The Way of All Flesh HTML version

Chapter 2
Old Mr Pontifex had married in the year 1750, but for fifteen years his wife bore no
children. At the end of that time Mrs Pontifex astonished the whole village by showing
unmistakable signs of a disposition to present her husband with an heir or heiress. Hers
had long ago been considered a hopeless case, and when on consulting the doctor
concerning the meaning of certain symptoms she was informed of their significance, she
became very angry and abused the doctor roundly for talking nonsense. She refused to
put so much as a piece of thread into a needle in anticipation of her confinement and
would have been absolutely unprepared, if her neighbours had not been better judges of
her condition than she was, and got things ready without telling her anything about it.
Perhaps she feared Nemesis, though assuredly she knew not who or what Nemesis was;
perhaps she feared the doctor had made a mistake and she should be laughed at; from
whatever cause, however, her refusal to recognise the obvious arose, she certainly refused
to recognise it, until one snowy night in January the doctor was sent for with all urgent
speed across the rough country roads. When he arrived he found two patients, not one, in
need of his assistance, for a boy had been born who was in due time christened George,
in honour of his then reigning majesty.
To the best of my belief George Pontifex got the greater part of his nature from this
obstinate old lady, his mother--a mother who though she loved no one else in the world
except her husband (and him only after a fashion) was most tenderly attached to the
unexpected child of her old age; nevertheless she showed it little.
The boy grew up into a sturdy bright-eyed little fellow, with plenty of intelligence, and
perhaps a trifle too great readiness at book learning. Being kindly treated at home, he was
as fond of his father and mother as it was in his nature to be of anyone, but he was fond
of no one else. He had a good healthy sense of meum, and as little of tuum as he could
help. Brought up much in the open air in one of the best situated and healthiest villages in
England, his little limbs had fair play, and in those days children's brains were not
overtasked as they now are; perhaps it was for this very reason that the boy showed an
avidity to learn. At seven or eight years old he could read, write and sum better than any
other boy of his age in the village. My father was not yet rector of Paleham, and did not
remember George Pontifex's childhood, but I have heard neighbours tell him that the boy
was looked upon as unusually quick and forward. His father and mother were naturally
proud of their offspring, and his mother was determined that he should one day become
one of the kings and councillors of the earth.
It is one thing however to resolve that one's son shall win some of life's larger prizes, and
another to square matters with fortune in this respect. George Pontifex might have been
brought up as a carpenter and succeeded in no other way than as succeeding his father as
one of the minor magnates of Paleham, and yet have been a more truly successful man
than he actually was--for I take it there is not much more solid success in this world than
what fell to the lot of old Mr and Mrs Pontifex; it happened, however, that about the year