‘My dear boy, you imagine matters worse than they really are. You have allowed your mind to prey on your fears, and they have assumed the appearance and weight of a nightmare. It is impossible for such a catastrophe to overtake us. Think what we are, what our family is, and has been! Think what magnificent estates we have owned—and, indeed, we are not denuded yet.’
Beavis looked up, and saw that the old man was trying to silence his own convictions. Beavis was pained to have made him suffer, but it was necessary for every individual member of the family to be roused to face the danger.
‘Dear Lord Ronald, I am not frightened by fancied dangers. The danger is knocking at the door. Would to God it were not so, but I cannot deceive myself. It is. I see you all here lulled in unconsciousness, losing time, letting slip opportunities of recovery which may never return, and delaying retrenchment, whilst retrenchment is availing.’
The General sighed. ‘There is a God over all,’ he said; ‘we must trust to Providence.’
‘And do nothing?’ asked Beavis.
‘What is to be done? I dare not speak to the Duke. Saltcombe would not listen to me, or, if he did listen, would shrug his shoulders and go his way.’ After a pause, during which he smoked hard, he asked, ‘What was that lawyer lugged in here for yesterday? What has he come to Court Royal about?’
‘He has come concerning a transfer of the mortgage held by the Messrs. Stephens to a certain Emmanuel, who has already his hand on the home estate, with park and house, and has negotiated a loan or two besides.’
‘What of that?’
‘And there is to be another loan of five thousand.’
‘That is not much. A trifle.’
‘A trifle! but there have been so many of these trifles accumulated, and now they are an intolerable burden. A pound of feathers weighs as much as a pound of lead. Lord Saltcombe should be roused to look into the debts of the family, and form some decision as to what is to be done.’
‘You want me to stir him up? I do not relish the task, and I doubt my ability to wake him.’
‘He must be shaken out of his apathy.’
‘I do not believe it is possible,’
‘Then everything remains in statu quo—captain, pilot,