Page:Court Royal.djvu/109

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‘Of course it has.’

‘I cannot believe it. The world of men is cut into two halves—the rich and happy and vicious, and the poor and miserable and deserving. I will not say that the poor are good—I see too much of them to assert that, but they deserve what is better than they have. They cannot be good because they are wretched. No one can be good under a hundred and fifty per annum.’

Mr. Cheek laughed. ‘Or with an income above that limit.’

‘Below that sum, come gnawing care, and grasping for coin, and biting and eating one another. Above that sum, idleness and waste and luxury.’

‘And so, you comical socialist, you take as gospel all you read in the society papers, and believe in the utter corruption of the aristocracy.’

‘It is in print. What I read is read by tens of thousands. The old woman who sells shrimps and ginger-beer, the bargeman in the coal-boat, the men in Eddystone, the board-school children, all read the society papers, and gather from them convictions that the upper ranks of life are corrupt to the core, and burn with desire to tear them down in the interests of morality, and cast them in the gutter. Why should we lie on sacks of shavings and eat cheese rinds, and never leave the Barbican and escape the smell of Sutton Pool, and they bed in down and fare sumptuously, and go to opera and ball in the season and to their parks or to the sea out of season? I would I had the remaking of the world. I would cut the rich down to a hundred and fifty, and pull up the poor to the same figure. Then we should have an equalisation of happiness. Hark! here comes Lazarus; I hear his key.’

‘Joanna, it is rare fun to hear you talk! Tell me, will you accept my present of the dress and chain?’

‘I will,’ she answered. ‘I would not at first, because I doubted whether you laughed at me or pitied me.’

‘I certainly pity you.’

‘Then I take your present, and thank you.’

The Jew entered, a basket on one arm, a bottle under the other. He was elated and chuckling.

‘I have been absent some time,’ he said; ‘I found the wine merchants closed, and I would not have bad gooseberry at the tavern. Here is the pie’—he opened the basket—‘and a dozen raspberry tartlets, and a pound of clotted cream. I understood you to say tartlets, Mr. Cheek.’