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Chapter 55
I HAD called on Ernest as a matter of course when he first came to London, but had not seen him. I had been out when he returned my call, so that he had been in town for some weeks before I actually saw him, which I did not very long after he had taken possession of his new rooms. I liked his face, but except for the common bond of music, in respect of which our tastes were singularly alike, I should hardly have known how to get on with him. To do him justice he did not air any of his schemes to me until I had drawn him out concerning them. I, to borrow the words of Ernest’s landlady, Mrs. Jupp, “am not a very regular church-goer” — I discovered upon cross-examination that Mrs. Jupp had been to church once when she was churched for her son Tom some five-and-twenty years since, years since, but never either before or afterwards; not even, I fear, to be married, for though she called herself “Mrs.” she wore no wedding ring, and spoke of the person who should have been Mr. Jupp as “my poor dear boy’s father,” not as “my husband.” But to return. I was vexed at Ernest’s having been ordained. I was not ordained myself and I did not like my friends to be ordained, nor did I like having to be on my best behaviour and to look as if butter would not melt in my mouth, and all for a boy whom I remembered when he knew yesterday and to-morrow and Tuesday, but not a day of the week more — not even Sunday itself — and when he said he did not like the kitten because it had pins in its toes.

I looked at him and thought of his Aunt Alethea, and how fast the money she had left him was accumulating; and it was all to go to this young man, who would use it probably in the very last ways with which Miss Pontifex would have sympathised. I was annoyed. “She always said,” I thought to myself, “that she should make a mess of it, but I did not think she would have made as great a mess of it as this.” Then I thought that perhaps if his aunt had lived he would not have been like this.

Ernest behaved quite nicely to me and I own that the fault was mine if the conversation drew towards dangerous subjects. I was the aggressor, presuming I suppose upon my age and long acquaintance with him, as giving me a right to make myself unpleasant in a quiet way.

Then he came out, and the exasperating part of it was that up to a certain point he was so very right. Grant him his premises and his conclusions were sound enough, nor could I, seeing that he was already ordained, join issue with him about his premises as I should certainly have done if I had had a chance of doing so before he had taken orders. The result was that I had to beat a retreat and went away not in the best of humours. I believe the truth was that I liked Ernest, and was vexed at his being a clergyman, and at a clergyman having so much money coming to him.

I talked a little with Mrs. Jupp on my way out. She and I had reckoned one another up at first sight as being neither of us “very regular church-goers,” and the strings of her tongue had been loosened. She said Ernest would die. He was much too good for the world and he looked so sad “just like young Watkins of the ‘Crown’ over the way who died a month ago, and his poor dear skin was white as alablaster; least-ways they say he shot hisself. They took him from the Mortimer, I met them just as I was going with my Rose to get a pint o’ four ale, and she had her arm in splints. She told her sister she wanted to go to Perry’s to get some wool, instead o’ which it was only a stall to get me a pint o’ ale, bless her heart; there’s nobody else would do that much for poor old Jupp, and it’s a horrid lie to say she is gay; not but what I like a gay woman, I do: I’d rather give a gay woman half-a-crown than stand a modest woman a pot o’ beer, but I don’t want to go associating with bad girls for all that. So they took him from the Mortimer; they wouldn’t let him go home no more; and he done it that artful, you know. His wife was in the country living with her mother, and she always spoke respectful o’ my Rose. Poor dear, I hope his soul is in Heaven. Well, sir, would you believe it, there’s that in Mr. Pontifex’s face which is just like young Watkins; he looks that worrited and scrunched up at times, but it’s never for the same reason, for he don’t know nothing at all, no more than a unborn babe, no he don’t; why there’s not a monkey going about London with an Italian organ grinder but knows more than Mr. Pontifex do. He don’t know — well I suppose —”

Here a child came in on an errand from some neighbour and interrupted her, or I can form no idea where or when she would have ended her discourse. I seized the opportunity to run away, but not before I had given her five shillings and made her write down my address, for I was a little frightened by what she said. I told her if she thought her lodger grew worse, she was to come and let me know.

Weeks went by and I did not see her again. Having done as much as I had, I felt absolved from doing more, and let Ernest alone as thinking that he and I should only bore one another.

He had now been ordained a little over four months, but these months had not brought happiness or satisfaction with them. He had lived in a clergyman’s house all his life, and might have been expected perhaps to have known pretty much what being a clergyman was like, and so he did — a country clergyman; he had formed an ideal, however, as regards what a town clergyman could do, and was trying in a feeble, tentative way to realise it, but somehow or other it always managed to escape him.

He lived among the poor, but he did not find that he got to know them. The idea that they would come to him proved to be a mistaken one. He did indeed visit a few tame pets whom his rector desired him to look after. There was an old man and his wife who lived next door but one to Ernest himself; then there was a plumber of the name of Chesterfield; an aged lady of the name of Gover, blind and bed-ridden, who munched and munched her feeble old toothless jaws as Ernest spoke or read to her, but who could do little more; a Mr. Brookes, a rag and bottle merchant in Birdsey’s Rents, in the last stage of dropsy, and perhaps half-a-dozen or so others. What did it all come to, when he did go to see them? The plumber wanted to be flattered, and liked fooling a gentleman into wasting his time by scratching his ears for him. Mrs. Gover, poor old woman, wanted money; she was very good and meek, and when Ernest got her a shilling from Lady Anne Jones’s bequest, she said it was “small but se............
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