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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 14)


I was secretly afraid of him when I saw him so dexterous; but, Ifelt morally and physically convinced that his light head of haircould have had no business in the pit of my stomach, and that I hada right to consider it irrelevant when so obtruded on my attention.Therefore, I followed him without a word, to a retired nook of thegarden, formed by the junction of two walls and screened by somerubbish. On his asking me if I was satisfied with the ground, andon my replying Yes, he begged my leave to absent himself for amoment, and quickly returned with a bottle of water and a spongedipped in vinegar. "Available for both," he said, placing theseagainst the wall. And then fell to pulling off, not only his jacketand waistcoat, but his shirt too, in a manner at oncelight-hearted, businesslike, and bloodthirsty.

Although he did not look very healthy - having pimples on his face,and a breaking out at his mouth - these dreadful preparations quiteappalled me. I judged him to be about my own age, but he was muchtaller, and he had a way of spinning himself about that was full ofappearance. For the rest, he was a young gentleman in a grey suit(when not denuded for battle), with his elbows, knees, wrists, andheels, considerably in advance of the rest of him as todevelopment.

My heart failed me when I saw him squaring at me with everydemonstration of mechanical nicety, and eyeing my anatomy as if hewere minutely choosing his bone. I never have been so surprised inmy life, as I was when I let out the first blow, and saw him lyingon his back, looking up at me with a bloody nose and his faceexceedingly fore-shortened.

But, he was on his feet directly, and after sponging himself with agreat show of dexterity began squaring again. The second greatestsurprise I have ever had in my life was seeing him on his backagain, looking up at me out of a black eye.

His spirit inspired me with great respect. He seemed to have nostrength, and he never once hit me hard, and he was always knockeddown; but, he would be up again in a moment, sponging himself ordrinking out of the water-bottle, with the greatest satisfaction inseconding himself according to form, and then came at me with anair and a show that made me believe he really was going to do forme at last. He got heavily bruised, for I am sorry to record thatthe more I hit him, the harder I hit him; but, he came up again andagain and again, until at last he got a bad fall with the back ofhis head against the wall. Even after that crisis in our affairs,he got up and turned round and round confusedly a few times, notknowing where I was; but finally went on his knees to his spongeand threw it up: at the same time panting out, "That means you havewon."

He seemed so brave and innocent, that although I had not proposedthe contest I felt but a gloomy satisfaction in my victory. Indeed,I go so far as to hope that I regarded myself while dressing, as aspecies of savage young wolf, or other wild beast. However, I gotdressed, darkly wiping my sanguinary face at intervals, and I said,"Can I help you?" and he said "No thankee," and I said "Goodafternoon," and he said "Same to you."

When I got into the court-yard, I found Estella waiting with thekeys. But, she neither asked me where I had been, nor why I hadkept her waiting; and there was a bright flush upon her face, asthough something had happened to delight her. Instead of goingstraight to the gate, too, she stepped back into the passage, andbeckoned me.

"Come here! You may kiss me, if you like."

I kissed her cheek as she turned it to me. I think I would havegone through a great deal to kiss her cheek. But, I felt that thekiss was given to the coarse common boy as a piece of money mighthave been, and that it was worth nothing.

What with the birthday visitors, and what with the cards, and whatwith the fight, my stay had lasted so long, that when I neared homethe light on the spit of sand off the point on the marshes wasgleaming against a black night-sky, and Joe's furnace was flinginga path of fire across the road.

Chapter 12

My mind grew very uneasy on the subject of the pale younggentleman. The more I thought of the fight, and recalled the paleyoung gentleman on his back in various stages of puffy andincrimsoned countenance, the more certain it appeared thatsomething would be done to me. I felt that the pale younggentleman's blood was on my head, and that the Law would avenge it.Without having any definite idea of the penalties I had incurred,it was clear to me that village boys could not go stalking aboutthe country, ravaging the houses of gentlefolks and pitching intothe studious youth of England, without laying themselves open tosevere punishment. For some days, I even kept close at home, andlooked out at the kitchen door with the greatest caution andtrepidation before going on an errand, lest the officers of theCounty Jail should pounce upon me. The pale young gentleman's nosehad stained my trousers, and I tried to wash out that evidence ofmy guilt in the dead of night. I had cut my knuckles against thepale young gentleman's teeth, and I twisted my imagination into athousand tangles, as I devised incredible ways of accounting forthat damnatory circumstance when I should be haled before theJudges.

When the day came round for my return to the scene of the deed ofviolence, my terrors reached their height. Whether myrmidons ofJustice, specially sent down from London, would be lying in ambushbehind the gate? Whether Miss Havisham, preferring to take personalvengeance for an outrage done to her house, might rise in thosegrave-clothes of hers, draw a pistol, and shoot me dead? Whethersuborned boys - a numerous band of mercenaries - might be engagedto fall upon me in the brewery, and cuff me until I was no more? Itwas high testimony to my confidence in the spirit of the pale younggentleman, that I never imagined him accessory to theseretaliations; they always came into my mind as the acts ofinjudicious relatives of his, goaded on by the state of his visageand an indignant sympathy with the family features.

However, go to Miss Havisham's I must, and go I did. And behold!nothing came of the late struggle. It was not alluded to in anyway, and no pale young gentleman was to be discovered on thepremises. I found the same gate open, and I explored the garden,and even looked in at the windows of the detached house; but, myview was suddenly stopped by the closed shutters within, and allwas lifeless. Only in the corner where the combat had taken place,could I detect any evidence of the young gentleman's existence.There were traces of his gore in that spot, and I covered them withgarden-mould from the eye of man.

On the broad landing between Miss Havisham's own room and thatother room in which the long table was laid out, I saw agarden-chair - a light chair on wheels, that you pushed frombehind. It had been placed there since my last visit, and Ientered, that same day, on a regular occupation of pushing MissHavisham in this chair (when she was tired of walking with her handupon my shoulder) round her own room, and across the landing, andround the other room. Over and over and over again, we would makethese journeys, and sometimes they would last as long as threehours at a stretch. I insensibly fall into a general mention ofthese journeys as numerous, because it was at once settled that Ishould return every alternate day at noon for these purposes, andbecause I am now going to sum up a period of at least eight or tenmonths.

As we began to be more used to one another, Miss Havisham talkedmore to me, and asked me such questions as what had I learnt andwhat was I going to be? I told her I was going to be apprenticed toJoe, I believed; and I enlarged upon my knowing nothing and wantingto know everything, in the hope that she might offer some helptowards that desirable end. But, she did not; on the contrary, sheseemed to prefer my being ignorant. Neither did she ever give meany money - or anything but my daily dinner - nor ever stipulatethat I should be paid for my services.

Estella was always about, and always let me in and out, but nevertold me I might kiss her again. Sometimes, she would coldlytolerate me; sometimes, she would condescend to me; sometimes, shewould be quite familiar with me; sometimes, she would tell meenergetically that she hated me. Miss Havisham would often ask mein a whisper, or when we were alone, "Does she grow prettier andprettier, Pip?" And when I said yes (for indeed she did), wouldseem to enjoy it greedily. Also, when we played at cards MissHavisham would look on, with a miserly relish of Estella's moods,whatever they were. And sometimes, when her moods were so many andso contradictory of one another that I was puzzled what to say ordo, Miss Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuringsomething in her ear that sounded like "Break their hearts my prideand hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!"

There was a song Joe used to hum fragments of at the forge, ofwhich the burden was Old Clem. This was not a very ceremonious wayof rendering homage to a patron saint; but, I believe Old Clemstood in that relation towards smiths. It was a song that imitatedthe measure of beating upon iron, and was a mere lyrical excuse forthe introduction of Old Clem's respected name. Thus, you were tohammer boys round - Old Clem! With a thump and a sound - Old Clem!Beat it out, beat it out - Old Clem! With a clink for the stout -Old Clem! Blow the fire, blow the fire - Old Clem! Roaring dryer,soaring higher - Old Clem! One day soon after the appearance of thechair, Miss Havisham suddenly saying to me, with the impatientmovement of her fingers, "There, there, there! Sing!" I wassurprised into crooning this ditty as I pushed her over the floor.It happened so to catch her fancy, that she took it up in a lowbrooding voice as if she were singing in her sleep. After that, itbecame customary with us to have it as we moved about, and Estellawould often join in; though the whole strain was so subdued, evenwhen there were three of us, that it made less noise in the grimold house than the lightest breath of wind.

What could I become with these surroundings? How could my characterfail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if mythoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into thenatural light from the misty yellow rooms?

Perhaps, I might have told Joe about the pale young gentleman, if Ihad not previously been betrayed into those enormous inventions towhich I had confessed. Under the circumstances, I felt that Joecould hardly fail to discern in the pale young gentleman, anappropriate passenger to be put into the black velvet coach;therefore, I said nothing of him. Besides: that shrinking fromhaving Miss Havisham and Estella discussed, which had come upon mein the beginning, grew much more potent as time went on. I reposedcomplete confidence in no one but Biddy; but, I told poor Biddyeverything. Why it came natural to me to do so, and why Biddy had adeep concern in everything I told her, I did not know then, thoughI think I know now.

Meanwhile, councils went on in the kitchen at home, fraught withalmost insupportable aggravation to my exasperated spirit. Thatass, Pumblechook, used often to come over of a night for the purposeof discussing my prospects with my sister; and I really do believe(to this hour with less penitence than I ought to feel), that ifthese hands could have taken a linchpin out of his chaise-cart,they would have done it. The miserable man was a man of thatconfined stolidity of mind, that he could not discuss my prospectswithout having me before him - as it were, to operate upon - and hewould drag me up from my stool (usually by the collar) where I wasquiet in a corner, and, putting me before the fire as if I weregoing to be cooked, would begin by saying, "Now, Mum, here is thisboy! Here is this boy which you brought up by hand. Hold up yourhead, boy, and be for ever grateful unto them which so did do. Now,Mum, with respections to this boy!" And then he would rumple myhair the wrong way - which from my earliest remembrance, as alreadyhinted, I have in my soul denied the right of any fellow-creatureto do - and would hold me before him by the sleeve: a spectacle ofimbecility only to be equalled by himself.

Then, he and my sister would pair off in such nonsensicalspeculations about Miss Havisham, and about what she would do withme and for me, that I used to want - quite painfully - to burstinto spiteful tears, fly at Pumblechook, and pummel him all over.In these dialogues, my sister spoke to me as if she were morallywrenching one of my teeth out at every reference; while Pumblechookhimself, self-constituted my patron, would sit supervising me witha depreciatory eye, like the architect of my fortunes who thoughthimself engaged on a very unremunerative job.

In these discussions, Joe bore no part. But he was often talked at,while they were in progress, by reason of Mrs. Joe's perceiving thathe was not favourable to my being taken from the forge. I was fullyold enough now, to be apprenticed to Joe; and when Joe sat with thepoker on his knees thoughtfully raking out the ashes between thelower bars, my sister would so distinctly construe that innocentaction into opposition on his part, that she would dive at him,take the poker out of his hands, shake him, and put it away. Therewas a most irritating end to every one of these debates. All in amoment, with nothing to lead up to it, my sister would stop herselfin a yawn, and catching sight of me as it were incidentally, wouldswoop upon me with, "Come! there's enough of you! You get along tobed; you've given trouble enough for one night, I hope!" As if Ihad besought them as a favour to bother my life out.

We went on in this way for a long time, and it seemed likely thatwe should continue to go on in this way for a long time, when, oneday, Miss Havisham stopped short as she and I were walking, sheleaning on my shoulder; and said with some displeasure:

"You are growing tall, Pip!"

I thought it best to hint, through the medium of a meditative look,that this might be occasioned by circumstances over which I had nocontrol.

She said no more at the time; but, she presently stopped and lookedat me again; and presently again; and after that, looked frowningand moody. On the next day of my attendance when our usual exercisewas over, and I had landed her at her dressingtable, she stayed mewith a movement of her impatient fingers:

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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