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Chapter 34
MISS PONTIFEX soon found out that Ernest did not like games, but also that he could hardly be expected to like them. He was perfectly well shaped but unusually devoid of physical strength. He got a fair share of this in after life, but it came much later with him than with other boys, and at the time of which I am writing he was a mere little skeleton. He wanted something to develop his arms and chest without knocking him about as much as the school games did. To supply this want by some means which should add also to his pleasure was Alethea’s first anxiety. Rowing would have answered every purpose, but unfortunately there was no river at Roughborough.

Whatever it was to be, it must be something which he should like as much as other boys liked cricket or football, and he must think the wish for it to have come originally from himself; it was not very easy to find anything that would do, but ere long it occurred to her that she might enlist his love of music on her side, and asked him one day when he was spending a half-holiday at her house whether he would like her to buy an organ for him to play on. Of course, the boy said yes; then she told him about her grandfather and the organs he had built. It had never entered into his head that he could make one, but when he gathered from what his aunt had said that this was not out of the question, he rose as eagerly to the bait as she could have desired, and wanted to begin learning to saw and plane so that he might make the wooden pipes at once.

Miss Pontifex did not see how she could have hit upon anything more suitable, and she liked the idea that he would incidentally get a knowledge of carpentering, for she was impressed, perhaps foolishly, with the wisdom of the German custom which gives every boy a handicraft of some sort.

Writing to me on this matter, she said, “Professions are all very well for those who have connection and interest as well as capital, but otherwise they are white elephants. How many men do not you and I know who have talent, assiduity, excellent good sense, straightforwardness, every quality in fact which should command success, and who yet go on from year to year waiting and hoping against hope for the work which never comes? How, indeed, is it likely to come unless to those who either are born with interest, or who marry in order to get it? Ernest’s father and mother have no interest, and if they had they would not use it. I suppose they will make him a clergyman, or try to do so — perhaps it is the best thing to do with him, for he could buy a living with the money his grandfather left him, but there is no knowing what the boy will think of it when the time comes, and for aught we know he may insist on going to the backwoods of America, as so many other young men are doing now.” . . . . But, anyway, he would like making an organ, and this could do him no harm, so the sooner he began the better.

Alethea thought it would save trouble in the end if she told her brother and sister-in-law of this scheme. “I do not suppose,” she wrote, “that Dr. Skinner will approve very cordially of my attempt to introduce organ-building into the curriculum of Roughborough, but I will see what I can do with him, for I have set my heart on owning an organ built by Ernest’s own hands, which he may play on as much as he likes while it remains in my house and which I will lend him permanently as soon as he gets one of his own, but which is to be my property for the present, inasmuch as I mean to pay for it.” This was put in to make it plain to Theobald and Christina that they should not be out of pocket in the matter.

If Alethea had been as poor as the Misses Allaby, the reader may guess what Ernest’s papa and mamma would have said to this proposal; but then, if she had been as poor as they, she would never have made it. They did not like Ernest’s getting more and more into his aunt’s good books; still it was perhaps better that he should do so than that she should be driven back upon the John Pontifexes. The only thing, said Theobald, which made him hesitate, was that the boy might be thrown with low associates later on if he were to be encouraged in his taste for music — a taste which Theobald had always disliked. He had observed with regret that Ernest had ere now shown rather a hankering after low company, and he might make acquaintance with those who would corrupt his innocence. Christina shuddered at this, but when they had aired their scruples sufficiently they felt (and when people begin to “feel,” they are invariably going to take what they believe to be the more worldly course) that to oppose Alethea’s proposal would be injuring their son’s prospects more than was right, so they consented, but not too graciously.

After a time, however, Christina got used to the idea, and then considerations occurred to her which made her throw herself into it with characteristic ardour. If Miss Pontifex had been a railway stock she might have been said to have been buoyant in the Battersby market for some few days; buoyant for long together she could never be, still for a time there really was an upward movement. Christina’s mind wandered to the organ itself; she seemed to have made it with her own hands; there would be no other in England to compare with it for combined sweetness and power. She already heard the famous Dr. Walmisley of Cambridge mistaking it for a Father Smith. It would come, no doubt, in reality to Battersby church, which wanted an organ, fo............
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