If anything had been wanting to complete his happiness it was this. Here, within three or four days he found himself freed from one of the most hideous, hopeless liaisons imaginable, and at the same time raised from a life of almost squalor to the enjoyment of what would to him be a handsome income.
“A pound a week,” he thought, “for Ellen, and the rest for myself.”
“No,” said I, “we will charge Ellen’s pound a week to the estate also. You must have a clear 300 pounds for yourself.”
I fixed upon this sum, because it was the one which Mr Disraeli gave Coningsby when Coningsby was at the lowest ebb of his fortunes. Mr Disraeli evidently thought 300 pounds a year the smallest sum on which Coningsby could be expected to live, and make the two ends meet; with this, however, he thought his hero could manage to get along for a year or two. In 1862, of which I am now writing, prices had risen, though not so much as they have since done; on the other hand Ernest had had less expensive antecedents than Coningsby, so on the whole I thought 300 pounds a year would be about the right thing for him.
The question now arose what was to be done with the children. I explained to Ernest that their expenses must be charged to the estate, and showed him how small a hole all the various items I proposed to charge would make in the income at my disposal. He was beginning to make difficulties, when I quieted him by pointing out that the money had all come to me from his aunt, over his own head, and reminded him there had been an understanding between her and me that I should do much as I was doing, if occasion should arise.
He wanted his children to be brought up in the fresh pure air, and among other children who were happy and contented; but being still ignorant of the fortune that awaited him, he insisted that they should pass their earlier years among the poor rather than the rich. I remonstrated, but he was very decided about it; and when I reflected that they were illegitimate, I was not sure but that what Ernest proposed might be as well for everyone in the end. They were still so young that it did not much matter where they were, so long as they were with kindly decent people, and in a healthy neighbourhood.
“I shall be just as unkind to my children,” he said, “as my grandfather was to my father, or my father to me. If they did not succeed in making their children love them, neither shall I. I say to myself that I should like to do so, but so did they. I can make sure that they shall not know how much they would have hated me if they had had much to do with me, but this is all I can do. If I must ruin their prospects, let me do so at a reasonable time before they are old enough to feel it.”
He mused a little and added with a laugh:—
“A man first quarrels with his father about three-quarters of a year before he is born. It is then he insists on setting up a separate establishment; when this has been once agreed to, the more complete the separation for ever after the better for both.” Then he said more seriously: “I want to put the children where they will be well and happy, and where they will not be betrayed into the misery of false expectations.”