Ernest broke down and wept as he had not done for years.
“Oh, my boy, my boy,” she said as soon as she could recover her voice. “Have you never really been near us for all these years? Ah, you do not know how we have loved you and mourned over you, papa just as much as I have. You know he shows his feelings less, but I can never tell you how very, very deeply he has felt for you. Sometimes at night I have thought I have heard footsteps in the garden, and have got quietly out of bed lest I should wake him, and gone to the window to look out, but there has been only dark or the greyness of the morning, and I have gone crying back to bed again. Still I think you have been near us though you were too proud to let us know—and now at last I have you in my arms once more, my dearest, dearest boy.”
How cruel, how infamously unfeeling Ernest thought he had been.
“Mother,” he said, “forgive me—the fault was mine, I ought not to have been so hard; I was wrong, very wrong”; the poor blubbering fellow meant what he said, and his heart yearned to his mother as he had never thought that it could yearn again. “But have you never,” she continued, “come although it was in the dark and we did not know it—oh, let me think that you have not been so cruel as we have thought you. Tell me that you came if only to comfort me and make me happier.”
Ernest was ready. “I had no money to come with, mother, till just lately.”
This was an excuse Christina could understand and make allowance for; “Oh, then you would have come, and I will take the will for the deed—and now that I have you safe again, say that you will never, never leave me—not till—not till—oh, my boy, have they told you I am dying?” She wept bitterly, and buried her head in her pillow.
Joey and Charlotte were in the room. Joey was now ordained, and was curate to Theobald. He and Ernest had never been sympathetic, and Ernest saw at a glance that there was no chance of a rapprochement between them. He was a little startled at seeing Joey dressed as a clergyman, and looking so like what he had looked himself a few years earlier, for there was a good deal of family likeness between the pair; but Joey’s face was cold and was illumined with no spark of Bohemianism; he was a clergyman and was going to do as other clergymen did, neither better nor worse. He greeted Ernest rather de haut en bas, that is to say he began by trying to do so, but the affair tailed off unsatisfactorily.