Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 84

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“Neither higher nor lower,” was the answer, “than those people whom I can find to have been the best in all ages.  But let us change the subject.”  He put his hand into his pocket and brought out a letter.  “My father,” he said, “gave me this letter this morning with the seal already broken.”  He passed it over to me, and I found it to be the one which Christina had written before the birth of her last child, and which I have given in an earlier chapter.

“And you do not find this letter,” said I, “affect the conclusion which you have just told me you have come to concerning your present plans?”

He smiled, and answered: “No.  But if you do what you have sometimes talked about and turn the adventures of my unworthy self into a novel, mind you print this letter.”

“Why so?” said I, feeling as though such a letter as this should have been held sacred from the public gaze.

“Because my mother would have wished it published; if she had known you were writing about me and had this letter in your possession, she would above all things have desired that you should publish it.  Therefore publish it if you write at all.”

This is why I have done so.

Within a month Ernest carried his intention into effect, and having made all the arrangements necessary for his children’s welfare left England before Christmas.

I heard from him now and again and learnt that he was visiting almost all parts of the world, but only staying in those places where he found the inhabitants unusually good-looking and agreeable.  He said he had filled an immense quantity of note-books, and I have no doubt he had.  At last in the spring of 1867 he returned, his luggage stained with the variation of each hotel advertisement ’twixt here and Japan.  He looked very brown and strong, and so well favoured that it almost seemed as if he must have caught some good looks from the people among whom he had been living.  He came back to his old rooms in the Temple, and settled down as easily as if he had never been away a day.

One of the first things we did was to go and see the children; we took the train to Gravesend, and walked thence for a few miles along the riverside till we came to the solitary house where the good people lived with whom Ernest had placed them.  It was a lovely April morning, but with a fresh air blowing from off the sea; the tide was high, and the river was alive with shipping coming up with wind and tide.  Sea-gulls wheeled around us overhead, sea-weed clung everywhere to the banks which the advancing tide had not yet covered, everything was of the sea sea-ey, and the fine bracing air which blew over the water made me feel more hungry than I had done for many a day; I did not see how children could live in a better physical atmosphere than this, and applauded the selection which Ernest had made on behalf of his youngsters.

While we were still a quarter of a mile off we heard shouts and children’s laughter, and could see a lot of boys and girls romping together and running after one another.  We could not distinguish our own two, but when we got near they were soon made out, for the other children were blue-eyed, flaxen-pated little folks, whereas ours were dark and straight-haired.

We had written to say that we were coming, but had desired that nothing should be said to the children, so these paid no more attention to us than they would have done to any other stranger, who happened to visit a spot so unfrequented except by sea-faring folk, which we plainly were not.  The interest, however, in us was much quickened when it was discovered that we had got our pockets full of oranges and sweeties, to an extent greater than it had entered into their small imaginations to conceive as possible.  At first we had great difficulty in making them come near us.  They were like a lot of wild young colts, very inquisitive, but very coy and not to be cajoled easily.  The children were nine in all—five boys and two girls belonging to Mr and Mrs Rollings, and two to Ernest.  I never saw a finer lot of children than the young Rollings, the boys were hardy, robust, fearless little fellows with eyes as clear as hawks; the elder girl was exquisitely pretty, but the younger one was a mere baby.  I felt as I looked at them, that if I had had children of my own I could have wished no better home for them, nor better companions.