Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 84

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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.

“I think,” said Ernest to Mr Rollings, “if he wants to marry Alice when he gets older he had better do so, and he shall have as many barges as he likes.  In the meantime, Mr Rollings, say in what way money can be of use to you, and whatever you can make useful is at your disposal.”

I need hardly say that Ernest made matters easy for this good couple; one stipulation, however, he insisted on, namely, there was to be no more smuggling, and that the young people were to be kept out of this; for a little bird had told Ernest that smuggling in a quiet way was one of the resources of the Rollings family.  Mr Rollings was not sorry to assent to this, and I believe it is now many years since the coastguard people have suspected any of the Rollings family as offenders against the revenue law.

“Why should I take them from where they are,” said Ernest to me in the train as we went home, “to send them to schools where they will not be one half so happy, and where their illegitimacy will very likely be a worry to them?  Georgie wants to be a bargeman, let him begin as one, the sooner the better; he may as well begin with this as with anything else; then if he shows developments I can be on the look-out to encourage them and make things easy for him; while if he shows no desire to go ahead, what on earth is the good of trying to shove him forward?”

Ernest, I believe, went on with a homily upon education generally, and upon the way in which young people should go through the embryonic stages with their money as much as with their limbs, beginning life in a much lower social position than that in which their parents were, and a lot more, which he has since published; but I was getting on in years, and the walk and the bracing air had made me sleepy, so ere we had got past Greenhithe Station on our return journey I had sunk into a refreshing sleep.