As the time fixed upon by his aunt drew nearer I prepared him more and more for what was coming, and at last, on his twenty-eighth birthday, I was able to tell him all and to show him the letter signed by his aunt upon her death-bed to the effect that I was to hold the money in trust for him. His birthday happened that year (1863) to be on a Sunday, but on the following day I transferred his shares into his own name, and presented him with the account books which he had been keeping for the last year and a half.
In spite of all that I had done to prepare him, it was a long while before I could get him actually to believe that the money was his own. He did not say much—no more did I, for I am not sure that I did not feel as much moved at having brought my long trusteeship to a satisfactory conclusion as Ernest did at finding himself owner of more than 70,000 pounds. When he did speak it was to jerk out a sentence or two of reflection at a time. “If I were rendering this moment in music,” he said, “I should allow myself free use of the augmented sixth.” A little later I remember his saying with a laugh that had something of a family likeness to his aunt’s: “It is not the pleasure it causes me which I enjoy so, it is the pain it will cause to all my friends except yourself and Towneley.”
I said: “You cannot tell your father and mother—it would drive them mad.”
“No, no, no,” said he, “it would be too cruel; it would be like Isaac offering up Abraham and no thicket with a ram in it near at hand. Besides why should I? We have cut each other these four years.”
It almost seemed as though our casual mention of Theobald and Christina had in some way excited them from a dormant to an active state. During the years that had elapsed since they last appeared upon the scene they had remained at Battersby, and had concentrated their affection upon their other children.
It had been a bitter pill to Theobald to lose his power of plaguing his first-born; if the truth were known I believe he had felt this more acutely than any disgrace which might have been shed upon him by Ernest’s imprisonment. He had made one or two attempts to reopen negotiations through me, but I never said anything about them to Ernest, for I knew it would upset him. I wrote, however, to Theobald that I had found his son inexorable, and recommended him for the present, at any rate, to desist from returning to the subject. This I thought would be at once what Ernest would like best and Theobald least.
A few days, however, after Ernest had come into his property, I received a letter from Theobald enclosing one for Ernest which I could not withhold.
The letter ran thus:—