“Oh, my dear,” said she, “a natural child is a child a person has before he is married.” On this it seemed to follow logically that if John of Gaunt had had children before he was married, he, Ernest Pontifex, might have them also, and he would be obliged to me if I would tell him what he had better do under the circumstances.
I enquired how long ago he had made this discovery. He said about a fortnight, and he did not know where to look for the child, for it might come at any moment. “You know,” he said, “babies come so suddenly; one goes to bed one night and next morning there is a baby. Why, it might die of cold if we are not on the look-out for it. I hope it will be a boy.”
“And you have told your governess about this?”
“Yes, but she puts me off and does not help me: she says it will not come for many years, and she hopes not then.”
“Are you quite sure that you have not made any mistake in all this?”
“Oh, no; because Mrs Burne, you know, called here a few days ago, and I was sent for to be looked at. And mamma held me out at arm’s length and said, ‘Is he Mr Pontifex’s child, Mrs Burne, or is he mine?’ Of course, she couldn’t have said this if papa had not had some of the children himself. I did think the gentleman had all the boys and the lady all the girls; but it can’t be like this, or else mamma would not have asked Mrs Burne to guess; but then Mrs Burne said, ’Oh, he’s Mr Pontifex’s child of course,’ and I didn’t quite know what she meant by saying ’of course’: it seemed as though I was right in thinking that the husband has all the boys and the wife all the girls; I wish you would explain to me all about it.”
This I could hardly do, so I changed the conversation, after reassuring him as best I could.
Three or four years after the birth of her daughter, Christina had had one more child. She had never been strong since she married, and had a presentiment that she should not survive this last confinement. She accordingly wrote the following letter, which was to be given, as she endorsed upon it, to her sons when Ernest was sixteen years old. It reached him on his mother’s death many years later, for it was the baby who died now, and not Christina. It was found among papers which she had repeatedly and carefully arranged, with the seal already broken. This, I am afraid, shows that Christina had read it and thought it too creditable to be destroyed when the occasion that had called it forth had gone by. It is as follows—
“BATTERSBY, March 15th, 1841.