Page:Court Royal.djvu/289

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Charles Cheek came in, and swung the door behind him, so that it clashed and jarred the glass.

‘You must not be violent,’ said Joanna, ‘or the breakages will go down to your bill along with the silk gown and the necklace. Why have you not gone to your father as you promised?’

‘I am ashamed to appear before him,’ answered young Cheek. ‘If I tell him the truth he will kick me out of the house, and not pay my return ticket.’

‘Do you want a large sum?’

‘I lost my money in a way I daren’t confess. My governor is a man of a practical turn of mind, and will insist on particulars. I am bad at invention, and if I begin to tell lies he will find me out, and be down on me like the steam-hammer at the docks!’

‘Then tell him the truth. That always answers, for no one believes it.’

‘I cannot. The case is too gross. This did it.’ He drew a snail-shell from his pocket, and set it on the counter. ‘Will you deal with me for this article? It is a curiosity, and a costly one. It cost me a hundred pounds.’

Joanna took up the snail-shell, and turned it about, then put it down contemptuously. ‘There is nothing particular about this shell except its size.’

‘Yes, there is. She is a racer. I lost a hundred pounds on her. I cannot tell my father that. I was proud of my snail, too, and now she is either dead or sulky. She has not put out her head since I lost my money on her.’

‘How did you manage that?’

‘By racing, I tell you.’ Charles Cheek jumped on the counter and seated himself on it, close to Joanna.

‘Will you take a chair?’ she asked.

‘No, thank you. This is my only chance of getting you to look up to me. I am going to tell you about my snail.’ He thrust the shell before her. ‘Do look at this beast. She has lost me a hundred pounds.’

Joanna continued sewing, without looking off her work.

‘Joe,’ he said, ‘what do you think of that?’

‘I had rather be the snail than you.’

‘I will tell you how it was. Captain Finch and I have played a good deal together of late at billiards, and we have also raced our snails. His is a very good runner. His regiment is under orders for India; so we resolved to have a final