Joe. "I'm rather partial to Carols, myself,

and that's the best of reasons for my never hearing any."

Joe, who had ventured into the kitchen after me as the dust-pan had

retired before us, drew the back of his hand across his nose with a

conciliatory air when Mrs. Joe darted a look at him, and, when her

eyes were withdrawn, secretly crossed his two forefingers, and

exhibited them to me, as our token that Mrs. Joe was in a cross

temper. This was so much her normal state, that Joe and I would

often, for weeks together, be, as to our fingers, like monumental

Crusaders as to their legs.

We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled

pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome

mince-pie had been made yesterday morning (which accounted for the

mincemeat not being missed), and the pudding was already on the

boil. These extensive arrangements occasioned us to be cut off

unceremoniously in respect of breakfast; "for I an't," said Mrs.

Joe, "I an't a-going to have no formal cramming and busting and

washing up now, with what I've got before me, I promise you!"

So, we had our slices served out, as if we were two thousand troops

on a forced march instead of a man and boy at home; and we took

gulps of milk and water, with apologetic countenances, from a jug

on the dresser. In the meantime, Mrs. Joe put clean white curtains

up, and tacked a new flowered-flounce across the wide chimney to

replace the old one, and uncovered the little state parlour across

the passage, which was never uncovered at any other time, but

passed the rest of the year in a cool haze of silver paper, which

even extended to the four little white crockery poodles on the

mantelshelf, each with a black nose and a basket of flowers in his

mouth, and each the counterpart of the other. Mrs. Joe was a very

clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her

cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by

their religion.

My sister having so much to do, was going to church vicariously;

that is to say, Joe and I were going. In his working clothes, Joe

was a well-knit characteristic-looking blacksmith; in his holiday

clothes, he was more like a scarecrow in good circumstances, than

anything else. Nothing that he wore then, fitted him or seemed to

belong to him; and everything that he wore then, grazed him. On the

present festive occasion he emerged from his room, when the blithe

bells were going, the picture of misery, in a full suit of Sunday

penitentials. As to me, I think my sister must have had some

general idea that I was a young offender whom an Accoucheur

Policemen had taken up (on my birthday) and delivered over to her,

to be dealt with according to the outraged majesty of the law. I

was always treated as if I had insisted on being born, in

opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and

against the dissuading arguments of my best friends. Even when I

was taken to have a new suit of clothes, the tailor had orders to

make them like a kind of Reformatory, and on no account to let me

have the free use of my limbs.

Joe and I going to church, therefore, must have been a moving

spectacle for compassionate minds. Yet, what I suffered outside,

was nothing to what I underwent within. The terrors that had

assailed me whenever Mrs. Joe had gone near the pantry, or out of

the room, were only to be equalled by the remorse with which my

mind dwelt on what my hands had done. Under the weight of my wicked

secret, I pondered whether the Church would be powerful enough to

shield me from the vengeance of the terrible young man, if I

divulged to that establishment. I conceived the idea that the time

when the banns were read and when the clergyman said, "Ye are now

to declare it!" would be the time for me to rise and propose a

private conference in the vestry.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

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