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, by-the-bye."
Joe mentioned it now, and the strange man called him by it. "What'll you drink, Mr. Gargery? At my expense? To top up with?"
"Well," said Joe, "to tell you the truth, I ain't much in the habit of drinking at anybody's expense but my own."
"Habit? No," returned the stranger, "but once and away, and on a Saturday night too. Come! Put a name to it, Mr. Gargery."
"I wouldn't wish to be stiff company," said Joe. "Rum."
"Rum," repeated the stranger. "And will the other gentleman originate a sentiment."
"Rum," said Mr. Wopsle.
"Three Rums!" cried the stranger, calling to the landlord. "Glasses round!"
"This other gentleman," observed Joe, by way of introducing Mr. Wopsle, "is a gentleman that you would like to hear give it out. Our clerk at church."
"Aha!" said the stranger, quickly, and cocking his eye at me. "The lonely church, right out on the marshes, with graves round it!"
"That's it," said Joe.
The stranger, with a comfortable kind of grunt over his pipe, put his legs up on the settle that he had to himself. He wore a flapping broad-brimmed traveller's hat, and under it a handkerchief tied over his head in the manner of a cap: so that he showed no hair. As he looked at the fire, I thought I saw a cunning expression, followed by a half-laugh, come into his face.
"I am not acquainted with this country, gentlemen, but it seems a solitary country towards the river."
"Most marshes is solitary," said Joe.
"No doubt, no doubt. Do you find any gipsies, now, or tramps, or vagrants of any sort, out there?"
"No," said Joe; "none but a runaway convict now and then. And we don't find them, easy. Eh, Mr. Wopsle?"
Mr. Wopsle, with a majestic remembrance of old discomfiture, assented; but not warmly.
"Seems you have been out after such?" asked the stranger.
"Once," returned Joe. "Not that we wanted to take them, you understand; we went out as lookers on; me, and Mr. Wopsle, and Pip. Didn't us, Pip?"
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