When they had all gone, Mr. Wordley said:
“We had better go into the library and talk matters over. I will send for Miss Ida. It seems cruel to disturb her at such a moment, but there is no help for it.”
“You speak as if you had bad tidings, Mr. Wordley, to give us,” said John Heron.
“I am afraid I have,” responded the old lawyer, shaking his grey head sadly.
When Ida came down, he led her to a chair beside the fire which he had ordered to be lit, and laid his hand gently and tenderly on her shoulder by way of preparation and encouragement.
“Your cousin and I want to talk to you about the future, Ida,” he said. “You will have to be told some time or other exactly how your father’s affairs stood, and I have come to the conclusion that it is better you should know at once than that you should be permitted to remain in ignorance of the gravity of the situation. I have gone over your father’s papers and looked into his affairs very carefully and closely, and I am sorry to say that they are in a very unsatisfactory condition. As I told you the other day, the estate has been encumbered and very seriously embarrassed for some time past, and the encumbrance has been increased of late, notwithstanding the admirable way in which you have managed the estate and the household affairs.”
Ida raised her eyes to his and tried to regard him calmly and bravely, but her lips quivered and she checked a sigh.
Mr. Wordley coughed and frowned, as a man does when he is engaged in a disagreeable and painful task.
“The principal mortgagee has given me notice of foreclosure, and the amount of the debt is so large that I am afraid—it would be cruel and useless to conceal the truth from you—I know that the property sold would not be sufficient to meet it. Of ready money there appears to be none—”
Mr. John Heron groaned and raised his melancholy eyes to the ceiling with an expression of reprobation. Ida appeared unconscious of his presence and kept her sad eyes steadily fixed on the lawyer’s kind and mournful face.
—“In a word, my dear child, your poor father appears to have left absolutely no effects behind him.”
Ida drew a long breath and was silent for a moment, as she tried to realise the significance of his words.
“Do you mean that I am quite penniless?” she said, in a low voice.
Mr. Wordley blew his nose and coughed two or three times, as if he found it difficult to reply; at last he said, in a voice almost as low as hers:
“Put shortly, I am afraid, my dear, that is what I must tell you. I had no idea that the position was so grave. I thought that there would be something left; sufficient, at any rate, to render you independent; but, as I told you, I have been kept in ignorance of your father’s affairs for some years past, and I did not know how things were going. I am surprised as well as grieved, deeply grieved; and I must confess that I can only account for the deplorable confusion and loss by the theory that I suggested to you the other day. I cannot but think that your poor father must have engaged in some disastrous speculation.”