Charles Dickens

There, the table was laid for his supper, and his old grey gown was ready for him on his chair-back at the fire. His daughter put her little prayer-book in her pocket--had she been praying for pity on all prisoners and captives!--and rose to welcome him.

Uncle had gone home, then? she asked @ as she changed his coat and gave him his black velvet cap. Yes, uncle had gone home. Had her father enjoyed his walk? Why, not much, Amy; not much. No! Did he not feel quite well?

As she stood behind him, leaning over his chair so lovingly, he looked with downcast eyes at the fire. An uneasiness stole over him that was like a touch of shame; and when he spoke, as he presently did, it was in an unconnected and embarrassed manner.

'Something, I--hem!--I don't know what, has gone wrong with Chivery. He is not--ha!--not nearly so obliging and attentive as usual to-night. It--hem!--it's a little thing, but it puts me out, my love. It's impossible to forget,' turning his hands over and over and looking closely at them, 'that--hem!--that in such a life as mine, I am unfortunately dependent on these men for something every hour in the day.'

Her arm was on his shoulder, but she did not look in his face while he spoke. Bending her head she looked another way.

'I--hem!--I can't think, Amy, what has given Chivery offence. He is generally so--so very attentive and respectful. And to-night he was quite--quite short with me. Other people there too! Why, good Heaven! if I was to lose the support and recognition of Chivery and his brother officers, I might starve to death here.' While he spoke, he was opening and shutting his hands like valves; so conscious all the time of that touch of shame, that he shrunk before his own knowledge of his meaning.

'I--ha!--I can't think what it's owing to. I am sure I cannot imagine what the cause of it is. There was a certain Jackson here once, a turnkey of the name of Jackson (I don't think you can remember him, my dear, you were very young), and--hem!--and he had a--brother, and this--young brother paid his addresses to--at least, did not go so far as to pay his addresses to--but admired-- respectfully admired--the--not daughter, the sister--of one of us; a rather distinguished Collegian; I may say, very much so. His name was Captain Martin; and he consulted me on the question whether It was necessary that his daughter--sister--should hazard offending the turnkey brother by being too--ha!--too plain with the other brother. Captain Martin was a gentleman and a man of honour, and I put it to him first to give me his--his own opinion. Captain Martin (highly respected in the army) then unhesitatingly said that it appeared to him that his--hem!--sister was not called upon to understand the young man too distinctly, and that she might lead him on--I am doubtful whether "lead him on" was Captain Martin's exact expression: indeed I think he said tolerate him--on her father's--I should say, brother's--account. I hardly know how I have strayed into this story. I suppose it has been through being unable to account for Chivery; but as to the connection between the two, I don't see--'

His voice died away, as if she could not bear the pain of hearing him, and her hand had gradually crept to his lips. For a little while there was a dead silence and stillness; and he remained shrunk in his chair, and she remained with her arm round his neck and her head bowed down upon his shoulder.

His supper was cooking in a saucepan on the fire, and, when she moved, it was to make it ready for him on the table. He took his usual seat, she took hers, and he began his meal. They did not, as yet, look at one another. By little and little he began; laying down his knife and fork with a noise, taking things up sharply, biting at his bread as if he were offended with it, and in other similar ways showing that he was out of sorts. At length he pushed his plate from him, and spoke aloud; with the strangest inconsistency.

'What does it matter whether I eat or starve? What does it matter whether such a blighted life as mine comes to an end, now, next week, or next year? What am I worth to anyone? A poor prisoner, fed on alms and broken victuals; a squalid, disgraced wretch!'

'Father, father!' As he rose she went on her knees to him, and held up her hands to him.