Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


Ernest had been out all the morning, but came in to the yard of the Rectory from the spinney behind the house just as Ellen's things were being put into the carriage. He thought it was Ellen whom he then saw get into the carriage, but as her face had been hidden by her handkerchief he had not been able to see plainly who it was, and dismissed the idea as improbable.

He went to the back-kitchen window, at which the cook was standing peeling the potatoes for dinner, and found her crying bitterly. Ernest was much distressed, for he liked the cook, and, of course, wanted to know what all the matter was, who it was that had just gone off in the pony carriage, and why? The cook told him it was Ellen, but said that no earthly power should make it cross her lips why it was she was going away; when, however, Ernest took her au pied de la lettre and asked no further questions, she told him all about it after extorting the most solemn promises of secrecy.

It took Ernest some minutes to arrive at the facts of the case, but when he understood them he leaned against the pump, which stood near the back-kitchen window, and mingled his tears with the cook's.

Then his blood began to boil within him. He did not see that after all his father and mother could have done much otherwise than they actually did. They might perhaps have been less precipitate, and tried to keep the matter a little more quiet, but this would not have been easy, nor would it have mended things very materially. The bitter fact remains that if a girl does certain things she must do them at her peril, no matter how young and pretty she is nor to what temptation she has succumbed. This is the way of the world, and as yet there has been no help found for it.

Ernest could only see what he gathered from the cook, namely, that his favourite, Ellen, was being turned adrift with a matter of three pounds in her pocket, to go she knew not where, and to do she knew not what, and that she had said she should hang or drown herself, which the boy implicitly believed she would.

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