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Chapter 10

The felicitous idea occurred to me a morning or two later when I
woke, that the best step I could take towards making myself
uncommon was to get out of Biddy everything she knew. In pursuance
of this luminous conception I mentioned to Biddy when I went to Mr.
Wopsle's great-aunt's at night, that I had a particular reason for
wishing to get on in life, and that I should feel very 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 indeed
began to carry out her promise within five minutes.

The Educational scheme or Course established by Mr. Wopsle's
great-aunt may be resolved into the following synopsis. The pupils
ate apples and put straws down one another's backs, until Mr
Wopsle's great-aunt collected her energies, and made an
indiscriminate totter at them with a birch-rod. After receiving the
charge with every mark of derision, the pupils formed in line and
buzzingly passed a ragged book from hand to hand. The book had an
alphabet in it, some figures and tables, and a little spelling -
that is to say, it had had once. As soon as this volume began to
circulate, Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt fell into a state of coma;
arising either from sleep or a rheumatic paroxysm. The pupils then
entered among themselves upon a competitive examination on the
subject of Boots, with the view of ascertaining who could tread the
hardest upon whose toes. This mental exercise lasted until Biddy
made a rush at them and distributed three defaced Bibles (shaped as
if they had been unskilfully cut off the chump-end of something),
more illegibly printed at the best than any curiosities of
literature I have since met with, speckled all over with ironmould,
and having various specimens of the insect world smashed between
their leaves. This part of the Course was usually lightened by
several single combats 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 we could - 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, or reverence for,
what we were reading about. When this horrible din had lasted a
certain time, it mechanically awoke Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, who
staggered at a boy fortuitously, and pulled his ears. This was
understood to terminate the Course for the evening, and we emerged
into the air with shrieks of intellectual victory. It is fair to
remark that there was no prohibition against 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 study
in the winter season, on account of the little general shop in
which the classes were holden - and which was also Mr. Wopsle's
great-aunt's sitting-room and bed-chamber - 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
these circumstances: nevertheless, I resolved to try it, and that
very evening Biddy entered on our special agreement, by imparting
some information from her little catalogue of Prices, under the
head of moist sugar, and lending me, to copy at home, a large old
English D which she had imitated from the heading of some
newspaper, and which I supposed, until she told me what it was, to
be a design for a buckle.

Of course there was a public-house in the village, and of course
Joe liked sometimes to smoke his pipe there. I had received strict
orders from my sister to call for him at the Three Jolly Bargemen,
that evening, on my way from school, 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 scores in it on the wall at the side of the door, which
seemed to me to be never paid off. They had been there ever since I
could remember, and had grown more than I had. But there was a
quantity of chalk about our country, and perhaps the people
neglected no opportunity of turning it to account.

It being Saturday night, I found the landlord looking rather grimly
at these records, but as my business was with Joe and not with him,
I merely wished him good evening, and passed into the common room
at the end of the passage, where there was a bright large kitchen
fire, and where Joe was smoking his pipe in company 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
and looked at me.

He was a secret-looking man whom I had never seen before. His head
was all on one side, and one of his eyes was half shut up, as if he
were taking aim at something with an invisible gun. He had a pipe
in his mouth, and he took it out, and, after slowly blowing all his
smoke away and looking hard at me all the time, nodded. So, I
nodded, and then he nodded again, and made room on the settle
beside him that I might sit down there.

But, as I was used to sit beside Joe whenever I entered that place
of resort, I said "No, thank you, sir," and fell into the space Joe
made for me on the opposite settle. The strange man, after glancing
at Joe, and seeing that his attention 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 a blacksmith."

"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 you drink, Mr. Gargery? At my expense? To top up with?"

"Well," said Joe, "to tell you the truth, I ain't much in the habit
of drinking at anybody's expense but my own."

"Habit? No," returned the stranger, "but once and away, and on a
Saturday night 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 a sentiment."

"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 a gentleman 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
lonely church, 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 up on the settle that he had to himself. He wore a
flapping broad-brimmed traveller's hat, and under it a handkerchief
tied over his head in the manner of a cap: so that he showed no
hair. As he looked at the fire, I thought I saw a cunning
expression, followed by a half-laugh, come into his face.

"I am not acquainted with this country, gentlemen, but it seems a
solitary country towards the river."

"Most marshes is solitary," said Joe.

"No doubt, no doubt. Do you find any gipsies, now, or tramps, or
vagrants of any sort, out there?"

"No," said Joe; "none but a runaway convict now and then. And we
don't find them, easy. Eh, Mr. Wopsle?"

Mr. Wopsle, with a majestic remembrance of old discomfiture,
assented; but not warmly.

"Seems you have been out after such?" asked the stranger.

"Once," returned Joe. "Not that we wanted to take them, you
understand; we went out as lookers on; me, and Mr. Wopsle, and Pip.
Didn't us, Pip?"

"Yes, Joe."

The stranger looked at me again - still cocking his eye, as if he
were expressly taking aim at me with his invisible gun - and said,
"He's a likely young parcel of bones that. What is it you call
him?"

"Pip," said Joe.

"Christened Pip?"

"No, not christened Pip."

"Surname Pip?"

"No," said Joe, "it's a kind of family name what he gave himself
when a infant, and is called by."

"Son of yours?"

"Well," said Joe, meditatively - not, of course, that it could be
in anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was the
way at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply about
everything that was discussed over pipes; "well - no. No, he
ain't."

"Nevvy?" said the strange man.

"Well," said Joe, with the same appearance of profound cogitation,
"he is not - no, not to deceive you, he is not - my nevvy."

"What the Blue Blazes is he?" asked the stranger. Which appeared to
me to be an 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 might not 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 the Third, and
seemed to think he had done quite enough to account for it when he
added, - "as the poet says."

And here I may remark that when Mr. Wopsle referred to me, he
considered it a necessary part of such reference to rumple my hair
and poke it into my eyes. I cannot conceive why everybody of his
standing who visited at our house should always have put me through
the same inflammatory process under similar circumstances. Yet I do
not call to mind that I was ever in my earlier youth the subject of
remark in our social family circle, but some large-handed person
took some such ophthalmic steps to patronize me.

All this while, the strange man looked at nobody but me, and looked
at me as if he were determined to have a shot at me at last, and
bring me down. But he said nothing after offering his Blue Blazes
observation, until the glasses of rum-and-water were brought; and
then he made his shot, and a most extraordinary shot it was.

It was not a verbal remark, but a proceeding in dump show, and was
pointedly addressed to me. He stirred his rum-and-water pointedly
at me, and he tasted his rum-and-water pointedly at me. And he
stirred it and he tasted it: not with 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 he wiped the file and put it in a breast-pocket. I knew it to be
Joe's file, and I knew that he knew my convict, the moment I saw
the instrument. I sat gazing at him, spell-bound. But he now
reclined on his settle, taking very little notice of me, and
talking principally about turnips.

There was a delicious sense of cleaning-up and making a quiet pause
before going on in life afresh, in our village on Saturday nights,
which stimulated Joe 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 a bright new shilling somewhere in my pocket, and if I
have, the boy shall have it."

He looked it out from a handful of small change, folded it in some
crumpled paper, and gave it to me. "Yours!" said he. "Mind! Your
own."

I thanked him, staring at him far beyond the bounds of good
manners, and holding 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 aiming eye - no, not a look, for he shut it
up, but wonders may be done with an eye by hiding it.

On the way home, if I had been in a humour for talking, the talk
must have been all on my side, for Mr. Wopsle parted from us at the
door of the Jolly Bargemen, and Joe went all the way home with his
mouth wide open, to rinse the rum out with as much air as possible.
But I was in a manner stupefied by this turning up of my old
misdeed and old acquaintance, and could think of nothing else.

My sister was not in a very bad temper when we presented ourselves
in the kitchen, and Joe was encouraged by that unusual circumstance
to tell her about the 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 been on 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 to restore them to their owner. While he
was gone, I sat down on my usual stool and looked vacantly at my
sister, feeling pretty sure that the man would not be there.

Presently, Joe came back, saying that the man was gone, but that
he, Joe, had left word at the Three Jolly Bargemen concerning the
notes. Then my sister sealed them up in a piece of paper, and put
them under some dried rose-leaves in an ornamental tea-pot on the
top of a press in the state parlour. There they remained, 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
strange man taking aim at me with his invisible gun, and of the
guiltily coarse and common thing it was, to be on secret terms of
conspiracy with convicts - a feature in my low career that I had
previously forgotten. I was haunted by the file too. A dread
possessed me that when I least expected it, the file would
reappear. I coaxed myself to sleep by thinking of Miss Havisham's,
next Wednesday; and in my sleep I saw the file coming at me out of
a door, without seeing who held it, and I screamed myself awake.



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
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