It happened that the other five children were left behind at the dinner-table, through Flopson’s having some private engagement, and their not being anybody else’s business. I thus became aware of the mutual relations between them and Mr. Pocket, which were exemplified in the following manner. Mr. Pocket, with the normal perplexity of his face heightened and his hair rumpled, looked at them for some minutes, as if he couldn’t make out how they came to be boarding and lodging in that establishment, and why they hadn’t been billeted by Nature on somebody else. Then, in a distant, Missionary way he asked them certain questions — as why little Joe had that hole in his frill: who said, Pa, Flopson was going to mend it when she had time — and how little Fanny came by that whitlow: who said, Pa, Millers was going to poultice it when she didn’t forget. Then, he melted into parental tenderness, and gave them a shilling apiece and told them to go and play; and then as they went out, with one very strong effort to lift himself up by the hair he dismissed the hopeless subject.
In the evening there was rowing on the river. As Drummle and Startop had each a boat, I resolved to set up mine, and to cut them both out. I was pretty good at most exercises in which countryboys are adepts, but, as I was conscious of wanting elegance of style for the Thames — not to say for other waters — I at once engaged to place myself under the tuition of the winner of a prizewherry who plied at our stairs, and to whom I was introduced by my new allies. This practical authority confused me very much, by saying I had the arm of a blacksmith. If he could have known how nearly the compliment lost him his pupil, I doubt if he would have paid it.
There was a supper-tray after we got home at night, and I think we should all have enjoyed ourselves, but for a rather disagreeable domestic occurrence. Mr. Pocket was in good spirits, when a housemaid came in, and said, “If you please, sir, I should wish to speak to you.”
“Speak to your master?” said Mrs. Pocket, whose dignity was roused again. “How can you think of such a thing? Go and speak to Flopson. Or speak to me — at some other time.”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” returned the housemaid, “I should wish to speak at once, and to speak to master.”
Hereupon, Mr. Pocket went out of the room, and we made the best of ourselves until he came back.
“This is a pretty thing, Belinda!” said Mr. Pocket, returning with a countenance expressive of grief and despair. “Here’s the cook lying insensibly drunk on the kitchen floor, with a large bundle of fresh butter made up in the cupboard ready to sell for grease!”
Mrs. Pocket instantly showed much amiable emotion, and said, “This is that odious Sophia’s doing!”
“What do you mean, Belinda?” demanded Mr. Pocket.
“Sophia has told you,” said Mrs. Pocket. “Did I not see her with my own eyes and hear her with my own ears, come into the room just now and ask to speak to you?”