Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


All went well for the first part of the following half year. Miss Pontifex spent the greater part of her holidays in London, and I also saw her at Roughborough, where I spent a few days, staying at the "Swan." I heard all about my godson in whom, however, I took less interest than I said I did. I took more interest in the stage at that time than in anything else, and as for Ernest, I found him a nuisance for engrossing so much of his aunt's attention, and taking her so much from London. The organ was begun, and made fair progress during the first two months of the half year. Ernest was happier than he had ever been before, and was struggling upwards. The best boys took more notice of him for his aunt's sake, and he consorted less with those who led him into mischief.

But much as Miss Pontifex had done, she could not all at once undo the effect of such surroundings as the boy had had at Battersby. Much as he feared and disliked his father (though he still knew not how much this was), he had caught much from him; if Theobald had been kinder Ernest would have modelled himself upon him entirely, and ere long would probably have become as thorough a little prig as could have easily been found.

Fortunately his temper had come to him from his mother, who, when not frightened, and when there was nothing on the horizon which might cross the slightest whim of her husband, was an amiable, good-natured woman. If it was not such an awful thing to say of anyone, I should say that she meant well.

Ernest had also inherited his mother's love of building castles in the air, and--so I suppose it must be called--her vanity. He was very fond of showing off, and, provided he could attract attention, cared little from whom it came, nor what it was for. He caught up, parrot-like, whatever jargon he heard from his elders, which he thought was the correct thing, and aired it in season and out of season, as though it were his own.

Miss Pontifex was old enough and wise enough to know that this is the way in which even the greatest men as a general rule begin to develop, and was more pleased with his receptiveness and reproductiveness than alarmed at the things he caught and reproduced.

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