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69. CHAPTER LXIX (continued)
"Do not speak to me," said Ernest, his eyes flashing with a fire that was unwonted in them. Another warder then came up and took Theobald aside, while the first conducted Ernest to the gates.
"Tell them," said Ernest, "from me that they must think of me as one dead, for I am dead to them. Say that my greatest pain is the thought of the disgrace I have inflicted upon them, and that above all things else I will study to avoid paining them hereafter; but say also that if they write to me I will return their letters unopened, and that if they come and see me I will protect myself in whatever way I can."
By this time he was at the prison gate, and in another moment was at liberty. After he had got a few steps out he turned his face to the prison wall, leant against it for support, and wept as though his heart would break.
Giving up father and mother for Christ's sake was not such an easy matter after all. If a man has been possessed by devils for long enough they will rend him as they leave him, however imperatively they may have been cast out. Ernest did not stay long where he was, for he feared each moment that his father and mother would come out. He pulled himself together and turned into the labyrinth of small streets which opened out in front of him.
He had crossed his Rubicon--not perhaps very heroically or dramatically, but then it is only in dramas that people act dramatically. At any rate, by hook or by crook, he had scrambled over, and was out upon the other side. Already he thought of much which he would gladly have said, and blamed his want of presence of mind; but, after all, it mattered very little. Inclined though he was to make very great allowances for his father and mother, he was indignant at their having thrust themselves upon him without warning at a moment when the excitement of leaving prison was already as much as he was fit for. It was a mean advantage to have taken over him, but he was glad they had taken it, for it made him realise more fully than ever that his one chance lay in separating himself completely from them.
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