Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 83

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Many of the farmers came up to Ernest when service was over, and shook hands with him.  He found every one knew of his having come into a fortune.  The fact was that Theobald had immediately told two or three of the greatest gossips in the village, and the story was not long in spreading.  “It simplified matters,” he had said to himself, “a good deal.”  Ernest was civil to Mrs Goodhew for her husband’s sake, but he gave Miss Wright the cut direct, for he knew that she was only Charlotte in disguise.

A week passed slowly away.  Two or three times the family took the sacrament together round Christina’s death-bed.  Theobald’s impatience became more and more transparent daily, but fortunately Christina (who even if she had been well would have been ready to shut her eyes to it) became weaker and less coherent in mind also, so that she hardly, if at all, perceived it.  After Ernest had been in the house about a week his mother fell into a comatose state which lasted a couple of days, and in the end went away so peacefully that it was like the blending of sea and sky in mid-ocean upon a soft hazy day when none can say where the earth ends and the heavens begin.  Indeed she died to the realities of life with less pain than she had waked from many of its illusions.

“She has been the comfort and mainstay of my life for more than thirty years,” said Theobald as soon as all was over, “but one could not wish it prolonged,” and he buried his face in his handkerchief to conceal his want of emotion.

Ernest came back to town the day after his mother’s death, and returned to the funeral accompanied by myself.  He wanted me to see his father in order to prevent any possible misapprehension about Miss Pontifex’s intentions, and I was such an old friend of the family that my presence at Christina’s funeral would surprise no one.  With all her faults I had always rather liked Christina.  She would have chopped Ernest or any one else into little pieces of mincemeat to gratify the slightest wish of her husband, but she would not have chopped him up for any one else, and so long as he did not cross her she was very fond of him.  By nature she was of an even temper, more willing to be pleased than ruffled, very ready to do a good-natured action, provided it did not cost her much exertion, nor involve expense to Theobald.  Her own little purse did not matter; any one might have as much of that as he or she could get after she had reserved what was absolutely necessary for her dress.  I could not hear of her end as Ernest described it to me without feeling very compassionate towards her, indeed her own son could hardly have felt more so; I at once, therefore, consented to go down to the funeral; perhaps I was also influenced by a desire to see Charlotte and Joey, in whom I felt interested on hearing what my godson had told me.

I found Theobald looking remarkably well.  Every one said he was bearing it so beautifully.  He did indeed once or twice shake his head and say that his wife had been the comfort and mainstay of his life for over thirty years, but there the matter ended.  I stayed over the next day which was Sunday, and took my departure on the following morning after having told Theobald all that his son wished me to tell him.  Theobald asked me to help him with Christina’s epitaph.

“I would say,” said he, “as little as possible; eulogies of the departed are in most cases both unnecessary and untrue.  Christina’s epitaph shall contain nothing which shall be either the one or the other.  I should give her name, the dates of her birth and death, and of course say she was my wife, and then I think I should wind up with a simple text—her favourite one for example, none indeed could be more appropriate, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.’”

I said I thought this would be very nice, and it was settled.  So Ernest was sent to give the order to Mr Prosser, the stonemason in the nearest town, who said it came from “the Beetitudes.”