Next morning Mr. Cheek was silent at breakfast. Charles was not in his usual lively mood. His father had told him in his room, the night before, of his plan, on their return from the Court. He had told him also that Mr. Worthivale had refused to entertain it. Charles was startled and gratified at the prospect; startled, because he had not dared to wish it, startled also, because he was not sure that he did wish it; gratified, because he saw open to him the means of taking a place in society that had been hitherto inaccessible. He was silent because, thoughtless though he was, the conjuncture of affairs was one that forced him to think.
Worthivale was nervous and agitated at breakfast. Drops stood on his brow, and he was unable to pour out the coffee, his hand shook so, and he was forced to pass over the duty to Beavis. Something had occurred, more than the proposal of old Cheek, to unnerve him.
After breakfast Mr. Cheek drew the steward aside. ‘Well, now,’ he said, ‘with morning come cool counsels. Shall we deal?’
‘How can you speak in such terms?’ asked the steward. ‘Do you not perceive that it is impossible for the daughter of such an illustrious house to accept—— Stuff! as well propose an alliance between an eagle and a crocodile! Preposterous! simply preposterous!’
Mr. Cheek stretched his arms, then drew his finger over his lips. ‘There is nothing preposterous in it,’ he said. ‘Worse matches have been made. One likes apples, t’other likes onions. To my mind, I am the more respectable party of the two. I have lifted myself out of nothing, by my industry, into affluence. They have degraded themselves, by wastefulness, out of wealth into bankruptcy.’
‘Will you not help the family, without conditions?
‘Do you take me for a fool? What are they to me?
‘Surely—surely, to obtain their esteem, to deserve the regard of the Duke, the respect of Lord Edward and Lord Ronald, the gratitude of the Marquess—that is something.’
‘Not worth a farthing to me,’ answered Mr. Cheek, roughly, ‘Put it up to auction; who will bid?’