Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


Next day Miss Pontifex returned to town, with her thoughts full of her nephew and how she could best be of use to him.

It appeared to her that to do him any real service she must devote herself almost entirely to him; she must in fact give up living in London, at any rate for a long time, and live at Roughborough where she could see him continually. This was a serious undertaking; she had lived in London for the last twelve years, and naturally disliked the prospect of a small country town such as Roughborough. Was it a prudent thing to attempt so much? Must not people take their chances in this world? Can anyone do much for anyone else unless by making a will in his favour and dying then and there? Should not each look after his own happiness, and will not the world be best carried on if everyone minds his own business and leaves other people to mind theirs? Life is not a donkey race in which everyone is to ride his neighbour's donkey and the last is to win, and the psalmist long since formulated a common experience when he declared that no man may deliver his brother nor make agreement unto God for him, for it cost more to redeem their souls, so that he must let that alone for ever.

All these excellent reasons for letting her nephew alone occurred to her, and many more, but against them there pleaded a woman's love for children, and her desire to find someone among the younger branches of her own family to whom she could become warmly attached, and whom she could attach warmly to herself.

Over and above this she wanted someone to leave her money to; she was not going to leave it to people about whom she knew very little, merely because they happened to be sons and daughters of brothers and sisters whom she had never liked. She knew the power and value of money exceedingly well, and how many lovable people suffer and die yearly for the want of it; she was little likely to leave it without being satisfied that her legatees were square, lovable, and more or less hard up. She wanted those to have it who would be most likely to use it genially and sensibly, and whom it would thus be likely to make most happy; if she could find one such among her nephews and nieces, so much the better; it was worth taking a great deal of pains to see whether she could or could not; but if she failed, she must find an heir who was not related to her by blood.

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