hand. He was, moreover, not a man of business, had no idea of balancing accounts, and never could distinguish between creditor and debtor in a ledger. The uneasiness of the steward, his running to and fro to consult with the Marquess, the periodical invocations of the Archdeacon to advise, the troubled face of Lord Saltcombe at times, the difficulty in meeting pressing payments, the appearance, finally, of that hard, practical-looking lawyer at dinner on the Duke’s birthday, like Banquo’s spectre at the table, had made him very uneasy.
‘What the devil keeps Saltcombe from marrying, and relieving the situation? It is his duty. Sometimes we go at the enemy in direct charge, at others sweep round and take them in rear. We can’t dislodge those who hold the mortgages with the bayonet. Saltcombe must execute a flank movement, with an heiress. Years slip away, the cloud grows denser, debts become heavier, creditors more pressing. Saltcombe is forty, the age is passing at which he can pick and choose. He will soon have to take whom he can get.’
The General was thinking this, when he heard the steps of Beavis, and opened the door.
‘Come in, my boy, come in,’ he said. ‘Saltcombe will not be ready to see you for another hour. What do you want with him?’
Beavis hesitated. He did not know what to say. His heart was full, he could think of nothing but what troubled him. He considered a moment, and then resolved to be plain with the General. It could do no harm, it might do good.
‘I want to see Lord Saltcombe on business.’
‘What?—connected with that lawyer fellow here last night?’
‘Yes, Lord Ronald. I have no message from him, but I have asked him to postpone meeting my father and the Marquess till I have had an interview with the latter.’
‘What is the matter? Is there a secret?’
‘No secret—at least, none to be kept from you, my Lord. It concerns the family affairs.’
‘Family affairs!’ groaned the General; ‘then I want to hear nothing about them. I am an old soldier, and not a steward, or a lawyer, or an accountant.’
‘For all that,’ said the young man, ‘I wish greatly to talk the matter over with you. It seems to me that you, Lord Ronald, may do here that which no one else can effect.’