Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


I do not think Ernest himself was much more pleased at finding that he had never been married than I was. To him, however, the shock of pleasure was positively numbing in its intensity. As he felt his burden removed, he reeled for the unaccustomed lightness of his movements; his position was so shattered that his identity seemed to have been shattered also; he was as one waking up from a horrible nightmare to find himself safe and sound in bed, but who can hardly even yet believe that the room is not full of armed men who are about to spring upon him.

"And it is I," he said, "who not an hour ago complained that I was without hope. It is I, who for weeks have been railing at fortune, and saying that though she smiled on others she never smiled at me. Why, never was anyone half so fortunate as I am."

"Yes," said I, "you have been inoculated for marriage, and have recovered."

"And yet," he said, "I was very fond of her till she took to drinking."

"Perhaps; but is it not Tennyson who has said: ''Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have lost at all'?"

"You are an inveterate bachelor," was the rejoinder.

Then we had a long talk with John, to whom I gave a 5 pound note upon the spot. He said, "Ellen had used to drink at Battersby; the cook had taught her; he had known it, but was so fond of her, that he had chanced it and married her to save her from the streets and in the hope of being able to keep her straight. She had done with him just as she had done with Ernest--made him an excellent wife as long as she kept sober, but a very bad one afterwards."

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