By a strange accident, however, during Ernest’s last year, when the names of the crews for the scratch fours were drawn he had found himself coxswain of a crew, among whom was none other than his especial hero Towneley; the three others were ordinary mortals, but they could row fairly well, and the crew on the whole was rather a good one.
Ernest was frightened out of his wits. When, however, the two met, he found Towneley no less remarkable for his entire want of anything like “side,” and for his power of setting those whom he came across at their ease, than he was for outward accomplishments; the only difference he found between Towneley and other people was that he was so very much easier to get on with. Of course Ernest worshipped him more and more.
The scratch fours being ended the connection between the two came to an end, but Towneley never passed Ernest thenceforward without a nod and a few good-natured words. In an evil moment he had mentioned Towneley’s name at Battersby, and now what was the result? Here was his mother plaguing him to ask Towneley to come down to Battersby and marry Charlotte. Why, if he had thought there was the remotest chance of Towneley’s marrying Charlotte he would have gone down on his knees to him and told him what an odious young woman she was, and implored him to save himself while there was yet time.
But Ernest had not prayed to be made “truly honest and conscientious” for as many years as Christina had. He tried to conceal what he felt and thought as well as he could, and led the conversation back to the difficulties which a clergyman might feel to stand in the way of his being ordained—not because he had any misgivings, but as a diversion. His mother, however, thought she had settled all that, and he got no more out of her. Soon afterwards he found the means of escaping, and was not slow to avail himself of them.
On his return to Cambridge in the May term of 1858, Ernest and a few other friends who were also intended for orders came to the conclusion that they must now take a more serious view of their position. They therefore attended chapel more regularly than hitherto, and held evening meetings of a somewhat furtive character, at which they would study the New Testament. They even began to commit the Epistles of St Paul to memory in the original Greek. They got up Beveridge on the Thirty-nine Articles, and Pearson on the Creed; in their hours of recreation they read More’s “Mystery of Godliness,” which Ernest thought was charming, and Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying,” which also impressed him deeply, through what he thought was the splendour of its language. They handed themselves over to the guidance of Dean Alford’s notes on the Greek Testament, which made Ernest better understand what was meant by “difficulties,” but also made him feel how shallow and impotent were the conclusions arrived at by German neologians, with whose works, being innocent of German, he was not otherwise acquainted. Some of the friends who joined him in these pursuits were Johnians, and the meetings were often held within the walls of St John’s.