Charles Dickens


wits take a long time picking up; and often, before I had got them

well together, they would be dispersed in all directions by one

stray thought, that perhaps after all Miss Havisham was going to

make my fortune when my time was out.

If my time had run out, it would have left me still at the height

of my perplexities, I dare say. It never did run out, however, but

was brought to a premature end, as I proceed to relate.

Chapter 18

It was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship to Joe, and it was a

Saturday night. There was a group assembled round the fire at the

Three Jolly Bargemen, attentive to Mr. Wopsle as he read the

newspaper aloud. Of that group I was one.

A highly popular murder had been committed, and Mr. Wopsle was

imbrued in blood to the eyebrows. He gloated over every abhorrent

adjective in the description, and identified himself with every

witness at the Inquest. He faintly moaned, "I am done for," as the

victim, and he barbarously bellowed, "I'll serve you out," as the

murderer. He gave the medical testimony, in pointed imitation of

our local practitioner; and he piped and shook, as the aged

turnpike-keeper who had heard blows, to an extent so very paralytic

as to suggest a doubt regarding the mental competency of that

witness. The coroner, in Mr. Wopsle's hands, became Timon of Athens;

the beadle, Coriolanus. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and we all

enjoyed ourselves, and were delightfully comfortable. In this cozy

state of mind we came to the verdict Wilful Murder.

Then, and not sooner, I became aware of a strange gentleman leaning

over the back of the settle opposite me, looking on. There was an

expression of contempt on his face, and he bit the side of a great

forefinger as he watched the group of faces.

"Well!" said the stranger to Mr. Wopsle, when the reading was done,

"you have settled it all to your own satisfaction, I have no


Everybody started and looked up, as if it were the murderer. He

looked at everybody coldly and sarcastically.

"Guilty, of course?" said he. "Out with it. Come!"

"Sir," returned Mr. Wopsle, "without having the honour of your

acquaintance, I do say Guilty." Upon this, we all took courage to

unite in a confirmatory murmur.

"I know you do," said the stranger; "I knew you would. I told you

so. But now I'll ask you a question. Do you know, or do you not

know, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent,

until he is proved - proved - to be guilty?"

"Sir," Mr. Wopsle began to reply, "as an Englishman myself, I--"

"Come!" said the stranger, biting his forefinger at him. "Don't

evade the question. Either you know it, or you don't know it. Which

is it to be?"

He stood with his head on one side and himself on one side, in a

bullying interrogative manner, and he threw his forefinger at Mr.

Wopsle - as it were to mark him out - before biting it again.

"Now!" said he. "Do you know it, or don't you know it?"

"Certainly I know it," replied Mr. Wopsle.

"Certainly you know it. Then why didn't you say so at first? Now,

I'll ask you another question;" taking possession of Mr. Wopsle, as

if he had a right to him. "Do you know that none of these witnesses

have yet been cross-examined?"

Mr. Wopsle was beginning, "I can only say--" when the stranger

stopped him.

"What? You won't answer the question, yes or no? Now, I'll try you

again." Throwing his finger at him again. "Attend to me. Are you

aware, or are you not aware, that none of these witnesses have yet

been cross-examined? Come, I only want one word from you. Yes, or


Mr. Wopsle hesitated, and we all began to conceive rather a poor

opinion of him.

"Come!" said the stranger, "I'll help you. You don't deserve help,

but I'll help you. Look at that paper you hold in your hand. What

is it?"

"What is it?" repeated Mr.