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off to be dried at the kitchen fire, the circumstantial evidence on his trousers
would have hanged him if it had been a capital offence.
By that time, I was staggering on the kitchen floor like a little drunkard,
through having been newly set upon my feet, and through having been fast asleep,
and through waking in the heat and lights and noise of tongues. As I came to
myself (with the aid of a heavy thump between the shoulders, and the restorative
exclamation "Yah! Was there ever such a boy as this!" from my sister), I found
Joe telling them about the convict's confession, and all the visitors suggesting
different ways by which he had got into the pantry. Mr. Pumblechook made out,
after carefully surveying the premises, that he had first got upon the roof of
the forge, and had then got upon the roof of the house, and had then let himself
down the kitchen chimney by a rope made of his bedding cut into strips; and as
Mr. Pumblechook was very positive and drove his own chaise-cart - over everybody
- it was agreed that it must be so. Mr. Wopsle, indeed, wildly cried out "No!"
with the feeble malice of a tired man; but, as he had no theory, and no coat on,
he was unanimously set at nought - not to mention his smoking hard behind, as he
stood with his back to the kitchen fire to draw the damp out: which was not
calculated to inspire confidence.
This was all I heard that night before my sister clutched me, as a
slumberous offence to the company's eyesight, and assisted me up to bed with
such a strong hand that I seemed to have fifty boots on, and to be dangling them
all against the edges of the stairs. My state of mind, as I have described it,
began before I was up in the morning, and lasted long after the subject had died
out, and had ceased to be mentioned saving on exceptional occasions.
At the time when I stood in the churchyard, reading the family tombstones,
I had just enough learning to be able to spell them out. My construction even
of their simple meaning was not very correct, for I read "wife of the Above" as
a complimentary reference to my father's exaltation to a better world; and if
any one of my deceased relations had been referred to as "Below," I have no
doubt I should have formed the worst opinions of that member of the family.
Neither, were my notions of the theological positions to which my Catechism
bound me, at all accurate; for, I have a lively remembrance that I supposed my
declaration that I was to "walk in the same all the days of my life," laid me
under an obligation always to go through the village from our house in one
particular direction, and never to vary it by turning down by the wheelwright's
or up by the mill.
When I was old enough, I was to be apprenticed to Joe, and until I could
assume that dignity I was not to be what Mrs. Joe called "Pompeyed," or (as I
render it) pampered. Therefore, I was not only odd-boy about the forge, but if
any neighbour happened to want an extra boy to frighten birds, or pick up
stones, or do any such job, I was favoured with the employment. In order,
however, that our superior position might not be compromised thereby, a
money-box was kept on the kitchen mantel-shelf, in to which it was publicly made
known that all my earnings were dropped. I have an impression that they were to
be contributed eventually towards the liquidation of the National Debt, but I
know I had no hope of any personal participation in the treasure.
Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt kept an evening school in the village; that is to
say, she was a ridiculous old woman of limited means and unlimited infirmity,
who used to go to sleep from six to seven every evening, in the society of youth
who paid twopence per week each, for the improving opportunity of seeing her do
it. She rented a small cottage, and Mr. Wopsle had the room up-stairs, where we
students used to overhear him reading aloud in a most dignified and terrific
manner, and occasionally bumping on the ceiling. There was a fiction that Mr.
Wopsle "examined" the scholars, once a quarter. What he did on those occasions
was to turn up his cuffs, stick up his hair, and give us Mark Antony's oration
over the body of Caesar. This was always followed by Collins's Ode on the
Passions, wherein I particularly venerated Mr. Wopsle as Revenge, throwing his
blood-stained sword in thunder down, and taking the War-denouncing trumpet with
a withering look. It was not with me then, as it was in later life, when I fell
into the society of the Passions, and compared them with Collins and Wopsle,
rather to the disadvantage of both gentlemen.
Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, besides keeping this Educational Institution, kept
- in the same room - a little general shop. She had no idea what stock she had,
or what the price of anything in it was; but there was a little greasy
memorandum-book kept in a drawer, which served as a Catalogue of Prices, and by
this oracle Biddy arranged all the shop transaction. Biddy was Mr. Wopsle's
great-aunt's granddaughter; I confess myself quiet unequal to the working out of
the problem, what relation she was to Mr. Wopsle. She was an orphan like
myself; like me, too, had been brought up by hand. She was most noticeable, I
thought, in respect of her extremities; for, her hair always wanted brushing,
her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling
up at heel. This description must be received with a week-day limitation. On
Sundays, she went to church elaborated.
Much of my unassisted self, and more by the help of Biddy than of Mr.
Wopsle's great-aunt, I struggled through the alphabet as if it had been a
bramble-bush; getting considerably worried and scratched by every letter. After
that, I fell among those thieves, the nine figures, who seemed every evening to
do something new to disguise themselves and baffle recognition. But, at last I
began, in a purblind groping way, to read, write, and cipher, on the very
One night, I was sitting in the chimney-corner with my slate, expending
great efforts on the production of a letter to Joe. I think it must have been a
fully year after our hunt upon the marshes, for it was a long time after, and it
was winter and a hard frost. With an alphabet on the hearth at my feet for
reference, I contrived in an hour or two to print and smear this epistle:
"MI DEER JO i OPE U R KR WITE WELL i OPE i SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U
JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME
INF XN PIP."
There was no indispensable necessity for my communicating with Joe by
letter, inasmuch as he sat beside me and we were alone. But, I delivered this
written communication (slate and all) with my own hand, and Joe received it as a
miracle of erudition.
"I say, Pip, old chap!" cried Joe, opening his blue eyes wide, "what a
scholar you are! An't you?"
"I should like to be," said I, glancing at the slate as he held it: with a
misgiving that the writing was rather hilly.
"Why, here's a J," said Joe, "and a O equal to anythink! Here's a J and a
O, Pip, and a J-O, Joe."
I had never heard Joe read aloud to any greater extent than this
monosyllable, and I had observed at church last Sunday when I accidentally held
our Prayer-Book upside down, that it seemed to suit his convenience quite as
well as if it had been all right. Wishing to embrace the present occasion of
finding out whether in teaching Joe, I should have to begin quite at the
beginning, I said, "Ah! But read the rest, Jo."
"The rest, eh, Pip?" said Joe, looking at it with a slowly searching eye,
"One, two, three. Why, here's three Js, and three Os, and three J-O, Joes in
I leaned over Joe, and, with the aid of my forefinger, read him the whole
"Astonishing!" said Joe, when I had finished. "You ARE a scholar."
"How do you spell Gargery, Joe?" I asked him, with a modest patronage.
"I don't spell it at all," said Joe.
"But supposing you did?"
"It can't be supposed," said Joe. "Tho' I'm oncommon fond of reading,
"Are you, Joe?"
"On-common. Give me," said Joe, "a good book, or a good newspaper, and sit
me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better. Lord!" he continued, after
rubbing his knees a little, "when you do come to a J and a O, and says you,
"Here, at last, is a J-O, Joe," how interesting reading is!"
I derived from this last, that Joe's education, like Steam, was yet in its
infancy, Pursuing the subject, I inquired:
"Didn't you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?"
"Why didn't you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?"
"Well, Pip," said Joe, taking up the poker, and settling himself to his
usual occupation when he was thoughtful, of slowly raking the fire between the
lower bars: "I'll tell you. My father, Pip, he were given to drink, and when
he were overtook with drink, he hammered away at my mother, most onmerciful. It
were a'most the only hammering he did, indeed, 'xcepting at myself. And he
hammered at me with a wigour only to be equalled by the wigour with which he
didn't hammer at his anwil. - You're a-listening and understanding, Pip?"
"'Consequence, my mother and me we ran away from my father, several times;
and then my mother she'd go out to work, and she'd say, "Joe," she'd say, "now,
please God, you shall have some schooling, child," and she'd put me to school.
But my father were that good in his hart that he couldn't abear to be without
us. So, he'd come with a most tremenjous crowd and make such a row at the doors
of the houses where we was, that they used to be obligated to have no more to do
with us and to give us up to him. And then he took us home and hammered us.
Which, you see, Pip," said Joe, pausing in his meditative raking of the fire,
and looking at me, "were a drawback on my learning."
"Certainly, poor Joe!"
"Though mind you, Pip," said Joe, with a judicial touch or two of the poker
on the top bar, "rendering unto all their doo, and maintaining equal justice
betwixt man and man, my father were that good in his hart, don't you see?"
I didn't see; but I didn't say so.
"Well!" Joe pursued, "somebody must keep the pot a biling, Pip, or the pot
won't bile, don't you know?"
I saw that, and said so.
"'Consequence, my father didn't make objections to my going to work; so I
went to work to work at my present calling, which were his too, if he would have
followed it, and I worked tolerable hard, I assure you, Pip. In time I were
able to keep him, and I kept him till he went off in a purple leptic fit. And
it were my intentions to have had put upon his tombstone that Whatsume'er the
failings on his part, Remember reader he were that good in his hart."
Joe recited this couplet with such manifest pride and careful perspicuity,
that I asked him if he had made it himself.
"I made it," said Joe, "my own self. I made it in a moment. It was like
striking out a horseshoe complete, in a single blow. I never was so much
surprised in all my life - couldn't credit my own ed - to tell you the truth,
hardly believed it were my own ed. As I was saying, Pip, it were my intentions
to have had it cut over him; but poetry costs money, cut it how you will, small
or large, and it were not done. Not to mention bearers, all the money that
could be spared were wanted for my mother. She were in poor elth, and quite
broke. She weren't long of following, poor soul, and her share of peace come
round at last."
Joe's blue eyes turned a little watery; he rubbed, first one of them, and
then the other, in a most uncongenial and uncomfortable manner, with the round
knob on the top of the poker.
"It were but lonesome then," said Joe, "living here alone, and I got
acquainted with your sister. Now, Pip;" Joe looked firmly at me, as if he knew
I was not going to agree with him; "your sister is a fine figure of a woman."
I could not help looking at the fire, in an obvious state of doubt.
"Whatever family opinions, or whatever the world's opinions, on that
subject may be, Pip, your sister is," Joe tapped the top bar with the poker
after every word following, "a - fine - figure - of - a - woman!"
I could think of nothing better to say than "I am glad you think so, Joe."
"So am I," returned Joe, catching me up. "I am glad I think so, Pip. A
little redness or a little matter of Bone, here or there, what does it signify
I sagaciously observed, if it didn't signify to him, to whom did it
"Certainly!" assented Joe. "That's it. You're right, old chap! When I
got acquainted with your sister, it were the talk how she was bringing you up by
hand. Very kind of her too, all the folks said, and I said, along with all the
folks. As to you," Joe pursued with a countenance expressive of seeing
something very nasty indeed: "if you could have been aware how small and flabby
and mean you was, dear me, you'd have formed the most contemptible opinion of
Not exactly relishing this, I said, "Never mind me, Joe."
"But I did mind you, Pip," he returned with tender simplicity. "When I
offered to your sister to keep company, and to be asked in church at such times
as she was willing and ready to come to the forge, I said to her, 'And bring the
poor little child. God bless the poor little child,' I said to your sister,
'there's room for him at the forge!'"
I broke out crying and begging pardon, and hugged Joe round the neck: who
dropped the poker to hug me, and to say, "Ever the best of friends; an't us,
Pip? Don't cry, old chap!"