The Way of All Flesh
Samuel Butler

Part 2 out of 8

be all of these things; we have not been worldly people; let us
watch and pray that we may so continue to the end."

The moon had risen and the arbour was getting damp, so they
adjourned further aspirations for a more convenient season. At
other times Christina pictured herself and Theobald as braving the
scorn of almost every human being in the achievement of some mighty
task which should redound to the honour of her Redeemer. She could
face anything for this. But always towards the end of her vision
there came a little coronation scene high up in the golden regions
of the Heavens, and a diadem was set upon her head by the Son of Man
Himself, amid a host of angels and archangels who looked on with
envy and admiration--and here even Theobald himself was out of it.
If there could be such a thing as the Mammon of Righteousness
Christina would have assuredly made friends with it. Her papa and
mamma were very estimable people and would in the course of time
receive Heavenly Mansions in which they would be exceedingly
comfortable; so doubtless would her sisters; so perhaps, even might
her brothers; but for herself she felt that a higher destiny was
preparing, which it was her duty never to lose sight of. The first
step towards it would be her marriage with Theobald. In spite,
however, of these flights of religious romanticism, Christina was a
good-tempered kindly-natured girl enough, who, if she had married a
sensible layman--we will say a hotel-keeper--would have developed
into a good landlady and been deservedly popular with her guests.

Such was Theobald's engaged life. Many a little present passed
between the pair, and many a small surprise did they prepare
pleasantly for one another. They never quarrelled, and neither of
them ever flirted with anyone else. Mrs Allaby and his future
sisters-in-law idolised Theobald in spite of its being impossible to
get another deacon to come and be played for as long as Theobald was
able to help Mr Allaby, which now of course he did free gratis and
for nothing; two of the sisters, however, did manage to find
husbands before Christina was actually married, and on each occasion
Theobald played the part of decoy elephant. In the end only two out
of the seven daughters remained single.

After three or four years, old Mr Pontifex became accustomed to his
son's engagement and looked upon it as among the things which had
now a prescriptive right to toleration. In the spring of 1831, more
than five years after Theobald had first walked over to Crampsford,
one of the best livings in the gift of the College unexpectedly fell
vacant, and was for various reasons declined by the two fellows
senior to Theobald, who might each have been expected to take it.
The living was then offered to and of course accepted by Theobald,
being in value not less than 500 pounds a year with a suitable house
and garden. Old Mr Pontifex then came down more handsomely than was
expected and settled 10,000 pounds on his son and daughter-in-law
for life with remainder to such of their issue as they might
appoint. In the month of July, 1831 Theobald and Christina became
man and wife.


A due number of old shoes had been thrown at the carriage in which
the happy pair departed from the Rectory, and it had turned the
corner at the bottom of the village. It could then be seen for two
or three hundred yards creeping past a fir coppice, and after this
was lost to view.

"John," said Mr Allaby to his man-servant, "shut the gate;" and he
went indoors with a sigh of relief which seemed to say: "I have
done it, and I am alive." This was the reaction after a burst of
enthusiastic merriment during which the old gentleman had run twenty
yards after the carriage to fling a slipper at it--which he had duly

But what were the feelings of Theobald and Christina when the
village was passed and they were rolling quietly by the fir
plantation? It is at this point that even the stoutest heart must
fail, unless it beat in the breast of one who is over head and ears
in love. If a young man is in a small boat on a choppy sea, along
with his affianced bride and both are sea-sick, and if the sick
swain can forget his own anguish in the happiness of holding the
fair one's head when she is at her worst--then he is in love, and
his heart will be in no danger of failing him as he passes his fir
plantation. Other people, and unfortunately by far the greater
number of those who get married must be classed among the "other
people," will inevitably go through a quarter or half an hour of
greater or less badness as the case may be. Taking numbers into
account, I should think more mental suffering had been undergone in
the streets leading from St George's, Hanover Square, than in the
condemned cells of Newgate. There is no time at which what the
Italians call la figlia della Morte lays her cold hand upon a man
more awfully than during the first half hour that he is alone with a
woman whom he has married but never genuinely loved.

Death's daughter did not spare Theobald. He had behaved very well
hitherto. When Christina had offered to let him go, he had stuck to
his post with a magnanimity on which he had plumed himself ever
since. From that time forward he had said to himself: "I, at any
rate, am the very soul of honour; I am not," etc., etc. True, at
the moment of magnanimity the actual cash payment, so to speak, was
still distant; when his father gave formal consent to his marriage
things began to look more serious; when the college living had
fallen vacant and been accepted they looked more serious still; but
when Christina actually named the day, then Theobald's heart fainted
within him.

The engagement had gone on so long that he had got into a groove,
and the prospect of change was disconcerting. Christina and he had
got on, he thought to himself, very nicely for a great number of
years; why--why--why should they not continue to go on as they were
doing now for the rest of their lives? But there was no more chance
of escape for him than for the sheep which is being driven to the
butcher's back premises, and like the sheep he felt that there was
nothing to be gained by resistance, so he made none. He behaved, in
fact, with decency, and was declared on all hands to be one of the
happiest men imaginable.

Now, however, to change the metaphor, the drop had actually fallen,
and the poor wretch was hanging in mid air along with the creature
of his affections. This creature was now thirty-three years old,
and looked it: she had been weeping, and her eyes and nose were
reddish; if "I have done it and I am alive," was written on Mr
Allaby's face after he had thrown the shoe, "I have done it, and I
do not see how I can possibly live much longer" was upon the face of
Theobald as he was being driven along by the fir Plantation. This,
however, was not apparent at the Rectory. All that could be seen
there was the bobbing up and down of the postilion's head, which
just over-topped the hedge by the road-side as he rose in his
stirrups, and the black and yellow body of the carriage.

For some time the pair said nothing: what they must have felt
during their first half hour, the reader must guess, for it is
beyond my power to tell him; at the end of that time, however,
Theobald had rummaged up a conclusion from some odd corner of his
soul to the effect that now he and Christina were married the sooner
they fell into their future mutual relations the better. If people
who are in a difficulty will only do the first little reasonable
thing which they can clearly recognise as reasonable, they will
always find the next step more easy both to see and take. What,
then, thought Theobald, was here at this moment the first and most
obvious matter to be considered, and what would be an equitable view
of his and Christina's relative positions in respect to it? Clearly
their first dinner was their first joint entry into the duties and
pleasures of married life. No less clearly it was Christina's duty
to order it, and his own to eat it and pay for it.

The arguments leading to this conclusion, and the conclusion itself,
flashed upon Theobald about three and a half miles after he had left
Crampsford on the road to Newmarket. He had breakfasted early, but
his usual appetite had failed him. They had left the vicarage at
noon without staying for the wedding breakfast. Theobald liked an
early dinner; it dawned upon him that he was beginning to be hungry;
from this to the conclusion stated in the preceding paragraph the
steps had been easy. After a few minutes' further reflection he
broached the matter to his bride, and thus the ice was broken.

Mrs Theobald was not prepared for so sudden an assumption of
importance. Her nerves, never of the strongest, had been strung to
their highest tension by the event of the morning. She wanted to
escape observation; she was conscious of looking a little older than
she quite liked to look as a bride who had been married that
morning; she feared the landlady, the chamber-maid, the waiter--
everybody and everything; her heart beat so fast that she could
hardly speak, much less go through the ordeal of ordering dinner in
a strange hotel with a strange landlady. She begged and prayed to
be let off. If Theobald would only order dinner this once, she
would order it any day and every day in future.

But the inexorable Theobald was not to be put off with such absurd
excuses. He was master now. Had not Christina less than two hours
ago promised solemnly to honour and obey him, and was she turning
restive over such a trifle as this? The loving smile departed from
his face, and was succeeded by a scowl which that old Turk, his
father, might have envied. "Stuff and nonsense, my dearest
Christina," he exclaimed mildly, and stamped his foot upon the floor
of the carriage. "It is a wife's duty to order her husband's
dinner; you are my wife, and I shall expect you to order mine." For
Theobald was nothing if he was not logical.

The bride began to cry, and said he was unkind; whereon he said
nothing, but revolved unutterable things in his heart. Was this,
then, the end of his six years of unflagging devotion? Was it for
this that when Christina had offered to let him off, he had stuck to
his engagement? Was this the outcome of her talks about duty and
spiritual mindedness--that now upon the very day of her marriage she
should fail to see that the first step in obedience to God lay in
obedience to himself? He would drive back to Crampsford; he would
complain to Mr and Mrs Allaby; he didn't mean to have married
Christina; he hadn't married her; it was all a hideous dream; he
would-- But a voice kept ringing in his ears which said: "YOU

"CAN'T I?" screamed the unhappy creature to himself.

"No," said the remorseless voice, "YOU CAN'T. YOU ARE A MARRIED

He rolled back in his corner of the carriage and for the first time
felt how iniquitous were the marriage laws of England. But he would
buy Milton's prose works and read his pamphlet on divorce. He might
perhaps be able to get them at Newmarket.

So the bride sat crying in one corner of the carriage; and the
bridegroom sulked in the other, and he feared her as only a
bridegroom can fear.

Presently, however, a feeble voice was heard from the bride's corner

"Dearest Theobald--dearest Theobald, forgive me; I have been very,
very wrong. Please do not be angry with me. I will order the--the-
-" but the word "dinner" was checked by rising sobs.

When Theobald heard these words a load began to be lifted from his
heart, but he only looked towards her, and that not too pleasantly.

"Please tell me," continued the voice, "what you think you would
like, and I will tell the landlady when we get to Newmar--" but
another burst of sobs checked the completion of the word.

The load on Theobald's heart grew lighter and lighter. Was it
possible that she might not be going to henpeck him after all?
Besides, had she not diverted his attention from herself to his
approaching dinner?

He swallowed down more of his apprehensions and said, but still
gloomily, "I think we might have a roast fowl with bread sauce, new
potatoes and green peas, and then we will see if they could let us
have a cherry tart and some cream."

After a few minutes more he drew her towards him, kissed away her
tears, and assured her that he knew she would be a good wife to him.

"Dearest Theobald," she exclaimed in answer, "you are an angel."

Theobald believed her, and in ten minutes more the happy couple
alighted at the inn at Newmarket.

Bravely did Christina go through her arduous task. Eagerly did she
beseech the landlady, in secret, not to keep her Theobald waiting
longer than was absolutely necessary.

"If you have any soup ready, you know, Mrs Barber, it might save ten
minutes, for we might have it while the fowl was browning."

See how necessity had nerved her! But in truth she had a splitting
headache, and would have given anything to have been alone.

The dinner was a success. A pint of sherry had warmed Theobald's
heart, and he began to hope that, after all, matters might still go
well with him. He had conquered in the first battle, and this gives
great prestige. How easy it had been too! Why had he never treated
his sisters in this way? He would do so next time he saw them; he
might in time be able to stand up to his brother John, or even his
father. Thus do we build castles in air when flushed with wine and

The end of the honeymoon saw Mrs Theobald the most devotedly
obsequious wife in all England. According to the old saying,
Theobald had killed the cat at the beginning. It had been a very
little cat, a mere kitten in fact, or he might have been afraid to
face it, but such as it had been he had challenged it to mortal
combat, and had held up its dripping head defiantly before his
wife's face. The rest had been easy.

Strange that one whom I have described hitherto as so timid and
easily put upon should prove such a Tartar all of a sudden on the
day of his marriage. Perhaps I have passed over his years of
courtship too rapidly. During these he had become a tutor of his
college, and had at last been Junior Dean. I never yet knew a man
whose sense of his own importance did not become adequately
developed after he had held a resident fellowship for five or six
years. True--immediately on arriving within a ten mile radius of
his father's house, an enchantment fell upon him, so that his knees
waxed weak, his greatness departed, and he again felt himself like
an overgrown baby under a perpetual cloud; but then he was not often
at Elmhurst, and as soon as he left it the spell was taken off
again; once more he became the fellow and tutor of his college, the
Junior Dean, the betrothed of Christina, the idol of the Allaby
womankind. From all which it may be gathered that if Christina had
been a Barbary hen, and had ruffled her feathers in any show of
resistance Theobald would not have ventured to swagger with her, but
she was not a Barbary hen, she was only a common hen, and that too
with rather a smaller share of personal bravery than hens generally


Battersby-On-The-Hill was the name of the village of which Theobald
was now Rector. It contained 400 or 500 inhabitants, scattered over
a rather large area, and consisting entirely of farmers and
agricultural labourers. The Rectory was commodious, and placed on
the brow of a hill which gave it a delightful prospect. There was a
fair sprinkling of neighbours within visiting range, but with one or
two exceptions they were the clergymen and clergymen's families of
the surrounding villages.

By these the Pontifexes were welcomed as great acquisitions to the
neighbourhood. Mr Pontifex, they said was so clever; he had been
senior classic and senior wrangler; a perfect genius in fact, and
yet with so much sound practical common sense as well. As son of
such a distinguished man as the great Mr Pontifex the publisher he
would come into a large property by-and-by. Was there not an elder
brother? Yes, but there would be so much that Theobald would
probably get something very considerable. Of course they would give
dinner parties. And Mrs Pontifex, what a charming woman she was;
she was certainly not exactly pretty perhaps, but then she had such
a sweet smile and her manner was so bright and winning. She was so
devoted too to her husband and her husband to her; they really did
come up to one's ideas of what lovers used to be in days of old; it
was rare to meet with such a pair in these degenerate times; it was
quite beautiful, etc., etc. Such were the comments of the
neighbours on the new arrivals.

As for Theobald's own parishioners, the farmers were civil and the
labourers and their wives obsequious. There was a little dissent,
the legacy of a careless predecessor, but as Mrs Theobald said
proudly, "I think Theobald may be trusted to deal with THAT." The
church was then an interesting specimen of late Norman, with some
early English additions. It was what in these days would be called
in a very bad state of repair, but forty or fifty years ago few
churches were in good repair. If there is one feature more
characteristic of the present generation than another it is that it
has been a great restorer of churches.

Horace preached church restoration in his ode:-

Delicta majorum immeritus lues,
Romane, donec templa refeceris
Aedesque labentes deorum et
Foeda nigro simulacra fumo.

Nothing went right with Rome for long together after the Augustan
age, but whether it was because she did restore the temples or
because she did not restore them I know not. They certainly went
all wrong after Constantine's time and yet Rome is still a city of
some importance.

I may say here that before Theobald had been many years at Battersby
he found scope for useful work in the rebuilding of Battersby
church, which he carried out at considerable cost, towards which he
subscribed liberally himself. He was his own architect, and this
saved expense; but architecture was not very well understood about
the year 1834, when Theobald commenced operations, and the result is
not as satisfactory as it would have been if he had waited a few
years longer.

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or
architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and
the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his
character appear in spite of him. I may very likely be condemning
myself, all the time that I am writing this book, for I know that
whether I like it or no I am portraying myself more surely than I am
portraying any of the characters whom I set before the reader. I am
sorry that it is so, but I cannot help it--after which sop to
Nemesis I will say that Battersby church in its amended form has
always struck me as a better portrait of Theobald than any sculptor
or painter short of a great master would be able to produce.

I remember staying with Theobald some six or seven months after he
was married, and while the old church was still standing. I went to
church, and felt as Naaman must have felt on certain occasions when
he had to accompany his master on his return after having been cured
of his leprosy. I have carried away a more vivid recollection of
this and of the people, than of Theobald's sermon. Even now I can
see the men in blue smock frocks reaching to their heels, and more
than one old woman in a scarlet cloak; the row of stolid, dull,
vacant plough-boys, ungainly in build, uncomely in face, lifeless,
apathetic, a race a good deal more like the pre-revolution French
peasant as described by Carlyle than is pleasant to reflect upon--a
race now supplanted by a smarter, comelier and more hopeful
generation, which has discovered that it too has a right to as much
happiness as it can get, and with clearer ideas about the best means
of getting it.

They shamble in one after another, with steaming breath, for it is
winter, and loud clattering of hob-nailed boots; they beat the snow
from off them as they enter, and through the opened door I catch a
momentary glimpse of a dreary leaden sky and snow-clad tombstones.
Somehow or other I find the strain which Handel has wedded to the
words "There the ploughman near at hand," has got into my head and
there is no getting it out again. How marvellously old Handel
understood these people!

They bob to Theobald as they passed the reading desk ("The people
hereabouts are truly respectful," whispered Christina to me, "they
know their betters."), and take their seats in a long row against
the wall. The choir clamber up into the gallery with their
instruments--a violoncello, a clarinet and a trombone. I see them
and soon I hear them, for there is a hymn before the service, a wild
strain, a remnant, if I mistake not, of some pre-Reformation litany.
I have heard what I believe was its remote musical progenitor in the
church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo at Venice not five years since; and
again I have heard it far away in mid-Atlantic upon a grey sea-
Sabbath in June, when neither winds nor waves are stirring, so that
the emigrants gather on deck, and their plaintive psalm goes forth
upon the silver haze of the sky, and on the wilderness of a sea that
has sighed till it can sigh no longer. Or it may be heard at some
Methodist Camp Meeting upon a Welsh hillside, but in the churches it
is gone for ever. If I were a musician I would take it as the
subject for the adagio in a Wesleyan symphony.

Gone now are the clarinet, the violoncello and the trombone, wild
minstrelsy as of the doleful creatures in Ezekiel, discordant, but
infinitely pathetic. Gone is that scarebabe stentor, that bellowing
bull of Bashan the village blacksmith, gone is the melodious
carpenter, gone the brawny shepherd with the red hair, who roared
more lustily than all, until they came to the words, "Shepherds with
your flocks abiding," when modesty covered him with confusion, and
compelled him to be silent, as though his own health were being
drunk. They were doomed and had a presentiment of evil, even when
first I saw them, but they had still a little lease of choir life
remaining, and they roared out

[wick-ed hands have pierced and nailed him, pierced and nailed him
to a tree.]

but no description can give a proper idea of the effect. When I was
last in Battersby church there was a harmonium played by a sweet-
looking girl with a choir of school children around her, and they
chanted the canticles to the most correct of chants, and they sang
Hymns Ancient and Modern; the high pews were gone, nay, the very
gallery in which the old choir had sung was removed as an accursed
thing which might remind the people of the high places, and Theobald
was old, and Christina was lying under the yew trees in the

But in the evening later on I saw three very old men come chuckling
out of a dissenting chapel, and surely enough they were my old
friends the blacksmith, the carpenter and the shepherd. There was a
look of content upon their faces which made me feel certain they had
been singing; not doubtless with the old glory of the violoncello,
the clarinet and the trombone, but still songs of Sion and no new
fangled papistry.


The hymn had engaged my attention; when it was over I had time to
take stock of the congregation. They were chiefly farmers--fat,
very well-to-do folk, who had come some of them with their wives and
children from outlying farms two and three miles away; haters of
popery and of anything which any one might choose to say was popish;
good, sensible fellows who detested theory of any kind, whose ideal
was the maintenance of the status quo with perhaps a loving
reminiscence of old war times, and a sense of wrong that the weather
was not more completely under their control, who desired higher
prices and cheaper wages, but otherwise were most contented when
things were changing least; tolerators, if not lovers, of all that
was familiar, haters of all that was unfamiliar; they would have
been equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted,
and at seeing it practised.

"What can there be in common between Theobald and his parishioners?"
said Christina to me, in the course of the evening, when her husband
was for a few moments absent. "Of course one must not complain, but
I assure you it grieves me to see a man of Theobald's ability thrown
away upon such a place as this. If we had only been at Gaysbury,
where there are the A's, the B's, the C's, and Lord D's place, as
you know, quite close, I should not then have felt that we were
living in such a desert; but I suppose it is for the best," she
added more cheerfully; "and then of course the Bishop will come to
us whenever he is in the neighbourhood, and if we were at Gaysbury
he might have gone to Lord D's."

Perhaps I have now said enough to indicate the kind of place in
which Theobald's lines were cast, and the sort of woman he had
married. As for his own habits, I see him trudging through muddy
lanes and over long sweeps of plover-haunted pastures to visit a
dying cottager's wife. He takes her meat and wine from his own
table, and that not a little only but liberally. According to his
lights also, he administers what he is pleased to call spiritual

"I am afraid I'm going to Hell, Sir," says the sick woman with a
whine. "Oh, Sir, save me, save me, don't let me go there. I
couldn't stand it, Sir, I should die with fear, the very thought of
it drives me into a cold sweat all over."

"Mrs Thompson," says Theobald gravely, "you must have faith in the
precious blood of your Redeemer; it is He alone who can save you."

"But are you sure, Sir," says she, looking wistfully at him, "that
He will forgive me--for I've not been a very good woman, indeed I
haven't--and if God would only say 'Yes' outright with His mouth
when I ask whether my sins are forgiven me--"

"But they ARE forgiven you, Mrs Thompson," says Theobald with some
sternness, for the same ground has been gone over a good many times
already, and he has borne the unhappy woman's misgivings now for a
full quarter of an hour. Then he puts a stop to the conversation by
repeating prayers taken from the "Visitation of the Sick," and
overawes the poor wretch from expressing further anxiety as to her

"Can't you tell me, Sir," she exclaims piteously, as she sees that
he is preparing to go away, "can't you tell me that there is no Day
of Judgement, and that there is no such place as Hell? I can do
without the Heaven, Sir, but I cannot do with the Hell." Theobald
is much shocked.

"Mrs Thompson," he rejoins impressively, "let me implore you to
suffer no doubt concerning these two cornerstones of our religion to
cross your mind at a moment like the present. If there is one thing
more certain than another it is that we shall all appear before the
Judgement Seat of Christ, and that the wicked will be consumed in a
lake of everlasting fire. Doubt this, Mrs Thompson, and you are

The poor woman buries her fevered head in the coverlet in a paroxysm
of fear which at last finds relief in tears.

"Mrs Thompson," says Theobald, with his hand on the door, "compose
yourself, be calm; you must please to take my word for it that at
the Day of Judgement your sins will be all washed white in the blood
of the Lamb, Mrs Thompson. Yea," he exclaims frantically, "though
they be as scarlet, yet shall they be as white as wool," and he
makes off as fast as he can from the fetid atmosphere of the cottage
to the pure air outside. Oh, how thankful he is when the interview
is over!

He returns home, conscious that he has done his duty, and
administered the comforts of religion to a dying sinner. His
admiring wife awaits him at the Rectory, and assures him that never
yet was clergyman so devoted to the welfare of his flock. He
believes her; he has a natural tendency to believe everything that
is told him, and who should know the facts of the case better than
his wife? Poor fellow! He has done his best, but what does a
fish's best come to when the fish is out of water? He has left meat
and wine--that he can do; he will call again and will leave more
meat and wine; day after day he trudges over the same plover-haunted
fields, and listens at the end of his walk to the same agony of
forebodings, which day after day he silences, but does not remove,
till at last a merciful weakness renders the sufferer careless of
her future, and Theobald is satisfied that her mind is now
peacefully at rest in Jesus.


He does not like this branch of his profession--indeed he hates it--
but will not admit it to himself. The habit of not admitting things
to himself has become a confirmed one with him. Nevertheless there
haunts him an ill defined sense that life would be pleasanter if
there were no sick sinners, or if they would at any rate face an
eternity of torture with more indifference. He does not feel that
he is in his element. The farmers look as if they were in their
element. They are full-bodied, healthy and contented; but between
him and them there is a great gulf fixed. A hard and drawn look
begins to settle about the corners of his mouth, so that even if he
were not in a black coat and white tie a child might know him for a

He knows that he is doing his duty. Every day convinces him of this
more firmly; but then there is not much duty for him to do. He is
sadly in want of occupation. He has no taste for any of those field
sports which were not considered unbecoming for a clergyman forty
years ago. He does not ride, nor shoot, nor fish, nor course, nor
play cricket. Study, to do him justice, he had never really liked,
and what inducement was there for him to study at Battersby? He
reads neither old books nor new ones. He does not interest himself
in art or science or politics, but he sets his back up with some
promptness if any of them show any development unfamiliar to
himself. True, he writes his own sermons, but even his wife
considers that his forte lies rather in the example of his life
(which is one long act of self-devotion) than in his utterances from
the pulpit. After breakfast he retires to his study; he cuts little
bits out of the Bible and gums them with exquisite neatness by the
side of other little bits; this he calls making a Harmony of the Old
and New Testaments. Alongside the extracts he copies in the very
perfection of hand-writing extracts from Mede (the only man,
according to Theobald, who really understood the Book of
Revelation), Patrick, and other old divines. He works steadily at
this for half an hour every morning during many years, and the
result is doubtless valuable. After some years have gone by he
hears his children their lessons, and the daily oft-repeated screams
that issue from the study during the lesson hours tell their own
horrible story over the house. He has also taken to collecting a
hortus siccus, and through the interest of his father was once
mentioned in the Saturday Magazine as having been the first to find
a plant, whose name I have forgotten, in the neighbourhood of
Battersby. This number of the Saturday Magazine has been bound in
red morocco, and is kept upon the drawing-room table. He potters
about his garden; if he hears a hen cackling he runs and tells
Christina, and straightway goes hunting for the egg.

When the two Miss Allabys came, as they sometimes did, to stay with
Christina, they said the life led by their sister and brother-in-law
was an idyll. Happy indeed was Christina in her choice, for that
she had had a choice was a fiction which soon took root among them--
and happy Theobald in his Christina. Somehow or other Christina was
always a little shy of cards when her sisters were staying with her,
though at other times she enjoyed a game of cribbage or a rubber of
whist heartily enough, but her sisters knew they would never be
asked to Battersby again if they were to refer to that little
matter, and on the whole it was worth their while to be asked to
Battersby. If Theobald's temper was rather irritable he did not
vent it upon them.

By nature reserved, if he could have found someone to cook his
dinner for him, he would rather have lived in a desert island than
not. In his heart of hearts he held with Pope that "the greatest
nuisance to mankind is man" or words to that effect--only that
women, with the exception perhaps of Christina, were worse. Yet for
all this when visitors called he put a better face on it than anyone
who was behind the scenes would have expected.

He was quick too at introducing the names of any literary
celebrities whom he had met at his father's house, and soon
established an all-round reputation which satisfied even Christina

Who so integer vitae scelerisque purus, it was asked, as Mr Pontifex
of Battersby? Who so fit to be consulted if any difficulty about
parish management should arise? Who such a happy mixture of the
sincere uninquiring Christian and of the man of the world? For so
people actually called him. They said he was such an admirable man
of business. Certainly if he had said he would pay a sum of money
at a certain time, the money would be forthcoming on the appointed
day, and this is saying a good deal for any man. His constitutional
timidity rendered him incapable of an attempt to overreach when
there was the remotest chance of opposition or publicity, and his
correct bearing and somewhat stern expression were a great
protection to him against being overreached. He never talked of
money, and invariably changed the subject whenever money was
introduced. His expression of unutterable horror at all kinds of
meanness was a sufficient guarantee that he was not mean himself.
Besides he had no business transactions save of the most ordinary
butcher's book and baker's book description. His tastes--if he had
any--were, as we have seen, simple; he had 900 pounds a year and a
house; the neighbourhood was cheap, and for some time he had no
children to be a drag upon him. Who was not to be envied, and if
envied why then respected, if Theobald was not enviable?

Yet I imagine that Christina was on the whole happier than her
husband. She had not to go and visit sick parishioners, and the
management of her house and the keeping of her accounts afforded as
much occupation as she desired. Her principal duty was, as she well
said, to her husband--to love him, honour him, and keep him in a
good temper. To do her justice she fulfilled this duty to the
uttermost of her power. It would have been better perhaps if she
had not so frequently assured her husband that he was the best and
wisest of mankind, for no one in his little world ever dreamed of
telling him anything else, and it was not long before he ceased to
have any doubt upon the matter. As for his temper, which had become
very violent at times, she took care to humour it on the slightest
sign of an approaching outbreak. She had early found that this was
much the easiest plan. The thunder was seldom for herself. Long
before her marriage even she had studied his little ways, and knew
how to add fuel to the fire as long as the fire seemed to want it,
and then to damp it judiciously down, making as little smoke as

In money matters she was scrupulousness itself. Theobald made her a
quarterly allowance for her dress, pocket money and little charities
and presents. In these last items she was liberal in proportion to
her income; indeed she dressed with great economy and gave away
whatever was over in presents or charity. Oh, what a comfort it was
to Theobald to reflect that he had a wife on whom he could rely
never to cost him a sixpence of unauthorised expenditure! Letting
alone her absolute submission, the perfect coincidence of her
opinion with his own upon every subject and her constant assurances
to him that he was right in everything which he took it into his
head to say or do, what a tower of strength to him was her exactness
in money matters! As years went by he became as fond of his wife as
it was in his nature to be of any living thing, and applauded
himself for having stuck to his engagement--a piece of virtue of
which he was now reaping the reward. Even when Christina did outrun
her quarterly stipend by some thirty shillings or a couple of
pounds, it was always made perfectly clear to Theobald how the
deficiency had arisen--there had been an unusually costly evening
dress bought which was to last a long time, or somebody's unexpected
wedding had necessitated a more handsome present than the quarter's
balance would quite allow: the excess of expenditure was always
repaid in the following quarter or quarters even though it were only
ten shillings at a time.

I believe, however, that after they had been married some twenty
years, Christina had somewhat fallen from her original perfection as
regards money. She had got gradually in arrear during many
successive quarters, till she had contracted a chronic loan a sort
of domestic national debt, amounting to between seven and eight
pounds. Theobald at length felt that a remonstrance had become
imperative, and took advantage of his silver wedding day to inform
Christina that her indebtedness was cancelled, and at the same time
to beg that she would endeavour henceforth to equalise her
expenditure and her income. She burst into tears of love and
gratitude, assured him that he was the best and most generous of
men, and never during the remainder of her married life was she a
single shilling behind hand.

Christina hated change of all sorts no less cordially than her
husband. She and Theobald had nearly everything in this world that
they could wish for; why, then, should people desire to introduce
all sorts of changes of which no one could foresee the end?
Religion, she was deeply convinced, had long since attained its
final development, nor could it enter into the heart of reasonable
man to conceive any faith more perfect than was inculcated by the
Church of England. She could imagine no position more honourable
than that of a clergyman's wife unless indeed it were a bishop's.
Considering his father's influence it was not at all impossible that
Theobald might be a bishop some day--and then--then would occur to
her that one little flaw in the practice of the Church of England--a
flaw not indeed in its doctrine, but in its policy, which she
believed on the whole to be a mistaken one in this respect. I mean
the fact that a bishop's wife does not take the rank of her husband.

This had been the doing of Elizabeth, who had been a bad woman, of
exceeding doubtful moral character, and at heart a Papist to the
last. Perhaps people ought to have been above mere considerations
of worldly dignity, but the world was as it was, and such things
carried weight with them, whether they ought to do so or no. Her
influence as plain Mrs Pontifex, wife, we will say, of the Bishop of
Winchester, would no doubt be considerable. Such a character as
hers could not fail to carry weight if she were ever in a
sufficiently conspicuous sphere for its influence to be widely felt;
but as Lady Winchester--or the Bishopess--which would sound quite
nicely--who could doubt that her power for good would be enhanced?
And it would be all the nicer because if she had a daughter the
daughter would not be a Bishopess unless indeed she were to marry a
Bishop too, which would not be likely.

These were her thoughts upon her good days; at other times she
would, to do her justice, have doubts whether she was in all
respects as spiritually minded as she ought to be. She must press
on, press on, till every enemy to her salvation was surmounted and
Satan himself lay bruised under her feet. It occurred to her on one
of these occasions that she might steal a march over some of her
contemporaries if she were to leave off eating black puddings, of
which whenever they had killed a pig she had hitherto partaken
freely; and if she were also careful that no fowls were served at
her table which had had their necks wrung, but only such as had had
their throats cut and been allowed to bleed. St Paul and the Church
of Jerusalem had insisted upon it as necessary that even Gentile
converts should abstain from things strangled and from blood, and
they had joined this prohibition with that of a vice about the
abominable nature of which there could be no question; it would be
well therefore to abstain in future and see whether any noteworthy
spiritual result ensued. She did abstain, and was certain that from
the day of her resolve she had felt stronger, purer in heart, and in
all respects more spiritually minded than she had ever felt
hitherto. Theobald did not lay so much stress on this as she did,
but as she settled what he should have at dinner she could take care
that he got no strangled fowls; as for black puddings, happily, he
had seen them made when he was a boy, and had never got over his
aversion for them. She wished the matter were one of more general
observance than it was; this was just a case in which as Lady
Winchester she might have been able to do what as plain Mrs Pontifex
it was hopeless even to attempt.

And thus this worthy couple jogged on from month to month and from
year to year. The reader, if he has passed middle life and has a
clerical connection, will probably remember scores and scores of
rectors and rectors' wives who differed in no material respect from
Theobald and Christina. Speaking from a recollection and experience
extending over nearly eighty years from the time when I was myself a
child in the nursery of a vicarage, I should say I had drawn the
better rather than the worse side of the life of an English country
parson of some fifty years ago. I admit, however, that there are no
such people to be found nowadays. A more united or, on the whole,
happier, couple could not have been found in England. One grief
only overshadowed the early years of their married life: I mean the
fact that no living children were born to them.


In the course of time this sorrow was removed. At the beginning of
the fifth year of her married life Christina was safely delivered of
a boy. This was on the sixth of September 1835.

Word was immediately sent to old Mr Pontifex, who received the news
with real pleasure. His son John's wife had borne daughters only,
and he was seriously uneasy lest there should be a failure in the
male line of his descendants. The good news, therefore, was doubly
welcome, and caused as much delight at Elmhurst as dismay in Woburn
Square, where the John Pontifexes were then living.

Here, indeed, this freak of fortune was felt to be all the more
cruel on account of the impossibility of resenting it openly; but
the delighted grandfather cared nothing for what the John Pontifexes
might feel or not feel; he had wanted a grandson and he had got a
grandson, and this should be enough for everybody; and, now that Mrs
Theobald had taken to good ways, she might bring him more grandsons,
which would be desirable, for he should not feel safe with fewer
than three.

He rang the bell for the butler.

"Gelstrap," he said solemnly, "I want to go down into the cellar."

Then Gelstrap preceded him with a candle, and he went into the inner
vault where he kept his choicest wines.

He passed many bins: there was 1803 Port, 1792 Imperial Tokay, 1800
Claret, 1812 Sherry, these and many others were passed, but it was
not for them that the head of the Pontifex family had gone down into
his inner cellar. A bin, which had appeared empty until the full
light of the candle had been brought to bear upon it, was now found
to contain a single pint bottle. This was the object of Mr
Pontifex's search.

Gelstrap had often pondered over this bottle. It had been placed
there by Mr Pontifex himself about a dozen years previously, on his
return from a visit to his friend the celebrated traveller Dr Jones-
-but there was no tablet above the bin which might give a clue to
the nature of its contents. On more than one occasion when his
master had gone out and left his keys accidentally behind him, as he
sometimes did, Gelstrap had submitted the bottle to all the tests he
could venture upon, but it was so carefully sealed that wisdom
remained quite shut out from that entrance at which he would have
welcomed her most gladly--and indeed from all other entrances, for
he could make out nothing at all.

And now the mystery was to be solved. But alas! it seemed as though
the last chance of securing even a sip of the contents was to be
removed for ever, for Mr Pontifex took the bottle into his own hands
and held it up to the light after carefully examining the seal. He
smiled and left the bin with the bottle in his hands.

Then came a catastrophe. He stumbled over an empty hamper; there
was the sound of a fall--a smash of broken glass, and in an instant
the cellar floor was covered with the liquid that had been preserved
so carefully for so many years.

With his usual presence of mind Mr Pontifex gasped out a month's
warning to Gelstrap. Then he got up, and stamped as Theobald had
done when Christina had wanted not to order his dinner.

"It's water from the Jordan," he exclaimed furiously, "which I have
been saving for the baptism of my eldest grandson. Damn you,
Gelstrap, how dare you be so infernally careless as to leave that
hamper littering about the cellar?"

I wonder the water of the sacred stream did not stand upright as an
heap upon the cellar floor and rebuke him. Gelstrap told the other
servants afterwards that his master's language had made his backbone

The moment, however, that he heard the word "water," he saw his way
again, and flew to the pantry. Before his master had well noted his
absence he returned with a little sponge and a basin, and had begun
sopping up the waters of the Jordan as though they had been a common

"I'll filter it, Sir," said Gelstrap meekly. "It'll come quite

Mr Pontifex saw hope in this suggestion, which was shortly carried
out by the help of a piece of blotting paper and a funnel, under his
own eyes. Eventually it was found that half a pint was saved, and
this was held to be sufficient.

Then he made preparations for a visit to Battersby. He ordered
goodly hampers of the choicest eatables, he selected a goodly hamper
of choice drinkables. I say choice and not choicest, for although
in his first exaltation he had selected some of his very best wine,
yet on reflection he had felt that there was moderation in all
things, and as he was parting with his best water from the Jordan,
he would only send some of his second best wine.

Before he went to Battersby he stayed a day or two in London, which
he now seldom did, being over seventy years old, and having
practically retired from business. The John Pontifexes, who kept a
sharp eye on him, discovered to their dismay that he had had an
interview with his solicitors.


For the first time in his life Theobald felt that he had done
something right, and could look forward to meeting his father
without alarm. The old gentleman, indeed, had written him a most
cordial letter, announcing his intention of standing godfather to
the boy--nay, I may as well give it in full, as it shows the writer
at his best. It runs:

"Dear Theobald,--Your letter gave me very sincere pleasure, the more
so because I had made up my mind for the worst; pray accept my most
hearty congratulations for my daughter-in-law and for yourself.

"I have long preserved a phial of water from the Jordan for the
christening of my first grandson, should it please God to grant me
one. It was given me by my old friend Dr Jones. You will agree
with me that though the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend
upon the source of the baptismal waters, yet, ceteris paribus, there
is a sentiment attaching to the waters of the Jordan which should
not be despised. Small matters like this sometimes influence a
child's whole future career.

"I shall bring my own cook, and have told him to get everything
ready for the christening dinner. Ask as many of your best
neighbours as your table will hold. By the way, I have told Lesueur
NOT TO GET A LOBSTER--you had better drive over yourself and get one
from Saltness (for Battersby was only fourteen or fifteen miles from
the sea coast); they are better there, at least I think so, than
anywhere else in England.

"I have put your boy down for something in the event of his
attaining the age of twenty-one years. If your brother John
continues to have nothing but girls I may do more later on, but I
have many claims upon me, and am not as well off as you may
imagine.--Your affectionate father,


A few days afterwards the writer of the above letter made his
appearance in a fly which had brought him from Gildenham to
Battersby, a distance of fourteen miles. There was Lesueur, the
cook, on the box with the driver, and as many hampers as the fly
could carry were disposed upon the roof and elsewhere. Next day the
John Pontifexes had to come, and Eliza and Maria, as well as
Alethea, who, by her own special request, was godmother to the boy,
for Mr Pontifex had decided that they were to form a happy family
party; so come they all must, and be happy they all must, or it
would be the worse for them. Next day the author of all this hubbub
was actually christened. Theobald had proposed to call him George
after old Mr Pontifex, but strange to say, Mr Pontifex over-ruled
him in favour of the name Ernest. The word "earnest" was just
beginning to come into fashion, and he thought the possession of
such a name might, like his having been baptised in water from the
Jordan, have a permanent effect upon the boy's character, and
influence him for good during the more critical periods of his life.

I was asked to be his second godfather, and was rejoiced to have an
opportunity of meeting Alethea, whom I had not seen for some few
years, but with whom I had been in constant correspondence. She and
I had always been friends from the time we had played together as
children onwards. When the death of her grandfather and grandmother
severed her connection with Paleham my intimacy with the Pontifexes
was kept up by my having been at school and college with Theobald,
and each time I saw her I admired her more and more as the best,
kindest, wittiest, most lovable, and, to my mind, handsomest woman
whom I had ever seen. None of the Pontifexes were deficient in good
looks; they were a well-grown shapely family enough, but Alethea was
the flower of the flock even as regards good looks, while in respect
of all other qualities that make a woman lovable, it seemed as
though the stock that had been intended for the three daughters, and
would have been about sufficient for them, had all been allotted to
herself, her sisters getting none, and she all.

It is impossible for me to explain how it was that she and I never
married. We two knew exceedingly well, and that must suffice for
the reader. There was the most perfect sympathy and understanding
between us; we knew that neither of us would marry anyone else. I
had asked her to marry me a dozen times over; having said this much
I will say no more upon a point which is in no way necessary for the
development of my story. For the last few years there had been
difficulties in the way of our meeting, and I had not seen her,
though, as I have said, keeping up a close correspondence with her.
Naturally I was overjoyed to meet her again; she was now just thirty
years old, but I thought she looked handsomer than ever.

Her father, of course, was the lion of the party, but seeing that we
were all meek and quite willing to be eaten, he roared to us rather
than at us. It was a fine sight to see him tucking his napkin under
his rosy old gills, and letting it fall over his capacious waistcoat
while the high light from the chandelier danced about the bump of
benevolence on his bald old head like a star of Bethlehem.

The soup was real turtle; the old gentleman was evidently well
pleased and he was beginning to come out. Gelstrap stood behind his
master's chair. I sat next Mrs Theobald on her left hand, and was
thus just opposite her father-in-law, whom I had every opportunity
of observing.

During the first ten minutes or so, which were taken up with the
soup and the bringing in of the fish, I should probably have
thought, if I had not long since made up my mind about him, what a
fine old man he was and how proud his children should be of him; but
suddenly as he was helping himself to lobster sauce, he flushed
crimson, a look of extreme vexation suffused his face, and he darted
two furtive but fiery glances to the two ends of the table, one for
Theobald and one for Christina. They, poor simple souls, of course
saw that something was exceedingly wrong, and so did I, but I
couldn't guess what it was till I heard the old man hiss in
Christina's ear: "It was not made with a hen lobster. What's the
use," he continued, "of my calling the boy Ernest, and getting him
christened in water from the Jordan, if his own father does not know
a cock from a hen lobster?"

This cut me too, for I felt that till that moment I had not so much
as known that there were cocks and hens among lobsters, but had
vaguely thought that in the matter of matrimony they were even as
the angels in heaven, and grew up almost spontaneously from rocks
and sea-weed.

Before the next course was over Mr Pontifex had recovered his
temper, and from that time to the end of the evening he was at his
best. He told us all about the water from the Jordan; how it had
been brought by Dr Jones along with some stone jars of water from
the Rhine, the Rhone, the Elbe and the Danube, and what trouble he
had had with them at the Custom Houses, and how the intention had
been to make punch with waters from all the greatest rivers in
Europe; and how he, Mr Pontifex, had saved the Jordan water from
going into the bowl, etc., etc. "No, no, no," he continued, "it
wouldn't have done at all, you know; very profane idea; so we each
took a pint bottle of it home with us, and the punch was much better
without it. I had a narrow escape with mine, though, the other day;
I fell over a hamper in the cellar, when I was getting it up to
bring to Battersby, and if I had not taken the greatest care the
bottle would certainly have been broken, but I saved it." And
Gelstrap was standing behind his chair all the time!

Nothing more happened to ruffle Mr Pontifex, so we had a delightful
evening, which has often recurred to me while watching the after
career of my godson.

I called a day or two afterwards and found Mr Pontifex still at
Battersby, laid up with one of those attacks of liver and depression
to which he was becoming more and more subject. I stayed to
luncheon. The old gentleman was cross and very difficult; he could
eat nothing--had no appetite at all. Christina tried to coax him
with a little bit of the fleshy part of a mutton chop. "How in the
name of reason can I be asked to eat a mutton chop?" he exclaimed
angrily; "you forget, my dear Christina, that you have to deal with
a stomach that is totally disorganised," and he pushed the plate
from him, pouting and frowning like a naughty old child. Writing as
I do by the light of a later knowledge, I suppose I should have seen
nothing in this but the world's growing pains, the disturbance
inseparable from transition in human things. I suppose in reality
not a leaf goes yellow in autumn without ceasing to care about its
sap and making the parent tree very uncomfortable by long growling
and grumbling--but surely nature might find some less irritating way
of carrying on business if she would give her mind to it. Why
should the generations overlap one another at all? Why cannot we be
buried as eggs in neat little cells with ten or twenty thousand
pounds each wrapped round us in Bank of England notes, and wake up,
as the sphex wasp does, to find that its papa and mamma have not
only left ample provision at its elbow, but have been eaten by
sparrows some weeks before it began to live consciously on its own

About a year and a half afterwards the tables were turned on
Battersby--for Mrs John Pontifex was safely delivered of a boy. A
year or so later still, George Pontifex was himself struck down
suddenly by a fit of paralysis, much as his mother had been, but he
did not see the years of his mother. When his will was opened, it
was found that an original bequest of 20,000 pounds to Theobald
himself (over and above the sum that had been settled upon him and
Christina at the time of his marriage) had been cut down to 17,500
pounds when Mr Pontifex left "something" to Ernest. The "something"
proved to be 2500 pounds, which was to accumulate in the hands of
trustees. The rest of the property went to John Pontifex, except
that each of the daughters was left with about 15,000 pounds over
and above 5000 pounds a piece which they inherited from their

Theobald's father then had told him the truth but not the whole
truth. Nevertheless, what right had Theobald to complain?
Certainly it was rather hard to make him think that he and his were
to be gainers, and get the honour and glory of the bequest, when all
the time the money was virtually being taken out of Theobald's own
pocket. On the other hand the father doubtless argued that he had
never told Theobald he was to have anything at all; he had a full
right to do what he liked with his own money; if Theobald chose to
indulge in unwarrantable expectations that was no affair of his; as
it was he was providing for him liberally; and if he did take 2500
pounds of Theobald's share he was still leaving it to Theobald's
son, which, of course, was much the same thing in the end.

No one can deny that the testator had strict right upon his side;
nevertheless the reader will agree with me that Theobald and
Christina might not have considered the christening dinner so great
a success if all the facts had been before them. Mr Pontifex had
during his own life-time set up a monument in Elmhurst Church to the
memory of his wife (a slab with urns and cherubs like illegitimate
children of King George the Fourth, and all the rest of it), and had
left space for his own epitaph underneath that of his wife. I do
not know whether it was written by one of his children, or whether
they got some friend to write it for them. I do not believe that
any satire was intended. I believe that it was the intention to
convey that nothing short of the Day of Judgement could give anyone
an idea how good a man Mr Pontifex had been, but at first I found it
hard to think that it was free from guile.

The epitaph begins by giving dates of birth and death; then sets out
that the deceased was for many years head of the firm of Fairlie and
Pontifex, and also resident in the parish of Elmhurst. There is not
a syllable of either praise or dispraise. The last lines run as



This much, however, we may say in the meantime, that having lived to
be nearly seventy-three years old and died rich he must have been in
very fair harmony with his surroundings. I have heard it said
sometimes that such and such a person's life was a lie: but no
man's life can be a very bad lie; as long as it continues at all it
is at worst nine-tenths of it true.

Mr Pontifex's life not only continued a long time, but was
prosperous right up to the end. Is not this enough? Being in this
world is it not our most obvious business to make the most of it--to
observe what things do bona fide tend to long life and comfort, and
to act accordingly? All animals, except man, know that the
principal business of life is to enjoy it--and they do enjoy it as
much as man and other circumstances will allow. He has spent his
life best who has enjoyed it most; God will take care that we do not
enjoy it any more than is good for us. If Mr Pontifex is to be
blamed it is for not having eaten and drunk less and thus suffered
less from his liver, and lived perhaps a year or two longer.

Goodness is naught unless it tends towards old age and sufficiency
of means. I speak broadly and exceptis excipiendis. So the
psalmist says, "The righteous shall not lack anything that is good."
Either this is mere poetical license, or it follows that he who
lacks anything that is good is not righteous; there is a presumption
also that he who has passed a long life without lacking anything
that is good has himself also been good enough for practical

Mr Pontifex never lacked anything he much cared about. True, he
might have been happier than he was if he had cared about things
which he did not care for, but the gist of this lies in the "if he
had cared." We have all sinned and come short of the glory of
making ourselves as comfortable as we easily might have done, but in
this particular case Mr Pontifex did not care, and would not have
gained much by getting what he did not want.

There is no casting of swine's meat before men worse than that which
would flatter virtue as though her true origin were not good enough
for her, but she must have a lineage, deduced as it were by
spiritual heralds, from some stock with which she has nothing to do.
Virtue's true lineage is older and more respectable than any that
can be invented for her. She springs from man's experience
concerning his own well-being--and this, though not infallible, is
still the least fallible thing we have. A system which cannot stand
without a better foundation than this must have something so
unstable within itself that it will topple over on whatever pedestal
we place it.

The world has long ago settled that morality and virtue are what
bring men peace at the last. "Be virtuous," says the copy-book,
"and you will be happy." Surely if a reputed virtue fails often in
this respect it is only an insidious form of vice, and if a reputed
vice brings no very serious mischief on a man's later years it is
not so bad a vice as it is said to be. Unfortunately though we are
all of a mind about the main opinion that virtue is what tends to
happiness, and vice what ends in sorrow, we are not so unanimous
about details--that is to say as to whether any given course, such,
we will say, as smoking, has a tendency to happiness or the reverse.

I submit it as the result of my own poor observation, that a good
deal of unkindness and selfishness on the part of parents towards
children is not generally followed by ill consequences to the
parents themselves. They may cast a gloom over their children's
lives for many years without having to suffer anything that will
hurt them. I should say, then, that it shows no great moral
obliquity on the part of parents if within certain limits they make
their children's lives a burden to them.

Granted that Mr Pontifex's was not a very exalted character,
ordinary men are not required to have very exalted characters. It
is enough if we are of the same moral and mental stature as the
"main" or "mean" part of men--that is to say as the average.

It is involved in the very essence of things that rich men who die
old shall have been mean. The greatest and wisest of mankind will
be almost always found to be the meanest--the ones who have kept the
"mean" best between excess either of virtue or vice. They hardly
ever have been prosperous if they have not done this, and,
considering how many miscarry altogether, it is no small feather in
a man's cap if he has been no worse than his neighbours. Homer
tells us about some one who made it his business [Greek text]--
always to excel and to stand higher than other people. What an
uncompanionable disagreeable person he must have been! Homer's
heroes generally came to a bad end, and I doubt not that this
gentleman, whoever he was, did so sooner or later.

A very high standard, again, involves the possession of rare
virtues, and rare virtues are like rare plants or animals, things
that have not been able to hold their own in the world. A virtue to
be serviceable must, like gold, be alloyed with some commoner but
more durable metal.

People divide off vice and virtue as though they were two things,
neither of which had with it anything of the other. This is not so.
There is no useful virtue which has not some alloy of vice, and
hardly any vice, if any, which carries not with it a little dash of
virtue; virtue and vice are like life and death, or mind and matter-
-things which cannot exist without being qualified by their
opposite. The most absolute life contains death, and the corpse is
still in many respects living; so also it has been said, "If thou,
Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss," which shows that
even the highest ideal we can conceive will yet admit so much
compromise with vice as shall countenance the poor abuses of the
time, if they are not too outrageous. That vice pays homage to
virtue is notorious; we call this hypocrisy; there should be a word
found for the homage which virtue not unfrequently pays, or at any
rate would be wise in paying, to vice.

I grant that some men will find happiness in having what we all feel
to be a higher moral standard than others. If they go in for this,
however, they must be content with virtue as her own reward, and not
grumble if they find lofty Quixotism an expensive luxury, whose
rewards belong to a kingdom that is not of this world. They must
not wonder if they cut a poor figure in trying to make the most of
both worlds. Disbelieve as we may the details of the accounts which
record the growth of the Christian religion, yet a great part of
Christian teaching will remain as true as though we accepted the
details. We cannot serve God and Mammon; strait is the way and
narrow is the gate which leads to what those who live by faith hold
to be best worth having, and there is no way of saying this better
than the Bible has done. It is well there should be some who think
thus, as it is well there should be speculators in commerce, who
will often burn their fingers--but it is not well that the majority
should leave the "mean" and beaten path.

For most men, and most circumstances, pleasure--tangible material
prosperity in this world--is the safest test of virtue. Progress
has ever been through the pleasures rather than through the extreme
sharp virtues, and the most virtuous have leaned to excess rather
than to asceticism. To use a commercial metaphor, competition is so
keen, and the margin of profits has been cut down so closely that
virtue cannot afford to throw any bona fide chance away, and must
base her action rather on the actual moneying out of conduct than on
a flattering prospectus. She will not therefore neglect--as some do
who are prudent and economical enough in other matters--the
important factor of our chance of escaping detection, or at any rate
of our dying first. A reasonable virtue will give this chance its
due value, neither more nor less.

Pleasure, after all, is a safer guide than either right or duty.
For hard as it is to know what gives us pleasure, right and duty are
often still harder to distinguish and, if we go wrong with them,
will lead us into just as sorry a plight as a mistaken opinion
concerning pleasure. When men burn their fingers through following
after pleasure they find out their mistake and get to see where they
have gone wrong more easily than when they have burnt them through
following after a fancied duty, or a fancied idea concerning right
virtue. The devil, in fact, when he dresses himself in angel's
clothes, can only be detected by experts of exceptional skill, and
so often does he adopt this disguise that it is hardly safe to be
seen talking to an angel at all, and prudent people will follow
after pleasure as a more homely but more respectable and on the
whole much more trustworthy guide.

Returning to Mr Pontifex, over and above his having lived long and
prosperously, he left numerous offspring, to all of whom he
communicated not only his physical and mental characteristics, with
no more than the usual amount of modification, but also no small
share of characteristics which are less easily transmitted--I mean
his pecuniary characteristics. It may be said that he acquired
these by sitting still and letting money run, as it were, right up
against him, but against how many does not money run who do not take
it when it does, or who, even if they hold it for a little while,
cannot so incorporate it with themselves that it shall descend
through them to their offspring? Mr Pontifex did this. He kept
what he may be said to have made, and money is like a reputation for
ability--more easily made than kept.

Take him, then, for all in all, I am not inclined to be so severe
upon him as my father was. Judge him according to any very lofty
standard, and he is nowhere. Judge him according to a fair average
standard, and there is not much fault to be found with him. I have
said what I have said in the foregoing chapter once for all, and
shall not break my thread to repeat it. It should go without saying
in modification of the verdict which the reader may be inclined to
pass too hastily, not only upon Mr George Pontifex, but also upon
Theobald and Christina. And now I will continue my story.


The birth of his son opened Theobald's eyes to a good deal which he
had but faintly realised hitherto. He had had no idea how great a
nuisance a baby was. Babies come into the world so suddenly at the
end, and upset everything so terribly when they do come: why cannot
they steal in upon us with less of a shock to the domestic system?
His wife, too, did not recover rapidly from her confinement; she
remained an invalid for months; here was another nuisance and an
expensive one, which interfered with the amount which Theobald liked
to put by out of his income against, as he said, a rainy day, or to
make provision for his family if he should have one. Now he was
getting a family, so that it became all the more necessary to put
money by, and here was the baby hindering him. Theorists may say
what they like about a man's children being a continuation of his
own identity, but it will generally be found that those who talk in
this way have no children of their own. Practical family men know

About twelve months after the birth of Ernest there came a second,
also a boy, who was christened Joseph, and in less than twelve
months afterwards, a girl, to whom was given the name of Charlotte.
A few months before this girl was born Christina paid a visit to the
John Pontifexes in London, and, knowing her condition, passed a good
deal of time at the Royal Academy exhibition looking at the types of
female beauty portrayed by the Academicians, for she had made up her
mind that the child this time was to be a girl. Alethea warned her
not to do this, but she persisted, and certainly the child turned
out plain, but whether the pictures caused this or no I cannot say.

Theobald had never liked children. He had always got away from them
as soon as he could, and so had they from him; oh, why, he was
inclined to ask himself, could not children be born into the world
grown up? If Christina could have given birth to a few full-grown
clergymen in priest's orders--of moderate views, but inclining
rather to Evangelicalism, with comfortable livings and in all
respects facsimiles of Theobald himself--why, there might have been
more sense in it; or if people could buy ready-made children at a
shop of whatever age and sex they liked, instead of always having to
make them at home and to begin at the beginning with them--that
might do better, but as it was he did not like it. He felt as he
had felt when he had been required to come and be married to
Christina--that he had been going on for a long time quite nicely,
and would much rather continue things on their present footing. In
the matter of getting married he had been obliged to pretend he
liked it; but times were changed, and if he did not like a thing
now, he could find a hundred unexceptionable ways of making his
dislike apparent.

It might have been better if Theobald in his younger days had kicked
more against his father: the fact that he had not done so
encouraged him to expect the most implicit obedience from his own
children. He could trust himself, he said (and so did Christina),
to be more lenient than perhaps his father had been to himself; his
danger, he said (and so again did Christina), would be rather in the
direction of being too indulgent; he must be on his guard against
this, for no duty could be more important than that of teaching a
child to obey its parents in all things.

He had read not long since of an Eastern traveller, who, while
exploring somewhere in the more remote parts of Arabia and Asia
Minor, had come upon a remarkably hardy, sober, industrious little
Christian community--all of them in the best of health--who had
turned out to be the actual living descendants of Jonadab, the son
of Rechab; and two men in European costume, indeed, but speaking
English with a broken accent, and by their colour evidently
Oriental, had come begging to Battersby soon afterwards, and
represented themselves as belonging to this people; they had said
they were collecting funds to promote the conversion of their fellow
tribesmen to the English branch of the Christian religion. True,
they turned out to be impostors, for when he gave them a pound and
Christina five shillings from her private purse, they went and got
drunk with it in the next village but one to Battersby; still, this
did not invalidate the story of the Eastern traveller. Then there
were the Romans--whose greatness was probably due to the wholesome
authority exercised by the head of a family over all its members.
Some Romans had even killed their children; this was going too far,
but then the Romans were not Christians, and knew no better.

The practical outcome of the foregoing was a conviction in
Theobald's mind, and if in his, then in Christina's, that it was
their duty to begin training up their children in the way they
should go, even from their earliest infancy. The first signs of
self-will must be carefully looked for, and plucked up by the roots
at once before they had time to grow. Theobald picked up this numb
serpent of a metaphor and cherished it in his bosom.

Before Ernest could well crawl he was taught to kneel; before he
could well speak he was taught to lisp the Lord's prayer, and the
general confession. How was it possible that these things could be
taught too early? If his attention flagged or his memory failed
him, here was an ill weed which would grow apace, unless it were
plucked out immediately, and the only way to pluck it out was to
whip him, or shut him up in a cupboard, or dock him of some of the
small pleasures of childhood. Before he was three years old he
could read and, after a fashion, write. Before he was four he was
learning Latin, and could do rule of three sums.

As for the child himself, he was naturally of an even temper, he
doted upon his nurse, on kittens and puppies, and on all things that
would do him the kindness of allowing him to be fond of them. He
was fond of his mother, too, but as regards his father, he has told
me in later life he could remember no feeling but fear and
shrinking. Christina did not remonstrate with Theobald concerning
the severity of the tasks imposed upon their boy, nor yet as to the
continual whippings that were found necessary at lesson times.
Indeed, when during any absence of Theobald's the lessons were
entrusted to her, she found to her sorrow that it was the only thing
to do, and she did it no less effectually than Theobald himself,
nevertheless she was fond of her boy, which Theobald never was, and
it was long before she could destroy all affection for herself in
the mind of her first-born. But she persevered.


Strange! for she believed she doted upon him, and certainly she
loved him better than either of her other children. Her version of
the matter was that there had never yet been two parents so self-
denying and devoted to the highest welfare of their children as
Theobald and herself. For Ernest, a very great future--she was
certain of it--was in store. This made severity all the more
necessary, so that from the first he might have been kept pure from
every taint of evil. She could not allow herself the scope for
castle building which, we read, was indulged in by every Jewish
matron before the appearance of the Messiah, for the Messiah had now
come, but there was to be a millennium shortly, certainly not later
than 1866, when Ernest would be just about the right age for it, and
a modern Elias would be wanted to herald its approach. Heaven would
bear her witness that she had never shrunk from the idea of
martyrdom for herself and Theobald, nor would she avoid it for her
boy, if his life was required of her in her Redeemer's service. Oh,
no! If God told her to offer up her first-born, as He had told
Abraham, she would take him up to Pigbury Beacon and plunge the--no,
that she could not do, but it would be unnecessary--some one else
might do that. It was not for nothing that Ernest had been baptised
in water from the Jordan. It had not been her doing, nor yet
Theobald's. They had not sought it. When water from the sacred
stream was wanted for a sacred infant, the channel had been found
through which it was to flow from far Palestine over land and sea to
the door of the house where the child was lying. Why, it was a
miracle! It was! It was! She saw it all now. The Jordan had left
its bed and flowed into her own house. It was idle to say that this
was not a miracle. No miracle was effected without means of some
kind; the difference between the faithful and the unbeliever
consisted in the very fact that the former could see a miracle where
the latter could not. The Jews could see no miracle even in the
raising of Lazarus and the feeding of the five thousand. The John
Pontifexes would see no miracle in this matter of the water from the
Jordan. The essence of a miracle lay not in the fact that means had
been dispensed with, but in the adoption of means to a great end
that had not been available without interference; and no one would
suppose that Dr Jones would have brought the water unless he had
been directed. She would tell this to Theobald, and get him to see
it in the . . . and yet perhaps it would be better not. The insight
of women upon matters of this sort was deeper and more unerring than
that of men. It was a woman and not a man who had been filled most
completely with the whole fulness of the Deity. But why had they
not treasured up the water after it was used? It ought never, never
to have been thrown away, but it had been. Perhaps, however, this
was for the best too--they might have been tempted to set too much
store by it, and it might have become a source of spiritual danger
to them--perhaps even of spiritual pride, the very sin of all others
which she most abhorred. As for the channel through which the
Jordan had flowed to Battersby, that mattered not more than the
earth through which the river ran in Palestine itself. Dr Jones was
certainly worldly--very worldly; so, she regretted to feel, had been
her father-in-law, though in a less degree; spiritual, at heart,
doubtless, and becoming more and more spiritual continually as he
grew older, still he was tainted with the world, till a very few
hours, probably, before his death, whereas she and Theobald had
given up all for Christ's sake. THEY were not worldly. At least
Theobald was not. She had been, but she was sure she had grown in
grace since she had left off eating things strangled and blood--this
was as the washing in Jordan as against Abana and Pharpar, rivers of
Damascus. Her boy should never touch a strangled fowl nor a black
pudding--that, at any rate, she could see to. He should have a
coral from the neighbourhood of Joppa--there were coral insects on
those coasts, so that the thing could easily be done with a little
energy; she would write to Dr Jones about it, etc. And so on for
hours together day after day for years. Truly, Mrs Theobald loved
her child according to her lights with an exceeding great fondness,
but the dreams she had dreamed in sleep were sober realities in
comparison with those she indulged in while awake.

When Ernest was in his second year, Theobald, as I have already
said, began to teach him to read. He began to whip him two days
after he had begun to teach him.

"It was painful," as he said to Christina, but it was the only thing
to do and it was done. The child was puny, white and sickly, so
they sent continually for the doctor who dosed him with calomel and
James's powder. All was done in love, anxiety, timidity, stupidity,
and impatience. They were stupid in little things; and he that is
stupid in little will be stupid also in much.

Presently old Mr Pontifex died, and then came the revelation of the
little alteration he had made in his will simultaneously with his
bequest to Ernest. It was rather hard to bear, especially as there
was no way of conveying a bit of their minds to the testator now
that he could no longer hurt them. As regards the boy himself
anyone must see that the bequest would be an unmitigated misfortune
to him. To leave him a small independence was perhaps the greatest
injury which one could inflict upon a young man. It would cripple
his energies, and deaden his desire for active employment. Many a
youth was led into evil courses by the knowledge that on arriving at
majority he would come into a few thousands. They might surely have
been trusted to have their boy's interests at heart, and must be
better judges of those interests than he, at twenty-one, could be
expected to be: besides if Jonadab, the son of Rechab's father--or
perhaps it might be simpler under the circumstances to say Rechab at
once--if Rechab, then, had left handsome legacies to his
grandchildren--why Jonadab might not have found those children so
easy to deal with, etc. "My dear," said Theobald, after having
discussed the matter with Christina for the twentieth time, "my
dear, the only thing to guide and console us under misfortunes of
this kind is to take refuge in practical work. I will go and pay a
visit to Mrs Thompson."

On those days Mrs Thompson would be told that her sins were all
washed white, etc., a little sooner and a little more peremptorily
than on others.


I used to stay at Battersby for a day or two sometimes, while my
godson and his brother and sister were children. I hardly know why
I went, for Theobald and I grew more and more apart, but one gets
into grooves sometimes, and the supposed friendship between myself
and the Pontifexes continued to exist, though it was now little more
than rudimentary. My godson pleased me more than either of the
other children, but he had not much of the buoyancy of childhood,
and was more like a puny, sallow little old man than I liked. The
young people, however, were very ready to be friendly.

I remember Ernest and his brother hovered round me on the first day
of one of these visits with their hands full of fading flowers,
which they at length proffered me. On this I did what I suppose was
expected: I inquired if there was a shop near where they could buy
sweeties. They said there was, so I felt in my pockets, but only
succeeded in finding two pence halfpenny in small money. This I
gave them, and the youngsters, aged four and three, toddled off
alone. Ere long they returned, and Ernest said, "We can't get
sweeties for all this money" (I felt rebuked, but no rebuke was
intended); "we can get sweeties for this" (showing a penny), "and
for this" (showing another penny), "but we cannot get them for all
this," and he added the halfpenny to the two pence. I suppose they
had wanted a twopenny cake, or something like that. I was amused,
and left them to solve the difficulty their own way, being anxious
to see what they would do.

Presently Ernest said, "May we give you back this" (showing the
halfpenny) "and not give you back this and this?" (showing the
pence). I assented, and they gave a sigh of relief and went on
their way rejoicing. A few more presents of pence and small toys
completed the conquest, and they began to take me into their

They told me a good deal which I am afraid I ought not to have
listened to. They said that if grandpapa had lived longer he would
most likely have been made a Lord, and that then papa would have
been the Honourable and Reverend, but that grandpapa was now in
heaven singing beautiful hymns with grandmamma Allaby to Jesus
Christ, who was very fond of them; and that when Ernest was ill, his
mamma had told him he need not be afraid of dying for he would go
straight to heaven, if he would only be sorry for having done his
lessons so badly and vexed his dear papa, and if he would promise
never, never to vex him any more; and that when he got to heaven
grandpapa and grandmamma Allaby would meet him, and he would be
always with them, and they would be very good to him and teach him
to sing ever such beautiful hymns, more beautiful by far than those
which he was now so fond of, etc., etc.; but he did not wish to die,
and was glad when he got better, for there were no kittens in
heaven, and he did not think there were cowslips to make cowslip tea

Their mother was plainly disappointed in them. "My children are
none of them geniuses, Mr Overton," she said to me at breakfast one
morning. "They have fair abilities, and, thanks to Theobald's
tuition, they are forward for their years, but they have nothing
like genius: genius is a thing apart from this, is it not?"

Of course I said it was "a thing quite apart from this," but if my
thoughts had been laid bare, they would have appeared as "Give me my
coffee immediately, ma'am, and don't talk nonsense." I have no idea
what genius is, but so far as I can form any conception about it, I
should say it was a stupid word which cannot be too soon abandoned
to scientific and literary claqueurs.

I do not know exactly what Christina expected, but I should imagine
it was something like this: "My children ought to be all geniuses,
because they are mine and Theobald's, and it is naughty of them not
to be; but, of course, they cannot be so good and clever as Theobald
and I were, and if they show signs of being so it will be naughty of
them. Happily, however, they are not this, and yet it is very
dreadful that they are not. As for genius--hoity-toity, indeed--
why, a genius should turn intellectual summersaults as soon as it is
born, and none of my children have yet been able to get into the
newspapers. I will not have children of mine give themselves airs--
it is enough for them that Theobald and I should do so."

She did not know, poor woman, that the true greatness wears an
invisible cloak, under cover of which it goes in and out among men
without being suspected; if its cloak does not conceal it from
itself always, and from all others for many years, its greatness
will ere long shrink to very ordinary dimensions. What, then, it
may be asked, is the good of being great? The answer is that you
may understand greatness better in others, whether alive or dead,
and choose better company from these and enjoy and understand that
company better when you have chosen it--also that you may be able to
give pleasure to the best people and live in the lives of those who
are yet unborn. This, one would think, was substantial gain enough
for greatness without its wanting to ride rough-shod over us, even
when disguised as humility.

I was there on a Sunday, and observed the rigour with which the
young people were taught to observe the Sabbath; they might not cut
out things, nor use their paintbox on a Sunday, and this they
thought rather hard, because their cousins the John Pontifexes might
do these things. Their cousins might play with their toy train on
Sunday, but though they had promised that they would run none but
Sunday trains, all traffic had been prohibited. One treat only was
allowed them--on Sunday evenings they might choose their own hymns.

In the course of the evening they came into the drawing-room, and,
as an especial treat, were to sing some of their hymns to me,
instead of saying them, so that I might hear how nicely they sang.
Ernest was to choose the first hymn, and he chose one about some
people who were to come to the sunset tree. I am no botanist, and
do not know what kind of tree a sunset tree is, but the words began,
"Come, come, come; come to the sunset tree for the day is past and
gone." The tune was rather pretty and had taken Ernest's fancy, for
he was unusually fond of music and had a sweet little child's voice
which he liked using.

He was, however, very late in being able to sound a hard it "c" or
"k," and, instead of saying "Come," he said "Tum tum, tum."

"Ernest," said Theobald, from the arm-chair in front of the fire,
where he was sitting with his hands folded before him, "don't you
think it would be very nice if you were to say 'come' like other
people, instead of 'tum'?"

"I do say tum," replied Ernest, meaning that he had said "come."

Theobald was always in a bad temper on Sunday evening. Whether it
is that they are as much bored with the day as their neighbours, or
whether they are tired, or whatever the cause may be, clergymen are
seldom at their best on Sunday evening; I had already seen signs
that evening that my host was cross, and was a little nervous at
hearing Ernest say so promptly "I do say tum," when his papa had
said he did not say it as he should.

Theobald noticed the fact that he was being contradicted in a
moment. He got up from his arm-chair and went to the piano.

"No, Ernest, you don't," he said, "you say nothing of the kind, you
say 'tum,' not 'come.' Now say 'come' after me, as I do."

"Tum," said Ernest, at once; "is that better?" I have no doubt he
thought it was, but it was not.

"Now, Ernest, you are not taking pains: you are not trying as you
ought to do. It is high time you learned to say 'come,' why, Joey
can say 'come,' can't you, Joey?"

"Yeth, I can," replied Joey, and he said something which was not far
off "come."

"There, Ernest, do you hear that? There's no difficulty about it,
nor shadow of difficulty. Now, take your own time, think about it,
and say 'come' after me."

The boy remained silent a few seconds and then said "tum" again.

I laughed, but Theobald turned to me impatiently and said, "Please
do not laugh, Overton; it will make the boy think it does not
matter, and it matters a great deal;" then turning to Ernest he
said, "Now, Ernest, I will give you one more chance, and if you
don't say 'come,' I shall know that you are self-willed and

He looked very angry, and a shade came over Ernest's face, like that
which comes upon the face of a puppy when it is being scolded
without understanding why. The child saw well what was coming now,
was frightened, and, of course, said "tum" once more.

"Very well, Ernest," said his father, catching him angrily by the
shoulder. "I have done my best to save you, but if you will have it
so, you will," and he lugged the little wretch, crying by
anticipation, out of the room. A few minutes more and we could hear
screams coming from the dining-room, across the hall which separated
the drawing-room from the dining-room, and knew that poor Ernest was
being beaten.

"I have sent him up to bed," said Theobald, as he returned to the
drawing-room, "and now, Christina, I think we will have the servants
in to prayers," and he rang the bell for them, red-handed as he was.


The man-servant William came and set the chairs for the maids, and
presently they filed in. First Christina's maid, then the cook,
then the housemaid, then William, and then the coachman. I sat
opposite them, and watched their faces as Theobald read a chapter
from the Bible. They were nice people, but more absolute vacancy I
never saw upon the countenances of human beings.

Theobald began by reading a few verses from the Old Testament,
according to some system of his own. On this occasion the passage
came from the fifteenth chapter of Numbers: it had no particular
bearing that I could see upon anything which was going on just then,
but the spirit which breathed throughout the whole seemed to me to
be so like that of Theobald himself, that I could understand better
after hearing it, how he came to think as he thought, and act as he

The verses are as follows -

"But the soul that doeth aught presumptuously, whether he be born in
the land or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul
shall be cut off from among his people.

"Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken His
commandments, that soul shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall
be upon him.

"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness they found
a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.

"And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and
Aaron, and unto all the congregation.

"And they put him in ward because it was not declared what should be
done to him.

"And the Lord said unto Moses, the man shall be surely put to death;
all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

"And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned
him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them
fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their
generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a
ribband of blue.

"And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it and
remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them, and that ye
seek not after your own heart and your own eyes.

"That ye may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto
your God.

"I am the Lord your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt,
to be your God: I am the Lord your God."

My thoughts wandered while Theobald was reading the above, and
reverted to a little matter which I had observed in the course of
the afternoon.

It happened that some years previously, a swarm of bees had taken up
their abode in the roof of the house under the slates, and had
multiplied so that the drawing-room was a good deal frequented by
these bees during the summer, when the windows were open. The
drawing-room paper was of a pattern which consisted of bunches of
red and white roses, and I saw several bees at different times fly
up to these bunches and try them, under the impression that they
were real flowers; having tried one bunch, they tried the next, and
the next, and the next, till they reached the one that was nearest
the ceiling, then they went down bunch by bunch as they had
ascended, till they were stopped by the back of the sofa; on this
they ascended bunch by bunch to the ceiling again; and so on, and so
on till I was tired of watching them. As I thought of the family
prayers being repeated night and morning, week by week, month by
month, and year by year, I could nor help thinking how like it was
to the way in which the bees went up the wall and down the wall,
bunch by bunch, without ever suspecting that so many of the
associated ideas could be present, and yet the main idea be wanting
hopelessly, and for ever.

When Theobald had finished reading we all knelt down and the Carlo
Dolci and the Sassoferrato looked down upon a sea of upturned backs,
as we buried our faces in our chairs. I noted that Theobald prayed
that we might be made "truly honest and conscientious" in all our
dealings, and smiled at the introduction of the "truly." Then my
thoughts ran back to the bees and I reflected that after all it was
perhaps as well at any rate for Theobald that our prayers were
seldom marked by any very encouraging degree of response, for if I
had thought there was the slightest chance of my being heard I
should have prayed that some one might ere long treat him as he had
treated Ernest.

Then my thoughts wandered on to those calculations which people make
about waste of time and how much one can get done if one gives ten
minutes a day to it, and I was thinking what improper suggestion I
could make in connection with this and the time spent on family
prayers which should at the same time be just tolerable, when I
heard Theobald beginning "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" and in
a few seconds the ceremony was over, and the servants filed out
again as they had filed in.

As soon as they had left the drawing-room, Christina, who was a
little ashamed of the transaction to which I had been a witness,
imprudently returned to it, and began to justify it, saying that it
cut her to the heart, and that it cut Theobald to the heart and a
good deal more, but that "it was the only thing to be done."

I received this as coldly as I decently could, and by my silence
during the rest of the evening showed that I disapproved of what I
had seen.

Next day I was to go back to London, but before I went I said I
should like to take some new-laid eggs back with me, so Theobald
took me to the house of a labourer in the village who lived a
stone's throw from the Rectory as being likely to supply me with
them. Ernest, for some reason or other, was allowed to come too. I
think the hens had begun to sit, but at any rate eggs were scarce,
and the cottager's wife could not find me more than seven or eight,
which we proceeded to wrap up in separate pieces of paper so that I
might take them to town safely.

This operation was carried on upon the ground in front of the
cottage door, and while we were in the midst of it the cottager's
little boy, a lad much about Ernest's age, trod upon one of the eggs
that was wrapped up in paper and broke it.

"There now, Jack," said his mother, "see what you've done, you've
broken a nice egg and cost me a penny--Here, Emma," she added,
calling her daughter, "take the child away, there's a dear."

Emma came at once, and walked off with the youngster, taking him out
of harm's way.

"Papa," said Ernest, after we had left the house, "Why didn't Mrs
Heaton whip Jack when he trod on the egg?"

I was spiteful enough to give Theobald a grim smile which said as
plainly as words could have done that I thought Ernest had hit him
rather hard.

Theobald coloured and looked angry. "I dare say," he said quickly,
"that his mother will whip him now that we are gone."

I was not going to have this and said I did not believe it, and so
the matter dropped, but Theobald did not forget it and my visits to
Battersby were henceforth less frequent.

On our return to the house we found the postman had arrived and had
brought a letter appointing Theobald to a rural deanery which had
lately fallen vacant by the death of one of the neighbouring clergy
who had held the office for many years. The bishop wrote to
Theobald most warmly, and assured him that he valued him as among
the most hard-working and devoted of his parochial clergy.
Christina of course was delighted, and gave me to understand that it
was only an instalment of the much higher dignities which were in
store for Theobald when his merits were more widely known.

I did not then foresee how closely my godson's life and mine were in
after years to be bound up together; if I had, I should doubtless
have looked upon him with different eyes and noted much to which I
paid no attention at the time. As it was, I was glad to get away
from him, for I could do nothing for him, or chose to say that I
could not, and the sight of so much suffering was painful to me. A
man should not only have his own way as far as possible, but he
should only consort with things that are getting their own way so
far that they are at any rate comfortable. Unless for short times
under exceptional circumstances, he should not even see things that
have been stunted or starved, much less should he eat meat that has
been vexed by having been over-driven or underfed, or afflicted with
any disease; nor should he touch vegetables that have not been well
grown. For all these things cross a man; whatever a man comes in
contact with in any way forms a cross with him which will leave him
better or worse, and the better things he is crossed with the more
likely he is to live long and happily. All things must be crossed a
little or they would cease to live--but holy things, such for
example as Giovanni Bellini's saints, have been crossed with nothing
but what is good of its kind,


The storm which I have described in the previous chapter was a
sample of those that occurred daily for many years. No matter how
clear the sky, it was always liable to cloud over now in one quarter
now in another, and the thunder and lightning were upon the young
people before they knew where they were.

"And then, you know," said Ernest to me, when I asked him not long
since to give me more of his childish reminiscences for the benefit
of my story, "we used to learn Mrs Barbauld's hymns; they were in
prose, and there was one about the lion which began, 'Come, and I
will show you what is strong. The lion is strong; when he raiseth
himself from his lair, when he shaketh his mane, when the voice of
his roaring is heard the cattle of the field fly, and the beasts of
the desert hide themselves, for he is very terrible.' I used to say
this to Joey and Charlotte about my father himself when I got a
little older, but they were always didactic, and said it was naughty
of me.

"One great reason why clergymen's households are generally unhappy
is because the clergyman is so much at home or close about the
house. The doctor is out visiting patients half his time: the
lawyer and the merchant have offices away from home, but the
clergyman has no official place of business which shall ensure his
being away from home for many hours together at stated times. Our
great days were when my father went for a day's shopping to
Gildenham. We were some miles from this place, and commissions used
to accumulate on my father's list till he would make a day of it and
go and do the lot. As soon as his back was turned the air felt
lighter; as soon as the hall door opened to let him in again, the
law with its all-reaching 'touch not, taste not, handle not' was
upon us again. The worst of it was that I could never trust Joey
and Charlotte; they would go a good way with me and then turn back,
or even the whole way and then their consciences would compel them
to tell papa and mamma. They liked running with the hare up to a
certain point, but their instinct was towards the hounds.

"It seems to me," he continued, "that the family is a survival of
the principle which is more logically embodied in the compound
animal--and the compound animal is a form of life which has been
found incompatible with high development. I would do with the
family among mankind what nature has done with the compound animal,
and confine it to the lower and less progressive races. Certainly
there is no inherent love for the family system on the part of
nature herself. Poll the forms of life and you will find it in a
ridiculously small minority. The fishes know it not, and they get
along quite nicely. The ants and the bees, who far outnumber man,
sting their fathers to death as a matter of course, and are given to
the atrocious mutilation of nine-tenths of the offspring committed
to their charge, yet where shall we find communities more
universally respected? Take the cuckoo again--is there any bird
which we like better?"

I saw he was running off from his own reminiscences and tried to
bring him back to them, but it was no use.

"What a fool," he said, "a man is to remember anything that happened
more than a week ago unless it was pleasant, or unless he wants to
make some use of it.

"Sensible people get the greater part of their own dying done during
their own lifetime. A man at five and thirty should no more regret
not having had a happier childhood than he should regret not having
been born a prince of the blood. He might be happier if he had been
more fortunate in childhood, but, for aught he knows, if he had,
something else might have happened which might have killed him long
ago. If I had to be born again I would be born at Battersby of the
same father and mother as before, and I would not alter anything
that has ever happened to me."

The most amusing incident that I can remember about his childhood
was that when he was about seven years old he told me he was going
to have a natural child. I asked him his reasons for thinking this,
and he explained that papa and mamma had always told him that nobody
had children till they were married, and as long as he had believed
this of course he had had no idea of having a child, till he was
grown up; but not long since he had been reading Mrs Markham's
history of England and had come upon the words "John of Gaunt had
several natural children" he had therefore asked his governess what
a natural child was--were not all children natural?

"Oh, my dear," said she, "a natural child is a child a person has
before he is married." On this it seemed to follow logically that
if John of Gaunt had had children before he was married, he, Ernest
Pontifex, might have them also, and he would be obliged to me if I
would tell him what he had better do under the circumstances.

I enquired how long ago he had made this discovery. He said about a
fortnight, and he did not know where to look for the child, for it
might come at any moment. "You know," he said, "babies come so
suddenly; one goes to bed one night and next morning there is a
baby. Why, it might die of cold if we are not on the look-out for
it. I hope it will be a boy."

"And you have told your governess about this?"

"Yes, but she puts me off and does not help me: she says it will
not come for many years, and she hopes not then."

"Are you quite sure that you have not made any mistake in all this?"

"Oh, no; because Mrs Burne, you know, called here a few days ago,
and I was sent for to be looked at. And mamma held me out at arm's
length and said, 'Is he Mr Pontifex's child, Mrs Burne, or is he
mine?' Of course, she couldn't have said this if papa had not had


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