Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


After Ernest had been sentenced, he was taken back to the cells to wait for the van which should take him to Coldbath Fields, where he was to serve his term.

He was still too stunned and dazed by the suddenness with which events had happened during the last twenty-four hours to be able to realise his position. A great chasm had opened between his past and future; nevertheless he breathed, his pulse beat, he could think and speak. It seemed to him that he ought to be prostrated by the blow that had fallen on him, but he was not prostrated; he had suffered from many smaller laches far more acutely. It was not until he thought of the pain his disgrace would inflict on his father and mother that he felt how readily he would have given up all he had, rather than have fallen into his present plight. It would break his mother's heart. It must, he knew it would--and it was he who had done this.

He had had a headache coming on all the forenoon, but as he thought of his father and mother, his pulse quickened, and the pain in his head suddenly became intense. He could hardly walk to the van, and he found its motion insupportable. On reaching the prison he was too ill to walk without assistance across the hall to the corridor or gallery where prisoners are marshalled on their arrival. The prison warder, seeing at once that he was a clergyman, did not suppose he was shamming, as he might have done in the case of an old gaol-bird; he therefore sent for the doctor. When this gentleman arrived, Ernest was declared to be suffering from an incipient attack of brain fever, and was taken away to the infirmary. Here he hovered for the next two months between life and death, never in full possession of his reason and often delirious, but at last, contrary to the expectation of both doctor and nurse, he began slowly to recover.

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