“Never say ‘die,’ Bert,” said Mr. Culpepper, kindly; “I like you, and so do most other people who know what’s good for ’em; and if Florrie don’t like you she can keep single till she does.”
Mr. Albert Sharp thanked him.
“Come in more oftener,” said Mr. Culpepper. “If she don’t know a steady young man when she sees him, it’s her mistake.”
“Nobody could be steadier than what I am,” sighed Mr. Sharp.
Mr. Culpepper nodded. “The worst of it is, girls don’t like steady young men,” he said, rumpling his thin grey hair; “that’s the silly part of it.”
“But you was always steady, and Mrs. Culpepper married you,” said the young man.
Mr. Culpepper nodded again. “She thought I was, and that came to the same thing,” he said, composedly. “And it ain’t for me to say, but she had an idea that I was very good-looking in them days. I had chestnutty hair. She burnt a piece of it only the other day she’d kept for thirty years.”
[Illustration: A very faint squeeze in return decided him]
“Burnt it? What for?” inquired Mr. Sharp.
“Words,” said the other, lowering his voice. “When I want one thing nowadays she generally wants another; and the things she wants ain’t the things I want.”
Mr. Sharp shook his head and sighed again.
“You ain’t talkative enough for Florrie, you know,” said Mr. Culpepper, regarding him.
“I can talk all right as a rule,” retorted Mr. Sharp. “You ought to hear me at the debating society; but you can’t talk to a girl who doesn’t talk back.”
“You’re far too humble,” continued the other. “You should cheek her a bit now and then. Let ’er see you’ve got some spirit. Chaff ’er.”
“That’s no good,” said the young man, restlessly. “I’ve tried it. Only the other day I called her ‘a saucy little kipper,’ and the way she went on, anybody would have thought I’d insulted her. Can’t see a joke, I s’pose. Where is she now?”
“Upstairs,” was the reply.
“That’s because I’m here,” said Mr. Sharp. “If it had been Jack Butler she’d have been down fast enough.”
“It couldn’t be him,” said Mr. Culpepper, “because I won’t have ’im in the house. I’ve told him so; I’ve told her so, and I’ve told ’er aunt so. And if she marries without my leave afore she’s thirty she loses the seven hundred pounds ’er father left her. You’ve got plenty of time—ten years.”
Mr. Sharp, sitting with his hands between his knees, gazed despondently at the floor. “There’s a lot o’ girls would jump at me,” he remarked. “I’ve only got to hold up my little finger and they’d jump.”
“That’s because they’ve got sense,” said Mr. Culpepper. “They’ve got the sense to prefer steadiness and humdrumness to good looks and dash. A young fellow like you earning thirty-two-and-six a week can do without good looks, and if I’ve told Florrie so once I have told her fifty times.”