Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 75

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Yet had he not on the whole tried to find out what the ways of God were, and to follow them in singleness of heart?  To a certain extent, yes; but he had not been thorough; he had not given up all for God.  He knew that very well he had done little as compared with what he might and ought to have done, but still if he was being punished for this, God was a hard taskmaster, and one, too, who was continually pouncing out upon his unhappy creatures from ambuscades.  In marrying Ellen he had meant to avoid a life of sin, and to take the course he believed to be moral and right.  With his antecedents and surroundings it was the most natural thing in the world for him to have done, yet in what a frightful position had not his morality landed him.  Could any amount of immorality have placed him in a much worse one?  What was morality worth if it was not that which on the whole brought a man peace at the last, and could anyone have reasonable certainty that marriage would do this?  It seemed to him that in his attempt to be moral he had been following a devil which had disguised itself as an angel of light.  But if so, what ground was there on which a man might rest the sole of his foot and tread in reasonable safety?

He was still too young to reach the answer, “On common sense”—an answer which he would have felt to be unworthy of anyone who had an ideal standard.

However this might be, it was plain that he had now done for himself.  It had been thus with him all his life.  If there had come at any time a gleam of sunshine and hope, it was to be obscured immediately—why, prison was happier than this!  There, at any rate, he had had no money anxieties, and these were beginning to weigh upon him now with all their horrors.  He was happier even now than he had been at Battersby or at Roughborough, and he would not now go back, even if he could, to his Cambridge life, but for all that the outlook was so gloomy, in fact so hopeless, that he felt as if he could have only too gladly gone to sleep and died in his arm-chair once for all.

As he was musing thus and looking upon the wreck of his hopes—for he saw well enough that as long as he was linked to Ellen he should never rise as he had dreamed of doing—he heard a noise below, and presently a neighbour ran upstairs and entered his room hurriedly—

“Good gracious, Mr Pontifex,” she exclaimed, “for goodness’ sake come down quickly and help.  O Mrs Pontifex is took with the horrors—and she’s orkard.”

The unhappy man came down as he was bid and found his wife mad with delirium tremens.

He knew all now.  The neighbours thought he must have known that his wife drank all along, but Ellen had been so artful, and he so simple, that, as I have said, he had had no suspicion.  “Why,” said the woman who had summoned him, “she’ll drink anything she can stand up and pay her money for.”  Ernest could hardly believe his ears, but when the doctor had seen his wife and she had become more quiet, he went over to the public house hard by and made enquiries, the result of which rendered further doubt impossible.  The publican took the opportunity to present my hero with a bill of several pounds for bottles of spirits supplied to his wife, and what with his wife’s confinement and the way business had fallen off, he had not the money to pay with, for the sum exceeded the remnant of his savings.

He came to me—not for money, but to tell me his miserable story.  I had seen for some time that there was something wrong, and had suspected pretty shrewdly what the matter was, but of course I said nothing.  Ernest and I had been growing apart for some time.  I was vexed at his having married, and he knew I was vexed, though I did my best to hide it.