Thus Henry’s first day of freedom had begun auspiciously with the unexpected discovery of an inalienable possession of beauty. Yet the little cares were not far off, waiting their time; and that night, Henry lay long awake asking himself what he was going to do? Whence was to come the material gold and silver by which this impetuous spirit was to be sustained? A sum not exceeding five pounds represented his accumulated resources, and they would not last longer than—five pounds. He needed little, but that little he needed emphatically. Soon a new book and other literary projects would keep him going, but—meanwhile! How were the next two or three months to be bridged? Return to his father’s house, he neither would, nor perhaps, indeed, could.
So he lay awake a long while, fruitlessly thinking; but, just before he slept, a thought that made him laugh himself awake suggested itself: “Why not go and ask Aunt Tipping to take pity on you?”
So he went to sleep, resolved, if only for the fun of it, to pay a visit to Aunt Tipping on the morrow.
A PREPOSTEROUS AUNT
No doubt it has been surmised from what has gone before, that when Henry said to himself that he would go and see Aunt Tipping, he did not propose to himself a visit to the country seat of some quaint old lady of quality. Baronial towers and stately avenues of ancestral elm did not make a picturesque background for his thoughts as he recalled Aunt Tipping.
Poor kind Aunt Tipping, it is a shame to banter her memory even in so obvious a fashion; for if ever there was a kind heart, it was hers. In fact she possessed, in a degree that amounted to genius, one of the rarest of human qualities,—unconditional pity for the unhappy human creature. Within her narrow and squalid sphere, she was never known to fail of such succour as was hers to give to misfortune, however well-merited, or misery however self-made.
No religion or philosophy has ever yet been merciful enough to human weakness. Matilda Tipping repaired the lack so far as she went. In fact, she had unconsciously realised that weakness is human nature. It would be difficult to fix upon an offence that would disqualify you for Aunt Tipping’s pity. To the prodigalities of the passions, and the appetites disastrously indulged, she was accustomed by a long succession of those sad and shady lodgers to whom it was part of her precarious livelihood to let her rooms, and, not infrequently, to forgive them their rent. That men and women should drink too much, and love too many, was, her experience told her, one of those laws of nature that seemed to make a good deal of unnecessary inconvenience in mortal affairs, but against which mere preaching or punishment availed nothing. All that was to be done was, so far as possible, to repair their ravages in particular instances, and heal the wounds of human passion with simple human kindness.