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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 16)


The Hall was a queer place, I thought, with higher pews in it thana church - and with people hanging over the pews looking on - andwith mighty Justices (one with a powdered head) leaning back inchairs, with folded arms, or taking snuff, or going to sleep, orwriting, or reading the newspapers - and with some shining blackportraits on the walls, which my unartistic eye regarded as acomposition of hardbake and sticking-plaister. Here, in a corner,my indentures were duly signed and attested, and I was "bound;" Mr.Pumblechook holding me all the while as if we had looked in on ourway to the scaffold, to have those little preliminaries disposedof.

When we had come out again, and had got rid of the boys who hadbeen put into great spirits by the expectation of seeing mepublicly tortured, and who were much disappointed to find that myfriends were merely rallying round me, we went back toPumblechook's. And there my sister became so excited by thetwenty-five guineas, that nothing would serve her but we must havea dinner out of that windfall, at the Blue Boar, and thatPumblechook must go over in his chaise-cart, and bring the Hubblesand Mr. Wopsle.

It was agreed to be done; and a most melancholy day I passed. For,it inscrutably appeared to stand to reason, in the minds of thewhole company, that I was an excrescence on the entertainment. Andto make it worse, they all asked me from time to time - in short,whenever they had nothing else to do - why I didn't enjoy myself.And what could I possibly do then, but say I was enjoying myself -when I wasn't?

However, they were grown up and had their own way, and they madethe most of it. That swindling Pumblechook, exalted into thebeneficent contriver of the whole occasion, actually took the topof the table; and, when he addressed them on the subject of mybeing bound, and had fiendishly congratulated them on my beingliable to imprisonment if I played at cards, drank strong liquors,kept late hours or bad company, or indulged in other vagaries whichthe form of my indentures appeared to contemplate as next toinevitable, he placed me standing on a chair beside him, toillustrate his remarks.

My only other remembrances of the great festival are, That theywouldn't let me go to sleep, but whenever they saw me dropping off,woke me up and told me to enjoy myself. That, rather late in theevening Mr. Wopsle gave us Collins's ode, and threw his bloodstain'dsword in thunder down, with such effect, that a waiter came in andsaid, "The Commercials underneath sent up their compliments, and itwasn't the Tumblers' Arms." That, they were all in excellentspirits on the road home, and sang O Lady Fair! Mr. Wopsle takingthe bass, and asserting with a tremendously strong voice (in replyto the inquisitive bore who leads that piece of music in a mostimpertinent manner, by wanting to know all about everybody'sprivate affairs) that he was the man with his white locks flowing,and that he was upon the whole the weakest pilgrim going.

Finally, I remember that when I got into my little bedroom I wastruly wretched, and had a strong conviction on me that I shouldnever like Joe's trade. I had liked it once, but once was not now.

Chapter 14

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may beblack ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may beretributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, Ican testify.

Home had never been a very pleasant place to me, because of mysister's temper. But, Joe had sanctified it, and I had believed init. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; Ihad believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of theTemple of State whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrificeof roast fowls; I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste thoughnot magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as theglowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year, allthis was changed. Now, it was all coarse and common, and I wouldnot have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account.

How much of my ungracious condition of mind may have been my ownfault, how much Miss Havisham's, how much my sister's, is now of nomoment to me or to any one. The change was made in me; the thingwas done. Well or ill done, excusably or inexcusably, it was done.

Once, it had seemed to me that when I should at last roll up myshirt-sleeves and go into the forge, Joe's 'prentice, I should bedistinguished and happy. Now the reality was in my hold, I onlyfelt that I was dusty with the dust of small coal, and that I had aweight upon my daily remembrance to which the anvil was a feather.There have been occasions in my later life (I suppose as in mostlives) when I have felt for a time as if a thick curtain had fallenon all its interest and romance, to shut me out from anything savedull endurance any more. Never has that curtain dropped so heavyand blank, as when my way in life lay stretched out straight beforeme through the newly-entered road of apprenticeship to Joe.

I remember that at a later period of my "time," I used to standabout the churchyard on Sunday evenings when night was falling,comparing my own perspective with the windy marsh view, and makingout some likeness between them by thinking how flat and low bothwere, and how on both there came an unknown way and a dark mist andthen the sea. I was quite as dejected on the first working-day ofmy apprenticeship as in that after-time; but I am glad to know thatI never breathed a murmur to Joe while my indentures lasted. It isabout the only thing I am glad to know of myself in thatconnection.

For, though it includes what I proceed to add, all the merit ofwhat I proceed to add was Joe's. It was not because I was faithful,but because Joe was faithful, that I never ran away and went for asoldier or a sailor. It was not because I had a strong sense of thevirtue of industry, but because Joe had a strong sense of thevirtue of industry, that I worked with tolerable zeal against thegrain. It is not possible to know how far the influence of anyamiable honest-hearted duty-doing man flies out into the world; butit is very possible to know how it has touched one's self in goingby, and I know right well, that any good that intermixed itselfwith my apprenticeship came of plain contented Joe, and not ofrestlessly aspiring discontented me.

What I wanted, who can say? How can I say, when I never knew? WhatI dreaded was, that in some unlucky hour I, being at my grimiestand commonest, should lift up my eyes and see Estella looking in atone of the wooden windows of the forge. I was haunted by the fearthat she would, sooner or later, find me out, with a black face andhands, doing the coarsest part of my work, and would exult over meand despise me. Often after dark, when I was pulling the bellowsfor Joe, and we were singing Old Clem, and when the thought how weused to sing it at Miss Havisham's would seem to show me Estella'sface in the fire, with her pretty hair fluttering in the wind andher eyes scorning me, - often at such a time I would look towardsthose panels of black night in the wall which the wooden windowsthen were, and would fancy that I saw her just drawing her faceaway, and would believe that she had come at last.

After that, when we went in to supper, the place and the meal wouldhave a more homely look than ever, and I would feel more ashamed ofhome than ever, in my own ungracious breast.

Chapter 15

As I was getting too big for Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt's room, myeducation under that preposterous female terminated. Not, however,until Biddy had imparted to me everything she knew, from the littlecatalogue of prices, to a comic song she had once bought for ahalfpenny. Although the only coherent part of the latter piece ofliterature were the opening lines,

When I went to Lunnon town sirs, Too rul loo rul Too rul loo rulWasn't I done very brown sirs? Too rul loo rul Too rul loo rul

- still, in my desire to be wiser, I got this composition by heartwith the utmost gravity; nor do I recollect that I questioned itsmerit, except that I thought (as I still do) the amount of Too rulsomewhat in excess of the poetry. In my hunger for information, Imade proposals to Mr. Wopsle to bestow some intellectual crumbs uponme; with which he kindly complied. As it turned out, however, thathe only wanted me for a dramatic lay-figure, to be contradicted andembraced and wept over and bullied and clutched and stabbed andknocked about in a variety of ways, I soon declined that course ofinstruction; though not until Mr. Wopsle in his poetic fury hadseverely mauled me.

Whatever I acquired, I tried to impart to Joe. This statementsounds so well, that I cannot in my conscience let it passunexplained. I wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that hemight be worthier of my society and less open to Estella'sreproach.

The old Battery out on the marshes was our place of study, and abroken slate and a short piece of slate pencil were our educationalimplements: to which Joe always added a pipe of tobacco. I neverknew Joe to remember anything from one Sunday to another, or toacquire, under my tuition, any piece of information whatever. Yethe would smoke his pipe at the Battery with a far more sagaciousair than anywhere else - even with a learned air - as if heconsidered himself to be advancing immensely. Dear fellow, I hopehe did.

It was pleasant and quiet, out there with the sails on the riverpassing beyond the earthwork, and sometimes, when the tide was low,looking as if they belonged to sunken ships that were still sailingon at the bottom of the water. Whenever I watched the vesselsstanding out to sea with their white sails spread, I somehowthought of Miss Havisham and Estella; and whenever the light struckaslant, afar off, upon a cloud or sail or green hill-side orwater-line, it was just the same. - Miss Havisham and Estella andthe strange house and the strange life appeared to have somethingto do with everything that was picturesque.

One Sunday when Joe, greatly enjoying his pipe, had so plumedhimself on being "most awful dull," that I had given him up for theday, I lay on the earthwork for some time with my chin on my hand,descrying traces of Miss Havisham and Estella all over theprospect, in the sky and in the water, until at last I resolved tomention a thought concerning them that had been much in my head.

"Joe," said I; "don't you think I ought to make Miss Havisham avisit?"

"Well, Pip," returned Joe, slowly considering. "What for?"

"What for, Joe? What is any visit made for?"

"There is some wisits, p'r'aps," said Joe, "as for ever remainsopen to the question, Pip. But in regard to wisiting Miss Havisham.She might think you wanted something - expected something of her."

"Don't you think I might say that I did not, Joe?"

"You might, old chap," said Joe. "And she might credit it.Similarly she mightn't."

Joe felt, as I did, that he had made a point there, and he pulledhard at his pipe to keep himself from weakening it by repetition.

"You see, Pip," Joe pursued, as soon as he was past that danger,"Miss Havisham done the handsome thing by you. When Miss Havishamdone the handsome thing by you, she called me back to say to me asthat were all."

"Yes, Joe. I heard her."

"ALL," Joe repeated, very emphatically.

"Yes, Joe. I tell you, I heard her."

"Which I meantersay, Pip, it might be that her meaning were - Makea end on it! - As you was! - Me to the North, and you to the South!- Keep in sunders!"

I had thought of that too, and it was very far from comforting tome to find that he had thought of it; for it seemed to render itmore probable.

"But, Joe."

"Yes, old chap."

"Here am I, getting on in the first year of my time, and, since theday of my being bound, I have never thanked Miss Havisham, or askedafter her, or shown that I remember her."

"That's true, Pip; and unless you was to turn her out a set ofshoes all four round - and which I meantersay as even a set ofshoes all four round might not be acceptable as a present, in atotal wacancy of hoofs--"

"I don't mean that sort of remembrance, Joe; I don't mean apresent."

But Joe had got the idea of a present in his head and must harpupon it. "Or even," said he, "if you was helped to knocking her upa new chain for the front door - or say a gross or two ofshark-headed screws for general use - or some light fancy article,such as a toasting-fork when she took her muffins - or a gridironwhen she took a sprat or such like--"

"I don't mean any present at all, Joe," I interposed.

"Well," said Joe, still harping on it as though I had particularlypressed it, "if I was yourself, Pip, I wouldn't. No, I would not.For what's a door-chain when she's got one always up? Andshark-headers is open to misrepresentations. And if it was atoasting-fork, you'd go into brass and do yourself no credit. Andthe oncommonest workman can't show himself oncommon in a gridiron -for a gridiron IS a gridiron," said Joe, steadfastly impressing itupon me, as if he were endeavouring to rouse me from a fixeddelusion, "and you may haim at what you like, but a gridiron itwill come out, either by your leave or again your leave, and youcan't help yourself--"

"My dear Joe," I cried, in desperation, taking hold of his coat,"don't go on in that way. I never thought of making Miss Havishamany present."

"No, Pip," Joe assented, as if he had been contending for that, allalong; "and what I say to you is, you are right, Pip."

"Yes, Joe; but what I wanted to say, was, that as we are ratherslack just now, if you would give me a half-holiday to-morrow, Ithink I would go up-town and make a call on Miss Est - Havisham."

"Which her name," said Joe, gravely, "ain't Estavisham, Pip, unlessshe have been rechris'ened."

"I know, Joe, I know. It was a slip of mine. What do you think ofit, Joe?"

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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