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The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

Part 3 out of 8

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some of the children himself. I did think the gentleman had all the
boys and the lady all the girls; but it can't be like this, or else
mamma would not have asked Mrs Burne to guess; but then Mrs Burne
said, 'Oh, he's Mr Pontifex's child OF COURSE,' and I didn't quite
know what she meant by saying 'of course': it seemed as though I
was right in thinking that the husband has all the boys and the wife
all the girls; I wish you would explain to me all about it."

This I could hardly do, so I changed the conversation, after
reassuring him as best I could.


Three or four years after the birth of her daughter, Christina had
had one more child. She had never been strong since she married,
and had a presentiment that she should not survive this last
confinement. She accordingly wrote the following letter, which was
to be given, as she endorsed upon it, to her sons when Ernest was
sixteen years old. It reached him on his mother's death many years
later, for it was the baby who died now, and not Christina. It was
found among papers which she had repeatedly and carefully arranged,
with the seal already broken. This, I am afraid, shows that
Christina had read it and thought it too creditable to be destroyed
when the occasion that had called it forth had gone by. It is as
follows -

"BATTERSBY, March 15th, 1841.

"My Two Dear Boys,--When this is put into your hands will you try to
bring to mind the mother whom you lost in your childhood, and whom,
I fear, you will almost have forgotten? You, Ernest, will remember
her best, for you are past five years old, and the many, many times
that she has taught you your prayers and hymns and sums and told you
stories, and our happy Sunday evenings will not quite have passed
from your mind, and you, Joey, though only four, will perhaps
recollect some of these things. My dear, dear boys, for the sake of
that mother who loved you very dearly--and for the sake of your own
happiness for ever and ever--attend to and try to remember, and from
time to time read over again the last words she can ever speak to
you. When I think about leaving you all, two things press heavily
upon me: one, your father's sorrow (for you, my darlings, after
missing me a little while, will soon forget your loss), the other,
the everlasting welfare of my children. I know how long and deep
the former will be, and I know that he will look to his children to
be almost his only earthly comfort. You know (for I am certain that
it will have been so), how he has devoted his life to you and taught
you and laboured to lead you to all that is right and good. Oh,
then, be sure that you ARE his comforts. Let him find you obedient,
affectionate and attentive to his wishes, upright, self-denying and
diligent; let him never blush for or grieve over the sins and
follies of those who owe him such a debt of gratitude, and whose
first duty it is to study his happiness. You have both of you a
name which must not be disgraced, a father and a grandfather of whom
to show yourselves worthy; your respectability and well-doing in
life rest mainly with yourselves, but far, far beyond earthly
respectability and well-doing, and compared with which they are as
nothing, your eternal happiness rests with yourselves. You know
your duty, but snares and temptations from without beset you, and
the nearer you approach to manhood the more strongly will you feel
this. With God's help, with God's word, and with humble hearts you
will stand in spite of everything, but should you leave off seeking
in earnest for the first, and applying to the second, should you
learn to trust in yourselves, or to the advice and example of too
many around you, you will, you must fall. Oh, 'let God be true and
every man a liar.' He says you cannot serve Him and Mammon. He
says that strait is the gate that leads to eternal life. Many there
are who seek to widen it; they will tell you that such and such
self-indulgences are but venial offences--that this and that worldly
compliance is excusable and even necessary. The thing CANNOT BE;
for in a hundred and a hundred places He tells you so--look to your
Bibles and seek there whether such counsel is true--and if not, oh,
'halt not between two opinions,' if God is the Lord follow Him; only
be strong and of a good courage, and He will never leave you nor
forsake you. Remember, there is not in the Bible one law for the
rich, and one for the poor--one for the educated and one for the
ignorant. To ALL there is but one thing needful. ALL are to be
living to God and their fellow-creatures, and not to themselves.
ALL must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness--must
DENY THEMSELVES, be pure and chaste and charitable in the fullest
and widest sense--all, 'forgetting those things that are behind,'
must 'press forward towards the mark, for the prize of the high
calling of God.'

"And now I will add but two things more. Be true through life to
each other, love as only brothers should do, strengthen, warn,
encourage one another, and let who will be against you, let each
feel that in his brother he has a firm and faithful friend who will
be so to the end; and, oh! be kind and watchful over your dear
sister; without mother or sisters she will doubly need her brothers'
love and tenderness and confidence. I am certain she will seek
them, and will love you and try to make you happy; be sure then that
you do not fail her, and remember, that were she to lose her father
and remain unmarried, she would doubly need protectors. To you,
then, I especially commend her. Oh! my three darling children, be
true to each other, your Father, and your God. May He guide and
bless you, and grant that in a better and happier world I and mine
may meet again.--Your most affectionate mother,


From enquiries I have made, I have satisfied myself that most
mothers write letters like this shortly before their confinements,
and that fifty per cent. keep them afterwards, as Christina did.


The foregoing letter shows how much greater was Christina's anxiety
for the eternal than for the temporal welfare of her sons. One
would have thought she had sowed enough of such religious wild oats
by this time, but she had plenty still to sow. To me it seems that
those who are happy in this world are better and more lovable people
than those who are not, and that thus in the event of a Resurrection
and Day of Judgement, they will be the most likely to be deemed
worthy of a heavenly mansion. Perhaps a dim unconscious perception
of this was the reason why Christina was so anxious for Theobald's
earthly happiness, or was it merely due to a conviction that his
eternal welfare was so much a matter of course, that it only
remained to secure his earthly happiness? He was to "find his sons
obedient, affectionate, attentive to his wishes, self-denying and
diligent," a goodly string forsooth of all the virtues most
convenient to parents; he was never to have to blush for the follies
of those "who owed him such a debt of gratitude," and "whose first
duty it was to study his happiness." How like maternal solicitude
is this! Solicitude for the most part lest the offspring should
come to have wishes and feelings of its own, which may occasion many
difficulties, fancied or real. It is this that is at the bottom of
the whole mischief; but whether this last proposition is granted or
no, at any rate we observe that Christina had a sufficiently keen
appreciation of the duties of children towards their parents, and
felt the task of fulfilling them adequately to be so difficult that
she was very doubtful how far Ernest and Joey would succeed in
mastering it. It is plain in fact that her supposed parting glance
upon them was one of suspicion. But there was no suspicion of
Theobald; that he should have devoted his life to his children--why
this was such a mere platitude, as almost to go without saying.

How, let me ask, was it possible that a child only a little past
five years old, trained in such an atmosphere of prayers and hymns
and sums and happy Sunday evenings--to say nothing of daily repeated
beatings over the said prayers and hymns, etc., about which our
authoress is silent--how was it possible that a lad so trained
should grow up in any healthy or vigorous development, even though
in her own way his mother was undoubtedly very fond of him, and
sometimes told him stories? Can the eye of any reader fail to
detect the coming wrath of God as about to descend upon the head of
him who should be nurtured under the shadow of such a letter as the

I have often thought that the Church of Rome does wisely in not
allowing her priests to marry. Certainly it is a matter of common
observation in England that the sons of clergymen are frequently
unsatisfactory. The explanation is very simple, but is so often
lost sight of that I may perhaps be pardoned for giving it here.

The clergyman is expected to be a kind of human Sunday. Things must
not be done in him which are venial in the week-day classes. He is
paid for this business of leading a stricter life than other people.
It is his raison d'etre. If his parishioners feel that he does
this, they approve of him, for they look upon him as their own
contribution towards what they deem a holy life. This is why the
clergyman is so often called a vicar--he being the person whose
vicarious goodness is to stand for that of those entrusted to his
charge. But his home is his castle as much as that of any other
Englishman, and with him, as with others, unnatural tension in
public is followed by exhaustion when tension is no longer
necessary. His children are the most defenceless things he can
reach, and it is on them in nine cases out of ten that he will
relieve his mind.

A clergyman, again, can hardly ever allow himself to look facts
fairly in the face. It is his profession to support one side; it is
impossible, therefore, for him to make an unbiassed examination of
the other.

We forget that every clergyman with a living or curacy, is as much a
paid advocate as the barrister who is trying to persuade a jury to
acquit a prisoner. We should listen to him with the same suspense
of judgment, the same full consideration of the arguments of the
opposing counsel, as a judge does when he is trying a case. Unless
we know these, and can state them in a way that our opponents would
admit to be a fair representation of their views, we have no right
to claim that we have formed an opinion at all. The misfortune is
that by the law of the land one side only can be heard.

Theobald and Christina were no exceptions to the general rule. When
they came to Battersby they had every desire to fulfil the duties of
their position, and to devote themselves to the honour and glory of
God. But it was Theobald's duty to see the honour and glory of God
through the eyes of a Church which had lived three hundred years
without finding reason to change a single one of its opinions.

I should doubt whether he ever got as far as doubting the wisdom of
his Church upon any single matter. His scent for possible mischief
was tolerably keen; so was Christina's, and it is likely that if
either of them detected in him or herself the first faint symptoms
of a want of faith they were nipped no less peremptorily in the bud,
than signs of self-will in Ernest were--and I should imagine more
successfully. Yet Theobald considered himself, and was generally
considered to be, and indeed perhaps was, an exceptionally truthful
person; indeed he was generally looked upon as an embodiment of all
those virtues which make the poor respectable and the rich
respected. In the course of time he and his wife became persuaded
even to unconsciousness, that no one could even dwell under their
roof without deep cause for thankfulness. Their children, their
servants, their parishioners must be fortunate ipso facto that they
were theirs. There was no road to happiness here or hereafter, but
the road that they had themselves travelled, no good people who did
not think as they did upon every subject, and no reasonable person
who had wants the gratification of which would be inconvenient to
them--Theobald and Christina.

This was how it came to pass that their children were white and
puny; they were suffering from HOME-SICKNESS. They were starving,
through being over-crammed with the wrong things. Nature came down
upon them, but she did not come down on Theobald and Christina. Why
should she? They were not leading a starved existence. There are
two classes of people in this world, those who sin, and those who
are sinned against; if a man must belong to either, he had better
belong to the first than to the second.


I will give no more of the details of my hero's earlier years.
Enough that he struggled through them, and at twelve years old knew
every page of his Latin and Greek Grammars by heart. He had read
the greater part of Virgil, Horace and Livy, and I do not know how
many Greek plays: he was proficient in arithmetic, knew the first
four books of Euclid thoroughly, and had a fair knowledge of French.
It was now time he went to school, and to school he was accordingly
to go, under the famous Dr Skinner of Roughborough.

Theobald had known Dr Skinner slightly at Cambridge. He had been a
burning and a shining light in every position he had filled from his
boyhood upwards. He was a very great genius. Everyone knew this;
they said, indeed, that he was one of the few people to whom the
word genius could be applied without exaggeration. Had he not taken
I don't know how many University Scholarships in his freshman's
year? Had he not been afterwards Senior Wrangler, First
Chancellor's Medallist and I do not know how many more things
besides? And then, he was such a wonderful speaker; at the Union
Debating Club he had been without a rival, and had, of course, been
president; his moral character,--a point on which so many geniuses
were weak--was absolutely irreproachable; foremost of all, however,
among his many great qualities, and perhaps more remarkable even
than his genius was what biographers have called "the simple-minded
and child-like earnestness of his character," an earnestness which
might be perceived by the solemnity with which he spoke even about
trifles. It is hardly necessary to say he was on the Liberal side
in politics.

His personal appearance was not particularly prepossessing. He was
about the middle height, portly, and had a couple of fierce grey
eyes, that flashed fire from beneath a pair of great bushy beetling
eyebrows and overawed all who came near him. It was in respect of
his personal appearance, however, that, if he was vulnerable at all,
his weak place was to be found. His hair when he was a young man
was red, but after he had taken his degree he had a brain fever
which caused him to have his head shaved; when he reappeared, he did
so wearing a wig, and one which was a good deal further off red than
his own hair had been. He not only had never discarded his wig, but
year by year it had edged itself a little more and a little more off
red, till by the time he was forty, there was not a trace of red
remaining, and his wig was brown.

When Dr Skinner was a very young man, hardly more than five-and-
twenty, the head-mastership of Roughborough Grammar School had
fallen vacant, and he had been unhesitatingly appointed. The result
justified the selection. Dr Skinner's pupils distinguished
themselves at whichever University they went to. He moulded their
minds after the model of his own, and stamped an impression upon
them which was indelible in after-life; whatever else a Roughborough
man might be, he was sure to make everyone feel that he was a God-
fearing earnest Christian and a Liberal, if not a Radical, in
politics. Some boys, of course, were incapable of appreciating the
beauty and loftiness of Dr Skinner's nature. Some such boys, alas!
there will be in every school; upon them Dr Skinner's hand was very
properly a heavy one. His hand was against them, and theirs against
him during the whole time of the connection between them. They not
only disliked him, but they hated all that he more especially
embodied, and throughout their lives disliked all that reminded them
of him. Such boys, however, were in a minority, the spirit of the
place being decidedly Skinnerian.

I once had the honour of playing a game of chess with this great
man. It was during the Christmas holidays, and I had come down to
Roughborough for a few days to see Alethea Pontifex (who was then
living there) on business. It was very gracious of him to take
notice of me, for if I was a light of literature at all it was of
the very lightest kind.

It is true that in the intervals of business I had written a good
deal, but my works had been almost exclusively for the stage, and
for those theatres that devoted themselves to extravaganza and
burlesque. I had written many pieces of this description, full of
puns and comic songs, and they had had a fair success, but my best
piece had been a treatment of English history during the Reformation
period, in the course of which I had introduced Cranmer, Sir Thomas
More, Henry the Eighth, Catherine of Arragon, and Thomas Cromwell
(in his youth better known as the Malleus Monachorum), and had made
them dance a break-down. I had also dramatised "The Pilgrim's
Progress" for a Christmas Pantomime, and made an important scene of
Vanity Fair, with Mr Greatheart, Apollyon, Christiana, Mercy, and
Hopeful as the principal characters. The orchestra played music
taken from Handel's best known works, but the time was a good deal
altered, and altogether the tunes were not exactly as Handel left
them. Mr Greatheart was very stout and he had a red nose; he wore a
capacious waistcoat, and a shirt with a huge frill down the middle
of the front. Hopeful was up to as much mischief as I could give
him; he wore the costume of a young swell of the period, and had a
cigar in his mouth which was continually going out.

Christiana did not wear much of anything: indeed it was said that
the dress which the Stage Manager had originally proposed for her
had been considered inadequate even by the Lord Chamberlain, but
this is not the case. With all these delinquencies upon my mind it
was natural that I should feel convinced of sin while playing chess
(which I hate) with the great Dr Skinner of Roughborough--the
historian of Athens and editor of Demosthenes. Dr Skinner,
moreover, was one of those who pride themselves on being able to set
people at their ease at once, and I had been sitting on the edge of
my chair all the evening. But I have always been very easily
overawed by a schoolmaster.

The game had been a long one, and at half-past nine, when supper
came in, we had each of us a few pieces remaining. "What will you
take for supper, Dr Skinner?" said Mrs Skinner in a silvery voice.

He made no answer for some time, but at last in a tone of almost
superhuman solemnity, he said, first, "Nothing," and then "Nothing

By and by, however, I had a sense come over me as though I were
nearer the consummation of all things than I had ever yet been. The
room seemed to grow dark, as an expression came over Dr Skinner's
face, which showed that he was about to speak. The expression
gathered force, the room grew darker and darker. "Stay," he at
length added, and I felt that here at any rate was an end to a
suspense which was rapidly becoming unbearable. "Stay--I may
presently take a glass of cold water--and a small piece of bread and

As he said the word "butter" his voice sank to a hardly audible
whisper; then there was a sigh as though of relief when the sentence
was concluded, and the universe this time was safe.

Another ten minutes of solemn silence finished the game. The Doctor
rose briskly from his seat and placed himself at the supper table.
"Mrs Skinner," he exclaimed jauntily, "what are those mysterious-
looking objects surrounded by potatoes?"

"Those are oysters, Dr Skinner."

"Give me some, and give Overton some."

And so on till he had eaten a good plate of oysters, a scallop shell
of minced veal nicely browned, some apple tart, and a hunk of bread
and cheese. This was the small piece of bread and butter.

The cloth was now removed and tumblers with teaspoons in them, a
lemon or two and a jug of boiling water were placed upon the table.
Then the great man unbent. His face beamed.

"And what shall it be to drink?" he exclaimed persuasively. "Shall
it be brandy and water? No. It shall be gin and water. Gin is the
more wholesome liquor."

So gin it was, hot and stiff too.

Who can wonder at him or do anything but pity him? Was he not head-
master of Roughborough School? To whom had he owed money at any
time? Whose ox had he taken, whose ass had he taken, or whom had he
defrauded? What whisper had ever been breathed against his moral
character? If he had become rich it was by the most honourable of
all means--his literary attainments; over and above his great works
of scholarship, his "Meditations upon the Epistle and Character of
St Jude" had placed him among the most popular of English
theologians; it was so exhaustive that no one who bought it need
ever meditate upon the subject again--indeed it exhausted all who
had anything to do with it. He had made 5000 pounds by this work
alone, and would very likely make another 5000 pounds before he
died. A man who had done all this and wanted a piece of bread and
butter had a right to announce the fact with some pomp and
circumstance. Nor should his words be taken without searching for
what he used to call a "deeper and more hidden meaning." Those who
searched for this even in his lightest utterances would not be
without their reward. They would find that "bread and butter" was
Skinnerese for oyster-patties and apple tart, and "gin hot" the true
translation of water.

But independently of their money value, his works had made him a
lasting name in literature. So probably Gallio was under the
impression that his fame would rest upon the treatises on natural
history which we gather from Seneca that he compiled, and which for
aught we know may have contained a complete theory of evolution; but
the treatises are all gone and Gallio has become immortal for the
very last reason in the world that he expected, and for the very
last reason that would have flattered his vanity. He has become
immortal because he cared nothing about the most important movement
with which he was ever brought into connection (I wish people who
are in search of immortality would lay the lesson to heart and not
make so much noise about important movements), and so, if Dr Skinner
becomes immortal, it will probably be for some reason very different
from the one which he so fondly imagined.

Could it be expected to enter into the head of such a man as this
that in reality he was making his money by corrupting youth; that it
was his paid profession to make the worse appear the better reason
in the eyes of those who were too young and inexperienced to be able
to find him out; that he kept out of the sight of those whom he
professed to teach material points of the argument, for the
production of which they had a right to rely upon the honour of
anyone who made professions of sincerity; that he was a passionate
half-turkey-cock half-gander of a man whose sallow, bilious face and
hobble-gobble voice could scare the timid, but who would take to his
heels readily enough if he were met firmly; that his "Meditations on
St Jude," such as they were, were cribbed without acknowledgment,
and would have been beneath contempt if so many people did not
believe them to have been written honestly? Mrs Skinner might have
perhaps kept him a little more in his proper place if she had
thought it worth while to try, but she had enough to attend to in
looking after her household and seeing that the boys were well fed
and, if they were ill, properly looked after--which she took good
care they were.


Ernest had heard awful accounts of Dr Skinner's temper, and of the
bullying which the younger boys at Roughborough had to put up with
at the hands of the bigger ones. He had now got about as much as he
could stand, and felt as though it must go hard with him if his
burdens of whatever kind were to be increased. He did not cry on
leaving home, but I am afraid he did on being told that he was
getting near Roughborough. His father and mother were with him,
having posted from home in their own carriage; Roughborough had as
yet no railway, and as it was only some forty miles from Battersby,
this was the easiest way of getting there.

On seeing him cry, his mother felt flattered and caressed him. She
said she knew he must feel very sad at leaving such a happy home,
and going among people who, though they would be very good to him,
could never, never be as good as his dear papa and she had been;
still, she was herself, if he only knew it, much more deserving of
pity than he was, for the parting was more painful to her than it
could possibly be to him, etc., and Ernest, on being told that his
tears were for grief at leaving home, took it all on trust, and did
not trouble to investigate the real cause of his tears. As they
approached Roughborough he pulled himself together, and was fairly
calm by the time he reached Dr Skinner's.

On their arrival they had luncheon with the Doctor and his wife, and
then Mrs Skinner took Christina over the bedrooms, and showed her
where her dear little boy was to sleep.

Whatever men may think about the study of man, women do really
believe the noblest study for womankind to be woman, and Christina
was too much engrossed with Mrs Skinner to pay much attention to
anything else; I daresay Mrs Skinner, too, was taking pretty
accurate stock of Christina. Christina was charmed, as indeed she
generally was with any new acquaintance, for she found in them (and
so must we all) something of the nature of a cross; as for Mrs
Skinner, I imagine she had seen too many Christinas to find much
regeneration in the sample now before her; I believe her private
opinion echoed the dictum of a well-known head-master who declared
that all parents were fools, but more especially mothers; she was,
however, all smiles and sweetness, and Christina devoured these
graciously as tributes paid more particularly to herself, and such
as no other mother would have been at all likely to have won.

In the meantime Theobald and Ernest were with Dr Skinner in his
library--the room where new boys were examined and old ones had up
for rebuke or chastisement. If the walls of that room could speak,
what an amount of blundering and capricious cruelty would they not
bear witness to!

Like all houses, Dr Skinner's had its peculiar smell. In this case
the prevailing odour was one of Russia leather, but along with it
there was a subordinate savour as of a chemist's shop. This came
from a small laboratory in one corner of the room--the possession of
which, together with the free chattery and smattery use of such
words as "carbonate," "hyposulphite," "phosphate," and "affinity,"
were enough to convince even the most sceptical that Dr Skinner had
a profound knowledge of chemistry.

I may say in passing that Dr Skinner had dabbled in a great many
other things as well as chemistry. He was a man of many small
knowledges, and each of them dangerous. I remember Alethea Pontifex
once said in her wicked way to me, that Dr Skinner put her in mind
of the Bourbon princes on their return from exile after the battle
of Waterloo, only that he was their exact converse; for whereas they
had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, Dr Skinner had learned
everything and forgotten everything. And this puts me in mind of
another of her wicked sayings about Dr Skinner. She told me one day
that he had the harmlessness of the serpent and the wisdom of the

But to return to Dr Skinner's library; over the chimney-piece there
was a Bishop's half length portrait of Dr Skinner himself, painted
by the elder Pickersgill, whose merit Dr Skinner had been among the
first to discern and foster. There were no other pictures in the
library, but in the dining-room there was a fine collection, which
the doctor had got together with his usual consummate taste. He
added to it largely in later life, and when it came to the hammer at
Christie's, as it did not long since, it was found to comprise many
of the latest and most matured works of Solomon Hart, O'Neil,
Charles Landseer, and more of our recent Academicians than I can at
the moment remember. There were thus brought together and exhibited
at one view many works which had attracted attention at the Academy
Exhibitions, and as to whose ultimate destiny there had been some
curiosity. The prices realised were disappointing to the executors,
but, then, these things are so much a matter of chance. An
unscrupulous writer in a well-known weekly paper had written the
collection down. Moreover there had been one or two large sales a
short time before Dr Skinner's, so that at this last there was
rather a panic, and a reaction against the high prices that had
ruled lately.

The table of the library was loaded with books many deep; MSS. of
all kinds were confusedly mixed up with them,--boys' exercises,
probably, and examination papers--but all littering untidily about.
The room in fact was as depressing from its slatternliness as from
its atmosphere of erudition. Theobald and Ernest as they entered
it, stumbled over a large hole in the Turkey carpet, and the dust
that rose showed how long it was since it had been taken up and
beaten. This, I should say, was no fault of Mrs Skinner's but was
due to the Doctor himself, who declared that if his papers were once
disturbed it would be the death of him. Near the window was a green
cage containing a pair of turtle doves, whose plaintive cooing added
to the melancholy of the place. The walls were covered with book
shelves from floor to ceiling, and on every shelf the books stood in
double rows. It was horrible. Prominent among the most prominent
upon the most prominent shelf were a series of splendidly bound
volumes entitled "Skinner's Works."

Boys are sadly apt to rush to conclusions, and Ernest believed that
Dr Skinner knew all the books in this terrible library, and that he,
if he were to be any good, should have to learn them too. His heart
fainted within him.

He was told to sit on a chair against the wall and did so, while Dr
Skinner talked to Theobald upon the topics of the day. He talked
about the Hampden Controversy then raging, and discoursed learnedly
about "Praemunire"; then he talked about the revolution which had
just broken out in Sicily, and rejoiced that the Pope had refused to
allow foreign troops to pass through his dominions in order to crush
it. Dr Skinner and the other masters took in the Times among them,
and Dr Skinner echoed the Times' leaders. In those days there were
no penny papers and Theobald only took in the Spectator--for he was
at that time on the Whig side in politics; besides this he used to
receive the Ecclesiastical Gazette once a month, but he saw no other
papers, and was amazed at the ease and fluency with which Dr Skinner
ran from subject to subject.

The Pope's action in the matter of the Sicilian revolution naturally
led the Doctor to the reforms which his Holiness had introduced into
his dominions, and he laughed consumedly over the joke which had not
long since appeared in Punch, to the effect that Pio "No, No,"
should rather have been named Pio "Yes, Yes," because, as the doctor
explained, he granted everything his subjects asked for. Anything
like a pun went straight to Dr Skinner's heart.

Then he went on to the matter of these reforms themselves. They
opened up a new era in the history of Christendom, and would have
such momentous and far-reaching consequences, that they might even
lead to a reconciliation between the Churches of England and Rome.
Dr Skinner had lately published a pamphlet upon this subject, which
had shown great learning, and had attacked the Church of Rome in a
way which did not promise much hope of reconciliation. He had
grounded his attack upon the letters A.M.D.G., which he had seen
outside a Roman Catholic chapel, and which of course stood for Ad
Mariam Dei Genetricem. Could anything be more idolatrous?

I am told, by the way, that I must have let my memory play me one of
the tricks it often does play me, when I said the Doctor proposed Ad
Mariam Dei Genetricem as the full harmonies, so to speak, which
should be constructed upon the bass A.M.D.G., for that this is bad
Latin, and that the doctor really harmonised the letters thus: Ave
Maria Dei Genetrix. No doubt the doctor did what was right in the
matter of Latinity--I have forgotten the little Latin I ever knew,
and am not going to look the matter up, but I believe the doctor
said Ad Mariam Dei Genetricem, and if so we may be sure that Ad
Mariam Dei Genetricem, is good enough Latin at any rate for
ecclesiastical purposes.

The reply of the local priest had not yet appeared, and Dr Skinner
was jubilant, but when the answer appeared, and it was solemnly
declared that A.M.D.G. stood for nothing more dangerous than Ad
Majorem Dei Gloriam, it was felt that though this subterfuge would
not succeed with any intelligent Englishman, still it was a pity Dr
Skinner had selected this particular point for his attack, for he
had to leave his enemy in possession of the field. When people are
left in possession of the field, spectators have an awkward habit of
thinking that their adversary does not dare to come to the scratch.

Dr Skinner was telling Theobald all about his pamphlet, and I doubt
whether this gentleman was much more comfortable than Ernest
himself. He was bored, for in his heart he hated Liberalism, though
he was ashamed to say so, and, as I have said, professed to be on
the Whig side. He did not want to be reconciled to the Church of
Rome; he wanted to make all Roman Catholics turn Protestants, and
could never understand why they would not do so; but the Doctor
talked in such a truly liberal spirit, and shut him up so sharply
when he tried to edge in a word or two, that he had to let him have
it all his own way, and this was not what he was accustomed to. He
was wondering how he could bring it to an end, when a diversion was
created by the discovery that Ernest had begun to cry--doubtless
through an intense but inarticulate sense of a boredom greater than
he could bear. He was evidently in a highly nervous state, and a
good deal upset by the excitement of the morning, Mrs Skinner
therefore, who came in with Christina at this juncture, proposed
that he should spend the afternoon with Mrs Jay, the matron, and not
be introduced to his young companions until the following morning.
His father and mother now bade him an affectionate farewell, and the
lad was handed over to Mrs Jay.

O schoolmasters--if any of you read this book--bear in mind when any
particularly timid drivelling urchin is brought by his papa into
your study, and you treat him with the contempt which he deserves,
and afterwards make his life a burden to him for years--bear in mind
that it is exactly in the disguise of such a boy as this that your
future chronicler will appear. Never see a wretched little heavy-
eyed mite sitting on the edge of a chair against your study wall
without saying to yourselves, "perhaps this boy is he who, if I am
not careful, will one day tell the world what manner of man I was."
If even two or three schoolmasters learn this lesson and remember
it, the preceding chapters will not have been written in vain.


Soon after his father and mother had left him Ernest dropped asleep
over a book which Mrs Jay had given him, and he did not awake till
dusk. Then he sat down on a stool in front of the fire, which
showed pleasantly in the late January twilight, and began to muse.
He felt weak, feeble, ill at ease and unable to see his way out of
the innumerable troubles that were before him. Perhaps, he said to
himself, he might even die, but this, far from being an end of his
troubles, would prove the beginning of new ones; for at the best he
would only go to Grandpapa Pontifex and Grandmamma Allaby, and
though they would perhaps be more easy to get on with than Papa and
Mamma, yet they were undoubtedly not so really good, and were more
worldly; moreover they were grown-up people--especially Grandpapa
Pontifex, who so far as he could understand had been very much
grown-up, and he did not know why, but there was always something
that kept him from loving any grown-up people very much--except one
or two of the servants, who had indeed been as nice as anything that
he could imagine. Besides even if he were to die and go to Heaven
he supposed he should have to complete his education somewhere.

In the meantime his father and mother were rolling along the muddy
roads, each in his or her own corner of the carriage, and each
revolving many things which were and were not to come to pass.
Times have changed since I last showed them to the reader as sitting
together silently in a carriage, but except as regards their mutual
relations, they have altered singularly little. When I was younger
I used to think the Prayer Book was wrong in requiring us to say the
General Confession twice a week from childhood to old age, without
making provision for our not being quite such great sinners at
seventy as we had been at seven; granted that we should go to the
wash like table-cloths at least once a week, still I used to think a
day ought to come when we should want rather less rubbing and
scrubbing at. Now that I have grown older myself I have seen that
the Church has estimated probabilities better than I had done.

The pair said not a word to one another, but watched the fading
light and naked trees, the brown fields with here and there a
melancholy cottage by the road side, and the rain that fell fast
upon the carriage windows. It was a kind of afternoon on which nice
people for the most part like to be snug at home, and Theobald was a
little snappish at reflecting how many miles he had to post before
he could be at his own fireside again. However there was nothing
for it, so the pair sat quietly and watched the roadside objects
flit by them, and get greyer and grimmer as the light faded.

Though they spoke not to one another, there was one nearer to each
of them with whom they could converse freely. "I hope," said
Theobald to himself, "I hope he'll work--or else that Skinner will
make him. I don't like Skinner, I never did like him, but he is
unquestionably a man of genius, and no one turns out so many pupils
who succeed at Oxford and Cambridge, and that is the best test. I
have done my share towards starting him well. Skinner said he had
been well grounded and was very forward. I suppose he will presume
upon it now and do nothing, for his nature is an idle one. He is
not fond of me, I'm sure he is not. He ought to be after all the
trouble I have taken with him, but he is ungrateful and selfish. It
is an unnatural thing for a boy not to be fond of his own father.
If he was fond of me I should be fond of him, but I cannot like a
son who, I am sure, dislikes me. He shrinks out of my way whenever
he sees me coming near him. He will not stay five minutes in the
same room with me if he can help it. He is deceitful. He would not
want to hide himself away so much if he were not deceitful. That is
a bad sign and one which makes me fear he will grow up extravagant.
I am sure he will grow up extravagant. I should have given him more
pocket-money if I had not known this--but what is the good of giving
him pocket-money? It is all gone directly. If he doesn't buy
something with it he gives it away to the first little boy or girl
he sees who takes his fancy. He forgets that it's my money he is
giving away. I give him money that he may have money and learn to
know its uses, not that he may go and squander it immediately. I
wish he was not so fond of music, it will interfere with his Latin
and Greek. I will stop it as much as I can. Why, when he was
translating Livy the other day he slipped out Handel's name in
mistake for Hannibal's, and his mother tells me he knows half the
tunes in the 'Messiah' by heart. What should a boy of his age know
about the 'Messiah'? If I had shown half as many dangerous
tendencies when I was a boy, my father would have apprenticed me to
a greengrocer, of that I'm very sure," etc., etc.

Then his thoughts turned to Egypt and the tenth plague. It seemed
to him that if the little Egyptians had been anything like Ernest,
the plague must have been something very like a blessing in
disguise. If the Israelites were to come to England now he should
be greatly tempted not to let them go.

Mrs Theobald's thoughts ran in a different current. "Lord
Lonsford's grandson--it's a pity his name is Figgins; however, blood
is blood as much through the female line as the male, indeed,
perhaps even more so if the truth were known. I wonder who Mr
Figgins was. I think Mrs Skinner said he was dead, however, I must
find out all about him. It would be delightful if young Figgins
were to ask Ernest home for the holidays. Who knows but he might
meet Lord Lonsford himself, or at any rate some of Lord Lonsford's
other descendants?"

Meanwhile the boy himself was still sitting moodily before the fire
in Mrs Jay's room. "Papa and Mamma," he was saying to himself, "are
much better and cleverer than anyone else, but, I, alas! shall never
be either good or clever."

Mrs Pontifex continued -

"Perhaps it would be best to get young Figgins on a visit to
ourselves first. That would be charming. Theobald would not like
it, for he does not like children; I must see how I can manage it,
for it would be so nice to have young Figgins--or stay! Ernest
shall go and stay with Figgins and meet the future Lord Lonsford,
who I should think must be about Ernest's age, and then if he and
Ernest were to become friends Ernest might ask him to Battersby, and
he might fall in love with Charlotte. I think we have done MOST
WISELY in sending Ernest to Dr Skinner's. Dr Skinner's piety is no
less remarkable than his genius. One can tell these things at a
glance, and he must have felt it about me no less strongly than I
about him. I think he seemed much struck with Theobald and myself--
indeed, Theobald's intellectual power must impress any one, and I
was showing, I do believe, to my best advantage. When I smiled at
him and said I left my boy in his hands with the most entire
confidence that he would be as well cared for as if he were at my
own house, I am sure he was greatly pleased. I should not think
many of the mothers who bring him boys can impress him so
favourably, or say such nice things to him as I did. My smile is
sweet when I desire to make it so. I never was perhaps exactly
pretty, but I was always admitted to be fascinating. Dr Skinner is
a very handsome man--too good on the whole I should say for Mrs
Skinner. Theobald says he is not handsome, but men are no judges,
and he has such a pleasant bright face. I think my bonnet became
me. As soon as I get home I will tell Chambers to trim my blue and
yellow merino with--" etc., etc.

All this time the letter which has been given above was lying in
Christina's private little Japanese cabinet, read and re-read and
approved of many times over, not to say, if the truth were known,
rewritten more than once, though dated as in the first instance--and
this, too, though Christina was fond enough of a joke in a small

Ernest, still in Mrs Jay's room mused onward. "Grown-up people," he
said to himself, "when they were ladies and gentlemen, never did
naughty things, but he was always doing them. He had heard that
some grown-up people were worldly, which of course was wrong, still
this was quite distinct from being naughty, and did not get them
punished or scolded. His own Papa and Mamma were not even worldly;
they had often explained to him that they were exceptionally
unworldly; he well knew that they had never done anything naughty
since they had been children, and that even as children they had
been nearly faultless. Oh! how different from himself! When should
he learn to love his Papa and Mamma as they had loved theirs? How
could he hope ever to grow up to be as good and wise as they, or
even tolerably good and wise? Alas! never. It could not be. He
did not love his Papa and Mamma, in spite of all their goodness both
in themselves and to him. He hated Papa, and did not like Mamma,
and this was what none but a bad and ungrateful boy would do after
all that had been done for him. Besides he did not like Sunday; he
did not like anything that was really good; his tastes were low and
such as he was ashamed of. He liked people best if they sometimes
swore a little, so long as it was not at him. As for his Catechism
and Bible readings he had no heart in them. He had never attended
to a sermon in his life. Even when he had been taken to hear Mr
Vaughan at Brighton, who, as everyone knew, preached such beautiful
sermons for children, he had been very glad when it was all over,
nor did he believe he could get through church at all if it was not
for the voluntary upon the organ and the hymns and chanting. The
Catechism was awful. He had never been able to understand what it
was that he desired of his Lord God and Heavenly Father, nor had he
yet got hold of a single idea in connection with the word Sacrament.
His duty towards his neighbour was another bugbear. It seemed to
him that he had duties towards everybody, lying in wait for him upon
every side, but that nobody had any duties towards him. Then there
was that awful and mysterious word 'business.' What did it all
mean? What was 'business'? His Papa was a wonderfully good man of
business, his Mamma had often told him so--but he should never be
one. It was hopeless, and very awful, for people were continually
telling him that he would have to earn his own living. No doubt,
but how--considering how stupid, idle, ignorant, self-indulgent, and
physically puny he was? All grown-up people were clever, except
servants--and even these were cleverer than ever he should be. Oh,
why, why, why, could not people be born into the world as grown-up
persons? Then he thought of Casabianca. He had been examined in
that poem by his father not long before. 'When only would he leave
his position? To whom did he call? Did he get an answer? Why?
How many times did he call upon his father? What happened to him?
What was the noblest life that perished there? Do you think so?
Why do you think so?' And all the rest of it. Of course he thought
Casabianca's was the noblest life that perished there; there could
be no two opinions about that; it never occurred to him that the
moral of the poem was that young people cannot begin too soon to
exercise discretion in the obedience they pay to their Papa and
Mamma. Oh, no! the only thought in his mind was that he should
never, never have been like Casabianca, and that Casabianca would
have despised him so much, if he could have known him, that he would
not have condescended to speak to him. There was nobody else in the
ship worth reckoning at all: it did not matter how much they were
blown up. Mrs Hemans knew them all and they were a very indifferent
lot. Besides Casabianca was so good-looking and came of such a good

And thus his small mind kept wandering on till he could follow it no
longer, and again went off into a doze.


Next morning Theobald and Christina arose feeling a little tired
from their journey, but happy in that best of all happiness, the
approbation of their consciences. It would be their boy's fault
henceforth if he were not good, and as prosperous as it was at all
desirable that he should be. What more could parents do than they
had done? The answer "Nothing" will rise as readily to the lips of
the reader as to those of Theobald and Christina themselves.

A few days later the parents were gratified at receiving the
following letter from their son -

"My Dear Mamma,--I am very well. Dr Skinner made me do about the
horse free and exulting roaming in the wide fields in Latin verse,
but as I had done it with Papa I knew how to do it, and it was
nearly all right, and he put me in the fourth form under Mr Templer,
and I have to begin a new Latin grammar not like the old, but much
harder. I know you wish me to work, and I will try very hard. With
best love to Joey and Charlotte, and to Papa, I remain, your
affectionate son, ERNEST."

Nothing could be nicer or more proper. It really did seem as though
he were inclined to turn over a new leaf. The boys had all come
back, the examinations were over, and the routine of the half year
began; Ernest found that his fears about being kicked about and
bullied were exaggerated. Nobody did anything very dreadful to him.
He had to run errands between certain hours for the elder boys, and
to take his turn at greasing the footballs, and so forth, but there
was an excellent spirit in the school as regards bullying.

Nevertheless, he was far from happy. Dr Skinner was much too like
his father. True, Ernest was not thrown in with him much yet, but
he was always there; there was no knowing at what moment he might
not put in an appearance, and whenever he did show, it was to storm
about something. He was like the lion in the Bishop of Oxford's
Sunday story--always liable to rush out from behind some bush and
devour some one when he was least expected. He called Ernest "an
audacious reptile" and said he wondered the earth did not open and
swallow him up because he pronounced Thalia with a short i. "And
this to me," he thundered, "who never made a false quantity in my
life." Surely he would have been a much nicer person if he had made
false quantities in his youth like other people. Ernest could not
imagine how the boys in Dr Skinner's form continued to live; but yet
they did, and even throve, and, strange as it may seem, idolised
him, or professed to do so in after life. To Ernest it seemed like
living on the crater of Vesuvius.

He was himself, as has been said, in Mr Templer's form, who was
snappish, but not downright wicked, and was very easy to crib under.
Ernest used to wonder how Mr Templer could be so blind, for he
supposed Mr Templer must have cribbed when he was at school, and
would ask himself whether he should forget his youth when he got
old, as Mr Templer had forgotten his. He used to think he never
could possibly forget any part of it.

Then there was Mrs Jay, who was sometimes very alarming. A few days
after the half year had commenced, there being some little extra
noise in the hall, she rushed in with her spectacles on her forehead
and her cap strings flying, and called the boy whom Ernest had
selected as his hero the "rampingest--scampingest--rackety--tackety-
-tow -row-roaringest boy in the whole school." But she used to say
things that Ernest liked. If the Doctor went out to dinner, and
there were no prayers, she would come in and say, "Young gentlemen,
prayers are excused this evening"; and, take her for all in all, she
was a kindly old soul enough.

Most boys soon discover the difference between noise and actual
danger, but to others it is so unnatural to menace, unless they mean
mischief, that they are long before they leave off taking turkey-
cocks and ganders au serieux. Ernest was one of the latter sort,
and found the atmosphere of Roughborough so gusty that he was glad
to shrink out of sight and out of mind whenever he could. He
disliked the games worse even than the squalls of the class-room and
hall, for he was still feeble, not filling out and attaining his
full strength till a much later age than most boys. This was
perhaps due to the closeness with which his father had kept him to
his books in childhood, but I think in part also to a tendency
towards lateness in attaining maturity, hereditary in the Pontifex
family, which was one also of unusual longevity. At thirteen or
fourteen he was a mere bag of bones, with upper arms about as thick
as the wrists of other boys of his age; his little chest was pigeon-
breasted; he appeared to have no strength or stamina whatever, and
finding he always went to the wall in physical encounters, whether
undertaken in jest or earnest, even with boys shorter than himself,
the timidity natural to childhood increased upon him to an extent
that I am afraid amounted to cowardice. This rendered him even less
capable than he might otherwise have been, for as confidence
increases power, so want of confidence increases impotence. After
he had had the breath knocked out of him and been well shinned half
a dozen times in scrimmages at football--scrimmages in which he had
become involved sorely against his will--he ceased to see any
further fun in football, and shirked that noble game in a way that
got him into trouble with the elder boys, who would stand no
shirking on the part of the younger ones.

He was as useless and ill at ease with cricket as with football, nor
in spite of all his efforts could he ever throw a ball or a stone.
It soon became plain, therefore, to everyone that Pontifex was a
young muff, a mollycoddle, not to be tortured, but still not to be
rated highly. He was not however, actively unpopular, for it was
seen that he was quite square inter pares, not at all vindictive,
easily pleased, perfectly free with whatever little money he had, no
greater lover of his school work than of the games, and generally
more inclinable to moderate vice than to immoderate virtue.

These qualities will prevent any boy from sinking very low in the
opinion of his school-fellows; but Ernest thought he had fallen
lower than he probably had, and hated and despised himself for what
he, as much as anyone else, believed to be his cowardice. He did
not like the boys whom he thought like himself. His heroes were
strong and vigorous, and the less they inclined towards him the more
he worshipped them. All this made him very unhappy, for it never
occurred to him that the instinct which made him keep out of games
for which he was ill adapted, was more reasonable than the reason
which would have driven him into them. Nevertheless he followed his
instinct for the most part, rather than his reason. Sapiens suam si
sapientiam norit.


With the masters Ernest was ere long in absolute disgrace. He had
more liberty now than he had known heretofore. The heavy hand and
watchful eye of Theobald were no longer about his path and about his
bed and spying out all his ways; and punishment by way of copying
out lines of Virgil was a very different thing from the savage
beatings of his father. The copying out in fact was often less
trouble than the lesson. Latin and Greek had nothing in them which
commended them to his instinct as likely to bring him peace even at
the last; still less did they hold out any hope of doing so within
some more reasonable time. The deadness inherent in these defunct
languages themselves had never been artificially counteracted by a
system of bona fide rewards for application. There had been any
amount of punishments for want of application, but no good
comfortable bribes had baited the hook which was to allure him to
his good.

Indeed, the more pleasant side of learning to do this or that had
always been treated as something with which Ernest had no concern.
We had no business with pleasant things at all, at any rate very
little business, at any rate not he, Ernest. We were put into this
world not for pleasure but duty, and pleasure had in it something
more or less sinful in its very essence. If we were doing anything
we liked, we, or at any rate he, Ernest, should apologise and think
he was being very mercifully dealt with, if not at once told to go
and do something else. With what he did not like, however, it was
different; the more he disliked a thing the greater the presumption
that it was right. It never occurred to him that the presumption
was in favour of the rightness of what was most pleasant, and that
the onus of proving that it was not right lay with those who
disputed its being so. I have said more than once that he believed
in his own depravity; never was there a little mortal more ready to
accept without cavil whatever he was told by those who were in
authority over him: he thought, at least, that he believed it, for
as yet he knew nothing of that other Ernest that dwelt within him,
and was so much stronger and more real than the Ernest of which he
was conscious. The dumb Ernest persuaded with inarticulate feelings
too swift and sure to be translated into such debateable things as
words, but practically insisted as follows -

"Growing is not the easy plain sailing business that it is commonly
supposed to be: it is hard work--harder than any but a growing boy
can understand; it requires attention, and you are not strong enough
to attend to your bodily growth, and to your lessons too. Besides,
Latin and Greek are great humbug; the more people know of them the
more odious they generally are; the nice people whom you delight in
either never knew any at all or forgot what they had learned as soon
as they could; they never turned to the classics after they were no
longer forced to read them; therefore they are nonsense, all very
well in their own time and country, but out of place here. Never
learn anything until you find you have been made uncomfortable for a
good long while by not knowing it; when you find that you have
occasion for this or that knowledge, or foresee that you will have
occasion for it shortly, the sooner you learn it the better, but
till then spend your time in growing bone and muscle; these will be
much more useful to you than Latin and Greek, nor will you ever be
able to make them if you do not do so now, whereas Latin and Greek
can be acquired at any time by those who want them.

"You are surrounded on every side by lies which would deceive even
the elect, if the elect were not generally so uncommonly wide awake;
the self of which you are conscious, your reasoning and reflecting
self, will believe these lies and bid you act in accordance with
them. This conscious self of yours, Ernest, is a prig begotten of
prigs and trained in priggishness; I will not allow it to shape your
actions, though it will doubtless shape your words for many a year
to come. Your papa is not here to beat you now; this is a change in
the conditions of your existence, and should be followed by changed
actions. Obey me, your true self, and things will go tolerably well
with you, but only listen to that outward and visible old husk of
yours which is called your father, and I will rend you in pieces
even unto the third and fourth generation as one who has hated God;
for I, Ernest, am the God who made you."

How shocked Ernest would have been if he could have heard the advice
he was receiving; what consternation too there would have been at
Battersby; but the matter did not end here, for this same wicked
inner self gave him bad advice about his pocket money, the choice of
his companions and on the whole Ernest was attentive and obedient to
its behests, more so than Theobald had been. The consequence was
that he learned little, his mind growing more slowly and his body
rather faster than heretofore: and when by and by his inner self
urged him in directions where he met obstacles beyond his strength
to combat, he took--though with passionate compunctions of
conscience--the nearest course to the one from which he was debarred
which circumstances would allow.

It may be guessed that Ernest was not the chosen friend of the more
sedate and well-conducted youths then studying at Roughborough.
Some of the less desirable boys used to go to public-houses and
drink more beer than was good for them; Ernest's inner self can
hardly have told him to ally himself to these young gentlemen, but
he did so at an early age, and was sometimes made pitiably sick by
an amount of beer which would have produced no effect upon a
stronger boy. Ernest's inner self must have interposed at this
point and told him that there was not much fun in this, for he
dropped the habit ere it had taken firm hold of him, and never
resumed it; but he contracted another at the disgracefully early age
of between thirteen and fourteen which he did not relinquish, though
to the present day his conscious self keeps dinging it into him that
the less he smokes the better.

And so matters went on till my hero was nearly fourteen years old.
If by that time he was not actually a young blackguard, he belonged
to a debateable class between the sub-reputable and the upper
disreputable, with perhaps rather more leaning to the latter except
so far as vices of meanness were concerned, from which he was fairly
free. I gather this partly from what Ernest has told me, and partly
from his school bills which I remember Theobald showed me with much
complaining. There was an institution at Roughborough called the
monthly merit money; the maximum sum which a boy of Ernest's age
could get was four shillings and sixpence; several boys got four
shillings and few less than sixpence, but Ernest never got more than
half-a-crown and seldom more than eighteen pence; his average would,
I should think, be about one and nine pence, which was just too much
for him to rank among the downright bad boys, but too little to put
him among the good ones.


I must now return to Miss Alethea Pontifex, of whom I have said
perhaps too little hitherto, considering how great her influence
upon my hero's destiny proved to be.

On the death of her father, which happened when she was about
thirty-two years old, she parted company with her sisters, between
whom and herself there had been little sympathy, and came up to
London. She was determined, so she said, to make the rest of her
life as happy as she could, and she had clearer ideas about the best
way of setting to work to do this than women, or indeed men,
generally have.

Her fortune consisted, as I have said, of 5000 pounds, which had
come to her by her mother's marriage settlements, and 15,000 pounds
left her by her father, over both which sums she had now absolute
control. These brought her in about 900 pounds a year, and the
money being invested in none but the soundest securities, she had no
anxiety about her income. She meant to be rich, so she formed a
scheme of expenditure which involved an annual outlay of about 500
pounds, and determined to put the rest by. "If I do this," she said
laughingly, "I shall probably just succeed in living comfortably
within my income." In accordance with this scheme she took
unfurnished apartments in a house in Gower Street, of which the
lower floors were let out as offices. John Pontifex tried to get
her to take a house to herself, but Alethea told him to mind his own
business so plainly that he had to beat a retreat. She had never
liked him, and from that time dropped him almost entirely.

Without going much into society she yet became acquainted with most
of the men and women who had attained a position in the literary,
artistic and scientific worlds, and it was singular how highly her
opinion was valued in spite of her never having attempted in any way
to distinguish herself. She could have written if she had chosen,
but she enjoyed seeing others write and encouraging them better than
taking a more active part herself. Perhaps literary people liked
her all the better because she did not write.

I, as she very well knew, had always been devoted to her, and she
might have had a score of other admirers if she had liked, but she
had discouraged them all, and railed at matrimony as women seldom do
unless they have a comfortable income of their own. She by no
means, however, railed at man as she railed at matrimony, and though
living after a fashion in which even the most censorious could find
nothing to complain of, as far as she properly could she defended
those of her own sex whom the world condemned most severely.

In religion she was, I should think, as nearly a free-thinker as
anyone could be whose mind seldom turned upon the subject. She went
to church, but disliked equally those who aired either religion or
irreligion. I remember once hearing her press a late well-known
philosopher to write a novel instead of pursuing his attacks upon
religion. The philosopher did not much like this, and dilated upon
the importance of showing people the folly of much that they
pretended to believe. She smiled and said demurely, "Have they not
Moses and the prophets? Let them hear them." But she would say a
wicked thing quietly on her own account sometimes, and called my
attention once to a note in her prayer-book which gave account of
the walk to Emmaus with the two disciples, and how Christ had said
to them "O fools and slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets
have spoken"--the "all" being printed in small capitals.

Though scarcely on terms with her brother John, she had kept up
closer relations with Theobald and his family, and had paid a few
days' visit to Battersby once in every two years or so. Alethea had
always tried to like Theobald and join forces with him as much as
she could (for they two were the hares of the family, the rest being
all hounds), but it was no use. I believe her chief reason for
maintaining relations with her brother was that she might keep an
eye on his children and give them a lift if they proved nice.

When Miss Pontifex had come down to Battersby in old times the
children had not been beaten, and their lessons had been made
lighter. She easily saw that they were overworked and unhappy, but
she could hardly guess how all-reaching was the regime under which
they lived. She knew she could not interfere effectually then, and
wisely forbore to make too many enquiries. Her time, if ever it was
to come, would be when the children were no longer living under the
same roof as their parents. It ended in her making up her mind to
have nothing to do with either Joey or Charlotte, but to see so much
of Ernest as should enable her to form an opinion about his
disposition and abilities.

He had now been a year and a half at Roughborough and was nearly
fourteen years old, so that his character had begun to shape. His
aunt had not seen him for some little time and, thinking that if she
was to exploit him she could do so now perhaps better than at any
other time, she resolved to go down to Roughborough on some pretext
which should be good enough for Theobald, and to take stock of her
nephew under circumstances in which she could get him for some few
hours to herself. Accordingly in August 1849, when Ernest was just
entering on his fourth half year a cab drove up to Dr Skinner's door
with Miss Pontifex, who asked and obtained leave for Ernest to come
and dine with her at the Swan Hotel. She had written to Ernest to
say she was coming and he was of course on the look-out for her. He
had not seen her for so long that he was rather shy at first, but
her good nature soon set him at his ease. She was so strongly
biassed in favour of anything young that her heart warmed towards
him at once, though his appearance was less prepossessing than she
had hoped. She took him to a cake shop and gave him whatever he
liked as soon as she had got him off the school premises; and Ernest
felt at once that she contrasted favourably even with his aunts the
Misses Allaby, who were so very sweet and good. The Misses Allaby
were very poor; sixpence was to them what five shillings was to
Alethea. What chance had they against one who, if she had a mind,
could put by out of her income twice as much as they, poor women,
could spend?

The boy had plenty of prattle in him when he was not snubbed, and
Alethea encouraged him to chatter about whatever came uppermost. He
was always ready to trust anyone who was kind to him; it took many
years to make him reasonably wary in this respect--if indeed, as I
sometimes doubt, he ever will be as wary as he ought to be--and in a
short time he had quite dissociated his aunt from his papa and mamma
and the rest, with whom his instinct told him he should be on his
guard. Little did he know how great, as far as he was concerned,
were the issues that depended upon his behaviour. If he had known,
he would perhaps have played his part less successfully.

His aunt drew from him more details of his home and school life than
his papa and mamma would have approved of, but he had no idea that
he was being pumped. She got out of him all about the happy Sunday
evenings, and how he and Joey and Charlotte quarrelled sometimes,
but she took no side and treated everything as though it were a
matter of course. Like all the boys, he could mimic Dr Skinner, and
when warmed with dinner, and two glasses of sherry which made him
nearly tipsy, he favoured his aunt with samples of the Doctor's
manner and spoke of him familiarly as "Sam."

"Sam," he said, "is an awful old humbug." It was the sherry that
brought out this piece of swagger, for whatever else he was Dr
Skinner was a reality to Master Ernest, before which, indeed, he
sank into his boots in no time. Alethea smiled and said, "I must
not say anything to that, must I?" Ernest said, "I suppose not,"
and was checked. By-and-by he vented a number of small second-hand
priggishnesses which he had caught up believing them to be the
correct thing, and made it plain that even at that early age Ernest
believed in Ernest with a belief which was amusing from its
absurdity. His aunt judged him charitably as she was sure to do;
she knew very well where the priggishness came from, and seeing that
the string of his tongue had been loosened sufficiently gave him no
more sherry.

It was after dinner, however, that he completed the conquest of his
aunt. She then discovered that, like herself, he was passionately
fond of music, and that, too, of the highest class. He knew, and
hummed or whistled to her all sorts of pieces out of the works of
the great masters, which a boy of his age could hardly be expected
to know, and it was evident that this was purely instinctive,
inasmuch as music received no kind of encouragement at Roughborough.
There was no boy in the school as fond of music as he was. He
picked up his knowledge, he said, from the organist of St Michael's
Church who used to practise sometimes on a week-day afternoon.
Ernest had heard the organ booming away as he was passing outside
the church and had sneaked inside and up into the organ loft. In
the course of time the organist became accustomed to him as a
familiar visitant, and the pair became friends.

It was this which decided Alethea that the boy was worth taking
pains with. "He likes the best music," she thought, "and he hates
Dr Skinner. This is a very fair beginning." When she sent him away
at night with a sovereign in his pocket (and he had only hoped to
get five shillings) she felt as though she had had a good deal more
than her money's worth for her money.


Next day Miss Pontifex returned to town, with her thoughts full of
her nephew and how she could best be of use to him.

It appeared to her that to do him any real service she must devote
herself almost entirely to him; she must in fact give up living in
London, at any rate for a long time, and live at Roughborough where
she could see him continually. This was a serious undertaking; she
had lived in London for the last twelve years, and naturally
disliked the prospect of a small country town such as Roughborough.
Was it a prudent thing to attempt so much? Must not people take
their chances in this world? Can anyone do much for anyone else
unless by making a will in his favour and dying then and there?
Should not each look after his own happiness, and will not the world
be best carried on if everyone minds his own business and leaves
other people to mind theirs? Life is not a donkey race in which
everyone is to ride his neighbour's donkey and the last is to win,
and the psalmist long since formulated a common experience when he
declared that no man may deliver his brother nor make agreement unto
God for him, for it cost more to redeem their souls, so that he must
let that alone for ever.

All these excellent reasons for letting her nephew alone occurred to
her, and many more, but against them there pleaded a woman's love
for children, and her desire to find someone among the younger
branches of her own family to whom she could become warmly attached,
and whom she could attach warmly to herself.

Over and above this she wanted someone to leave her money to; she
was not going to leave it to people about whom she knew very little,
merely because they happened to be sons and daughters of brothers
and sisters whom she had never liked. She knew the power and value
of money exceedingly well, and how many lovable people suffer and
die yearly for the want of it; she was little likely to leave it
without being satisfied that her legatees were square, lovable, and
more or less hard up. She wanted those to have it who would be most
likely to use it genially and sensibly, and whom it would thus be
likely to make most happy; if she could find one such among her
nephews and nieces, so much the better; it was worth taking a great
deal of pains to see whether she could or could not; but if she
failed, she must find an heir who was not related to her by blood.

"Of course," she had said to me, more than once, "I shall make a
mess of it. I shall choose some nice-looking, well-dressed screw,
with gentlemanly manners which will take me in, and he will go and
paint Academy pictures, or write for the Times, or do something just
as horrid the moment the breath is out of my body."

As yet, however, she had made no will at all, and this was one of
the few things that troubled her. I believe she would have left
most of her money to me if I had not stopped her. My father left me
abundantly well off, and my mode of life has been always simple, so
that I have never known uneasiness about money; moreover I was
especially anxious that there should be no occasion given for ill-
natured talk; she knew well, therefore, that her leaving her money
to me would be of all things the most likely to weaken the ties that
existed between us, provided that I was aware of it, but I did not
mind her talking about whom she should make her heir, so long as it
was well understood that I was not to be the person.

Ernest had satisfied her as having enough in him to tempt her
strongly to take him up, but it was not till after many days'
reflection that she gravitated towards actually doing so, with all
the break in her daily ways that this would entail. At least, she
said it took her some days, and certainly it appeared to do so, but
from the moment she had begun to broach the subject, I had guessed
how things were going to end.

It was now arranged she should take a house at Roughborough, and go
and live there for a couple of years. As a compromise, however, to
meet some of my objections, it was also arranged that she should
keep her rooms in Gower Street, and come to town for a week once in
each month; of course, also, she would leave Roughborough for the
greater part of the holidays. After two years, the thing was to
come to an end, unless it proved a great success. She should by
that time, at any rate, have made up her mind what the boy's
character was, and would then act as circumstances might determine.

The pretext she put forward ostensibly was that her doctor said she
ought to be a year or two in the country after so many years of
London life, and had recommended Roughborough on account of the
purity of its air, and its easy access to and from London--for by
this time the railway had reached it. She was anxious not to give
her brother and sister any right to complain, if on seeing more of
her nephew she found she could not get on with him, and she was also
anxious not to raise false hopes of any kind in the boy's own mind.

Having settled how everything was to be, she wrote to Theobald and
said she meant to take a house in Roughborough from the Michaelmas
then approaching, and mentioned, as though casually, that one of the
attractions of the place would be that her nephew was at school
there and she should hope to see more of him than she had done

Theobald and Christina knew how dearly Alethea loved London, and
thought it very odd that she should want to go and live at
Roughborough, but they did not suspect that she was going there
solely on her nephew's account, much less that she had thought of
making Ernest her heir. If they had guessed this, they would have
been so jealous that I half believe they would have asked her to go
and live somewhere else. Alethea however, was two or three years
younger than Theobald; she was still some years short of fifty, and
might very well live to eighty-five or ninety; her money, therefore,
was not worth taking much trouble about, and her brother and sister-
in-law had dismissed it, so to speak, from their minds with costs,
assuming, however, that if anything did happen to her while they
were still alive, the money would, as a matter of course, come to

The prospect of Alethea seeing much of Ernest was a serious matter.
Christina smelt mischief from afar, as indeed she often did.
Alethea was worldly--as worldly, that is to say, as a sister of
Theobald's could be. In her letter to Theobald she had said she
knew how much of his and Christina's thoughts were taken up with
anxiety for the boy's welfare. Alethea had thought this handsome
enough, but Christina had wanted something better and stronger.
"How can she know how much we think of our darling?" she had
exclaimed, when Theobald showed her his sister's letter. "I think,
my dear, Alethea would understand these things better if she had
children of her own." The least that would have satisfied Christina
was to have been told that there never yet had been any parents
comparable to Theobald and herself. She did not feel easy that an
alliance of some kind would not grow up between aunt and nephew, and
neither she nor Theobald wanted Ernest to have any allies. Joey and
Charlotte were quite as many allies as were good for him. After
all, however, if Alethea chose to go and live at Roughborough, they
could not well stop her, and must make the best of it.

In a few weeks' time Alethea did choose to go and live at
Roughborough. A house was found with a field and a nice little
garden which suited her very well. "At any rate," she said to
herself, "I will have fresh eggs and flowers." She even considered
the question of keeping a cow, but in the end decided not to do so.
She furnished her house throughout anew, taking nothing whatever
from her establishment in Gower Street, and by Michaelmas--for the
house was empty when she took it--she was settled comfortably, and
had begun to make herself at home.

One of Miss Pontifex's first moves was to ask a dozen of the
smartest and most gentlemanly boys to breakfast with her. From her
seat in church she could see the faces of the upper-form boys, and
soon made up her mind which of them it would be best to cultivate.
Miss Pontifex, sitting opposite the boys in church, and reckoning
them up with her keen eyes from under her veil by all a woman's
criteria, came to a truer conclusion about the greater number of
those she scrutinized than even Dr Skinner had done. She fell in
love with one boy from seeing him put on his gloves.

Miss Pontifex, as I have said, got hold of some of these youngsters
through Ernest, and fed them well. No boy can resist being fed well
by a good-natured and still handsome woman. Boys are very like nice
dogs in this respect--give them a bone and they will like you at
once. Alethea employed every other little artifice which she
thought likely to win their allegiance to herself, and through this
their countenance for her nephew. She found the football club in a
slight money difficulty and at once gave half a sovereign towards
its removal. The boys had no chance against her, she shot them down
one after another as easily as though they had been roosting
pheasants. Nor did she escape scathless herself, for, as she wrote
to me, she quite lost her heart to half a dozen of them. "How much
nicer they are," she said, "and how much more they know than those
who profess to teach them!"

I believe it has been lately maintained that it is the young and
fair who are the truly old and truly experienced, inasmuch as it is
they who alone have a living memory to guide them; "the whole
charm," it has been said, "of youth lies in its advantage over age
in respect of experience, and when this has for some reason failed
or been misapplied, the charm is broken. When we say that we are
getting old, we should say rather that we are getting new or young,
and are suffering from inexperience; trying to do things which we
have never done before, and failing worse and worse, till in the end
we are landed in the utter impotence of death."

Miss Pontifex died many a long year before the above passage was
written, but she had arrived independently at much the same

She first, therefore, squared the boys. Dr Skinner was even more
easily dealt with. He and Mrs Skinner called, as a matter of
course, as soon as Miss Pontifex was settled. She fooled him to the
top of his bent, and obtained the promise of a MS. copy of one of
his minor poems (for Dr Skinner had the reputation of being quite
one of our most facile and elegant minor poets) on the occasion of
his first visit. The other masters and masters' wives were not
forgotten. Alethea laid herself out to please, as indeed she did
wherever she went, and if any woman lays herself out to do this, she
generally succeeds.


Miss Pontifex soon found out that Ernest did not like games, but she
saw also that he could hardly be expected to like them. He was
perfectly well shaped but unusually devoid of physical strength. He
got a fair share of this in after life, but it came much later with
him than with other boys, and at the time of which I am writing he
was a mere little skeleton. He wanted something to develop his arms
and chest without knocking him about as much as the school games
did. To supply this want by some means which should add also to his
pleasure was Alethea's first anxiety. Rowing would have answered
every purpose, but unfortunately there was no river at Roughborough.

Whatever it was to be, it must be something which he should like as
much as other boys liked cricket or football, and he must think the
wish for it to have come originally from himself; it was not very
easy to find anything that would do, but ere long it occurred to her
that she might enlist his love of music on her side, and asked him
one day when he was spending a half-holiday at her house whether he
would like her to buy an organ for him to play on. Of course, the
boy said yes; then she told him about her grandfather and the organs
he had built. It had never entered into his head that he could make
one, but when he gathered from what his aunt had said that this was
not out of the question, he rose as eagerly to the bait as she could
have desired, and wanted to begin learning to saw and plane so that
he might make the wooden pipes at once.

Miss Pontifex did not see how she could have hit upon anything more
suitable, and she liked the idea that he would incidentally get a
knowledge of carpentering, for she was impressed, perhaps foolishly,
with the wisdom of the German custom which gives every boy a
handicraft of some sort.

Writing to me on this matter, she said "Professions are all very
well for those who have connection and interest as well as capital,
but otherwise they are white elephants. How many men do not you and
I know who have talent, assiduity, excellent good sense,
straightforwardness, every quality in fact which should command
success, and who yet go on from year to year waiting and hoping
against hope for the work which never comes? How, indeed, is it
likely to come unless to those who either are born with interest, or
who marry in order to get it? Ernest's father and mother have no
interest, and if they had they would not use it. I suppose they
will make him a clergyman, or try to do so--perhaps it is the best
thing to do with him, for he could buy a living with the money his
grandfather left him, but there is no knowing what the boy will
think of it when the time comes, and for aught we know he may insist
on going to the backwoods of America, as so many other young men are
doing now." . . . But, anyway, he would like making an organ, and
this could do him no harm, so the sooner he began the better.

Alethea thought it would save trouble in the end if she told her
brother and sister-in-law of this scheme. "I do not suppose," she
wrote, "that Dr Skinner will approve very cordially of my attempt to
introduce organ-building into the curriculum of Roughborough, but I
will see what I can do with him, for I have set my heart on owning
an organ built by Ernest's own hands, which he may play on as much
as he likes while it remains in my house and which I will lend him
permanently as soon as he gets one of his own, but which is to be my
property for the present, inasmuch as I mean to pay for it." This
was put in to make it plain to Theobald and Christina that they
should not be out of pocket in the matter.

If Alethea had been as poor as the Misses Allaby, the reader may
guess what Ernest's papa and mamma would have said to this proposal;
but then, if she had been as poor as they, she would never have made
it. They did not like Ernest's getting more and more into his
aunt's good books, still it was perhaps better that he should do so
than that she should be driven back upon the John Pontifexes. The
only thing, said Theobald, which made him hesitate, was that the boy
might be thrown with low associates later on if he were to be
encouraged in his taste for music--a taste which Theobald had always
disliked. He had observed with regret that Ernest had ere now shown
rather a hankering after low company, and he might make acquaintance
with those who would corrupt his innocence. Christina shuddered at
this, but when they had aired their scruples sufficiently they felt
(and when people begin to "feel," they are invariably going to take
what they believe to be the more worldly course) that to oppose
Alethea's proposal would be injuring their son's prospects more than
was right, so they consented, but not too graciously.

After a time, however, Christina got used to the idea, and then
considerations occurred to her which made her throw herself into it
with characteristic ardour. If Miss Pontifex had been a railway
stock she might have been said to have been buoyant in the Battersby
market for some few days; buoyant for long together she could never
be, still for a time there really was an upward movement.
Christina's mind wandered to the organ itself; she seemed to have
made it with her own hands; there would be no other in England to
compare with it for combined sweetness and power. She already heard
the famous Dr Walmisley of Cambridge mistaking it for a Father
Smith. It would come, no doubt, in reality to Battersby Church,
which wanted an organ, for it must be all nonsense about Alethea's
wishing to keep it, and Ernest would not have a house of his own for
ever so many years, and they could never have it at the Rectory.
Oh, no! Battersby Church was the only proper place for it.

Of course, they would have a grand opening, and the Bishop would
come down, and perhaps young Figgins might be on a visit to them--
she must ask Ernest if young Figgins had yet left Roughborough--he
might even persuade his grandfather Lord Lonsford to be present.
Lord Lonsford and the Bishop and everyone else would then compliment
her, and Dr Wesley or Dr Walmisley, who should preside (it did not
much matter which), would say to her, "My dear Mrs Pontifex, I never
yet played upon so remarkable an instrument." Then she would give
him one of her very sweetest smiles and say she feared he was
flattering her, on which he would rejoin with some pleasant little
trifle about remarkable men (the remarkable man being for the moment
Ernest) having invariably had remarkable women for their mothers--
and so on and so on. The advantage of doing one's praising for
oneself is that one can lay it on so thick and exactly in the right

Theobald wrote Ernest a short and surly letter a propos of his
aunt's intentions in this matter.

"I will not commit myself," he said, "to an opinion whether anything
will come of it; this will depend entirely upon your own exertions;
you have had singular advantages hitherto, and your kind aunt is
showing every desire to befriend you, but you must give greater
proof of stability and steadiness of character than you have given
yet if this organ matter is not to prove in the end to be only one
disappointment the more.

"I must insist on two things: firstly that this new iron in the
fire does not distract your attention from your Latin and Greek"--
("They aren't mine," thought Ernest, "and never have been")--"and
secondly, that you bring no smell of glue or shavings into the house
here, if you make any part of the organ during your holidays."

Ernest was still too young to know how unpleasant a letter he was
receiving. He believed the innuendoes contained in it to be
perfectly just. He knew he was sadly deficient in perseverance. He
liked some things for a little while, and then found he did not like
them any more--and this was as bad as anything well could be. His
father's letter gave him one of his many fits of melancholy over his
own worthlessness, but the thought of the organ consoled him, and he
felt sure that here at any rate was something to which he could
apply himself steadily without growing tired of it.

It was settled that the organ was not to be begun before the
Christmas holidays were over, and that till then Ernest should do a
little plain carpentering, so as to get to know how to use his
tools. Miss Pontifex had a carpenter's bench set up in an outhouse
upon her own premises, and made terms with the most respectable
carpenter in Roughborough, by which one of his men was to come for a
couple of hours twice a week and set Ernest on the right way; then
she discovered she wanted this or that simple piece of work done,
and gave the boy a commission to do it, paying him handsomely as
well as finding him in tools and materials. She never gave him a
syllable of good advice, or talked to him about everything's
depending upon his own exertions, but she kissed him often, and
would come into the workshop and act the part of one who took an
interest in what was being done so cleverly as ere long to become
really interested.

What boy would not take kindly to almost anything with such
assistance? All boys like making things; the exercise of sawing,
planing and hammering, proved exactly what his aunt had wanted to
find--something that should exercise, but not too much, and at the
same time amuse him; when Ernest's sallow face was flushed with his
work, and his eyes were sparkling with pleasure, he looked quite a
different boy from the one his aunt had taken in hand only a few
months earlier. His inner self never told him that this was humbug,
as it did about Latin and Greek. Making stools and drawers was
worth living for, and after Christmas there loomed the organ, which
was scarcely ever absent from his mind.

His aunt let him invite his friends, encouraging him to bring those
whom her quick sense told her were the most desirable. She
smartened him up also in his personal appearance, always without
preaching to him. Indeed she worked wonders during the short time
that was allowed her, and if her life had been spared I cannot think
that my hero would have come under the shadow of that cloud which
cast so heavy a gloom over his younger manhood; but unfortunately
for him his gleam of sunshine was too hot and too brilliant to last,
and he had many a storm yet to weather, before he became fairly
happy. For the present, however, he was supremely so, and his aunt
was happy and grateful for his happiness, the improvement she saw in
him, and his unrepressed affection for herself. She became fonder
of him from day to day in spite of his many faults and almost
incredible foolishnesses. It was perhaps on account of these very
things that she saw how much he had need of her; but at any rate,
from whatever cause, she became strengthened in her determination to
be to him in the place of parents, and to find in him a son rather
than a nephew. But still she made no will.


All went well for the first part of the following half year. Miss
Pontifex spent the greater part of her holidays in London, and I
also saw her at Roughborough, where I spent a few days, staying at
the "Swan." I heard all about my godson in whom, however, I took
less interest than I said I did. I took more interest in the stage
at that time than in anything else, and as for Ernest, I found him a
nuisance for engrossing so much of his aunt's attention, and taking
her so much from London. The organ was begun, and made fair
progress during the first two months of the half year. Ernest was
happier than he had ever been before, and was struggling upwards.
The best boys took more notice of him for his aunt's sake, and he
consorted less with those who led him into mischief.

But much as Miss Pontifex had done, she could not all at once undo
the effect of such surroundings as the boy had had at Battersby.
Much as he feared and disliked his father (though he still knew not
how much this was), he had caught much from him; if Theobald had
been kinder Ernest would have modelled himself upon him entirely,
and ere long would probably have become as thorough a little prig as
could have easily been found.

Fortunately his temper had come to him from his mother, who, when
not frightened, and when there was nothing on the horizon which
might cross the slightest whim of her husband, was an amiable, good-
natured woman. If it was not such an awful thing to say of anyone,
I should say that she meant well.

Ernest had also inherited his mother's love of building castles in
the air, and--so I suppose it must be called--her vanity. He was
very fond of showing off, and, provided he could attract attention,
cared little from whom it came, nor what it was for. He caught up,
parrot-like, whatever jargon he heard from his elders, which he
thought was the correct thing, and aired it in season and out of
season, as though it were his own.

Miss Pontifex was old enough and wise enough to know that this is
the way in which even the greatest men as a general rule begin to
develop, and was more pleased with his receptiveness and
reproductiveness than alarmed at the things he caught and

She saw that he was much attached to herself, and trusted to this
rather than to anything else. She saw also that his conceit was not
very profound, and that his fits of self-abasement were as extreme
as his exaltation had been. His impulsiveness and sanguine
trustfulness in anyone who smiled pleasantly at him, or indeed was
not absolutely unkind to him, made her more anxious about him than
any other point in his character; she saw clearly that he would have
to find himself rudely undeceived many a time and oft, before he
would learn to distinguish friend from foe within reasonable time.
It was her perception of this which led her to take the action which
she was so soon called upon to take.

Her health was for the most part excellent, and she had never had a
serious illness in her life. One morning, however, soon after
Easter 1850, she awoke feeling seriously unwell. For some little
time there had been a talk of fever in the neighbourhood, but in
those days the precautions that ought to be taken against the spread
of infection were not so well understood as now, and nobody did
anything. In a day or two it became plain that Miss Pontifex had
got an attack of typhoid fever and was dangerously ill. On this she
sent off a messenger to town, and desired him not to return without
her lawyer and myself.

We arrived on the afternoon of the day on which we had been
summoned, and found her still free from delirium: indeed, the
cheery way in which she received us made it difficult to think she
could be in danger. She at once explained her wishes, which had
reference, as I expected, to her nephew, and repeated the substance
of what I have already referred to as her main source of uneasiness
concerning him. Then she begged me by our long and close intimacy,
by the suddenness of the danger that had fallen on her and her
powerlessness to avert it, to undertake what she said she well knew,
if she died, would be an unpleasant and invidious trust.

She wanted to leave the bulk of her money ostensibly to me, but in
reality to her nephew, so that I should hold it in trust for him
till he was twenty-eight years old, but neither he nor anyone else,
except her lawyer and myself, was to know anything about it. She
would leave 5000 pounds in other legacies, and 15,000 pounds to
Ernest--which by the time he was twenty-eight would have accumulated
to, say, 30,000 pounds. "Sell out the debentures," she said, "where
the money now is--and put it into Midland Ordinary."

"Let him make his mistakes," she said, "upon the money his
grandfather left him. I am no prophet, but even I can see that it
will take that boy many years to see things as his neighbours see
them. He will get no help from his father and mother, who would
never forgive him for his good luck if I left him the money
outright; I daresay I am wrong, but I think he will have to lose the
greater part or all of what he has, before he will know how to keep
what he will get from me."

Supposing he went bankrupt before he was twenty-eight years old, the
money was to be mine absolutely, but she could trust me, she said,
to hand it over to Ernest in due time.

"If," she continued, "I am mistaken, the worst that can happen is
that he will come into a larger sum at twenty-eight instead of a
smaller sum at, say, twenty-three, for I would never trust him with
it earlier, and--if he knows nothing about it he will not be unhappy
for the want of it."

She begged me to take 2000 pounds in return for the trouble I should
have in taking charge of the boy's estate, and as a sign of the
testatrix's hope that I would now and again look after him while he
was still young. The remaining 3000 pounds I was to pay in legacies
and annuities to friends and servants.

In vain both her lawyer and myself remonstrated with her on the
unusual and hazardous nature of this arrangement. We told her that
sensible people will not take a more sanguine view concerning human
nature than the Courts of Chancery do. We said, in fact, everything
that anyone else would say. She admitted everything, but urged that
her time was short, that nothing would induce her to leave her money
to her nephew in the usual way. "It is an unusually foolish will,"
she said, "but he is an unusually foolish boy;" and she smiled quite
merrily at her little sally. Like all the rest of her family, she
was very stubborn when her mind was made up. So the thing was done
as she wished it.

No provision was made for either my death or Ernest's--Miss Pontifex
had settled it that we were neither of us going to die, and was too
ill to go into details; she was so anxious, moreover, to sign her
will while still able to do so that we had practically no
alternative but to do as she told us. If she recovered we could see
things put on a more satisfactory footing, and further discussion
would evidently impair her chances of recovery; it seemed then only
too likely that it was a case of this will or no will at all.

When the will was signed I wrote a letter in duplicate, saying that
I held all Miss Pontifex had left me in trust for Ernest except as
regards 5000 pounds, but that he was not to come into the bequest,
and was to know nothing whatever about it directly or indirectly,
till he was twenty-eight years old, and if he was bankrupt before he
came into it the money was to be mine absolutely. At the foot of
each letter Miss Pontifex wrote, "The above was my understanding
when I made my will," and then signed her name. The solicitor and
his clerk witnessed; I kept one copy myself and handed the other to
Miss Pontifex's solicitor.

When all this had been done she became more easy in her mind. She
talked principally about her nephew. "Don't scold him," she said,
"if he is volatile, and continually takes things up only to throw
them down again. How can he find out his strength or weakness
otherwise? A man's profession," she said, and here she gave one of
her wicked little laughs, "is not like his wife, which he must take
once for all, for better for worse, without proof beforehand. Let
him go here and there, and learn his truest liking by finding out
what, after all, he catches himself turning to most habitually--then
let him stick to this; but I daresay Ernest will be forty or five
and forty before he settles down. Then all his previous
infidelities will work together to him for good if he is the boy I
hope he is.

"Above all," she continued, "do not let him work up to his full
strength, except once or twice in his lifetime; nothing is well done
nor worth doing unless, take it all round, it has come pretty
easily. Theobald and Christina would give him a pinch of salt and
tell him to put it on the tails of the seven deadly virtues;"--here
she laughed again in her old manner at once so mocking and so sweet-
-"I think if he likes pancakes he had perhaps better eat them on
Shrove Tuesday, but this is enough." These were the last coherent
words she spoke. From that time she grew continually worse, and was
never free from delirium till her death--which took place less than
a fortnight afterwards, to the inexpressible grief of those who knew
and loved her.


Letters had been written to Miss Pontifex's brothers and sisters,
and one and all came post-haste to Roughborough. Before they
arrived the poor lady was already delirious, and for the sake of her
own peace at the last I am half glad she never recovered

I had known these people all their lives, as none can know each
other but those who have played together as children; I knew how
they had all of them--perhaps Theobald least, but all of them more
or less--made her life a burden to her until the death of her father
had made her her own mistress, and I was displeased at their coming
one after the other to Roughborough, and inquiring whether their
sister had recovered consciousness sufficiently to be able to see
them. It was known that she had sent for me on being taken ill, and
that I remained at Roughborough, and I own I was angered by the
mingled air of suspicion, defiance and inquisitiveness, with which
they regarded me. They would all, except Theobald, I believe have
cut me downright if they had not believed me to know something they
wanted to know themselves, and might have some chance of learning
from me--for it was plain I had been in some way concerned with the
making of their sister's will. None of them suspected what the
ostensible nature of this would be, but I think they feared Miss
Pontifex was about to leave money for public uses. John said to me
in his blandest manner that he fancied he remembered to have heard
his sister say that she thought of leaving money to found a college
for the relief of dramatic authors in distress; to this I made no
rejoinder, and I have no doubt his suspicions were deepened.

When the end came, I got Miss Pontifex's solicitor to write and tell
her brothers and sisters how she had left her money: they were not
unnaturally furious, and went each to his or her separate home
without attending the funeral, and without paying any attention to
myself. This was perhaps the kindest thing they could have done by
me, for their behaviour made me so angry that I became almost
reconciled to Alethea's will out of pleasure at the anger it had
aroused. But for this I should have felt the will keenly, as having
been placed by it in the position which of all others I had been
most anxious to avoid, and as having saddled me with a very heavy
responsibility. Still it was impossible for me to escape, and I
could only let things take their course.

Miss Pontifex had expressed a wish to be buried at Paleham; in the
course of the next few days I therefore took the body thither. I
had not been to Paleham since the death of my father some six years
earlier. I had often wished to go there, but had shrunk from doing
so though my sister had been two or three times. I could not bear
to see the house which had been my home for so many years of my life
in the hands of strangers; to ring ceremoniously at a bell which I
had never yet pulled except as a boy in jest; to feel that I had
nothing to do with a garden in which I had in childhood gathered so
many a nosegay, and which had seemed my own for many years after I
had reached man's estate; to see the rooms bereft of every familiar
feature, and made so unfamiliar in spite of their familiarity. Had
there been any sufficient reason, I should have taken these things
as a matter of course, and should no doubt have found them much
worse in anticipation than in reality, but as there had been no
special reason why I should go to Paleham I had hitherto avoided
doing so. Now, however, my going was a necessity, and I confess I
never felt more subdued than I did on arriving there with the dead
playmate of my childhood.

I found the village more changed than I had expected. The railway
had come there, and a brand new yellow brick station was on the site
of old Mr and Mrs Pontifex's cottage. Nothing but the carpenter's
shop was now standing. I saw many faces I knew, but even in six
years they seemed to have grown wonderfully older. Some of the very
old were dead, and the old were getting very old in their stead. I
felt like the changeling in the fairy story who came back after a
seven years' sleep. Everyone seemed glad to see me, though I had
never given them particular cause to be so, and everyone who
remembered old Mr and Mrs Pontifex spoke warmly of them and were
pleased at their granddaughter's wishing to be laid near them.
Entering the churchyard and standing in the twilight of a gusty
cloudy evening on the spot close beside old Mrs Pontifex's grave
which I had chosen for Alethea's, I thought of the many times that
she, who would lie there henceforth, and I, who must surely lie one
day in some such another place though when and where I knew not, had
romped over this very spot as childish lovers together. Next
morning I followed her to the grave, and in due course set up a
plain upright slab to her memory as like as might be to those over
the graves of her grandmother and grandfather. I gave the dates and
places of her birth and death, but added nothing except that this
stone was set up by one who had known and loved her. Knowing how
fond she had been of music I had been half inclined at one time to
inscribe a few bars of music, if I could find any which seemed
suitable to her character, but I knew how much she would have
disliked anything singular in connection with her tombstone and did
not do it.

Before, however, I had come to this conclusion, I had thought that
Ernest might be able to help me to the right thing, and had written
to him upon the subject. The following is the answer I received -

"Dear Godpapa,--I send you the best bit I can think of; it is the
subject of the last of Handel's six grand fugues and goes thus:-

[Music score]

It would do better for a man, especially for an old man who was very
sorry for things, than for a woman, but I cannot think of anything
better; if you do not like it for Aunt Alethea I shall keep it for
myself.--Your affectionate Godson, ERNEST PONTIFEX."

Was this the little lad who could get sweeties for two-pence but not
for two-pence-halfpenny? Dear, dear me, I thought to myself, how
these babes and sucklings do give us the go-by surely. Choosing his
own epitaph at fifteen as for a man who "had been very sorry for
things," and such a strain as that--why it might have done for
Leonardo da Vinci himself. Then I set the boy down as a conceited
young jackanapes, which no doubt he was,--but so are a great many
other young people of Ernest's age.


If Theobald and Christina had not been too well pleased when Miss
Pontifex first took Ernest in hand, they were still less so when the
connection between the two was interrupted so prematurely. They
said they had made sure from what their sister had said that she was
going to make Ernest her heir. I do not think she had given them so
much as a hint to this effect. Theobald indeed gave Ernest to
understand that she had done so in a letter which will be given
shortly, but if Theobald wanted to make himself disagreeable, a
trifle light as air would forthwith assume in his imagination
whatever form was most convenient to him. I do not think they had
even made up their minds what Alethea was to do with her money
before they knew of her being at the point of death, and as I have
said already, if they had thought it likely that Ernest would be
made heir over their own heads without their having at any rate a
life interest in the bequest, they would have soon thrown obstacles
in the way of further intimacy between aunt and nephew.

This, however, did not bar their right to feeling aggrieved now that
neither they nor Ernest had taken anything at all, and they could
profess disappointment on their boy's behalf which they would have
been too proud to admit upon their own. In fact, it was only
amiable of them to be disappointed under these circumstances.

Christina said that the will was simply fraudulent, and was
convinced that it could be upset if she and Theobald went the right
way to work. Theobald, she said, should go before the Lord
Chancellor, not in full court but in chambers, where he could
explain the whole matter; or, perhaps it would be even better if she
were to go herself--and I dare not trust myself to describe the
reverie to which this last idea gave rise. I believe in the end
Theobald died, and the Lord Chancellor (who had become a widower a
few weeks earlier) made her an offer, which, however, she firmly but
not ungratefully declined; she should ever, she said, continue to
think of him as a friend--at this point the cook came in, saying the
butcher had called, and what would she please to order.

I think Theobald must have had an idea that there was something
behind the bequest to me, but he said nothing about it to Christina.
He was angry and felt wronged, because he could not get at Alethea
to give her a piece of his mind any more than he had been able to
get at his father. "It is so mean of people," he exclaimed to
himself, "to inflict an injury of this sort, and then shirk facing
those whom they have injured; let us hope that, at any rate, they
and I may meet in Heaven." But of this he was doubtful, for when
people had done so great a wrong as this, it was hardly to be
supposed that they would go to Heaven at all--and as for his meeting
them in another place, the idea never so much as entered his mind.

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