Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


About six months after he had set up his shop his prosperity had reached its climax. It seemed even then as though he were likely to go ahead no less fast than heretofore, and I doubt not that he would have done so, if success or non-success had depended upon himself alone. Unfortunately he was not the only person to be reckoned with.

One morning he had gone out to attend some sales, leaving his wife perfectly well, as usual in good spirits, and looking very pretty. When he came back he found her sitting on a chair in the back parlour, with her hair over her face, sobbing and crying as though her heart would break. She said she had been frightened in the morning by a man who had pretended to be a customer, and had threatened her unless she gave him some things, and she had had to give them to him in order to save herself from violence; she had been in hysterics ever since the man had gone. This was her story, but her speech was so incoherent that it was not easy to make out what she said. Ernest knew she was with child, and thinking this might have something to do with the matter, would have sent for a doctor if Ellen had not begged him not to do so.

Anyone who had had experience of drunken people would have seen at a glance what the matter was, but my hero knew nothing about them-- nothing, that is to say, about the drunkenness of the habitual drunkard, which shows itself very differently from that of one who gets drunk only once in a way. The idea that his wife could drink had never even crossed his mind, indeed she always made a fuss about taking more than a very little beer, and never touched spirits. He did not know much more about hysterics than he did about drunkenness, but he had always heard that women who were about to become mothers were liable to be easily upset and were often rather flighty, so he was not greatly surprised, and thought he had settled the matter by registering the discovery that being about to become a father has its troublesome as well as its pleasant side.

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