The Way of All Flesh
Samuel Butler

Part 7 out of 8

Mr Larkins wound up by saying that even if my protege were a much
better workman than he probably was, no master would give him
employment, for fear of creating a bother among the men.

I left, feeling that I ought to have thought of all this myself, and
was more than ever perplexed as to whether I had not better let my
young friend have a few thousand pounds and send him out to the
colonies, when, on my return home at about five o'clock, I found him
waiting for me, radiant, and declaring that he had found all he


It seems he had been patrolling the streets for the last three or
four nights--I suppose in search of something to do--at any rate
knowing better what he wanted to get than how to get it.
Nevertheless, what he wanted was in reality so easily to be found
that it took a highly educated scholar like himself to be unable to
find it. But, however this may be, he had been scared, and now saw
lions where there were none, and was shocked and frightened, and
night after night his courage had failed him and he had returned to
his lodgings in Laystall Street without accomplishing his errand.
He had not taken me into his confidence upon this matter, and I had
not enquired what he did with himself in the evenings. At last he
had concluded that, however painful it might be to him, he would
call on Mrs Jupp, who he thought would be able to help him if anyone
could. He had been walking moodily from seven till about nine, and
now resolved to go straight to Ashpit Place and make a mother
confessor of Mrs Jupp without more delay.

Of all tasks that could be performed by mortal woman there was none
which Mrs Jupp would have liked better than the one Ernest was
thinking of imposing upon her; nor do I know that in his scared and
broken-down state he could have done much better than he now
proposed. Miss Jupp would have made it very easy for him to open
his grief to her; indeed, she would have coaxed it all out of him
before he knew where he was; but the fates were against Mrs Jupp,
and the meeting between my hero and his former landlady was
postponed sine die, for his determination had hardly been formed and
he had not gone more than a hundred yards in the direction of Mrs
Jupp's house, when a woman accosted him.

He was turning from her, as he had turned from so many others, when
she started back with a movement that aroused his curiosity. He had
hardly seen her face, but being determined to catch sight of it,
followed her as she hurried away, and passed her; then turning round
he saw that she was none other than Ellen, the housemaid who had
been dismissed by his mother eight years previously.

He ought to have assigned Ellen's unwillingness to see him to its
true cause, but a guilty conscience made him think she had heard of
his disgrace and was turning away from him in contempt. Brave as
had been his resolutions about facing the world, this was more than
he was prepared for; "What! you too shun me, Ellen?" he exclaimed.

The girl was crying bitterly and did not understand him. "Oh,
Master Ernest," she sobbed, "let me go; you are too good for the
likes of me to speak to now."

"Why, Ellen," said he, "what nonsense you talk; you haven't been in
prison, have you?"

"Oh, no, no, no, not so bad as that," she exclaimed passionately.

"Well, I have," said Ernest, with a forced laugh, "I came out three
or four days ago after six months with hard labour."

Ellen did not believe him, but she looked at him with a "Lor'!
Master Ernest," and dried her eyes at once. The ice was broken
between them, for as a matter of fact Ellen had been in prison
several times, and though she did not believe Ernest, his merely
saying he had been in prison made her feel more at ease with him.
For her there were two classes of people, those who had been in
prison and those who had not. The first she looked upon as fellow-
creatures and more or less Christians, the second, with few
exceptions, she regarded with suspicion, not wholly unmingled with

Then Ernest told her what had happened to him during the last six
months, and by-and-by she believed him.

"Master Ernest," said she, after they had talked for a quarter of an
hour or so, "There's a place over the way where they sell tripe and
onions. I know you was always very fond of tripe and onions, let's
go over and have some, and we can talk better there."

So the pair crossed the street and entered the tripe shop; Ernest
ordered supper.

"And how is your pore dear mamma, and your dear papa, Master
Ernest," said Ellen, who had now recovered herself and was quite at
home with my hero. "Oh, dear, dear me," she said, "I did love your
pa; he was a good gentleman, he was, and your ma too; it would do
anyone good to live with her, I'm sure."

Ernest was surprised and hardly knew what to say. He had expected
to find Ellen indignant at the way she had been treated, and
inclined to lay the blame of her having fallen to her present state
at his father's and mother's door. It was not so. Her only
recollection of Battersby was as of a place where she had had plenty
to eat and drink, not too much hard work, and where she had not been
scolded. When she heard that Ernest had quarrelled with his father
and mother she assumed as a matter of course that the fault must lie
entirely with Ernest.

"Oh, your pore, pore ma!" said Ellen. "She was always so very fond
of you, Master Ernest: you was always her favourite; I can't abear
to think of anything between you and her. To think now of the way
she used to have me into the dining-room and teach me my catechism,
that she did! Oh, Master Ernest, you really must go and make it all
up with her; indeed you must."

Ernest felt rueful, but he had resisted so valiantly already that
the devil might have saved himself the trouble of trying to get at
him through Ellen in the matter of his father and mother. He
changed the subject, and the pair warmed to one another as they had
their tripe and pots of beer. Of all people in the world Ellen was
perhaps the one to whom Ernest could have spoken most freely at this
juncture. He told her what he thought he could have told to no one

"You know, Ellen," he concluded, "I had learnt as a boy things that
I ought not to have learnt, and had never had a chance of that which
would have set me straight."

"Gentlefolks is always like that," said Ellen musingly.

"I believe you are right, but I am no longer a gentleman, Ellen, and
I don't see why I should be 'like that' any longer, my dear. I want
you to help me to be like something else as soon as possible."

"Lor'! Master Ernest, whatever can you be meaning?"

The pair soon afterwards left the eating-house and walked up Fetter
Lane together.

Ellen had had hard times since she had left Battersby, but they had
left little trace upon her.

Ernest saw only the fresh-looking smiling face, the dimpled cheek,
the clear blue eyes and lovely sphinx-like lips which he had
remembered as a boy. At nineteen she had looked older than she was,
now she looked much younger; indeed she looked hardly older than
when Ernest had last seen her, and it would have taken a man of much
greater experience than he possessed to suspect how completely she
had fallen from her first estate. It never occurred to him that the
poor condition of her wardrobe was due to her passion for ardent
spirits, and that first and last she had served five or six times as
much time in gaol as he had. He ascribed the poverty of her attire
to the attempts to keep herself respectable, which Ellen during
supper had more than once alluded to. He had been charmed with the
way in which she had declared that a pint of beer would make her
tipsy, and had only allowed herself to be forced into drinking the
whole after a good deal of remonstrance. To him she appeared a very
angel dropped from the sky, and all the more easy to get on with for
being a fallen one.

As he walked up Fetter Lane with her towards Laystall Street, he
thought of the wonderful goodness of God towards him in throwing in
his way the very person of all others whom he was most glad to see,
and whom, of all others, in spite of her living so near him, he
might have never fallen in with but for a happy accident.

When people get it into their heads that they are being specially
favoured by the Almighty, they had better as a general rule mind
their p's and q's, and when they think they see the devil's drift
with more special clearness, let them remember that he has had much
more experience than they have, and is probably meditating mischief.

Already during supper the thought that in Ellen at last he had found
a woman whom he could love well enough to wish to live with and
marry had flitted across his mind, and the more they had chatted the
more reasons kept suggesting themselves for thinking that what might
be folly in ordinary cases would not be folly in his.

He must marry someone; that was already settled. He could not marry
a lady; that was absurd. He must marry a poor woman. Yes, but a
fallen one? Was he not fallen himself? Ellen would fall no more.
He had only to look at her to be sure of this. He could not live
with her in sin, not for more than the shortest time that could
elapse before their marriage; he no longer believed in the
supernatural element of Christianity, but the Christian morality at
any rate was indisputable. Besides, they might have children, and a
stigma would rest upon them. Whom had he to consult but himself
now? His father and mother never need know, and even if they did,
they should be thankful to see him married to any woman who would
make him happy as Ellen would. As for not being able to afford
marriage, how did poor people do? Did not a good wife rather help
matters than not? Where one could live two could do so, and if
Ellen was three or four years older than he was--well, what was

Have you, gentle reader, ever loved at first sight? When you fell
in love at first sight, how long, let me ask, did it take you to
become ready to fling every other consideration to the winds except
that of obtaining possession of the loved one? Or rather, how long
would it have taken you if you had had no father or mother, nothing
to lose in the way of money, position, friends, professional
advancement, or what not, and if the object of your affections was
as free from all these impedimenta as you were yourself?

If you were a young John Stuart Mill, perhaps it would have taken
you some time, but suppose your nature was Quixotic, impulsive,
altruistic, guileless; suppose you were a hungry man starving for
something to love and lean upon, for one whose burdens you might
bear, and who might help you to bear yours. Suppose you were down
on your luck, still stunned by a horrible shock, and this bright
vista of a happy future floated suddenly before you, how long under
these circumstances do you think you would reflect before you would
decide on embracing what chance had thrown in your way?

It did not take my hero long, for before he got past the ham and
beef shop near the top of Fetter Lane, he had told Ellen that she
must come home with him and live with him till they could get
married, which they would do upon the first day that the law

I think the devil must have chuckled and made tolerably sure of his
game this time.


Ernest told Ellen of his difficulty about finding employment.

"But what do you think of going into a shop for, my dear," said
Ellen. "Why not take a little shop yourself?"

Ernest asked how much this would cost. Ellen told him that he might
take a house in some small street, say near the "Elephant and
Castle," for 17s. or 18s. a week, and let off the two top floors for
10s., keeping the back parlour and shop for themselves. If he could
raise five or six pounds to buy some second-hand clothes to stock
the shop with, they could mend them and clean them, and she could
look after the women's clothes while he did the men's. Then he
could mend and make, if he could get the orders.

They could soon make a business of 2 pounds a week in this way; she
had a friend who began like that and had now moved to a better shop,
where she made 5 pounds or 6 pounds a week at least--and she, Ellen,
had done the greater part of the buying and selling herself.

Here was a new light indeed. It was as though he had got his 5000
pounds back again all of a sudden, and perhaps ever so much more
later on into the bargain. Ellen seemed more than ever to be his
good genius.

She went out and got a few rashers of bacon for his and her
breakfast. She cooked them much more nicely than he had been able
to do, and laid breakfast for him and made coffee, and some nice
brown toast. Ernest had been his own cook and housemaid for the
last few days and had not given himself satisfaction. Here he
suddenly found himself with someone to wait on him again. Not only
had Ellen pointed out to him how he could earn a living when no one
except himself had known how to advise him, but here she was so
pretty and smiling, looking after even his comforts, and restoring
him practically in all respects that he much cared about to the
position which he had lost--or rather putting him in one that he
already liked much better. No wonder he was radiant when he came to
explain his plans to me.

He had some difficulty in telling all that had happened. He
hesitated, blushed, hummed and hawed. Misgivings began to cross his
mind when he found himself obliged to tell his story to someone
else. He felt inclined to slur things over, but I wanted to get at
the facts, so I helped him over the bad places, and questioned him
till I had got out pretty nearly the whole story as I have given it

I hope I did not show it, but I was very angry. I had begun to like
Ernest. I don't know why, but I never have heard that any young man
to whom I had become attached was going to get married without
hating his intended instinctively, though I had never seen her; I
have observed that most bachelors feel the same thing, though we are
generally at some pains to hide the fact. Perhaps it is because we
know we ought to have got married ourselves. Ordinarily we say we
are delighted--in the present case I did not feel obliged to do
this, though I made an effort to conceal my vexation. That a young
man of much promise who was heir also to what was now a handsome
fortune, should fling himself away upon such a person as Ellen was
quite too provoking, and the more so because of the unexpectedness
of the whole affair.

I begged him not to marry Ellen yet--not at least until he had known
her for a longer time. He would not hear of it; he had given his
word, and if he had not given it he should go and give it at once.
I had hitherto found him upon most matters singularly docile and
easy to manage, but on this point I could do nothing with him. His
recent victory over his father and mother had increased his
strength, and I was nowhere. I would have told him of his true
position, but I knew very well that this would only make him more
bent on having his own way--for with so much money why should he not
please himself? I said nothing, therefore, on this head, and yet
all that I could urge went for very little with one who believed
himself to be an artisan or nothing.

Really from his own standpoint there was nothing very outrageous in
what he was doing. He had known and been very fond of Ellen years
before. He knew her to come of respectable people, and to have
borne a good character, and to have been universally liked at
Battersby. She was then a quick, smart, hard-working girl--and a
very pretty one. When at last they met again she was on her best
behaviour, in fact, she was modesty and demureness itself. What
wonder, then, that his imagination should fail to realise the
changes that eight years must have worked? He knew too much against
himself, and was too bankrupt in love to be squeamish; if Ellen had
been only what he thought her, and if his prospects had been in
reality no better than he believed they were, I do not know that
there is anything much more imprudent in what Ernest proposed than
there is in half the marriages that take place every day.

There was nothing for it, however, but to make the best of the
inevitable, so I wished my young friend good fortune, and told him
he could have whatever money he wanted to start his shop with, if
what he had in hand was not sufficient. He thanked me, asked me to
be kind enough to let him do all my mending and repairing, and to
get him any other like orders that I could, and left me to my own

I was even more angry when he was gone than I had been while he was
with me. His frank, boyish face had beamed with a happiness that
had rarely visited it. Except at Cambridge he had hardly known what
happiness meant, and even there his life had been clouded as of a
man for whom wisdom at the greatest of its entrances was quite shut
out. I had seen enough of the world and of him to have observed
this, but it was impossible, or I thought it had been impossible,
for me to have helped him.

Whether I ought to have tried to help him or not I do not know, but
I am sure that the young of all animals often do want help upon
matters about which anyone would say a priori that there should be
no difficulty. One would think that a young seal would want no
teaching how to swim, nor yet a bird to fly, but in practice a young
seal drowns if put out of its depth before its parents have taught
it to swim; and so again, even the young hawk must be taught to fly
before it can do so.

I grant that the tendency of the times is to exaggerate the good
which teaching can do, but in trying to teach too much, in most
matters, we have neglected others in respect of which a little
sensible teaching would do no harm.

I know it is the fashion to say that young people must find out
things for themselves, and so they probably would if they had fair
play to the extent of not having obstacles put in their way. But
they seldom have fair play; as a general rule they meet with foul
play, and foul play from those who live by selling them stones made
into a great variety of shapes and sizes so as to form a tolerable
imitation of bread.

Some are lucky enough to meet with few obstacles, some are plucky
enough to over-ride them, but in the greater number of cases, if
people are saved at all they are saved so as by fire.

While Ernest was with me Ellen was looking out for a shop on the
south side of the Thames near the "Elephant and Castle," which was
then almost a new and a very rising neighbourhood. By one o'clock
she had found several from which a selection was to be made, and
before night the pair had made their choice.

Ernest brought Ellen to me. I did not want to see her, but could
not well refuse. He had laid out a few of his shillings upon her
wardrobe, so that she was neatly dressed, and, indeed, she looked
very pretty and so good that I could hardly be surprised at Ernest's
infatuation when the other circumstances of the case were taken into
consideration. Of course we hated one another instinctively from
the first moment we set eyes on one another, but we each told Ernest
that we had been most favourably impressed.

Then I was taken to see the shop. An empty house is like a stray
dog or a body from which life has departed. Decay sets in at once
in every part of it, and what mould and wind and weather would
spare, street boys commonly destroy. Ernest's shop in its
untenanted state was a dirty unsavoury place enough. The house was
not old, but it had been run up by a jerry-builder and its
constitution had no stamina whatever. It was only by being kept
warm and quiet that it would remain in health for many months
together. Now it had been empty for some weeks and the cats had got
in by night, while the boys had broken the windows by day. The
parlour floor was covered with stones and dirt, and in the area was
a dead dog which had been killed in the street and been thrown down
into the first unprotected place that could be found. There was a
strong smell throughout the house, but whether it was bugs, or rats,
or cats, or drains, or a compound of all four, I could not
determine. The sashes did not fit, the flimsy doors hung badly; the
skirting was gone in several places, and there were not a few holes
in the floor; the locks were loose, and paper was torn and dirty;
the stairs were weak and one felt the treads give as one went up

Over and above these drawbacks the house had an ill name, by reason
of the fact that the wife of the last occupant had hanged herself in
it not very many weeks previously. She had set down a bloater
before the fire for her husband's tea, and had made him a round of
toast. She then left the room as though about to return to it
shortly, but instead of doing so she went into the back kitchen and
hanged herself without a word. It was this which had kept the house
empty so long in spite of its excellent position as a corner shop.
The last tenant had left immediately after the inquest, and if the
owner had had it done up then people would have got over the tragedy
that had been enacted in it, but the combination of bad condition
and bad fame had hindered many from taking it, who like Ellen, could
see that it had great business capabilities. Almost anything would
have sold there, but it happened also that there was no second-hand
clothes shop in close proximity so that everything combined in its
favour, except its filthy state and its reputation.

When I saw it, I thought I would rather die than live in such an
awful place--but then I had been living in the Temple for the last
five and twenty years. Ernest was lodging in Laystall Street and
had just come out of prison; before this he had lived in Ashpit
Place so that this house had no terrors for him provided he could
get it done up. The difficulty was that the landlord was hard to
move in this respect. It ended in my finding the money to do
everything that was wanted, and taking a lease of the house for five
years at the same rental as that paid by the last occupant. I then
sublet it to Ernest, of course taking care that it was put more
efficiently into repair than his landlord was at all likely to have
put it.

A week later I called and found everything so completely transformed
that I should hardly have recognised the house. All the ceilings
had been whitewashed, all the rooms papered, the broken glass hacked
out and reinstated, the defective wood-work renewed, all the sashes,
cupboards and doors had been painted. The drains had been
thoroughly overhauled, everything in fact, that could be done had
been done, and the rooms now looked as cheerful as they had been
forbidding when I had last seen them. The people who had done the
repairs were supposed to have cleaned the house down before leaving,
but Ellen had given it another scrub from top to bottom herself
after they were gone, and it was as clean as a new pin. I almost
felt as though I could have lived in it myself, and as for Ernest,
he was in the seventh heaven. He said it was all my doing and

There was already a counter in the shop and a few fittings, so that
nothing now remained but to get some stock and set them out for
sale. Ernest said he could not begin better than by selling his
clerical wardrobe and his books, for though the shop was intended
especially for the sale of second-hand clothes, yet Ellen said there
was no reason why they should not sell a few books too; so a
beginning was to be made by selling the books he had had at school
and college at about one shilling a volume, taking them all round,
and I have heard him say that he learned more that proved of
practical use to him through stocking his books on a bench in front
of his shop and selling them, than he had done from all the years of
study which he had bestowed upon their contents.

For the enquiries that were made of him whether he had such and such
a book taught him what he could sell and what he could not; how much
he could get for this, and how much for that. Having made ever such
a little beginning with books, he took to attending book sales as
well as clothes sales, and ere long this branch of his business
became no less important than the tailoring, and would, I have no
doubt, have been the one which he would have settled down to
exclusively, if he had been called upon to remain a tradesman; but
this is anticipating.

I made a contribution and a stipulation. Ernest wanted to sink the
gentleman completely, until such time as he could work his way up
again. If he had been left to himself he would have lived with
Ellen in the shop back parlour and kitchen, and have let out both
the upper floors according to his original programme. I did not
want him, however, to cut himself adrift from music, letters and
polite life, and feared that unless he had some kind of den into
which he could retire he would ere long become the tradesman and
nothing else. I therefore insisted on taking the first floor front
and back myself, and furnishing them with the things which had been
left at Mrs Jupp's. I bought these things of him for a small sum
and had them moved into his present abode.

I went to Mrs Jupp's to arrange all this, as Ernest did not like
going to Ashpit Place. I had half expected to find the furniture
sold and Mrs Jupp gone, but it was not so; with all her faults the
poor old woman was perfectly honest.

I told her that Pryer had taken all Ernest's money and run away with
it. She hated Pryer. "I never knew anyone," she exclaimed, "as
white-livered in the face as that Pryer; he hasn't got an upright
vein in his whole body. Why, all that time when he used to come
breakfasting with Mr Pontifex morning after morning, it took me to a
perfect shadow the way he carried on. There was no doing anything
to please him right. First I used to get them eggs and bacon, and
he didn't like that; and then I got him a bit of fish, and he didn't
like that, or else it was too dear, and you know fish is dearer than
ever; and then I got him a bit of German, and he said it rose on
him; then I tried sausages, and he said they hit him in the eye
worse even than German; oh! how I used to wander my room and fret
about it inwardly and cry for hours, and all about them paltry
breakfasts--and it wasn't Mr Pontifex; he'd like anything that
anyone chose to give him.

"And so the piano's to go," she continued. "What beautiful tunes Mr
Pontifex did play upon it, to be sure; and there was one I liked
better than any I ever heard. I was in the room when he played it
once and when I said, 'Oh, Mr Pontifex, that's the kind of woman I
am,' he said, 'No, Mrs Jupp, it isn't, for this tune is old, but no
one can say you are old.' But, bless you, he meant nothing by it,
it was only his mucky flattery."

Like myself, she was vexed at his getting married. She didn't like
his being married, and she didn't like his not being married--but,
anyhow, it was Ellen's fault, not his, and she hoped he would be
happy. "But after all," she concluded, "it ain't you and it ain't
me, and it ain't him and it ain't her. It's what you must call the
fortunes of matterimony, for there ain't no other word for it."

In the course of the afternoon the furniture arrived at Ernest's new
abode. In the first floor we placed the piano, table, pictures,
bookshelves, a couple of arm-chairs, and all the little household
gods which he had brought from Cambridge. The back room was
furnished exactly as his bedroom at Ashpit Place had been--new
things being got for the bridal apartment downstairs. These two
first-floor rooms I insisted on retaining as my own, but Ernest was
to use them whenever he pleased; he was never to sublet even the
bedroom, but was to keep it for himself in case his wife should be
ill at any time, or in case he might be ill himself.

In less than a fortnight from the time of his leaving prison all
these arrangements had been completed, and Ernest felt that he had
again linked himself on to the life which he had led before his
imprisonment--with a few important differences, however, which were
greatly to his advantage. He was no longer a clergyman; he was
about to marry a woman to whom he was much attached, and he had
parted company for ever with his father and mother.

True, he had lost all his money, his reputation, and his position as
a gentleman; he had, in fact, had to burn his house down in order to
get his roast sucking pig; but if asked whether he would rather be
as he was now or as he was on the day before his arrest, he would
not have had a moment's hesitation in preferring his present to his
past. If his present could only have been purchased at the expense
of all that he had gone through, it was still worth purchasing at
the price, and he would go through it all again if necessary. The
loss of the money was the worst, but Ellen said she was sure they
would get on, and she knew all about it. As for the loss of
reputation--considering that he had Ellen and me left, it did not
come to much.

I saw the house on the afternoon of the day on which all was
finished, and there remained nothing but to buy some stock and begin
selling. When I was gone, after he had had his tea, he stole up to
his castle--the first floor front. He lit his pipe and sat down to
the piano. He played Handel for an hour or so, and then set himself
to the table to read and write. He took all his sermons and all the
theological works he had begun to compose during the time he had
been a clergyman and put them in the fire; as he saw them consume he
felt as though he had got rid of another incubus. Then he took up
some of the little pieces he had begun to write during the latter
part of his undergraduate life at Cambridge, and began to cut them
about and re-write them. As he worked quietly at these till he
heard the clock strike ten and it was time to go to bed, he felt
that he was now not only happy but supremely happy.

Next day Ellen took him to Debenham's auction rooms, and they
surveyed the lots of clothes which were hung up all round the
auction room to be viewed. Ellen had had sufficient experience to
know about how much each lot ought to fetch; she overhauled lot
after lot, and valued it; in a very short time Ernest himself began
to have a pretty fair idea what each lot should go for, and before
the morning was over valued a dozen lots running at prices about
which Ellen said he would not hurt if he could get them for that.

So far from disliking this work or finding it tedious, he liked it
very much, indeed he would have liked anything which did not overtax
his physical strength, and which held out a prospect of bringing him
in money. Ellen would not let him buy anything on the occasion of
this sale; she said he had better see one sale first and watch how
prices actually went. So at twelve o'clock when the sale began, he
saw the lots sold which he and Ellen had marked, and by the time the
sale was over he knew enough to be able to bid with safety whenever
he should actually want to buy. Knowledge of this sort is very
easily acquired by anyone who is in bona fide want of it.

But Ellen did not want him to buy at auctions--not much at least at
present. Private dealing, she said, was best. If I, for example,
had any cast-off clothes, he was to buy them from my laundress, and
get a connection with other laundresses, to whom he might give a
trifle more than they got at present for whatever clothes their
masters might give them, and yet make a good profit. If gentlemen
sold their things, he was to try and get them to sell to him. He
flinched at nothing; perhaps he would have flinched if he had had
any idea how outre his proceedings were, but the very ignorance of
the world which had ruined him up till now, by a happy irony began
to work its own cure. If some malignant fairy had meant to curse
him in this respect, she had overdone her malice. He did not know
he was doing anything strange. He only knew that he had no money,
and must provide for himself, a wife, and a possible family. More
than this, he wanted to have some leisure in an evening, so that he
might read and write and keep up his music. If anyone would show
him how he could do better than he was doing, he should be much
obliged to them, but to himself it seemed that he was doing
sufficiently well; for at the end of the first week the pair found
they had made a clear profit of 3 pounds. In a few weeks this had
increased to 4 pounds, and by the New Year they had made a profit of
5 pounds in one week.

Ernest had by this time been married some two months, for he had
stuck to his original plan of marrying Ellen on the first day he
could legally do so. This date was a little delayed by the change
of abode from Laystall Street to Blackfriars, but on the first day
that it could be done it was done. He had never had more than 250
pounds a year, even in the times of his affluence, so that a profit
of 5 pounds a week, if it could be maintained steadily, would place
him where he had been as far as income went, and, though he should
have to feed two mouths instead of one, yet his expenses in other
ways were so much curtailed by his changed social position, that,
take it all round, his income was practically what it had been a
twelvemonth before. The next thing to do was to increase it, and
put by money.

Prosperity depends, as we all know, in great measure upon energy and
good sense, but it also depends not a little upon pure luck--that is
to say, upon connections which are in such a tangle that it is more
easy to say that they do not exist, than to try to trace them. A
neighbourhood may have an excellent reputation as being likely to be
a rising one, and yet may become suddenly eclipsed by another, which
no one would have thought so promising. A fever hospital may divert
the stream of business, or a new station attract it; so little,
indeed, can be certainly known, that it is better not to try to know
more than is in everybody's mouth, and to leave the rest to chance.

Luck, which certainly had not been too kind to my hero hitherto, now
seemed to have taken him under her protection. The neighbourhood
prospered, and he with it. It seemed as though he no sooner bought
a thing and put it into his shop, than it sold with a profit of from
thirty to fifty per cent. He learned book-keeping, and watched his
accounts carefully, following up any success immediately; he began
to buy other things besides clothes--such as books, music, odds and
ends of furniture, etc. Whether it was luck or business aptitude,
or energy, or the politeness with which he treated all his
customers, I cannot say--but to the surprise of no one more than
himself, he went ahead faster than he had anticipated, even in his
wildest dreams, and by Easter was established in a strong position
as the owner of a business which was bringing him in between four
and five hundred a year, and which he understood how to extend.


Ellen and he got on capitally, all the better, perhaps, because the
disparity between them was so great, that neither did Ellen want to
be elevated, nor did Ernest want to elevate her. He was very fond
of her, and very kind to her; they had interests which they could
serve in common; they had antecedents with a good part of which each
was familiar; they had each of them excellent tempers, and this was
enough. Ellen did not seem jealous at Ernest's preferring to sit
the greater part of his time after the day's work was done in the
first floor front where I occasionally visited him. She might have
come and sat with him if she had liked, but, somehow or other, she
generally found enough to occupy her down below. She had the tact
also to encourage him to go out of an evening whenever he had a
mind, without in the least caring that he should take her too--and
this suited Ernest very well. He was, I should say, much happier in
his married life than people generally are.

At first it had been very painful to him to meet any of his old
friends, as he sometimes accidentally did, but this soon passed;
either they cut him, or he cut them; it was not nice being cut for
the first time or two, but after that, it became rather pleasant
than not, and when he began to see that he was going ahead, he cared
very little what people might say about his antecedents. The ordeal
is a painful one, but if a man's moral and intellectual constitution
are naturally sound, there is nothing which will give him so much
strength of character as having been well cut.

It was easy for him to keep his expenditure down, for his tastes
were not luxurious. He liked theatres, outings into the country on
a Sunday, and tobacco, but he did not care for much else, except
writing and music. As for the usual run of concerts, he hated them.
He worshipped Handel; he liked Offenbach, and the airs that went
about the streets, but he cared for nothing between these two
extremes. Music, therefore, cost him little. As for theatres, I
got him and Ellen as many orders as they liked, so these cost them
nothing. The Sunday outings were a small item; for a shilling or
two he could get a return ticket to some place far enough out of
town to give him a good walk and a thorough change for the day.
Ellen went with him the first few times, but she said she found it
too much for her, there were a few of her old friends whom she
should sometimes like to see, and they and he, she said, would not
hit it off perhaps too well, so it would be better for him to go
alone. This seemed so sensible, and suited Ernest so exactly that
he readily fell into it, nor did he suspect dangers which were
apparent enough to me when I heard how she had treated the matter.
I kept silence, however, and for a time all continued to go well.
As I have said, one of his chief pleasures was in writing. If a man
carries with him a little sketch book and is continually jotting
down sketches, he has the artistic instinct; a hundred things may
hinder his due development, but the instinct is there. The literary
instinct may be known by a man's keeping a small note-book in his
waistcoat pocket, into which he jots down anything that strikes him,
or any good thing that he hears said, or a reference to any passage
which he thinks will come in useful to him. Ernest had such a note-
book always with him. Even when he was at Cambridge he had begun
the practice without anyone's having suggested it to him. These
notes he copied out from time to time into a book, which as they
accumulated, he was driven into indexing approximately, as he went
along. When I found out this, I knew that he had the literary
instinct, and when I saw his notes I began to hope great things of

For a long time I was disappointed. He was kept back by the nature
of the subjects he chose--which were generally metaphysical. In
vain I tried to get him away from these to matters which had a
greater interest for the general public. When I begged him to try
his hand at some pretty, graceful, little story which should be full
of whatever people knew and liked best, he would immediately set to
work upon a treatise to show the grounds on which all belief rested.

"You are stirring mud," said I, "or poking at a sleeping dog. You
are trying to make people resume consciousness about things, which,
with sensible men, have already passed into the unconscious stage.
The men whom you would disturb are in front of you, and not, as you
fancy, behind you; it is you who are the lagger, not they."

He could not see it. He said he was engaged on an essay upon the
famous quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus of St Vincent de
Lerins. This was the more provoking because he showed himself able
to do better things if he had liked.

I was then at work upon my burlesque "The Impatient Griselda," and
was sometimes at my wits' end for a piece of business or a
situation; he gave me many suggestions, all of which were marked by
excellent good sense. Nevertheless I could not prevail with him to
put philosophy on one side, and was obliged to leave him to himself.

For a long time, as I have said, his choice of subjects continued to
be such as I could not approve. He was continually studying
scientific and metaphysical writers, in the hope of either finding
or making for himself a philosopher's stone in the shape of a system
which should go on all fours under all circumstances, instead of
being liable to be upset at every touch and turn, as every system
yet promulgated has turned out to be.

He kept to the pursuit of this will-o'-the-wisp so long that I gave
up hope, and set him down as another fly that had been caught, as it
were, by a piece of paper daubed over with some sticky stuff that
had not even the merit of being sweet, but to my surprise he at last
declared that he was satisfied, and had found what he wanted.

I supposed that he had only hit upon some new "Lo, here!" when to my
relief, he told me that he had concluded that no system which should
go perfectly upon all fours was possible, inasmuch as no one could
get behind Bishop Berkeley, and therefore no absolutely
incontrovertible first premise could ever be laid. Having found
this he was just as well pleased as if he had found the most perfect
system imaginable. All he wanted he said, was to know which way it
was to be--that is to say whether a system was possible or not, and
if possible then what the system was to be. Having found out that
no system based on absolute certainty was possible he was contented.

I had only a very vague idea who Bishop Berkeley was, but was
thankful to him for having defended us from an incontrovertible
first premise. I am afraid I said a few words implying that after a
great deal of trouble he had arrived at the conclusion which
sensible people reach without bothering their brains so much.

He said: "Yes, but I was not born sensible. A child of ordinary
powers learns to walk at a year or two old without knowing much
about it; failing ordinary powers he had better learn laboriously
than never learn at all. I am sorry I was not stronger, but to do
as I did was my only chance."

He looked so meek that I was vexed with myself for having said what
I had, more especially when I remembered his bringing-up, which had
doubtless done much to impair his power of taking a common-sense
view of things. He continued -

"I see it all now. The people like Towneley are the only ones who
know anything that is worth knowing, and like that of course I can
never be. But to make Towneleys possible there must be hewers of
wood and drawers of water--men in fact through whom conscious
knowledge must pass before it can reach those who can apply it
gracefully and instinctively as the Towneleys can. I am a hewer of
wood, but if I accept the position frankly and do not set up to be a
Towneley, it does not matter."

He still, therefore, stuck to science instead of turning to
literature proper as I hoped he would have done, but he confined
himself henceforth to enquiries on specific subjects concerning
which an increase of our knowledge--as he said--was possible.
Having in fact, after infinite vexation of spirit, arrived at a
conclusion which cut at the roots of all knowledge, he settled
contentedly down to the pursuit of knowledge, and has pursued it
ever since in spite of occasional excursions into the regions of
literature proper.

But this is anticipating, and may perhaps also convey a wrong
impression, for from the outset he did occasionally turn his
attention to work which must be more properly called literary than
either scientific or metaphysical.


About six months after he had set up his shop his prosperity had
reached its climax. It seemed even then as though he were likely to
go ahead no less fast than heretofore, and I doubt not that he would
have done so, if success or non-success had depended upon himself
alone. Unfortunately he was not the only person to be reckoned

One morning he had gone out to attend some sales, leaving his wife
perfectly well, as usual in good spirits, and looking very pretty.
When he came back he found her sitting on a chair in the back
parlour, with her hair over her face, sobbing and crying as though
her heart would break. She said she had been frightened in the
morning by a man who had pretended to be a customer, and had
threatened her unless she gave him some things, and she had had to
give them to him in order to save herself from violence; she had
been in hysterics ever since the man had gone. This was her story,
but her speech was so incoherent that it was not easy to make out
what she said. Ernest knew she was with child, and thinking this
might have something to do with the matter, would have sent for a
doctor if Ellen had not begged him not to do so.

Anyone who had had experience of drunken people would have seen at a
glance what the matter was, but my hero knew nothing about them--
nothing, that is to say, about the drunkenness of the habitual
drunkard, which shows itself very differently from that of one who
gets drunk only once in a way. The idea that his wife could drink
had never even crossed his mind, indeed she always made a fuss about
taking more than a very little beer, and never touched spirits. He
did not know much more about hysterics than he did about
drunkenness, but he had always heard that women who were about to
become mothers were liable to be easily upset and were often rather
flighty, so he was not greatly surprised, and thought he had settled
the matter by registering the discovery that being about to become a
father has its troublesome as well as its pleasant side.

The great change in Ellen's life consequent upon her meeting Ernest
and getting married had for a time actually sobered her by shaking
her out of her old ways. Drunkenness is so much a matter of habit,
and habit so much a matter of surroundings, that if you completely
change the surroundings you will sometimes get rid of the
drunkenness altogether. Ellen had intended remaining always sober
henceforward, and never having had so long a steady fit before,
believed she was now cured. So she perhaps would have been if she
had seen none of her old acquaintances. When, however, her new life
was beginning to lose its newness, and when her old acquaintances
came to see her, her present surroundings became more like her past,
and on this she herself began to get like her past too. At first
she only got a little tipsy and struggled against a relapse; but it
was no use, she soon lost the heart to fight, and now her object was
not to try and keep sober, but to get gin without her husband's
finding it out.

So the hysterics continued, and she managed to make her husband
still think that they were due to her being about to become a
mother. The worse her attacks were, the more devoted he became in
his attention to her. At last he insisted that a doctor should see
her. The doctor of course took in the situation at a glance, but
said nothing to Ernest except in such a guarded way that he did not
understand the hints that were thrown out to him. He was much too
downright and matter of fact to be quick at taking hints of this
sort. He hoped that as soon as his wife's confinement was over she
would regain her health and had no thought save how to spare her as
far as possible till that happy time should come.

In the mornings she was generally better, as long that is to say as
Ernest remained at home; but he had to go out buying, and on his
return would generally find that she had had another attack as soon
as he had left the house. At times she would laugh and cry for half
an hour together, at others she would lie in a semi-comatose state
upon the bed, and when he came back he would find that the shop had
been neglected and all the work of the household left undone. Still
he took it for granted that this was all part of the usual course
when women were going to become mothers, and when Ellen's share of
the work settled down more and more upon his own shoulders he did it
all and drudged away without a murmur. Nevertheless, he began to
feel in a vague way more as he had felt in Ashpit Place, at
Roughborough, or at Battersby, and to lose the buoyancy of spirits
which had made another man of him during the first six months of his
married life

It was not only that he had to do so much household work, for even
the cooking, cleaning up slops, bed-making and fire-lighting ere
long devolved upon him, but his business no longer prospered. He
could buy as hitherto, but Ellen seemed unable to sell as she had
sold at first. The fact was that she sold as well as ever, but kept
back part of the proceeds in order to buy gin, and she did this more
and more till even the unsuspecting Ernest ought to have seen that
she was not telling the truth. When she sold better--that is to say
when she did not think it safe to keep back more than a certain
amount, she got money out of him on the plea that she had a longing
for this or that, and that it would perhaps irreparably damage the
baby if her longing was denied her. All seemed right, reasonable,
and unavoidable, nevertheless Ernest saw that until the confinement
was over he was likely to have a hard time of it. All however would
then come right again.


In the month of September 1860 a girl was born, and Ernest was proud
and happy. The birth of the child, and a rather alarming talk which
the doctor had given to Ellen sobered her for a few weeks, and it
really seemed as though his hopes were about to be fulfilled. The
expenses of his wife's confinement were heavy, and he was obliged to
trench upon his savings, but he had no doubt about soon recouping
this now that Ellen was herself again; for a time indeed his
business did revive a little, nevertheless it seemed as though the
interruption to his prosperity had in some way broken the spell of
good luck which had attended him in the outset; he was still
sanguine, however, and worked night and day with a will, but there
was no more music, or reading, or writing now. His Sunday outings
were put a stop to, and but for the first floor being let to myself,
he would have lost his citadel there too, but he seldom used it, for
Ellen had to wait more and more upon the baby, and, as a
consequence, Ernest had to wait more and more upon Ellen.

One afternoon, about a couple of months after the baby had been
born, and just as my unhappy hero was beginning to feel more hopeful
and therefore better able to bear his burdens, he returned from a
sale, and found Ellen in the same hysterical condition that he had
found her in in the spring. She said she was again with child, and
Ernest still believed her.

All the troubles of the preceding six months began again then and
there, and grew worse and worse continually. Money did not come in
quickly, for Ellen cheated him by keeping it back, and dealing
improperly with the goods he bought. When it did come in she got it
out of him as before on pretexts which it seemed inhuman to inquire
into. It was always the same story. By and by a new feature began
to show itself. Ernest had inherited his father's punctuality and
exactness as regards money; he liked to know the worst of what he
had to pay at once; he hated having expenses sprung upon him which
if not foreseen might and ought to have been so, but now bills began
to be brought to him for things ordered by Ellen without his
knowledge, or for which he had already given her the money. This
was awful, and even Ernest turned. When he remonstrated with her--
not for having bought the things, but for having said nothing to him
about the moneys being owing--Ellen met him with hysteria and there
was a scene. She had now pretty well forgotten the hard times she
had known when she had been on her own resources and reproached him
downright with having married her--on that moment the scales fell
from Ernest's eyes as they had fallen when Towneley had said, "No,
no, no." He said nothing, but he woke up once for all to the fact
that he had made a mistake in marrying. A touch had again come
which had revealed him to himself.

He went upstairs to the disused citadel, flung himself into the arm-
chair, and covered his face with his hands.

He still did not know that his wife drank, but he could no longer
trust her, and his dream of happiness was over. He had been saved
from the Church--so as by fire, but still saved--but what could now
save him from his marriage? He had made the same mistake that he
had made in wedding himself to the Church, but with a hundred times
worse results. He had learnt nothing by experience: he was an
Esau--one of those wretches whose hearts the Lord had hardened, who,
having ears, heard not, having eyes saw not, and who should find no
place for repentance though they sought it even with tears.

Yet had he not on the whole tried to find out what the ways of God
were, and to follow them in singleness of heart? To a certain
extent, yes; but he had not been thorough; he had not given up all
for God. He knew that very well he had done little as compared with
what he might and ought to have done, but still if he was being
punished for this, God was a hard taskmaster, and one, too, who was
continually pouncing out upon his unhappy creatures from ambuscades.
In marrying Ellen he had meant to avoid a life of sin, and to take
the course he believed to be moral and right. With his antecedents
and surroundings it was the most natural thing in the world for him
to have done, yet in what a frightful position had not his morality
landed him. Could any amount of immorality have placed him in a
much worse one? What was morality worth if it was not that which on
the whole brought a man peace at the last, and could anyone have
reasonable certainty that marriage would do this? It seemed to him
that in his attempt to be moral he had been following a devil which
had disguised itself as an angel of light. But if so, what ground
was there on which a man might rest the sole of his foot and tread
in reasonable safety?

He was still too young to reach the answer, "On common sense"--an
answer which he would have felt to be unworthy of anyone who had an
ideal standard.

However this might be, it was plain that he had now done for
himself. It had been thus with him all his life. If there had come
at any time a gleam of sunshine and hope, it was to be obscured
immediately--why, prison was happier than this! There, at any rate,
he had had no money anxieties, and these were beginning to weigh
upon him now with all their horrors. He was happier even now than
he had been at Battersby or at Roughborough, and he would not now go
back, even if he could, to his Cambridge life, but for all that the
outlook was so gloomy, in fact so hopeless, that he felt as if he
could have only too gladly gone to sleep and died in his arm-chair
once for all.

As he was musing thus and looking upon the wreck of his hopes--for
he saw well enough that as long as he was linked to Ellen he should
never rise as he had dreamed of doing--he heard a noise below, and
presently a neighbour ran upstairs and entered his room hurriedly -

"Good gracious, Mr Pontifex," she exclaimed, "for goodness' sake
come down quickly and help. O Mrs Pontifex is took with the
horrors--and she's orkard."

The unhappy man came down as he was bid and found his wife mad with
delirium tremens.

He knew all now. The neighbours thought he must have known that his
wife drank all along, but Ellen had been so artful, and he so
simple, that, as I have said, he had had no suspicion. "Why," said
the woman who had summoned him, "she'll drink anything she can stand
up and pay her money for." Ernest could hardly believe his ears,
but when the doctor had seen his wife and she had become more quiet,
he went over to the public house hard by and made enquiries, the
result of which rendered further doubt impossible. The publican
took the opportunity to present my hero with a bill of several
pounds for bottles of spirits supplied to his wife, and what with
his wife's confinement and the way business had fallen off, he had
not the money to pay with, for the sum exceeded the remnant of his

He came to me--not for money, but to tell me his miserable story. I
had seen for some time that there was something wrong, and had
suspected pretty shrewdly what the matter was, but of course I said
nothing. Ernest and I had been growing apart for some time. I was
vexed at his having married, and he knew I was vexed, though I did
my best to hide it.

A man's friendships are, like his will, invalidated by marriage--but
they are also no less invalidated by the marriage of his friends.
The rift in friendship which invariably makes its appearance on the
marriage of either of the parties to it was fast widening, as it no
less invariably does, into the great gulf which is fixed between the
married and the unmarried, and I was beginning to leave my protege
to a fate with which I had neither right nor power to meddle. In
fact I had begun to feel him rather a burden; I did not so much mind
this when I could be of use, but I grudged it when I could be of
none. He had made his bed and he must lie upon it. Ernest had felt
all this and had seldom come near me till now, one evening late in
1860, he called on me, and with a very woebegone face told me his

As soon as I found that he no longer liked his wife I forgave him at
once, and was as much interested in him as ever. There is nothing
an old bachelor likes better than to find a young married man who
wishes he had not got married--especially when the case is such an
extreme one that he need not pretend to hope that matters will come
all right again, or encourage his young friend to make the best of

I was myself in favour of a separation, and said I would make Ellen
an allowance myself--of course intending that it should come out of
Ernest's money; but he would not hear of this. He had married
Ellen, he said, and he must try to reform her. He hated it, but he
must try; and finding him as usual very obstinate I was obliged to
acquiesce, though with little confidence as to the result. I was
vexed at seeing him waste himself upon such a barren task, and again
began to feel him burdensome. I am afraid I showed this, for he
again avoided me for some time, and, indeed, for many months I
hardly saw him at all.

Ellen remained very ill for some days, and then gradually recovered.
Ernest hardly left her till she was out of danger. When she had
recovered he got the doctor to tell her that if she had such another
attack she would certainly die; this so frightened her that she took
the pledge.

Then he became more hopeful again. When she was sober she was just
what she was during the first days of her married life, and so quick
was he to forget pain, that after a few days he was as fond of her
as ever. But Ellen could not forgive him for knowing what he did.
She knew that he was on the watch to shield her from temptation, and
though he did his best to make her think that he had no further
uneasiness about her, she found the burden of her union with
respectability grow more and more heavy upon her, and looked back
more and more longingly upon the lawless freedom of the life she had
led before she met her husband.

I will dwell no longer on this part of my story. During the spring
months of 1861 she kept straight--she had had her fling of
dissipation, and this, together with the impression made upon her by
her having taken the pledge, tamed her for a while. The shop went
fairly well, and enabled Ernest to make the two ends meet. In the
spring and summer of 1861 he even put by a little money again. In
the autumn his wife was confined of a boy--a very fine one, so
everyone said. She soon recovered, and Ernest was beginning to
breathe freely and be almost sanguine when, without a word of
warning, the storm broke again. He returned one afternoon about two
years after his marriage, and found his wife lying upon the floor

From this time he became hopeless, and began to go visibly down
hill. He had been knocked about too much, and the luck had gone too
long against him. The wear and tear of the last three years had
told on him, and though not actually ill he was over-worked, below
par, and unfit for any further burden.

He struggled for a while to prevent himself from finding this out,
but facts were too strong for him. Again he called on me and told
me what had happened. I was glad the crisis had come; I was sorry
for Ellen, but a complete separation from her was the only chance
for her husband. Even after this last outbreak he was unwilling to
consent to this, and talked nonsense about dying at his post, till I
got tired of him. Each time I saw him the old gloom had settled
more and more deeply upon his face, and I had about made up my mind
to put an end to the situation by a coup de main, such as bribing
Ellen to run away with somebody else, or something of that kind,
when matters settled themselves as usual in a way which I had not


The winter had been a trying one. Ernest had only paid his way by
selling his piano. With this he seemed to cut away the last link
that connected him with his earlier life, and to sink once for all
into the small shop-keeper. It seemed to him that however low he
might sink his pain could not last much longer, for he should simply
die if it did.

He hated Ellen now, and the pair lived in open want of harmony with
each other. If it had not been for his children, he would have left
her and gone to America, but he could not leave the children with
Ellen, and as for taking them with him he did not know how to do it,
nor what to do with them when he had got them to America. If he had
not lost energy he would probably in the end have taken the children
and gone off, but his nerve was shaken, so day after day went by and
nothing was done.

He had only got a few shillings in the world now, except the value
of his stock, which was very little; he could get perhaps 3 pounds
or 4 pounds by selling his music and what few pictures and pieces of
furniture still belonged to him. He thought of trying to live by
his pen, but his writing had dropped off long ago; he no longer had
an idea in his head. Look which way he would he saw no hope; the
end, if it had not actually come, was within easy distance and he
was almost face to face with actual want. When he saw people going
about poorly clad, or even without shoes and stockings, he wondered
whether within a few months' time he too should not have to go about
in this way. The remorseless, resistless hand of fate had caught
him in its grip and was dragging him down, down, down. Still he
staggered on, going his daily rounds, buying second-hand clothes,
and spending his evenings in cleaning and mending them.

One morning, as he was returning from a house at the West End where
he had bought some clothes from one of the servants, he was struck
by a small crowd which had gathered round a space that had been
railed off on the grass near one of the paths in the Green Park.

It was a lovely soft spring morning at the end of March, and
unusually balmy for the time of year; even Ernest's melancholy was
relieved for a while by the look of spring that pervaded earth and
sky; but it soon returned, and smiling sadly he said to himself:
"It may bring hope to others, but for me there can be no hope

As these words were in his mind he joined the small crowd who were
gathered round the railings, and saw that they were looking at three
sheep with very small lambs only a day or two old, which had been
penned off for shelter and protection from the others that ranged
the park.

They were very pretty, and Londoners so seldom get a chance of
seeing lambs that it was no wonder every one stopped to look at
them. Ernest observed that no one seemed fonder of them than a
great lubberly butcher boy, who leaned up against the railings with
a tray of meat upon his shoulder. He was looking at this boy and
smiling at the grotesqueness of his admiration, when he became aware
that he was being watched intently by a man in coachman's livery,
who had also stopped to admire the lambs, and was leaning against
the opposite side of the enclosure. Ernest knew him in a moment as
John, his father's old coachman at Battersby, and went up to him at

"Why, Master Ernest," said he, with his strong northern accent, "I
was thinking of you only this very morning," and the pair shook
hands heartily. John was in an excellent place at the West End. He
had done very well, he said, ever since he had left Battersby,
except for the first year or two, and that, he said, with a screw of
the face, had well nigh broke him.

Ernest asked how this was.

"Why, you see," said John, "I was always main fond of that lass
Ellen, whom you remember running after, Master Ernest, and giving
your watch to. I expect you haven't forgotten that day, have you?"
And here he laughed. "I don't know as I be the father of the child
she carried away with her from Battersby, but I very easily may have
been. Anyhow, after I had left your papa's place a few days I wrote
to Ellen to an address we had agreed upon, and told her I would do
what I ought to do, and so I did, for I married her within a month
afterwards. Why, Lord love the man, whatever is the matter with
him?"--for as he had spoken the last few words of his story Ernest
had turned white as a sheet, and was leaning against the railings.

"John," said my hero, gasping for breath, "are you sure of what you
say--are you quite sure you really married her?"

"Of course I am," said John, "I married her before the registrar at
Letchbury on the 15th of August 1851.

"Give me your arm," said Ernest, "and take me into Piccadilly, and
put me into a cab, and come with me at once, if you can spare time,
to Mr Overton's at the Temple."


I do not think Ernest himself was much more pleased at finding that
he had never been married than I was. To him, however, the shock of
pleasure was positively numbing in its intensity. As he felt his
burden removed, he reeled for the unaccustomed lightness of his
movements; his position was so shattered that his identity seemed to
have been shattered also; he was as one waking up from a horrible
nightmare to find himself safe and sound in bed, but who can hardly
even yet believe that the room is not full of armed men who are
about to spring upon him.

"And it is I," he said, "who not an hour ago complained that I was
without hope. It is I, who for weeks have been railing at fortune,
and saying that though she smiled on others she never smiled at me.
Why, never was anyone half so fortunate as I am."

"Yes," said I, "you have been inoculated for marriage, and have

"And yet," he said, "I was very fond of her till she took to

"Perhaps; but is it not Tennyson who has said: ''Tis better to have
loved and lost, than never to have lost at all'?"

"You are an inveterate bachelor," was the rejoinder.

Then we had a long talk with John, to whom I gave a 5 pound note
upon the spot. He said, "Ellen had used to drink at Battersby; the
cook had taught her; he had known it, but was so fond of her, that
he had chanced it and married her to save her from the streets and
in the hope of being able to keep her straight. She had done with
him just as she had done with Ernest--made him an excellent wife as
long as she kept sober, but a very bad one afterwards."

"There isn't," said John, "a sweeter-tempered, handier, prettier
girl than she was in all England, nor one as knows better what a man
likes, and how to make him happy, if you can keep her from drink;
but you can't keep her; she's that artful she'll get it under your
very eyes, without you knowing it. If she can't get any more of
your things to pawn or sell, she'll steal her neighbours'. That's
how she got into trouble first when I was with her. During the six
months she was in prison I should have felt happy if I had not known
she would come out again. And then she did come out, and before she
had been free a fortnight, she began shop-lifting and going on the
loose again--and all to get money to drink with. So seeing I could
do nothing with her and that she was just a-killing of me, I left
her, and came up to London, and went into service again, and I did
not know what had become of her till you and Mr Ernest here told me.
I hope you'll neither of you say you've seen me."

We assured him we would keep his counsel, and then he left us, with
many protestations of affection towards Ernest, to whom he had been
always much attached.

We talked the situation over, and decided first to get the children
away, and then to come to terms with Ellen concerning their future
custody; as for herself, I proposed that we should make her an
allowance of, say, a pound a week to be paid so long as she gave no
trouble. Ernest did not see where the pound a week was to come
from, so I eased his mind by saying I would pay it myself. Before
the day was two hours older we had got the children, about whom
Ellen had always appeared to be indifferent, and had confided them
to the care of my laundress, a good motherly sort of woman, who took
to them and to whom they took at once.

Then came the odious task of getting rid of their unhappy mother.
Ernest's heart smote him at the notion of the shock the break-up
would be to her. He was always thinking that people had a claim
upon him for some inestimable service they had rendered him, or for
some irreparable mischief done to them by himself; the case however
was so clear, that Ernest's scruples did not offer serious

I did not see why he should have the pain of another interview with
his wife, so I got Mr Ottery to manage the whole business. It
turned out that we need not have harrowed ourselves so much about
the agony of mind which Ellen would suffer on becoming an outcast
again. Ernest saw Mrs Richards, the neighbour who had called him
down on the night when he had first discovered his wife's
drunkenness, and got from her some details of Ellen's opinions upon
the matter. She did not seem in the least conscience-stricken; she
said: "Thank goodness, at last!" And although aware that her
marriage was not a valid one, evidently regarded this as a mere
detail which it would not be worth anybody's while to go into more
particularly. As regards his breaking with her, she said it was a
good job both for him and for her.

"This life," she continued, "don't suit me. Ernest is too good for
me; he wants a woman as shall be a bit better than me, and I want a
man that shall be a bit worse than him. We should have got on all
very well if we had not lived together as married folks, but I've
been used to have a little place of my own, however small, for a
many years, and I don't want Ernest, or any other man, always
hanging about it. Besides he is too steady: his being in prison
hasn't done him a bit of good--he's just as grave as those as have
never been in prison at all, and he never swears nor curses, come
what may; it makes me afeared of him, and therefore I drink the
worse. What us poor girls wants is not to be jumped up all of a
sudden and made honest women of; this is too much for us and throws
us off our perch; what we wants is a regular friend or two, who'll
just keep us from starving, and force us to be good for a bit
together now and again. That's about as much as we can stand. He
may have the children; he can do better for them than I can; and as
for his money, he may give it or keep it as he likes, he's never
done me any harm, and I shall let him alone; but if he means me to
have it, I suppose I'd better have it."--And have it she did.

"And I," thought Ernest to himself again when the arrangement was
concluded, "am the man who thought himself unlucky!"

I may as well say here all that need be said further about Ellen.
For the next three years she used to call regularly at Mr Ottery's
every Monday morning for her pound. She was always neatly dressed,
and looked so quiet and pretty that no one would have suspected her
antecedents. At first she wanted sometimes to anticipate, but after
three or four ineffectual attempts--on each of which occasions she
told a most pitiful story--she gave it up and took her money
regularly without a word. Once she came with a bad black eye,
"which a boy had throwed a stone and hit her by mistake"; but on the
whole she looked pretty much the same at the end of the three years
as she had done at the beginning. Then she explained that she was
going to be married again. Mr Ottery saw her on this, and pointed
out to her that she would very likely be again committing bigamy by
doing so. "You may call it what you like," she replied, "but I am
going off to America with Bill the butcher's man, and we hope Mr
Pontifex won't be too hard on us and stop the allowance." Ernest
was little likely to do this, so the pair went in peace. I believe
it was Bill who had blacked her eye, and she liked him all the
better for it.

From one or two little things I have been able to gather that the
couple got on very well together, and that in Bill she has found a
partner better suited to her than either John or Ernest. On his
birthday Ernest generally receives an envelope with an American
post-mark containing a book-marker with a flaunting text upon it, or
a moral kettle-holder, or some other similar small token of
recognition, but no letter. Of the children she has taken no


Ernest was now well turned twenty-six years old, and in little more
than another year and a half would come into possession of his
money. I saw no reason for letting him have it earlier than the
date fixed by Miss Pontifex herself; at the same time I did not like
his continuing the shop at Blackfriars after the present crisis. It
was not till now that I fully understood how much he had suffered,
nor how nearly his supposed wife's habits had brought him to actual

I had indeed noted the old wan worn look settling upon his face, but
was either too indolent or too hopeless of being able to sustain a
protracted and successful warfare with Ellen to extend the sympathy
and make the inquiries which I suppose I ought to have made. And
yet I hardly know what I could have done, for nothing short of his
finding out what he had found out would have detached him from his
wife, and nothing could do him much good as long as he continued to
live with her.

After all I suppose I was right; I suppose things did turn out all
the better in the end for having been left to settle themselves--at
any rate whether they did or did not, the whole thing was in too
great a muddle for me to venture to tackle it so long as Ellen was
upon the scene; now, however, that she was removed, all my interest
in my godson revived, and I turned over many times in my mind, what
I had better do with him.

It was now three and a half years since he had come up to London and
begun to live, so to speak, upon his own account. Of these years,
six months had been spent as a clergyman, six months in gaol, and
for two and a half years he had been acquiring twofold experience in
the ways of business and of marriage. He had failed, I may say, in
everything that he had undertaken, even as a prisoner; yet his
defeats had been always, as it seemed to me, something so like
victories, that I was satisfied of his being worth all the pains I
could bestow upon him; my only fear was lest I should meddle with
him when it might be better for him to be let alone. On the whole I
concluded that a three and a half years' apprenticeship to a rough
life was enough; the shop had done much for him; it had kept him
going after a fashion, when he was in great need; it had thrown him
upon his own resources, and taught him to see profitable openings
all around him, where a few months before he would have seen nothing
but insuperable difficulties; it had enlarged his sympathies by
making him understand the lower classes, and not confining his view
of life to that taken by gentlemen only. When he went about the
streets and saw the books outside the second-hand book-stalls, the
bric-a-brac in the curiosity shops, and the infinite commercial
activity which is omnipresent around us, he understood it and
sympathised with it as he could never have done if he had not kept a
shop himself.

He has often told me that when he used to travel on a railway that
overlooked populous suburbs, and looked down upon street after
street of dingy houses, he used to wonder what kind of people lived
in them, what they did and felt, and how far it was like what he did
and felt himself. Now, he said he knew all about it. I am not very
familiar with the writer of the Odyssey (who, by the way, I suspect
strongly of having been a clergyman), but he assuredly hit the right
nail on the head when he epitomised his typical wise man as knowing
"the ways and farings of many men." What culture is comparable to
this? What a lie, what a sickly debilitating debauch did not
Ernest's school and university career now seem to him, in comparison
with his life in prison and as a tailor in Blackfriars. I have
heard him say he would have gone through all he had suffered if it
were only for the deeper insight it gave him into the spirit of the
Grecian and the Surrey pantomimes. What confidence again in his own
power to swim if thrown into deep waters had not he won through his
experiences during the last three years!

But, as I have said, I thought my godson had now seen as much of the
under currents of life as was likely to be of use to him, and that
it was time he began to live in a style more suitable to his
prospects. His aunt had wished him to kiss the soil, and he had
kissed it with a vengeance; but I did not like the notion of his
coming suddenly from the position of a small shopkeeper to that of a
man with an income of between three and four thousand a year. Too
sudden a jump from bad fortune to good is just as dangerous as one
from good to bad; besides, poverty is very wearing; it is a quasi-
embryonic condition, through which a man had better pass if he is to
hold his later developments securely, but like measles or scarlet
fever he had better have it mildly and get it over early.

No man is safe from losing every penny he has in the world, unless
he has had his facer. How often do I not hear middle-aged women and
quiet family men say that they have no speculative tendency; THEY
never had touched, and never would touch, any but the very soundest,
best reputed investments, and as for unlimited liability, oh dear!
dear! and they throw up their hands and eyes.

Whenever a person is heard to talk thus he may be recognised as the
easy prey of the first adventurer who comes across him; he will
commonly, indeed, wind up his discourse by saying that in spite of
all his natural caution, and his well knowing how foolish
speculation is, yet there are some investments which are called
speculative but in reality are not so, and he will pull out of his
pocket the prospectus of a Cornish gold mine. It is only on having
actually lost money that one realises what an awful thing the loss
of it is, and finds out how easily it is lost by those who venture
out of the middle of the most beaten path. Ernest had had his
facer, as he had had his attack of poverty, young, and sufficiently
badly for a sensible man to be little likely to forget it. I can
fancy few pieces of good fortune greater than this as happening to
any man, provided, of course, that he is not damaged irretrievably.

So strongly do I feel on this subject that if I had my way I would
have a speculation master attached to every school. The boys would
be encouraged to read the Money Market Review, the Railway News, and
all the best financial papers, and should establish a stock exchange
amongst themselves in which pence should stand as pounds. Then let
them see how this making haste to get rich moneys out in actual
practice. There might be a prize awarded by the head-master to the
most prudent dealer, and the boys who lost their money time after
time should be dismissed. Of course if any boy proved to have a
genius for speculation and made money--well and good, let him
speculate by all means.

If Universities were not the worst teachers in the world I should
like to see professorships of speculation established at Oxford and
Cambridge. When I reflect, however, that the only things worth
doing which Oxford and Cambridge can do well are cooking, cricket,
rowing and games, of which there is no professorship, I fear that
the establishment of a professorial chair would end in teaching
young men neither how to speculate, nor how not to speculate, but
would simply turn them out as bad speculators.

I heard of one case in which a father actually carried my idea into
practice. He wanted his son to learn how little confidence was to
be placed in glowing prospectuses and flaming articles, and found
him five hundred pounds which he was to invest according to his
lights. The father expected he would lose the money; but it did not
turn out so in practice, for the boy took so much pains and played
so cautiously that the money kept growing and growing till the
father took it away again, increment and all--as he was pleased to
say, in self defence.

I had made my own mistakes with money about the year 1846, when
everyone else was making them. For a few years I had been so scared
and had suffered so severely, that when (owing to the good advice of
the broker who had advised my father and grandfather before me) I
came out in the end a winner and not a loser, I played no more
pranks, but kept henceforward as nearly in the middle of the middle
rut as I could. I tried in fact to keep my money rather than to
make more of it. I had done with Ernest's money as with my own--
that is to say I had let it alone after investing it in Midland
ordinary stock according to Miss Pontifex's instructions. No amount
of trouble would have been likely to have increased my godson's
estate one half so much as it had increased without my taking any
trouble at all.

Midland stock at the end of August 1850, when I sold out Miss
Pontifex's debentures, stood at 32 pounds per 100 pounds. I
invested the whole of Ernest's 15,000 pounds at this price, and did
not change the investment till a few months before the time of which
I have been writing lately--that is to say until September 1861. I
then sold at 129 pounds per share and invested in London and North-
Western ordinary stock, which I was advised was more likely to rise
than Midlands now were. I bought the London and North-Western stock
at 93 pounds per 100 pounds, and my godson now in 1882 still holds

The original 15,000 pounds had increased in eleven years to over
60,000 pounds; the accumulated interest, which, of course, I had re-
invested, had come to about 10,000 pounds more, so that Ernest was
then worth over 70,000 pounds. At present he is worth nearly double
that sum, and all as the result of leaving well alone.

Large as his property now was, it ought to be increased still
further during the year and a half that remained of his minority, so
that on coming of age he ought to have an income of at least 3500
pounds a year.

I wished him to understand book-keeping by double entry. I had
myself as a young man been compelled to master this not very
difficult art; having acquired it, I have become enamoured of it,
and consider it the most necessary branch of any young man's
education after reading and writing. I was determined, therefore,
that Ernest should master it, and proposed that he should become my
steward, book-keeper, and the manager of my hoardings, for so I
called the sum which my ledger showed to have accumulated from
15,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds. I told him I was going to begin to
spend the income as soon as it had amounted up to 80,000 pounds.

A few days after Ernest's discovery that he was still a bachelor,
while he was still at the very beginning of the honeymoon, as it
were, of his renewed unmarried life, I broached my scheme, desired
him to give up his shop, and offered him 300 pounds a year for
managing (so far indeed as it required any managing) his own
property. This 300 pounds a year, I need hardly say, I made him
charge to the estate.

If anything had been wanting to complete his happiness it was this.
Here, within three or four days he found himself freed from one of
the most hideous, hopeless liaisons imaginable, and at the same time
raised from a life of almost squalor to the enjoyment of what would
to him be a handsome income.

"A pound a week," he thought, "for Ellen, and the rest for myself."

"No," said I, "we will charge Ellen's pound a week to the estate
also. You must have a clear 300 pounds for yourself."

I fixed upon this sum, because it was the one which Mr Disraeli gave
Coningsby when Coningsby was at the lowest ebb of his fortunes. Mr
Disraeli evidently thought 300 pounds a year the smallest sum on
which Coningsby could be expected to live, and make the two ends
meet; with this, however, he thought his hero could manage to get
along for a year or two. In 1862, of which I am now writing, prices
had risen, though not so much as they have since done; on the other
hand Ernest had had less expensive antecedents than Coningsby, so on
the whole I thought 300 pounds a year would be about the right thing
for him.


The question now arose what was to be done with the children. I
explained to Ernest that their expenses must be charged to the
estate, and showed him how small a hole all the various items I
proposed to charge would make in the income at my disposal. He was
beginning to make difficulties, when I quieted him by pointing out
that the money had all come to me from his aunt, over his own head,
and reminded him there had been an understanding between her and me
that I should do much as I was doing, if occasion should arise.

He wanted his children to be brought up in the fresh pure air, and
among other children who were happy and contented; but being still
ignorant of the fortune that awaited him, he insisted that they
should pass their earlier years among the poor rather than the rich.
I remonstrated, but he was very decided about it; and when I
reflected that they were illegitimate, I was not sure but that what
Ernest proposed might be as well for everyone in the end. They were
still so young that it did not much matter where they were, so long
as they were with kindly decent people, and in a healthy

"I shall be just as unkind to my children," he said, "as my
grandfather was to my father, or my father to me. If they did not
succeed in making their children love them, neither shall I. I say
to myself that I should like to do so, but so did they. I can make
sure that they shall not know how much they would have hated me if
they had had much to do with me, but this is all I can do. If I
must ruin their prospects, let me do so at a reasonable time before
they are old enough to feel it."

He mused a little and added with a laugh:-

"A man first quarrels with his father about three-quarters of a year
before he is born. It is then he insists on setting up a separate
establishment; when this has been once agreed to, the more complete
the separation for ever after the better for both." Then he said
more seriously: "I want to put the children where they will be well
and happy, and where they will not be betrayed into the misery of
false expectations."

In the end he remembered that on his Sunday walks he had more than
once seen a couple who lived on the waterside a few miles below
Gravesend, just where the sea was beginning, and who he thought
would do. They had a family of their own fast coming on and the
children seemed to thrive; both father and mother indeed were
comfortable well grown folks, in whose hands young people would be
likely to have as fair a chance of coming to a good development as
in those of any whom he knew.

We went down to see this couple, and as I thought no less well of
them than Ernest did, we offered them a pound a week to take the
children and bring them up as though they were their own. They
jumped at the offer, and in another day or two we brought the
children down and left them, feeling that we had done as well as we
could by them, at any rate for the present. Then Ernest sent his
small stock of goods to Debenham's, gave up the house he had taken
two and a half years previously, and returned to civilisation.

I had expected that he would now rapidly recover, and was
disappointed to see him get as I thought decidedly worse. Indeed,
before long I thought him looking so ill that I insisted on his
going with me to consult one of the most eminent doctors in London.
This gentleman said there was no acute disease but that my young
friend was suffering from nervous prostration, the result of long
and severe mental suffering, from which there was no remedy except
time, prosperity and rest.

He said that Ernest must have broken down later on, but that he
might have gone on for some months yet. It was the suddenness of
the relief from tension which had knocked him over now.

"Cross him," said the doctor, "at once. Crossing is the great
medical discovery of the age. Shake him out of himself by shaking
something else into him."

I had not told him that money was no object to us and I think he had
reckoned me up as not over rich. He continued:-

"Seeing is a mode of touching, touching is a mode of feeding,
feeding is a mode of assimilation, assimilation is a mode of
recreation and reproduction, and this is crossing--shaking yourself
into something else and something else into you."

He spoke laughingly, but it was plain he was serious. He

"People are always coming to me who want crossing, or change, if you
prefer it, and who I know have not money enough to let them get away
from London. This has set me thinking how I can best cross them
even if they cannot leave home, and I have made a list of cheap
London amusements which I recommend to my patients; none of them
cost more than a few shillings or take more than half a day or a

I explained that there was no occasion to consider money in this

"I am glad of it," he said, still laughing. "The homoeopathists use
aurum as a medicine, but they do not give it in large doses enough;
if you can dose your young friend with this pretty freely you will
soon bring him round. However, Mr Pontifex is not well enough to
stand so great a change as going abroad yet; from what you tell me I
should think he had had as much change lately as is good for him.
If he were to go abroad now he would probably be taken seriously ill
within a week. We must wait till he has recovered tone a little
more. I will begin by ringing my London changes on him."

He thought a little and then said:-

"I have found the Zoological Gardens of service to many of my
patients. I should prescribe for Mr Pontifex a course of the larger
mammals. Don't let him think he is taking them medicinally, but let
him go to their house twice a week for a fortnight, and stay with
the hippopotamus, the rhinoceros, and the elephants, till they begin
to bore him. I find these beasts do my patients more good than any
others. The monkeys are not a wide enough cross; they do not
stimulate sufficiently. The larger carnivora are unsympathetic.
The reptiles are worse than useless, and the marsupials are not much
better. Birds again, except parrots, are not very beneficial; he
may look at them now and again, but with the elephants and the pig
tribe generally he should mix just now as freely as possible.

"Then, you know, to prevent monotony I should send him, say, to
morning service at the Abbey before he goes. He need not stay
longer than the Te Deum. I don't know why, but Jubilates are seldom
satisfactory. Just let him look in at the Abbey, and sit quietly in
Poets' Corner till the main part of the music is over. Let him do
this two or three times, not more, before he goes to the Zoo.

"Then next day send him down to Gravesend by boat. By all means let
him go to the theatres in the evenings--and then let him come to me
again in a fortnight."

Had the doctor been less eminent in his profession I should have
doubted whether he was in earnest, but I knew him to be a man of
business who would neither waste his own time nor that of his
patients. As soon as we were out of the house we took a cab to
Regent's Park, and spent a couple of hours in sauntering round the
different houses. Perhaps it was on account of what the doctor had
told me, but I certainly became aware of a feeling I had never
experienced before. I mean that I was receiving an influx of new
life, or deriving new ways of looking at life--which is the same
thing--by the process. I found the doctor quite right in his
estimate of the larger mammals as the ones which on the whole were
most beneficial, and observed that Ernest, who had heard nothing of
what the doctor had said to me, lingered instinctively in front of
them. As for the elephants, especially the baby elephant, he seemed
to be drinking in large draughts of their lives to the re-creation
and regeneration of his own.

We dined in the gardens, and I noticed with pleasure that Ernest's
appetite was already improved. Since this time, whenever I have
been a little out of sorts myself I have at once gone up to Regent's
Park, and have invariably been benefited. I mention this here in
the hope that some one or other of my readers may find the hint a
useful one.

At the end of his fortnight my hero was much better, more so even
than our friend the doctor had expected. "Now," he said, "Mr
Pontifex may go abroad, and the sooner the better. Let him stay a
couple of months."

This was the first Ernest had heard about his going abroad, and he
talked about my not being able to spare him for so long. I soon
made this all right.

"It is now the beginning of April," said I, "go down to Marseilles
at once, and take steamer to Nice. Then saunter down the Riviera to
Genoa--from Genoa go to Florence, Rome and Naples, and come home by
way of Venice and the Italian lakes."

"And won't you come too?" said he, eagerly.

I said I did not mind if I did, so we began to make our arrangements
next morning, and completed them within a very few days.


We left by the night mail, crossing from Dover. The night was soft,
and there was a bright moon upon the sea. "Don't you love the smell
of grease about the engine of a Channel steamer? Isn't there a lot
of hope in it?" said Ernest to me, for he had been to Normandy one
summer as a boy with his father and mother, and the smell carried
him back to days before those in which he had begun to bruise
himself against the great outside world. "I always think one of the
best parts of going abroad is the first thud of the piston, and the
first gurgling of the water when the paddle begins to strike it."

It was very dreamy getting out at Calais, and trudging about with
luggage in a foreign town at an hour when we were generally both of
us in bed and fast asleep, but we settled down to sleep as soon as
we got into the railway carriage, and dozed till we had passed
Amiens. Then waking when the first signs of morning crispness were
beginning to show themselves, I saw that Ernest was already
devouring every object we passed with quick sympathetic curiousness.
There was not a peasant in a blouse driving his cart betimes along
the road to market, not a signalman's wife in her husband's hat and
coat waving a green flag, not a shepherd taking out his sheep to the
dewy pastures, not a bank of opening cowslips as we passed through
the railway cuttings, but he was drinking it all in with an
enjoyment too deep for words. The name of the engine that drew us
was Mozart, and Ernest liked this too.

We reached Paris by six, and had just time to get across the town
and take a morning express train to Marseilles, but before noon my
young friend was tired out and had resigned himself to a series of
sleeps which were seldom intermitted for more than an hour or so
together. He fought against this for a time, but in the end
consoled himself by saying it was so nice to have so much pleasure
that he could afford to throw a lot of it away. Having found a
theory on which to justify himself, he slept in peace.

At Marseilles we rested, and there the excitement of the change
proved, as I had half feared it would, too much for my godson's
still enfeebled state. For a few days he was really ill, but after
this he righted. For my own part I reckon being ill as one of the
great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not
obliged to work till one is better. I remember being ill once in a
foreign hotel myself and how much I enjoyed it. To lie there
careless of everything, quiet and warm, and with no weight upon the
mind, to hear the clinking of the plates in the far-off kitchen as
the scullion rinsed them and put them by; to watch the soft shadows
come and go upon the ceiling as the sun came out or went behind a
cloud; to listen to the pleasant murmuring of the fountain in the
court below, and the shaking of the bells on the horses' collars and
the clink of their hoofs upon the ground as the flies plagued them;
not only to be a lotus-eater but to know that it was one's duty to
be a lotus-eater. "Oh," I thought to myself, "if I could only now,
having so forgotten care, drop off to sleep for ever, would not this
be a better piece of fortune than any I can ever hope for?"

Of course it would, but we would not take it though it were offered
us. No matter what evil may befall us, we will mostly abide by it
and see it out.

I could see that Ernest felt much as I had felt myself. He said
little, but noted everything. Once only did he frighten me. He
called me to his bedside just as it was getting dusk and said in a
grave, quiet manner that he should like to speak to me.

"I have been thinking," he said, "that I may perhaps never recover
from this illness, and in case I do not I should like you to know
that there is only one thing which weighs upon me. I refer," he
continued after a slight pause, "to my conduct towards my father and
mother. I have been much too good to them. I treated them much too
considerately," on which he broke into a smile which assured me that
there was nothing seriously amiss with him.

On the walls of his bedroom were a series of French Revolution
prints representing events in the life of Lycurgus. There was
"Grandeur d'ame de Lycurgue," and "Lycurgue consulte l'oracle," and
then there was "Calciope a la Cour." Under this was written in
French and Spanish: "Modele de grace et de beaute, la jeune
Calciope non moins sage que belle avait merite l'estime et
l'attachement du vertueux Lycurgue. Vivement epris de tant de
charmes, l'illustre philosophe la conduisait dans le temple de
Junon, ou ils s'unirent par un serment sacre. Apres cette auguste
ceremonie, Lycurgue s'empressa de conduire sa jeune epouse au palais
de son frere Polydecte, Roi de Lacedemon. Seigneur, lui dit-il, la
vertueuse Calciope vient de recevoir mes voeux aux pieds des autels,
j'ose vous prier d'approuver cette union. Le Roi temoigna d'abord
quelque surprise, mais l'estime qu'il avait pour son frere lui
inspira une reponse pleine de beinveillance. Il s'approcha aussitot
de Calciope qu'il embrassa tendrement, combla ensuite Lycurgue de
prevenances et parut tres satisfait."

He called my attention to this and then said somewhat timidly that
he would rather have married Ellen than Calciope. I saw he was
hardening and made no hesitation about proposing that in another day
or two we should proceed upon our journey.

I will not weary the reader by taking him with us over beaten
ground. We stopped at Siena, Cortona, Orvieto, Perugia and many
other cities, and then after a fortnight passed between Rome and
Naples went to the Venetian provinces and visited all those wondrous
towns that lie between the southern slopes of the Alps and the
northern ones of the Apennines, coming back at last by the S.
Gothard. I doubt whether he had enjoyed the trip more than I did
myself, but it was not till we were on the point of returning that
Ernest had recovered strength enough to be called fairly well, and
it was not for many months that he so completely lost all sense of
the wounds which the last four years had inflicted on him as to feel
as though there were a scar and a scar only remaining.

They say that when people have lost an arm or a foot they feel pains
in it now and again for a long while after they have lost it. One
pain which he had almost forgotten came upon him on his return to
England, I mean the sting of his having been imprisoned. As long as
he was only a small shop-keeper his imprisonment mattered nothing;
nobody knew of it, and if they had known they would not have cared;
now, however, though he was returning to his old position he was
returning to it disgraced, and the pain from which he had been saved
in the first instance by surroundings so new that he had hardly
recognised his own identity in the middle of them, came on him as
from a wound inflicted yesterday.

He thought of the high resolves which he had made in prison about
using his disgrace as a vantage ground of strength rather than
trying to make people forget it. "That was all very well then," he
thought to himself, "when the grapes were beyond my reach, but now
it is different." Besides, who but a prig would set himself high
aims, or make high resolves at all?

Some of his old friends, on learning that he had got rid of his
supposed wife and was now comfortably off again, wanted to renew
their acquaintance; he was grateful to them and sometimes tried to
meet their advances half way, but it did not do, and ere long he
shrank back into himself, pretending not to know them. An infernal
demon of honesty haunted him which made him say to himself: "These
men know a great deal, but do not know all--if they did they would
cut me--and therefore I have no right to their acquaintance."

He thought that everyone except himself was sans peur et sans
reproche. Of course they must be, for if they had not been, would
they not have been bound to warn all who had anything to do with
them of their deficiencies? Well, he could not do this, and he
would not have people's acquaintance under false pretences, so he
gave up even hankering after rehabilitation and fell back upon his
old tastes for music and literature.

Of course he has long since found out how silly all this was, how
silly I mean in theory, for in practice it worked better than it
ought to have done, by keeping him free from liaisons which would
have tied his tongue and made him see success elsewhere than where
he came in time to see it. He did what he did instinctively and for
no other reason than because it was most natural to him. So far as
he thought at all, he thought wrong, but what he did was right. I
said something of this kind to him once not so very long ago, and
told him he had always aimed high. "I never aimed at all," he
replied a little indignantly, "and you may be sure I should have
aimed low enough if I had thought I had got the chance."

I suppose after all that no one whose mind was not, to put it
mildly, abnormal, ever yet aimed very high out of pure malice
aforethought. I once saw a fly alight on a cup of hot coffee on
which the milk had formed a thin skin; he perceived his extreme
danger, and I noted with what ample strides and almost supermuscan
effort he struck across the treacherous surface and made for the
edge of the cup--for the ground was not solid enough to let him
raise himself from it by his wings. As I watched him I fancied that
so supreme a moment of difficulty and danger might leave him with an
increase of moral and physical power which might even descend in
some measure to his offspring. But surely he would not have got the
increased moral power if he could have helped it, and he will not
knowingly alight upon another cup of hot coffee. The more I see the
more sure I am that it does not matter why people do the right thing
so long only as they do it, nor why they may have done the wrong if
they have done it. The result depends upon the thing done and the
motive goes for nothing. I have read somewhere, but cannot remember
where, that in some country district there was once a great scarcity
of food, during which the poor suffered acutely; many indeed
actually died of starvation, and all were hard put to it. In one
village, however, there was a poor widow with a family of young
children, who, though she had small visible means of subsistence,
still looked well-fed and comfortable, as also did all her little
ones. "How," everyone asked, "did they manage to live?" It was
plain they had a secret, and it was equally plain that it could be
no good one; for there came a hurried, hunted look over the poor
woman's face if anyone alluded to the way in which she and hers
throve when others starved; the family, moreover, were sometimes
seen out at unusual hours of the night, and evidently brought things
home, which could hardly have been honestly come by. They knew they
were under suspicion, and, being hitherto of excellent name, it made
them very unhappy, for it must be confessed that they believed what
they did to be uncanny if not absolutely wicked; nevertheless, in
spite of this they throve, and kept their strength when all their
neighbours were pinched.

At length matters came to a head and the clergyman of the parish
cross-questioned the poor woman so closely that with many tears and
a bitter sense of degradation she confessed the truth; she and her
children went into the hedges and gathered snails, which they made
into broth and ate--could she ever be forgiven? Was there any hope
of salvation for her either in this world or the next after such
unnatural conduct?

So again I have heard of an old dowager countess whose money was all
in Consols; she had had many sons, and in her anxiety to give the
younger ones a good start, wanted a larger income than Consols would
give her. She consulted her solicitor and was advised to sell her
Consols and invest in the London and North-Western Railway, then at
about 85. This was to her what eating snails was to the poor widow
whose story I have told above. With shame and grief, as of one
doing an unclean thing--but her boys must have their start--she did
as she was advised. Then for a long while she could not sleep at
night and was haunted by a presage of disaster. Yet what happened?
She started her boys, and in a few years found her capital doubled
into the bargain, on which she sold out and went back again to
Consols and died in the full blessedness of fund-holding.

She thought, indeed, that she was doing a wrong and dangerous thing,
but this had absolutely nothing to do with it. Suppose she had
invested in the full confidence of a recommendation by some eminent
London banker whose advice was bad, and so had lost all her money,
and suppose she had done this with a light heart and with no
conviction of sin--would her innocence of evil purpose and the
excellence of her motive have stood her in any stead? Not they.

But to return to my story. Towneley gave my hero most trouble.
Towneley, as I have said, knew that Ernest would have money soon,
but Ernest did not of course know that he knew it. Towneley was
rich himself, and was married now; Ernest would be rich soon, had
bona fide intended to be married already, and would doubtless marry
a lawful wife later on. Such a man was worth taking pains with, and
when Towneley one day met Ernest in the street, and Ernest tried to
avoid him, Towneley would not have it, but with his usual quick good
nature read his thoughts, caught him, morally speaking, by the
scruff of his neck, and turned him laughingly inside out, telling
him he would have no such nonsense.


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