquiries, lest he should seem wanting in delicacy. He was told by the steward that the years were bad, the value of land was depreciated, rents were reduced 20 per cent., the farmers could not pay, farms were thrown on