“Surely Garvington’s estates are free by now?”
“No; they are not. Hubert, as I told you when we spoke in the cottage, paid off many mortgages, but retained possession of them. He did not charge Garvington any interest, and let him have the income of the mortgaged land. No one could have behaved better than Hubert did, until my brother’s demands became so outrageous that it was impossible to go on lending and giving him money. Hubert did not trust him so far as to give back the mortgages, so these will form a portion of his estate. As that belongs to me, I can settle everything with ease, and place Garvington in an entirely satisfactory condition. But I do that at the cost of losing you, dear. Should the estates pass to this unknown person, the mortgages would be foreclosed, and our family would be ruined.”
“Are things as bad as that?”
“Every bit as bad. Hubert told me plainly how matters stood. For generations the heads of the family have been squandering money. Freddy is just as bad as the rest, and, moreover, has no head for figures. He does not know the value of money, never having been in want of it. But if everything was sold up—and it must be if I marry you and lose the millions—he will be left without an acre of land and only three hundred a year.”
“Oh, the devil!” Lambert jumped up and began to walk up and down the room with a startled air. “That would finish the Lambert family with a vengeance, Agnes. What do you wish me to do?” he asked, after a pause.
“Wait,” she said quietly.
“Wait? For what—the Deluge?”
“It won’t come while I hold the money. I have a good business head, and Hubert taught me how to deal with financial matters. I could not give him love, but I did give him every attention, and I believe that I was able to help him in some ways. I shall utilize my experience to see the family lawyer and go into matters thoroughly. Then we shall know for certain if things are as bad as Hubert made out. If they are, I must sacrifice you and myself for the sake of our name; if they are not—”
“Well?” asked Lambert, seeing how she hesitated. Agnes crossed the room and placed her arms round his neck with a lovely color tinting her wan cheeks. “Dear,” she whispered, “I shall marry you. In doing so I am not disloyal to Hubert’s memory, since I have always loved you, and he accepted me as his wife on the understanding that I could not give him my heart. And now that he has insulted me,” she drew back, and her eyes flashed, “I feel free to become your wife.”
“I see,” Lambert nodded. “We must wait?”
“We must wait. Duty comes before love. But I trust that the sacrifice will not be necessary. Good-bye, dear,” and she kissed him.
“Good-bye,” repeated Lambert, returning the kiss. Then they parted.