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80. CHAPTER LXXX (continued)
At length matters came to a head and the clergyman of the parish cross-questioned the poor woman so closely that with many tears and a bitter sense of degradation she confessed the truth; she and her children went into the hedges and gathered snails, which they made into broth and ate--could she ever be forgiven? Was there any hope of salvation for her either in this world or the next after such unnatural conduct?
So again I have heard of an old dowager countess whose money was all in Consols; she had had many sons, and in her anxiety to give the younger ones a good start, wanted a larger income than Consols would give her. She consulted her solicitor and was advised to sell her Consols and invest in the London and North-Western Railway, then at about 85. This was to her what eating snails was to the poor widow whose story I have told above. With shame and grief, as of one doing an unclean thing--but her boys must have their start--she did as she was advised. Then for a long while she could not sleep at night and was haunted by a presage of disaster. Yet what happened? She started her boys, and in a few years found her capital doubled into the bargain, on which she sold out and went back again to Consols and died in the full blessedness of fund-holding.
She thought, indeed, that she was doing a wrong and dangerous thing, but this had absolutely nothing to do with it. Suppose she had invested in the full confidence of a recommendation by some eminent London banker whose advice was bad, and so had lost all her money, and suppose she had done this with a light heart and with no conviction of sin--would her innocence of evil purpose and the excellence of her motive have stood her in any stead? Not they.
But to return to my story. Towneley gave my hero most trouble. Towneley, as I have said, knew that Ernest would have money soon, but Ernest did not of course know that he knew it. Towneley was rich himself, and was married now; Ernest would be rich soon, had bona fide intended to be married already, and would doubtless marry a lawful wife later on. Such a man was worth taking pains with, and when Towneley one day met Ernest in the street, and Ernest tried to avoid him, Towneley would not have it, but with his usual quick good nature read his thoughts, caught him, morally speaking, by the scruff of his neck, and turned him laughingly inside out, telling him he would have no such nonsense.
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