Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 23

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Then my thoughts wandered on to those calculations which people make about waste of time and how much one can get done if one gives ten minutes a day to it, and I was thinking what improper suggestion I could make in connection with this and the time spent on family prayers which should at the same time be just tolerable, when I heard Theobald beginning “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and in a few seconds the ceremony was over, and the servants filed out again as they had filed in.

As soon as they had left the drawing-room, Christina, who was a little ashamed of the transaction to which I had been a witness, imprudently returned to it, and began to justify it, saying that it cut her to the heart, and that it cut Theobald to the heart and a good deal more, but that “it was the only thing to be done.”

I received this as coldly as I decently could, and by my silence during the rest of the evening showed that I disapproved of what I had seen.

Next day I was to go back to London, but before I went I said I should like to take some new-laid eggs back with me, so Theobald took me to the house of a labourer in the village who lived a stone’s throw from the Rectory as being likely to supply me with them.  Ernest, for some reason or other, was allowed to come too.  I think the hens had begun to sit, but at any rate eggs were scarce, and the cottager’s wife could not find me more than seven or eight, which we proceeded to wrap up in separate pieces of paper so that I might take them to town safely.

This operation was carried on upon the ground in front of the cottage door, and while we were in the midst of it the cottager’s little boy, a lad much about Ernest’s age, trod upon one of the eggs that was wrapped up in paper and broke it.

“There now, Jack,” said his mother, “see what you’ve done, you’ve broken a nice egg and cost me a penny—Here, Emma,” she added, calling her daughter, “take the child away, there’s a dear.”

Emma came at once, and walked off with the youngster, taking him out of harm’s way.

“Papa,” said Ernest, after we had left the house, “Why didn’t Mrs Heaton whip Jack when he trod on the egg?”

I was spiteful enough to give Theobald a grim smile which said as plainly as words could have done that I thought Ernest had hit him rather hard.

Theobald coloured and looked angry.  “I dare say,” he said quickly, “that his mother will whip him now that we are gone.”

I was not going to have this and said I did not believe it, and so the matter dropped, but Theobald did not forget it and my visits to Battersby were henceforth less frequent.

On our return to the house we found the postman had arrived and had brought a letter appointing Theobald to a rural deanery which had lately fallen vacant by the death of one of the neighbouring clergy who had held the office for many years.  The bishop wrote to Theobald most warmly, and assured him that he valued him as among the most hard-working and devoted of his parochial clergy.  Christina of course was delighted, and gave me to understand that it was only an instalment of the much higher dignities which were in store for Theobald when his merits were more widely known.

I did not then foresee how closely my godson’s life and mine were in after years to be bound up together; if I had, I should doubtless have looked upon him with different eyes and noted much to which I paid no attention at the time.  As it was, I was glad to get away from him, for I could do nothing for him, or chose to say that I could not, and the sight of so much suffering was painful to me.  A man should not only have his own way as far as possible, but he should only consort with things that are getting their own way so far that they are at any rate comfortable.  Unless for short times under exceptional circumstances, he should not even see things that have been stunted or starved, much less should he eat meat that has been vexed by having been over-driven or underfed, or afflicted with any disease; nor should he touch vegetables that have not been well grown.  For all these things cross a man; whatever a man comes in contact with in any way forms a cross with him which will leave him better or worse, and the better things he is crossed with the more likely he is to live long and happily.  All things must be crossed a little or they would cease to live—but holy things, such for example as Giovanni Bellini’s saints, have been crossed with nothing but what is good of its kind,