Ernest was not so much up to the ropes of the literary world as I was, and I am afraid his head was a little turned when he woke up one morning to find himself famous. He was Christina’s son, and perhaps would not have been able to do what he had done if he was not capable of occasional undue elation. Ere long, however, he found out all about it, and settled quietly down to write a series of books, in which he insisted on saying things which no one else would say even if they could, or could even if they would.
He has got himself a bad literary character. I said to him laughingly one day that he was like the man in the last century of whom it was said that nothing but such a character could keep down such parts.
He laughed and said he would rather be like that than like a modern writer or two whom he could name, whose parts were so poor that they could be kept up by nothing but by such a character.
I remember soon after one of these books was published I happened to meet Mrs Jupp to whom, by the way, Ernest made a small weekly allowance. It was at Ernest’s chambers, and for some reason we were left alone for a few minutes. I said to her: “Mr Pontifex has written another book, Mrs Jupp.”
“Lor’ now,” said she, “has he really? Dear gentleman! Is it about love?” And the old sinner threw up a wicked sheep’s eye glance at me from under her aged eyelids. I forget what there was in my reply which provoked it—probably nothing—but she went rattling on at full speed to the effect that Bell had given her a ticket for the opera, “So, of course,” she said, “I went. I didn’t understand one word of it, for it was all French, but I saw their legs. Oh dear, oh dear! I’m afraid I shan’t be here much longer, and when dear Mr Pontifex sees me in my coffin he’ll say, ‘Poor old Jupp, she’ll never talk broad any more’; but bless you I’m not so old as all that, and I’m taking lessons in dancing.”
At this moment Ernest came in and the conversation was changed. Mrs Jupp asked if he was still going on writing more books now that this one was done. “Of course I am,” he answered, “I’m always writing books; here is the manuscript of my next;” and he showed her a heap of paper.
“Well now,” she exclaimed, “dear, dear me, and is that manuscript? I’ve often heard talk about manuscripts, but I never thought I should live to see some myself. Well! well! So that is really manuscript?”
There were a few geraniums in the window and they did not look well. Ernest asked Mrs Jupp if she understood flowers. “I understand the language of flowers,” she said, with one of her most bewitching leers, and on this we sent her off till she should choose to honour us with another visit, which she knows she is privileged from time to time to do, for Ernest likes her.
And now I must bring my story to a close.