The Way of All Flesh
I used to stay at Battersby for a day or two sometimes, while my godson and his brother
and sister were children. I hardly know why I went, for Theobald and I grew more and
more apart, but one gets into grooves sometimes, and the supposed friendship between
myself and the Pontifexes continued to exist, though it was now little more than
rudimentary. My godson pleased me more than either of the other children, but he had
not much of the buoyancy of childhood, and was more like a puny, sallow little old man
than I liked. The young people, however, were very ready to be friendly.
I remember Ernest and his brother hovered round me on the first day of one of these
visits with their hands full of fading flowers, which they at length proffered me. On this I
did what I suppose was expected: I inquired if there was a shop near where they could
buy sweeties. They said there was, so I felt in my pockets, but only succeeded in finding
two pence halfpenny in small money. This I gave them, and the youngsters, aged four and
three, toddled off alone. Ere long they returned, and Ernest said, "We can't get sweeties
for all this money" (I felt rebuked, but no rebuke was intended); "we can get sweeties for
this" (showing a penny), "and for this" (showing another penny), "but we cannot get them
for all this," and he added the halfpenny to the two pence. I suppose they had wanted a
twopenny cake, or something like that. I was amused, and left them to solve the difficulty
their own way, being anxious to see what they would do.
Presently Ernest said, "May we give you back this" (showing the halfpenny) "and not
give you back this and this?" (showing the pence). I assented, and they gave a sigh of
relief and went on their way rejoicing. A few more presents of pence and small toys
completed the conquest, and they began to take me into their confidence.
They told me a good deal which I am afraid I ought not to have listened to. They said that
if grandpapa had lived longer he would most likely have been made a Lord, and that then
papa would have been the Honourable and Reverend, but that grandpapa was now in
heaven singing beautiful hymns with grandmamma Allaby to Jesus Christ, who was very
fond of them; and that when Ernest was ill, his mamma had told him he need not be
afraid of dying for he would go straight to heaven, if he would only be sorry for having
done his lessons so badly and vexed his dear papa, and if he would promise never, never
to vex him any more; and that when he got to heaven grandpapa and grandmamma
Allaby would meet him, and he would be always with them, and they would be very good
to him and teach him to sing ever such beautiful hymns, more beautiful by far than those
which he was now so fond of, etc., etc.; but he did not wish to die, and was glad when he
got better, for there were no kittens in heaven, and he did not think there were cowslips to
make cowslip tea with.
Their mother was plainly disappointed in them. "My children are none of them geniuses,
Mr Overton," she said to me at breakfast one morning. "They have fair abilities, and,
thanks to Theobald's tuition, they are forward for their years, but they have nothing like
genius: genius is a thing apart from this, is it not?"