It was settled that the organ was not to be begun before the Christmas holidays were over, and that till then Ernest should do a little plain carpentering, so as to get to know how to use his tools. Miss Pontifex had a carpenter’s bench set up in an outhouse upon her own premises, and made terms with the most respectable carpenter in Roughborough, by which one of his men was to come for a couple of hours twice a week and set Ernest on the right way; then she discovered she wanted this or that simple piece of work done, and gave the boy a commission to do it, paying him handsomely as well as finding him in tools and materials. She never gave him a syllable of good advice, or talked to him about everything’s depending upon his own exertions, but she kissed him often, and would come into the workshop and act the part of one who took an interest in what was being done so cleverly as ere long to become really interested.
What boy would not take kindly to almost anything with such assistance? All boys like making things; the exercise of sawing, planing and hammering, proved exactly what his aunt had wanted to find—something that should exercise, but not too much, and at the same time amuse him; when Ernest’s sallow face was flushed with his work, and his eyes were sparkling with pleasure, he looked quite a different boy from the one his aunt had taken in hand only a few months earlier. His inner self never told him that this was humbug, as it did about Latin and Greek. Making stools and drawers was worth living for, and after Christmas there loomed the organ, which was scarcely ever absent from his mind.
His aunt let him invite his friends, encouraging him to bring those whom her quick sense told her were the most desirable. She smartened him up also in his personal appearance, always without preaching to him. Indeed she worked wonders during the short time that was allowed her, and if her life had been spared I cannot think that my hero would have come under the shadow of that cloud which cast so heavy a gloom over his younger manhood; but unfortunately for him his gleam of sunshine was too hot and too brilliant to last, and he had many a storm yet to weather, before he became fairly happy. For the present, however, he was supremely so, and his aunt was happy and grateful for his happiness, the improvement she saw in him, and his unrepressed affection for herself. She became fonder of him from day to day in spite of his many faults and almost incredible foolishnesses. It was perhaps on account of these very things that she saw how much he had need of her; but at any rate, from whatever cause, she became strengthened in her determination to be to him in the place of parents, and to find in him a son rather than a nephew. But still she made no will.