At the time when I stood in the churchyard reading the family tombstones, _ad just enough learning to be able to spell them out. My construction even o_heir simple meaning was not very correct, for I read “wife of the Above” as _omplimentary reference to my father’s exaltation to a better world; and i_ny one of my deceased relations had been referred to as “Below,” I have n_oubt I should have formed the worst opinions of that member of the family.
Neither were my notions of the theological positions to which my Catechis_ound me, at all accurate; for, I have a lively remembrance that I supposed m_eclaration that I was to “walk in the same all the days of my life,” laid m_nder an obligation always to go through the village from our house in on_articular direction, and never to vary it by turning down by th_heelwright’s or up by the mill.
When I was old enough, I was to be apprenticed to Joe, and until I coul_ssume that dignity I was not to be what Mrs. Joe called “Pompeyed,” or (as _ender it) pampered. Therefore, I was not only odd-boy about the forge, but i_ny neighbor happened to want an extra boy to frighten birds, or pick u_tones, or do any such job, I was favored 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 mad_nown that all my earnings were dropped. I have an impression that they wer_o be contributed eventually towards the liquidation of the National Debt, bu_ 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, wh_sed to go to sleep from six to seven every evening, in the society of yout_ho paid two pence per week each, for the improving opportunity of seeing he_o 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 an_errific manner, and occasionally bumping on the ceiling. There was a fictio_hat Mr. Wopsle “examined” the scholars once a quarter. What he did on thos_ccasions was to turn up his cuffs, stick up his hair, and give us Mar_ntony’s oration over the body of Caesar. This was always followed b_ollins’s Ode on the Passions, wherein I particularly venerated Mr. Wopsle a_evenge 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 wa_n later life, when I fell into the society of the Passions, and compared the_ith Collins and Wopsle, rather to the disadvantage of both gentlemen.
Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt, besides keeping this Educational Institution, kept i_he same room—a little general shop. She had no idea what stock she had, o_hat the price of anything in it was; but there was a little greas_emorandum-book kept in a drawer, which served as a Catalogue of Prices, an_y this oracle Biddy arranged all the shop transaction. Biddy was Mr. Wopsle’_reat-aunt’s granddaughter; I confess myself quiet unequal to the working ou_f the problem, what relation she was to Mr. Wopsle. She was an orphan lik_yself; like me, too, had been brought up by hand. She was most noticeable, _hought, in respect of her extremities; for, her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending an_ulling up at heel. This description must be received with a week-da_imitation. On Sundays, she went to church elaborated.
Much of my unassisted self, and more by the help of Biddy than of Mr. Wopsle’_reat-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 fel_mong those thieves, the nine figures, who seemed every evening to d_omething new to disguise themselves and baffle recognition. But, at last _egan, in a purblind groping way, to read, write, and cipher, on the ver_mallest scale.
One night I was sitting in the chimney corner with my slate, expending grea_fforts on the production of a letter to Joe. I think it must have been a ful_ear after our hunt upon the marshes, for it was a long time after, and it wa_inter and a hard frost. With an alphabet on the hearth at my feet fo_eference, 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 J_N THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME IN_N 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 writte_ommunication (slate and all) with my own hand, and Joe received it as _iracle of erudition.
“I say, Pip, old chap!” cried Joe, opening his blue eyes wide, “what a schola_ou are! An’t you?”
“I should like to be,” said I, glancing at the slate as he held it; with _isgiving 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 i_t had been all right. Wishing to embrace the present occasion of finding ou_hether in teaching Joe, I should have to begin quite at the beginning, _aid, “Ah! But read the rest, Jo.”
“The rest, eh, Pip?” said Joe, looking at it with a slow, searching eye, “One, two, three. Why, here’s three Js, and three Os, and three J-O, Joes in it, Pip!”
I leaned over Joe, and, with the aid of my forefinger read him the whol_etter.
“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 uncommon fond of reading, too.”
“Are you, Joe?”
“On-common. Give me,” said Joe, “a good book, or a good newspaper, and sit m_own afore a good fire, and I ask no better. Lord!” he continued, afte_ubbing 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, 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 usua_ccupation when he was thoughtful, of slowly raking the fire between the lowe_ars; “I’ll tell you. My father, Pip, he were given to drink, and when he wer_vertook with drink, he hammered away at my mother, most onmerciful. It wer_’most the only hammering he did, indeed, ‘xcepting at myself. And he hammere_t me with a wigor only to be equalled by the wigor with which he didn’_ammer at his anwil.—You’re a listening and understanding, Pip?”
“‘Consequence, my mother and me we ran away from my father several times; an_hen 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 withou_s. So, he’d come with a most tremenjous crowd and make such a row at th_oors of the houses where we was, that they used to be obligated to have n_ore to do with us and to give us up to him. And then he took us home an_ammered us. Which, you see, Pip,” said Joe, pausing in his meditative rakin_f 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 o_he top bar, “rendering unto all their doo, and maintaining equal justic_etwixt 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 po_on’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 wen_o work to work at my present calling, which were his too, if he would hav_ollowed it, and I worked tolerable hard, I assure you, Pip. In time I wer_ble to keep him, and I kep him till he went off in a purple leptic fit. An_t were my intentions to have had put upon his tombstone that, Whatsume’er th_ailings on his part, Remember reader he were that good in his heart.”
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 lik_triking out a horseshoe complete, in a single blow. I never was so muc_urprised 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 intention_o 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 mone_hat could be spared were wanted for my mother. She were in poor elth, an_uite broke. She weren’t long of following, poor soul, and her share of peac_ome round at last.”
Joe’s blue eyes turned a little watery; he rubbed first one of them, and the_he other, in a most uncongenial and uncomfortable manner, with the round kno_n the top of the poker.
“It were but lonesome then,” said Joe, “living here alone, and I go_cquainted with your sister. Now, Pip,”—Joe looked firmly at me as if he kne_ 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 subjec_ay be, Pip, your sister is,” Joe tapped the top bar with the poker afte_very 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 littl_edness or a little matter of Bone, here or there, what does it signify t_e?”
I sagaciously observed, if it didn’t signify to him, to whom did it signify?
“Certainly!” assented Joe. “That’s it. You’re right, old chap! When I go_cquainted with your sister, it were the talk how she was bringing you up b_and. Very kind of her too, all the folks said, and I said, along with all th_olks. As to you,” Joe pursued with a countenance expressive of seein_omething very nasty indeed, “if you could have been aware how small an_labby and mean you was, dear me, you’d have formed the most contemptibl_pinion of yourself!”
Not exactly relishing this, I said, “Never mind me, Joe.”
“But I did mind you, Pip,” he returned with tender simplicity. “When I offere_o your sister to keep company, and to be asked in church at such times as sh_as willing and ready to come to the forge, I said to her, ‘And bring the poo_ittle 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: wh_ropped the poker to hug me, and to say, “Ever the best of friends; an’t us, Pip? Don’t cry, old chap!”
When this little interruption was over, Joe resumed:—
“Well, you see, Pip, and here we are! That’s about where it lights; here w_re! Now, when you take me in hand in my learning, Pip (and I tell yo_eforehand I am awful dull, most awful dull), Mrs. Joe mustn’t see too much o_hat we’re up to. It must be done, as I may say, on the sly. And why on th_ly? I’ll tell you why, Pip.”
He had taken up the poker again; without which, I doubt if he could hav_roceeded in his demonstration.
“Your sister is given to government.”
“Given to government, Joe?” I was startled, for I had some shadowy idea (and _m afraid I must add, hope) that Joe had divorced her in a favor of the Lord_f the Admiralty, or Treasury.
“Given to government,” said Joe. “Which I meantersay the government of you an_yself.”
“And she an’t over partial to having scholars on the premises,” Joe continued, “and in partickler would not be over partial to my being a scholar, for fea_s I might rise. Like a sort or rebel, don’t you see?”
I was going to retort with an inquiry, and had got as far as “Why—” when Jo_topped me.
“Stay a bit. I know what you’re a going to say, Pip; stay a bit! I don’t den_hat your sister comes the Mo-gul over us, now and again. I don’t deny tha_he do throw us back-falls, and that she do drop down upon us heavy. At suc_imes as when your sister is on the Ram-page, Pip,” Joe sank his voice to _hisper and glanced at the door, “candor compels fur to admit that she is _uster.”
Joe pronounced this word, as if it began with at least twelve capital Bs.
“Why don’t I rise? That were your observation when I broke it off, Pip?”
“Well,” said Joe, passing the poker into his left hand, that he might feel hi_hisker; and I had no hope of him whenever he took to that placid occupation; “your sister’s a master-mind. A master-mind.”
“What’s that?” I asked, in some hope of bringing him to a stand. But Joe wa_eadier with his definition than I had expected, and completely stopped me b_rguing circularly, and answering with a fixed look, “Her.”
“And I ain’t a master-mind,” Joe resumed, when he had unfixed his look, an_ot back to his whisker. “And last of all, Pip,—and this I want to say ver_erious to you, old chap,—I see so much in my poor mother, of a woman drudgin_nd slaving and breaking her honest hart and never getting no peace in he_ortal days, that I’m dead afeerd of going wrong in the way of not doin_hat’s right by a woman, and I’d fur rather of the two go wrong the t’othe_ay, and be a little ill-conwenienced myself. I wish it was only me that go_ut out, Pip; I wish there warn’t no Tickler for you, old chap; I wish I coul_ake it all on myself; but this is the up-and-down-and-straight on it, Pip, and I hope you’ll overlook shortcomings.”
Young as I was, I believe that I dated a new admiration of Joe from tha_ight. We were equals afterwards, as we had been before; but, afterwards a_uiet times when I sat looking at Joe and thinking about him, I had a ne_ensation of feeling conscious that I was looking up to Joe in my heart.
“However,” said Joe, rising to replenish the fire; “here’s the Dutch-clock _orking himself up to being equal to strike Eight of ’em, and she’s not com_ome yet! I hope Uncle Pumblechook’s mare mayn’t have set a forefoot on _iece o’ ice, and gone down.”
Mrs. Joe made occasional trips with Uncle Pumblechook on market-days, t_ssist him in buying such household stuffs and goods as required a woman’_udgment; Uncle Pumblechook being a bachelor and reposing no confidences i_is domestic servant. This was market-day, and Mrs. Joe was out on one o_hese expeditions.
Joe made the fire and swept the hearth, and then we went to the door to liste_or the chaise-cart. It was a dry cold night, and the wind blew keenly, an_he frost was white and hard. A man would die to-night of lying out on th_arshes, I thought. And then I looked at the stars, and considered how awfu_f would be for a man to turn his face up to them as he froze to death, an_ee no help or pity in all the glittering multitude.
“Here comes the mare,” said Joe, “ringing like a peal of bells!”
The sound of her iron shoes upon the hard road was quite musical, as she cam_long at a much brisker trot than usual. We got a chair out, ready for Mrs.
Joe’s alighting, and stirred up the fire that they might see a bright window, and took a final survey of the kitchen that nothing might be out of its place.
When we had completed these preparations, they drove up, wrapped to the eyes.
Mrs. Joe was soon landed, and Uncle Pumblechook was soon down too, coverin_he mare with a cloth, and we were soon all in the kitchen, carrying so muc_old air in with us that it seemed to drive all the heat out of the fire.
“Now,” said Mrs. Joe, unwrapping herself with haste and excitement, an_hrowing her bonnet back on her shoulders where it hung by the strings, “i_his boy ain’t grateful this night, he never will be!”
I looked as grateful as any boy possibly could, who was wholly uninformed wh_e ought to assume that expression.
“It’s only to be hoped,” said my sister, “that he won’t be Pompeyed. But _ave my fears.”
“She ain’t in that line, Mum,” said Mr. Pumblechook. “She knows better.”
She? I looked at Joe, making the motion with my lips and eyebrows, “She?” Jo_ooked at me, making the motion with his lips and eyebrows, “She?” My siste_atching him in the act, he drew the back of his hand across his nose with hi_sual conciliatory air on such occasions, and looked at her.
“Well?” said my sister, in her snappish way. “What are you staring at? Is th_ouse afire?”
“—Which some individual,” Joe politely hinted, “mentioned—she.”
“And she is a she, I suppose?” said my sister. “Unless you call Miss Havisha_ he. And I doubt if even you’ll go so far as that.”
“Miss Havisham, up town?” said Joe.
“Is there any Miss Havisham down town?” returned my sister.
“She wants this boy to go and play there. And of course he’s going. And he ha_etter play there,” said my sister, shaking her head at me as an encouragemen_o be extremely light and sportive, “or I’ll work him.”
I had heard of Miss Havisham up town,—everybody for miles round had heard o_iss Havisham up town,—as an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a larg_nd dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion.
“Well to be sure!” said Joe, astounded. “I wonder how she come to know Pip!”
“Noodle!” cried my sister. “Who said she knew him?”
“—Which some individual,” Joe again politely hinted, “mentioned that sh_anted him to go and play there.”
“And couldn’t she ask Uncle Pumblechook if he knew of a boy to go and pla_here? Isn’t it just barely possible that Uncle Pumblechook may be a tenant o_ers, and that he may sometimes—we won’t say quarterly or half-yearly, fo_hat would be requiring too much of you—but sometimes—go there to pay hi_ent? And couldn’t she then ask Uncle Pumblechook if he knew of a boy to g_nd play there? And couldn’t Uncle Pumblechook, being always considerate an_houghtful for us—though you may not think it, Joseph,” in a tone of th_eepest reproach, as if he were the most callous of nephews, “then mentio_his boy, standing Prancing here” —which I solemnly declare I was no_oing—“that I have for ever been a willing slave to?”
“Good again!” cried Uncle Pumblechook. “Well put! Prettily pointed! Goo_ndeed! Now Joseph, you know the case.”
“No, Joseph,” said my sister, still in a reproachful manner, while Jo_pologetically drew the back of his hand across and across his nose, “you d_ot yet—though you may not think it—know the case. You may consider that yo_o, but you do not, Joseph. For you do not know that Uncle Pumblechook, bein_ensible that for anything we can tell, this boy’s fortune may be made by hi_oing to Miss Havisham’s, has offered to take him into town to-night in hi_wn chaise-cart, and to keep him to-night, and to take him with his own hand_o Miss Havisham’s to-morrow morning. And Lor-a-mussy me!” cried my sister, casting off her bonnet in sudden desperation, “here I stand talking to mer_ooncalfs, with Uncle Pumblechook waiting, and the mare catching cold at th_oor, and the boy grimed with crock and dirt from the hair of his head to th_ole of his foot!”
With that, she pounced upon me, like an eagle on a lamb, and my face wa_queezed into wooden bowls in sinks, and my head was put under taps of water- butts, and I was soaped, and kneaded, and towelled, and thumped, and harrowed, and rasped, until I really was quite beside myself. (I may here remark that _uppose myself to be better acquainted than any living authority, with th_idgy effect of a wedding-ring, passing unsympathetically over the huma_ountenance.)
When my ablutions were completed, I was put into clean linen of the stiffes_haracter, like a young penitent into sackcloth, and was trussed up in m_ightest and fearfullest suit. I was then delivered over to Mr. Pumblechook, who formally received me as if he were the Sheriff, and who let off upon m_he speech that I knew he had been dying to make all along: “Boy, be foreve_rateful to all friends, but especially unto them which brought you up b_and!”
“God bless you, Pip, old chap!”
I had never parted from him before, and what with my feelings and what wit_oapsuds, I could at first see no stars from the chaise-cart. But the_winkled out one by one, without throwing any light on the questions why o_arth I was going to play at Miss Havisham’s, and what on earth I was expecte_o play at.