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The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

Part 6 out of 8

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something awful.

Ernest had heard that women were always jealous of one another, and
certainly these young women were more attractive than Mrs Baxter
was, so jealousy was probably at the bottom of it. If they were
maligned there could be no objection to his making their
acquaintance; if not maligned they had all the more need of his
ministrations. He would reclaim them at once.

He told Mrs Jupp of his intention. Mrs Jupp at first tried to
dissuade him, but seeing him resolute, suggested that she should
herself see Miss Snow first, so as to prepare her and prevent her
from being alarmed by his visit. She was not at home now, but in
the course of the next day, it should be arranged. In the meantime
he had better try Mr Shaw, the tinker, in the front kitchen. Mrs
Baxter had told Ernest that Mr Shaw was from the North Country, and
an avowed freethinker; he would probably, she said, rather like a
visit, but she did not think Ernest would stand much chance of
making a convert of him.


Before going down into the kitchen to convert the tinker Ernest ran
hurriedly over his analysis of Paley's evidences, and put into his
pocket a copy of Archbishop Whateley's "Historic Doubts." Then he
descended the dark rotten old stairs and knocked at the tinker's
door. Mr Shaw was very civil; he said he was rather throng just
now, but if Ernest did not mind the sound of hammering he should be
very glad of a talk with him. Our hero, assenting to this, ere long
led the conversation to Whateley's "Historic Doubts"--a work which,
as the reader may know, pretends to show that there never was any
such person as Napoleon Buonaparte, and thus satirises the arguments
of those who have attacked the Christian miracles.

Mr Shaw said he knew "Historic Doubts" very well.

"And what you think of it?" said Ernest, who regarded the pamphlet
as a masterpiece of wit and cogency.

"If you really want to know," said Mr Shaw, with a sly twinkle, "I
think that he who was so willing and able to prove that what was was
not, would be equally able and willing to make a case for thinking
that what was not was, if it suited his purpose." Ernest was very
much taken aback. How was it that all the clever people of
Cambridge had never put him up to this simple rejoinder? The answer
is easy: they did not develop it for the same reason that a hen had
never developed webbed feet--that is to say, because they did not
want to do so; but this was before the days of Evolution, and Ernest
could not as yet know anything of the great principle that underlies

"You see," continued Mr Shaw, "these writers all get their living by
writing in a certain way, and the more they write in that way, the
more they are likely to get on. You should not call them dishonest
for this any more than a judge should call a barrister dishonest for
earning his living by defending one in whose innocence he does not
seriously believe; but you should hear the barrister on the other
side before you decide upon the case."

This was another facer. Ernest could only stammer that he had
endeavoured to examine these questions as carefully as he could.

"You think you have," said Mr Shaw; "you Oxford and Cambridge
gentlemen think you have examined everything. I have examined very
little myself except the bottoms of old kettles and saucepans, but
if you will answer me a few questions, I will tell you whether or no
you have examined much more than I have."

Ernest expressed his readiness to be questioned.

"Then," said the tinker, "give me the story of the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ as told in St John's gospel."

I am sorry to say that Ernest mixed up the four accounts in a
deplorable manner; he even made the angel come down and roll away
the stone and sit upon it. He was covered with confusion when the
tinker first told him without the book of some of his many
inaccuracies, and then verified his criticisms by referring to the
New Testament itself.

"Now," said Mr Shaw good naturedly, "I am an old man and you are a
young one, so perhaps you'll not mind my giving you a piece of
advice. I like you, for I believe you mean well, but you've been
real bad brought up, and I don't think you have ever had so much as
a chance yet. You know nothing of our side of the question, and I
have just shown you that you do not know much more of your own, but
I think you will make a kind of Carlyle sort of a man some day. Now
go upstairs and read the accounts of the Resurrection correctly
without mixing them up, and have a clear idea of what it is that
each writer tells us, then if you feel inclined to pay me another
visit I shall be glad to see you, for I shall know you have made a
good beginning and mean business. Till then, Sir, I must wish you a
very good morning."

Ernest retreated abashed. An hour sufficed him to perform the task
enjoined upon him by Mr Shaw; and at the end of that hour the "No,
no, no," which still sounded in his ears as he heard it from
Towneley, came ringing up more loudly still from the very pages of
the Bible itself, and in respect of the most important of all the
events which are recorded in it. Surely Ernest's first day's
attempt at more promiscuous visiting, and at carrying out his
principles more thoroughly, had not been unfruitful. But he must go
and have a talk with Pryer. He therefore got his lunch and went to
Pryer's lodgings. Pryer not being at home, he lounged to the
British Museum Reading Room, then recently opened, sent for the
"Vestiges of Creation," which he had never yet seen, and spent the
rest of the afternoon in reading it.

Ernest did not see Pryer on the day of his conversation with Mr
Shaw, but he did so next morning and found him in a good temper,
which of late he had rarely been. Sometimes, indeed, he had behaved
to Ernest in a way which did not bode well for the harmony with
which the College of Spiritual Pathology would work when it had once
been founded. It almost seemed as though he were trying to get a
complete moral ascendency over him, so as to make him a creature of
his own.

He did not think it possible that he could go too far, and indeed,
when I reflect upon my hero's folly and inexperience, there is much
to be said in excuse for the conclusion which Pryer came to.

As a matter of fact, however, it was not so. Ernest's faith in
Pryer had been too great to be shaken down all in a moment, but it
had been weakened lately more than once. Ernest had fought hard
against allowing himself to see this, nevertheless any third person
who knew the pair would have been able to see that the connection
between the two might end at any moment, for when the time for one
of Ernest's snipe-like changes of flight came, he was quick in
making it; the time, however, was not yet come, and the intimacy
between the two was apparently all that it had ever been. It was
only that horrid money business (so said Ernest to himself) that
caused any unpleasantness between them, and no doubt Pryer was
right, and he, Ernest, much too nervous. However, that might stand
over for the present.

In like manner, though he had received a shock by reason of his
conversation with Mr Shaw, and by looking at the "Vestiges," he was
as yet too much stunned to realise the change which was coming over
him. In each case the momentum of old habits carried him forward in
the old direction. He therefore called on Pryer, and spent an hour
and more with him.

He did not say that he had been visiting among his neighbours; this
to Pryer would have been like a red rag to a bull. He only talked
in much his usual vein about the proposed College, the lamentable
want of interest in spiritual things which was characteristic of
modern society, and other kindred matters; he concluded by saying
that for the present he feared Pryer was indeed right, and that
nothing could be done.

"As regards the laity," said Pryer, "nothing; not until we have a
discipline which we can enforce with pains and penalties. How can a
sheep dog work a flock of sheep unless he can bite occasionally as
well as bark? But as regards ourselves we can do much."

Pryer's manner was strange throughout the conversation, as though he
were thinking all the time of something else. His eyes wandered
curiously over Ernest, as Ernest had often noticed them wander
before: the words were about Church discipline, but somehow or
other the discipline part of the story had a knack of dropping out
after having been again and again emphatically declared to apply to
the laity and not to the clergy: once indeed Pryer had pettishly
exclaimed: "Oh, bother the College of Spiritual Pathology." As
regards the clergy, glimpses of a pretty large cloven hoof kept
peeping out from under the saintly robe of Pryer's conversation, to
the effect, that so long as they were theoretically perfect,
practical peccadilloes--or even peccadaccios, if there is such a
word, were of less importance. He was restless, as though wanting
to approach a subject which he did not quite venture to touch upon,
and kept harping (he did this about every third day) on the wretched
lack of definition concerning the limits of vice and virtue, and the
way in which half the vices wanted regulating rather than
prohibiting. He dwelt also on the advantages of complete unreserve,
and hinted that there were mysteries into which Ernest had not yet
been initiated, but which would enlighten him when he got to know
them, as he would be allowed to do when his friends saw that he was
strong enough.

Pryer had often been like this before, but never so nearly, as it
seemed to Ernest, coming to a point--though what the point was he
could not fully understand. His inquietude was communicating itself
to Ernest, who would probably ere long have come to know as much as
Pryer could tell him, but the conversation was abruptly interrupted
by the appearance of a visitor. We shall never know how it would
have ended, for this was the very last time that Ernest ever saw
Pryer. Perhaps Pryer was going to break to him some bad news about
his speculations.


Ernest now went home and occupied himself till luncheon with
studying Dean Alford's notes upon the various Evangelistic records
of the Resurrection, doing as Mr Shaw had told him, and trying to
find out not that they were all accurate, but whether they were all
accurate or no. He did not care which result he should arrive at,
but he was resolved that he would reach one or the other. When he
had finished Dean Alford's notes he found them come to this, namely,
that no one yet had succeeded in bringing the four accounts into
tolerable harmony with each other, and that the Dean, seeing no
chance of succeeding better than his predecessors had done,
recommended that the whole story should be taken on trust--and this
Ernest was not prepared to do.

He got his luncheon, went out for a long walk, and returned to
dinner at half past six. While Mrs Jupp was getting him his dinner-
-a steak and a pint of stout--she told him that Miss Snow would be
very happy to see him in about an hour's time. This disconcerted
him, for his mind was too unsettled for him to wish to convert
anyone just then. He reflected a little, and found that, in spite
of the sudden shock to his opinions, he was being irresistibly drawn
to pay the visit as though nothing had happened. It would not look
well for him not to go, for he was known to be in the house. He
ought not to be in too great a hurry to change his opinions on such
a matter as the evidence for Christ's Resurrection all of a sudden--
besides he need not talk to Miss Snow about this subject to-day--
there were other things he might talk about. What other things?
Ernest felt his heart beat fast and fiercely, and an inward monitor
warned him that he was thinking of anything rather than of Miss
Snow's soul.

What should he do? Fly, fly, fly--it was the only safety. But
would Christ have fled? Even though Christ had not died and risen
from the dead there could be no question that He was the model whose
example we were bound to follow. Christ would not have fled from
Miss Snow; he was sure of that, for He went about more especially
with prostitutes and disreputable people. Now, as then, it was the
business of the true Christian to call not the righteous but sinners
to repentance. It would be inconvenient to him to change his
lodgings, and he could not ask Mrs Jupp to turn Miss Snow and Miss
Maitland out of the house. Where was he to draw the line? Who
would be just good enough to live in the same house with him, and
who just not good enough?

Besides, where were these poor girls to go? Was he to drive them
from house to house till they had no place to lie in? It was
absurd; his duty was clear: he would go and see Miss Snow at once,
and try if he could not induce her to change her present mode of
life; if he found temptation becoming too strong for him he would
fly then--so he went upstairs with his Bible under his arm, and a
consuming fire in his heart.

He found Miss Snow looking very pretty in a neatly, not to say
demurely, furnished room. I think she had bought an illuminated
text or two, and pinned it up over her fire-place that morning.
Ernest was very much pleased with her, and mechanically placed his
Bible upon the table. He had just opened a timid conversation and
was deep in blushes, when a hurried step came bounding up the stairs
as though of one over whom the force of gravity had little power,
and a man burst into the room saying, "I'm come before my time." It
was Towneley.

His face dropped as he caught sight of Ernest. "What, you here,
Pontifex! Well, upon my word!"

I cannot describe the hurried explanations that passed quickly
between the three--enough that in less than a minute Ernest,
blushing more scarlet than ever, slunk off, Bible and all, deeply
humiliated as he contrasted himself and Towneley. Before he had
reached the bottom of the staircase leading to his own room he heard
Towneley's hearty laugh through Miss Snow's door, and cursed the
hour that he was born.

Then it flashed upon him that if he could not see Miss Snow he could
at any rate see Miss Maitland. He knew well enough what he wanted
now, and as for the Bible, he pushed it from him to the other end of
his table. It fell over on to the floor, and he kicked it into a
corner. It was the Bible given him at his christening by his
affectionate aunt, Elizabeth Allaby. True, he knew very little of
Miss Maitland, but ignorant young fools in Ernest's state do not
reflect or reason closely. Mrs Baxter had said that Miss Maitland
and Miss Snow were birds of a feather, and Mrs Baxter probably knew
better than that old liar, Mrs Jupp. Shakespeare says:

O Opportunity, thy guilt is great
'Tis thou that execut'st the traitor's treason:
Thou set'st the wolf where he the lamb may get;
Whoever plots the sin, thou 'point'st the season;
'Tis thou that spurn'st at right, at law, at reason;
And in thy shady cell, where none may spy him,
Sits Sin, to seize the souls that wander by him.

If the guilt of opportunity is great, how much greater is the guilt
of that which is believed to be opportunity, but in reality is no
opportunity at all. If the better part of valour is discretion, how
much more is not discretion the better part of vice

About ten minutes after we last saw Ernest, a scared, insulted girl,
flushed and trembling, was seen hurrying from Mrs Jupp's house as
fast as her agitated state would let her, and in another ten minutes
two policemen were seen also coming out of Mrs Jupp's, between whom
there shambled rather than walked our unhappy friend Ernest, with
staring eyes, ghastly pale, and with despair branded upon every line
of his face.


Pryer had done well to warn Ernest against promiscuous house to
house visitation. He had not gone outside Mrs Jupp's street door,
and yet what had been the result?

Mr Holt had put him in bodily fear; Mr and Mrs Baxter had nearly
made a Methodist of him; Mr Shaw had undermined his faith in the
Resurrection; Miss Snow's charms had ruined--or would have done so
but for an accident--his moral character. As for Miss Maitland, he
had done his best to ruin hers, and had damaged himself gravely and
irretrievably in consequence. The only lodger who had done him no
harm was the bellows' mender, whom he had not visited.

Other young clergymen, much greater fools in many respects than he,
would not have got into these scrapes. He seemed to have developed
an aptitude for mischief almost from the day of his having been
ordained. He could hardly preach without making some horrid faux
pas. He preached one Sunday morning when the Bishop was at his
Rector's church, and made his sermon turn upon the question what
kind of little cake it was that the widow of Zarephath had intended
making when Elijah found her gathering a few sticks. He
demonstrated that it was a seed cake. The sermon was really very
amusing, and more than once he saw a smile pass over the sea of
faces underneath him. The Bishop was very angry, and gave my hero a
severe reprimand in the vestry after service was over; the only
excuse he could make was that he was preaching ex tempore, had not
thought of this particular point till he was actually in the pulpit,
and had then been carried away by it.

Another time he preached upon the barren fig-tree, and described the
hopes of the owner as he watched the delicate blossom unfold, and
give promise of such beautiful fruit in autumn. Next day he
received a letter from a botanical member of his congregation who
explained to him that this could hardly have been, inasmuch as the
fig produces its fruit first and blossoms inside the fruit, or so
nearly so that no flower is perceptible to an ordinary observer.
This last, however, was an accident which might have happened to any
one but a scientist or an inspired writer.

The only excuse I can make for him is that he was very young--not
yet four and twenty--and that in mind as in body, like most of those
who in the end come to think for themselves, he was a slow grower.
By far the greater part, moreover, of his education had been an
attempt, not so much to keep him in blinkers as to gouge his eyes
out altogether.

But to return to my story. It transpired afterwards that Miss
Maitland had had no intention of giving Ernest in charge when she
ran out of Mrs Jupp's house. She was running away because she was
frightened, but almost the first person whom she ran against had
happened to be a policeman of a serious turn of mind, who wished to
gain a reputation for activity. He stopped her, questioned her,
frightened her still more, and it was he rather than Miss Maitland,
who insisted on giving my hero in charge to himself and another

Towneley was still in Mrs Jupp's house when the policeman came. He
had heard a disturbance, and going down to Ernest's room while Miss
Maitland was out of doors, had found him lying, as it were, stunned
at the foot of the moral precipice over which he had that moment
fallen. He saw the whole thing at a glance, but before he could
take action, the policemen came in and action became impossible.

He asked Ernest who were his friends in London. Ernest at first
wanted not to say, but Towneley soon gave him to understand that he
must do as he was bid, and selected myself from the few whom he had
named. "Writes for the stage, does he?" said Towneley. "Does he
write comedy?" Ernest thought Towneley meant that I ought to write
tragedy, and said he was afraid I wrote burlesque. "Oh, come,
come," said Towneley, "that will do famously. I will go and see him
at once." But on second thoughts he determined to stay with Ernest
and go with him to the police court. So he sent Mrs Jupp for me.
Mrs Jupp hurried so fast to fetch me, that in spite of the weather's
being still cold she was "giving out," as she expressed it, in
streams. The poor old wretch would have taken a cab, but she had no
money and did not like to ask Towneley to give her some. I saw that
something very serious had happened, but was not prepared for
anything so deplorable as what Mrs Jupp actually told me. As for
Mrs Jupp, she said her heart had been jumping out of its socket and
back again ever since.

I got her into a cab with me, and we went off to the police station.
She talked without ceasing.

"And if the neighbours do say cruel things about me, I'm sure it
ain't no thanks to HIM if they're true. Mr Pontifex never took a
bit o' notice of me no more than if I had been his sister. Oh, it's
enough to make anyone's back bone curdle. Then I thought perhaps my
Rose might get on better with him, so I set her to dust him and
clean him as though I were busy, and gave her such a beautiful clean
new pinny, but he never took no notice of her no more than he did of
me, and she didn't want no compliment neither, she wouldn't have
taken not a shilling from him, though he had offered it, but he
didn't seem to know anything at all. I can't make out what the
young men are a-coming to; I wish the horn may blow for me and the
worms take me this very night, if it's not enough to make a woman
stand before God and strike the one half on 'em silly to see the way
they goes on, and many an honest girl has to go home night after
night without so much as a fourpenny bit and paying three and
sixpence a week rent, and not a shelf nor cupboard in the place and
a dead wall in front of the window.

"It's not Mr Pontifex," she continued, "that's so bad, he's good at
heart. He never says nothing unkind. And then there's his dear
eyes--but when I speak about that to my Rose she calls me an old
fool and says I ought to be poleaxed. It's that Pryer as I can't
abide. Oh he! He likes to wound a woman's feelings he do, and to
chuck anything in her face, he do--he likes to wind a woman up and
to wound her down." (Mrs Jupp pronounced "wound" as though it
rhymed to "sound.") "It's a gentleman's place to soothe a woman,
but he, he'd like to tear her hair out by handfuls. Why, he told me
to my face that I was a-getting old; old indeed! there's not a woman
in London knows my age except Mrs Davis down in the Old Kent Road,
and beyond a haricot vein in one of my legs I'm as young as ever I
was. Old indeed! There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle.
I hate his nasty insinuendos."

Even if I had wanted to stop her, I could not have done so. She
said a great deal more than I have given above. I have left out
much because I could not remember it, but still more because it was
really impossible for me to print it.

When we got to the police station I found Towneley and Ernest
already there. The charge was one of assault, but not aggravated by
serious violence. Even so, however, it was lamentable enough, and
we both saw that our young friend would have to pay dearly for his
inexperience. We tried to bail him out for the night, but the
Inspector would not accept bail, so we were forced to leave him.

Towneley then went back to Mrs Jupp's to see if he could find Miss
Maitland and arrange matters with her. She was not there, but he
traced her to the house of her father, who lived at Camberwell. The
father was furious and would not hear of any intercession on
Towneley's part. He was a Dissenter, and glad to make the most of
any scandal against a clergyman; Towneley, therefore, was obliged to
return unsuccessful.

Next morning, Towneley--who regarded Ernest as a drowning man, who
must be picked out of the water somehow or other if possible,
irrespective of the way in which he got into it--called on me, and
we put the matter into the hands of one of the best known attorneys
of the day. I was greatly pleased with Towneley, and thought it due
to him to tell him what I had told no one else. I mean that Ernest
would come into his aunt's money in a few years' time, and would
therefore then be rich.

Towneley was doing all he could before this, but I knew that the
knowledge I had imparted to him would make him feel as though Ernest
was more one of his own class, and had therefore a greater claim
upon his good offices. As for Ernest himself, his gratitude was
greater than could be expressed in words. I have heard him say that
he can call to mind many moments, each one of which might well pass
for the happiest of his life, but that this night stands clearly out
as the most painful that he ever passed, yet so kind and considerate
was Towneley that it was quite bearable.

But with all the best wishes in the world neither Towneley nor I
could do much to help beyond giving our moral support. Our attorney
told us that the magistrate before whom Ernest would appear was very
severe on cases of this description, and that the fact of his being
a clergyman would tell against him. "Ask for no remand," he said,
"and make no defence. We will call Mr Pontifex's rector and you two
gentlemen as witnesses for previous good character. These will be
enough. Let us then make a profound apology and beg the magistrate
to deal with the case summarily instead of sending it for trial. If
you can get this, believe me, your young friend will be better out
of it than he has any right to expect."


This advice, besides being obviously sensible, would end in saving
Ernest both time and suspense of mind, so we had no hesitation in
adopting it. The case was called on about eleven o'clock, but we
got it adjourned till three, so as to give time for Ernest to set
his affairs as straight as he could, and to execute a power of
attorney enabling me to act for him as I should think fit while he
was in prison.

Then all came out about Pryer and the College of Spiritual
Pathology. Ernest had even greater difficulty in making a clean
breast of this than he had had in telling us about Miss Maitland,
but he told us all, and the upshot was that he had actually handed
over to Pryer every halfpenny that he then possessed with no other
security than Pryer's I.O.U.'s for the amount. Ernest, though still
declining to believe that Pryer could be guilty of dishonourable
conduct, was becoming alive to the folly of what he had been doing;
he still made sure, however, of recovering, at any rate, the greater
part of his property as soon as Pryer should have had time to sell.
Towneley and I were of a different opinion, but we did not say what
we thought.

It was dreary work waiting all the morning amid such unfamiliar and
depressing surroundings. I thought how the Psalmist had exclaimed
with quiet irony, "One day in thy courts is better than a thousand,"
and I thought that I could utter a very similar sentiment in respect
of the Courts in which Towneley and I were compelled to loiter. At
last, about three o'clock the case was called on, and we went round
to the part of the court which is reserved for the general public,
while Ernest was taken into the prisoner's dock. As soon as he had
collected himself sufficiently he recognised the magistrate as the
old gentleman who had spoken to him in the train on the day he was
leaving school, and saw, or thought he saw, to his great grief, that
he too was recognised.

Mr Ottery, for this was our attorney's name, took the line he had
proposed. He called no other witnesses than the rector, Towneley
and myself, and threw himself on the mercy of the magistrate. When
he had concluded, the magistrate spoke as follows: "Ernest
Pontifex, yours is one of the most painful cases that I have ever
had to deal with. You have been singularly favoured in your
parentage and education. You have had before you the example of
blameless parents, who doubtless instilled into you from childhood
the enormity of the offence which by your own confession you have
committed. You were sent to one of the best public schools in
England. It is not likely that in the healthy atmosphere of such a
school as Roughborough you can have come across contaminating
influences; you were probably, I may say certainly, impressed at
school with the heinousness of any attempt to depart from the
strictest chastity until such time as you had entered into a state
of matrimony. At Cambridge you were shielded from impurity by every
obstacle which virtuous and vigilant authorities could devise, and
even had the obstacles been fewer, your parents probably took care
that your means should not admit of your throwing money away upon
abandoned characters. At night proctors patrolled the street and
dogged your steps if you tried to go into any haunt where the
presence of vice was suspected. By day the females who were
admitted within the college walls were selected mainly on the score
of age and ugliness. It is hard to see what more can be done for
any young man than this. For the last four or five months you have
been a clergyman, and if a single impure thought had still remained
within your mind, ordination should have removed it: nevertheless,
not only does it appear that your mind is as impure as though none
of the influences to which I have referred had been brought to bear
upon it, but it seems as though their only result had been this--
that you have not even the common sense to be able to distinguish
between a respectable girl and a prostitute.

"If I were to take a strict view of my duty I should commit you for
trial, but in consideration of this being your first offence, I
shall deal leniently with you and sentence you to imprisonment with
hard labour for six calendar months."

Towneley and I both thought there was a touch of irony in the
magistrate's speech, and that he could have given a lighter sentence
if he would, but that was neither here nor there. We obtained leave
to see Ernest for a few minutes before he was removed to Coldbath
Fields, where he was to serve his term, and found him so thankful to
have been summarily dealt with that he hardly seemed to care about
the miserable plight in which he was to pass the next six months.
When he came out, he said, he would take what remained of his money,
go off to America or Australia and never be heard of more.

We left him full of this resolve, I, to write to Theobald, and also
to instruct my solicitor to get Ernest's money out of Pryer's hands,
and Towneley to see the reporters and keep the case out of the
newspapers. He was successful as regards all the higher-class
papers. There was only one journal, and that of the lowest class,
which was incorruptible.


I saw my solicitor at once, but when I tried to write to Theobald, I
found it better to say I would run down and see him. I therefore
proposed this, asking him to meet me at the station, and hinting
that I must bring bad news about his son. I knew he would not get
my letter more than a couple of hours before I should see him, and
thought the short interval of suspense might break the shock of what
I had to say.

Never do I remember to have halted more between two opinions than on
my journey to Battersby upon this unhappy errand. When I thought of
the little sallow-faced lad whom I had remembered years before, of
the long and savage cruelty with which he had been treated in
childhood--cruelty none the less real for having been due to
ignorance and stupidity rather than to deliberate malice; of the
atmosphere of lying and self-laudatory hallucination in which he had
been brought up; of the readiness the boy had shown to love anything
that would be good enough to let him, and of how affection for his
parents, unless I am much mistaken, had only died in him because it
had been killed anew, again and again and again, each time that it
had tried to spring. When I thought of all this I felt as though,
if the matter had rested with me, I would have sentenced Theobald
and Christina to mental suffering even more severe than that which
was about to fall upon them. But on the other hand, when I thought
of Theobald's own childhood, of that dreadful old George Pontifex
his father, of John and Mrs John, and of his two sisters, when again
I thought of Christina's long years of hope deferred that maketh the
heart sick, before she was married, of the life she must have led at
Crampsford, and of the surroundings in the midst of which she and
her husband both lived at Battersby, I felt as though the wonder was
that misfortunes so persistent had not been followed by even graver

Poor people! They had tried to keep their ignorance of the world
from themselves by calling it the pursuit of heavenly things, and
then shutting their eyes to anything that might give them trouble.
A son having been born to them they had shut his eyes also as far as
was practicable. Who could blame them? They had chapter and verse
for everything they had either done or left undone; there is no
better thumbed precedent than that for being a clergyman and a
clergyman's wife. In what respect had they differed from their
neighbours? How did their household differ from that of any other
clergyman of the better sort from one end of England to the other?
Why then should it have been upon them, of all people in the world,
that this tower of Siloam had fallen?

Surely it was the tower of Siloam that was naught rather than those
who stood under it; it was the system rather than the people that
was at fault. If Theobald and his wife had but known more of the
world and of the things that are therein, they would have done
little harm to anyone. Selfish they would have always been, but not
more so than may very well be pardoned, and not more than other
people would be. As it was, the case was hopeless; it would be no
use their even entering into their mothers' wombs and being born
again. They must not only be born again but they must be born again
each one of them of a new father and of a new mother and of a
different line of ancestry for many generations before their minds
could become supple enough to learn anew. The only thing to do with
them was to humour them and make the best of them till they died--
and be thankful when they did so.

Theobald got my letter as I had expected, and met me at the station
nearest to Battersby. As I walked back with him towards his own
house I broke the news to him as gently as I could. I pretended
that the whole thing was in great measure a mistake, and that though
Ernest no doubt had had intentions which he ought to have resisted,
he had not meant going anything like the length which Miss Maitland
supposed. I said we had felt how much appearances were against him,
and had not dared to set up this defence before the magistrate,
though we had no doubt about its being the true one.

Theobald acted with a readier and acuter moral sense than I had
given him credit for.

"I will have nothing more to do with him," he exclaimed promptly, "I
will never see his face again; do not let him write either to me or
to his mother; we know of no such person. Tell him you have seen
me, and that from this day forward I shall put him out of my mind as
though he had never been born. I have been a good father to him,
and his mother idolised him; selfishness and ingratitude have been
the only return we have ever had from him; my hope henceforth must
be in my remaining children."

I told him how Ernest's fellow curate had got hold of his money, and
hinted that he might very likely be penniless, or nearly so, on
leaving prison. Theobald did not seem displeased at this, but added
soon afterwards: "If this proves to be the case, tell him from me
that I will give him a hundred pounds if he will tell me through you
when he will have it paid, but tell him not to write and thank me,
and say that if he attempts to open up direct communication either
with his mother or myself, he shall not have a penny of the money."

Knowing what I knew, and having determined on violating Miss
Pontifex's instructions should the occasion arise, I did not think
Ernest would be any the worse for a complete estrangement from his
family, so I acquiesced more readily in what Theobald had proposed
than that gentleman may have expected.

Thinking it better that I should not see Christina, I left Theobald
near Battersby and walked back to the station. On my way I was
pleased to reflect that Ernest's father was less of a fool than I
had taken him to be, and had the greater hopes, therefore, that his
son's blunders might be due to postnatal, rather than congenital
misfortunes. Accidents which happen to a man before he is born, in
the persons of his ancestors, will, if he remembers them at all,
leave an indelible impression on him; they will have moulded his
character so that, do what he will, it is hardly possible for him to
escape their consequences. If a man is to enter into the Kingdom of
Heaven, he must do so, not only as a little child, but as a little
embryo, or rather as a little zoosperm--and not only this, but as
one that has come of zoosperms which have entered into the Kingdom
of Heaven before him for many generations. Accidents which occur
for the first time, and belong to the period since a man's last
birth, are not, as a general rule, so permanent in their effects,
though of course they may sometimes be so. At any rate, I was not
displeased at the view which Ernest's father took of the situation.


After Ernest had been sentenced, he was taken back to the cells to
wait for the van which should take him to Coldbath Fields, where he
was to serve his term.

He was still too stunned and dazed by the suddenness with which
events had happened during the last twenty-four hours to be able to
realise his position. A great chasm had opened between his past and
future; nevertheless he breathed, his pulse beat, he could think and
speak. It seemed to him that he ought to be prostrated by the blow
that had fallen on him, but he was not prostrated; he had suffered
from many smaller laches far more acutely. It was not until he
thought of the pain his disgrace would inflict on his father and
mother that he felt how readily he would have given up all he had,
rather than have fallen into his present plight. It would break his
mother's heart. It must, he knew it would--and it was he who had
done this.

He had had a headache coming on all the forenoon, but as he thought
of his father and mother, his pulse quickened, and the pain in his
head suddenly became intense. He could hardly walk to the van, and
he found its motion insupportable. On reaching the prison he was
too ill to walk without assistance across the hall to the corridor
or gallery where prisoners are marshalled on their arrival. The
prison warder, seeing at once that he was a clergyman, did not
suppose he was shamming, as he might have done in the case of an old
gaol-bird; he therefore sent for the doctor. When this gentleman
arrived, Ernest was declared to be suffering from an incipient
attack of brain fever, and was taken away to the infirmary. Here he
hovered for the next two months between life and death, never in
full possession of his reason and often delirious, but at last,
contrary to the expectation of both doctor and nurse, he began
slowly to recover.

It is said that those who have been nearly drowned, find the return
to consciousness much more painful than the loss of it had been, and
so it was with my hero. As he lay helpless and feeble, it seemed to
him a refinement of cruelty that he had not died once for all during
his delirium. He thought he should still most likely recover only
to sink a little later on from shame and sorrow; nevertheless from
day to day he mended, though so slowly that he could hardly realise
it to himself. One afternoon, however, about three weeks after he
had regained consciousness, the nurse who tended him, and who had
been very kind to him, made some little rallying sally which amused
him; he laughed, and as he did so, she clapped her hands and told
him he would be a man again. The spark of hope was kindled, and
again he wished to live. Almost from that moment his thoughts began
to turn less to the horrors of the past, and more to the best way of
meeting the future.

His worst pain was on behalf of his father and mother, and how he
should again face them. It still seemed to him that the best thing
both for him and them would be that he should sever himself from
them completely, take whatever money he could recover from Pryer,
and go to some place in the uttermost parts of the earth, where he
should never meet anyone who had known him at school or college, and
start afresh. Or perhaps he might go to the gold fields in
California or Australia, of which such wonderful accounts were then
heard; there he might even make his fortune, and return as an old
man many years hence, unknown to everyone, and if so, he would live
at Cambridge. As he built these castles in the air, the spark of
life became a flame, and he longed for health, and for the freedom
which, now that so much of his sentence had expired, was not after
all very far distant.

Then things began to shape themselves more definitely. Whatever
happened he would be a clergyman no longer. It would have been
practically impossible for him to have found another curacy, even if
he had been so minded, but he was not so minded. He hated the life
he had been leading ever since he had begun to read for orders; he
could not argue about it, but simply he loathed it and would have no
more of it. As he dwelt on the prospect of becoming a layman again,
however disgraced, he rejoiced at what had befallen him, and found a
blessing in this very imprisonment which had at first seemed such an
unspeakable misfortune.

Perhaps the shock of so great a change in his surroundings had
accelerated changes in his opinions, just as the cocoons of
silkworms, when sent in baskets by rail, hatch before their time
through the novelty of heat and jolting. But however this may be,
his belief in the stories concerning the Death, Resurrection and
Ascension of Jesus Christ, and hence his faith in all the other
Christian miracles, had dropped off him once and for ever. The
investigation he had made in consequence of Mr Shaw's rebuke,
hurried though it was, had left a deep impression upon him, and now
he was well enough to read he made the New Testament his chief
study, going through it in the spirit which Mr Shaw had desired of
him, that is to say as one who wished neither to believe nor
disbelieve, but cared only about finding out whether he ought to
believe or no. The more he read in this spirit the more the balance
seemed to lie in favour of unbelief, till, in the end, all further
doubt became impossible, and he saw plainly enough that, whatever
else might be true, the story that Christ had died, come to life
again, and been carried from earth through clouds into the heavens
could not now be accepted by unbiassed people. It was well he had
found it out so soon. In one way or another it was sure to meet him
sooner or later. He would probably have seen it years ago if he had
not been hoodwinked by people who were paid for hoodwinking him.
What should he have done, he asked himself, if he had not made his
present discovery till years later when he was more deeply committed
to the life of a clergyman? Should he have had the courage to face
it, or would he not more probably have evolved some excellent reason
for continuing to think as he had thought hitherto? Should he have
had the courage to break away even from his present curacy?

He thought not, and knew not whether to be more thankful for having
been shown his error or for having been caught up and twisted round
so that he could hardly err farther, almost at the very moment of
his having discovered it. The price he had had to pay for this boon
was light as compared with the boon itself. What is too heavy a
price to pay for having duty made at once clear and easy of
fulfilment instead of very difficult? He was sorry for his father
and mother, and he was sorry for Miss Maitland, but he was no longer
sorry for himself.

It puzzled him, however, that he should not have known how much he
had hated being a clergyman till now. He knew that he did not
particularly like it, but if anyone had asked him whether he
actually hated it, he would have answered no. I suppose people
almost always want something external to themselves, to reveal to
them their own likes and dislikes. Our most assured likings have
for the most part been arrived at neither by introspection nor by
any process of conscious reasoning, but by the bounding forth of the
heart to welcome the gospel proclaimed to it by another. We hear
some say that such and such a thing is thus or thus, and in a moment
the train that has been laid within us, but whose presence we knew
not, flashes into consciousness and perception.

Only a year ago he had bounded forth to welcome Mr Hawke's sermon;
since then he had bounded after a College of Spiritual Pathology;
now he was in full cry after rationalism pure and simple; how could
he be sure that his present state of mind would be more lasting than
his previous ones? He could not be certain, but he felt as though
he were now on firmer ground than he had ever been before, and no
matter how fleeting his present opinions might prove to be, he could
not but act according to them till he saw reason to change them.
How impossible, he reflected, it would have been for him to do this,
if he had remained surrounded by people like his father and mother,
or Pryer and Pryer's friends, and his rector. He had been
observing, reflecting, and assimilating all these months with no
more consciousness of mental growth than a school-boy has of growth
of body, but should he have been able to admit his growth to
himself, and to act up to his increased strength if he had remained
in constant close connection with people who assured him solemnly
that he was under a hallucination? The combination against him was
greater than his unaided strength could have broken through, and he
felt doubtful how far any shock less severe than the one from which
he was suffering would have sufficed to free him.


As he lay on his bed day after day slowly recovering he woke up to
the fact which most men arrive at sooner or later, I mean that very
few care two straws about truth, or have any confidence that it is
righter and better to believe what is true than what is untrue, even
though belief in the untruth may seem at first sight most expedient.
Yet it is only these few who can be said to believe anything at all;
the rest are simply unbelievers in disguise. Perhaps, after all,
these last are right. They have numbers and prosperity on their
side. They have all which the rationalist appeals to as his tests
of right and wrong. Right, according to him, is what seems right to
the majority of sensible, well-to-do people; we know of no safer
criterion than this, but what does the decision thus arrived at
involve? Simply this, that a conspiracy of silence about things
whose truth would be immediately apparent to disinterested enquirers
is not only tolerable but righteous on the part of those who profess
to be and take money for being par excellence guardians and teachers
of truth.

Ernest saw no logical escape from this conclusion. He saw that
belief on the part of the early Christians in the miraculous nature
of Christ's Resurrection was explicable, without any supposition of
miracle. The explanation lay under the eyes of anyone who chose to
take a moderate degree of trouble; it had been put before the world
again and again, and there had been no serious attempt to refute it.
How was it that Dean Alford for example who had made the New
Testament his speciality, could not or would not see what was so
obvious to Ernest himself? Could it be for any other reason than
that he did not want to see it, and if so was he not a traitor to
the cause of truth? Yes, but was he not also a respectable and
successful man, and were not the vast majority of respectable and
successful men, such for example, as all the bishops and
archbishops, doing exactly as Dean Alford did, and did not this make
their action right, no matter though it had been cannibalism or
infanticide, or even habitual untruthfulness of mind?

Monstrous, odious falsehood! Ernest's feeble pulse quickened and
his pale face flushed as this hateful view of life presented itself
to him in all its logical consistency. It was not the fact of most
men being liars that shocked him--that was all right enough; but
even the momentary doubt whether the few who were not liars ought
not to become liars too. There was no hope left if this were so; if
this were so, let him die, the sooner the better. "Lord," he
exclaimed inwardly, "I don't believe one word of it. Strengthen
Thou and confirm my disbelief." It seemed to him that he could
never henceforth see a bishop going to consecration without saying
to himself: "There, but for the grace of God, went Ernest
Pontifex." It was no doing of his. He could not boast; if he had
lived in the time of Christ he might himself have been an early
Christian, or even an Apostle for aught he knew. On the whole he
felt that he had much to be thankful for.

The conclusion, then, that it might be better to believe error than
truth should be ordered out of court at once, no matter by how clear
a logic it had been arrived at; but what was the alternative? It
was this, that our criterion of truth--i.e. that truth is what
commends itself to the great majority of sensible and successful
people--is not infallible. The rule is sound, and covers by far the
greater number of cases, but it has its exceptions.

He asked himself, what were they? Ah! that was a difficult matter;
there were so many, and the rules which governed them were sometimes
so subtle, that mistakes always had and always would be made; it was
just this that made it impossible to reduce life to an exact
science. There was a rough and ready rule-of-thumb test of truth,
and a number of rules as regards exceptions which could be mastered
without much trouble, yet there was a residue of cases in which
decision was difficult--so difficult that a man had better follow
his instinct than attempt to decide them by any process of

Instinct then is the ultimate court of appeal. And what is
instinct? It is a mode of faith in the evidence of things not
actually seen. And so my hero returned almost to the point from
which he had started originally, namely that the just shall live by

And this is what the just--that is to say reasonable people--do as
regards those daily affairs of life which most concern them. They
settle smaller matters by the exercise of their own deliberation.
More important ones, such as the cure of their own bodies and the
bodies of those whom they love, the investment of their money, the
extrication of their affairs from any serious mess--these things
they generally entrust to others of whose capacity they know little
save from general report; they act therefore on the strength of
faith, not of knowledge. So the English nation entrusts the welfare
of its fleet and naval defences to a First Lord of the Admiralty,
who, not being a sailor can know nothing about these matters except
by acts of faith. There can be no doubt about faith and not reason
being the ultima ratio.

Even Euclid, who has laid himself as little open to the charge of
credulity as any writer who ever lived, cannot get beyond this. He
has no demonstrable first premise. He requires postulates and
axioms which transcend demonstration, and without which he can do
nothing. His superstructure indeed is demonstration, but his ground
is faith. Nor again can he get further than telling a man he is a
fool if he persists in differing from him. He says "which is
absurd," and declines to discuss the matter further. Faith and
authority, therefore, prove to be as necessary for him as for anyone
else. "By faith in what, then," asked Ernest of himself, "shall a
just man endeavour to live at this present time?" He answered to
himself, "At any rate not by faith in the supernatural element of
the Christian religion."

And how should he best persuade his fellow-countrymen to leave off
believing in this supernatural element? Looking at the matter from
a practical point of view he thought the Archbishop of Canterbury
afforded the most promising key to the situation. It lay between
him and the Pope. The Pope was perhaps best in theory, but in
practice the Archbishop of Canterbury would do sufficiently well.
If he could only manage to sprinkle a pinch of salt, as it were, on
the Archbishop's tail, he might convert the whole Church of England
to free thought by a coup de main. There must be an amount of
cogency which even an Archbishop--an Archbishop whose perceptions
had never been quickened by imprisonment for assault--would not be
able to withstand. When brought face to face with the facts, as he,
Ernest, could arrange them; his Grace would have no resource but to
admit them; being an honourable man he would at once resign his
Archbishopric, and Christianity would become extinct in England
within a few months' time. This, at any rate, was how things ought
to be. But all the time Ernest had no confidence in the
Archbishop's not hopping off just as the pinch was about to fall on
him, and this seemed so unfair that his blood boiled at the thought
of it. If this was to be so, he must try if he could not fix him by
the judicious use of bird-lime or a snare, or throw the salt on his
tail from an ambuscade.

To do him justice it was not himself that he greatly cared about.
He knew he had been humbugged, and he knew also that the greater
part of the ills which had afflicted him were due, indirectly, in
chief measure to the influence of Christian teaching; still, if the
mischief had ended with himself, he should have thought little about
it, but there was his sister, and his brother Joey, and the hundreds
and thousands of young people throughout England whose lives were
being blighted through the lies told them by people whose business
it was to know better, but who scamped their work and shirked
difficulties instead of facing them. It was this which made him
think it worth while to be angry, and to consider whether he could
not at least do something towards saving others from such years of
waste and misery as he had had to pass himself. If there was no
truth in the miraculous accounts of Christ's Death and Resurrection,
the whole of the religion founded upon the historic truth of those
events tumbled to the ground. "My," he exclaimed, with all the
arrogance of youth, "they put a gipsy or fortune-teller into prison
for getting money out of silly people who think they have
supernatural power; why should they not put a clergyman in prison
for pretending that he can absolve sins, or turn bread and wine into
the flesh and blood of One who died two thousand years ago? What,"
he asked himself, "could be more pure 'hanky-panky' than that a
bishop should lay his hands upon a young man and pretend to convey
to him the spiritual power to work this miracle? It was all very
well to talk about toleration; toleration, like everything else, had
its limits; besides, if it was to include the bishop let it include
the fortune-teller too." He would explain all this to the
Archbishop of Canterbury by and by, but as he could not get hold of
him just now, it occurred to him that he might experimentalise
advantageously upon the viler soul of the prison chaplain. It was
only those who took the first and most obvious step in their power
who ever did great things in the end, so one day, when Mr Hughes--
for this was the chaplain's name--was talking with him, Ernest
introduced the question of Christian evidences, and tried to raise a
discussion upon them. Mr Hughes had been very kind to him, but he
was more than twice my hero's age, and had long taken the measure of
such objections as Ernest tried to put before him. I do not suppose
he believed in the actual objective truth of the stories about
Christ's Resurrection and Ascension any more than Ernest did, but he
knew that this was a small matter, and that the real issue lay much
deeper than this.

Mr Hughes was a man who had been in authority for many years, and he
brushed Ernest on one side as if he had been a fly. He did it so
well that my hero never ventured to tackle him again, and confined
his conversation with him for the future to such matters as what he
had better do when he got out of prison; and here Mr Hughes was ever
ready to listen to him with sympathy and kindness.


Ernest was now so far convalescent as to be able to sit up for the
greater part of the day. He had been three months in prison, and,
though not strong enough to leave the infirmary, was beyond all fear
of a relapse. He was talking one day with Mr Hughes about his
future, and again expressed his intention of emigrating to Australia
or New Zealand with the money he should recover from Pryer.
Whenever he spoke of this he noticed that Mr Hughes looked grave and
was silent: he had thought that perhaps the chaplain wanted him to
return to his profession, and disapproved of his evident anxiety to
turn to something else; now, however, he asked Mr Hughes point blank
why it was that he disapproved of his idea of emigrating.

Mr Hughes endeavoured to evade him, but Ernest was not to be put
off. There was something in the chaplain's manner which suggested
that he knew more than Ernest did, but did not like to say it. This
alarmed him so much that he begged him not to keep him in suspense;
after a little hesitation Mr Hughes, thinking him now strong enough
to stand it, broke the news as gently as he could that the whole of
Ernest's money had disappeared.

The day after my return from Battersby I called on my solicitor, and
was told that he had written to Pryer, requiring him to refund the
monies for which he had given his I.O.U.'s. Pryer replied that he
had given orders to his broker to close his operations, which
unfortunately had resulted so far in heavy loss, and that the
balance should be paid to my solicitor on the following settling
day, then about a week distant. When the time came, we heard
nothing from Pryer, and going to his lodgings found that he had left
with his few effects on the very day after he had heard from us, and
had not been seen since.

I had heard from Ernest the name of the broker who had been
employed, and went at once to see him. He told me Pryer had closed
all his accounts for cash on the day that Ernest had been sentenced,
and had received 2315 pounds, which was all that remained of
Ernest's original 5000 pounds. With this he had decamped, nor had
we enough clue as to his whereabouts to be able to take any steps to
recover the money. There was in fact nothing to be done but to
consider the whole as lost. I may say here that neither I nor
Ernest ever heard of Pryer again, nor have any idea what became of

This placed me in a difficult position. I knew, of course, that in
a few years Ernest would have many times over as much money as he
had lost, but I knew also that he did not know this, and feared that
the supposed loss of all he had in the world might be more than he
could stand when coupled with his other misfortunes.

The prison authorities had found Theobald's address from a letter in
Ernest's pocket, and had communicated with him more than once
concerning his son's illness, but Theobald had not written to me,
and I supposed my godson to be in good health. He would be just
twenty-four years old when he left prison, and if I followed out his
aunt's instructions, would have to battle with fortune for another
four years as well as he could. The question before me was whether
it was right to let him run so much risk, or whether I should not to
some extent transgress my instructions--which there was nothing to
prevent my doing if I thought Miss Pontifex would have wished it--
and let him have the same sum that he would have recovered from

If my godson had been an older man, and more fixed in any definite
groove, this is what I should have done, but he was still very
young, and more than commonly unformed for his age. If, again, I
had known of his illness I should not have dared to lay any heavier
burden on his back than he had to bear already; but not being uneasy
about his health, I thought a few years of roughing it and of
experience concerning the importance of not playing tricks with
money would do him no harm. So I decided to keep a sharp eye upon
him as soon as he came out of prison, and to let him splash about in
deep water as best he could till I saw whether he was able to swim,
or was about to sink. In the first case I would let him go on
swimming till he was nearly eight-and-twenty, when I would prepare
him gradually for the good fortune that awaited him; in the second I
would hurry up to the rescue. So I wrote to say that Pryer had
absconded, and that he could have 100 pounds from his father when he
came out of prison. I then waited to see what effect these tidings
would have, not expecting to receive an answer for three months, for
I had been told on enquiry that no letter could be received by a
prisoner till after he had been three months in gaol. I also wrote
to Theobald and told him of Pryer's disappearance.

As a matter of fact, when my letter arrived the governor of the gaol
read it, and in a case of such importance would have relaxed the
rules if Ernest's state had allowed it; his illness prevented this,
and the governor left it to the chaplain and the doctor to break the
news to him when they thought him strong enough to bear it, which
was now the case. In the meantime I received a formal official
document saying that my letter had been received and would be
communicated to the prisoner in due course; I believe it was simply
through a mistake on the part of a clerk that I was not informed of
Ernest's illness, but I heard nothing of it till I saw him by his
own desire a few days after the chaplin had broken to him the
substance of what I had written.

Ernest was terribly shocked when he heard of the loss of his money,
but his ignorance of the world prevented him from seeing the full
extent of the mischief. He had never been in serious want of money
yet, and did not know what it meant. In reality, money losses are
the hardest to bear of any by those who are old enough to comprehend

A man can stand being told that he must submit to a severe surgical
operation, or that he has some disease which will shortly kill him,
or that he will be a cripple or blind for the rest of his life;
dreadful as such tidings must be, we do not find that they unnerve
the greater number of mankind; most men, indeed, go coolly enough
even to be hanged, but the strongest quail before financial ruin,
and the better men they are, the more complete, as a general rule,
is their prostration. Suicide is a common consequence of money
losses; it is rarely sought as a means of escape from bodily
suffering. If we feel that we have a competence at our backs, so
that we can die warm and quietly in our beds, with no need to worry
about expense, we live our lives out to the dregs, no matter how
excruciating our torments. Job probably felt the loss of his flocks
and herds more than that of his wife and family, for he could enjoy
his flocks and herds without his family, but not his family--not for
long--if he had lost all his money. Loss of money indeed is not
only the worst pain in itself, but it is the parent of all others.
Let a man have been brought up to a moderate competence, and have no
specially; then let his money be suddenly taken from him, and how
long is his health likely to survive the change in all his little
ways which loss of money will entail? How long again is the esteem
and sympathy of friends likely to survive ruin? People may be very
sorry for us, but their attitude towards us hitherto has been based
upon the supposition that we were situated thus or thus in money
matters; when this breaks down there must be a restatement of the
social problem so far as we are concerned; we have been obtaining
esteem under false pretences. Granted, then, that the three most
serious losses which a man can suffer are those affecting money,
health and reputation. Loss of money is far the worst, then comes
ill-health, and then loss of reputation; loss of reputation is a bad
third, for, if a man keeps health and money unimpaired, it will be
generally found that his loss of reputation is due to breaches of
parvenu conventions only, and not to violations of those older,
better established canons whose authority is unquestionable. In
this case a man may grow a new reputation as easily as a lobster
grows a new claw, or, if he have health and money, may thrive in
great peace of mind without any reputation at all. The only chance
for a man who has lost his money is that he shall still be young
enough to stand uprooting and transplanting without more than
temporary derangement, and this I believed my godson still to be.

By the prison rules he might receive and send a letter after he had
been in gaol three months, and might also receive one visit from a
friend. When he received my letter, he at once asked me to come and
see him, which of course I did. I found him very much changed, and
still so feeble, that the exertion of coming from the infirmary to
the cell in which I was allowed to see him, and the agitation of
seeing me were too much for him. At first he quite broke down, and
I was so pained at the state in which I found him, that I was on the
point of breaking my instructions then and there. I contented
myself, however, for the time, with assuring him that I would help
him as soon as he came out of prison, and that, when he had made up
his mind what he would do, he was to come to me for what money might
be necessary, if he could not get it from his father. To make it
easier for him I told him that his aunt, on her deathbed, had
desired me to do something of this sort should an emergency arise,
so that he would only be taking what his aunt had left him.

"Then," said he, "I will not take the 100 pounds from my father, and
I will never see him or my mother again."

I said: "Take the 100 pounds, Ernest, and as much more as you can
get, and then do not see them again if you do not like."

This Ernest would not do. If he took money from them, he could not
cut them, and he wanted to cut them. I thought my godson would get
on a great deal better if he would only have the firmness to do as
he proposed, as regards breaking completely with his father and
mother, and said so. "Then don't you like them?" said he, with a
look of surprise.

"Like them!" said I, "I think they're horrid."

"Oh, that's the kindest thing of all you have done for me," he
exclaimed, "I thought all--all middle-aged people liked my father
and mother."

He had been about to call me old, but I was only fifty-seven, and
was not going to have this, so I made a face when I saw him
hesitating, which drove him into "middle-aged."

"If you like it," said I, "I will say all your family are horrid
except yourself and your aunt Alethea. The greater part of every
family is always odious; if there are one or two good ones in a very
large family, it is as much as can be expected."

"Thank you," he replied, gratefully, "I think I can now stand almost
anything. I will come and see you as soon as I come out of gaol.
Goodbye." For the warder had told us that the time allowed for our
interview was at an end.


As soon as Ernest found that he had no money to look to upon leaving
prison he saw that his dreams about emigrating and farming must come
to an end, for he knew that he was incapable of working at the
plough or with the axe for long together himself. And now it seemed
he should have no money to pay any one else for doing so. It was
this that resolved him to part once and for all with his parents.
If he had been going abroad he could have kept up relations with
them, for they would have been too far off to interfere with him.

He knew his father and mother would object to being cut; they would
wish to appear kind and forgiving; they would also dislike having no
further power to plague him; but he knew also very well that so long
as he and they ran in harness together they would be always pulling
one way and he another. He wanted to drop the gentleman and go down
into the ranks, beginning on the lowest rung of the ladder, where no
one would know of his disgrace or mind it if he did know; his father
and mother on the other hand would wish him to clutch on to the fag-
end of gentility at a starvation salary and with no prospect of
advancement. Ernest had seen enough in Ashpit Place to know that a
tailor, if he did not drink and attended to his business, could earn
more money than a clerk or a curate, while much less expense by way
of show was required of him. The tailor also had more liberty, and
a better chance of rising. Ernest resolved at once, as he had
fallen so far, to fall still lower--promptly, gracefully and with
the idea of rising again, rather than cling to the skirts of a
respectability which would permit him to exist on sufferance only,
and make him pay an utterly extortionate price for an article which
he could do better without.

He arrived at this result more quickly than he might otherwise have
done through remembering something he had once heard his aunt say
about "kissing the soil." This had impressed him and stuck by him
perhaps by reason of its brevity; when later on he came to know the
story of Hercules and Antaeus, he found it one of the very few
ancient fables which had a hold over him--his chiefest debt to
classical literature. His aunt had wanted him to learn
carpentering, as a means of kissing the soil should his Hercules
ever throw him. It was too late for this now--or he thought it was-
-but the mode of carrying out his aunt's idea was a detail; there
were a hundred ways of kissing the soil besides becoming a

He had told me this during our interview, and I had encouraged him
to the utmost of my power. He showed so much more good sense than I
had given him credit for that I became comparatively easy about him,
and determined to let him play his own game, being always, however,
ready to hand in case things went too far wrong. It was not simply
because he disliked his father and mother that he wanted to have no
more to do with them; if it had been only this he would have put up
with them; but a warning voice within told him distinctly enough
that if he was clean cut away from them he might still have a chance
of success, whereas if they had anything whatever to do with him, or
even knew where he was, they would hamper him and in the end ruin
him. Absolute independence he believed to be his only chance of
very life itself.

Over and above this--if this were not enough--Ernest had a faith in
his own destiny such as most young men, I suppose, feel, but the
grounds of which were not apparent to any one but himself. Rightly
or wrongly, in a quiet way he believed he possessed a strength
which, if he were only free to use it in his own way, might do great
things some day. He did not know when, nor where, nor how his
opportunity was to come, but he never doubted that it would come in
spite of all that had happened, and above all else he cherished the
hope that he might know how to seize it if it came, for whatever it
was it would be something that no one else could do so well as he
could. People said there were no dragons and giants for adventurous
men to fight with nowadays; it was beginning to dawn upon him that
there were just as many now as at any past time.

Monstrous as such a faith may seem in one who was qualifying himself
for a high mission by a term of imprisonment, he could no more help
it than he could help breathing; it was innate in him, and it was
even more with a view to this than for other reasons that he wished
to sever the connection between himself and his parents; for he knew
that if ever the day came in which it should appear that before him
too there was a race set in which it might be an honour to have run
among the foremost, his father and mother would be the first to let
him and hinder him in running it. They had been the first to say
that he ought to run such a race; they would also be the first to
trip him up if he took them at their word, and then afterwards
upbraid him for not having won. Achievement of any kind would be
impossible for him unless he was free from those who would be for
ever dragging him back into the conventional. The conventional had
been tried already and had been found wanting.

He had an opportunity now, if he chose to take it, of escaping once
for all from those who at once tormented him and would hold him
earthward should a chance of soaring open before him. He should
never have had it but for his imprisonment; but for this the force
of habit and routine would have been too strong for him; he should
hardly have had it if he had not lost all his money; the gap would
not have been so wide but that he might have been inclined to throw
a plank across it. He rejoiced now, therefore, over his loss of
money as well as over his imprisonment, which had made it more easy
for him to follow his truest and most lasting interests.

At times he wavered, when he thought of how his mother, who in her
way, as he thought, had loved him, would weep and think sadly over
him, or how perhaps she might even fall ill and die, and how the
blame would rest with him. At these times his resolution was near
breaking, but when he found I applauded his design, the voice
within, which bade him see his father's and mother's faces no more,
grew louder and more persistent. If he could not cut himself adrift
from those who he knew would hamper him, when so small an effort was
wanted, his dream of a destiny was idle; what was the prospect of a
hundred pounds from his father in comparison with jeopardy to this?
He still felt deeply the pain his disgrace had inflicted upon his
father and mother, but he was getting stronger, and reflected that
as he had run his chance with them for parents, so they must run
theirs with him for a son.

He had nearly settled down to this conclusion when he received a
letter from his father which made his decision final. If the prison
rules had been interpreted strictly, he would not have been allowed
to have this letter for another three months, as he had already
heard from me, but the governor took a lenient view, and considered
the letter from me to be a business communication hardly coming
under the category of a letter from friends. Theobald's letter
therefore was given to his son. It ran as follows:-

"My dear Ernest, My object in writing is not to upbraid you with the
disgrace and shame you have inflicted upon your mother and myself,
to say nothing of your brother Joey, and your sister. Suffer of
course we must, but we know to whom to look in our affliction, and
are filled with anxiety rather on your behalf than our own. Your
mother is wonderful. She is pretty well in health, and desires me
to send you her love.

"Have you considered your prospects on leaving prison? I understand
from Mr Overton that you have lost the legacy which your grandfather
left you, together with all the interest that accrued during your
minority, in the course of speculation upon the Stock Exchange! If
you have indeed been guilty of such appalling folly it is difficult
to see what you can turn your hand to, and I suppose you will try to
find a clerkship in an office. Your salary will doubtless be low at
first, but you have made your bed and must not complain if you have
to lie upon it. If you take pains to please your employers they
will not be backward in promoting you.

"When I first heard from Mr Overton of the unspeakable calamity
which had befallen your mother and myself, I had resolved not to see
you again. I am unwilling, however, to have recourse to a measure
which would deprive you of your last connecting link with
respectable people. Your mother and I will see you as soon as you
come out of prison; not at Battersby--we do not wish you to come
down here at present--but somewhere else, probably in London. You
need not shrink from seeing us; we shall not reproach you. We will
then decide about your future.

"At present our impression is that you will find a fairer start
probably in Australia or New Zealand than here, and I am prepared to
find you 75 pounds or even if necessary so far as 100 pounds to pay
your passage money. Once in the colony you must be dependent upon
your own exertions.

"May Heaven prosper them and you, and restore you to us years hence
a respected member of society.--Your affectionate father, T.

Then there was a postscript in Christina's writing.

"My darling, darling boy, pray with me daily and hourly that we may
yet again become a happy, united, God-fearing family as we were
before this horrible pain fell upon us.--Your sorrowing but ever
loving mother, "C. P."

This letter did not produce the effect on Ernest that it would have
done before his imprisonment began. His father and mother thought
they could take him up as they had left him off. They forgot the
rapidity with which development follows misfortune, if the sufferer
is young and of a sound temperament. Ernest made no reply to his
father's letter, but his desire for a total break developed into
something like a passion. "There are orphanages," he exclaimed to
himself, "for children who have lost their parents--oh! why, why,
why, are there no harbours of refuge for grown men who have not yet
lost them?" And he brooded over the bliss of Melchisedek who had
been born an orphan, without father, without mother, and without


When I think over all that Ernest told me about his prison
meditations, and the conclusions he was drawn to, it occurs to me
that in reality he was wanting to do the very last thing which it
would have entered into his head to think of wanting. I mean that
he was trying to give up father and mother for Christ's sake. He
would have said he was giving them up because he thought they
hindered him in the pursuit of his truest and most lasting
happiness. Granted, but what is this if it is not Christ? What is
Christ if He is not this? He who takes the highest and most self-
respecting view of his own welfare which it is in his power to
conceive, and adheres to it in spite of conventionality, is a
Christian whether he knows it and calls himself one, or whether he
does not. A rose is not the less a rose because it does not know
its own name.

What if circumstances had made his duty more easy for him than it
would be to most men? That was his luck, as much as it is other
people's luck to have other duties made easy for them by accident of
birth. Surely if people are born rich or handsome they have a right
to their good fortune. Some I know, will say that one man has no
right to be born with a better constitution than another; others
again will say that luck is the only righteous object of human
veneration. Both, I daresay, can make out a very good case, but
whichever may be right surely Ernest had as much right to the good
luck of finding a duty made easier as he had had to the bad fortune
of falling into the scrape which had got him into prison. A man is
not to be sneered at for having a trump card in his hand; he is only
to be sneered at if he plays his trump card badly.

Indeed, I question whether it is ever much harder for anyone to give
up father and mother for Christ's sake than it was for Ernest. The
relations between the parties will have almost always been severely
strained before it comes to this. I doubt whether anyone was ever
yet required to give up those to whom he was tenderly attached for a
mere matter of conscience: he will have ceased to be tenderly
attached to them long before he is called upon to break with them;
for differences of opinion concerning any matter of vital importance
spring from differences of constitution, and these will already have
led to so much other disagreement that the "giving up" when it
comes, is like giving up an aching but very loose and hollow tooth.
It is the loss of those whom we are not required to give up for
Christ's sake which is really painful to us. Then there is a wrench
in earnest. Happily, no matter how light the task that is demanded
from us, it is enough if we do it; we reap our reward, much as
though it were a Herculean labour.

But to return, the conclusion Ernest came to was that he would be a
tailor. He talked the matter over with the chaplain, who told him
there was no reason why he should not be able to earn his six or
seven shillings a day by the time he came out of prison, if he chose
to learn the trade during the remainder of his term--not quite three
months; the doctor said he was strong enough for this, and that it
was about the only thing he was as yet fit for; so he left the
infirmary sooner than he would otherwise have done and entered the
tailor's shop, overjoyed at the thoughts of seeing his way again,
and confident of rising some day if he could only get a firm
foothold to start from.

Everyone whom he had to do with saw that he did not belong to what
are called the criminal classes, and finding him eager to learn and
to save trouble always treated him kindly and almost respectfully.
He did not find the work irksome: it was far more pleasant than
making Latin and Greek verses at Roughborough; he felt that he would
rather be here in prison than at Roughborough again--yes, or even at
Cambridge itself. The only trouble he was ever in danger of getting
into was through exchanging words or looks with the more decent-
looking of his fellow-prisoners. This was forbidden, but he never
missed a chance of breaking the rules in this respect.

Any man of his ability who was at the same time anxious to learn
would of course make rapid progress, and before he left prison the
warder said he was as good a tailor with his three months'
apprenticeship as many a man was with twelve. Ernest had never
before been so much praised by any of his teachers. Each day as he
grew stronger in health and more accustomed to his surroundings he
saw some fresh advantage in his position, an advantage which he had
not aimed at, but which had come almost in spite of himself, and he
marvelled at his own good fortune, which had ordered things so
greatly better for him than he could have ordered them for himself.

His having lived six months in Ashpit Place was a case in point.
Things were possible to him which to others like him would be
impossible. If such a man as Towneley were told he must live
henceforth in a house like those in Ashpit Place it would be more
than he could stand. Ernest could not have stood it himself if he
had gone to live there of compulsion through want of money. It was
only because he had felt himself able to run away at any minute that
he had not wanted to do so; now, however, that he had become
familiar with life in Ashpit Place he no longer minded it, and could
live gladly in lower parts of London than that so long as he could
pay his way. It was from no prudence or forethought that he had
served this apprenticeship to life among the poor. He had been
trying in a feeble way to be thorough in his work: he had not been
thorough, the whole thing had been a fiasco; but he had made a
little puny effort in the direction of being genuine, and behold, in
his hour of need it had been returned to him with a reward far
richer than he had deserved. He could not have faced becoming one
of the very poor unless he had had such a bridge to conduct him over
to them as he had found unwittingly in Ashpit Place. True, there
had been drawbacks in the particular house he had chosen, but he
need not live in a house where there was a Mr Holt and he should no
longer be tied to the profession which he so much hated; if there
were neither screams nor scripture readings he could be happy in a
garret at three shillings a week, such as Miss Maitland lived in.

As he thought further he remembered that all things work together
for good to them that love God; was it possible, he asked himself,
that he too, however imperfectly, had been trying to love him? He
dared not answer Yes, but he would try hard that it should be so.
Then there came into his mind that noble air of Handel's: "Great
God, who yet but darkly known," and he felt it as he had never felt
it before. He had lost his faith in Christianity, but his faith in
something--he knew not what, but that there was a something as yet
but darkly known which made right right and wrong wrong--his faith
in this grew stronger and stronger daily.

Again there crossed his mind thoughts of the power which he felt to
be in him, and of how and where it was to find its vent. The same
instinct which had led him to live among the poor because it was the
nearest thing to him which he could lay hold of with any clearness
came to his assistance here too. He thought of the Australian gold
and how those who lived among it had never seen it though it
abounded all around them: "There is gold everywhere," he exclaimed
inwardly, "to those who look for it." Might not his opportunity be
close upon him if he looked carefully enough at his immediate
surroundings? What was his position? He had lost all. Could he
not turn his having lost all into an opportunity? Might he not, if
he too sought the strength of the Lord, find, like St Paul, that it
was perfected in weakness?

He had nothing more to lose; money, friends, character, all were
gone for a very long time if not for ever; but there was something
else also that had taken its flight along with these. I mean the
fear of that which man could do unto him. Cantabil vacuus. Who
could hurt him more than he had been hurt already? Let him but be
able to earn his bread, and he knew of nothing which he dared not
venture if it would make the world a happier place for those who
were young and loveable. Herein he found so much comfort that he
almost wished he had lost his reputation even more completely--for
he saw that it was like a man's life which may be found of them that
lose it and lost of them that would find it. He should not have had
the courage to give up all for Christ's sake, but now Christ had
mercifully taken all, and lo! it seemed as though all were found.

As the days went slowly by he came to see that Christianity and the
denial of Christianity after all met as much as any other extremes
do; it was a fight about names--not about things; practically the
Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the freethinker have the
same ideal standard and meet in the gentleman; for he is the most
perfect saint who is the most perfect gentleman. Then he saw also
that it matters little what profession, whether of religion or
irreligion, a man may make, provided only he follows it out with
charitable inconsistency, and without insisting on it to the bitter
end. It is in the uncompromisingness with which dogma is held and
not in the dogma or want of dogma that the danger lies. This was
the crowning point of the edifice; when he had got here he no longer
wished to molest even the Pope. The Archbishop of Canterbury might
have hopped about all round him and even picked crumbs out of his
hand without running risk of getting a sly sprinkle of salt. That
wary prelate himself might perhaps have been of a different opinion,
but the robins and thrushes that hop about our lawns are not more
needlessly distrustful of the hand that throws them out crumbs of
bread in winter, than the Archbishop would have been of my hero.

Perhaps he was helped to arrive at the foregoing conclusion by an
event which almost thrust inconsistency upon him. A few days after
he had left the infirmary the chaplain came to his cell and told him
that the prisoner who played the organ in chapel had just finished
his sentence and was leaving the prison; he therefore offered the
post to Ernest, who he already knew played the organ. Ernest was at
first in doubt whether it would be right for him to assist at
religious services more than he was actually compelled to do, but
the pleasure of playing the organ, and the privileges which the post
involved, made him see excellent reasons for not riding consistency
to death. Having, then, once introduced an element of inconsistency
into his system, he was far too consistent not to be inconsistent
consistently, and he lapsed ere long into an amiable indifferentism
which to outward appearance differed but little from the
indifferentism from which Mr Hawke had aroused him.

By becoming organist he was saved from the treadmill, for which the
doctor had said he was unfit as yet, but which he would probably
have been put to in due course as soon as he was stronger. He might
have escaped the tailor's shop altogether and done only the
comparatively light work of attending to the chaplain's rooms if he
had liked, but he wanted to learn as much tailoring as he could, and
did not therefore take advantage of this offer; he was allowed,
however, two hours a day in the afternoon for practice. From that
moment his prison life ceased to be monotonous, and the remaining
two months of his sentence slipped by almost as rapidly as they
would have done if he had been free. What with music, books,
learning his trade, and conversation with the chaplain, who was just
the kindly, sensible person that Ernest wanted in order to steady
him a little, the days went by so pleasantly that when the time came
for him to leave prison, he did so, or thought he did so, not
without regret.


In coming to the conclusion that he would sever the connection
between himself and his family once for all Ernest had reckoned
without his family. Theobald wanted to be rid of his son, it is
true, in so far as he wished him to be no nearer at any rate than
the Antipodes; but he had no idea of entirely breaking with him. He
knew his son well enough to have a pretty shrewd idea that this was
what Ernest would wish himself, and perhaps as much for this reason
as for any other he was determined to keep up the connection,
provided it did not involve Ernest's coming to Battersby nor any
recurring outlay.

When the time approached for him to leave prison, his father and
mother consulted as to what course they should adopt.

"We must never leave him to himself," said Theobald impressively;
"we can neither of us wish that."

"Oh, no! no! dearest Theobald," exclaimed Christina. "Whoever else
deserts him, and however distant he may be from us, he must still
feel that he has parents whose hearts beat with affection for him no
matter how cruelly he has pained them."

"He has been his own worst enemy," said Theobald. "He has never
loved us as we deserved, and now he will be withheld by false shame
from wishing to see us. He will avoid us if he can."

"Then we must go to him ourselves," said Christina, "whether he
likes it or not we must be at his side to support him as he enters
again upon the world."

"If we do not want him to give us the slip we must catch him as he
leaves prison."

"We will, we will; our faces shall be the first to gladden his eyes
as he comes out, and our voices the first to exhort him to return to
the paths of virtue."

"I think," said Theobald, "if he sees us in the street he will turn
round and run away from us. He is intensely selfish."

"Then we must get leave to go inside the prison, and see him before
he gets outside."

After a good deal of discussion this was the plan they decided on
adopting, and having so decided, Theobald wrote to the governor of
the gaol asking whether he could be admitted inside the gaol to
receive Ernest when his sentence had expired. He received answer in
the affirmative, and the pair left Battersby the day before Ernest
was to come out of prison.

Ernest had not reckoned on this, and was rather surprised on being
told a few minutes before nine that he was to go into the receiving
room before he left the prison as there were visitors waiting to see
him. His heart fell, for he guessed who they were, but he screwed
up his courage and hastened to the receiving room. There, sure
enough, standing at the end of the table nearest the door were the
two people whom he regarded as the most dangerous enemies he had in
all the world--his father and mother.

He could not fly, but he knew that if he wavered he was lost.

His mother was crying, but she sprang forward to meet him and
clasped him in her arms. "Oh, my boy, my boy," she sobbed, and she
could say no more.

Ernest was as white as a sheet. His heart beat so that he could
hardly breathe. He let his mother embrace him, and then withdrawing
himself stood silently before her with the tears falling from his

At first he could not speak. For a minute or so the silence on all
sides was complete. Then, gathering strength, he said in a low

"Mother," (it was the first time he had called her anything but
"mamma"?) "we must part." On this, turning to the warder, he said:
"I believe I am free to leave the prison if I wish to do so. You
cannot compel me to remain here longer. Please take me to the

Theobald stepped forward. "Ernest, you must not, shall not, leave
us in this way."

"Do not speak to me," said Ernest, his eyes flashing with a fire
that was unwonted in them. Another warder then came up and took
Theobald aside, while the first conducted Ernest to the gates.

"Tell them," said Ernest, "from me that they must think of me as one
dead, for I am dead to them. Say that my greatest pain is the
thought of the disgrace I have inflicted upon them, and that above
all things else I will study to avoid paining them hereafter; but
say also that if they write to me I will return their letters
unopened, and that if they come and see me I will protect myself in
whatever way I can."

By this time he was at the prison gate, and in another moment was at
liberty. After he had got a few steps out he turned his face to the
prison wall, leant against it for support, and wept as though his
heart would break.

Giving up father and mother for Christ's sake was not such an easy
matter after all. If a man has been possessed by devils for long
enough they will rend him as they leave him, however imperatively
they may have been cast out. Ernest did not stay long where he was,
for he feared each moment that his father and mother would come out.
He pulled himself together and turned into the labyrinth of small
streets which opened out in front of him.

He had crossed his Rubicon--not perhaps very heroically or
dramatically, but then it is only in dramas that people act
dramatically. At any rate, by hook or by crook, he had scrambled
over, and was out upon the other side. Already he thought of much
which he would gladly have said, and blamed his want of presence of
mind; but, after all, it mattered very little. Inclined though he
was to make very great allowances for his father and mother, he was
indignant at their having thrust themselves upon him without warning
at a moment when the excitement of leaving prison was already as
much as he was fit for. It was a mean advantage to have taken over
him, but he was glad they had taken it, for it made him realise more
fully than ever that his one chance lay in separating himself
completely from them.

The morning was grey, and the first signs of winter fog were
beginning to show themselves, for it was now the 30th of September.
Ernest wore the clothes in which he had entered prison, and was
therefore dressed as a clergyman. No one who looked at him would
have seen any difference between his present appearance and his
appearance six months previously; indeed, as he walked slowly
through the dingy crowded lane called Eyre Street Hill (which he
well knew, for he had clerical friends in that neighbourhood), the
months he had passed in prison seemed to drop out of his life, and
so powerfully did association carry him away that, finding himself
in his old dress and in his old surroundings, he felt dragged back
into his old self--as though his six months of prison life had been
a dream from which he was now waking to take things up as he had
left them. This was the effect of unchanged surroundings upon the
unchanged part of him. But there was a changed part, and the effect
of unchanged surroundings upon this was to make everything seem
almost as strange as though he had never had any life but his prison
one, and was now born into a new world.

All our lives long, every day and every hour, we are engaged in the
process of accommodating our changed and unchanged selves to changed
and unchanged surroundings; living, in fact, in nothing else than
this process of accommodation; when we fail in it a little we are
stupid, when we fail flagrantly we are mad, when we suspend it
temporarily we sleep, when we give up the attempt altogether we die.
In quiet, uneventful lives the changes internal and external are so
small that there is little or no strain in the process of fusion and
accommodation; in other lives there is great strain, but there is
also great fusing and accommodating power; in others great strain
with little accommodating power. A life will be successful or not
according as the power of accommodation is equal to or unequal to
the strain of fusing and adjusting internal and external changes.

The trouble is that in the end we shall be driven to admit the unity
of the universe so completely as to be compelled to deny that there
is either an external or an internal, but must see everything both
as external and internal at one and the same time, subject and
object--external and internal--being unified as much as everything
else. This will knock our whole system over, but then every system
has got to be knocked over by something.

Much the best way out of this difficulty is to go in for separation
between internal and external--subject and object--when we find this
convenient, and unity between the same when we find unity
convenient. This is illogical, but extremes are alone logical, and
they are always absurd, the mean is alone practicable and it is
always illogical. It is faith and not logic which is the supreme
arbiter. They say all roads lead to Rome, and all philosophies that
I have ever seen lead ultimately either to some gross absurdity, or
else to the conclusion already more than once insisted on in these
pages, that the just shall live by faith, that is to say that
sensible people will get through life by rule of thumb as they may
interpret it most conveniently without asking too many questions for
conscience sake. Take any fact, and reason upon it to the bitter
end, and it will ere long lead to this as the only refuge from some
palpable folly.

But to return to my story. When Ernest got to the top of the street
and looked back, he saw the grimy, sullen walls of his prison
filling up the end of it. He paused for a minute or two. "There,"
he said to himself, "I was hemmed in by bolts which I could see and
touch; here I am barred by others which are none the less real--
poverty and ignorance of the world. It was no part of my business
to try to break the material bolts of iron and escape from prison,
but now that I am free I must surely seek to break these others."

He had read somewhere of a prisoner who had made his escape by
cutting up his bedstead with an iron spoon. He admired and
marvelled at the man's mind, but could not even try to imitate him;
in the presence of immaterial barriers, however, he was not so
easily daunted, and felt as though, even if the bed were iron and
the spoon a wooden one, he could find some means of making the wood
cut the iron sooner or later.

He turned his back upon Eyre Street Hill and walked down Leather
Lane into Holborn. Each step he took, each face or object that he
knew, helped at once to link him on to the life he had led before
his imprisonment, and at the same time to make him feel how
completely that imprisonment had cut his life into two parts, the
one of which could bear no resemblance to the other.

He passed down Fetter Lane into Fleet Street and so to the Temple,
to which I had just returned from my summer holiday. It was about
half past nine, and I was having my breakfast, when I heard a timid
knock at the door and opened it to find Ernest.


I had begun to like him on the night Towneley had sent for me, and
on the following day I thought he had shaped well. I had liked him
also during our interview in prison, and wanted to see more of him,
so that I might make up my mind about him. I had lived long enough
to know that some men who do great things in the end are not very
wise when they are young; knowing that he would leave prison on the
30th, I had expected him, and, as I had a spare bedroom, pressed him
to stay with me, till he could make up his mind what he would do.

Being so much older than he was, I anticipated no trouble in getting
my own way, but he would not hear of it. The utmost he would assent
to was that he should be my guest till he could find a room for
himself, which he would set about doing at once.

He was still much agitated, but grew better as he ate a breakfast,
not of prison fare and in a comfortable room. It pleased me to see
the delight he took in all about him; the fireplace with a fire in
it; the easy chairs, the Times, my cat, the red geraniums in the
window, to say nothing of coffee, bread and butter, sausages,
marmalade, etc. Everything was pregnant with the most exquisite
pleasure to him. The plane trees were full of leaf still; he kept
rising from the breakfast table to admire them; never till now, he
said, had he known what the enjoyment of these things really was.
He ate, looked, laughed and cried by turns, with an emotion which I
can neither forget nor describe.

He told me how his father and mother had lain in wait for him, as he
was about to leave prison. I was furious, and applauded him
heartily for what he had done. He was very grateful to me for this.
Other people, he said, would tell him he ought to think of his
father and mother rather than of himself, and it was such a comfort
to find someone who saw things as he saw them himself. Even if I
had differed from him I should not have said so, but I was of his
opinion, and was almost as much obliged to him for seeing things as
I saw them, as he to me for doing the same kind office by himself.
Cordially as I disliked Theobald and Christina, I was in such a
hopeless minority in the opinion I had formed concerning them that
it was pleasant to find someone who agreed with me.

Then there came an awful moment for both of us.

A knock, as of a visitor and not a postman, was heard at my door.

"Goodness gracious," I exclaimed, "why didn't we sport the oak?
Perhaps it is your father. But surely he would hardly come at this
time of day! Go at once into my bedroom."

I went to the door, and, sure enough, there were both Theobald and
Christina. I could not refuse to let them in and was obliged to
listen to their version of the story, which agreed substantially
with Ernest's. Christina cried bitterly--Theobald stormed. After
about ten minutes, during which I assured them that I had not the
faintest conception where their son was, I dismissed them both. I
saw they looked suspiciously upon the manifest signs that someone
was breakfasting with me, and parted from me more or less defiantly,
but I got rid of them, and poor Ernest came out again, looking
white, frightened and upset. He had heard voices, but no more, and
did not feel sure that the enemy might not be gaining over me. We
sported the oak now, and before long he began to recover.

After breakfast, we discussed the situation. I had taken away his
wardrobe and books from Mrs Jupp's, but had left his furniture,
pictures and piano, giving Mrs Jupp the use of these, so that she
might let her room furnished, in lieu of charge for taking care of
the furniture. As soon as Ernest heard that his wardrobe was at
hand, he got out a suit of clothes he had had before he had been
ordained, and put it on at once, much, as I thought, to the
improvement of his personal appearance.

Then we went into the subject of his finances. He had had ten
pounds from Pryer only a day or two before he was apprehended, of
which between seven and eight were in his purse when he entered the
prison. This money was restored to him on leaving. He had always
paid cash for whatever he bought, so that there was nothing to be
deducted for debts. Besides this, he had his clothes, books and
furniture. He could, as I have said, have had 100 pounds from his
father if he had chosen to emigrate, but this both Ernest and I (for
he brought me round to his opinion) agreed it would be better to
decline. This was all he knew of as belonging to him.

He said he proposed at once taking an unfurnished top back attic in
as quiet a house as he could find, say at three or four shillings a
week, and looking out for work as a tailor. I did not think it much
mattered what he began with, for I felt pretty sure he would ere
long find his way to something that suited him, if he could get a
start with anything at all. The difficulty was how to get him
started. It was not enough that he should be able to cut out and
make clothes--that he should have the organs, so to speak, of a
tailor; he must be put into a tailor's shop and guided for a little
while by someone who knew how and where to help him.

The rest of the day he spent in looking for a room, which he soon
found, and in familiarising himself with liberty. In the evening I
took him to the Olympic, where Robson was then acting in a burlesque
on Macbeth, Mrs Keeley, if I remember rightly, taking the part of
Lady Macbeth. In the scene before the murder, Macbeth had said he
could not kill Duncan when he saw his boots upon the landing. Lady
Macbeth put a stop to her husband's hesitation by whipping him up
under her arm, and carrying him off the stage, kicking and
screaming. Ernest laughed till he cried. "What rot Shakespeare is
after this," he exclaimed, involuntarily. I remembered his essay on
the Greek tragedians, and was more I epris with him than ever.

Next day he set about looking for employment, and I did not see him
till about five o'clock, when he came and said that he had had no
success. The same thing happened the next day and the day after
that. Wherever he went he was invariably refused and often ordered
point blank out of the shop; I could see by the expression of his
face, though he said nothing, that he was getting frightened, and
began to think I should have to come to the rescue. He said he had
made a great many enquiries and had always been told the same story.
He found that it was easy to keep on in an old line, but very hard
to strike out into a new one.

He talked to the fishmonger in Leather Lane, where he went to buy a
bloater for his tea, casually as though from curiosity and without
any interested motive. "Sell," said the master of the shop, "Why
nobody wouldn't believe what can be sold by penn'orths and
twopenn'orths if you go the right way to work. Look at whelks, for
instance. Last Saturday night me and my little Emma here, we sold 7
pounds worth of whelks between eight and half past eleven o'clock--
and almost all in penn'orths and twopenn'orths--a few, hap'orths,
but not many. It was the steam that did it. We kept a-boiling of
'em hot and hot, and whenever the steam came strong up from the
cellar on to the pavement, the people bought, but whenever the steam
went down they left off buying; so we boiled them over and over
again till they was all sold. That's just where it is; if you know
your business you can sell, if you don't you'll soon make a mess of
it. Why, but for the steam, I should not have sold 10s. worth of
whelks all the night through."

This, and many another yarn of kindred substance which he heard from
other people determined Ernest more than ever to stake on tailoring
as the one trade about which he knew anything at all, nevertheless,
here were three or four days gone by and employment seemed as far
off as ever.

I now did what I ought to have done before, that is to say, I called
on my own tailor whom I had dealt with for over a quarter of a
century and asked his advice. He declared Ernest's plan to be
hopeless. "If," said Mr Larkins, for this was my tailor's name, "he
had begun at fourteen, it might have done, but no man of twenty-four
could stand being turned to work into a workshop full of tailors; he
would not get on with the men, nor the men with him; you could not
expect him to be 'hail fellow, well met' with them, and you could
not expect his fellow-workmen to like him if he was not. A man must
have sunk low through drink or natural taste for low company, before
he could get on with those who have had such a different training
from his own."

Mr Larkins said a great deal more and wound up by taking me to see
the place where his own men worked. "This is a paradise," he said,
"compared to most workshops. What gentleman could stand this air,
think you, for a fortnight?"

I was glad enough to get out of the hot, fetid atmosphere in five
minutes, and saw that there was no brick of Ernest's prison to be
loosened by going and working among tailors in a workshop.

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