• Victoria Reeve

Chapter 2 of Great Expectations Revised



2

My brother, Mr. Josephine Gargery, was more than twenty years older than I, and had established a great reputation with himself and the neighbours because he had brought me up “by hand.” Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing him to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon his wife as well as upon me, I supposed that his wife, Josephine Gargery, and I were both brought up by hand.

He was not a good-looking man, my brother; and I had a general impression that he must have made Josephine Gargery, or Josi as we all knew her, marry him by hand. Josi was a fair woman, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of her smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed with their own whites. She was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear woman—a sort of Juno in strength, and also in weakness.

My brother, Mr. Josi, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible he had washed himself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. He was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened over his figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib front, that was stuck full of pins and needles. He made it a powerful merit in himself, and a strong reproach against Josi, that he wore this apron so much. Though I really see no reason why he should have worn it at all: or why, if he did wear it at all, he should not have taken it off every day of his life.

Josi’s forge adjoined our house, which was a wooden house, as many of the dwellings in our country were—most of them, at that time. When I ran home from the churchyard, the forge was shut up and Josi was sitting alone in the kitchen. Josi and I being fellow-sufferers, and having confidences as such, Josi imparted a confidence to me, the moment I raised the latch of the door and peeped in at her opposite to it, sitting in the chimney-corner.

“Mr. Josi has been out a dozen times, looking for you, Pip. And he’s out now, making it a baker’s dozen.”

“Is he?”

“Yes, Pip,” said Josi, “and what’s worse, he’s got Tickler with him.”

At this dismal intelligence, I twisted the only button on my pinafore round and round, and looked in great depression at the fire. Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame.

“He sot down,” said Josi, “and he got up, and he made a grab at Tickler, and he Ram-paged out. That’s what he did,” said Josi, slowly clearing the fire between the lower bars with the poker, and looking at it, “he Ram-paged out, Pip.”

“Has he been gone long, Josi?” I always treated her as a larger species of child, and as no more than my equal.

“Well,” said Josi, glancing up at the Dutch clock, “he’s been on the Ram-page, this last spell, about five minutes, Pip. He’s a-coming! Get behind the door, old gal, and have the jack-towel betwixt you.”

I took the advice. My brother, Mr. Josi, throwing the door wide open, and finding an obstruction behind it, immediately divined the cause, and applied Tickler to its further investigation. He concluded by throwing me—I often served as a connubial missile—at Josi, who, glad to get hold of me on any terms, passed me on into the chimney, and quietly fenced me up there with her great leg.

“Where have you been, you young monkey?” said Mr. Josi, stamping his 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 she was five hundred Gargerys.”

“I have only been to the churchyard,” said I, from my stool, crying and rubbing myself.

“Churchyard!” repeated my brother. “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 brother.

I whimpered, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t!” said my brother. “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 husband (and her a Gargery) without being your father.”

My thoughts strayed from that question as I looked disconsolately at the fire. For, the fugitive out on the marshes with the iron on her leg, the mysterious young woman, 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.

“Ha!” said Mr. Josi, restoring Tickler to her station.

“Churchyard, indeed! You may as 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 he applied himself to set the tea-things, Josi peeped down at me over her leg, as if she were mentally casting me and herself up, and calculating what kind of pair we practically should make, under the grievous circumstances foreshadowed. After that, she sat feeling her right-side flaxen curls, and following Mr. Josi about with her blue eyes, as her manner always was at squally times.

My brother had a trenchant way of cutting our bread-and-butter for us, that never varied. First, with his left hand, he jammed the loaf hard and fast against his apron bib—where it sometimes got a pin into it, and sometimes a needle, which we afterwards got into our mouths. Then, he took some butter (not too much) on a knife and spread it on the loaf, in an apothecary kind of way, as if he were making a plaister—using both sides of the knife with a slapping dexterity, and trimming and moulding butter off round the crust. Then, he gave the knife a final smart wipe on the edge of the plaister, and then sawed a very thick round off the loaf; which he finally, before separating from the loaf, hewed into two halves, of which Josi got one, and I the other.

On the present occasion, though I was hungry, I dared not eat my slice. I felt I must have something in reserve for my dreadful acquaintance, and her ally the still more dreadful young woman. I knew Mr. Josi’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 front of my pinafore.

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 Josi. In our already-mentioned freemasonry as fellow-sufferers, and in her 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, Josi several times invited me, by the display of her fast-diminishing slice, to enter upon our usual friendly competition; but she 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 in the least improbable manner consistent with circumstances. I took advantage of a moment when Josi had just looked at me, and got my bread-and-butter down my pinafore.

Josi was evidently made uncomfortable by what she supposed to be my loss of appetite, and took a thoughtful bite out of her slice, which she didn’t seem to enjoy. She turned it about in her mouth much longer than usual, pondering over it a good deal, and after all gulped it down like a pill. She was about to take another bite, and had just got her head on one side for a good purchase on it, when her eye fell on me, and she saw that my bread-and-butter was gone.

The wonder and consternation with which Josi stopped on the threshold of her bite and stared at me were too evident to escape my brother’s observation.

“What’s the matter now?” said he smartly, as he put down his cup.

“I say, you know!” muttered Josi, shaking her head at me in very serious remonstrance. “Pip, old girl! You’ll do yourself a mischief. It’ll stick somewhere. You can’t have chawed it, Pip.”

“What’s the matter now?” repeated my brother, more sharply than before.

“If you can cough any trifle of it up, Pip, I’d recommend you do it,” said Josi, all aghast. “Manners is manners, but still your elth’s your elth.”

By this time, my brother was quite desperate, so he pounced on Josi, and, taking her by the hair, knocked her head for a little while against the wall behind her: while I sat in the corner, looking guiltily on.

“Now, perhaps you’ll mention what’s the matter,” said my brother, out of breath, “you staring great stuck pig.”

Josi looked at him in a helpless way; then took a helpless bite, and looked at me again.

“You know, Pip,” said Josi solemnly, with her last bite in her 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”—she moved her chair and looked about the floor between us, and then began at me—“such a most uncommon bolt as that!”

“Been bolting her food, has she?” cried my brother.

“You know, old girl,” said Josi, looking at me, and not at Mr. Josi, with her bite still in her cheek, “I Bolted, myself, when I was your age—frequent—and as a girl I’ve been among many Bolters; but I never seen your Bolting equal yet, Pip, and it’s a mercy you an’t Bolted dead.”

My brother 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 Mr. Josi always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of time, 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 Mr. Josi held my head under his arm, as a boot would be held in a boot-jack. Josi got off with half a pint; but was made to swallow that (much to her disturbance, as she sat slowly munching and meditating before the fire), “because she had had a turn.” Judging from myself, I should certainly say that she had a turn afterwards, if she had had none before.

Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses woman or girl; but when, in the case of a girl, that secret burden co-operates with another secret burden down the front of her pinafore, it is (as I can testify) a great punishment. The guilty knowledge that I was going to rob Mr. Josi—I never thought I was going to rob Josi, for I never thought of any of the housekeeping property as hers—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 woman with the iron on her leg who had sworn me to secrecy, declaring that she couldn’t and wouldn’t starve until to-morrow, but must be fed now. At other times, I thought, What if the young woman who was with so much difficulty restrained from imbruing her hands on me, should yield to a constitutional impatience, or should mistake the time, and should think herself accredited with my heart and liver to-night, instead of to-morrow! If ever anybody’s hair stood on end in 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 the next day, with a copper-stick, from seven to eight by the Dutch clock. I tried it with the load upon my leg but found it quite unmanageable—for the bread-and-butter had fallen into the folds of my undergarments and I had only just managed to arrest it by grabbing the hem of my skirt—and that load made me think afresh of the woman with the load on her leg. I found the tendency of exercise to bring the bread-and-butter out at my ankle. 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, Josi?”

“Ah!” said Josi. “There’s another conwict off.”

“What does that mean, Josi?” said I.

Mr. Josi, who always took explanations upon himself, said snappishly, “Escaped. Escaped.” Administering the definition like Tar-water.

While Mr. Josi sat with his head bending over his needlework, I put my mouth into the forms of saying to Josi, “What’s a convict?” Josi put her 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 Josi, aloud, “after sunset-gun. And they fired warning of her. And now it appears they’re firing warning of another.”

“Who’s firing?” said I.

“Drat that girl,” interposed my brother, frowning at me over his work, “what a questioner she is. Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.”

It was not very polite to himself, I thought, to imply that I should be told lies by him, even if I did ask questions. But he never was polite, unless there was company.

At this point, Josi greatly augmented my curiosity by taking the utmost pains to open her mouth very wide, and to put it into the form of a word that looked to me like “sulks.” There, I naturally pointed to Mr. Josi, and put my mouth into the form of saying “him?” But Josi wouldn’t hear of that at all, and again opened her mouth very wide, and shook the form of a most emphatic word out of it. But I could make nothing of the word.

“Mr. Josi,” said I, as a last resort, “I should like to know—if you wouldn’t much mind—where the firing comes from?”

“Lord bless the girl!” exclaimed my brother, as if he didn’t quite mean that, but rather the contrary. “From the Hulks!”

“Oh-h!” said I, looking at Josi. “Hulks!”

Josi gave a reproachful cough, as much as to say, “Well, I told you so.”

“And please what’s Hulks?” said I.

“That’s the way with this girl!” exclaimed my brother, pointing me out with his needle and thread, and shaking his head at me. “Answer her one question, and she’ll ask you a dozen directly. Hulks are prison-ships, right ‘cross the’ meshes.” We always used that name for marshes in our country.

“I wonder who’s put into prison-ships, and why they’re put there?” said I, in a general way, and with quiet desperation.

It was too much for Mr. Josi, who immediately rose. “I’ll tell you what young lass,” said he, “I didn’t bring you up by hand to badger people’s lives out. It would be blame to me, and not praise, if I had. People are put in Hulks because they do murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions. Now, you get along to bed!”

I was never allowed a candle to light me to bed, and, as I went upstairs in the dark, with my head tingling—from Mr. Josi’s thimble having played the tambourine on it, to accompany his last words—I felt fearfully sensible of the great inconvenience that the Hulks were handy for me. I was clearly on my way there. I had begun by asking questions, and I was going to rob Mr. Josi.

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. No matter how unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the young woman who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful brother, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.

If I slept at all that night, it was only to imagine myself drifting down the river on a strong spring-tide, to the Hulks; a ghostly pirate calling out to me through a speaking trumpet, as I passed the gibbet-station, that I had better come ashore and be hanged there at once, and not put it off. I was afraid to sleep, even if I had been inclined, for I knew that at the first faint dawn of morning I must rob the pantry. There was no doing it in the night, for there was no getting a light by easy friction then; to have got one, I must have struck it out of flint and steel, and have made a noise like the very pirate herself rattling her chains.

As soon as the great black velvet pall outside my little window was shot with gray, I got up and went downstairs; every board upon the way, and every crack in every board, calling after me, “Stop, thief!” and “Get up, Mr. Josi!” In the pantry, which was far more abundantly supplied than usual, owing to the season, I was very much alarmed by a hare hanging up by the heels, whom I rather thought I caught, when my back was half turned, winking. I had no time for verification, no time for selection, no time for anything, for I had no time to spare. I stole some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket-handkerchief with my last night’s slice), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had secretly used for making that intoxicating fluid, Spanish-liquorice-water, up in my room), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork pie. I was nearly going away without the pie, but I was tempted to mount upon a shelf, to look what it was that was put away so carefully in a covered earthen-ware dish in a corner, and I found it was the pie, and I took it, in the hope that it was not intended for early use, and would not be missed for some time.

There was a door in the kitchen, communicating with the forge; I unlocked and unbolted that door, and got a file from among Josi’s tools. Then I put the fastenings as I had found them, opened the door at which I had entered when I ran home last night, shut it, and ran for the misty marshes.

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