The Way of All Flesh
Part 8 out of 8
Towneley was just as much Ernest's idol now as he had ever been, and
Ernest, who was very easily touched, felt more gratefully and warmly
than ever towards him, but there was an unconscious something which
was stronger than Towneley, and made my hero determine to break with
him more determinedly perhaps than with any other living person; he
thanked him in a low hurried voice and pressed his hand, while tears
came into his eyes in spite of all his efforts to repress them. "If
we meet again," he said, "do not look at me, but if hereafter you
hear of me writing things you do not like, think of me as charitably
as you can," and so they parted.
"Towneley is a good fellow," said I, gravely, "and you should not
have cut him."
"Towneley," he answered, "is not only a good fellow, but he is
without exception the very best man I ever saw in my life--except,"
he paid me the compliment of saying, "yourself; Towneley is my
notion of everything which I should most like to be--but there is no
real solidarity between us. I should be in perpetual fear of losing
his good opinion if I said things he did not like, and I mean to say
a great many things," he continued more merrily, "which Towneley
will not like."
A man, as I have said already, can give up father and mother for
Christ's sake tolerably easily for the most part, but it is not so
easy to give up people like Towneley.
So he fell away from all old friends except myself and three or four
old intimates of my own, who were as sure to take to him as he to
them, and who like myself enjoyed getting hold of a young fresh
mind. Ernest attended to the keeping of my account books whenever
there was anything which could possibly be attended to, which there
seldom was, and spent the greater part of the rest of his time in
adding to the many notes and tentative essays which had already
accumulated in his portfolios. Anyone who was used to writing could
see at a glance that literature was his natural development, and I
was pleased at seeing him settle down to it so spontaneously. I was
less pleased, however, to observe that he would still occupy himself
with none but the most serious, I had almost said solemn, subjects,
just as he never cared about any but the most serious kind of music.
I said to him one day that the very slender reward which God had
attached to the pursuit of serious inquiry was a sufficient proof
that He disapproved of it, or at any rate that He did not set much
store by it nor wish to encourage it.
He said: "Oh, don't talk about rewards. Look at Milton, who only
got 5 pounds for 'Paradise Lost.'"
"And a great deal too much," I rejoined promptly. "I would have
given him twice as much myself not to have written it at all."
Ernest was a little shocked. "At any rate," he said laughingly, "I
don't write poetry."
This was a cut at me, for my burlesques were, of course, written in
rhyme. So I dropped the matter.
After a time he took it into his head to re-open the question of his
getting 300 pounds a year for doing, as he said, absolutely nothing,
and said he would try to find some employment which should bring him
in enough to live upon.
I laughed at this but let him alone. He tried and tried very hard
for a long while, but I need hardly say was unsuccessful. The older
I grow, the more convinced I become of the folly and credulity of
the public; but at the same time the harder do I see it is to impose
oneself upon that folly and credulity.
He tried editor after editor with article after article. Sometimes
an editor listened to him and told him to leave his articles; he
almost invariably, however, had them returned to him in the end with
a polite note saying that they were not suited for the particular
paper to which he had sent them. And yet many of these very
articles appeared in his later works, and no one complained of them,
not at least on the score of bad literary workmanship. "I see," he
said to me one day, "that demand is very imperious, and supply must
be very suppliant."
Once, indeed, the editor of an important monthly magazine accepted
an article from him, and he thought he had now got a footing in the
literary world. The article was to appear in the next issue but
one, and he was to receive proof from the printers in about ten days
or a fortnight; but week after week passed and there was no proof;
month after month went by and there was still no room for Ernest's
article; at length after about six months the editor one morning
told him that he had filled every number of his review for the next
ten months, but that his article should definitely appear. On this
he insisted on having his MS. returned to him.
Sometimes his articles were actually published, and he found the
editor had edited them according to his own fancy, putting in jokes
which he thought were funny, or cutting out the very passage which
Ernest had considered the point of the whole thing, and then, though
the articles appeared, when it came to paying for them it was
another matter, and he never saw his money. "Editors," he said to
me one day about this time, "are like the people who bought and sold
in the book of Revelation; there is not one but has the mark of the
beast upon him."
At last after months of disappointment and many a tedious hour
wasted in dingy ante-rooms (and of all anterooms those of editors
appear to me to be the dreariest), he got a bona fide offer of
employment from one of the first class weekly papers through an
introduction I was able to get for him from one who had powerful
influence with the paper in question. The editor sent him a dozen
long books upon varied and difficult subjects, and told him to
review them in a single article within a week. In one book there
was an editorial note to the effect that the writer was to be
condemned. Ernest particularly admired the book he was desired to
condemn, and feeling how hopeless it was for him to do anything like
justice to the books submitted to him, returned them to the editor.
At last one paper did actually take a dozen or so of articles from
him, and gave him cash down a couple of guineas apiece for them, but
having done this it expired within a fortnight after the last of
Ernest's articles had appeared. It certainly looked very much as if
the other editors knew their business in declining to have anything
to do with my unlucky godson.
I was not sorry that he failed with periodical literature, for
writing for reviews or newspapers is bad training for one who may
aspire to write works of more permanent interest. A young writer
should have more time for reflection than he can get as a
contributor to the daily or even weekly press. Ernest himself,
however, was chagrined at finding how unmarketable he was. "Why,"
he said to me, "If I was a well-bred horse, or sheep, or a pure-bred
pigeon or lop-eared rabbit I should be more saleable. If I was even
a cathedral in a colonial town people would give me something, but
as it is they do not want me"; and now that he was well and rested
he wanted to set up a shop again, but this, of course, I would not
"What care I," said he to me one day, "about being what they call a
gentleman?" And his manner was almost fierce.
"What has being a gentleman ever done for me except make me less
able to prey and more easy to be preyed upon? It has changed the
manner of my being swindled, that is all. But for your kindness to
me I should be penniless. Thank heaven I have placed my children
where I have."
I begged him to keep quiet a little longer and not talk about taking
"Will being a gentleman," he said, "bring me money at the last, and
will anything bring me as much peace at the last as money will?
They say that those who have riches enter hardly into the kingdom of
Heaven. By Jove, they do; they are like Struldbrugs; they live and
live and live and are happy for many a long year after they would
have entered into the kingdom of Heaven if they had been poor. I
want to live long and to raise my children, if I see they would be
happier for the raising; that is what I want, and it is not what I
am doing now that will help me. Being a gentleman is a luxury which
I cannot afford, therefore I do not want it. Let me go back to my
shop again, and do things for people which they want done and will
pay me for doing for them. They know what they want and what is
good for them better than I can tell them."
It was hard to deny the soundness of this, and if he had been
dependent only on the 300 pounds a year which he was getting from me
I should have advised him to open his shop again next morning. As
it was, I temporised and raised obstacles, and quieted him from time
to time as best I could.
Of course he read Mr Darwin's books as fast as they came out and
adopted evolution as an article of faith. "It seems to me," he said
once, "that I am like one of those caterpillars which, if they have
been interrupted in making their hammock, must begin again from the
beginning. So long as I went back a long way down in the social
scale I got on all right, and should have made money but for Ellen;
when I try to take up the work at a higher stage I fail completely."
I do not know whether the analogy holds good or not, but I am sure
Ernest's instinct was right in telling him that after a heavy fall
he had better begin life again at a very low stage, and as I have
just said, I would have let him go back to his shop if I had not
known what I did.
As the time fixed upon by his aunt drew nearer I prepared him more
and more for what was coming, and at last, on his twenty-eighth
birthday, I was able to tell him all and to show him the letter
signed by his aunt upon her death-bed to the effect that I was to
hold the money in trust for him. His birthday happened that year
(1863) to be on a Sunday, but on the following day I transferred his
shares into his own name, and presented him with the account books
which he had been keeping for the last year and a half.
In spite of all that I had done to prepare him, it was a long while
before I could get him actually to believe that the money was his
own. He did not say much--no more did I, for I am not sure that I
did not feel as much moved at having brought my long trusteeship to
a satisfactory conclusion as Ernest did at finding himself owner of
more than 70,000 pounds. When he did speak it was to jerk out a
sentence or two of reflection at a time. "If I were rendering this
moment in music," he said, "I should allow myself free use of the
augmented sixth." A little later I remember his saying with a laugh
that had something of a family likeness to his aunt's: "It is not
the pleasure it causes me which I enjoy so, it is the pain it will
cause to all my friends except yourself and Towneley."
I said: "You cannot tell your father and mother--it would drive
"No, no, no," said he, "it would be too cruel; it would be like
Isaac offering up Abraham and no thicket with a ram in it near at
hand. Besides why should I? We have cut each other these four
It almost seemed as though our casual mention of Theobald and
Christina had in some way excited them from a dormant to an active
state. During the years that had elapsed since they last appeared
upon the scene they had remained at Battersby, and had concentrated
their affection upon their other children.
It had been a bitter pill to Theobald to lose his power of plaguing
his first-born; if the truth were known I believe he had felt this
more acutely than any disgrace which might have been shed upon him
by Ernest's imprisonment. He had made one or two attempts to reopen
negotiations through me, but I never said anything about them to
Ernest, for I knew it would upset him. I wrote, however, to
Theobald that I had found his son inexorable, and recommended him
for the present, at any rate, to desist from returning to the
subject. This I thought would be at once what Ernest would like
best and Theobald least.
A few days, however, after Ernest had come into his property, I
received a letter from Theobald enclosing one for Ernest which I
could not withhold.
The letter ran thus:-
"To my son Ernest,--Although you have more than once rejected my
overtures I appeal yet again to your better nature. Your mother,
who has long been ailing, is, I believe, near her end; she is unable
to keep anything on her stomach, and Dr Martin holds out but little
hopes of her recovery. She has expressed a wish to see you, and
says she knows you will not refuse to come to her, which,
considering her condition, I am unwilling to suppose you will.
"I remit you a Post Office order for your fare, and will pay your
"If you want clothes to come in, order what you consider suitable,
and desire that the bill be sent to me; I will pay it immediately,
to an amount not exceeding eight or nine pounds, and if you will let
me know what train you will come by, I will send the carriage to
meet you. Believe me, Your affectionate father, T. PONTIFEX."
Of course there could be no hesitation on Ernest's part. He could
afford to smile now at his father's offering to pay for his clothes,
and his sending him a Post Office order for the exact price of a
second-class ticket, and he was of course shocked at learning the
state his mother was said to be in, and touched at her desire to see
him. He telegraphed that he would come down at once. I saw him a
little before he started, and was pleased to see how well his tailor
had done by him. Towneley himself could not have been appointed
more becomingly. His portmanteau, his railway wrapper, everything
he had about him, was in keeping. I thought he had grown much
better-looking than he had been at two or three and twenty. His
year and a half of peace had effaced all the ill effects of his
previous suffering, and now that he had become actually rich there
was an air of insouciance and good humour upon his face, as of a man
with whom everything was going perfectly right, which would have
made a much plainer man good-looking. I was proud of him and
delighted with him. "I am sure," I said to myself, "that whatever
else he may do, he will never marry again."
The journey was a painful one. As he drew near to the station and
caught sight of each familiar feature, so strong was the force of
association that he felt as though his coming into his aunt's money
had been a dream, and he were again returning to his father's house
as he had returned to it from Cambridge for the vacations. Do what
he would, the old dull weight of home-sickness began to oppress him,
his heart beat fast as he thought of his approaching meeting with
his father and mother, "and I shall have," he said to himself, "to
Would his father meet him at the station? Would he greet him as
though nothing had happened, or would he be cold and distant? How,
again, would he take the news of his son's good fortune? As the
train drew up to the platform, Ernest's eye ran hurriedly over the
few people who were in the station. His father's well-known form
was not among them, but on the other side of the palings which
divided the station yard from the platform, he saw the pony
carriage, looking, as he thought, rather shabby, and recognised his
father's coachman. In a few minutes more he was in the carriage
driving towards Battersby. He could not help smiling as he saw the
coachman give a look of surprise at finding him so much changed in
personal appearance. The coachman was the more surprised because
when Ernest had last been at home he had been dressed as a
clergyman, and now he was not only a layman, but a layman who was
got up regardless of expense. The change was so great that it was
not till Ernest actually spoke to him that the coachman knew him.
"How are my father and mother?" he asked hurriedly, as he got into
the carriage. "The Master's well, sir," was the answer, "but the
Missis is very sadly." The horse knew that he was going home and
pulled hard at the reins. The weather was cold and raw--the very
ideal of a November day; in one part of the road the floods were
out, and near here they had to pass through a number of horsemen and
dogs, for the hounds had met that morning at a place near Battersby.
Ernest saw several people whom he knew, but they either, as is most
likely, did not recognise him, or did not know of his good luck.
When Battersby church tower drew near, and he saw the Rectory on the
top of the hill, its chimneys just showing above the leafless trees
with which it was surrounded, he threw himself back in the carriage
and covered his face with his hands.
It came to an end, as even the worst quarters of an hour do, and in
a few minutes more he was on the steps in front of his father's
house. His father, hearing the carriage arrive, came a little way
down the steps to meet him. Like the coachman he saw at a glance
that Ernest was appointed as though money were abundant with him,
and that he was looking robust and full of health and vigour.
This was not what he had bargained for. He wanted Ernest to return,
but he was to return as any respectable, well-regulated prodigal
ought to return--abject, broken-hearted, asking forgiveness from the
tenderest and most long-suffering father in the whole world. If he
should have shoes and stockings and whole clothes at all, it should
be only because absolute rags and tatters had been graciously
dispensed with, whereas here he was swaggering in a grey ulster and
a blue and white neck-tie, and looking better than Theobald had ever
seen him in his life. It was unprincipled. Was it for this that he
had been generous enough to offer to provide Ernest with decent
clothes in which to come and visit his mother's death-bed? Could
any advantage be meaner than the one which Ernest had taken? Well,
he would not go a penny beyond the eight or nine pounds which he had
promised. It was fortunate he had given a limit. Why he, Theobald,
had never been able to afford such a portmanteau in his life. He
was still using an old one which his father had turned over to him
when he went up to Cambridge. Besides, he had said clothes, not a
Ernest saw what was passing through his father's mind, and felt that
he ought to have prepared him in some way for what he now saw; but
he had sent his telegram so immediately on receiving his father's
letter, and had followed it so promptly that it would not have been
easy to do so even if he had thought of it. He put out his hand and
said laughingly, "Oh, it's all paid for--I am afraid you do not know
that Mr Overton has handed over to me Aunt Alethea's money."
Theobald flushed scarlet. "But why," he said, and these were the
first words that actually crossed his lips--"if the money was not
his to keep, did he not hand it over to my brother John and me?" He
stammered a good deal and looked sheepish, but he got the words out.
"Because, my dear father," said Ernest still laughing, "my aunt left
it to him in trust for me, not in trust either for you or for my
Uncle John--and it has accumulated till it is now over 70,000
pounds. But tell me how is my mother?"
"No, Ernest," said Theobald excitedly, "the matter cannot rest here,
I must know that this is all open and above board."
This had the true Theobald ring and instantly brought the whole
train of ideas which in Ernest's mind were connected with his
father. The surroundings were the old familiar ones, but the
surrounded were changed almost beyond power of recognition. He
turned sharply on Theobald in a moment. I will not repeat the words
he used, for they came out before he had time to consider them, and
they might strike some of my readers as disrespectful; there were
not many of them, but they were effectual. Theobald said nothing,
but turned almost of an ashen colour; he never again spoke to his
son in such a way as to make it necessary for him to repeat what he
had said on this occasion. Ernest quickly recovered his temper and
again asked after his mother. Theobald was glad enough to take this
opening now, and replied at once in the tone he would have assumed
towards one he most particularly desired to conciliate, that she was
getting rapidly worse in spite of all he had been able to do for
her, and concluded by saying she had been the comfort and mainstay
of his life for more than thirty years, but that he could not wish
The pair then went upstairs to Christina's room, the one in which
Ernest had been born. His father went before him and prepared her
for her son's approach. The poor woman raised herself in bed as he
came towards her, and weeping as she flung her arms around him,
cried: "Oh, I knew he would come, I knew, I knew he could come."
Ernest broke down and wept as he had not done for years.
"Oh, my boy, my boy," she said as soon as she could recover her
voice. "Have you never really been near us for all these years?
Ah, you do not know how we have loved you and mourned over you, papa
just as much as I have. You know he shows his feelings less, but I
can never tell you how very, very deeply he has felt for you.
Sometimes at night I have thought I have heard footsteps in the
garden, and have got quietly out of bed lest I should wake him, and
gone to the window to look out, but there has been only dark or the
greyness of the morning, and I have gone crying back to bed again.
Still I think you have been near us though you were too proud to let
us know--and now at last I have you in my arms once more, my
dearest, dearest boy."
How cruel, how infamously unfeeling Ernest thought he had been.
"Mother," he said, "forgive me--the fault was mine, I ought not to
have been so hard; I was wrong, very wrong"; the poor blubbering
fellow meant what he said, and his heart yearned to his mother as he
had never thought that it could yearn again. "But have you never,"
she continued, "come although it was in the dark and we did not know
it--oh, let me think that you have not been so cruel as we have
thought you. Tell me that you came if only to comfort me and make
Ernest was ready. "I had no money to come with, mother, till just
This was an excuse Christina could understand and make allowance
for; "Oh, then you would have come, and I will take the will for the
deed--and now that I have you safe again, say that you will never,
never leave me--not till--not till--oh, my boy, have they told you I
am dying?" She wept bitterly, and buried her head in her pillow.
Joey and Charlotte were in the room. Joey was now ordained, and was
curate to Theobald. He and Ernest had never been sympathetic, and
Ernest saw at a glance that there was no chance of a rapprochement
between them. He was a little startled at seeing Joey dressed as a
clergyman, and looking so like what he had looked himself a few
years earlier, for there was a good deal of family likeness between
the pair; but Joey's face was cold and was illumined with no spark
of Bohemianism; he was a clergyman and was going to do as other
clergymen did, neither better nor worse. He greeted Ernest rather
de haut en bas, that is to say he began by trying to do so, but the
affair tailed off unsatisfactorily.
His sister presented her cheek to him to be kissed. How he hated
it; he had been dreading it for the last three hours. She, too, was
distant and reproachful in her manner, as such a superior person was
sure to be. She had a grievance against him inasmuch as she was
still unmarried. She laid the blame of this at Ernest's door; it
was his misconduct she maintained in secret, which had prevented
young men from making offers to her, and she ran him up a heavy bill
for consequential damages. She and Joey had from the first
developed an instinct for hunting with the hounds, and now these two
had fairly identified themselves with the older generation--that is
to say as against Ernest. On this head there was an offensive and
defensive alliance between them, but between themselves there was
subdued but internecine warfare.
This at least was what Ernest gathered, partly from his
recollections of the parties concerned, and partly from his
observation of their little ways during the first half-hour after
his arrival, while they were all together in his mother's bedroom--
for as yet of course they did not know that he had money. He could
see that they eyed him from time to time with a surprise not unmixed
with indignation, and knew very well what they were thinking.
Christina saw the change which had come over him--how much firmer
and more vigorous both in mind and body he seemed than when she had
last seen him. She saw too how well he was dressed, and, like the
others, in spite of the return of all her affection for her first-
born, was a little alarmed about Theobald's pocket, which she
supposed would have to be mulcted for all this magnificence.
Perceiving this, Ernest relieved her mind and told her all about his
aunt's bequest, and how I had husbanded it, in the presence of his
brother and sister--who, however, pretended not to notice, or at any
rate to notice as a matter in which they could hardly be expected to
take an interest.
His mother kicked a little at first against the money's having gone
to him as she said "over his papa's head." "Why, my dear," she said
in a deprecating tone, "this is more than ever your papa has had";
but Ernest calmed her by suggesting that if Miss Pontifex had known
how large the sum would become she would have left the greater part
of it to Theobald. This compromise was accepted by Christina who
forthwith, ill as she was, entered with ardour into the new
position, and taking it as a fresh point of departure, began
spending Ernest's money for him.
I may say in passing that Christina was right in saying that
Theobald had never had so much money as his son was now possessed
of. In the first place he had not had a fourteen years' minority
with no outgoings to prevent the accumulation of the money, and in
the second he, like myself and almost everyone else, had suffered
somewhat in the 1846 times--not enough to cripple him or even
seriously to hurt him, but enough to give him a scare and make him
stick to debentures for the rest of his life. It was the fact of
his son's being the richer man of the two, and of his being rich so
young, which rankled with Theobald even more than the fact of his
having money at all. If he had had to wait till he was sixty or
sixty-five, and become broken down from long failure in the
meantime, why then perhaps he might have been allowed to have
whatever sum should suffice to keep him out of the workhouse and pay
his death-bed expenses; but that he should come in to 70,000 pounds
at eight and twenty, and have no wife and only two children--it was
intolerable. Christina was too ill and in too great a hurry to
spend the money to care much about such details as the foregoing,
and she was naturally much more good-natured than Theobald.
"This piece of good fortune"--she saw it at a glance--"quite wiped
out the disgrace of his having been imprisoned. There should be no
more nonsense about that. The whole thing was a mistake, an
unfortunate mistake, true, but the less said about it now the
better. Of course Ernest would come back and live at Battersby
until he was married, and he would pay his father handsomely for
board and lodging. In fact it would be only right that Theobald
should make a profit, nor would Ernest himself wish it to be other
than a handsome one; this was far the best and simplest arrangement;
and he could take his sister out more than Theobald or Joey cared to
do, and would also doubtless entertain very handsomely at Battersby.
"Of course he would buy Joey a living, and make large presents
yearly to his sister--was there anything else? Oh! yes--he would
become a county magnate now; a man with nearly 4000 pounds a year
should certainly become a county magnate. He might even go into
Parliament. He had very fair abilities, nothing indeed approaching
such genius as Dr Skinner's, nor even as Theobald's, still he was
not deficient and if he got into Parliament--so young too--there was
nothing to hinder his being Prime Minister before he died, and if
so, of course, he would become a peer. Oh! why did he not set about
it all at once, so that she might live to hear people call her son
'my lord'--Lord Battersby she thought would do very nicely, and if
she was well enough to sit he must certainly have her portrait
painted at full length for one end of his large dining-hall. It
should be exhibited at the Royal Academy: 'Portrait of Lord
Battersby's mother,' she said to herself, and her heart fluttered
with all its wonted vivacity. If she could not sit, happily, she
had been photographed not so very long ago, and the portrait had
been as successful as any photograph could be of a face which
depended so entirely upon its expression as her own. Perhaps the
painter could take the portrait sufficiently from this. It was
better after all that Ernest had given up the Church--how far more
wisely God arranges matters for us than ever we can do for
ourselves! She saw it all now--it was Joey who would become
Archbishop of Canterbury and Ernest would remain a layman and become
Prime Minister" . . . and so on till her daughter told her it was
time to take her medicine.
I suppose this reverie, which is a mere fragment of what actually
ran through Christina's brain, occupied about a minute and a half,
but it, or the presence of her son, seemed to revive her spirits
wonderfully. Ill, dying indeed, and suffering as she was, she
brightened up so as to laugh once or twice quite merrily during the
course of the afternoon. Next day Dr Martin said she was so much
better that he almost began to have hopes of her recovery again.
Theobald, whenever this was touched upon as possible, would shake
his head and say: "We can't wish it prolonged," and then Charlotte
caught Ernest unawares and said: "You know, dear Ernest, that these
ups and downs of talk are terribly agitating to papa; he could stand
whatever comes, but it is quite too wearing to him to think half-a-
dozen different things backwards and forwards, up and down in the
same twenty-four hours, and it would be kinder of you not to do it--
I mean not to say anything to him even though Dr Martin does hold
Charlotte had meant to imply that it was Ernest who was at the
bottom of all the inconvenience felt by Theobald, herself, Joey and
everyone else, and she had actually got words out which should
convey this; true, she had not dared to stick to them and had turned
them off, but she had made them hers at any rate for one brief
moment, and this was better than nothing. Ernest noticed throughout
his mother's illness, that Charlotte found immediate occasion to
make herself disagreeable to him whenever either doctor or nurse
pronounced her mother to be a little better. When she wrote to
Crampsford to desire the prayers of the congregation (she was sure
her mother would wish it, and that the Crampsford people would be
pleased at her remembrance of them), she was sending another letter
on some quite different subject at the same time, and put the two
letters into the wrong envelopes. Ernest was asked to take these
letters to the village post-office, and imprudently did so; when the
error came to be discovered Christina happened to have rallied a
little. Charlotte flew at Ernest immediately, and laid all the
blame of the blunder upon his shoulders.
Except that Joey and Charlotte were more fully developed, the house
and its inmates, organic and inorganic, were little changed since
Ernest had last seen them. The furniture and the ornaments on the
chimney-piece were just as they had been ever since he could
remember anything at all. In the drawing-room, on either side of
the fireplace there hung the Carlo Dolci and the Sassoferrato as in
old times; there was the water colour of a scene on the Lago
Maggiore, copied by Charlotte from an original lent her by her
drawing master, and finished under his direction. This was the
picture of which one of the servants had said that it must be good,
for Mr Pontifex had given ten shillings for the frame. The paper on
the walls was unchanged; the roses were still waiting for the bees;
and the whole family still prayed night and morning to be made
"truly honest and conscientious."
One picture only was removed--a photograph of himself which had hung
under one of his father and between those of his brother and sister.
Ernest noticed this at prayer time, while his father was reading
about Noah's ark and how they daubed it with slime, which, as it
happened, had been Ernest's favourite text when he was a boy. Next
morning, however, the photograph had found its way back again, a
little dusty and with a bit of the gilding chipped off from one
corner of the frame, but there sure enough it was. I suppose they
put it back when they found how rich he had become.
In the dining-room the ravens were still trying to feed Elijah over
the fireplace; what a crowd of reminiscences did not this picture
bring back! Looking out of the window, there were the flower beds
in the front garden exactly as they had been, and Ernest found
himself looking hard against the blue door at the bottom of the
garden to see if there was rain falling, as he had been used to look
when he was a child doing lessons with his father.
After their early dinner, when Joey and Ernest and their father were
left alone, Theobald rose and stood in the middle of the hearthrug
under the Elijah picture, and began to whistle in his old absent
way. He had two tunes only, one was "In my Cottage near a Wood,"
and the other was the Easter Hymn; he had been trying to whistle
them all his life, but had never succeeded; he whistled them as a
clever bullfinch might whistle them--he had got them, but he had not
got them right; he would be a semitone out in every third note as
though reverting to some remote musical progenitor, who had known
none but the Lydian or the Phrygian mode, or whatever would enable
him to go most wrong while still keeping the tune near enough to be
recognised. Theobald stood before the middle of the fire and
whistled his two tunes softly in his own old way till Ernest left
the room; the unchangedness of the external and changedness of the
internal he felt were likely to throw him completely off his
He strolled out of doors into the sodden spinney behind the house,
and solaced himself with a pipe. Ere long he found himself at the
door of the cottage of his father's coachman, who had married an old
lady's maid of his mother's, to whom Ernest had been always much
attached as she also to him, for she had known him ever since he had
been five or six years old. Her name was Susan. He sat down in the
rocking-chair before her fire, and Susan went on ironing at the
table in front of the window, and a smell of hot flannel pervaded
Susan had been retained too securely by Christina to be likely to
side with Ernest all in a moment. He knew this very well, and did
not call on her for the sake of support, moral or otherwise. He had
called because he liked her, and also because he knew that he should
gather much in a chat with her that he should not be able to arrive
at in any other way.
"Oh, Master Ernest," said Susan, "why did you not come back when
your poor papa and mamma wanted you? I'm sure your ma has said to
me a hundred times over if she has said it once that all should be
exactly as it had been before."
Ernest smiled to himself. It was no use explaining to Susan why he
smiled, so he said nothing.
"For the first day or two I thought she never would get over it; she
said it was a judgement upon her, and went on about things as she
had said and done many years ago, before your pa knew her, and I
don't know what she didn't say or wouldn't have said only I stopped
her; she seemed out of her mind like, and said that none of the
neighbours would ever speak to her again, but the next day Mrs
Bushby (her that was Miss Cowey, you know) called, and your ma
always was so fond of her, and it seemed to do her a power o' good,
for the next day she went through all her dresses, and we settled
how she should have them altered; and then all the neighbours called
for miles and miles round, and your ma came in here, and said she
had been going through the waters of misery, and the Lord had turned
them to a well.
"'Oh yes, Susan,' said she, 'be sure it is so. Whom the Lord loveth
he chasteneth, Susan,' and here she began to cry again. 'As for
him,' she went on, 'he has made his bed, and he must lie on it; when
he comes out of prison his pa will know what is best to be done, and
Master Ernest may be thankful that he has a pa so good and so long-
"Then when you would not see them, that was a cruel blow to your ma.
Your pa did not say anything; you know your pa never does say very
much unless he's downright waxy for the time; but your ma took on
dreadful for a few days, and I never saw the master look so black;
but, bless you, it all went off in a few days, and I don't know that
there's been much difference in either of them since then, not till
your ma was took ill."
On the night of his arrival he had behaved well at family prayers,
as also on the following morning; his father read about David's
dying injunctions to Solomon in the matter of Shimei, but he did not
mind it. In the course of the day, however, his corns had been
trodden on so many times that he was in a misbehaving humour, on
this the second night after his arrival. He knelt next Charlotte
and said the responses perfunctorily, not so perfunctorily that she
should know for certain that he was doing it maliciously, but so
perfunctorily as to make her uncertain whether he might be malicious
or not, and when he had to pray to be made truly honest and
conscientious he emphasised the "truly." I do not know whether
Charlotte noticed anything, but she knelt at some distance from him
during the rest of his stay. He assures me that this was the only
spiteful thing he did during the whole time he was at Battersby.
When he went up to his bedroom, in which, to do them justice, they
had given him a fire, he noticed what indeed he had noticed as soon
as he was shown into it on his arrival, that there was an
illuminated card framed and glazed over his bed with the words, "Be
the day weary or be the day long, at last it ringeth to evensong."
He wondered to himself how such people could leave such a card in a
room in which their visitors would have to spend the last hours of
their evening, but he let it alone. "There's not enough difference
between 'weary' and 'long' to warrant an 'or,'" he said, "but I
suppose it is all right." I believe Christina had bought the card
at a bazaar in aid of the restoration of a neighbouring church, and
having been bought it had got to be used--besides, the sentiment was
so touching and the illumination was really lovely. Anyhow, no
irony could be more complete than leaving it in my hero's bedroom,
though assuredly no irony had been intended.
On the third day after Ernest's arrival Christina relapsed again.
For the last two days she had been in no pain and had slept a good
deal; her son's presence still seemed to cheer her, and she often
said how thankful she was to be surrounded on her death-bed by a
family so happy, so God-fearing, so united, but now she began to
wander, and, being more sensible of the approach of death, seemed
also more alarmed at the thoughts of the Day of Judgment.
She ventured more than once or twice to return to the subject of her
sins, and implored Theobald to make quite sure that they were
forgiven her. She hinted that she considered his professional
reputation was at stake; it would never do for his own wife to fail
in securing at any rate a pass. This was touching Theobald on a
tender spot; he winced and rejoined with an impatient toss of the
head, "But, Christina, they ARE forgiven you"; and then he
entrenched himself in a firm but dignified manner behind the Lord's
prayer. When he rose he left the room, but called Ernest out to say
that he could not wish it prolonged.
Joey was no more use in quieting his mother's anxiety than Theobald
had been--indeed he was only Theobald and water; at last Ernest, who
had not liked interfering, took the matter in hand, and, sitting
beside her, let her pour out her grief to him without let or
She said she knew she had not given up all for Christ's sake; it was
this that weighed upon her. She had given up much, and had always
tried to give up more year by year, still she knew very well that
she had not been so spiritually minded as she ought to have been.
If she had, she should probably have been favoured with some direct
vision or communication; whereas, though God had vouchsafed such
direct and visible angelic visits to one of her dear children, yet
she had had none such herself--nor even had Theobald.
She was talking rather to herself than to Ernest as she said these
words, but they made him open his ears. He wanted to know whether
the angel had appeared to Joey or to Charlotte. He asked his
mother, but she seemed surprised, as though she expected him to know
all about it, then, as if she remembered, she checked herself and
said, "Ah! yes--you know nothing of all this, and perhaps it is as
well." Ernest could not of course press the subject, so he never
found out which of his near relations it was who had had direct
communication with an immortal. The others never said anything to
him about it, though whether this was because they were ashamed, or
because they feared he would not believe the story and thus increase
his own damnation, he could not determine.
Ernest has often thought about this since. He tried to get the
facts out of Susan, who he was sure would know, but Charlotte had
been beforehand with him. "No, Master Ernest," said Susan, when he
began to question her, "your ma has sent a message to me by Miss
Charlotte as I am not to say nothing at all about it, and I never
will." Of course no further questioning was possible. It had more
than once occurred to Ernest that Charlotte did not in reality
believe more than he did himself, and this incident went far to
strengthen his surmises, but he wavered when he remembered how she
had misdirected the letter asking for the prayers of the
congregation. I suppose," he said to himself gloomily, "she does
believe in it after all."
Then Christina returned to the subject of her own want of spiritual-
mindedness, she even harped upon the old grievance of her having
eaten black puddings--true, she had given them up years ago, but for
how many years had she not persevered in eating them after she had
had misgivings about their having been forbidden! Then there was
something that weighed on her mind that had taken place before her
marriage, and she should like -
Ernest interrupted: "My dear mother," he said, "you are ill and
your mind is unstrung; others can now judge better about you than
you can; I assure you that to me you seem to have been the most
devotedly unselfish wife and mother that ever lived. Even if you
have not literally given up all for Christ's sake, you have done so
practically as far as it was in your power, and more than this is
not required of anyone. I believe you will not only be a saint, but
a very distinguished one."
At these words Christina brightened. "You give me hope, you give me
hope," she cried, and dried her eyes. She made him assure her over
and over again that this was his solemn conviction; she did not care
about being a distinguished saint now; she would be quite content to
be among the meanest who actually got into heaven, provided she
could make sure of escaping that awful Hell. The fear of this
evidently was omnipresent with her, and in spite of all Ernest could
say he did not quite dispel it. She was rather ungrateful, I must
confess, for after more than an hour's consolation from Ernest she
prayed for him that he might have every blessing in this world,
inasmuch as she always feared that he was the only one of her
children whom she should never meet in heaven; but she was then
wandering, and was hardly aware of his presence; her mind in fact
was reverting to states in which it had been before her illness.
On Sunday Ernest went to church as a matter of course, and noted
that the ever receding tide of Evangelicalism had ebbed many a stage
lower, even during the few years of his absence. His father used to
walk to the church through the Rectory garden, and across a small
intervening field. He had been used to walk in a tall hat, his
Master's gown, and wearing a pair of Geneva bands. Ernest noticed
that the bands were worn no longer, and lo! greater marvel still,
Theobald did not preach in his Master's gown, but in a surplice.
The whole character of the service was changed; you could not say it
was high even now, for high-church Theobald could never under any
circumstances become, but the old easy-going slovenliness, if I may
say so, was gone for ever. The orchestral accompaniments to the
hymns had disappeared while my hero was yet a boy, but there had
been no chanting for some years after the harmonium had been
introduced. While Ernest was at Cambridge, Charlotte and Christina
had prevailed on Theobald to allow the canticles to be sung; and
sung they were to old-fashioned double chants by Lord Mornington and
Dr Dupuis and others. Theobald did not like it, but he did it, or
allowed it to be done.
Then Christina said: "My dear, do you know, I really think"
(Christina always "really" thought) "that the people like the
chanting very much, and that it will be a means of bringing many to
church who have stayed away hitherto. I was talking about it to Mrs
Goodhew and to old Miss Wright only yesterday, and they QUITE agreed
with me, but they all said that we ought to chant the 'Glory be to
the Father' at the end of each of the psalms instead of saying it."
Theobald looked black--he felt the waters of chanting rising higher
and higher upon him inch by inch; but he felt also, he knew not why,
that he had better yield than fight. So he ordered the "Glory be to
the Father" to be chanted in future, but he did not like it.
"Really, mamma dear," said Charlotte, when the battle was won, "you
should not call it the 'Glory be to the Father' you should say
"Of course, my dear," said Christina, and she said "Gloria" for ever
after. Then she thought what a wonderfully clever girl Charlotte
was, and how she ought to marry no one lower than a bishop. By-and-
by when Theobald went away for an unusually long holiday one summer,
he could find no one but a rather high-church clergyman to take his
duty. This gentleman was a man of weight in the neighbourhood,
having considerable private means, but without preferment. In the
summer he would often help his brother clergymen, and it was through
his being willing to take the duty at Battersby for a few Sundays
that Theobald had been able to get away for so long. On his return,
however, he found that the whole psalms were being chanted as well
as the Glorias. The influential clergyman, Christina, and Charlotte
took the bull by the horns as soon as Theobald returned, and laughed
it all off; and the clergyman laughed and bounced, and Christina
laughed and coaxed, and Charlotte uttered unexceptionable
sentiments, and the thing was done now, and could not be undone, and
it was no use grieving over spilt milk; so henceforth the psalms
were to be chanted, but Theobald grisled over it in his heart, and
he did not like it.
During this same absence what had Mrs Goodhew and old Miss Wright
taken to doing but turning towards the east while repeating the
Belief? Theobald disliked this even worse than chanting. When he
said something about it in a timid way at dinner after service,
Charlotte said, "Really, papa dear, you MUST take to calling it the
'Creed' and not the 'Belief'"; and Theobald winced impatiently and
snorted meek defiance, but the spirit of her aunts Jane and Eliza
was strong in Charlotte, and the thing was too small to fight about,
and he turned it off with a laugh. "As for Charlotte," thought
Christina, "I believe she knows EVERYTHING." So Mrs Goodhew and old
Miss Wright continued to turn to the east during the time the Creed
was said, and by-and-by others followed their example, and ere long
the few who had stood out yielded and turned eastward too; and then
Theobald made as though he had thought it all very right and proper
from the first, but like it he did not. By-and-by Charlotte tried
to make him say "Alleluia" instead of "Hallelujah," but this was
going too far, and Theobald turned, and she got frightened and ran
And they changed the double chants for single ones, and altered them
psalm by psalm, and in the middle of psalms, just where a cursory
reader would see no reason why they should do so, they changed from
major to minor and from minor back to major; and then they got
"Hymns Ancient and Modern," and, as I have said, they robbed him of
his beloved bands, and they made him preach in a surplice, and he
must have celebration of the Holy Communion once a month instead of
only five times in the year as heretofore, and he struggled in vain
against the unseen influence which he felt to be working in season
and out of season against all that he had been accustomed to
consider most distinctive of his party. Where it was, or what it
was, he knew not, nor exactly what it would do next, but he knew
exceedingly well that go where he would it was undermining him; that
it was too persistent for him; that Christina and Charlotte liked it
a great deal better than he did, and that it could end in nothing
but Rome. Easter decorations indeed! Christmas decorations--in
reason--were proper enough, but Easter decorations! well, it might
last his time.
This was the course things had taken in the Church of England during
the last forty years. The set has been steadily in one direction.
A few men who knew what they wanted made cats' paws of the Christmas
and the Charlottes, and the Christmas and the Charlottes made cats'
paws of the Mrs Goodhews and the old Miss Wrights, and Mrs Goodhews
and old Miss Wrights told the Mr Goodhews and young Miss Wrights
what they should do, and when the Mr Goodhews and the young Miss
Wrights did it the little Goodhews and the rest of the spiritual
flock did as they did, and the Theobalds went for nothing; step by
step, day by day, year by year, parish by parish, diocese by diocese
this was how it was done. And yet the Church of England looks with
no friendly eyes upon the theory of Evolution or Descent with
My hero thought over these things, and remembered many a ruse on the
part of Christina and Charlotte, and many a detail of the struggle
which I cannot further interrupt my story to refer to, and he
remembered his father's favourite retort that it could only end in
Rome. When he was a boy he had firmly believed this, but he smiled
now as he thought of another alternative clear enough to himself,
but so horrible that it had not even occurred to Theobald--I mean
the toppling over of the whole system. At that time he welcomed the
hope that the absurdities and unrealities of the Church would end in
her downfall. Since then he has come to think very differently, not
as believing in the cow jumping over the moon more than he used to,
or more, probably, than nine-tenths of the clergy themselves--who
know as well as he does that their outward and visible symbols are
out of date--but because he knows the baffling complexity of the
problem when it comes to deciding what is actually to be done.
Also, now that he has seen them more closely, he knows better the
nature of those wolves in sheep's clothing, who are thirsting for
the blood of their victim, and exulting so clamorously over its
anticipated early fall into their clutches. The spirit behind the
Church is true, though her letter--true once--is now true no longer.
The spirit behind the High Priests of Science is as lying as its
letter. The Theobalds, who do what they do because it seems to be
the correct thing, but who in their hearts neither like it nor
believe in it, are in reality the least dangerous of all classes to
the peace and liberties of mankind. The man to fear is he who goes
at things with the cocksureness of pushing vulgarity and self-
conceit. These are not vices which can be justly laid to the charge
of the English clergy.
Many of the farmers came up to Ernest when service was over, and
shook hands with him. He found every one knew of his having come
into a fortune. The fact was that Theobald had immediately told two
or three of the greatest gossips in the village, and the story was
not long in spreading. "It simplified matters," he had said to
himself, "a good deal." Ernest was civil to Mrs Goodhew for her
husband's sake, but he gave Miss Wright the cut direct, for he knew
that she was only Charlotte in disguise.
A week passed slowly away. Two or three times the family took the
sacrament together round Christina's death-bed. Theobald's
impatience became more and more transparent daily, but fortunately
Christina (who even if she had been well would have been ready to
shut her eyes to it) became weaker and less coherent in mind also,
so that she hardly, if at all, perceived it. After Ernest had been
in the house about a week his mother fell into a comatose state
which lasted a couple of days, and in the end went away so
peacefully that it was like the blending of sea and sky in mid-ocean
upon a soft hazy day when none can say where the earth ends and the
heavens begin. Indeed she died to the realities of life with less
pain than she had waked from many of its illusions.
"She has been the comfort and mainstay of my life for more than
thirty years," said Theobald as soon as all was over, "but one could
not wish it prolonged," and he buried his face in his handkerchief
to conceal his want of emotion.
Ernest came back to town the day after his mother's death, and
returned to the funeral accompanied by myself. He wanted me to see
his father in order to prevent any possible misapprehension about
Miss Pontifex's intentions, and I was such an old friend of the
family that my presence at Christina's funeral would surprise no
one. With all her faults I had always rather liked Christina. She
would have chopped Ernest or any one else into little pieces of
mincemeat to gratify the slightest wish of her husband, but she
would not have chopped him up for any one else, and so long as he
did not cross her she was very fond of him. By nature she was of an
even temper, more willing to be pleased than ruffled, very ready to
do a good-natured action, provided it did not cost her much
exertion, nor involve expense to Theobald. Her own little purse did
not matter; any one might have as much of that as he or she could
get after she had reserved what was absolutely necessary for her
dress. I could not hear of her end as Ernest described it to me
without feeling very compassionate towards her, indeed her own son
could hardly have felt more so; I at once, therefore, consented to
go down to the funeral; perhaps I was also influenced by a desire to
see Charlotte and Joey, in whom I felt interested on hearing what my
godson had told me.
I found Theobald looking remarkably well. Every one said he was
bearing it so beautifully. He did indeed once or twice shake his
head and say that his wife had been the comfort and mainstay of his
life for over thirty years, but there the matter ended. I stayed
over the next day which was Sunday, and took my departure on the
following morning after having told Theobald all that his son wished
me to tell him. Theobald asked me to help him with Christina's
"I would say," said he, "as little as possible; eulogies of the
departed are in most cases both unnecessary and untrue. Christina's
epitaph shall contain nothing which shall be either the one or the
other. I should give her name, the dates of her birth and death,
and of course say she was my wife, and then I think I should wind up
with a simple text--her favourite one for example, none indeed could
be more appropriate, 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall
I said I thought this would be very nice, and it was settled. So
Ernest was sent to give the order to Mr Prosser, the stonemason in
the nearest town, who said it came from "the Beetitudes."
On our way to town Ernest broached his plans for spending the next
year or two. I wanted him to try and get more into society again,
but he brushed this aside at once as the very last thing he had a
fancy for. For society indeed of all sorts, except of course that
of a few intimate friends, he had an unconquerable aversion. "I
always did hate those people," he said, "and they always have hated
and always will hate me. I am an Ishmael by instinct as much as by
accident of circumstances, but if I keep out of society I shall be
less vulnerable than Ishmaels generally are. The moment a man goes
into society, he becomes vulnerable all round."
I was very sorry to hear him talk in this way; for whatever strength
a man may have he should surely be able to make more of it if he act
in concert than alone. I said this.
"I don't care," he answered, "whether I make the most of my strength
or not; I don't know whether I have any strength, but if I have I
dare say it will find some way of exerting itself. I will live as I
like living, not as other people would like me to live; thanks to my
aunt and you I can afford the luxury of a quiet unobtrusive life of
self-indulgence," said he laughing, "and I mean to have it. You
know I like writing," he added after a pause of some minutes, "I
have been a scribbler for years. If I am to come to the fore at all
it must be by writing."
I had already long since come to that conclusion myself.
"Well," he continued, "there are a lot of things that want saying
which no one dares to say, a lot of shams which want attacking, and
yet no one attacks them. It seems to me that I can say things which
not another man in England except myself will venture to say, and
yet which are crying to be said."
I said: "But who will listen? If you say things which nobody else
would dare to say is not this much the same as saying what everyone
except yourself knows to be better left unsaid just now?"
"Perhaps," said he, "but I don't know it; I am bursting with these
things, and it is my fate to say them."
I knew there would be no stopping him, so I gave in and asked what
question he felt a special desire to burn his fingers with in the
"Marriage," he rejoined promptly, "and the power of disposing of his
property after a man is dead. The question of Christianity is
virtually settled, or if not settled there is no lack of those
engaged in settling it. The question of the day now is marriage and
the family system."
"That," said I drily, "is a hornet's nest indeed."
"Yes," said he no less drily, "but hornet's nests are exactly what I
happen to like. Before, however, I begin to stir up this particular
one I propose to travel for a few years, with the especial object of
finding out what nations now existing are the best, comeliest and
most lovable, and also what nations have been so in times past. I
want to find out how these people live, and have lived, and what
their customs are.
"I have very vague notions upon the subject as yet, but the general
impression I have formed is that, putting ourselves on one side, the
most vigorous and amiable of known nations are the modern Italians,
the old Greeks and Romans, and the South Sea Islanders. I believe
that these nice peoples have not as a general rule been purists, but
I want to see those of them who can yet be seen; they are the
practical authorities on the question--What is best for man? and I
should like to see them and find out what they do. Let us settle
the fact first and fight about the moral tendencies afterwards."
"In fact," said I laughingly, "you mean to have high old times."
"Neither higher nor lower," was the answer, "than those people whom
I can find to have been the best in all ages. But let us change the
subject." He put his hand into his pocket and brought out a letter.
"My father," he said, "gave me this letter this morning with the
seal already broken." He passed it over to me, and I found it to be
the one which Christina had written before the birth of her last
child, and which I have given in an earlier chapter.
"And you do not find this letter," said I, "affect the conclusion
which you have just told me you have come to concerning your present
He smiled, and answered: "No. But if you do what you have
sometimes talked about and turn the adventures of my unworthy self
into a novel, mind you print this letter."
"Why so?" said I, feeling as though such a letter as this should
have been held sacred from the public gaze.
"Because my mother would have wished it published; if she had known
you were writing about me and had this letter in your possession,
she would above all things have desired that you should publish it.
Therefore publish it if you write at all."
This is why I have done so.
Within a month Ernest carried his intention into effect, and having
made all the arrangements necessary for his children's welfare left
England before Christmas.
I heard from him now and again and learnt that he was visiting
almost all parts of the world, but only staying in those places
where he found the inhabitants unusually good-looking and agreeable.
He said he had filled an immense quantity of note-books, and I have
no doubt he had. At last in the spring of 1867 he returned, his
luggage stained with the variation of each hotel advertisement
'twixt here and Japan. He looked very brown and strong, and so well
favoured that it almost seemed as if he must have caught some good
looks from the people among whom he had been living. He came back
to his old rooms in the Temple, and settled down as easily as if he
had never been away a day.
One of the first things we did was to go and see the children; we
took the train to Gravesend, and walked thence for a few miles along
the riverside till we came to the solitary house where the good
people lived with whom Ernest had placed them. It was a lovely
April morning, but with a fresh air blowing from off the sea; the
tide was high, and the river was alive with shipping coming up with
wind and tide. Sea-gulls wheeled around us overhead, sea-weed clung
everywhere to the banks which the advancing tide had not yet
covered, everything was of the sea sea-ey, and the fine bracing air
which blew over the water made me feel more hungry than I had done
for many a day; I did not see how children could live in a better
physical atmosphere than this, and applauded the selection which
Ernest had made on behalf of his youngsters.
While we were still a quarter of a mile off we heard shouts and
children's laughter, and could see a lot of boys and girls romping
together and running after one another. We could not distinguish
our own two, but when we got near they were soon made out, for the
other children were blue-eyed, flaxen-pated little folks, whereas
ours were dark and straight-haired.
We had written to say that we were coming, but had desired that
nothing should be said to the children, so these paid no more
attention to us than they would have done to any other stranger, who
happened to visit a spot so unfrequented except by sea-faring folk,
which we plainly were not. The interest, however, in us was much
quickened when it was discovered that we had got our pockets full of
oranges and sweeties, to an extent greater than it had entered into
their small imaginations to conceive as possible. At first we had
great difficulty in making them come near us. They were like a lot
of wild young colts, very inquisitive, but very coy and not to be
cajoled easily. The children were nine in all--five boys and two
girls belonging to Mr and Mrs Rollings, and two to Ernest. I never
saw a finer lot of children than the young Rollings, the boys were
hardy, robust, fearless little fellows with eyes as clear as hawks;
the elder girl was exquisitely pretty, but the younger one was a
mere baby. I felt as I looked at them, that if I had had children
of my own I could have wished no better home for them, nor better
Georgie and Alice, Ernest's two children, were evidently quite as
one family with the others, and called Mr and Mrs Rollings uncle and
aunt. They had been so young when they were first brought to the
house that they had been looked upon in the light of new babies who
had been born into the family. They knew nothing about Mr and Mrs
Rollings being paid so much a week to look after them. Ernest asked
them all what they wanted to be. They had only one idea; one and
all, Georgie among the rest, wanted to be bargemen. Young ducks
could hardly have a more evident hankering after the water.
"And what do you want, Alice?" said Ernest.
"Oh," she said, "I'm going to marry Jack here, and be a bargeman's
Jack was the eldest boy, now nearly twelve, a sturdy little fellow,
the image of what Mr Rollings must have been at his age. As we
looked at him, so straight and well grown and well done all round, I
could see it was in Ernest's mind as much as in mine that she could
hardly do much better.
"Come here, Jack, my boy," said Ernest, "here's a shilling for you."
The boy blushed and could hardly be got to come in spite of our
previous blandishments; he had had pennies given him before, but
shillings never. His father caught him good-naturedly by the ear
and lugged him to us.
"He's a good boy, Jack is," said Ernest to Mr Rollings, "I'm sure of
"Yes," said Mr Rollings, "he's a werry good boy, only that I can't
get him to learn his reading and writing. He don't like going to
school, that's the only complaint I have against him. I don't know
what's the matter with all my children, and yours, Mr Pontifex, is
just as bad, but they none of 'em likes book learning, though they
learn anything else fast enough. Why, as for Jack here, he's almost
as good a bargeman as I am." And he looked fondly and patronisingly
towards his offspring.
"I think," said Ernest to Mr Rollings, "if he wants to marry Alice
when he gets older he had better do so, and he shall have as many
barges as he likes. In the meantime, Mr Rollings, say in what way
money can be of use to you, and whatever you can make useful is at
I need hardly say that Ernest made matters easy for this good
couple; one stipulation, however, he insisted on, namely, there was
to be no more smuggling, and that the young people were to be kept
out of this; for a little bird had told Ernest that smuggling in a
quiet way was one of the resources of the Rollings family. Mr
Rollings was not sorry to assent to this, and I believe it is now
many years since the coastguard people have suspected any of the
Rollings family as offenders against the revenue law.
"Why should I take them from where they are," said Ernest to me in
the train as we went home, "to send them to schools where they will
not be one half so happy, and where their illegitimacy will very
likely be a worry to them? Georgie wants to be a bargeman, let him
begin as one, the sooner the better; he may as well begin with this
as with anything else; then if he shows developments I can be on the
look-out to encourage them and make things easy for him; while if he
shows no desire to go ahead, what on earth is the good of trying to
shove him forward?"
Ernest, I believe, went on with a homily upon education generally,
and upon the way in which young people should go through the
embryonic stages with their money as much as with their limbs,
beginning life in a much lower social position than that in which
their parents were, and a lot more, which he has since published;
but I was getting on in years, and the walk and the bracing air had
made me sleepy, so ere we had got past Greenhithe Station on our
return journey I had sunk into a refreshing sleep.
Ernest being about two and thirty years old and having had his fling
for the last three or four years, now settled down in London, and
began to write steadily. Up to this time he had given abundant
promise, but had produced nothing, nor indeed did he come before the
public for another three or four years yet.
He lived as I have said very quietly, seeing hardly anyone but
myself, and the three or four old friends with whom I had been
intimate for years. Ernest and we formed our little set, and
outside of this my godson was hardly known at all.
His main expense was travelling, which he indulged in at frequent
intervals, but for short times only. Do what he would he could not
get through more than about fifteen hundred a year; the rest of his
income he gave away if he happened to find a case where he thought
money would be well bestowed, or put by until some opportunity arose
of getting rid of it with advantage.
I knew he was writing, but we had had so many little differences of
opinion upon this head that by a tacit understanding the subject was
seldom referred to between us, and I did not know that he was
actually publishing till one day he brought me a book and told me
flat it was his own. I opened it and found it to he a series of
semi-theological, semi-social essays, purporting to have been
written by six or seven different people, and viewing the same class
of subjects from different standpoints.
People had not yet forgotten the famous "Essays and Reviews," and
Ernest had wickedly given a few touches to at least two of the
essays which suggested vaguely that they had been written by a
bishop. The essays were all of them in support of the Church of
England, and appeared both by internal suggestion, and their prima
facie purport to be the work of some half-dozen men of experience
and high position who had determined to face the difficult questions
of the day no less boldly from within the bosom of the Church than
the Church's enemies had faced them from without her pale.
There was an essay on the external evidences of the Resurrection;
another on the marriage laws of the most eminent nations of the
world in times past and present; another was devoted to a
consideration of the many questions which must be reopened and
reconsidered on their merits if the teaching of the Church of
England were to cease to carry moral authority with it; another
dealt with the more purely social subject of middle class
destitution; another with the authenticity or rather the
unauthenticity of the fourth gospel--another was headed "Irrational
Rationalism," and there were two or three more.
They were all written vigorously and fearlessly as though by people
used to authority; all granted that the Church professed to enjoin
belief in much which no one could accept who had been accustomed to
weigh evidence; but it was contended that so much valuable truth had
got so closely mixed up with these mistakes, that the mistakes had
better not be meddled with. To lay great stress on these was like
cavilling at the Queen's right to reign, on the ground that William
the Conqueror was illegitimate.
One article maintained that though it would be inconvenient to
change the words of our prayer book and articles, it would not be
inconvenient to change in a quiet way the meanings which we put upon
those words. This, it was argued, was what was actually done in the
case of law; this had been the law's mode of growth and adaptation,
and had in all ages been found a righteous and convenient method of
effecting change. It was suggested that the Church should adopt it.
In another essay it was boldly denied that the Church rested upon
reason. It was proved incontestably that its ultimate foundation
was and ought to be faith, there being indeed no other ultimate
foundation than this for any of man's beliefs. If so, the writer
claimed that the Church could not be upset by reason. It was
founded, like everything else, on initial assumptions, that is to
say on faith, and if it was to be upset it was to be upset by faith,
by the faith of those who in their lives appeared more graceful,
more lovable, better bred, in fact, and better able to overcome
difficulties. Any sect which showed its superiority in these
respects might carry all before it, but none other would make much
headway for long together. Christianity was true in so far as it
had fostered beauty, and it had fostered much beauty. It was false
in so far as it fostered ugliness, and it had fostered much
ugliness. It was therefore not a little true and not a little
false; on the whole one might go farther and fare worse; the wisest
course would be to live with it, and make the best and not the worst
of it. The writer urged that we become persecutors as a matter of
course as soon as we begin to feel very strongly upon any subject;
we ought not therefore to do this; we ought not to feel very
strongly--even upon that institution which was dearer to the writer
than any other--the Church of England. We should be churchmen, but
somewhat lukewarm churchmen, inasmuch as those who care very much
about either religion or irreligion are seldom observed to be very
well bred or agreeable people. The Church herself should approach
as nearly to that of Laodicea as was compatible with her continuing
to be a Church at all, and each individual member should only be hot
in striving to be as lukewarm as possible.
The book rang with the courage alike of conviction and of an entire
absence of conviction; it appeared to be the work of men who had a
rule-of-thumb way of steering between iconoclasm on the one hand and
credulity on the other; who cut Gordian knots as a matter of course
when it suited their convenience; who shrank from no conclusion in
theory, nor from any want of logic in practice so long as they were
illogical of malice prepense, and for what they held to be
sufficient reason. The conclusions were conservative, quietistic,
comforting. The arguments by which they were reached were taken
from the most advanced writers of the day. All that these people
contended for was granted them, but the fruits of victory were for
the most part handed over to those already in possession.
Perhaps the passage which attracted most attention in the book was
one from the essay on the various marriage systems of the world. It
"If people require us to construct," exclaimed the writer, "we set
good breeding as the corner-stone of our edifice. We would have it
ever present consciously or unconsciously in the minds of all as the
central faith in which they should live and move and have their
being, as the touchstone of all things whereby they may be known as
good or evil according as they make for good breeding or against
"That a man should have been bred well and breed others well; that
his figure, head, hands, feet, voice, manner and clothes should
carry conviction upon this point, so that no one can look at him
without seeing that he has come of good stock and is likely to throw
good stock himself, this is the desiderandum. And the same with a
woman. The greatest number of these well-bred men and women, and
the greatest happiness of these well-bred men and women, this is the
highest good; towards this all government, all social conventions,
all art, literature and science should directly or indirectly tend.
Holy men and holy women are those who keep this unconsciously in
view at all times whether of work or pastime."
If Ernest had published this work in his own name I should think it
would have fallen stillborn from the press, but the form he had
chosen was calculated at that time to arouse curiosity, and as I
have said he had wickedly dropped a few hints which the reviewers
did not think anyone would have been impudent enough to do if he
were not a bishop, or at any rate some one in authority. A well-
known judge was spoken of as being another of the writers, and the
idea spread ere long that six or seven of the leading bishops and
judges had laid their heads together to produce a volume, which
should at once outbid "Essays and Reviews" and counteract the
influence of that then still famous work.
Reviewers are men of like passions with ourselves, and with them as
with everyone else omne ignotum pro magnifico. The book was really
an able one and abounded with humour, just satire, and good sense.
It struck a new note and the speculation which for some time was
rife concerning its authorship made many turn to it who would never
have looked at it otherwise. One of the most gushing weeklies had a
fit over it, and declared it to be the finest thing that had been
done since the "Provincial Letters" of Pascal. Once a month or so
that weekly always found some picture which was the finest that had
been done since the old masters, or some satire that was the finest
that had appeared since Swift or some something which was
incomparably the finest that had appeared since something else. If
Ernest had put his name to the book, and the writer had known that
it was by a nobody, he would doubtless have written in a very
different strain. Reviewers like to think that for aught they know
they are patting a Duke or even a Prince of the blood upon the back,
and lay it on thick till they find they have been only praising
Brown, Jones or Robinson. Then they are disappointed, and as a
general rule will pay Brown, Jones or Robinson out.
Ernest was not so much up to the ropes of the literary world as I
was, and I am afraid his head was a little turned when he woke up
one morning to find himself famous. He was Christina's son, and
perhaps would not have been able to do what he had done if he was
not capable of occasional undue elation. Ere long, however, he
found out all about it, and settled quietly down to write a series
of books, in which he insisted on saying things which no one else
would say even if they could, or could even if they would.
He has got himself a bad literary character. I said to him
laughingly one day that he was like the man in the last century of
whom it was said that nothing but such a character could keep down
He laughed and said he would rather be like that than like a modern
writer or two whom he could name, whose parts were so poor that they
could be kept up by nothing but by such a character.
I remember soon after one of these books was published I happened to
meet Mrs Jupp to whom, by the way, Ernest made a small weekly
allowance. It was at Ernest's chambers, and for some reason we were
left alone for a few minutes. I said to her: "Mr Pontifex has
written another book, Mrs Jupp."
"Lor' now," said she, "has he really? Dear gentleman! Is it about
love?" And the old sinner threw up a wicked sheep's eye glance at
me from under her aged eyelids. I forget what there was in my reply
which provoked it--probably nothing--but she went rattling on at
full speed to the effect that Bell had given her a ticket for the
opera, "So, of course," she said, "I went. I didn't understand one
word of it, for it was all French, but I saw their legs. Oh dear,
oh dear! I'm afraid I shan't be here much longer, and when dear Mr
Pontifex sees me in my coffin he'll say, 'Poor old Jupp, she'll
never talk broad any more'; but bless you I'm not so old as all
that, and I'm taking lessons in dancing."
At this moment Ernest came in and the conversation was changed. Mrs
Jupp asked if he was still going on writing more books now that this
one was done. "Of course I am," he answered, "I'm always writing
books; here is the manuscript of my next;" and he showed her a heap
"Well now," she exclaimed, "dear, dear me, and is that manuscript?
I've often heard talk about manuscripts, but I never thought I
should live to see some myself. Well! well! So that is really
There were a few geraniums in the window and they did not look well.
Ernest asked Mrs Jupp if she understood flowers. "I understand the
language of flowers," she said, with one of her most bewitching
leers, and on this we sent her off till she should choose to honour
us with another visit, which she knows she is privileged from time
to time to do, for Ernest likes her.
And now I must bring my story to a close.
The preceding chapter was written soon after the events it records--
that is to say in the spring of 1867. By that time my story had
been written up to this point; but it has been altered here and
there from time to time occasionally. It is now the autumn of 1882,
and if I am to say more I should do so quickly, for I am eighty
years old and though well in health cannot conceal from myself that
I am no longer young. Ernest himself is forty-seven, though he
hardly looks it.
He is richer than ever, for he has never married and his London and
North-Western shares have nearly doubled themselves. Through sheer
inability to spend his income he has been obliged to hoard in self-
defence. He still lives in the Temple in the same rooms I took for
him when he gave up his shop, for no one has been able to induce him
to take a house. His house, he says, is wherever there is a good
hotel. When he is in town he likes to work and to be quiet. When
out of town he feels that he has left little behind him that can go
wrong, and he would not like to be tied to a single locality. "I
know no exception," he says, "to the rule that it is cheaper to buy
milk than to keep a cow."
As I have mentioned Mrs Jupp, I may as well say here the little that
remains to be said about her. She is a very old woman now, but no
one now living, as she says triumphantly, can say how old, for the
woman in the Old Kent Road is dead, and presumably has carried her
secret to the grave. Old, however, though she is, she lives in the
same house, and finds it hard work to make the two ends meet, but I
do not know that she minds this very much, and it has prevented her
from getting more to drink than would be good for her. It is no use
trying to do anything for her beyond paying her allowance weekly,
and absolutely refusing to let her anticipate it. She pawns her
flat iron every Saturday for 4d., and takes it out every Monday
morning for 4.5d. when she gets her allowance, and has done this for
the last ten years as regularly as the week comes round. As long as
she does not let the flat iron actually go we know that she can
still worry out her financial problems in her own hugger-mugger way
and had better be left to do so. If the flat iron were to go beyond
redemption, we should know that it was time to interfere. I do not
know why, but there is something about her which always reminds me
of a woman who was as unlike her as one person can be to another--I
mean Ernest's mother.
The last time I had a long gossip with her was about two years ago
when she came to me instead of to Ernest. She said she had seen a
cab drive up just as she was going to enter the staircase, and had
seen Mr Pontifex's pa put his Beelzebub old head out of the window,
so she had come on to me, for she hadn't greased her sides for no
curtsey, not for the likes of him. She professed to be very much
down on her luck. Her lodgers did use her so dreadful, going away
without paying and leaving not so much as a stick behind, but to-day
she was as pleased as a penny carrot. She had had such a lovely
dinner--a cushion of ham and green peas. She had had a good cry
over it, but then she was so silly, she was.
"And there's that Bell," she continued, though I could not detect
any appearance of connection, "it's enough to give anyone the hump
to see him now that he's taken to chapel-going, and his mother's
prepared to meet Jesus and all that to me, and now she ain't a-going
to die, and drinks half a bottle of champagne a day, and then Grigg,
him as preaches, you know, asked Bell if I really was too gay, not
but what when I was young I'd snap my fingers at any 'fly by night'
in Holborn, and if I was togged out and had my teeth I'd do it now.
I lost my poor dear Watkins, but of course that couldn't be helped,
and then I lost my dear Rose. Silly faggot to go and ride on a cart
and catch the bronchitics. I never thought when I kissed my dear
Rose in Pullen's Passage and she gave me the chop, that I should
never see her again, and her gentleman friend was fond of her too,
though he was a married man. I daresay she's gone to bits by now.
If she could rise and see me with my bad finger, she would cry, and
I should say, 'Never mind, ducky, I'm all right.' Oh! dear, it's
coming on to rain. I do hate a wet Saturday night--poor women with
their nice white stockings and their living to get," etc., etc.
And yet age does not wither this godless old sinner, as people would
say it ought to do. Whatever life she has led, it has agreed with
her very sufficiently. At times she gives us to understand that she
is still much solicited; at others she takes quite a different tone.
She has not allowed even Joe King so much as to put his lips to hers
this ten years. She would rather have a mutton chop any day. "But
ah! you should have seen me when I was sweet seventeen. I was the
very moral of my poor dear mother, and she was a pretty woman,
though I say it that shouldn't. She had such a splendid mouth of
teeth. It was a sin to bury her in her teeth."
I only knew of one thing at which she professes to be shocked. It
is that her son Tom and his wife Topsy are teaching the baby to
swear. "Oh! it's too dreadful awful," she exclaimed, "I don't know
the meaning of the words, but I tell him he's a drunken sot." I
believe the old woman in reality rather likes it.
"But surely, Mrs Jupp," said I, "Tom's wife used not to be Topsy.
You used to speak of her as Pheeb."
"Ah! yes," she answered, "but Pheeb behaved bad, and it's Topsy
Ernest's daughter Alice married the boy who had been her playmate
more than a year ago. Ernest gave them all they said they wanted
and a good deal more. They have already presented him with a
grandson, and I doubt not, will do so with many more. Georgie
though only twenty-one is owner of a fine steamer which his father
has bought for him. He began when about thirteen going with old
Rollings and Jack in the barge from Rochester to the upper Thames
with bricks; then his father bought him and Jack barges of their
own, and then he bought them both ships, and then steamers. I do
not exactly know how people make money by having a steamer, but he
does whatever is usual, and from all I can gather makes it pay
extremely well. He is a good deal like his father in the face, but
without a spark--so far as I have been able to observe--any literary
ability; he has a fair sense of humour and abundance of common
sense, but his instinct is clearly a practical one. I am not sure
that he does not put me in mind almost more of what Theobald would
have been if he had been a sailor, than of Ernest. Ernest used to
go down to Battersby and stay with his father for a few days twice a
year until Theobald's death, and the pair continued on excellent
terms, in spite of what the neighbouring clergy call "the atrocious
books which Mr Ernest Pontifex" has written. Perhaps the harmony,
or rather absence of discord which subsisted between the pair was
due to the fact that Theobald had never looked into the inside of
one of his son's works, and Ernest, of course, never alluded to them
in his father's presence. The pair, as I have said, got on
excellently, but it was doubtless as well that Ernest's visits were
short and not too frequent. Once Theobald wanted Ernest to bring
his children, but Ernest knew they would not like it, so this was
Sometimes Theobald came up to town on small business matters and
paid a visit to Ernest's chambers; he generally brought with him a
couple of lettuces, or a cabbage, or half-a-dozen turnips done up in
a piece of brown paper, and told Ernest that he knew fresh
vegetables were rather hard to get in London, and he had brought him
some. Ernest had often explained to him that the vegetables were of
no use to him, and that he had rather he would not bring them; but
Theobald persisted, I believe through sheer love of doing something
which his son did not like, but which was too small to take notice
He lived until about twelve months ago, when he was found dead in
his bed on the morning after having written the following letter to
"Dear Ernest,--I've nothing particular to write about, but your
letter has been lying for some days in the limbo of unanswered
letters, to wit my pocket, and it's time it was answered.
"I keep wonderfully well and am able to walk my five or six miles
with comfort, but at my age there's no knowing how long it will
last, and time flies quickly. I have been busy potting plants all
the morning, but this afternoon is wet.
"What is this horrid Government going to do with Ireland? I don't
exactly wish they'd blow up Mr Gladstone, but if a mad bull would
chivy him there, and he would never come back any more, I should not
be sorry. Lord Hartington is not exactly the man I should like to
set in his place, but he would be immeasurably better than
"I miss your sister Charlotte more than I can express. She kept my
household accounts, and I could pour out to her all little worries,
and now that Joey is married too, I don't know what I should do if
one or other of them did not come sometimes and take care of me. My
only comfort is that Charlotte will make her husband happy, and that
he is as nearly worthy of her as a husband can well be.--Believe me,
Your affectionate father,
I may say in passing that though Theobald speaks of Charlotte's
marriage as though it were recent, it had really taken place some
six years previously, she being then about thirty-eight years old,
and her husband about seven years younger.
There was no doubt that Theobald passed peacefully away during his
sleep. Can a man who died thus be said to have died at all? He has
presented the phenomena of death to other people, but in respect of
himself he has not only not died, but has not even thought that he
was going to die. This is not more than half dying, but then
neither was his life more than half living. He presented so many of
the phenomena of living that I suppose on the whole it would be less
trouble to think of him as having been alive than as never having
been born at all, but this is only possible because association does
not stick to the strict letter of its bond.
This, however, was not the general verdict concerning him, and the
general verdict is often the truest.
Ernest was overwhelmed with expressions of condolence and respect
for his father's memory. "He never," said Dr Martin, the old doctor
who brought Ernest into the world, "spoke an ill word against
anyone. He was not only liked, he was beloved by all who had
anything to do with him."
"A more perfectly just and righteously dealing man," said the family
solicitor, "I have never had anything to do with--nor one more
punctual in the discharge of every business obligation."
"We shall miss him sadly," the bishop wrote to Joey in the very
warmest terms. The poor were in consternation. "The well's never
missed," said one old woman, "till it's dry," and she only said what
everyone else felt. Ernest knew that the general regret was
unaffected as for a loss which could not be easily repaired. He
felt that there were only three people in the world who joined
insincerely in the tribute of applause, and these were the very
three who could least show their want of sympathy. I mean Joey,
Charlotte, and himself. He felt bitter against himself for being of
a mind with either Joey or Charlotte upon any subject, and thankful
that he must conceal his being so as far as possible, not because of
anything his father had done to him--these grievances were too old
to be remembered now--but because he would never allow him to feel
towards him as he was always trying to feel. As long as
communication was confined to the merest commonplace all went well,
but if these were departed from ever such a little he invariably
felt that his father's instincts showed themselves in immediate
opposition to his own. When he was attacked his father laid
whatever stress was possible on everything which his opponents said.
If he met with any check his father was clearly pleased. What the
old doctor had said about Theobald's speaking ill of no man was
perfectly true as regards others than himself, but he knew very well
that no one had injured his reputation in a quiet way, so far as he
dared to do, more than his own father. This is a very common case
and a very natural one. It often happens that if the son is right,
the father is wrong, and the father is not going to have this if he
can help it.
It was very hard, however, to say what was the true root of the
mischief in the present case. It was not Ernest's having been
imprisoned. Theobald forgot all about that much sooner than nine
fathers out of ten would have done. Partly, no doubt, it was due to
incompatibility of temperament, but I believe the main ground of
complaint lay in the fact that he had been so independent and so
rich while still very young, and that thus the old gentleman had
been robbed of his power to tease and scratch in the way which he
felt he was entitled to do. The love of teasing in a small way when
he felt safe in doing so had remained part of his nature from the
days when he told his nurse that he would keep her on purpose to
torment her. I suppose it is so with all of us. At any rate I am
sure that most fathers, especially if they are clergymen, are like
He did not in reality, I am convinced, like Joey or Charlotte one
whit better than he liked Ernest. He did not like anyone or
anything, or if he liked anyone at all it was his butler, who looked
after him when he was not well, and took great care of him and
believed him to be the best and ablest man in the whole world.
Whether this faithful and attached servant continued to think this
after Theobald's will was opened and it was found what kind of
legacy had been left him I know not. Of his children, the baby who
had died at a day old was the only one whom he held to have treated
him quite filially. As for Christina he hardly ever pretended to
miss her and never mentioned her name; but this was taken as a proof
that he felt her loss too keenly to be able ever to speak of her.
It may have been so, but I do not think it.
Theobald's effects were sold by auction, and among them the Harmony
of the Old and New Testaments which he had compiled during many
years with such exquisite neatness and a huge collection of MS.
sermons--being all in fact that he had ever written. These and the
Harmony fetched ninepence a barrow load. I was surprised to hear
that Joey had not given the three or four shillings which would have
bought the whole lot, but Ernest tells me that Joey was far fiercer
in his dislike of his father than ever he had been himself, and
wished to get rid of everything that reminded him of him.
It has already appeared that both Joey and Charlotte are married.
Joey has a family, but he and Ernest very rarely have any
intercourse. Of course, Ernest took nothing under his father's
will; this had long been understood, so that the other two are both
well provided for.
Charlotte is as clever as ever, and sometimes asks Ernest to come
and stay with her and her husband near Dover, I suppose because she
knows that the invitation will not be agreeable to him. There is a
de haut en bas tone in all her letters; it is rather hard to lay
one's finger upon it but Ernest never gets a letter from her without
feeling that he is being written to by one who has had direct
communication with an angel. "What an awful creature," he once said
to me, "that angel must have been if it had anything to do with
making Charlotte what she is."
"Could you like," she wrote to him not long ago, "the thoughts of a
little sea change here? The top of the cliffs will soon be bright
with heather: the gorse must be out already, and the heather I
should think begun, to judge by the state of the hill at Ewell, and
heather or no heather--the cliffs are always beautiful, and if you
come your room shall be cosy so that you may have a resting corner
to yourself. Nineteen and sixpence is the price of a return-ticket
which covers a month. Would you decide just as you would yourself
like, only if you come we would hope to try and make it bright for
you; but you must not feel it a burden on your mind if you feel
disinclined to come in this direction."
"When I have a bad nightmare," said Ernest to me, laughing as he
showed me this letter, "I dream that I have got to stay with
Her letters are supposed to be unusually well written, and I believe
it is said among the family that Charlotte has far more real
literary power than Ernest has. Sometimes we think that she is
writing at him as much as to say, "There now--don't you think you
are the only one of us who can write; read this! And if you want a
telling bit of descriptive writing for your next book, you can make
what use of it you like." I daresay she writes very well, but she
has fallen under the dominion of the words "hope," "think," "feel,"
"try," "bright," and "little," and can hardly write a page without
introducing all these words and some of them more than once. All
this has the effect of making her style monotonous.
Ernest is as fond of music as ever, perhaps more so, and of late
years has added musical composition to the other irons in his fire.
He finds it still a little difficult, and is in constant trouble
through getting into the key of C sharp after beginning in the key
of C and being unable to get back again.
"Getting into the key of C sharp," he said, "is like an unprotected
female travelling on the Metropolitan Railway, and finding herself
at Shepherd's Bush, without quite knowing where she wants to go to.
How is she ever to get safe back to Clapham Junction? And Clapham
Junction won't quite do either, for Clapham Junction is like the
diminished seventh--susceptible of such enharmonic change, that you
can resolve it into all the possible termini of music."
Talking of music reminds me of a little passage that took place
between Ernest and Miss Skinner, Dr Skinner's eldest daughter, not
so very long ago. Dr Skinner had long left Roughborough, and had
become Dean of a Cathedral in one of our Midland counties--a
position which exactly suited him. Finding himself once in the
neighbourhood Ernest called, for old acquaintance sake, and was
hospitably entertained at lunch.
Thirty years had whitened the Doctor's bushy eyebrows--his hair they
could not whiten. I believe that but for that wig he would have
been made a bishop.
His voice and manner were unchanged, and when Ernest remarking upon
a plan of Rome which hung in the hall, spoke inadvertently of the
Quirinal, he replied with all his wonted pomp: "Yes, the QuirInal--
or as I myself prefer to call it, the QuirInal." After this triumph
he inhaled a long breath through the corners of his mouth, and flung
it back again into the face of Heaven, as in his finest form during
his head-mastership. At lunch he did indeed once say, "next to
impossible to think of anything else," but he immediately corrected
himself and substituted the words, "next to impossible to entertain
irrelevant ideas," after which he seemed to feel a good deal more
comfortable. Ernest saw the familiar volumes of Dr Skinner's works
upon the book-shelves in the Deanery dining-room, but he saw no copy
of "Rome or the Bible--Which?"
"And are you still as fond of music as ever, Mr Pontifex?" said Miss
Skinner to Ernest during the course of lunch.
"Of some kinds of music, yes, Miss Skinner, but you know I never did
like modern music."
"Isn't that rather dreadful?--Don't you think you rather"--she was
going to have added, "ought to?" but she left it unsaid, feeling
doubtless that she had sufficiently conveyed her meaning.
"I would like modern music, if I could; I have been trying all my
life to like it, but I succeed less and less the older I grow."
"And pray, where do you consider modern music to begin?"
"With Sebastian Bach."
"And don't you like Beethoven?"
"No, I used to think I did, when I was younger, but I know now that
I never really liked him."
"Ah! how can you say so? You cannot understand him, you never could
say this if you understood him. For me a simple chord of Beethoven
is enough. This is happiness."
Ernest was amused at her strong family likeness to her father--a
likeness which had grown upon her as she had become older, and which
extended even to voice and manner of speaking. He remembered how he
had heard me describe the game of chess I had played with the doctor
in days gone by, and with his mind's ear seemed to hear Miss Skinner
saying, as though it were an epitaph:-
I may presently take
A simple chord of Beethoven,
Or a small semiquaver
From one of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words."
After luncheon when Ernest was left alone for half an hour or so
with the Dean he plied him so well with compliments that the old
gentleman was pleased and flattered beyond his wont. He rose and
bowed. "These expressions," he said, voce sua, "are very valuable
to me." "They are but a small part, Sir," rejoined Ernest, "of what
anyone of your old pupils must feel towards you," and the pair
danced as it were a minuet at the end of the dining-room table in
front of the old bay window that looked upon the smooth shaven lawn.
On this Ernest departed; but a few days afterwards, the Doctor wrote
him a letter and told him that his critics were a [Greek text], and
at the same time [Greek text]. Ernest remembered [Greek text], and
knew that the other words were something of like nature, so it was
all right. A month or two afterwards, Dr Skinner was gathered to
"He was an old fool, Ernest," said I, "and you should not relent
"I could not help it," he replied, "he was so old that it was almost
like playing with a child."
Sometimes, like all whose minds are active, Ernest overworks
himself, and then occasionally he has fierce and reproachful
encounters with Dr Skinner or Theobald in his sleep--but beyond this
neither of these two worthies can now molest him further.
To myself he has been a son and more than a son; at times I am half
afraid--as for example when I talk to him about his books--that I
may have been to him more like a father than I ought; if I have, I
trust he has forgiven me. His books are the only bone of contention
between us. I want him to write like other people, and not to
offend so many of his readers; he says he can no more change his
manner of writing than the colour of his hair, and that he must
write as he does or not at all.
With the public generally he is not a favourite. He is admitted to
have talent, but it is considered generally to be of a queer
unpractical kind, and no matter how serious he is, he is always
accused of being in jest. His first book was a success for reasons
which I have already explained, but none of his others have been
more than creditable failures. He is one of those unfortunate men,
each one of whose books is sneered at by literary critics as soon as
it comes out, but becomes "excellent reading" as soon as it has been
followed by a later work which may in its turn be condemned.
He never asked a reviewer to dinner in his life. I have told him
over and over again that this is madness, and find that this is the
only thing I can say to him which makes him angry with me.
"What can it matter to me," he says, "whether people read my books
or not? It may matter to them--but I have too much money to want
more, and if the books have any stuff in them it will work by-and-
by. I do not know nor greatly care whether they are good or not.
What opinion can any sane man form about his own work? Some people
must write stupid books just as there must be junior ops and third
class poll men. Why should I complain of being among the
mediocrities? If a man is not absolutely below mediocrity let him
be thankful--besides, the books will have to stand by themselves
some day, so the sooner they begin the better."
I spoke to his publisher about him not long since. "Mr Pontifex,"
he said, "is a homo unius libri, but it doesn't do to tell him so."
I could see the publisher, who ought to know, had lost all faith in
Ernest's literary position, and looked upon him as a man whose
failure was all the more hopeless for the fact of his having once
made a coup. "He is in a very solitary position, Mr Overton,"
continued the publisher. "He has formed no alliances, and has made
enemies not only of the religious world but of the literary and
scientific brotherhood as well. This will not do nowadays. If a
man wishes to get on he must belong to a set, and Mr Pontifex
belongs to no set--not even to a club."
I replied, "Mr Pontifex is the exact likeness of Othello, but with a
difference--he hates not wisely but too well. He would dislike the
literary and scientific swells if he were to come to know them and
they him; there is no natural solidarity between him and them, and
if he were brought into contact with them his last state would be
worse than his first. His instinct tells him this, so he keeps
clear of them, and attacks them whenever he thinks they deserve it--
in the hope, perhaps, that a younger generation will listen to him
more willingly than the present."
"Can anything,"' said the publisher, "be conceived more
impracticable and imprudent?"
To all this Ernest replies with one word only--"Wait."
Such is my friend's latest development. He would not, it is true,
run much chance at present of trying to found a College of Spiritual
Pathology, but I must leave the reader to determine whether there is
not a strong family likeness between the Ernest of the College of
Spiritual Pathology and the Ernest who will insist on addressing the
next generation rather than his own. He says he trusts that there
is not, and takes the sacrament duly once a year as a sop to Nemesis
lest he should again feel strongly upon any subject. It rather
fatigues him, but "no man's opinions," he sometimes says, "can be
worth holding unless he knows how to deny them easily and gracefully
upon occasion in the cause of charity." In politics he is a
Conservative so far as his vote and interest are concerned.
In all other respects he is an advanced Radical. His father and
grandfather could probably no more understand his state of mind than
they could understand Chinese, but those who know him intimately do
not know that they wish him greatly different from what he actually is.
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