Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

84. CHAPTER LXXXIV (continued)

Georgie and Alice, Ernest's two children, were evidently quite as one family with the others, and called Mr and Mrs Rollings uncle and aunt. They had been so young when they were first brought to the house that they had been looked upon in the light of new babies who had been born into the family. They knew nothing about Mr and Mrs Rollings being paid so much a week to look after them. Ernest asked them all what they wanted to be. They had only one idea; one and all, Georgie among the rest, wanted to be bargemen. Young ducks could hardly have a more evident hankering after the water.

"And what do you want, Alice?" said Ernest.

"Oh," she said, "I'm going to marry Jack here, and be a bargeman's wife."

Jack was the eldest boy, now nearly twelve, a sturdy little fellow, the image of what Mr Rollings must have been at his age. As we looked at him, so straight and well grown and well done all round, I could see it was in Ernest's mind as much as in mine that she could hardly do much better.

"Come here, Jack, my boy," said Ernest, "here's a shilling for you." The boy blushed and could hardly be got to come in spite of our previous blandishments; he had had pennies given him before, but shillings never. His father caught him good-naturedly by the ear and lugged him to us.

"He's a good boy, Jack is," said Ernest to Mr Rollings, "I'm sure of that."

"Yes," said Mr Rollings, "he's a werry good boy, only that I can't get him to learn his reading and writing. He don't like going to school, that's the only complaint I have against him. I don't know what's the matter with all my children, and yours, Mr Pontifex, is just as bad, but they none of 'em likes book learning, though they learn anything else fast enough. Why, as for Jack here, he's almost as good a bargeman as I am." And he looked fondly and patronisingly towards his offspring.

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