The felicitous idea occurred to me a morning or two later when I woke, tha_he best step I could take towards making myself uncommon was to get out o_iddy everything she knew. In pursuance of this luminous conception _entioned to Biddy when I went to Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt’s at night, that _ad a particular reason for wishing to get on in life, and that I should fee_ery much obliged to her if she would impart all her learning to me. Biddy, who was the most obliging of girls, immediately said she would, and indee_egan to carry out her promise within five minutes.
The Educational scheme or Course established by Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt may b_esolved into the following synopsis. The pupils ate apples and put straw_own one another’s backs, until Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt collected he_nergies, and made an indiscriminate totter at them with a birch-rod. Afte_eceiving the charge with every mark of derision, the pupils formed in lin_nd buzzingly passed a ragged book from hand to hand. The book had an alphabe_n it, some figures and tables, and a little spelling,— that is to say, it ha_ad once. As soon as this volume began to circulate, Mr. Wopsle’s great-aun_ell into a state of coma, arising either from sleep or a rheumatic paroxysm.
The pupils then entered among themselves upon a competitive examination on th_ubject of Boots, with the view of ascertaining who could tread the hardes_pon whose toes. This mental exercise lasted until Biddy made a rush at the_nd distributed three defaced Bibles (shaped as if they had been unskilfull_ut off the chump end of something), more illegibly printed at the best tha_ny curiosities of literature I have since met with, speckled all over wit_ronmould, and having various specimens of the insect world smashed betwee_heir leaves. This part of the Course was usually lightened by several singl_ombats between Biddy and refractory students. When the fights were over, Biddy gave out the number of a page, and then we all read aloud what w_ould,—or what we couldn’t—in a frightful chorus; Biddy leading with a high, shrill, monotonous voice, and none of us having the least notion of, o_everence for, what we were reading about. When this horrible din had lasted _ertain time, it mechanically awoke Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt, who staggered a_ boy fortuitously, and pulled his ears. This was understood to terminate th_ourse for the evening, and we emerged into the air with shrieks o_ntellectual victory. It is fair to remark that there was no prohibitio_gainst any pupil’s entertaining himself with a slate or even with the ink (when there was any), but that it was not easy to pursue that branch of stud_n the winter season, on account of the little general shop in which th_lasses were holden—and which was also Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt’s sitting-roo_nd bedchamber—being but faintly illuminated through the agency of one low- spirited dip-candle and no snuffers.
It appeared to me that it would take time to become uncommon, under thes_ircumstances: nevertheless, I resolved to try it, and that very evening Bidd_ntered on our special agreement, by imparting some information from he_ittle catalogue of Prices, under the head of moist sugar, and lending me, t_opy at home, a large old English D which she had imitated from the heading o_ome newspaper, and which I supposed, until she told me what it was, to be _esign for a buckle.
Of course there was a public-house in the village, and of course Joe like_ometimes to smoke his pipe there. I had received strict orders from my siste_o call for him at the Three Jolly Bargemen, that evening, on my way fro_chool, and bring him home at my peril. To the Three Jolly Bargemen, therefore, I directed my steps.
There was a bar at the Jolly Bargemen, with some alarmingly long chalk score_n it on the wall at the side of the door, which seemed to me to be never pai_ff. They had been there ever since I could remember, and had grown more tha_ had. But there was a quantity of chalk about our country, and perhaps th_eople neglected no opportunity of turning it to account.
It being Saturday night, I found the landlord looking rather grimly at thes_ecords; but as my business was with Joe and not with him, I merely wished hi_ood evening, and passed into the common room at the end of the passage, wher_here was a bright large kitchen fire, and where Joe was smoking his pipe i_ompany with Mr. Wopsle and a stranger. Joe greeted me as usual with “Halloa, Pip, old chap!” and the moment he said that, the stranger turned his head an_ooked at me.
He was a secret-looking man whom I had never seen before. His head was all o_ne side, and one of his eyes was half shut up, as if he were taking aim a_omething with an invisible gun. He had a pipe in his mouth, and he took i_ut, and, after slowly blowing all his smoke away and looking hard at me al_he time, nodded. So, I nodded, and then he nodded again, and made room on th_ettle beside him that I might sit down there.
But as I was used to sit beside Joe whenever I entered that place of resort, _aid “No, thank you, sir,” and fell into the space Joe made for me on th_pposite settle. The strange man, after glancing at Joe, and seeing that hi_ttention was otherwise engaged, nodded to me again when I had taken my seat, and then rubbed his leg—in a very odd way, as it struck me.
“You was saying,” said the strange man, turning to Joe, “that you was _lacksmith.”
“Yes. I said it, you know,” said Joe.
“What’ll you drink, Mr.—? You didn’t mention your name, by the bye.”
Joe mentioned it now, and the strange man called him by it. “What’ll yo_rink, Mr. Gargery? At my expense? To top up with?”
“Well,” said Joe, “to tell you the truth, I ain’t much in the habit o_rinking at anybody’s expense but my own.”
“Habit? No,” returned the stranger, “but once and away, and on a Saturda_ight too. Come! Put a name to it, Mr. Gargery.”
“I wouldn’t wish to be stiff company,” said Joe. “Rum.”
“Rum,” repeated the stranger. “And will the other gentleman originate _entiment.”
“Rum,” said Mr. Wopsle.
“Three Rums!” cried the stranger, calling to the landlord. “Glasses round!”
“This other gentleman,” observed Joe, by way of introducing Mr. Wopsle, “is _entleman that you would like to hear give it out. Our clerk at church.”
“Aha!” said the stranger, quickly, and cocking his eye at me. “The lonel_hurch, right out on the marshes, with graves round it!”
“That’s it,” said Joe.
The stranger, with a comfortable kind of grunt over his pipe, put his legs u_n the settle that he had to himself. He wore a flapping broad-brimme_raveller’s hat, and under it a handkerchief tied over his head in the manne_f a cap: so that he showed no hair. As he looked at the fire, I thought I sa_ cunning expression, followed by a half-laugh, come into his face.
“I am not acquainted with this country, gentlemen, but it seems a solitar_ountry towards the river.”
“Most marshes is solitary,” said Joe.
“No doubt, no doubt. Do you find any gypsies, now, or tramps, or vagrants o_ny sort, out there?”
“No,” said Joe; “none but a runaway convict now and then. And we don’t fin_hem, easy. Eh, Mr. Wopsle?”
Mr. Wopsle, with a majestic remembrance of old discomfiture, assented; but no_armly.
“Seems you have been out after such?” asked the stranger.
“Once,” returned Joe. “Not that we wanted to take them, you understand; w_ent out as lookers on; me, and Mr. Wopsle, and Pip. Didn’t us, Pip?”
The stranger looked at me again,—still cocking his eye, as if he wer_xpressly taking aim at me with his invisible gun,—and said, “He’s a likel_oung parcel of bones that. What is it you call him?”
“Pip,” said Joe.
“No, not christened Pip.”
“No,” said Joe, “it’s a kind of family name what he gave himself when _nfant, and is called by.”
“Son of yours?”
“Well,” said Joe, meditatively, not, of course, that it could be in anywis_ecessary to consider about it, but because it was the way at the Joll_argemen to seem to consider deeply about everything that was discussed ove_ipes,—“well—no. No, he ain’t.”
“Nevvy?” said the strange man.
“Well,” said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation, “he i_ot—no, not to deceive you, he is not—my nevvy.”
“What the Blue Blazes is he?” asked the stranger. Which appeared to me to b_n inquiry of unnecessary strength.
Mr. Wopsle struck in upon that; as one who knew all about relationships, having professional occasion to bear in mind what female relations a man migh_ot marry; and expounded the ties between me and Joe. Having his hand in, Mr.
Wopsle finished off with a most terrifically snarling passage from Richard th_hird, and seemed to think he had done quite enough to account for it when h_dded, “—as the poet says.”
And here I may remark that when Mr. Wopsle referred to me, he considered it _ecessary part of such reference to rumple my hair and poke it into my eyes. _annot conceive why everybody of his standing who visited at our house shoul_lways have put me through the same inflammatory process under simila_ircumstances. Yet I do not call to mind that I was ever in my earlier yout_he subject of remark in our social family circle, but some large-hande_erson took some such ophthalmic steps to patronize me.
All this while, the strange man looked at nobody but me, and looked at me a_f he were determined to have a shot at me at last, and bring me down. But h_aid nothing after offering his Blue Blazes observation, until the glasses o_um and water were brought; and then he made his shot, and a mos_xtraordinary shot it was.
It was not a verbal remark, but a proceeding in dumb-show, and was pointedl_ddressed to me. He stirred his rum and water pointedly at me, and he taste_is rum and water pointedly at me. And he stirred it and he tasted it; no_ith a spoon that was brought to him, but with a file.
He did this so that nobody but I saw the file; and when he had done it h_iped the file and put it in a breast-pocket. I knew it to be Joe’s file, an_ knew that he knew my convict, the moment I saw the instrument. I sat gazin_t him, spell-bound. But he now reclined on his settle, taking very littl_otice of me, and talking principally about turnips.
There was a delicious sense of cleaning-up and making a quiet pause befor_oing on in life afresh, in our village on Saturday nights, which stimulate_oe to dare to stay out half an hour longer on Saturdays than at other times.
The half-hour and the rum and water running out together, Joe got up to go, and took me by the hand.
“Stop half a moment, Mr. Gargery,” said the strange man. “I think I’ve got _right new shilling somewhere in my pocket, and if I have, the boy shall hav_t.”
He looked it out from a handful of small change, folded it in some crumple_aper, and gave it to me. “Yours!” said he. “Mind! Your own.”
I thanked him, staring at him far beyond the bounds of good manners, an_olding tight to Joe. He gave Joe good-night, and he gave Mr. Wopsle good- night (who went out with us), and he gave me only a look with his aimin_ye,—no, not a look, for he shut it up, but wonders may be done with an eye b_iding it.
On the way home, if I had been in a humor for talking, the talk must have bee_ll on my side, for Mr. Wopsle parted from us at the door of the Joll_argemen, and Joe went all the way home with his mouth wide open, to rinse th_um out with as much air as possible. But I was in a manner stupefied by thi_urning up of my old misdeed and old acquaintance, and could think of nothin_lse.
My sister was not in a very bad temper when we presented ourselves in th_itchen, and Joe was encouraged by that unusual circumstance to tell her abou_he bright shilling. “A bad un, I’ll be bound,” said Mrs. Joe triumphantly, “or he wouldn’t have given it to the boy! Let’s look at it.”
I took it out of the paper, and it proved to be a good one. “But what’s this?” said Mrs. Joe, throwing down the shilling and catching up the paper. “Two One- Pound notes?”
Nothing less than two fat sweltering one-pound notes that seemed to have bee_n terms of the warmest intimacy with all the cattle- markets in the county.
Joe caught up his hat again, and ran with them to the Jolly Bargemen t_estore them to their owner. While he was gone, I sat down on my usual stoo_nd looked vacantly at my sister, feeling pretty sure that the man would no_e there.
Presently, Joe came back, saying that the man was gone, but that he, Joe, ha_eft word at the Three Jolly Bargemen concerning the notes. Then my siste_ealed them up in a piece of paper, and put them under some dried rose-leave_n an ornamental teapot on the top of a press in the state parlor. There the_emained, a nightmare to me, many and many a night and day.
I had sadly broken sleep when I got to bed, through thinking of the strang_an taking aim at me with his invisible gun, and of the guiltily coarse an_ommon thing it was, to be on secret terms of conspiracy with convicts,—_eature in my low career that I had previously forgotten. I was haunted by th_ile too. A dread possessed me that when I least expected it, the file woul_eappear. I coaxed myself to sleep by thinking of Miss Havisham’s, nex_ednesday; and in my sleep I saw the file coming at me out of a door, withou_eeing who held it, and I screamed myself awake.