Chapter 82

IT ALMOST SEEMED AS THOUGH our casual mention of Theobald and Christina had in some way excited them from a dormant to an active state. During the years that had elapsed since they last appeared upon the scene they had remained at Battersby, and had concentrated their affection upon their other children.

It had been a bitter pill to Theobald to lose his power of plaguing his first-born; if the truth were known I believe he had felt this more acutely than any disgrace which might have been shed upon him by Ernest's imprisonment. He had made one or two attempts to reopen negotiations through me, but I never said anything about them to Ernest, for I knew it would upset him. I wrote, however, to Theobald that I had found his son inexorable, and recommended him for the present, at any rate, to desist from returning to the subject. This I thought would be at once what Ernest would like best and Theobald least.

A few days, however, after Ernest had come into his property, I received a letter from Theobald enclosing one for Ernest which I could not withhold.

The letter ran thus:


Although you have more than once rejected my overtures I appeal yet again to your better nature. Your mother, who has long been ailing, is, I believe, near her end; she is unable to keep anything on her stomach, and Dr Martin holds out but little hopes of her recovery. She has expressed a wish to see you, and says she knows you will not refuse to come to her, which, considering her condition, I am unwilling to suppose you will.

I remit you a Post Office order for your fare, and will pay your return journey.

If you want clothes to come in, order what you consider suitable, and desire that the bill be sent to me; I will pay it immediately, to an amount not exceeding eight or nine pounds, and if you will let me know what train you will come by, I will send the carriage to meet you.

Believe me, Your affectionate father,

Of course there could be no hesitation on Ernest's part. He could afford to smile now at his father's offering to pay for his clothes, and his sending him a Post Office order for the exact price of a second- class ticket, and he was of course shocked at learning the state his mother was said to be in, and touched at her desire to see him. He telegraphed that he would come down at once. I saw him a little before he started, and was pleased to see how well his tailor had done by him. Towneley himself could not have been appointed more becomingly. His portmanteau, his railway wrapper, everything he had about him, was in keeping. I thought he had grown much better-looking than he had been at two or three and twenty. His year and a half of peace had effaced all the ill-effects of his previous suffering, and now that he had become actually rich there was an air of insouciance and good humour upon his face, as of a man with whom everything was going perfectly right, which would have made a much plainer man good- looking. I was proud of him and delighted with him. `I am sure,' I said to myself, `that whatever else he may do, he will never marry again.'

The journey was a painful one. As he drew near to the station and caught sight of each familiar feature, so strong was the force of association that he felt as though his coming into his aunt's money had been a dream, and he were again returning to his father's house as he had returned to it from Cambridge for the vacations. Do what he would, the old dull weight of home-sickness began to oppress him, his heart beat fast as he thought of his approaching meeting with his father and mother, `and I shall have,' he said to himself, `to kiss Charlotte.'

Would his father meet him at the station? Would he greet him as though nothing had happened, or would he be cold and distant? How, again, would he take the news of his son's good fortune? As the

  By PanEris using Melati.

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