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Chapter 86
AND now I must bring my story to a close.

The preceding chapter was written soon after the events it records — that is to say in the spring of 1867. By that time my story had been written up to this point; but it has been altered here and there from time to time occasionally. It is now the autumn of 1882, and if I am to say more I should do so quickly, for I am eighty years old and though well in health cannot conceal from myself that I am no longer young. Ernest himself is forty-seven, though he hardly looks it.

He is richer than ever, for he has never married and his London and North-Western shares have nearly doubled themselves. Through sheer inability to spend his income he has been obliged to hoard in self-defence. He still lives in the Temple in the same rooms I took for him when he gave up his shop, for no one has been able to induce him to take a house. His house, he says, is wherever there is a good hotel. When he is in town he likes to work and to be quiet. When out of town he feels that he has left little behind him that can go wrong, and he would not like to be tied to a single locality. “I know no exception,” he says, “to the rule that it is cheaper to buy milk than to keep a cow.”

As I have mentioned Mrs. Jupp, I may as well say here the little that remains to be said about her. She is a very old woman now, but no one now living, as she says triumphantly, can say how old, for the woman in the Old Kent Road is dead, and presumably has carried her secret to the grave. Old, however, though she is, she lives in the same house, and finds it hard work to make the two ends meet, but I do not know that she minds this very much, and it has prevented her from getting more to drink than would be good for her. It is no use trying to do anything for her beyond paying her allowance weekly, and absolutely refusing to let her anticipate it. She pawns her flat iron every Saturday for 4d., and takes it out every Monday morning for 4 1/2d. when she gets her allowance, and has done this for the last ten years as regularly as the week comes round. As long as she does not let the flat iron actually go we know that she can still worry out her financial problems in her own hugger-mugger way and had better be left to do so. If the flat iron were to go beyond redemption, we should know that it was time to interfere. I do not know why, but there is something about her which always reminds me of a woman who was as unlike her as one person can be to another — I mean Ernest’s mother.

The last time I had a long gossip with her was about two years ago when she came to me instead of to Ernest. She said she had seen a cab drive up just as she was going to enter the staircase, and had seen Mr. Pontifex’s pa put his Beelzebub old head out of the window, so she had come on to me, for she hadn’t greased her sides for no curtsey, not for the likes of him. She professed to be very much down on her luck. Her lodgers did use her so dreadful going away without paying and leaving not so much as a stick behind, but to-day she was as pleased as a penny carrot. She had had such a lovely dinner -a cushion of ham and green peas. She had had a good cry over it, but then she was so silly, she was.

“And there’s that Bell,” she continued, though I could not detect any appearance of connection, “it’s enough to give anyone the hump to see him now that he’s taken to chapel-going, and his mother’s prepared to meet Jesus and all that to me, and now she ain’t a-going to die, and drinks half a bottle of champagne a day, and then Grigg, him as preaches, you know, asked Bell if I really was too gay, not but what when I was young I’d snap my fingers at any ‘fly by night’ in Holborn, and if I was togged out and had my teeth I’d do it now. I lost my poor dear Watkins, but of course that couldn’t be helped, and then I lost my dear Rose. Silly faggot to go and ride on a cart and catch the bronchitics. I never thought when I kissed my dear Rose in Pullen’s Passage and she gave me the chop, that I should never see her again, and her gentleman friend was fond her too, though he was a married man. I daresay she’s gone to bits by now. If she could rise and see me with my bad finger, she would cry, and I should say, ‘Never mind, ducky, I’m all right.’ Oh! dear, it’s coming on to rain. I do hate a wet Saturday night — poor women with their nice white stockings and their living to get,” etc., etc.

And yet age does not wither this godless old sinner, as people would say it ought to do. Whatever life she has led, it has agreed with her very sufficiently. At times she gives us to understand that she is still much solicited; at others she takes quite a different tone. She has not allowed even Joe King so much as to put his lips to hers this ten years. She would rather have a mutton chop any day. “But ah! you should have seen me when I was sweet seventeen. I was the very moral of my poor dear mother, and she was a pretty woman, though I say it that shouldn’t. She had such a splendid mouth of teeth. It was a sin to bury her in her teeth.”

I only knew of one thing at which she professes to be shocked. It is that her son Tom and his wife Topsy are teaching the baby to swear. “Oh! it’s too dreadful awful,” she exclaimed; “I don’t know the meaning of the words, but I tell him he’s a drunken sot.” I believe the old woman in reality rather likes it.

“But surely, Mrs. Jupp,” said I, “Tom’s wife used not to be Topsy. You used to speak of her as Pheeb.”

“Ah! yes,” she answered, “but Pheeb behaved bad, and it’s Topsy now.”

Ernest’s daughter Alice married the boy who had been her playmate more than a year ago. Ernest gave them all they said they wanted and a good deal more. They have already presented him with a grandson, and I doubt not will do so with many more. Georgie though only twenty-one is owner of a fine steamer which his father has bought for him. He began when about thirteen going with old Rollings and Jack in the barge from Rochester to the upper Thames with bricks; then his father bought him and Jack barges of their own, and then he bought them both ships, and then steamers. I do not exactly know how people make money by having a steamer, but he does whatever is usual, and from I can gather makes it pay extremely well. He is a good deal like his father in the face, but without a spark — so far as I have been able to observe — of any literary ability; he has a fair sense of humour and abundance of common sense, but his instinct is clearly a practical one. I am not sure that he does not put me in mind almost more of what Theobald would have been if he had been a sailor, than of Ernest. Ernest used to go down to Battersby and stay with his father for a few days twice a year until Theobald’s death, and the pair continued on excellent terms, in spite of what the neighbouring clergy call “the atrocious books which Mr. Ernest Pontifex” has written. Perhaps the harmony, or rather absence of discord, which subsisted between the pair was due to the fact that Theobald had never looked into the inside of one of his son’s works, and Ernest, of course, never alluded to them in his father’s presence. The pair, as I have said, got on excellently, but it was doubtless as well that Ernest’s visits were short and not too frequent. Once Theobald wanted Ernest to bring his children, but Ernest knew they would not like it, so this was not done.

Sometimes Theobald came up to town on small business matters and paid a visit to Ernest’s chambers; he generally brought with him a couple of lettuces, or a cabbage, or half-a-dozen turnips done up in a piece of brown paper, and told Ernest that he knew fresh vegetables were rather hard to get in London, and he had brought him some. Ernest had often explained to him that the vegetables were of no use to him, and that he had rather he would not bring them; but Theobald persisted, I believe through sheer love of doing something which his son did not like, but which was too small to take notice of.

He lived until about twelve months ago, when he was found dead in his bed on the morning after having written the following letter to his son:

“DEAR ERNEST — I’ve nothing particular to write about, but your letter has been lying for some days in the limbo of unanswered letters, to wit my pocket, and it’s time it was answered.

“I keep wonderfully well and am able to walk my five or six miles with comfort, but at my age there’s no knowing how long it will last, and time flies quickly. I have been busy potting plants all the morning, but this afternoon is wet.

“What is this horrid Government going to do with Ireland? I don’t exactly wish they’d blow up Mr. Gladstone, but if a mad bull would chivy him there, and he would never come back any more, I should not be sorry. Lord Hartington is not exactly the man I should like to set in his place, but he would be immeasurably better than Gladstone.

“I miss your sister Charlotte more than I can express. She kept my household accounts, and I could pour out to her all my little worries, and now that Joey is married too, I don’t know what I should do if one or other them did not come sometimes and take care of me. My only comfort is that Charlotte will make her husband happy, and that he is as nearly worthy of her as a husband can well be.-Believe me, Your affectionate father,

— “THEOBALD PONTIFEX.”

I may say in passing that though Theobald speaks of Charlotte’s marriage as though it were recent, it had really taken place some six years previously, she being then about thirty-eight years old, and her husband about seven years younger.

There was no doubt that Theobald passed peacefully away during his sleep. Can a man who died thus be said to have died at all? He has presented the phenomena of death to other people, but in respect of himself he has not only not died, but has not even thought that he was going to die. This is not more than half dying, but then neither was his life more than half living. He presented so many of the phenomena of living that I suppose on the whole it would be less trouble to think of him as having been alive than as never having been born at all, but this is only possible because association does not stick to the strict letter of its bond.

This, however, was not the general verdict concerning him, and the general verdict is often the truest.

Ernest was overwhelmed with expressions of condolence and respect for his father’s memory. “He never,” said Dr. Martin, the old doctor who brought Ernest into the world, “spoke an ill word against anyone. He was not only liked, he was beloved by all who had anything to do with him.”

“A more perfectly just and righteously dealing man,” said the family solicitor, “I have never had anything to do with — nor one more punctual in the discharge of every business obligation.”

“We shall miss him sadly,” the bishop wrote to Joey in the very warmest terms. The poor were in consternation. “The well’s never missed,” said one old woman, “till it’s dry,” and she only said what everyone else felt. Ernest knew that the general regret was unaffected as for a loss which could not be easily repaired. He felt that there were only three people in the world who joined insincerely in the tribute of applause, and these were the very three who could least show their want of sympathy. I mean Joey, Charlotte, and himself. He felt bitter against himself for being of a mind with either Joey or Charlotte upon any subject, and thankful that he must conceal his being so as far as possible, not because of anything his father had done to him — these grievances were too old to be remembered now — but because he would never allow him to feel towards him as he was always trying to feel. As long as communication was confined to the merest commonplace all went well, but if these were departed from ever such a little he invariably felt that his father’s instincts showed themselves in immediate opposition to his own. When he was attacked his father laid whatever stress was possible on everything which his opponents said. If he met with any check his father was clearly pleased. What the old doctor had said about Theobald’s speaking ill of no man was perfectly true as regards others than himself, but he knew very well that no one had injured his reputation in a quiet way, so far as he dared to do, more than his own father. This is a very common case and a very natural one. It often happens that if the son is right, the father is wrong, and the father is not going to have this if he can help it.

It was very hard, however, to say what was the true root of the mischief in the present case. It was not Ernest’s having been imprisoned. Theobald forgot all about that much sooner than nine fathers out of ten would have done. Partly, no doubt, it was due to incompatibility of temperament, but I believe the main ground of complaint lay in the fact that he had been so independent and so rich while still very young, and that thus the old gentleman had been robbed of his power to tease and scratch in the way which he felt he was entitled to do. The love of teasing in a small way when he felt safe in doing so had remained part of his nature from the days when he told his nurse that he would keep her on purpose to torment her. I suppose it is so with all of us. At any rate I am sure that most fathers, especially if they are clergymen, are like Theobald.

He did not in reality, I am convinced, like Joey or Charlotte one whit bette............
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