Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 11)

And then I told Joe that I felt very miserable, and that I hadn'tbeen able to explain myself to Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook who were sorude to me, and that there had been a beautiful young lady at MissHavisham's who was dreadfully proud, and that she had said I wascommon, and that I knew I was common, and that I wished I was notcommon, and that the lies had come of it somehow, though I didn'tknow how.

This was a case of metaphysics, at least as difficult for Joe todeal with, as for me. But Joe took the case altogether out of theregion of metaphysics, and by that means vanquished it.

"There's one thing you may be sure of, Pip," said Joe, after somerumination, "namely, that lies is lies. Howsever they come, theydidn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, andwork round to the same. Don't you tell no more of 'em, Pip. Thatain't the way to get out of being common, old chap. And as to beingcommon, I don't make it out at all clear. You are oncommon in somethings. You're oncommon small. Likewise you're a oncommon scholar."

"No, I am ignorant and backward, Joe."

"Why, see what a letter you wrote last night! Wrote in print even!I've seen letters - Ah! and from gentlefolks! - that I'll swearweren't wrote in print," said Joe.

"I have learnt next to nothing, Joe. You think much of me. It'sonly that."

"Well, Pip," said Joe, "be it so or be it son't, you must be acommon scholar afore you can be a oncommon one, I should hope! Theking upon his throne, with his crown upon his 'ed, can't sit andwrite his acts of Parliament in print, without having begun, whenhe were a unpromoted Prince, with the alphabet - Ah!" added Joe,with a shake of the head that was full of meaning, "and begun at Atoo, and worked his way to Z. And I know what that is to do, thoughI can't say I've exactly done it."

There was some hope in this piece of wisdom, and it ratherencouraged me.

"Whether common ones as to callings and earnings," pursued Joe,reflectively, "mightn't be the better of continuing for a keepcompany with common ones, instead of going out to play withoncommon ones - which reminds me to hope that there were a flag,perhaps?"

"No, Joe."

"(I'm sorry there weren't a flag, Pip). Whether that might be, ormightn't be, is a thing as can't be looked into now, withoutputting your sister on the Rampage; and that's a thing not to bethought of, as being done intentional. Lookee here, Pip, at what issaid to you by a true friend. Which this to you the true friendsay. If you can't get to be oncommon through going straight, you'llnever get to do it through going crooked. So don't tell no more on'em, Pip, and live well and die happy."

"You are not angry with me, Joe?"

"No, old chap. But bearing in mind that them were which Imeantersay of a stunning and outdacious sort - alluding to themwhich bordered on weal-cutlets and dog-fighting - a sincerewellwisher would adwise, Pip, their being dropped into yourmeditations, when you go up-stairs to bed. That's all, old chap,and don't never do it no more."

When I got up to my little room and said my prayers, I did notforget Joe's recommendation, and yet my young mind was in thatdisturbed and unthankful state, that I thought long after I laid medown, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: howthick his boots, and how coarse his hands. I thought how Joe and mysister were then sitting in the kitchen, and how I had come up tobed from the kitchen, and how Miss Havisham and Estella never satin a kitchen, but were far above the level of such common doings. Ifell asleep recalling what I "used to do" when I was at MissHavisham's; as though I had been there weeks or months, instead ofhours; and as though it were quite an old subject of remembrance,instead of one that had arisen only that day.

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me.But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struckout of it, and think how different its course would have been.Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chainof iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have boundyou, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Chapter 10

The felicitous idea occurred to me a morning or two later when Iwoke, that the best step I could take towards making myselfuncommon was to get out of Biddy everything she knew. In pursuanceof 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 forwishing to get on in life, and that I should feel very much obligedto her if she would impart all her learning to me. Biddy, who wasthe most obliging of girls, immediately said she would, and indeedbegan to carry out her promise within five minutes.

The Educational scheme or Course established by Mr. Wopsle'sgreat-aunt may be resolved into the following synopsis. The pupilsate apples and put straws down one another's backs, until MrWopsle's great-aunt collected her energies, and made anindiscriminate totter at them with a birch-rod. After receiving thecharge with every mark of derision, the pupils formed in line andbuzzingly passed a ragged book from hand to hand. The book had analphabet in it, some figures and tables, and a little spelling -that is to say, it had had once. As soon as this volume began tocirculate, Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt fell into a state of coma;arising either from sleep or a rheumatic paroxysm. The pupils thenentered among themselves upon a competitive examination on thesubject of Boots, with the view of ascertaining who could tread thehardest upon whose toes. This mental exercise lasted until Biddymade a rush at them and distributed three defaced Bibles (shaped asif they had been unskilfully cut off the chump-end of something),more illegibly printed at the best than any curiosities ofliterature I have since met with, speckled all over with ironmould,and having various specimens of the insect world smashed betweentheir leaves. This part of the Course was usually lightened byseveral single combats between Biddy and refractory students. Whenthe fights were over, Biddy gave out the number of a page, and thenwe all read aloud what we could - or what we couldn't - in afrightful chorus; Biddy leading with a high shrill monotonousvoice, and none of us having the least notion of, or reverence for,what we were reading about. When this horrible din had lasted acertain time, it mechanically awoke Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, whostaggered at a boy fortuitously, and pulled his ears. This wasunderstood to terminate the Course for the evening, and we emergedinto the air with shrieks of intellectual victory. It is fair toremark that there was no prohibition against any pupil'sentertaining himself with a slate or even with the ink (when therewas any), but that it was not easy to pursue that branch of studyin the winter season, on account of the little general shop inwhich the classes were holden - and which was also Mr. Wopsle'sgreat-aunt's sitting-room and bed-chamber - being but faintlyilluminated through the agency of one low-spirited dip-candle andno snuffers.

It appeared to me that it would take time, to become uncommon underthese circumstances: nevertheless, I resolved to try it, and thatvery evening Biddy entered on our special agreement, by impartingsome information from her little catalogue of Prices, under thehead of moist sugar, and lending me, to copy at home, a large oldEnglish D which she had imitated from the heading of somenewspaper, and which I supposed, until she told me what it was, tobe a design for a buckle.

Of course there was a public-house in the village, and of courseJoe liked sometimes to smoke his pipe there. I had received strictorders from my sister to call for him at the Three Jolly Bargemen,that evening, on my way from school, and bring him home at myperil. To the Three Jolly Bargemen, therefore, I directed my steps.

There was a bar at the Jolly Bargemen, with some alarmingly longchalk scores in it on the wall at the side of the door, whichseemed to me to be never paid off. They had been there ever since Icould remember, and had grown more than I had. But there was aquantity of chalk about our country, and perhaps the peopleneglected no opportunity of turning it to account.

It being Saturday night, I found the landlord looking rather grimlyat these records, but as my business was with Joe and not with him,I merely wished him good evening, and passed into the common roomat the end of the passage, where there was a bright large kitchenfire, and where Joe was smoking his pipe in company with Mr. Wopsleand a stranger. Joe greeted me as usual with "Halloa, Pip, oldchap!" and the moment he said that, the stranger turned his headand looked at me.

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

But, as I was used to sit beside Joe whenever I entered that placeof resort, I said "No, thank you, sir," and fell into the space Joemade for me on the opposite settle. The strange man, after glancingat Joe, and seeing that his attention was otherwise engaged, noddedto me again when I had taken my seat, and then rubbed his leg - ina very odd way, as it struck me.

"You was saying," said the strange man, turning to Joe, "that youwas 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 habitof drinking at anybody's expense but my own."

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

"Rum," said Mr. Wopsle.

"Three Rums!" cried the stranger, calling to the landlord. "Glassesround!"

"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. "Thelonely 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, puthis legs up on the settle that he had to himself. He wore aflapping broad-brimmed traveller's hat, and under it a handkerchieftied over his head in the manner of a cap: so that he showed nohair. As he looked at the fire, I thought I saw a cunningexpression, followed by a half-laugh, come into his face.

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

"Most marshes is solitary," said Joe.

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

"No," said Joe; "none but a runaway convict now and then. And wedon'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, youunderstand; 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 hewere expressly taking aim at me with his invisible gun - and said,"He's a likely young parcel of bones that. What is it you callhim?"

"Pip," said Joe.

"Christened Pip?"

"No, not christened Pip."

"Surname Pip?"

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

"Son of yours?"

"Well," said Joe, meditatively - not, of course, that it could bein anywise necessary to consider about it, but because it was theway at the Jolly Bargemen to seem to consider deeply abouteverything that was discussed over pipes; "well - no. No, heain'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 tome to be an inquiry of unnecessary strength.

Mr. Wopsle struck in upon that; as one who knew all aboutrelationships, having professional occasion to bear in mind whatfemale relations a man might not marry; and expounded the tiesbetween me and Joe. Having his hand in, Mr. Wopsle finished off witha most terrifically snarling passage from Richard the Third, andseemed to think he had done quite enough to account for it when headded, - "as the poet says."

And here I may remark that when Mr. Wopsle referred to me, heconsidered it a necessary part of such reference to rumple my hairand poke it into my eyes. I cannot conceive why everybody of hisstanding who visited at our house should always have put me throughthe same inflammatory process under similar circumstances. Yet I donot call to mind that I was ever in my earlier youth the subject ofremark in our social family circle, but some large-handed persontook some such ophthalmic steps to patronize me.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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