“You’ve been a brick, Duggy—since I told you. I don’t know that I had any right to count upon it.”
“What else could I do?” said Douglas, trying to laugh, but conscious—resenting it—of a swelling in the throat.
“You could have given a good many more twists to the screw—if you’d been a different sort,” said his father slowly. “And you’re a tough customer, Duggy, to some people. But to me”—He paused, beginning again in another tone—
“Duggy, don’t be offended with me—but did you ever want to marry Lady Constance Bledlow? You wrote to me about her at Christmas.”
Douglas gave a rather excited laugh.
“It’s rather late in the day to ask me that question.”
His father eyed him.
“You mean she refused you?”
His son nodded.
“Before this collapse?”
“Before she knew anything about it”
“Poor old Duggy!” said his father, in a low voice. “But perhaps—after all—she’ll think better of it. By all accounts she has the charm of her mother, whom Risborough married to please himself and not his family.”
Falloden said nothing. He wished to goodness his father would drop the subject. Sir Arthur understood he was touching things too sore to handle, and sighed.
“Well, shake hands, Duggy, old boy. You carried this thing through splendidly to-day. But it seems to have taken it out of me—which isn’t fair. I shall go for a little walk. Tell your mother I shall be back in an hour or so.”
The son took his father’s hand. The strong young grasp brought a momentary sense of comfort to the older man. They eyed each other, both pale, both conscious of feelings to which it was easier to give no voice. Then their hands dropped. Sir Arthur looked for his hat and stick, which were lying near, and went out of the open glass door into the garden. He passed through the garden into the park beyond walking slowly and heavily, his son’s eyes following him.
Out of sight of the house, at the entrance of the walk leading to the moor, Sir Arthur was conscious again of transitory, but rather sharp pains across the chest.
He sat down to rest, and they soon passed away. After a few minutes he pursued his walk, climbing towards the open stretches of heathery moor, which lay beyond the park, and a certain ghyll or hollow with a wild stream in it that cleft the moor high up—one of his favourite haunts.
He climbed through ferny paths, and amid stretches of heather just coming to its purple prime, up towards the higher regions of the moor where the millstone grit cropped out in sharp edges, showing gaunt and dark against the afternoon sky. Here the beautiful stream that made a waterfall within the park came sliding down shelf after shelf of yellowish rock, with pools of deep brown water at intervals, overhung with mountain ash and birch.