white hand, well formed, that twitched and broke the stalk into many pieces, showing his nervous emotion.
Mr. Cheek said nothing, but stared open-eyed and open-mouthed.
‘You do not understond me,’ continued Charles, ‘I allow that I have been a sorry fool. I am resolved to be so no longer. I should be a fool if I continued my pretence to the hand of Lady Grace, and mated out of my sort. I had an ambition once to be a soldier, and that you contradicted. Afterwards had none. You provided me with money, and I spent it. I had no aim, no motive to do otherwise. You urged me to this grand connection, and I went along the path you pointed out, partly to please you, partly because myself dazzled. But my eyes have been opened in time. I see that it is not a way I can walk on. I will choose another, humbler; I will work for my livelihood, and then I can spend my life as my ambitions spring up and direct.’
‘You are in earnest?’
‘So much in earnest that I refuse the four hundred pounds you have allowed me hitherto.’
‘Refuse the allowance!’
‘Yes. I will not touch what I have not earned, and so deprive you of the right to rebuke, and outrage me.’
‘Outrage you!’ echoed the father.
‘Yes, outrage me,’ said the young man. ‘I have endured a great deal from you. I have borne it because you are my father; but every offensive word from you I have felt more keenly than you have supposed possible. It has not spurred me to do better, it has driven me to do worse. Now that is over. I will be my own master henceforth, responsible to no man, and enduring insult from none.’
Mr. Cheek was still too amazed to speak. A dim consciousness that he had wronged his son awoke in his mind, but his mind was too coarse in texture to understand fully his fault. He was a rough man, who when out of humour used rough words. He meant them at the time, but he did not mean them to inflict mortal wounds. Education teaches man to measure his words, and check them as they pass from his heart over his tongue. Old Cheek had never had the education which imposes this self-restraint on speech. Charles had inherited from his mother a more sensitive nature than his father’s; from boyhood he had been accustomed to hard words, and these had alienated him from the old man, who loved him whilst he abused him.