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Chapter 29
SOON after his father and mother had left him Ernest dropped asleep over a book which Mrs. Jay had given him, and he did not awake till dusk. Then he sat down on a stool in front of the fire, which showed pleasantly in the late January twilight, and began to muse. He felt weak, feeble, ill at ease, and unable to see his way out of the innumerable troubles that were before him. Perhaps, he said to himself, he might even die, but this, far from being an end of his troubles, would prove the beginning of new ones; for at the best he would only go to Grandpapa Pontifex and Grandmamma Allaby, and though they would perhaps be more easy to get on with than papa and mamma, yet they were undoubtedly not so really good, and were more worldly; moreover they were grown-up people — especially Grandpapa Pontifex, who so far as he could understand had been very much grown-up, and he did not know why, but there was always something that kept him from loving any grown-up people very much — except one or two of the servants, who had indeed been as nice as anything that he could imagine. Besides even if he were to die and go to Heaven he supposed he should have to complete his education somewhere.

In the meantime his father and mother were rolling along the muddy roads, each in his or her own corner of the carriage, and each revolving many things which were and were not to come to pass. Times have changed since I last showed them to the reader as sitting together silently in a carriage, but except as regards their mutual relations, they have altered singularly little. When I was younger I used to think the Prayer Book was wrong in requiring us to say the General Confession twice a week from childhood to old age, without making provision for our not being quite such great sinners at seventy as we had been at seven; granted that we should go to the wash like table-cloths at least once a week, still I used to think a day ought to come when we should want rather less rubbing and scrubbing at. Now that I have grown older myself I have seen that the Church has estimated probabilities better than I had done.

The pair said not a word to one another, but watched the fading light and naked trees, the brown fields with here and there a melancholy cottage by the roadside, and the rain that fell fast upon the carriage windows. It was a kind of afternoon on which nice people for the most part like to be snug at home, and Theobald was a little snappish at reflecting how many miles he had to post before he could be at his own fireside again. However, there was nothing for it, so the pair sat quietly and watched the roadside objects flit by them, and get greyer and grimmer as the light faded.

Though they spoke not to one another, there was one nearer to each of them with whom they could converse freely. “I hope,” said Theobald to himself, “I hope he’ll work — or else that Skinner will make him. I don’t like Skinner, I never did like him, but he is unquestionably a man of genius, and no one turns out so many pupils who succeed at Oxford and Cambridge, and that is the best test. I have done my share towards starting him well. Skinner said he had been well grounded and was very forward. I suppose he will presume upon it now and do nothing, for his nature is an idle one. He is not fond of me, I’m sure he is not. He ought to be after all the trouble I have taken with him, but he is ungrateful and selfish. It is an unnatural thing for a boy not to be fond of his own father. If he was fond of me I should be fond of him, but I cannot like a son who, I am sure, dislikes me. He shrinks out of my way whenever he sees me coming near him. He will not stay five minutes in the same room with me if he can help it. He is deceitful. He would not want to hide himself away so much if he were not deceitful. That is a bad sign and one which makes me fear he will grow up extravagant. I am sure he will grow up extravagant. I should have given him more pocket-money if I had not known this — but what is the good of giving him pocket-money? It is all gone directly. If he doesn’t buy something with it he gives it away to the first little boy or girl he sees who takes his fancy. He forgets that it’s my money he is giving away. I give him money that he may have money and learn to know its uses, not that he may go and squander it immediately. I wish he was not so fond of music; it will interfere with his Latin and Greek. I will stop it as much as I can. Why, when he was translating Livy the other day he slipped out Handel’s name in mistake for Hannibal’s, and his mother tells me he knows half the tunes in the ‘Messiah’ by heart. What should a boy of his age know about the ‘Messiah’? I had shown half as many dangerous tendencies when I was a boy, my father would have apprenticed me to a greengrocer, of that I’m very sure,” etc., etc.

Then his thoughts turned to Egypt and the tenth plague. It seemed to him that if the little Egyptians had been anything like Ernest, the plague must have been something very like a blessing in disguise. If the Israelites were to come to England now he should be greatly tempted not to let them go.

Mrs. Theobald’s thoughts ran in a different current. “Lord Lonsford’s grandson — it’s a pity his name is Figgins; however, blood is blood as much through the female line as the male; indeed, perhaps even more so if the truth were known. I wonder who Mr. Figgins was. I think Mrs. Skinner said he was dead; however, I must find out all about him. It would be delightful if young Figgins were to ask Ernest home for the holidays. Who knows but he might meet Lord Lonsford himself, or at any rate some of Lord Lonsford’s other descendants?”

Meanwhile the boy himself was still sitting moodily before the fire in Mrs. Jay’s room. “Papa and mamma,” he was saying to himself, “are much better and cleverer than anyone else, but, I, alas! shall never be either good or clever.”

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