Douglas Falloden was sitting alone in his father’s library surrounded by paper and documents. He had just concluded a long interview with the family lawyer; and a tray containing the remains of their hasty luncheon was on a side-table. The room had a dusty, dishevelled air. Half of the house-servants had been already dismissed; the rest were disorganised. Lady Laura had left Flood the day before. To her son’s infinite relief she had consented to take the younger children and go on a long visit to some Scotch relations. It had been left vague whether she returned to Flood or not; but Douglas hoped that the parting was already over—without her knowing it; and that he should be able to persuade her, after Scotland, to go straight to the London house—which was her own property—for the winter.
Meanwhile he himself had been doing his best to wind up affairs. The elaborate will of twenty years earlier, with its many legacies and bequests, had been cancelled by Sir Arthur only six weeks before his death. A very short document had been substituted for it, making Douglas and a certain Marmaduke Falloden, his uncle and an eminent K.C., joint executors, and appointing Douglas and Lady Laura guardians of the younger children. Whatever property might remain “after the payment of my just debts” was to be divided in certain proportions between Douglas and his brother and sisters.
The estates, with the exception of the lands immediately surrounding the castle, were to be sold to the tenants, and the dates of the auction were already fixed. For the castle itself, negotiations had been opened with an enormously successful soap-boiler from the north, but an American was also in the market, and the Falloden solicitors were skilfully playing the two big fish against each other. The sale of the pictures would come before the court early in October. Meanwhile the beautiful Romney—the lady in black—still looked down upon her stripped and impoverished descendant; and Falloden, whose sole companion she often was through dreary hours, imagined her sometimes as tragic or reproachful, but more commonly as mocking him with a malicious Irish glee.
There would be some few thousand pounds left for himself when all was settled. He was determined to go into Parliament, and his present intention was to stand for a Merton fellowship, and read for the bar. If other men could make three or four thousand a year within three years or so of being called, why not he? His character had steeled under the pressure of disaster. He realised with a clearer intelligence, day by day, all that had gone from him—his father—his inheritance—the careless ease and self-assurance that goes with the chief places at the feast of life. But if he must now drop to the lower rooms, it would not be “with shame” that he would do that, or anything else. He felt within himself a driving and boundless energy, an