Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 3

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Those were the days in which all great things seemed far off, and we were astonished to find that Napoleon Buonaparte was an actually living person.  We had thought such a great man could only have lived a very long time ago, and here he was after all almost as it were at our own doors.  This lent colour to the view that the Day of Judgement might indeed be nearer than we had thought, but nurse said that was all right now, and she knew.  In those days the snow lay longer and drifted deeper in the lanes than it does now, and the milk was sometimes brought in frozen in winter, and we were taken down into the back kitchen to see it.  I suppose there are rectories up and down the country now where the milk comes in frozen sometimes in winter, and the children go down to wonder at it, but I never see any frozen milk in London, so I suppose the winters are warmer than they used to be.

About one year after his wife’s death Mr Pontifex also was gathered to his fathers.  My father saw him the day before he died.  The old man had a theory about sunsets, and had had two steps built up against a wall in the kitchen garden on which he used to stand and watch the sun go down whenever it was clear.  My father came on him in the afternoon, just as the sun was setting, and saw him with his arms resting on the top of the wall looking towards the sun over a field through which there was a path on which my father was.  My father heard him say “Good-bye, sun; good-bye, sun,” as the sun sank, and saw by his tone and manner that he was feeling very feeble.  Before the next sunset he was gone.

There was no dole.  Some of his grandchildren were brought to the funeral and we remonstrated with them, but did not take much by doing so.  John Pontifex, who was a year older than I was, sneered at penny loaves, and intimated that if I wanted one it must be because my papa and mamma could not afford to buy me one, whereon I believe we did something like fighting, and I rather think John Pontifex got the worst of it, but it may have been the other way.  I remember my sister’s nurse, for I was just outgrowing nurses myself, reported the matter to higher quarters, and we were all of us put to some ignominy, but we had been thoroughly awakened from our dream, and it was long enough before we could hear the words “penny loaf” mentioned without our ears tingling with shame.  If there had been a dozen doles afterwards we should not have deigned to touch one of them.

George Pontifex put up a monument to his parents, a plain slab in Paleham church, inscribed with the following epitaph:—

SACRED TO THE MEMORY

OF

JOHN PONTIFEX

WHO WAS BORN AUGUST 16TH,

1727, AND DIED FEBRUARY 8, 1812,

IN HIS 85TH YEAR,

AND OF

RUTH PONTIFEX, HIS WIFE,

WHO WAS BORN OCTOBER 13, 1727, AND DIED JANUARY 10, 1811,

IN HER 84TH YEAR.

THEY WERE UNOSTENTATIOUS BUT EXEMPLARY

IN THE DISCHARGE OF THEIR

RELIGIOUS, MORAL, AND SOCIAL DUTIES.

THIS MONUMENT WAS PLACED

BY THEIR ONLY SON.