A wave of sick disgust swept through the young man, momentarily engulfing his power of speech. Never had the old man’s face looked so loathsome to him, never the man himself appeared so utterly detestable.
Surface had risen, whispering and chuckling. “Come up to the sitting-room, my dear boy. I have some papers up there that may open your eyes. You need never work—”
“Stop!” said Queed, and the old man stopped in his tracks. “Can’t I make you understand?” he went on, fighting hard for calmness. “Isn’t it clear to you that nothing could induce me to touch another penny of this money?”
“Ah!” said Surface, in his softest voice. “Ah! And might I inquire the reason for this heroic self-restraint?”
“You choose your words badly. It is no restraint to honest men to decline to take other people’s money.”
“Ah, I see. I see. I see,” said Surface, nodding his shining hairless head up and down.
“No, no,” said the old man, in an odd thick voice. “Not quite yet, if you please. There is still something that I want to say to you.”
He came slowly around the tiny table, and Queed watched his coming with bursts of fierce repugnance which set his hard-won muscles to twitching. An elemental satisfaction there might be in throwing the old man through the window. Yet, in a truer sense, he felt that the necessity of manhandling him would be the final touch in this degrading interview.
“You value your society too high, my dear boy,” said Surface with a face of chalk. “You want too big a price. I must fork over every penny I have, to a young trollop who happens to have caught your fancy—”
“Stand away from me!” cried Queed, with a face suddenly whiter than his own. “You will tempt me to do what I shall be sorry for afterwards.”
But Surface did not budge, and to strike, after all, was hardly possible; it would be no better than murder. The two men stood, white face to white face, the two pairs of fearless eyes scarcely a foot apart. And beyond all the obvious dissimilarity, there appeared a curious resemblance in the two faces at that moment: in each the same habit of unfaltering gaze, the same high forehead, the same clean-cut chin, the same straight, thin-lipped mouth.
“Oh, I see through you clearly enough,” said Surface. “You’re in love with her! You think it is a pretty thing to sacrifice me to her, especially as the sacrifice costs you nothing—”
“Stop! Will you force me in the name of common decency—”
“But I’ll not permit you to do it, do you hear?” continued Surface, his face ablaze, his lower lip trembling and twitching, as it does sometimes with the very old. “You need some discipline, my boy. Need some discipline—and you shall have it. You will continue to live with me exactly as you have heretofore, only henceforward I shall direct your movements and endeavor to improve your manners.”