It was after dinner, however, that he completed the conquest of his aunt. She then discovered that, like herself, he was passionately fond of music, and that, too, of the highest class. He knew, and hummed or whistled to her all sorts of pieces out of the works of the great masters, which a boy of his age could hardly be expected to know, and it was evident that this was purely instinctive, inasmuch as music received no kind of encouragement at Roughborough. There was no boy in the school as fond of music as he was. He picked up his knowledge, he said, from the organist of St Michael’s Church who used to practise sometimes on a week-day afternoon. Ernest had heard the organ booming away as he was passing outside the church and had sneaked inside and up into the organ loft. In the course of time the organist became accustomed to him as a familiar visitant, and the pair became friends.
It was this which decided Alethea that the boy was worth taking pains with. “He likes the best music,” she thought, “and he hates Dr Skinner. This is a very fair beginning.” When she sent him away at night with a sovereign in his pocket (and he had only hoped to get five shillings) she felt as though she had had a good deal more than her money’s worth for her money.
Next day Miss Pontifex returned to town, with her thoughts full of her nephew and how she could best be of use to him.
It appeared to her that to do him any real service she must devote herself almost entirely to him; she must in fact give up living in London, at any rate for a long time, and live at Roughborough where she could see him continually. This was a serious undertaking; she had lived in London for the last twelve years, and naturally disliked the prospect of a small country town such as Roughborough. Was it a prudent thing to attempt so much? Must not people take their chances in this world? Can anyone do much for anyone else unless by making a will in his favour and dying then and there? Should not each look after his own happiness, and will not the world be best carried on if everyone minds his own business and leaves other people to mind theirs? Life is not a donkey race in which everyone is to ride his neighbour’s donkey and the last is to win, and the psalmist long since formulated a common experience when he declared that no man may deliver his brother nor make agreement unto God for him, for it cost more to redeem their souls, so that he must let that alone for ever.
All these excellent reasons for letting her nephew alone occurred to her, and many more, but against them there pleaded a woman’s love for children, and her desire to find someone among the younger branches of her own family to whom she could become warmly attached, and whom she could attach warmly to herself.