Don’t drink it myself. Take an orange or—raisins. I will ring and have some more almonds brought in. I have eaten most. Take some biscuits; you will find a ratafia here and there under the others. I have eaten those on the top. I hope you are well. I have not seen you for twelve years and a half.’
‘So much as that? You do not say so!’
‘You have not visited me since my wife’s death.’
‘I may retort on you. I live in the country. You Londoners need a holiday. Why have you not fled the fogs and smoke, and come to me for sea air and the landscape of South Devon?’
‘I never take a holiday. Can’t afford it. Work always goes on, and always needs my presence. When the Londoners leave town, the country folk come up, and purchase for the ensuing year.’
Mr. Cheek was a heavily built man, with a long head and face, the latter flat, with a nose sticking out of it, much as the Peak of Teneriffe pokes out of the sea—led up to by no subsidiary elevations, abrupt, an afterthought. His eyebrows were black, but his hair was grey, and disposed to retreat from the temples, which were highly polished. He wore a grey thick Newgate collar, a black frock coat, black trousers, black waistcoat relieved by a heavy gold chain, a good deal of white shirt front, turned-down collars, necessitated by the Newgate fringe, and a black tie. He always smelt of black dye, for his cloth clothes were always new and glossy and uncreased. He had a trick of stretching his arms with a jerk forward at intervals, exposing much cuff, acquired from wearing new coats that were not easy under the arm. His eyes were dark and penetrating, his lips firm. From his nostrils two very dark creases descended to the corners of his mouth, like gashes in which lay black blood. The old man seemed very lonely in his dining-room, without a companion with whom to exchange ideas, and only a choice between almonds and raisins, ratafias, and macaroons, but he did not seem to feel it; as he ate and drank he schemed fresh plans for making money, and that was his delight. A companion would have discussed less profitable and interesting topics.
Worthivale spent an hour with old Cheek, telling him about himself, his position at Court Royal, the splendour of the Kingsbridge family, the virtues of the Duke, and Lord Ronald and the Marquess, and the unapproachable charms of Lady Grace.
The steward went on to talk about the estates, the prospect