Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

69. CHAPTER LXIX (continued)

"Then we must get leave to go inside the prison, and see him before he gets outside."

After a good deal of discussion this was the plan they decided on adopting, and having so decided, Theobald wrote to the governor of the gaol asking whether he could be admitted inside the gaol to receive Ernest when his sentence had expired. He received answer in the affirmative, and the pair left Battersby the day before Ernest was to come out of prison.

Ernest had not reckoned on this, and was rather surprised on being told a few minutes before nine that he was to go into the receiving room before he left the prison as there were visitors waiting to see him. His heart fell, for he guessed who they were, but he screwed up his courage and hastened to the receiving room. There, sure enough, standing at the end of the table nearest the door were the two people whom he regarded as the most dangerous enemies he had in all the world--his father and mother.

He could not fly, but he knew that if he wavered he was lost.

His mother was crying, but she sprang forward to meet him and clasped him in her arms. "Oh, my boy, my boy," she sobbed, and she could say no more.

Ernest was as white as a sheet. His heart beat so that he could hardly breathe. He let his mother embrace him, and then withdrawing himself stood silently before her with the tears falling from his eyes.

At first he could not speak. For a minute or so the silence on all sides was complete. Then, gathering strength, he said in a low voice:

"Mother," (it was the first time he had called her anything but "mamma"?) "we must part." On this, turning to the warder, he said: "I believe I am free to leave the prison if I wish to do so. You cannot compel me to remain here longer. Please take me to the gates."

Theobald stepped forward. "Ernest, you must not, shall not, leave us in this way."

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