He must marry someone; that was already settled. He could not marry a lady; that was absurd. He must marry a poor woman. Yes, but a fallen one? Was he not fallen himself? Ellen would fall no more. He had only to look at her to be sure of this. He could not live with her in sin, not for more than the shortest time that could elapse before their marriage; he no longer believed in the supernatural element of Christianity, but the Christian morality at any rate was indisputable. Besides, they might have children, and a stigma would rest upon them. Whom had he to consult but himself now? His father and mother never need know, and even if they did, they should be thankful to see him married to any woman who would make him happy as Ellen would. As for not being able to afford marriage, how did poor people do? Did not a good wife rather help matters than not? Where one could live two could do so, and if Ellen was three or four years older than he was—well, what was that?
Have you, gentle reader, ever loved at first sight? When you fell in love at first sight, how long, let me ask, did it take you to become ready to fling every other consideration to the winds except that of obtaining possession of the loved one? Or rather, how long would it have taken you if you had had no father or mother, nothing to lose in the way of money, position, friends, professional advancement, or what not, and if the object of your affections was as free from all these impedimenta as you were yourself?
If you were a young John Stuart Mill, perhaps it would have taken you some time, but suppose your nature was Quixotic, impulsive, altruistic, guileless; suppose you were a hungry man starving for something to love and lean upon, for one whose burdens you might bear, and who might help you to bear yours. Suppose you were down on your luck, still stunned by a horrible shock, and this bright vista of a happy future floated suddenly before you, how long under these circumstances do you think you would reflect before you would decide on embracing what chance had thrown in your way?
It did not take my hero long, for before he got past the ham and beef shop near the top of Fetter Lane, he had told Ellen that she must come home with him and live with him till they could get married, which they would do upon the first day that the law allowed.
I think the devil must have chuckled and made tolerably sure of his game this time.
Ernest told Ellen of his difficulty about finding employment.
“But what do you think of going into a shop for, my dear,” said Ellen. “Why not take a little shop yourself?”
Ernest asked how much this would cost. Ellen told him that he might take a house in some small street, say near the “Elephant and Castle,” for 17s. or 18s. a week, and let off the two top floors for 10s., keeping the back parlour and shop for themselves. If he could raise five or six pounds to buy some second-hand clothes to stock the shop with, they could mend them and clean them, and she could look after the women’s clothes while he did the men’s. Then he could mend and make, if he could get the orders.