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- Great Expectations - 5/210 -


"What's the matter now?" repeated my sister, more sharply than

before.

"If you can cough any trifle on it up, Pip, I'd recommend you to do

it," said Joe, all aghast. "Manners is manners, but still your

elth's your elth."

By this time, my sister was quite desperate, so she pounced on Joe,

and, taking him by the two whiskers, knocked his head for a little

while against the wall behind him: while I sat in the corner,

looking guiltily on.

"Now, perhaps you'll mention what's the matter," said my sister,

out of breath, "you staring great stuck pig."

Joe looked at her in a helpless way; then took a helpless bite, and

looked at me again.

"You know, Pip," said Joe, solemnly, with his last bite in his

cheek and speaking in a confidential voice, as if we two were quite

alone, "you and me is always friends, and I'd be the last to tell

upon you, any time. But such a--" he moved his chair and looked

about the floor between us, and then again at me - "such a most

oncommon Bolt as that!"

"Been bolting his food, has he?" cried my sister.

"You know, old chap," said Joe, looking at me, and not at Mrs. Joe,

with his bite still in his cheek, "I Bolted, myself, when I was

your age - frequent - and as a boy I've been among a many Bolters;

but I never see your Bolting equal yet, Pip, and it's a mercy you

ain't Bolted dead."

My sister made a dive at me, and fished me up by the hair: saying

nothing more than the awful words, "You come along and be dosed."

Some medical beast had revived Tar-water in those days as a fine

medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard;

having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At

the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as

a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling

like a new fence. On this particular evening the urgency of my case

demanded a pint of this mixture, which was poured down my throat,

for my greater comfort, while Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm,

as a boot would be held in a boot-jack. Joe got off with half a

pint; but was made to swallow that (much to his disturbance, as he

sat slowly munching and meditating before the fire), "because he had

had a turn." Judging from myself, I should say he certainly had a

turn afterwards, if he had had none before.

Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy; but

when, in the case of a boy, that secret burden co-operates with

another secret burden down the leg of his trousers, it is (as I can

testify) a great punishment. The guilty knowledge that I was going

to rob Mrs. Joe - I never thought I was going to rob Joe, for I

never thought of any of the housekeeping property as his - united

to the necessity of always keeping one hand on my bread-and-butter

as I sat, or when I was ordered about the kitchen on any small

errand, almost drove me out of my mind. Then, as the marsh winds

made the fire glow and flare, I thought I heard the voice outside,

of the man with the iron on his leg who had sworn me to secrecy,

declaring that he couldn't and wouldn't starve until to-morrow, but

must be fed now. At other times, I thought, What if the young man

who was with so much difficulty restrained from imbruing his hands

in me, should yield to a constitutional impatience, or should

mistake the time, and should think himself accredited to my heart

and liver to-night, instead of to-morrow! If ever anybody's hair

stood on end with terror, mine must have done so then. But,

perhaps, nobody's ever did?

It was Christmas Eve, and I had to stir the pudding for next day,

with a copper-stick, from seven to eight by the Dutch clock. I

tried it with the load upon my leg (and that made me think afresh

of the man with the load on his leg), and found the tendency of

exercise to bring the bread-and-butter out at my ankle, quite

unmanageable. Happily, I slipped away, and deposited that part of

my conscience in my garret bedroom.

"Hark!" said I, when I had done my stirring, and was taking a final

warm in the chimney corner before being sent up to bed; "was that

great guns, Joe?"

"Ah!" said Joe. "There's another conwict off."

"What does that mean, Joe?" said I.

Mrs. Joe, who always took explanations upon herself, said,

snappishly, "Escaped. Escaped." Administering the definition like

Tar-water.

While Mrs. Joe sat with her head bending over her needlework, I put

my mouth into the forms of saying to Joe, "What's a convict?" Joe

put his mouth into the forms of returning such a highly elaborate

answer, that I could make out nothing of it but the single word

"Pip."

"There was a conwict off last night," said Joe, aloud, "after

sun-set-gun. And they fired warning of him. And now, it appears

they're firing warning of another."


Great Expectations - 5/210

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