By becoming organist he was saved from the treadmill, for which the doctor had said he was unfit as yet, but which he would probably have been put to in due course as soon as he was stronger. He might have escaped the tailor’s shop altogether and done only the comparatively light work of attending to the chaplain’s rooms if he had liked, but he wanted to learn as much tailoring as he could, and did not therefore take advantage of this offer; he was allowed, however, two hours a day in the afternoon for practice. From that moment his prison life ceased to be monotonous, and the remaining two months of his sentence slipped by almost as rapidly as they would have done if he had been free. What with music, books, learning his trade, and conversation with the chaplain, who was just the kindly, sensible person that Ernest wanted in order to steady him a little, the days went by so pleasantly that when the time came for him to leave prison, he did so, or thought he did so, not without regret.
In coming to the conclusion that he would sever the connection between himself and his family once for all Ernest had reckoned without his family. Theobald wanted to be rid of his son, it is true, in so far as he wished him to be no nearer at any rate than the Antipodes; but he had no idea of entirely breaking with him. He knew his son well enough to have a pretty shrewd idea that this was what Ernest would wish himself, and perhaps as much for this reason as for any other he was determined to keep up the connection, provided it did not involve Ernest’s coming to Battersby nor any recurring outlay.
When the time approached for him to leave prison, his father and mother consulted as to what course they should adopt.
“We must never leave him to himself,” said Theobald impressively; “we can neither of us wish that.”
“Oh, no! no! dearest Theobald,” exclaimed Christina. “Whoever else deserts him, and however distant he may be from us, he must still feel that he has parents whose hearts beat with affection for him no matter how cruelly he has pained them.”
“He has been his own worst enemy,” said Theobald. “He has never loved us as we deserved, and now he will be withheld by false shame from wishing to see us. He will avoid us if he can.”
“Then we must go to him ourselves,” said Christina, “whether he likes it or not we must be at his side to support him as he enters again upon the world.”
“If we do not want him to give us the slip we must catch him as he leaves prison.”
“We will, we will; our faces shall be the first to gladden his eyes as he comes out, and our voices the first to exhort him to return to the paths of virtue.”
“I think,” said Theobald, “if he sees us in the street he will turn round and run away from us. He is intensely selfish.”
“Then we must get leave to go inside the prison, and see him before he gets outside.”