Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 10)

Behind the furthest end of the brewery, was a rank garden with anold wall: not so high but that I could struggle up and hold on longenough to look over it, and see that the rank garden was the gardenof the house, and that it was overgrown with tangled weeds, butthat there was a track upon the green and yellow paths, as if someone sometimes walked there, and that Estella was walking away fromme even then. But she seemed to be everywhere. For, when I yieldedto the temptation presented by the casks, and began to walk onthem. I saw her walking on them at the end of the yard of casks.She had her back towards me, and held her pretty brown hair spreadout in her two hands, and never looked round, and passed out of myview directly. So, in the brewery itself - by which I mean thelarge paved lofty place in which they used to make the beer, andwhere the brewing utensils still were. When I first went into it,and, rather oppressed by its gloom, stood near the door lookingabout me, I saw her pass among the extinguished fires, and ascendsome light iron stairs, and go out by a gallery high overhead, asif she were going out into the sky.

It was in this place, and at this moment, that a strange thinghappened to my fancy. I thought it a strange thing then, and Ithought it a stranger thing long afterwards. I turned my eyes - alittle dimmed by looking up at the frosty light - towards a greatwooden beam in a low nook of the building near me on my right hand,and I saw a figure hanging there by the neck. A figure all inyellow white, with but one shoe to the feet; and it hung so, that Icould see that the faded trimmings of the dress were like earthypaper, and that the face was Miss Havisham's, with a movement goingover the whole countenance as if she were trying to call to me. Inthe terror of seeing the figure, and in the terror of being certainthat it had not been there a moment before, I at first ran from it,and then ran towards it. And my terror was greatest of all, when Ifound no figure there.

Nothing less than the frosty light of the cheerful sky, the sightof people passing beyond the bars of the court-yard gate, and thereviving influence of the rest of the bread and meat and beer,would have brought me round. Even with those aids, I might not havecome to myself as soon as I did, but that I saw Estella approachingwith the keys, to let me out. She would have some fair reason forlooking down upon me, I thought, if she saw me frightened; and shewould have no fair reason.

She gave me a triumphant glance in passing me, as if she rejoicedthat my hands were so coarse and my boots were so thick, and sheopened the gate, and stood holding it. I was passing out withoutlooking at her, when she touched me with a taunting hand.

"Why don't you cry?"

"Because I don't want to."

"You do," said she. "You have been crying till you are half blind,and you are near crying again now."

She laughed contemptuously, pushed me out, and locked the gate uponme. I went straight to Mr. Pumblechook's, and was immensely relievedto find him not at home. So, leaving word with the shopman on whatday I was wanted at Miss Havisham's again, I set off on thefour-mile walk to our forge; pondering, as I went along, on all Ihad seen, and deeply revolving that I was a common labouring-boy;that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I hadfallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks; that I wasmuch more ignorant than I had considered myself last night, andgenerally that I was in a low-lived bad way.

Chapter 9

When I reached home, my sister was very curious to know all aboutMiss Havisham's, and asked a number of questions. And I soon foundmyself getting heavily bumped from behind in the nape of the neckand the small of the back, and having my face ignominiously shovedagainst the kitchen wall, because I did not answer those questionsat sufficient length.

If a dread of not being understood be hidden in the breasts ofother young people to anything like the extent to which it used tobe hidden in mine - which I consider probable, as I have noparticular reason to suspect myself of having been a monstrosity -it is the key to many reservations. I felt convinced that if Idescribed Miss Havisham's as my eyes had seen it, I should not beunderstood. Not only that, but I felt convinced that Miss Havishamtoo would not be understood; and although she was perfectlyincomprehensible to me, I entertained an impression that therewould be something coarse and treacherous in my dragging her as shereally was (to say nothing of Miss Estella) before thecontemplation of Mrs. Joe. Consequently, I said as little as Icould, and had my face shoved against the kitchen wall.

The worst of it was that that bullying old Pumblechook, preyed uponby a devouring curiosity to be informed of all I had seen andheard, came gaping over in his chaise-cart at tea-time, to have thedetails divulged to him. And the mere sight of the torment, withhis fishy eyes and mouth open, his sandy hair inquisitively on end,and his waistcoat heaving with windy arithmetic, made me vicious inmy reticence.

"Well, boy," Uncle Pumblechook began, as soon as he was seated inthe chair of honour by the fire. "How did you get on up town?"

I answered, "Pretty well, sir," and my sister shook her fist at me.

"Pretty well?" Mr. Pumblechook repeated. "Pretty well is no answer.Tell us what you mean by pretty well, boy?"

Whitewash on the forehead hardens the brain into a state ofobstinacy perhaps. Anyhow, with whitewash from the wall on myforehead, my obstinacy was adamantine. I reflected for some time,and then answered as if I had discovered a new idea, "I mean prettywell."

My sister with an exclamation of impatience was going to fly at me- I had no shadow of defence, for Joe was busy in the forge when Mr.Pumblechook interposed with "No! Don't lose your temper. Leave thislad to me, ma'am; leave this lad to me." Mr. Pumblechook then turnedme towards him, as if he were going to cut my hair, and said:

"First (to get our thoughts in order): Forty-three pence?"

I calculated the consequences of replying "Four Hundred Pound," andfinding them against me, went as near the answer as I could - whichwas somewhere about eightpence off. Mr. Pumblechook then put methrough my pence-table from "twelve pence make one shilling," up to"forty pence make three and fourpence," and then triumphantlydemanded, as if he had done for me, "Now! How much is forty-threepence?" To which I replied, after a long interval of reflection, "Idon't know." And I was so aggravated that I almost doubt if I didknow.

Mr. Pumblechook worked his head like a screw to screw it out of me,and said, "Is forty-three pence seven and sixpence three fardens,for instance?"

"Yes!" said I. And although my sister instantly boxed my ears, itwas highly gratifying to me to see that the answer spoilt his joke,and brought him to a dead stop.

"Boy! What like is Miss Havisham?" Mr. Pumblechook began again whenhe had recovered; folding his arms tight on his chest and applyingthe screw.

"Very tall and dark," I told him.

"Is she, uncle?" asked my sister.

Mr. Pumblechook winked assent; from which I at once inferred that hehad never seen Miss Havisham, for she was nothing of the kind.

"Good!" said Mr. Pumblechook conceitedly. ("This is the way to havehim! We are beginning to hold our own, I think, Mum?")

"I am sure, uncle," returned Mrs. Joe, "I wish you had him always:you know so well how to deal with him."

"Now, boy! What was she a-doing of, when you went in today?" askedMr. Pumblechook.

"She was sitting," I answered, "in a black velvet coach."

Mr. Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe stared at one another - as they wellmight - and both repeated, "In a black velvet coach?"

"Yes," said I. "And Miss Estella - that's her niece, I think -handed her in cake and wine at the coach-window, on a gold plate.And we all had cake and wine on gold plates. And I got up behindthe coach to eat mine, because she told me to."

"Was anybody else there?" asked Mr. Pumblechook.

"Four dogs," said I.

"Large or small?"

"Immense," said I. "And they fought for veal cutlets out of asilver basket."

Mr. Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe stared at one another again, in utteramazement. I was perfectly frantic - a reckless witness under thetorture - and would have told them anything.

"Where was this coach, in the name of gracious?" asked my sister.

"In Miss Havisham's room." They stared again. "But there weren'tany horses to it." I added this saving clause, in the moment ofrejecting four richly caparisoned coursers which I had had wildthoughts of harnessing.

"Can this be possible, uncle?" asked Mrs. Joe. "What can the boymean?"

"I'll tell you, Mum," said Mr. Pumblechook. "My opinion is, it's asedan-chair. She's flighty, you know - very flighty - quite flightyenough to pass her days in a sedan-chair."

"Did you ever see her in it, uncle?" asked Mrs. Joe.

"How could I," he returned, forced to the admission, "when I neversee her in my life? Never clapped eyes upon her!"

"Goodness, uncle! And yet you have spoken to her?"

"Why, don't you know," said Mr. Pumblechook, testily, "that when Ihave been there, I have been took up to the outside of her door,and the door has stood ajar, and she has spoke to me that way.Don't say you don't know that, Mum. Howsever, the boy went there toplay. What did you play at, boy?"

"We played with flags," I said. (I beg to observe that I think ofmyself with amazement, when I recall the lies I told on thisoccasion.)

"Flags!" echoed my sister.

"Yes," said I. "Estella waved a blue flag, and I waved a red one,and Miss Havisham waved one sprinkled all over with little goldstars, out at the coach-window. And then we all waved our swordsand hurrahed."

"Swords!" repeated my sister. "Where did you get swords from?"

"Out of a cupboard," said I. "And I saw pistols in it - and jam -and pills. And there was no daylight in the room, but it was alllighted up with candles."

"That's true, Mum," said Mr. Pumblechook, with a grave nod. "That'sthe state of the case, for that much I've seen myself." And thenthey both stared at me, and I, with an obtrusive show ofartlessness on my countenance, stared at them, and plaited theright leg of my trousers with my right hand.

If they had asked me any more questions I should undoubtedly havebetrayed myself, for I was even then on the point of mentioningthat there was a balloon in the yard, and should have hazarded thestatement but for my invention being divided between thatphenomenon and a bear in the brewery. They were so much occupied,however, in discussing the marvels I had already presented fortheir consideration, that I escaped. The subject still held themwhen Joe came in from his work to have a cup of tea. To whom mysister, more for the relief of her own mind than for thegratification of his, related my pretended experiences.

Now, when I saw Joe open his blue eyes and roll them all round thekitchen in helpless amazement, I was overtaken by penitence; butonly as regarded him - not in the least as regarded the other two.Towards Joe, and Joe only, I considered myself a young monster,while they sat debating what results would come to me from MissHavisham's acquaintance and favour. They had no doubt that MissHavisham would "do something" for me; their doubts related to theform that something would take. My sister stood out for "property."Mr. Pumblechook was in favour of a handsome premium for binding meapprentice to some genteel trade - say, the corn and seed trade,for instance. Joe fell into the deepest disgrace with both, foroffering the bright suggestion that I might only be presented withone of the dogs who had fought for the veal-cutlets. "If a fool'shead can't express better opinions than that," said my sister, "andyou have got any work to do, you had better go and do it." So hewent.

After Mr. Pumblechook had driven off, and when my sister was washingup, I stole into the forge to Joe, and remained by him until he haddone for the night. Then I said, "Before the fire goes out, Joe, Ishould like to tell you something."

"Should you, Pip?" said Joe, drawing his shoeing-stool near theforge. "Then tell us. What is it, Pip?"

"Joe," said I, taking hold of his rolled-up shirt sleeve, andtwisting it between my finger and thumb, "you remember all thatabout Miss Havisham's?"

"Remember?" said Joe. "I believe you! Wonderful!"

"It's a terrible thing, Joe; it ain't true."

"What are you telling of, Pip?" cried Joe, falling back in thegreatest amazement. "You don't mean to say it's--"

"Yes I do; it's lies, Joe."

"But not all of it? Why sure you don't mean to say, Pip, that therewas no black welwet coach?" For, I stood shaking my head. "But atleast there was dogs, Pip? Come, Pip," said Joe, persuasively, "ifthere warn't no weal-cutlets, at least there was dogs?"

"No, Joe."

"A dog?" said Joe. "A puppy? Come?"

"No, Joe, there was nothing at all of the kind."

As I fixed my eyes hopelessly on Joe, Joe contemplated me indismay. "Pip, old chap! This won't do, old fellow! I say! Where doyou expect to go to?"

"It's terrible, Joe; an't it?"

"Terrible?" cried Joe. "Awful! What possessed you?"

"I don't know what possessed me, Joe," I replied, letting his shirtsleeve go, and sitting down in the ashes at his feet, hanging myhead; "but I wish you hadn't taught me to call Knaves at cards,Jacks; and I wish my boots weren't so thick nor my hands socoarse."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 81650 times


Page generation 0.001 seconds