Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, besides keeping this Educational
Institution, kept - in the same room - a little general shop. She
had no idea what stock she had, or what the price of anything in it
was; but there was a little greasy memorandum-book kept in a
drawer, which served as a Catalogue of Prices, and by this oracle
Biddy arranged all the shop transaction. Biddy was Mr. Wopsle's
great-aunt's granddaughter; I confess myself quiet unequal to the
working out of the problem, what relation she was to Mr. Wopsle. She
was an orphan like myself; like me, too, had been brought up by
hand. She was most noticeable, I thought, in respect of her
extremities; for, her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always
wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling up
at heel. This description must be received with a week-day
limitation. On Sundays, she went to church elaborated.
Much of my unassisted self, and more by the help of Biddy than of
Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, I struggled through the alphabet as if it
had been a bramble-bush; getting considerably worried and scratched
by every letter. After that, I fell among those thieves, the nine
figures, who seemed every evening to do something new to disguise
themselves and baffle recognition. But, at last I began, in a
purblind groping way, to read, write, and cipher, on the very
One night, I was sitting in the chimney-corner with my slate,
expending great efforts on the production of a letter to Joe. I
think it must have been a fully year after our hunt upon the
marshes, for it was a long time after, and it was winter and a hard
frost. With an alphabet on the hearth at my feet for reference, I
contrived in an hour or two to print and smear this epistle:
"MI DEER JO i OPE U R KR WITE WELL i OPE i SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2
TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO
WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF XN PIP."
There was no indispensable necessity for my communicating with Joe
by letter, inasmuch as he sat beside me and we were alone. But, I
delivered this written communication (slate and all) with my own
hand, and Joe received it as a miracle of erudition.
"I say, Pip, old chap!" cried Joe, opening his blue eyes wide,
"what a scholar you are! An't you?"
"I should like to be," said I, glancing at the slate as he held it:
with a misgiving that the writing was rather hilly.
"Why, here's a J," said Joe, "and a O equal to anythink! Here's a J
and a O, Pip, and a J-O, Joe."
I had never heard Joe read aloud to any greater extent than this
monosyllable, and I had observed at church last Sunday when I
accidentally held our Prayer-Book upside down, that it seemed to
suit his convenience quite as well as if it had been all right.
Wishing to embrace the present occasion of finding out whether in
teaching Joe, I should have to begin quite at the beginning, I
said, "Ah! But read the rest, Jo."
"The rest, eh, Pip?" said Joe, looking at it with a slowly
searching eye, "One, two, three. Why, here's three Js, and three
Os, and three J-O, Joes in it, Pip!"
I leaned over Joe, and, with the aid of my forefinger, read him the
"Astonishing!" said Joe, when I had finished. "You ARE a scholar."
"How do you spell Gargery, Joe?" I asked him, with a modest
"I don't spell it at all," said Joe.
"But supposing you did?"
"It can't be supposed," said Joe. "Tho' I'm oncommon fond of
"Are you, Joe?"
"On-common. Give me," said Joe, "a good book, or a good newspaper,
and sit me down afore a good fire, and I ask no better. Lord!" he
continued, after rubbing his knees a little, "when you do come to a
J and a O, and says you, "Here, at last, is a J-O, Joe," how
interesting reading is!"
I derived from this last, that Joe's education, like Steam, was yet
in its infancy, Pursuing the subject, I inquired:
"Didn't you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as me?"
"Why didn't you ever go to school, Joe, when you were as little as
"Well, Pip," said Joe, taking up the poker, and settling himself to
his usual occupation when he was thoughtful, of slowly raking the
fire between the lower bars: "I'll tell you.