Page:Court Royal.djvu/394

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who wrong them, and that some reparation is due to them for the disappointment.’

‘Do you hear?’ roared the old man. ‘Dinner is on the table!’

‘Yes, but stay a moment, I entreat you.’

‘What—let the fish get cold! Not for a score of Kingsbridges. Dinner is on the table. Go in!’

During dinner the old man scarcely spoke. He ate in a vindictive manner, as it he were hurting his son’s feelings by each bite, and knew it, and delighted in doing it. When he cut the mutton he cut as though he were stabbing the offender; when he helped himself to gravy it was as though spooning up his blood; when taking potatoes and rice he dabbed the spoon into the vegetables as though stirring up and torturing his Charles’s brain. When he drank he glowered over the rim of his glass at the young man. But he said nothing till the dessert was on the table and the servants withdrawn.

Then it was Charles who began.

‘Father, I have a proposal to make which will surprise you. It is seriously made. I want you to put me in the way of earning my living.’

Mr. Cheek set down a macaroon he was eating, and which was bitten in half, and stared at his son, then laughed insultingly.

‘I am quite in earnest,’ said the young man. ‘Give me an opportunity of working and earning as much as will support me. I ask of you nothing further. I desire henceforth to be beholden to no one, not even to you. I wish to be responsible for my actions to no one, to cut away the right of controlling and rebuking me which you have exercised so freely and so offensively. When I was living on an allowance from you, you then had some right over me; when I live on my own earnings, you will have none. I will allow none. When the money was given to me, I did not know its value; when I earn it by hard work, I shall know what it is worth. You have been rough of tongue with me, and I have felt it, without caring to amend my ways and deserve better; when I am free from it, I may find a motive for reform.’

He spoke frankly; his pleasant handsome face bore in it an expression new to it, a look of dignity it had never worn before. His hair was light, almost white in the gaslight, his eyes were blue, and as he spoke moisture gathered in them. His hand was on the table, playing with a raisin stalk,—a