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Chapter 82
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 return journey.

“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 kiss Charlotte.”

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 m............
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