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77. CHAPTER LXXVII (continued)
"There isn't," said John, "a sweeter-tempered, handier, prettier girl than she was in all England, nor one as knows better what a man likes, and how to make him happy, if you can keep her from drink; but you can't keep her; she's that artful she'll get it under your very eyes, without you knowing it. If she can't get any more of your things to pawn or sell, she'll steal her neighbours'. That's how she got into trouble first when I was with her. During the six months she was in prison I should have felt happy if I had not known she would come out again. And then she did come out, and before she had been free a fortnight, she began shop-lifting and going on the loose again--and all to get money to drink with. So seeing I could do nothing with her and that she was just a-killing of me, I left her, and came up to London, and went into service again, and I did not know what had become of her till you and Mr Ernest here told me. I hope you'll neither of you say you've seen me."
We assured him we would keep his counsel, and then he left us, with many protestations of affection towards Ernest, to whom he had been always much attached.
We talked the situation over, and decided first to get the children away, and then to come to terms with Ellen concerning their future custody; as for herself, I proposed that we should make her an allowance of, say, a pound a week to be paid so long as she gave no trouble. Ernest did not see where the pound a week was to come from, so I eased his mind by saying I would pay it myself. Before the day was two hours older we had got the children, about whom Ellen had always appeared to be indifferent, and had confided them to the care of my laundress, a good motherly sort of woman, who took to them and to whom they took at once.
Then came the odious task of getting rid of their unhappy mother. Ernest's heart smote him at the notion of the shock the break-up would be to her. He was always thinking that people had a claim upon him for some inestimable service they had rendered him, or for some irreparable mischief done to them by himself; the case however was so clear, that Ernest's scruples did not offer serious resistance.
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