This part of the Course was usually lightened by

several single combats between Biddy and refractory students. When

the fights were over, Biddy gave out the number of a page, and then

we all read aloud what we could - or what we couldn't - in a

frightful chorus; Biddy leading with a high shrill monotonous

voice, and none of us having the least notion of, or reverence for,

what we were reading about. When this horrible din had lasted a

certain time, it mechanically awoke Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, who

staggered at a boy fortuitously, and pulled his ears. This was

understood to terminate the Course for the evening, and we emerged

into the air with shrieks of intellectual victory. It is fair to

remark that there was no prohibition against any pupil's

entertaining himself with a slate or even with the ink (when there

was any), but that it was not easy to pursue that branch of study

in the winter season, on account of the little general shop in

which the classes were holden - and which was also Mr. Wopsle's

great-aunt's sitting-room and bed-chamber - being but faintly

illuminated through the agency of one low-spirited dip-candle and

no snuffers.

It appeared to me that it would take time, to become uncommon under

these circumstances: nevertheless, I resolved to try it, and that

very evening Biddy entered on our special agreement, by imparting

some information from her little catalogue of Prices, under the

head of moist sugar, and lending me, to copy at home, a large old

English D which she had imitated from the heading of some

newspaper, and which I supposed, until she told me what it was, to

be a design for a buckle.

Of course there was a public-house in the village, and of course

Joe liked sometimes to smoke his pipe there. I had received strict

orders from my sister to call for him at the Three Jolly Bargemen,

that evening, on my way from school, and bring him home at my

peril. To the Three Jolly Bargemen, therefore, I directed my steps.

There was a bar at the Jolly Bargemen, with some alarmingly long

chalk scores in it on the wall at the side of the door, which

seemed to me to be never paid off. They had been there ever since I

could remember, and had grown more than I had. But there was a

quantity of chalk about our country, and perhaps the people

neglected no opportunity of turning it to account.

It being Saturday night, I found the landlord looking rather grimly

at these records, but as my business was with Joe and not with him,

I merely wished him good evening, and passed into the common room

at the end of the passage, where there was a bright large kitchen

fire, and where Joe was smoking his pipe in company with Mr. Wopsle

and a stranger. Joe greeted me as usual with "Halloa, Pip, old

chap!" and the moment he said that, the stranger turned his head

and looked at me.

He was a secret-looking man whom I had never seen before. His head

was all on one side, and one of his eyes was half shut up, as if he

were taking aim at something with an invisible gun. He had a pipe

in his mouth, and he took it out, and, after slowly blowing all his

smoke away and looking hard at me all the time, nodded. So, I

nodded, and then he nodded again, and made room on the settle

beside him that I might sit down there.

But, as I was used to sit beside Joe whenever I entered that place

of resort, I said "No, thank you, sir," and fell into the space Joe

made for me on the opposite settle. The strange man, after glancing

at Joe, and seeing that his attention was otherwise engaged, nodded

to me again when I had taken my seat, and then rubbed his leg - in

a very odd way, as it struck me.

"You was saying," said the strange man, turning to Joe, "that you

was a blacksmith."

"Yes. I said it, you know," said Joe.

"What'll you drink, Mr. - ? You didn't mention your name,


Joe mentioned it now, and the strange man called him by it.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

All Pages of This Book