Page:Court Royal.djvu/80

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‘What is that? I can do nothing. I am the last in the house.’

‘You can do much if you will make the attempt, my Lord. Excuse me if I am presumptuous, but I am in earnest.’

‘I am sure you are. You are a good boy. Go on. Speak out.’

‘It is a very unpleasant thing to speak words that cut the ear they enter; however, in this case it is a duty. I suppose you know that, what with bad years, and the heavy burdens on the property that have been accumulating, and with the inaction of the Marquess, the state of affairs is about as bad as it can be. My dear father will not realise it. His Grace knows, and, I suppose, must know nothing of it. The Marquess is aware, but does not take the initiative, and you, Lord Ronald——’

‘I shut my eyes,’ interrupted the General. ‘No, that is not altogether the case. I see, and am bewildered. I cannot move in the matter. I am awkwardly situated. In fact, the Duke is behindhand with me—not that I want the money, I have my half-pay, but the fact ties my hands, I cannot interfere. I have touched on the subject indeed to the Duke, but he supposes I refer to the losses sustained by the family in my grandfather’s time. He was a sad rake. I do not like speaking about it to Saltcombe for certain reasons of my own. He is reserved with me; he never invites my confidence. So we go on in faith. Times will mend. Something will turn up. Legacies will rain gold. We don’t eat our soup as scalding as it is served.’

‘Expenses ought to be cut down in every way at once.’

‘It has been done. The Duke no longer goes to town for the season. How any further economy is to be practised here I do not see. The house must be kept up, the gardens and grounds maintained in order,—the stables—where would you begin? A Duke cannot live like a curate, in furnished lodgings, on chops alternating with cutlets and steaks, and a maid-of-all-work to cook and dust, and make the beds.’

‘Would it not be advisable,’ asked Beavis in a low tone, with his eyes on the carpet—‘would it not be well to make an effort, and put up with inconveniences, rather than allow the avalanche to rush down on your head?’

Lord Ronald took Beavis by the arm, and paced the room with him, before he replied. The old General’s face was pale, and his lips quivered.