had not dined, but he was young and independent of his meals, whereas an old man is not. Mr. Cheek’s business was one that occupied his mind actively all day, and his nervous system became irritable towards evening. Mr. Gladstone was his ideal at 6 p.m., Sir Charles Dilke at 6.15, Chamberlain was hardly rancorous enough at 6.30, and Labouchere was the man for him at 6.45. At five minutes to seven he was furious against the Constitution, the Church, the House of Lords, his soap, hair-brushes, his cook, and the Royal Family. The old man was in his drawing-room, a room as tasteless as the dining-room. It reeked of Tottenham Court Road.
‘It is all up,’ said Charles.
‘What is up? The glass or consols? Be explicit.’
‘My engagement with Lady Grace Eveleigh.’
‘Indeed—your engagement. Ugh! Thought they’d draw a score across that account. Who did it?’
‘I—I released her. They are not to blame, I have written to say I will not hold her to her word.’
‘You have, you—you Colorado beetle!’
‘Yes, I have. I could endure the bondage no longer. I must have my clothes made for my back, not my back shaped to my clothes. I dare say the life of these aristocrats is very fine, and their ideas superfine, but I like a broad life and unchastened ideas. I have tried how I could get on among them, and I am tired of the experiment.’
‘So that is settled?’
‘Yes, it is. The scheme was yours. I have done my best to accommodate myself to it, but it is impracticable.’
‘Impracticable. Do you know what you have done? You have danced about this young woman long enough to fool me into believing you were in earnest, and I have bought up several of their mortgages, which I would not have touched but for you.’
‘Deal generously with the family, father,’ said Charles. ‘It is not their fault that the engagement is broken off. It is entirely my own doing.’
‘That matters not,’ said Mr. Cheek, roughly. ‘I don’t care for them, but I do care for my own money. I shall foreclose at once while the depression lasts. When land is up again, sell. That’s business. I have a bill of sale on the contents of their houses. I’ll release that pretty quick too.’
‘Dinner is on the table, sir,’ said the servant, entering.
‘But, my dear father, I entreat you to consider that it is I