Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 86

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Chapter LXXXVI

And now I must bring my story to a close.

The preceding chapter was written soon after the events it records—that is to say in the spring of 1867.  By that time my story had been written up to this point; but it has been altered here and there from time to time occasionally.  It is now the autumn of 1882, and if I am to say more I should do so quickly, for I am eighty years old and though well in health cannot conceal from myself that I am no longer young.  Ernest himself is forty-seven, though he hardly looks it.

He is richer than ever, for he has never married and his London and North-Western shares have nearly doubled themselves.  Through sheer inability to spend his income he has been obliged to hoard in self-defence.  He still lives in the Temple in the same rooms I took for him when he gave up his shop, for no one has been able to induce him to take a house.  His house, he says, is wherever there is a good hotel.  When he is in town he likes to work and to be quiet.  When out of town he feels that he has left little behind him that can go wrong, and he would not like to be tied to a single locality.  “I know no exception,” he says, “to the rule that it is cheaper to buy milk than to keep a cow.”

As I have mentioned Mrs Jupp, I may as well say here the little that remains to be said about her.  She is a very old woman now, but no one now living, as she says triumphantly, can say how old, for the woman in the Old Kent Road is dead, and presumably has carried her secret to the grave.  Old, however, though she is, she lives in the same house, and finds it hard work to make the two ends meet, but I do not know that she minds this very much, and it has prevented her from getting more to drink than would be good for her.  It is no use trying to do anything for her beyond paying her allowance weekly, and absolutely refusing to let her anticipate it.  She pawns her flat iron every Saturday for 4d., and takes it out every Monday morning for 4.5d. when she gets her allowance, and has done this for the last ten years as regularly as the week comes round.  As long as she does not let the flat iron actually go we know that she can still worry out her financial problems in her own hugger-mugger way and had better be left to do so.  If the flat iron were to go beyond redemption, we should know that it was time to interfere.  I do not know why, but there is something about her which always reminds me of a woman who was as unlike her as one person can be to another—I mean Ernest’s mother.

The last time I had a long gossip with her was about two years ago when she came to me instead of to Ernest.  She said she had seen a cab drive up just as she was going to enter the staircase, and had seen Mr Pontifex’s pa put his Beelzebub old head out of the window, so she had come on to me, for she hadn’t greased her sides for no curtsey, not for the likes of him.  She professed to be very much down on her luck.  Her lodgers did use her so dreadful, going away without paying and leaving not so much as a stick behind, but to-day she was as pleased as a penny carrot.  She had had such a lovely dinner—a cushion of ham and green peas.  She had had a good cry over it, but then she was so silly, she was.

“And there’s that Bell,” she continued, though I could not detect any appearance of connection, “it’s enough to give anyone the hump to see him now that he’s taken to chapel-going, and his mother’s prepared to meet Jesus and all that to me, and now she ain’t a-going to die, and drinks half a bottle of champagne a day, and then Grigg, him as preaches, you know, asked Bell if I really was too gay, not but what when I was young I’d snap my fingers at any ‘fly by night’ in Holborn, and if I was togged out and had my teeth I’d do it now.  I lost my poor dear Watkins, but of course that couldn’t be helped, and then I lost my dear Rose.  Silly faggot to go and ride on a cart and catch the bronchitics.  I never thought when I kissed my dear Rose in Pullen’s Passage and she gave me the chop, that I should never see her again, and her gentleman friend was fond of her too, though he was a married man.  I daresay she’s gone to bits by now.  If she could rise and see me with my bad finger, she would cry, and I should say, ‘Never mind, ducky, I’m all right.’  Oh! dear, it’s coming on to rain.  I do hate a wet Saturday night—poor women with their nice white stockings and their living to get,” etc., etc.

And yet age does not wither this godless old sinner, as people would say it ought to do.  Whatever life she has led, it has agreed with her very sufficiently.  At times she gives us to understand that she is still much solicited; at others she takes quite a different tone.  She has not allowed even Joe King so much as to put his lips to hers this ten years.  She would rather have a mutton chop any day.  “But ah! you should have seen me when I was sweet seventeen.  I was the very moral of my poor dear mother, and she was a pretty woman, though I say it that shouldn’t.  She had such a splendid mouth of teeth.  It was a sin to bury her in her teeth.”