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men sitting there under the bills about shipping, whom I took to be great
merchants, though I couldn't understand why they should all be out of spirits.
When Herbert came, we went and had lunch at a celebrated house which I then
quite venerated, but now believe to have been the most abject superstition in
Europe, and where I could not help noticing, even then, that there was much more
gravy on the tablecloths and knives and waiters' clothes, than in the steaks.
This collation disposed of at a moderate price (considering the grease: which
was not charged for), we went back to Barnard's Inn and got my little
portmanteau, and then took coach for Hammersmith. We arrived there at two or
three o'clock in the afternoon, and had very little way to walk to Mr. Pocket's
house. Lifting the latch of a gate, we passed direct into a little garden
overlooking the river, where Mr. Pocket's children were playing about. And
unless I deceive myself on a point where my interests or prepossessions are
certainly not concerned, I saw that Mr. and Mrs. Pocket's children were not
growing up or being brought up, but were tumbling up.
Mrs. Pocket was sitting on a garden chair under a tree, reading, with her
legs upon another garden chair; and Mrs. Pocket's two nursemaids were looking
about them while the children played. "Mamma," said Herbert, "this is young Mr.
Pip." Upon which Mrs. Pocket received me with an appearance of amiable dignity.
"Master Alick and Miss Jane," cried one of the nurses to two of the
children, "if you go a-bouncing up against them bushes you'll fall over into the
river and be drownded, and what'll your pa say then?"
At the same time this nurse picked up Mrs. Pocket's handkerchief, and said,
"If that don't make six times you've dropped it, Mum!" Upon which Mrs. Pocket
laughed and said, "Thank you, Flopson," and settling herself in one chair only,
resumed her book. Her countenance immediately assumed a knitted and intent
expression as if she had been reading for a week, but before she could have read
half a dozen lines, she fixed her eyes upon me, and said, "I hope your mamma is
quite well?" This unexpected inquiry put me into such a difficulty that I began
saying in the absurdest way that if there had been any such person I had no
doubt she would have been quite well and would have been very much obliged and
would have sent her compliments, when the nurse came to my rescue.
"Well!" she cried, picking up the pocket handkerchief, "if that don't make
seven times! What ARE you a-doing of this afternoon, Mum!" Mrs. Pocket
received her property, at first with a look of unutterable surprise as if she
had never seen it before, and then with a laugh of recognition, and said, "Thank
you, Flopson," and forgot me, and went on reading.
I found, now I had leisure to count them, that there were no fewer than six
little Pockets present, in various stages of tumbling up. I had scarcely arrived
at the total when a seventh was heard, as in the region of air, wailing
"If there ain't Baby!" said Flopson, appearing to think it most surprising.
"Make haste up, Millers."
Millers, who was the other nurse, retired into the house, and by degrees
the child's wailing was hushed and stopped, as if it were a young ventriloquist
with something in its mouth. Mrs. Pocket read all the time, and I was curious
to know what the book could be.
We were waiting, I supposed, for Mr. Pocket to come out to us; at any rate
we waited there, and so I had an opportunity of observing the remarkable family
phenomenon that whenever any of the children strayed near Mrs. Pocket in their
play, they always tripped themselves up and tumbled over her - always very much
to her momentary astonishment, and their own more enduring lamentation. I was
at a loss to account for this surprising circumstance, and could not help giving
my mind to speculations about it, until by-and-by Millers came down with the
baby, which baby was handed to Flopson, which Flopson was handing it to Mrs.
Pocket, when she too went fairly head foremost over Mrs. Pocket, baby and all,
and was caught by Herbert and myself.
"Gracious me, Flopson!" said Mrs. Pocket, looking off her book for a
moment, "everybody's tumbling!"
"Gracious you, indeed, Mum!" returned Flopson, very red in the face; "what
have you got there?"
"I got here, Flopson?" asked Mrs. Pocket.
"Why, if it ain't your footstool!" cried Flopson. "And if you keep it
under your skirts like that, who's to help tumbling? Here! Take the baby, Mum,
and give me your book."
Mrs. Pocket acted on the advice, and inexpertly danced the infant a little
in her lap, while the other children played about it. This had lasted but a
very short time, when Mrs. Pocket issued summary orders that they were all to be
taken into the house for a nap. Thus I made the second discovery on that first
occasion, that the nurture of the little Pockets consisted of alternately
tumbling up and lying down.
Under these circumstances, when Flopson and Millers had got the children
into the house, like a little flock of sheep, and Mr. Pocket came out of it to
make my acquaintance, I was not much surprised to find that Mr. Pocket was a
gentleman with a rather perplexed expression of face, and with his very grey
hair disordered on his head, as if he didn't quite see his way to putting
Mr. Pocket said he was glad to see me, and he hoped I was not sorry to see
him. "For, I really am not," he added, with his son's smile, "an alarming
personage." He was a young-looking man, in spite of his perplexities and his
very grey hair, and his manner seemed quite natural. I use the word natural, in
the sense of its being unaffected; there was something comic in his distraught
way, as though it would have been downright ludicrous but for his own perception
that it was very near being so. When he had talked with me a little, he said to
Mrs. Pocket, with a rather anxious contraction of his eyebrows, which were black
and handsome, "Belinda, I hope you have welcomed Mr. Pip?" And she looked up
from her book, and said, "Yes." She then smiled upon me in an absent state of
mind, and asked me if I liked the taste of orange-flower water? As the question
had no bearing, near or remote, on any foregone or subsequent transaction, I
consider it to have been thrown out, like her previous approaches, in general
I found out within a few hours, and may mention at once, that Mrs. Pocket
was the only daughter of a certain quite accidental deceased Knight, who had
invented for himself a conviction that his deceased father would have been made
a Baronet but for somebody's determined opposition arising out of entirely
personal motives - I forget whose, if I ever knew - the Sovereign's, the Prime
Minister's, the Lord Chancellor's, the Archbishop of Canterbury's, anybody's -
and had tacked himself on to the nobles of the earth in right of this quite
supposititious fact. I believe he had been knighted himself for storming the
English grammar at the point of the pen, in a desperate address engrossed on
vellum, on the occasion of the laying of the first stone of some building or
other, and for handing some Royal Personage either the trowel or the mortar. Be
that as it may, he had directed Mrs. Pocket to be brought up from her cradle as
one who in the nature of things must marry a title, and who was to be guarded
from the acquisition of plebeian domestic knowledge.
So successful a watch and ward had been established over the young lady by
this judicious parent, that she had grown up highly ornamental, but perfectly
helpless and useless. With her character thus happily formed, in the first
bloom of her youth she had encountered Mr. Pocket: who was also in the first
bloom of youth, and not quite decided whether to mount to the Woolsack, or to
roof himself in with a mitre. As his doing the one or the other was a mere
question of time, he and Mrs. Pocket had taken Time by the forelock (when, to
judge from its length, it would seem to have wanted cutting), and had married
without the knowledge of the judicious parent. The judicious parent, having
nothing to bestow or withhold but his blessing, had handsomely settled that
dower upon them after a short struggle, and had informed Mr. Pocket that his
wife was "a treasure for a Prince." Mr. Pocket had invested the Prince's
treasure in the ways of the world ever since, and it was supposed to have
brought him in but indifferent interest. Still, Mrs. Pocket was in general the
object of a queer sort of respectful pity, because she had not married a title;
while Mr. Pocket was the object of a queer sort of forgiving reproach, because
he had never got one.
Mr. Pocket took me into the house and showed me my room: which was a
pleasant one, and so furnished as that I could use it with comfort for my own
private sitting-room. He then knocked at the doors of two other similar rooms,
and introduced me to their occupants, by name Drummle and Startop. Drummle, an
old-looking young man of a heavy order of architecture, was whistling. Startop,
younger in years and appearance, was reading and holding his head, as if he
thought himself in danger of exploding it with too strong a charge of knowledge.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Pocket had such a noticeable air of being in somebody
else's hands, that I wondered who really was in possession of the house and let
them live there, until I found this unknown power to be the servants. It was a
smooth way of going on, perhaps, in respect of saving trouble; but it had the
appearance of being expensive, for the servants felt it a duty they owed to
themselves to be nice in their eating and drinking, and to keep a deal of
company down stairs. They allowed a very liberal table to Mr. and Mrs. Pocket,
yet it always appeared to me that by far the best part of the house to have
boarded in, would have been the kitchen - always supposing the boarder capable
of self-defence, for, before I had been there a week, a neighbouring lady with
whom the family were personally unacquainted, wrote in to say that she had seen
Millers slapping the baby. This greatly distressed Mrs. Pocket, who burst into
tears on receiving the note, and said that it was an extraordinary thing that
the neighbours couldn't mind their own business.
By degrees I learnt, and chiefly from Herbert, that Mr. Pocket had been
educated at Harrow and at Cambridge, where he had distinguished himself; but
that when he had had the happiness of marrying Mrs. Pocket very early in life,
he had impaired his prospects and taken up the calling of a Grinder. After
grinding a number of dull blades - of whom it was remarkable that their fathers,
when influential, were always going to help him to preferment, but always forgot
to do it when the blades had left the Grindstone - he had wearied of that poor
work and had come to London. Here, after gradually failing in loftier hopes, he
had "read" with divers who had lacked opportunities or neglected them, and had
refurbished divers others for special occasions, and had turned his acquirements
to the account of literary compilation and correction, and on such means, added
to some very moderate private resources, still maintained the house I saw.
Mr. and Mrs. Pocket had a toady neighbour; a widow lady of that highly
sympathetic nature that she agreed with everybody, blessed everybody, and shed
smiles and tears on everybody, according to circumstances. This lady's name was
Mrs. Coiler, and I had the honour of taking her down to dinner on the day of my
installation. She gave me to understand on the stairs, that it was a blow to
dear Mrs. Pocket that dear Mr. Pocket should be under the necessity of receiving
gentlemen to read with him. That did not extend to me, she told me in a gush of
love and confidence (at that time, I had known her something less than five
minutes); if they were all like Me, it would be quite another thing.
"But dear Mrs. Pocket," said Mrs. Coiler, "after her early disappointment
(not that dear Mr. Pocket was to blame in that), requires so much luxury and
"Yes, ma'am," I said, to stop her, for I was afraid she was going to cry.
"And she is of so aristocratic a disposition--"
"Yes, ma'am," I said again, with the same object as before.
" - that it is hard," said Mrs. Coiler, "to have dear Mr. Pocket's time and
attention diverted from dear Mrs. Pocket."
I could not help thinking that it might be harder if the butcher's time and
attention were diverted from dear Mrs. Pocket; but I said nothing, and indeed
had enough to do in keeping a bashful watch upon my company-manners.
It came to my knowledge, through what passed between Mrs. Pocket and
Drummle while I was attentive to my knife and fork, spoon, glasses, and other
instruments of self-destruction, that Drummle, whose Christian name was Bentley,
was actually the next heir but one to a baronetcy. It further appeared that the
book I had seen Mrs. Pocket reading in the garden, was all about titles, and
that she knew the exact date at which her grandpapa would have come into the
book, if he ever had come at all. Drummle didn't say much, but in his limited
way (he struck me as a sulky kind of fellow) he spoke as one of the elect, and
recognized Mrs. Pocket as a woman and a sister. No one but themselves and Mrs.
Coiler the toady neighbour showed any interest in this part of the conversation,
and it appeared to me that it was painful to Herbert; but it promised to last a
long time, when the page came in with the announcement of a domestic affliction.
It was, in effect, that the cook had mislaid the beef. To my unutterable
amazement, I now, for the first time, saw Mr. Pocket relieve his mind by going
through a performance that struck me as very extraordinary, but which made no
impression on anybody else, and with which I soon became as familiar as the
rest. He laid down the carving-knife and fork - being engaged in carving, at the
moment - put his two hands into his disturbed hair, and appeared to make an
extraordinary effort to lift himself up by it. When he had done this, and had
not lifted himself up at all, he quietly went on with what he was about.
Mrs. Coiler then changed the subject, and began to flatter me. I liked it
for a few moments, but she flattered me so very grossly that the pleasure was
soon over. She had a serpentine way of coming close at me when she pretended to
be vitally interested in the friends and localities I had left, which was