Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

33. CHAPTER XXXIII (continued)

The prospect of Alethea seeing much of Ernest was a serious matter. Christina smelt mischief from afar, as indeed she often did. Alethea was worldly--as worldly, that is to say, as a sister of Theobald's could be. In her letter to Theobald she had said she knew how much of his and Christina's thoughts were taken up with anxiety for the boy's welfare. Alethea had thought this handsome enough, but Christina had wanted something better and stronger. "How can she know how much we think of our darling?" she had exclaimed, when Theobald showed her his sister's letter. "I think, my dear, Alethea would understand these things better if she had children of her own." The least that would have satisfied Christina was to have been told that there never yet had been any parents comparable to Theobald and herself. She did not feel easy that an alliance of some kind would not grow up between aunt and nephew, and neither she nor Theobald wanted Ernest to have any allies. Joey and Charlotte were quite as many allies as were good for him. After all, however, if Alethea chose to go and live at Roughborough, they could not well stop her, and must make the best of it.

In a few weeks' time Alethea did choose to go and live at Roughborough. A house was found with a field and a nice little garden which suited her very well. "At any rate," she said to herself, "I will have fresh eggs and flowers." She even considered the question of keeping a cow, but in the end decided not to do so. She furnished her house throughout anew, taking nothing whatever from her establishment in Gower Street, and by Michaelmas--for the house was empty when she took it--she was settled comfortably, and had begun to make herself at home.

One of Miss Pontifex's first moves was to ask a dozen of the smartest and most gentlemanly boys to breakfast with her. From her seat in church she could see the faces of the upper-form boys, and soon made up her mind which of them it would be best to cultivate. Miss Pontifex, sitting opposite the boys in church, and reckoning them up with her keen eyes from under her veil by all a woman's criteria, came to a truer conclusion about the greater number of those she scrutinized than even Dr Skinner had done. She fell in love with one boy from seeing him put on his gloves.

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