Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 77

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Then came the odious task of getting rid of their unhappy mother.  Ernest’s heart smote him at the notion of the shock the break-up would be to her.  He was always thinking that people had a claim upon him for some inestimable service they had rendered him, or for some irreparable mischief done to them by himself; the case however was so clear, that Ernest’s scruples did not offer serious resistance.

I did not see why he should have the pain of another interview with his wife, so I got Mr Ottery to manage the whole business.  It turned out that we need not have harrowed ourselves so much about the agony of mind which Ellen would suffer on becoming an outcast again.  Ernest saw Mrs Richards, the neighbour who had called him down on the night when he had first discovered his wife’s drunkenness, and got from her some details of Ellen’s opinions upon the matter.  She did not seem in the least conscience-stricken; she said: “Thank goodness, at last!”  And although aware that her marriage was not a valid one, evidently regarded this as a mere detail which it would not be worth anybody’s while to go into more particularly.  As regards his breaking with her, she said it was a good job both for him and for her.

“This life,” she continued, “don’t suit me.  Ernest is too good for me; he wants a woman as shall be a bit better than me, and I want a man that shall be a bit worse than him.  We should have got on all very well if we had not lived together as married folks, but I’ve been used to have a little place of my own, however small, for a many years, and I don’t want Ernest, or any other man, always hanging about it.  Besides he is too steady: his being in prison hasn’t done him a bit of good—he’s just as grave as those as have never been in prison at all, and he never swears nor curses, come what may; it makes me afeared of him, and therefore I drink the worse.  What us poor girls wants is not to be jumped up all of a sudden and made honest women of; this is too much for us and throws us off our perch; what we wants is a regular friend or two, who’ll just keep us from starving, and force us to be good for a bit together now and again.  That’s about as much as we can stand.  He may have the children; he can do better for them than I can; and as for his money, he may give it or keep it as he likes, he’s never done me any harm, and I shall let him alone; but if he means me to have it, I suppose I’d better have it.”—And have it she did.

“And I,” thought Ernest to himself again when the arrangement was concluded, “am the man who thought himself unlucky!”

I may as well say here all that need be said further about Ellen.  For the next three years she used to call regularly at Mr Ottery’s every Monday morning for her pound.  She was always neatly dressed, and looked so quiet and pretty that no one would have suspected her antecedents.  At first she wanted sometimes to anticipate, but after three or four ineffectual attempts—on each of which occasions she told a most pitiful story—she gave it up and took her money regularly without a word.  Once she came with a bad black eye, “which a boy had throwed a stone and hit her by mistake”; but on the whole she looked pretty much the same at the end of the three years as she had done at the beginning.  Then she explained that she was going to be married again.  Mr Ottery saw her on this, and pointed out to her that she would very likely be again committing bigamy by doing so.  “You may call it what you like,” she replied, “but I am going off to America with Bill the butcher’s man, and we hope Mr Pontifex won’t be too hard on us and stop the allowance.”  Ernest was little likely to do this, so the pair went in peace.  I believe it was Bill who had blacked her eye, and she liked him all the better for it.

From one or two little things I have been able to gather that the couple got on very well together, and that in Bill she has found a partner better suited to her than either John or Ernest.  On his birthday Ernest generally receives an envelope with an American post-mark containing a book-marker with a flaunting text upon it, or a moral kettle-holder, or some other similar small token of recognition, but no letter.  Of the children she has taken no notice.