Page:Court Royal.djvu/291

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‘There comes her head,’ exclaimed Cheek.

‘Yours is to come,’ said Joanna.

‘Don’t be hard on me, Joe; I shall get bad words enough from my father. He is a rough man, and lets his tongue play, and his tongue is a lash of iron. I confess to you—I would to no one else—I am ashamed of myself; I am too weak. I can’t say No to a fellow.’

‘You are like the jelly-fish, carried ashore by the tide; where the tide leaves them they lie, and dissolve away into nothing.’

‘You are hard on me.’

‘Is it not so? A man should have backbone or he is nothing. I was cast up by the tide, but I am solid.’

‘It is easy for you to talk. You have a head. I only wish you were my sister, to be always at my elbow.’

‘Last night you lamented that I was not your wife. Which do you mean?’

The young man coloured and fidgeted. He drew his head away; it had been in close proximity to hers, over the saucer.

‘Of course I am joking,’ he said.

‘What, now, or last night?’ She laughed, then said, ‘See! I have frightened you by pretending to take your words as earnest. Do not be alarmed. I do not desire responsibility for a man, in either capacity, who is unable to care for himself.’

‘But—Joanna! this shall be my last folly. I solemnly swear it. You are the only person I know who has spoken plainly to me—except my father, and he makes me mad, he hurts me. If ever I am disposed to give way when I ought to be firm, I’ll remember the jelly-fish.’

He spoke in a tone of hurt pride and real distress. Joanna put forth her hand and grasped his, whilst her face shone with pleasure. ‘That is right,’ she said cheerily. ‘It does my heart good to hear you speak thus. If you want to give me the greatest of pleasures, it will be to let me know that you have kept your word, for, in spite of your weakness, I do like you. Moreover, to prove to you that I have confidence in you, I will help you now. You shall have the hundred pounds in a week.’

‘How will you get it?’ asked the young man. ‘Not from Lazarus, surely.’

‘No,’ she replied, looking grave, ‘I would not for the world apply to him to lend it to me.’

‘Whence is it to come? Not from your wages, saved?’