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

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A man’s friendships are, like his will, invalidated by marriage—but they are also no less invalidated by the marriage of his friends.  The rift in friendship which invariably makes its appearance on the marriage of either of the parties to it was fast widening, as it no less invariably does, into the great gulf which is fixed between the married and the unmarried, and I was beginning to leave my protégé to a fate with which I had neither right nor power to meddle.  In fact I had begun to feel him rather a burden; I did not so much mind this when I could be of use, but I grudged it when I could be of none.  He had made his bed and he must lie upon it.  Ernest had felt all this and had seldom come near me till now, one evening late in 1860, he called on me, and with a very woebegone face told me his troubles.

As soon as I found that he no longer liked his wife I forgave him at once, and was as much interested in him as ever.  There is nothing an old bachelor likes better than to find a young married man who wishes he had not got married—especially when the case is such an extreme one that he need not pretend to hope that matters will come all right again, or encourage his young friend to make the best of it.

I was myself in favour of a separation, and said I would make Ellen an allowance myself—of course intending that it should come out of Ernest’s money; but he would not hear of this.  He had married Ellen, he said, and he must try to reform her.  He hated it, but he must try; and finding him as usual very obstinate I was obliged to acquiesce, though with little confidence as to the result.  I was vexed at seeing him waste himself upon such a barren task, and again began to feel him burdensome.  I am afraid I showed this, for he again avoided me for some time, and, indeed, for many months I hardly saw him at all.

Ellen remained very ill for some days, and then gradually recovered.  Ernest hardly left her till she was out of danger.  When she had recovered he got the doctor to tell her that if she had such another attack she would certainly die; this so frightened her that she took the pledge.

Then he became more hopeful again.  When she was sober she was just what she was during the first days of her married life, and so quick was he to forget pain, that after a few days he was as fond of her as ever.  But Ellen could not forgive him for knowing what he did.  She knew that he was on the watch to shield her from temptation, and though he did his best to make her think that he had no further uneasiness about her, she found the burden of her union with respectability grow more and more heavy upon her, and looked back more and more longingly upon the lawless freedom of the life she had led before she met her husband.

I will dwell no longer on this part of my story.  During the spring months of 1861 she kept straight—she had had her fling of dissipation, and this, together with the impression made upon her by her having taken the pledge, tamed her for a while.  The shop went fairly well, and enabled Ernest to make the two ends meet.  In the spring and summer of 1861 he even put by a little money again.  In the autumn his wife was confined of a boy—a very fine one, so everyone said.  She soon recovered, and Ernest was beginning to breathe freely and be almost sanguine when, without a word of warning, the storm broke again.  He returned one afternoon about two years after his marriage, and found his wife lying upon the floor insensible.

From this time he became hopeless, and began to go visibly down hill.  He had been knocked about too much, and the luck had gone too long against him.  The wear and tear of the last three years had told on him, and though not actually ill he was overworked, below par, and unfit for any further burden.

He struggled for a while to prevent himself from finding this out, but facts were too strong for him.  Again he called on me and told me what had happened.  I was glad the crisis had come; I was sorry for Ellen, but a complete separation from her was the only chance for her husband.  Even after this last outbreak he was unwilling to consent to this, and talked nonsense about dying at his post, till I got tired of him.  Each time I saw him the old gloom had settled more and more deeply upon his face, and I had about made up my mind to put an end to the situation by a coup de main, such as bribing Ellen to run away with somebody else, or something of that kind, when matters settled themselves as usual in a way which I had not anticipated.