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81. CHAPTER LXXXI (continued)
"What has being a gentleman ever done for me except make me less able to prey and more easy to be preyed upon? It has changed the manner of my being swindled, that is all. But for your kindness to me I should be penniless. Thank heaven I have placed my children where I have."
I begged him to keep quiet a little longer and not talk about taking a shop.
"Will being a gentleman," he said, "bring me money at the last, and will anything bring me as much peace at the last as money will? They say that those who have riches enter hardly into the kingdom of Heaven. By Jove, they do; they are like Struldbrugs; they live and live and live and are happy for many a long year after they would have entered into the kingdom of Heaven if they had been poor. I want to live long and to raise my children, if I see they would be happier for the raising; that is what I want, and it is not what I am doing now that will help me. Being a gentleman is a luxury which I cannot afford, therefore I do not want it. Let me go back to my shop again, and do things for people which they want done and will pay me for doing for them. They know what they want and what is good for them better than I can tell them."
It was hard to deny the soundness of this, and if he had been dependent only on the 300 pounds a year which he was getting from me I should have advised him to open his shop again next morning. As it was, I temporised and raised obstacles, and quieted him from time to time as best I could.
Of course he read Mr Darwin's books as fast as they came out and adopted evolution as an article of faith. "It seems to me," he said once, "that I am like one of those caterpillars which, if they have been interrupted in making their hammock, must begin again from the beginning. So long as I went back a long way down in the social scale I got on all right, and should have made money but for Ellen; when I try to take up the work at a higher stage I fail completely." I do not know whether the analogy holds good or not, but I am sure Ernest's instinct was right in telling him that after a heavy fall he had better begin life again at a very low stage, and as I have just said, I would have let him go back to his shop if I had not known what I did.
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