Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


I used to stay at Battersby for a day or two sometimes, while my godson and his brother and sister were children. I hardly know why I went, for Theobald and I grew more and more apart, but one gets into grooves sometimes, and the supposed friendship between myself and the Pontifexes continued to exist, though it was now little more than rudimentary. My godson pleased me more than either of the other children, but he had not much of the buoyancy of childhood, and was more like a puny, sallow little old man than I liked. The young people, however, were very ready to be friendly.

I remember Ernest and his brother hovered round me on the first day of one of these visits with their hands full of fading flowers, which they at length proffered me. On this I did what I suppose was expected: I inquired if there was a shop near where they could buy sweeties. They said there was, so I felt in my pockets, but only succeeded in finding two pence halfpenny in small money. This I gave them, and the youngsters, aged four and three, toddled off alone. Ere long they returned, and Ernest said, "We can't get sweeties for all this money" (I felt rebuked, but no rebuke was intended); "we can get sweeties for this" (showing a penny), "and for this" (showing another penny), "but we cannot get them for all this," and he added the halfpenny to the two pence. I suppose they had wanted a twopenny cake, or something like that. I was amused, and left them to solve the difficulty their own way, being anxious to see what they would do.

Presently Ernest said, "May we give you back this" (showing the halfpenny) "and not give you back this and this?" (showing the pence). I assented, and they gave a sigh of relief and went on their way rejoicing. A few more presents of pence and small toys completed the conquest, and they began to take me into their confidence.

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