At last things reached a crisis, below which they could not very well go, for at the end of the half year but one after his aunt’s death, Ernest brought back a document in his portmanteau, which Theobald stigmatised as “infamous and outrageous.” I need hardly say I am alluding to his school bill.
This document was always a source of anxiety to Ernest, for it was gone into with scrupulous care, and he was a good deal cross-examined about it. He would sometimes “write in” for articles necessary for his education, such as a portfolio, or a dictionary, and sell the same, as I have explained, in order to eke out his pocket money, probably to buy either music or tobacco. These frauds were sometimes, as Ernest thought, in imminent danger of being discovered, and it was a load off his breast when the cross-examination was safely over. This time Theobald had made a great fuss about the extras, but had grudgingly passed them; it was another matter, however, with the character and the moral statistics, with which the bill concluded.
The page on which these details were to be found was as follows:
REPORT OF THE CONDUCT AND PROGRESS
OF ERNEST PONTIFEX.
UPPER FIFTH FORM, HALF YEAR ENDING MIDSUMMER 1851
Classics—Idle, listless and unimproving. Mathematics " " " Divinity " " " Conduct in house.—Orderly. General Conduct—Not satisfactory, on account of his great unpunctuality and inattention to duties. Monthly merit money 1s. 6d. 6d. 0d. 6d. Total 2s. 6d. Number of merit marks 2 0 1 1 0 Total 4 Number of penal marks 26 20 25 30 25 Total 126 Number of extra penals 9 6 10 12 11 Total 48 I recommend that his pocket money be made to depend upon his merit money. S. SKINNER, Head-master.
Ernest was thus in disgrace from the beginning of the holidays, but an incident soon occurred which led him into delinquencies compared with which all his previous sins were venial.
Among the servants at the Rectory was a remarkably pretty girl named Ellen. She came from Devonshire, and was the daughter of a fisherman who had been drowned when she was a child. Her mother set up a small shop in the village where her husband had lived, and just managed to make a living. Ellen remained with her till she was fourteen, when she first went out to service. Four years later, when she was about eighteen, but so well grown that she might have passed for twenty, she had been strongly recommended to Christina, who was then in want of a housemaid, and had now been at Battersby about twelve months.