her Mrs. Charles Cheek, or words to that effect. I don’t recollect the exact expression.’
‘Very well. You asked her to be Mrs. Charles Cheek, but the exact words in which you couched your proposal you do not recollect.’
‘It was not a proposal.’
‘Not a proposal!’ repeated the father. ‘Then what am I to conclude from the present of the necklace of Roman pearls and the rose-coloured silk dress, and the cabinet-sized photograph of yourselves clasping each other’s hands? Will you illumine my mind, and tell me, do young gentlemen and young women get carted, and closeted, and cabineted, hand-in-hand, unless engaged?’
‘There is no engagement,’ protested Charles, bewildered and angry.
‘No engagement! You dare to say that. Don’t repeat it, as you desire to retain a particle of my regard. I ask, further, what is this Joanna? I know she is a girl. In what capacity is she at the Golden Balls with Mr. Lazarus, whom I happen to know?’
‘She is maid of all work to the old Jew pawnbroker,’ answered the young man, driven to desperation, and regardless what he admitted.
‘Maid of all work to a Jew pawnbroker,’ repeated his father. ‘I ask besides, whence comes she? Is she a Jewess?’
‘No, she is not.’
‘Whence comes she?’
‘Picked out of the mud, and pawned for ten shillings,’ exclaimed Charles Cheek in a paroxysm of exasperation.
‘Picked out of the mud. What mud?’
‘The mud of Sutton Pool.’
‘Pawned for ten shillings. By whom?’
‘By her mother.’
‘And this is the creature you are going to take to you as wife!’ exclaimed the old man, with repressed anger, his face livid and syrupy with emotion. ‘With a creature such as this you will squander my hard-earned wealth!’
‘I tell you, father, it is a hoax.’
‘Don’t tell me that.’ Mr. Cheek brought his great fist down on the table with a crash that made the decanters leap and the glasses spin. ‘Now, sir, do you mean to marry her? If you do, I cast you off utterly and for ever.’
‘No, I don’t want to do that. I tell you the letter is a hoax. Read it—you can see by the style that it is.’