Chapter 64

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 realize 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 realize 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 goldfields 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 every one, 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

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.