crew, all must have their sleep out whilst the vessel fills. It is cruel to wake them. They need repose. It is impossible to rouse some, they sleep so sound. All at once the ship gives a lurch, and the waves engulf her, as all wake up and rub their eyes, and ask where they are?’
The General’s pipe was out. He turned his face to the window to hide the emotion painted on it. Beavis had spoken strongly—possibly too strongly; the words had poured scalding from his heart. He was a young man. He was not called in by the family to consult on its affairs. He had assumed the office unsolicited. Perhaps he was troubling the old man in vain.
The silence remained unbroken for some while.
Lord Ronald struck a match, but could not relight his pipe; his hand shook, so did the pipe between his lips. He threw the match away, and laid his pipe on the chimney-piece. Then he held out his hand to Beavis, without looking him in the face, and said, ‘God bless you, dear boy! You are acting as your honourable and kind heart prompts. At a time when everyone thinks of self, it is pleasant to meet with one who cares for the fortunes of others.’ He sighed. ‘You are all of you good, true, all of you,—your worthy father, your dear sister, whom we love as our own child, and yourself. You have spoken to me sharply, and I know what it has cost you to do so—you who have been reared in reverence for the family. You have acted as a man of principle should act, but then, what is the good? The transfer will be executed, the fresh loan contracted, in another hour. It is too late to prevent that.’
‘Yes,’ answered Beavis, ‘it is too late to prevent that, but it is not too late to say, “This shall be the last. We have let matters slide their downward way, now we will put on the drag. And the first step towards stopping will be to find out where we stand.”’
‘You are quite right, but I am no accountant. Your father has the books. Saltcombe is supposed to audit them.’
‘Lord Saltcombe must not only look over the accounts, but take an interest in them.’
‘Beavis,’ said the old General, ‘my debt against the estate shall be cancelled; but that is nothing, as it would not be exacted. Let it go. What is this five thousand for?’
‘Current household expenses, I presume; but I do not know for certain.’