Chapter 37

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

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

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

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

One so angry and, of late, so little used to contradiction might be trusted, however, to avenge himself upon some one, and Theobald had long since developed the organ by means of which he might vent spleen with least risk and greatest satisfaction to himself. This organ, it may be guessed, was nothing else than Ernest; to Ernest therefore he proceeded to unburden himself, not personally, but by letter.

`You ought to know,' he wrote, `that your Aunt Alethea had given your mother and me to understand that it was her wish to make you her heir - in the event, of course, of your conducting yourself in such a manner as to give her confidence in you; as a matter of fact, however, she has left you nothing, and the whole of her property has gone to your godfather, Mr Overton. Your mother and I are willing to hope that if she had lived longer you would yet have succeeded in winning her good opinion, but it is too late to think of this now.

`The carpentering and organ-building must at once be discontinued. I never believed in the project, and have seen no reason to alter my original opinion. I am not sorry for your own sake that it is to be at an end, nor, I am sure, will you regret it yourself in after years.

`A few words more as regards your own prospects. You have, as I believe you know, a small inheritance, which is yours legally under your grandfather's will. This bequest was made inadvertently, and, I believe, entirely through a misunderstanding on the lawyer's part. The bequest was probably intended not to

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