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- Great Expectations - 4/210 -


"Where have you been, you young monkey?" said Mrs. Joe, stamping her

foot. "Tell me directly what you've been doing to wear me away with

fret and fright and worrit, or I'd have you out of that corner if

you was fifty Pips, and he was five hundred Gargerys."

"I have only been to the churchyard," said I, from my stool, crying

and rubbing myself.

"Churchyard!" repeated my sister. "If it warn't for me you'd have

been to the churchyard long ago, and stayed there. Who brought you

up by hand?"

"You did," said I.

"And why did I do it, I should like to know?" exclaimed my sister.

I whimpered, "I don't know."

"I don't!" said my sister. "I'd never do it again! I know that. I

may truly say I've never had this apron of mine off, since born you

were. It's bad enough to be a blacksmith's wife (and him a Gargery)

without being your mother."

My thoughts strayed from that question as I looked disconsolately

at the fire. For, the fugitive out on the marshes with the ironed

leg, the mysterious young man, the file, the food, and the dreadful

pledge I was under to commit a larceny on those sheltering

premises, rose before me in the avenging coals.

"Hah!" said Mrs. Joe, restoring Tickler to his station. "Churchyard,

indeed! You may well say churchyard, you two." One of us,

by-the-bye, had not said it at all. "You'll drive me to the

churchyard betwixt you, one of these days, and oh, a pr-r-recious

pair you'd be without me!"

As she applied herself to set the tea-things, Joe peeped down at me

over his leg, as if he were mentally casting me and himself up, and

calculating what kind of pair we practically should make, under the

grievous circumstances foreshadowed. After that, he sat feeling his

right-side flaxen curls and whisker, and following Mrs. Joe about

with his blue eyes, as his manner always was at squally times.

My sister had a trenchant way of cutting our bread-and-butter for

us, that never varied. First, with her left hand she jammed the

loaf hard and fast against her bib - where it sometimes got a pin

into it, and sometimes a needle, which we afterwards got into our

mouths. Then she took some butter (not too much) on a knife and

spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if she were

making a plaister - using both sides of the knife with a slapping

dexterity, and trimming and moulding the butter off round the

crust. Then, she gave the knife a final smart wipe on the edge of

the plaister, and then sawed a very thick round off the loaf: which

she finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two

halves, of which Joe got one, and I the other.

On the present occasion, though I was hungry, I dared not eat my

slice. I felt that I must have something in reserve for my dreadful

acquaintance, and his ally the still more dreadful young man. I

knew Mrs. Joe's housekeeping to be of the strictest kind, and that

my larcenous researches might find nothing available in the safe.

Therefore I resolved to put my hunk of bread-and-butter down the

leg of my trousers.

The effort of resolution necessary to the achievement of this

purpose, I found to be quite awful. It was as if I had to make up

my mind to leap from the top of a high house, or plunge into a

great depth of water. And it was made the more difficult by the

unconscious Joe. In our already-mentioned freemasonry as

fellow-sufferers, and in his good-natured companionship with me, it

was our evening habit to compare the way we bit through our slices,

by silently holding them up to each other's admiration now and then

- which stimulated us to new exertions. To-night, Joe several times

invited me, by the display of his fast-diminishing slice, to enter

upon our usual friendly competition; but he found me, each time,

with my yellow mug of tea on one knee, and my untouched

bread-and-butter on the other. At last, I desperately considered

that the thing I contemplated must be done, and that it had best be

done in the least improbable manner consistent with the

circumstances. I took advantage of a moment when Joe had just

looked at me, and got my bread-and-butter down my leg.

Joe was evidently made uncomfortable by what he supposed to be my

loss of appetite, and took a thoughtful bite out of his slice,

which he didn't seem to enjoy. He turned it about in his mouth much

longer than usual, pondering over it a good deal, and after all

gulped it down like a pill. He was about to take another bite, and

had just got his head on one side for a good purchase on it, when

his eye fell on me, and he saw that my bread-and-butter was gone.

The wonder and consternation with which Joe stopped on the

threshold of his bite and stared at me, were too evident to escape

my sister's observation.

"What's the matter now?" said she, smartly, as she put down her

cup.

"I say, you know!" muttered Joe, shaking his head at me in very

serious remonstrance. "Pip, old chap! You'll do yourself a

mischief. It'll stick somewhere. You can't have chawed it, Pip."


Great Expectations - 4/210

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