By the prison rules he might receive and send a letter after he had been in gaol three months, and might also receive one visit from a friend. When he received my letter, he at once asked me to come and see him, which of course I did. I found him very much changed, and still so feeble, that the exertion of coming from the infirmary to the cell in which I was allowed to see him, and the agitation of seeing me were too much for him. At first he quite broke down, and I was so pained at the state in which I found him, that I was on the point of breaking my instructions then and there. I contented myself, however, for the time, with assuring him that I would help him as soon as he came out of prison, and that, when he had made up his mind what he would do, he was to come to me for what money might be necessary, if he could not get it from his father. To make it easier for him I told him that his aunt, on her death-bed, had desired me to do something of this sort should an emergency arise, so that he would only be taking what his aunt had left him.
“Then,” said he, “I will not take the 100 pounds from my father, and I will never see him or my mother again.”
I said: “Take the 100 pounds, Ernest, and as much more as you can get, and then do not see them again if you do not like.”
This Ernest would not do. If he took money from them, he could not cut them, and he wanted to cut them. I thought my godson would get on a great deal better if he would only have the firmness to do as he proposed, as regards breaking completely with his father and mother, and said so. “Then don’t you like them?” said he, with a look of surprise.
“Like them!” said I, “I think they’re horrid.”
“Oh, that’s the kindest thing of all you have done for me,” he exclaimed, “I thought all—all middle-aged people liked my father and mother.”
He had been about to call me old, but I was only fifty-seven, and was not going to have this, so I made a face when I saw him hesitating, which drove him into “middle-aged.”
“If you like it,” said I, “I will say all your family are horrid except yourself and your aunt Alethea. The greater part of every family is always odious; if there are one or two good ones in a very large family, it is as much as can be expected.”
“Thank you,” he replied, gratefully, “I think I can now stand almost anything. I will come and see you as soon as I come out of gaol. Good-bye.” For the warder had told us that the time allowed for our interview was at an end.
As soon as Ernest found that he had no money to look to upon leaving prison he saw that his dreams about emigrating and farming must come to an end, for he knew that he was incapable of working at the plough or with the axe for long together himself. And now it seemed he should have no money to pay any one else for doing so. It was this that resolved him to part once and for all with his parents. If he had been going abroad he could have kept up relations with them, for they would have been too far off to interfere with him.