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


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


"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."

"Who's firing?" said I.

"Drat that boy," interposed my sister, frowning at me over her

work, "what a questioner he is. Ask no questions, and you'll be

told no lies."

It was not very polite to herself, I thought, to imply that I should

be told lies by her, even if I did ask questions. But she never was

polite, unless there was company.

At this point, Joe greatly augmented my curiosity by taking the

utmost pains to open his mouth very wide, and to put it into the

form of a word that looked to me like "sulks." Therefore, I

naturally pointed to Mrs. Joe, and put my mouth into the form of

saying "her?" But Joe wouldn't hear of that, at all, and again

opened his mouth very wide, and shook the form of a most emphatic

word out of it.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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