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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 12)


All this while, the strange man looked at nobody but me, and lookedat me as if he were determined to have a shot at me at last, andbring me down. But he said nothing after offering his Blue Blazesobservation, until the glasses of rum-and-water were brought; andthen he made his shot, and a most extraordinary shot it was.

It was not a verbal remark, but a proceeding in dump show, and waspointedly addressed to me. He stirred his rum-and-water pointedlyat me, and he tasted his rum-and-water pointedly at me. And hestirred it and he tasted it: not with a spoon that was brought tohim, but with a file.

He did this so that nobody but I saw the file; and when he had doneit he wiped the file and put it in a breast-pocket. I knew it to beJoe's file, and I knew that he knew my convict, the moment I sawthe instrument. I sat gazing at him, spell-bound. But he nowreclined on his settle, taking very little notice of me, andtalking principally about turnips.

There was a delicious sense of cleaning-up and making a quiet pausebefore going on in life afresh, in our village on Saturday nights,which stimulated Joe to dare to stay out half an hour longer onSaturdays than at other times. The half hour and the rum-and-waterrunning out together, Joe got up to go, and took me by the hand.

"Stop half a moment, Mr. Gargery," said the strange man. "I thinkI've got a bright new shilling somewhere in my pocket, and if Ihave, the boy shall have it."

He looked it out from a handful of small change, folded it in somecrumpled paper, and gave it to me. "Yours!" said he. "Mind! Yourown."

I thanked him, staring at him far beyond the bounds of goodmanners, and holding tight to Joe. He gave Joe good-night, and hegave Mr. Wopsle good-night (who went out with us), and he gave meonly a look with his aiming eye - no, not a look, for he shut itup, but wonders may be done with an eye by hiding it.

On the way home, if I had been in a humour for talking, the talkmust have been all on my side, for Mr. Wopsle parted from us at thedoor of the Jolly Bargemen, and Joe went all the way home with hismouth wide open, to rinse the rum out with as much air as possible.But I was in a manner stupefied by this turning up of my oldmisdeed and old acquaintance, and could think of nothing else.

My sister was not in a very bad temper when we presented ourselvesin the kitchen, and Joe was encouraged by that unusual circumstanceto tell her about the bright shilling. "A bad un, I'll be bound,"said Mrs. Joe triumphantly, "or he wouldn't have given it to theboy! Let's look at it."

I took it out of the paper, and it proved to be a good one. "Butwhat's this?" said Mrs. Joe, throwing down the shilling and catchingup the paper. "Two One-Pound notes?"

Nothing less than two fat sweltering one-pound notes that seemed tohave been on terms of the warmest intimacy with all the cattlemarkets in the county. Joe caught up his hat again, and ran withthem to the Jolly Bargemen to restore them to their owner. While hewas gone, I sat down on my usual stool and looked vacantly at mysister, feeling pretty sure that the man would not be there.

Presently, Joe came back, saying that the man was gone, but thathe, Joe, had left word at the Three Jolly Bargemen concerning thenotes. Then my sister sealed them up in a piece of paper, and putthem under some dried rose-leaves in an ornamental tea-pot on thetop of a press in the state parlour. There they remained, anightmare to me, many and many a night and day.

I had sadly broken sleep when I got to bed, through thinking of thestrange man taking aim at me with his invisible gun, and of theguiltily coarse and common thing it was, to be on secret terms ofconspiracy with convicts - a feature in my low career that I hadpreviously forgotten. I was haunted by the file too. A dreadpossessed me that when I least expected it, the file wouldreappear. I coaxed myself to sleep by thinking of Miss Havisham's,next Wednesday; and in my sleep I saw the file coming at me out ofa door, without seeing who held it, and I screamed myself awake.

Chapter 11

At the appointed time I returned to Miss Havisham's, and myhesitating ring at the gate brought out Estella. She locked itafter admitting me, as she had done before, and again preceded meinto the dark passage where her candle stood. She took no notice ofme until she had the candle in her hand, when she looked over hershoulder, superciliously saying, "You are to come this way today,"and took me to quite another part of the house.

The passage was a long one, and seemed to pervade the whole squarebasement of the Manor House. We traversed but one side of thesquare, however, and at the end of it she stopped, and put hercandle down and opened a door. Here, the daylight reappeared, and Ifound myself in a small paved court-yard, the opposite side ofwhich was formed by a detached dwelling-house, that looked as if ithad once belonged to the manager or head clerk of the extinctbrewery. There was a clock in the outer wall of this house. Likethe clock in Miss Havisham's room, and like Miss Havisham's watch,it had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.

We went in at the door, which stood open, and into a gloomy roomwith a low ceiling, on the ground floor at the back. There was somecompany in the room, and Estella said to me as she joined it, "Youare to go and stand there, boy, till you are wanted." "There",being the window, I crossed to it, and stood "there," in a veryuncomfortable state of mind, looking out.

It opened to the ground, and looked into a most miserable corner ofthe neglected garden, upon a rank ruin of cabbage-stalks, and onebox tree that had been clipped round long ago, like a pudding, andhad a new growth at the top of it, out of shape and of a differentcolour, as if that part of the pudding had stuck to the saucepanand got burnt. This was my homely thought, as I contemplated thebox-tree. There had been some light snow, overnight, and it laynowhere else to my knowledge; but, it had not quite melted from thecold shadow of this bit of garden, and the wind caught it up inlittle eddies and threw it at the window, as if it pelted me forcoming there.

I divined that my coming had stopped conversation in the room, andthat its other occupants were looking at me. I could see nothing ofthe room except the shining of the fire in the window glass, but Istiffened in all my joints with the consciousness that I was underclose inspection.

There were three ladies in the room and one gentleman. Before I hadbeen standing at the window five minutes, they somehow conveyed tome that they were all toadies and humbugs, but that each of thempretended not to know that the others were toadies and humbugs:because the admission that he or she did know it, would have madehim or her out to be a toady and humbug.

They all had a listless and dreary air of waiting somebody'spleasure, and the most talkative of the ladies had to speak quiterigidly to repress a yawn. This lady, whose name was Camilla, verymuch reminded me of my sister, with the difference that she wasolder, and (as I found when I caught sight of her) of a bluntercast of features. Indeed, when I knew her better I began to thinkit was a Mercy she had any features at all, so very blank and highwas the dead wall of her face.

"Poor dear soul!" said this lady, with an abruptness of mannerquite my sister's. "Nobody's enemy but his own!"

"It would be much more commendable to be somebody else's enemy,"said the gentleman; "far more natural."

"Cousin Raymond," observed another lady, "we are to love ourneighbour."

"Sarah Pocket," returned Cousin Raymond, "if a man is not his ownneighbour, who is?"

Miss Pocket laughed, and Camilla laughed and said (checking ayawn), "The idea!" But I thought they seemed to think it rather agood idea too. The other lady, who had not spoken yet, said gravelyand emphatically, "Very true!"

"Poor soul!" Camilla presently went on (I knew they had all beenlooking at me in the mean time), "he is so very strange! Wouldanyone believe that when Tom's wife died, he actually could not beinduced to see the importance of the children's having the deepestof trimmings to their mourning? 'Good Lord!' says he, 'Camilla,what can it signify so long as the poor bereaved little things arein black?' So like Matthew! The idea!"

"Good points in him, good points in him," said Cousin Raymond;"Heaven forbid I should deny good points in him; but he never had,and he never will have, any sense of the proprieties."

"You know I was obliged," said Camilla, "I was obliged to be firm.I said, 'It WILL NOT DO, for the credit of the family.' I told himthat, without deep trimmings, the family was disgraced. I criedabout it from breakfast till dinner. I injured my digestion. And atlast he flung out in his violent way, and said, with a D, 'Then doas you like.' Thank Goodness it will always be a consolation to meto know that I instantly went out in a pouring rain and bought thethings."

"He paid for them, did he not?" asked Estella.

"It's not the question, my dear child, who paid for them," returnedCamilla. "I bought them. And I shall often think of that withpeace, when I wake up in the night."

The ringing of a distant bell, combined with the echoing of somecry or call along the passage by which I had come, interrupted theconversation and caused Estella to say to me, "Now, boy!" On myturning round, they all looked at me with the utmost contempt, and,as I went out, I heard Sarah Pocket say, "Well I am sure! Whatnext!" and Camilla add, with indignation, "Was there ever such afancy! The i-de-a!"

As we were going with our candle along the dark passage, Estellastopped all of a sudden, and, facing round, said in her tauntingmanner with her face quite close to mine:

"Well?"

"Well, miss?" I answered, almost falling over her and checkingmyself.

She stood looking at me, and, of course, I stood looking at her.

"Am I pretty?"

"Yes; I think you are very pretty."

"Am I insulting?"

"Not so much so as you were last time," said I.

"Not so much so?"

"No."

She fired when she asked the last question, and she slapped my facewith such force as she had, when I answered it.

"Now?" said she. "You little coarse monster, what do you think ofme now?"

"I shall not tell you."

"Because you are going to tell, up-stairs. Is that it?"

"No," said I, "that's not it."

"Why don't you cry again, you little wretch?"

"Because I'll never cry for you again," said I. Which was, Isuppose, as false a declaration as ever was made; for I wasinwardly crying for her then, and I know what I know of the painshe cost me afterwards.

We went on our way up-stairs after this episode; and, as we weregoing up, we met a gentleman groping his way down.

"Whom have we here?" asked the gentleman, stopping and looking atme.

"A boy," said Estella.

He was a burly man of an exceedingly dark complexion, with anexceedingly large head and a corresponding large hand. He took mychin in his large hand and turned up my face to have a look at meby the light of the candle. He was prematurely bald on the top ofhis head, and had bushy black eyebrows that wouldn't lie down butstood up bristling. His eyes were set very deep in his head, andwere disagreeably sharp and suspicious. He had a large watchchain,and strong black dots where his beard and whiskers would have beenif he had let them. He was nothing to me, and I could have had noforesight then, that he ever would be anything to me, but ithappened that I had this opportunity of observing him well.

"Boy of the neighbourhood? Hey?" said he.

"Yes, sir," said I.

"How do you come here?"

"Miss Havisham sent for me, sir," I explained.

"Well! Behave yourself. I have a pretty large experience of boys,and you're a bad set of fellows. Now mind!" said he, biting theside of his great forefinger as he frowned at me, "you behaveyourself!"

With those words, he released me - which I was glad of, for hishand smelt of scented soap - and went his way down-stairs. Iwondered whether he could be a doctor; but no, I thought; hecouldn't be a doctor, or he would have a quieter and morepersuasive manner. There was not much time to consider the subject,for we were soon in Miss Havisham's room, where she and everythingelse were just as I had left them. Estella left me standing nearthe door, and I stood there until Miss Havisham cast her eyes uponme from the dressing-table.

"So!" she said, without being startled or surprised; "the days haveworn away, have they?"

"Yes, ma'am. To-day is--"

"There, there, there!" with the impatient movement of her fingers."I don't want to know. Are you ready to play?"

I was obliged to answer in some confusion, "I don't think I am,ma'am."

"Not at cards again?" she demanded, with a searching look.

"Yes, ma'am; I could do that, if I was wanted."

"Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy," said MissHavisham, impatiently, "and you are unwilling to play, are youwilling to work?"

I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had beenable to find for the other question, and I said I was quitewilling.

"Then go into that opposite room," said she, pointing at the doorbehind me with her withered hand, "and wait there till I come."

I crossed the staircase landing, and entered the room sheindicated. From that room, too, the daylight was completelyexcluded, and it had an airless smell that was oppressive. A firehad been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it wasmore disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smokewhich hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air - likeour own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the highchimneypiece faintly lighted the chamber: or, it would be moreexpressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness. It was spacious,and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thingin it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. Themost prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread onit, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and theclocks all stopped together. An epergne or centrepiece of some kindwas in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung withcobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I lookedalong the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming togrow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders withblotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as ifsome circumstances of the greatest public importance had justtranspired in the spider community.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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