The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 3
In the early years of the century five little children and a couple of nurses began to make
periodical visits to Paleham. It is needless to say they were a rising generation of
Pontifexes, towards whom the old couple, their grandparents, were as tenderly deferential
as they would have been to the children of the Lord Lieutenant of the County. Their
names were Eliza, Maria, John, Theobald (who like myself was born in 1802), and
Alethea. Mr Pontifex always put the prefix "master" or "miss" before the names of his
grandchildren, except in the case of Alethea, who was his favourite. To have resisted his
grandchildren would have been as impossible for him as to have resisted his wife; even
old Mrs Pontifex yielded before her son's children, and gave them all manner of licence
which she would never have allowed even to my sisters and myself, who stood next in
her regard. Two regulations only they must attend to; they must wipe their shoes well on
coming into the house, and they must not overfeed Mr Pontifex's organ with wind, nor
take the pipes out.
By us at the Rectory there was no time so much looked forward to as the annual visit of
the little Pontifexes to Paleham. We came in for some of the prevailing licence; we went
to tea with Mrs Pontifex to meet her grandchildren, and then our young friends were
asked to the Rectory to have tea with us, and we had what we considered great times. I
fell desperately in love with Alethea, indeed we all fell in love with each other, plurality
and exchange whether of wives or husbands being openly and unblushingly advocated in
the very presence of our nurses. We were very merry, but it is so long ago that I have
forgotten nearly everything save that we WERE very merry. Almost the only thing that
remains with me as a permanent impression was the fact that Theobald one day beat his
nurse and teased her, and when she said she should go away cried out, "You shan't go
away--I'll keep you on purpose to torment you."
One winter's morning, however, in the year 1811, we heard the church bell tolling while
we were dressing in the back nursery and were told it was for old Mrs Pontifex. Our
manservant John told us and added with grim levity that they were ringing the bell to
come and take her away. She had had a fit of paralysis which had carried her off quite
suddenly. It was very shocking, the more so because our nurse assured us that if God
chose we might all have fits of paralysis ourselves that very day and be taken straight off
to the Day of Judgement. The Day of Judgement indeed, according to the opinion of
those who were most likely to know, would not under any circumstances be delayed
more than a few years longer, and then the whole world would be burned, and we
ourselves be consigned to an eternity of torture, unless we mended our ways more than
we at present seemed at all likely to do. All this was so alarming that we fell to screaming
and made such a hullabaloo that the nurse was obliged for her own peace to reassure us.
Then we wept, but more composedly, as we remembered that there would be no more tea
and cakes for us now at old Mrs Pontifex's.
On the day of the funeral, however, we had a great excitement; old Mr Pontifex sent
round a penny loaf to every inhabitant of the village according to a custom still not