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Chapter 83
JOEY and Charlotte were in the room. Joey was now ordained, and was curate to Theobald. He and Ernest had never been sympathetic, and Ernest saw at a glance that there was no chance of a rapprochement between them. He was a little startled at seeing Joey dressed as a clergyman, and looking so like what he had looked himself a few years earlier, for there was a good deal of family likeness between the pair; but Joey’s face was cold and was illumined with no spark of Bohemianism; he was going to do as other clergymen did, neither better nor worse. He greeted Ernest rather de haut en has, that is to say he began by trying to do so, but the affair tailed off unsatisfactorily.

His sister presented her cheek to him to be kissed. How he hated it; he had been dreading it for the last three hours. She, too, was distant and reproachful in her manner, as such a superior person was sure to be. She had a grievance against him inasmuch as she was still unmarried. She laid the blame this at Ernest’s door; it was his misconduct, she maintained in secret, which had prevented young men from making offers to her, and she ran him up a heavy bill for consequential damages. She and Joey had from the first developed an instinct for hunting with the hounds, and now these two had fairly identified themselves with the older generation — that is to say as against Ernest. On this head there was an offensive and defensive alliance between them, but between themselves there was subdued but internecine warfare.

This at least was what Ernest gathered, partly from his recollections of the parties concerned, and partly from his observation of their little ways during the first half-hour after his arrival, while they were all together in his mother’s bedroom — for as yet of course they did not know that he had money. He could see that they eyed him from time to time with a surprise not unmixed with indignation, and knew very well what they were thinking.

Christina saw the change which had come over him — how much firmer and more vigorous both in mind and body he seemed than when she had last seen him. She saw too how well he was dressed, and, like the others, in spite of the return of all her affection for her first-born, was a little alarmed about Theobald’s pocket, which she supposed would have to be mulcted for all this magnificence. Perceiving this, Ernest relieved her mind and told her all about his aunt’s bequest, and how I had husbanded it, in the presence of his brother and sister — who, however, pretended not to notice, or at any rate to notice as a matter in which they could hardly be expected to take an interest.

His mother kicked a little at first against the money’s having gone to him as she said “over his papa’s head.” “Why, my dear,” she said in a deprecating tone, “this is more than ever your papa has had”; but Ernest calmed her by suggesting that if Miss Pontifex had known how large the sum would become she would have left the greater part of it to Theobald. This compromise was accepted by Christina who forthwith, ill as she was, entered with ardour into the new position, and taking it as a fresh point of departure, began spending Ernest’s money for him.

I may say in passing that Christina was right in saying that Theobald had never had so much money as his son was now possessed of. In the first place he had not had a fourteen years’ minority with no outgoings to prevent the accumulation of the money, and in the second he, like myself and almost everyone else, had suffered somewhat in the 1846 times — not enough to cripple him or even seriously to hurt him, but enough to give him a scare and make him stick to debentures for the rest of his life. It was the fact of his son’s being the richer man of the two, and of his being rich so young, which rankled with Theobald even more than the fact of his having money at all. If he had had to wait till he was sixty or sixty-five, and become broken down from long failure in the meantime, why then perhaps he might have been allowed to have whatever sum should suffice to keep him out of the workhouse and pay his death-bed expenses; but that he should come in to L70,000 at eight-and-twenty, and have no wife and only two children — it was intolerable. Christina was too ill and in too great a hurry to spend the money to care much about such details as the foregoing, and she was naturally much more good-natured than Theobald.

“This piece of good fortune”— she saw it at a glance —“quite wiped out the disgrace of his having been imprisoned. There should be no more nonsense about that. The whole thing was a mistake, an unfortunate mistake, true, but the less said about it now the better. Of course Ernest would come back and live at Battersby until he was married, and he would pay his father handsomely for board and lodging. In fact it would be only right that Theobald should make a profit, nor would Ernest himself wish it to be other than a handsome one; this was far the best and simplest arrangement; and he could take his sister out more than Theobald or Joey cared to do, and would also doubtless entertain very handsomely at Battersby.

“Of course he would buy Joey a living, and make large presents yearly to his sister — was there anything else? Oh! yes — he would become a county magnate now; a man with nearly L4,000 a year should certainly become a county magnate. He might even go into Parliament. He had very fair abilities, nothing indeed approaching such genius as Dr. Skinner’s nor even as Theobald’s, still he was not deficient and if he got into Parliament — so young too — there was nothing to hinder his being Prime Minister before he died, and if so, of course, he would become a peer. Oh! why did he not set about it all at once, so that she might live to hear people call her son ‘my lord’— Lord Battersby she thought would do very nicely, and if she was well enough to sit he must certainly have her portrait painted at full length for one end of his large dining-hall. It should be exhibited at the Royal Academy: ‘Portrait of Lord Battersby’s mother,’ she said to herself, and her heart fluttered with all its wonted vivacity. If she could not sit, happily, she had been photographed not so very long ago, and the portrait had been as successful as any photograph could be of a face which depended so entirely upon its expression as her own. Perhaps the painter could take the portrait sufficiently from this. It was better after all that Ernest had given up the Church-how far more wisely God arranges matters for us than ever we can do for ourselves! She saw it all now-it was Joey who would become Archbishop of Canterbury and Ernest would remain a layman and become Prime Minister” . . . and so on till her daughter told her it was time to take her medicine.

I suppose this reverie, which is a mere fragment of what actually ran through Christina’s brain, occupied about a minute and a half, but it, or the presence of her son, seemed to revive her spirits wonderfully. Ill, dying indeed, and suffering as she was, she brightened up so as to laugh once or twice quite merrily during the course of the afternoon. Next day Dr. Martin said she was so much better that he almost began to have hopes of her recovery again. Theobald, whenever this was touched upon as possible, would shake his head and say: “We can’t wish it prolonged,” and then Charlotte caught Ernest unawares and said: “You know, dear Ernest, that these ups and downs of talk are terribly agitating to papa; he could stand whatever comes, but it is quite too wearing to him to think half-a-dozen different things backwards and forwards, up and down in the same twenty-four hours, and it would be kinder of you not to do it — I mean not to say anything to him even though Dr. Martin does hold out hopes.”

Charlotte had meant to imply that it was Ernest who was at the bottom of all the inconvenience felt by Theobald, herself, Joey, and everyone else, and she had actually got words out which should convey this; true, she had not dared to stick to them and had turned them off, but she had made them hers at any rate for one brief moment, and this was better than nothing. Ernest noticed throughout his mother’s illness, that Charlotte found immediate occasion to make herself disagreeable to him whenever either the doctor or nurse pronounced her mother to be a little better. When she wrote to Crampsford to desire the prayers of the congregation (she was sure her mother would wish it, and that the Crampsford people would be pleased at her remembrance of them), she was sending another letter on some quite different subject at the same time, and put the two letters into the wrong envelopes. Ernest was asked to take these letters to the village post office, and imprudently did so; when the error came to be discovered Christina happened to have rallied a little. Charlotte flew at Ernest immediately, and laid all the blame of the blunder upon his shoulders.

Except that Joey and Charlotte were more fully developed, the house and its inmates, organic and inorganic, were little changed since Ernest had last seen them. The furniture and the ornaments on the chimney-piece were just as they had been ever since he could remember anything at all. In the drawing-room, on either side of the fireplace there hung the Carlo Dolci and the Sassoferrato as in old times; there was the water colour of a scene on the Lago Maggiore, copied by Charlotte from an original lent her by her drawing master, and finished under his direction. This was the picture of which one of the servants had said that it must be good, for Mr. Pontifex had given ten shillings for the frame. The paper on the walls was unchanged; the roses were still waiting for the bees; and the whole family still prayed night and morning to be made “truly honest and conscientious.”

One picture only was removed — a photograph of himself which had hung under one of his father and between those of his brother and sister. Ernest noticed this at prayer time, while his father was reading about Noah’s ark and how they daubed it with slime, which, as it happened, had been Ernest’s favourite text when he was a boy. Next morning, however, the photograph had found its way back again, a little dusty and with a bit of the gilding chipped off from one corner of the frame, but there sure enough it was. I suppose they put it back when they found how rich he had become.

In the dining-room the ravens were still trying to feed Elijah over the fireplace; what a crowd of reminiscences did not this picture bring back! Looking out of the window, there were the flower beds in the front garden exactly as they had been, and Ernest found himself looking hard against the blue door at the bottom of the garden to see if there was rain falling, as he had been used to look when he was a child doing lessons with his father.

After their early dinner, when Joey and Ernest and their father were left alone, Theobald rose and stood in the middle of the hearthrug under the Elijah picture, and began to whistle in his old absent way. He had two tunes only — one was “In my Cottage near a Wood,” and the other was the Easter Hymn; he had been trying to whistle them all his life, but had never succeeded; he whistled them as a clever bullfinch might whistle them — he had got them, but he had not got them right; he would be a semitone out in every third note as though reverting to some remote musical progenitor, who had known none but the Lydian or the Phrygian mode, or whatever would enable him to go most wrong while still keeping the tune near enough to be recognised. Theobald stood before the middle of the fire and whistled his two tunes softly in his own old way till Ernest left the room; the unchangedness of the external and changedness of the internal he felt were likely to throw him completely off his balance.

He strolled out of doors into the sodden spinney behind the house, and solaced himself with a pipe. Ere long he found himself at the door of the cottage of his father’s coachman, who had married an old lady’s maid of his mother’s, to whom Ernest had been always much attached as she also to him, for she had known him ever since he had been five or six years old. Her name was Susan. He sat down in the rocking-chair before her fire, and Susan went on ironing at the table in front of the window, and a smell of hot flannel pervaded the kitchen.

Susan had been retained too securely by Christina to be likely to side with Ernest all in a moment. He knew this very well, and did not call on her for the sake of support, moral or otherwise. He had called because he liked her, and also because he knew that he should gather much in a chat with her that he should not be able to arrive at in any other way.

“Oh, Master Ernest,” said Susan, “why did you not come back when your poor papa and mamma wanted you? I’m sure your ma has said to me a hundred times over if she has said it once that all should be exactly as it had been before.”

Ernest smiled to himself. It was no use explaining to Susan why he smiled, so he said nothing.

“For the first day or two I thought she never would get over it; she said it was a judgement upon her, and went on about things as she had said and done many years ago, before your pa knew her, and I don’t know what she didn’t say or wouldn’t have said only I stopped her; she seemed out of her mind like, and said that none of the neighbours would ever speak to her again, but the next day Mrs. Bushby (her that was Miss Cowey, you know) called, and your ma always was so fond of her, and it seemed to do her a power o’ good, for the next day she went through all her dresses, and we settled how she should have them altered; and then all the neighbours called for miles and miles round, and your ma came in here, and said she had been going through the waters of misery, and the Lord had turned them to a well.

“’Oh, yes, Susan,’ said she, ‘be sure it is so. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, Susan,’ and here she began to cry again. ‘As for him,’ she went on, ‘he has made his bed, and he must lie on it; when he comes out of prison his pa will know what is best to be done, and Master Ernest may be thankful that he has a pa so good and so long-suffering.’

“Then when you would not see them, that was a cruel blow to your ma. Your pa did not say anything; you know your pa never does say very much unless he’s downright waxy for the time; but your ma took on dreadful for a few days, and I never saw the master look so black; but, bless you, it all went off in a few days, and I don’t know that there’s been much difference in either of them since then, not till your ma was took ill.”

On the night of his arrival he had behaved well at family prayers, as also on the following morning; his father read about David’s dying injunction to Solomon in the matter of Shimei, but he did not mind it. In the course of the day, however, his corns had been trodden on so many times that he was in a misbehaving humour, on this the second night after his arrival. He knelt next Charlotte and said the responses perfunctorily, not so perfunctorily that she should know for certain that he was doing it maliciously, but so perfunctorily as to make her uncertain whether he might be malicious or not, and when he had to pray to be made truly honest and conscientious he emphasised the “truly.” I do not know whether Charlotte noticed anything, but she knelt at some distance from him during the rest of his stay. He assures me that this was the only spiteful thing he did during the whole time he was at Battersby.

When he went up to his bedroom, in which, to do them justice, they had given him a fire, he noticed what indeed he had noticed as soon as he was shown into it on his arrival, that there was an illuminated card framed and glazed over his bed with the words, “Be the day weary or be the day long, at last it ringeth to evensong.” He wondered to himself how such people could leave such a card in a room in which their visitors would have to spend the last hours of their evening, but he let it alone. “There’s not enough difference between ‘weary’ and ‘long’ to warrant an ‘or,’” he said, “but I suppose it is all right.” I believe Christina had bought the card at a bazaar in aid of the restoration of a neighbouring church, and having been bought it had got to be used — besides, the sentiment was so touching and the illumination was really lovely. how, no irony could be more complete than leaving it in my hero’s bedroom, though assuredly no irony had been intended.

On the third day after Ernest’s arrival Christina relapsed again. For the last two days she had been in no pain and had slept a good deal; her son’s presence still seemed to cheer her, and she often said how thankful she was to be surrounded on her death-bed by a family so happy, so God-fearing, so united, but now she began to wander, and, being more sensible of the approach of death, seemed also more alarmed at t............
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