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Chapter 80
WE left by the night mail, crossing from Dover. The night was soft, and there was a bright moon upon the sea. “Don’t you love the smell of grease about the engine of a Channel steamer? Isn’t there a lot of hope in it?” said Ernest to me, for he had been to Normandy one summer as a boy with his father and mother, and the smell carried him back to days before those in which he had begun to bruise himself against the great outside world. “I always think one of the best parts of going abroad is the first thud of the piston, and the first gurgling of the water when the paddle begins to strike it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of his old friends, on learning that he had got rid of his supposed wife and was now comfortably off again, wanted to renew their acquaintance; he was grateful to them and sometimes tried to meet their advances half way, but it did not do, and ere long h............
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