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served as a connubial missile - at Joe, who, glad to get hold of me on any
terms, passed me on into the chimney and quietly fenced me up there with his
"Where have you been, you young monkey?" said Mrs. Joe, stamping her foot.
"Tell me directly what you've been doing to wear me away with fret and fright
and worrit, or I'd have you out of that corner if you was fifty Pips, and he was
five hundred Gargerys."
"I have only been to the churchyard," said I, from my stool, crying and
"Churchyard!" repeated my sister. "If it warn't for me you'd have been to
the churchyard long ago, and stayed there. Who brought you up by hand?"
"You did," said I.
"And why did I do it, I should like to know?" exclaimed my sister.
I whimpered, "I don't know."
"I don't!" said my sister. "I'd never do it again! I know that. I may
truly say I've never had this apron of mine off, since born you were. It's bad
enough to be a blacksmith's wife (and him a Gargery) without being your mother."
My thoughts strayed from that question as I looked disconsolately at the
fire. For, the fugitive out on the marshes with the ironed leg, the mysterious
young man, the file, the food, and the dreadful pledge I was under to commit a
larceny on those sheltering premises, rose before me in the avenging coals.
"Hah!" said Mrs. Joe, restoring Tickler to his station. "Churchyard,
indeed! You may well say churchyard, you two." One of us, by-the-bye, had not
said it at all. "You'll drive me to the churchyard betwixt you, one of these
days, and oh, a pr-r-recious pair you'd be without me!"
As she applied herself to set the tea-things, Joe peeped down at me over
his leg, as if he were mentally casting me and himself up, and calculating what
kind of pair we practically should make, under the grievous circumstances
foreshadowed. After that, he sat feeling his right-side flaxen curls and
whisker, and following Mrs. Joe about with his blue eyes, as his manner always
was at squally times.
My sister had a trenchant way of cutting our bread-and-butter for us, that
never varied. First, with her left hand she jammed the loaf hard and fast
against her bib - where it sometimes got a pin into it, and sometimes a needle,
which we afterwards got into our mouths. Then she took some butter (not too
much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if
she were making a plaister - using both sides of the knife with a slapping
dexterity, and trimming and moulding the butter off round the crust. Then, she
gave the knife a final smart wipe on the edge of the plaister, and then sawed a
very thick round off the loaf: which she finally, before separating from the
loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Joe got one, and I the other.
On the present occasion, though I was hungry, I dared not eat my slice. I
felt that I must have something in reserve for my dreadful acquaintance, and his
ally the still more dreadful young man. I knew Mrs. Joe's housekeeping to be of
the strictest kind, and that my larcenous researches might find nothing
available in the safe. Therefore I resolved to put my hunk of bread-and-butter
down the leg of my trousers.
The effort of resolution necessary to the achievement of this purpose, I
found to be quite awful. It was as if I had to make up my mind to leap from the
top of a high house, or plunge into a great depth of water. And it was made the
more difficult by the unconscious Joe. In our already-mentioned freemasonry as
fellow-sufferers, and in his good-natured companionship with me, it was our
evening habit to compare the way we bit through our slices, by silently holding
them up to each other's admiration now and then - which stimulated us to new
exertions. To-night, Joe several times invited me, by the display of his
fast-diminishing slice, to enter upon our usual friendly competition; but he
found me, each time, with my yellow mug of tea on one knee, and my untouched
bread-and-butter on the other. At last, I desperately considered that the thing
I contemplated must be done, and that it had best be done in the least
improbable manner consistent with the circumstances. I took advantage of a
moment when Joe had just looked at me, and got my bread-and-butter down my leg.
Joe was evidently made uncomfortable by what he supposed to be my loss of
appetite, and took a thoughtful bite out of his slice, which he didn't seem to
enjoy. He turned it about in his mouth much longer than usual, pondering over
it a good deal, and after all gulped it down like a pill. He was about to take
another bite, and had just got his head on one side for a good purchase on it,
when his eye fell on me, and he saw that my bread-and-butter was gone.
The wonder and consternation with which Joe stopped on the threshold of his
bite and stared at me, were too evident to escape my sister's observation.
"What's the matter now?" said she, smartly, as she put down her cup.
"I say, you know!" muttered Joe, shaking his head at me in very serious
remonstrance. "Pip, old chap! You'll do yourself a mischief. It'll stick
somewhere. You can't have chawed it, Pip."
"What's the matter now?" repeated my sister, more sharply than before.
"If you can cough any trifle on it up, Pip, I'd recommend you to do it,"
said Joe, all aghast. "Manners is manners, but still your elth's your elth."
By this time, my sister was quite desperate, so she pounced on Joe, and,
taking him by the two whiskers, knocked his head for a little while against the
wall behind him: while I sat in the corner, looking guiltily on.
"Now, perhaps you'll mention what's the matter," said my sister, out of
breath, "you staring great stuck pig."
Joe looked at her in a helpless way; then took a helpless bite, and looked
at me again.
"You know, Pip," said Joe, solemnly, with his last bite in his cheek and
speaking in a confidential voice, as if we two were quite alone, "you and me is
always friends, and I'd be the last to tell upon you, any time. But such a--"
he moved his chair and looked about the floor between us, and then again at me -
"such a most oncommon Bolt as that!"
"Been bolting his food, has he?" cried my sister.
"You know, old chap," said Joe, looking at me, and not at Mrs. Joe, with
his bite still in his cheek, "I Bolted, myself, when I was your age - frequent -
and as a boy I've been among a many Bolters; but I never see your Bolting equal
yet, Pip, and it's a mercy you ain't Bolted dead."
My sister made a dive at me, and fished me up by the hair: saying nothing
more than the awful words, "You come along and be dosed."
Some medical beast had revived Tar-water in those days as a fine medicine,
and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its
virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this
elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of
going about, smelling like a new fence. On this particular evening the urgency
of my case demanded a pint of this mixture, which was poured down my throat, for
my greater comfort, while Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would
be held in a boot-jack. Joe got off with half a pint; but was made to swallow
that (much to his disturbance, as he sat slowly munching and meditating before
the fire), "because he had had a turn." Judging from myself, I should say he
certainly had a turn afterwards, if he had had none before.
Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy; but when, in the
case of a boy, that secret burden co-operates with another secret burden down
the leg of his trousers, it is (as I can testify) a great punishment. The
guilty knowledge that I was going to rob Mrs. Joe - I never thought I was going
to rob Joe, for I never thought of any of the housekeeping property as his -
united to the necessity of always keeping one hand on my bread-and-butter as I
sat, or when I was ordered about the kitchen on any small errand, almost drove
me out of my mind. Then, as the marsh winds made the fire glow and flare, I
thought I heard the voice outside, of the man with the iron on his leg who had
sworn me to secrecy, declaring that he couldn't and wouldn't starve until
to-morrow, but must be fed now. At other times, I thought, What if the young
man who was with so much difficulty restrained from imbruing his hands in me,
should yield to a constitutional impatience, or should mistake the time, and
should think himself accredited to my heart and liver to-night, instead of
to-morrow! If ever anybody's hair stood on end with terror, mine must have done
so then. But, perhaps, nobody's ever did?
It was Christmas Eve, and I had to stir the pudding for next day, with a
copper-stick, from seven to eight by the Dutch clock. I tried it with the load
upon my leg (and that made me think afresh of the man with the load on his leg),
and found the tendency of exercise to bring the bread-and-butter out at my
ankle, quite unmanageable. Happily, I slipped away, and deposited that part of
my conscience in my garret bedroom.
"Hark!" said I, when I had done my stirring, and was taking a final warm in
the chimney corner before being sent up to bed; "was that great guns, Joe?"
"Ah!" said Joe. "There's another conwict off."
"What does that mean, Joe?" said I.
Mrs. Joe, who always took explanations upon herself, said, snappishly,
"Escaped. Escaped." Administering the definition like Tar-water.
While Mrs. Joe sat with her head bending over her needlework, I put my
mouth into the forms of saying to Joe, "What's a convict?" Joe put his mouth
into the forms of returning such a highly elaborate answer, that I could make
out nothing of it but the single word "Pip."
"There was a conwict off last night," said Joe, aloud, "after sun-set-gun.
And they fired warning of him. And now, it appears they're firing warning of
"Who's firing?" said I.
"Drat that boy," interposed my sister, frowning at me over her work, "what
a questioner he is. Ask no questions, and you'll be told no lies."
It was not very polite to herself, I thought, to imply that I should be
told lies by her, even if I did ask questions. But she never was polite, unless
there was company.
At this point, Joe greatly augmented my curiosity by taking the utmost
pains to open his mouth very wide, and to put it into the form of a word that
looked to me like "sulks." Therefore, I naturally pointed to Mrs. Joe, and put
my mouth into the form of saying "her?" But Joe wouldn't hear of that, at all,
and again opened his mouth very wide, and shook the form of a most emphatic word
out of it. But I could make nothing of the word.
"Mrs. Joe," said I, as a last resort, "I should like to know - if you
wouldn't much mind - where the firing comes from?"
"Lord bless the boy!" exclaimed my sister, as if she didn't quite mean
that, but rather the contrary. "From the Hulks!"
"Oh-h!" said I, looking at Joe. "Hulks!"
Joe gave a reproachful cough, as much as to say, "Well, I told you so."
"And please what's Hulks?" said I.
"That's the way with this boy!" exclaimed my sister, pointing me out with
her needle and thread, and shaking her head at me. "Answer him one question,
and he'll ask you a dozen directly. Hulks are prison-ships, right 'cross th'
meshes." We always used that name for marshes, in our country.
"I wonder who's put into prison-ships, and why they're put there?" said I,
in a general way, and with quiet desperation.
It was too much for Mrs. Joe, who immediately rose. "I tell you what,
young fellow," said she, "I didn't bring you up by hand to badger people's lives
out. It would be blame to me, and not praise, if I had. People are put in the
Hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of
bad; and they always begin by asking questions. Now, you get along to bed!"
I was never allowed a candle to light me to bed, and, as I went upstairs in
the dark, with my head tingling - from Mrs. Joe's thimble having played the
tambourine upon it, to accompany her last words - I felt fearfully sensible of
the great convenience that the Hulks were handy for me. I was clearly on my way
there. I had begun by asking questions, and I was going to rob Mrs. Joe.
Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that
few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. No matter how
unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the
young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my
interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an
awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my
all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what
I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.
If I slept at all that night, it was only to imagine myself drifting down
the river on a strong spring-tide, to the Hulks; a ghostly pirate calling out to
me through a speaking-trumpet, as I passed the gibbet-station, that I had better
come ashore and be hanged there at once, and not put it off. I was afraid to
sleep, even if I had been inclined, for I knew that at the first faint dawn of
morning I must rob the pantry. There was no doing it in the night, for there
was no getting a light by easy friction then; to have got one, I must have
struck it out of flint and steel, and have made a noise like the very pirate
himself rattling his chains.
As soon as the great black velvet pall outside my little window was shot
with grey, I got up and went down stairs; every board upon the way, and every
crack in every board, calling after me, "Stop thief!" and "Get up, Mrs. Joe!" In
the pantry, which was far more abundantly supplied than usual, owing to the
season, I was very much alarmed, by a hare hanging up by the heels, whom I
rather thought I caught, when my back was half turned, winking. I had no time
for verification, no time for selection, no time for anything, for I had no time