‘I have read it. I can see as well as you. I am not to be hoodwinked, and to be told that red is green, and the moon is cheese, and believe it. I have listened patiently to your explanation. You have so compromised yourself with this girl, on your own admission, that if you fail, you render yourself actionable for breach of promise.’
‘There was no promise,’ persisted the young man.
‘Is a jury likely to believe that, when they have heard of the pearls and the rose silk, and seen the billing and cooing doves in the cabinet? I tell you they will assess the damages at a thousand pounds.’
‘There was no agreement. It is a mistake. I can’t think what Joanna was at writing such a letter.’
‘Do you want to marry her?’ asked his father.
‘No, of course not. I never did. I only said something about making her Mrs. Charles Cheek in joke.’
‘The joke is likely to be expensive pleasantry. But it was no joke. You neither of you regarded it as joke, or you would not have been photographed together. Now you come to me to get you out of this predicament. I won’t have the scandal of a case of breach of promise in the papers. It might affect my business. We must come to an accommodation. How old is the girl?’
‘Seventeen or eighteen.’
‘Has she relations to advise her?’
‘There is, however, that fox, Lazarus.’
‘She will never consult him.’
‘What will she take to let you off? I dare say if I go down with a hundred pounds in my pocket, and offer it her with one hand, and a written renunciation of you in the other, before she has had time to consider and ask advice, she will sign, and set you free.’ He looked questioningly at his son.
A change had come over Charles’s face. A light had sprung up before him. He leaned back in his chair, and burst into a fit of laughter.
‘It is no laughing matter,’ said the elder Cheek, grimly. ‘This may cost us a thousand. Juries estimate damages by the income of the father-in-law. Deuced lucky you will be if I can clear you for a hundred? You know the girl: will she take a hundred?’
‘I am sure she will. Give me the money, and let me go down to Plymouth and settle it with her.’