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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 17)


In brief, Joe thought that if I thought well of it, he thought wellof it. But, he was particular in stipulating that if I were notreceived with cordiality, or if I were not encouraged to repeat myvisit as a visit which had no ulterior object but was simply one ofgratitude for a favour received, then this experimental trip shouldhave no successor. By these conditions I promised to abide.

Now, Joe kept a journeyman at weekly wages whose name was Orlick.He pretended that his Christian name was Dolge - a clearimpossibility - but he was a fellow of that obstinate dispositionthat I believe him to have been the prey of no delusion in thisparticular, but wilfully to have imposed that name upon the villageas an affront to its understanding. He was a broadshoulderedloose-limbed swarthy fellow of great strength, never in a hurry,and always slouching. He never even seemed to come to his work onpurpose, but would slouch in as if by mere accident; and when hewent to the Jolly Bargemen to eat his dinner, or went away atnight, he would slouch out, like Cain or the Wandering Jew, as ifhe had no idea where he was going and no intention of ever comingback. He lodged at a sluice-keeper's out on the marshes, and onworking days would come slouching from his hermitage, with hishands in his pockets and his dinner loosely tied in a bundle roundhis neck and dangling on his back. On Sundays he mostly lay all dayon the sluice-gates, or stood against ricks and barns. He alwaysslouched, locomotively, with his eyes on the ground; and, whenaccosted or otherwise required to raise them, he looked up in ahalf resentful, half puzzled way, as though the only thought heever had, was, that it was rather an odd and injurious fact that heshould never be thinking.

This morose journeyman had no liking for me. When I was very smalland timid, he gave me to understand that the Devil lived in a blackcorner of the forge, and that he knew the fiend very well: alsothat it was necessary to make up the fire, once in seven years,with a live boy, and that I might consider myself fuel. When Ibecame Joe's 'prentice, Orlick was perhaps confirmed in somesuspicion that I should displace him; howbeit, he liked me stillless. Not that he ever said anything, or did anything, openlyimporting hostility; I only noticed that he always beat his sparksin my direction, and that whenever I sang Old Clem, he came in outof time.

Dolge Orlick was at work and present, next day, when I reminded Joeof my half-holiday. He said nothing at the moment, for he and Joehad just got a piece of hot iron between them, and I was at thebellows; but by-and-by he said, leaning on his hammer:

"Now, master! Sure you're not a-going to favour only one of us. IfYoung Pip has a half-holiday, do as much for Old Orlick." I supposehe was about five-and-twenty, but he usually spoke of himself as anancient person.

"Why, what'll you do with a half-holiday, if you get it?" said Joe.

"What'll I do with it! What'll he do with it? I'll do as much withit as him," said Orlick.

"As to Pip, he's going up-town," said Joe.

"Well then, as to Old Orlick, he's a-going up-town," retorted thatworthy. "Two can go up-town. Tan't only one wot can go up-town.

"Don't lose your temper," said Joe.

"Shall if I like," growled Orlick. "Some and their up-towning! Now,master! Come. No favouring in this shop. Be a man!"

The master refusing to entertain the subject until the journeymanwas in a better temper, Orlick plunged at the furnace, drew out ared-hot bar, made at me with it as if he were going to run itthrough my body, whisked it round my head, laid it on the anvil,hammered it out - as if it were I, I thought, and the sparks weremy spirting blood - and finally said, when he had hammered himselfhot and the iron cold, and he again leaned on his hammer:

"Now, master!"

"Are you all right now?" demanded Joe.

"Ah! I am all right," said gruff Old Orlick.

"Then, as in general you stick to your work as well as most men,"said Joe, "let it be a half-holiday for all."

My sister had been standing silent in the yard, within hearing -she was a most unscrupulous spy and listener - and she instantlylooked in at one of the windows.

"Like you, you fool!" said she to Joe, "giving holidays to greatidle hulkers like that. You are a rich man, upon my life, to wastewages in that way. I wish I was his master!"

"You'd be everybody's master, if you durst," retorted Orlick, withan ill-favoured grin.

("Let her alone," said Joe.)

"I'd be a match for all noodles and all rogues," returned mysister, beginning to work herself into a mighty rage. "And Icouldn't be a match for the noodles, without being a match for yourmaster, who's the dunder-headed king of the noodles. And I couldn'tbe a match for the rogues, without being a match for you, who arethe blackest-looking and the worst rogue between this and France.Now!"

"You're a foul shrew, Mother Gargery, growled the journeyman. "Ifthat makes a judge of rogues, you ought to be a good'un."

("Let her alone, will you?" said Joe.)

"What did you say?" cried my sister, beginning to scream. "What didyou say? What did that fellow Orlick say to me, Pip? What did hecall me, with my husband standing by? O! O! O!" Each of theseexclamations was a shriek; and I must remark of my sister, what isequally true of all the violent women I have ever seen, thatpassion was no excuse for her, because it is undeniable thatinstead of lapsing into passion, she consciously and deliberatelytook extraordinary pains to force herself into it, and becameblindly furious by regular stages; "what was the name he gave mebefore the base man who swore to defend me? O! Hold me! O!"

"Ah-h-h!" growled the journeyman, between his teeth, "I'd hold you,if you was my wife. I'd hold you under the pump, and choke it outof you."

("I tell you, let her alone," said Joe.)

"Oh! To hear him!" cried my sister, with a clap of her hands and ascream together - which was her next stage. "To hear the names he'sgiving me! That Orlick! In my own house! Me, a married woman! Withmy husband standing by! O! O!" Here my sister, after a fit ofclappings and screamings, beat her hands upon her bosom and uponher knees, and threw her cap off, and pulled her hair down - whichwere the last stages on her road to frenzy. Being by this time aperfect Fury and a complete success, she made a dash at the door,which I had fortunately locked.

What could the wretched Joe do now, after his disregardedparenthetical interruptions, but stand up to his journeyman, andask him what he meant by interfering betwixt himself and Mrs. Joe;and further whether he was man enough to come on? Old Orlick feltthat the situation admitted of nothing less than coming on, and wason his defence straightway; so, without so much as pulling offtheir singed and burnt aprons, they went at one another, like twogiants. But, if any man in that neighbourhood could stand up longagainst Joe, I never saw the man. Orlick, as if he had been of nomore account than the pale young gentleman, was very soon among thecoal-dust, and in no hurry to come out of it. Then, Joe unlockedthe door and picked up my sister, who had dropped insensible at thewindow (but who had seen the fight first, I think), and who wascarried into the house and laid down, and who was recommended torevive, and would do nothing but struggle and clench her hands inJoe's hair. Then, came that singular calm and silence which succeedall uproars; and then, with the vague sensation which I have alwaysconnected with such a lull - namely, that it was Sunday, andsomebody was dead - I went up-stairs to dress myself.

When I came down again, I found Joe and Orlick sweeping up, withoutany other traces of discomposure than a slit in one of Orlick'snostrils, which was neither expressive nor ornamental. A pot ofbeer had appeared from the Jolly Bargemen, and they were sharing itby turns in a peaceable manner. The lull had a sedative andphilosophical influence on Joe, who followed me out into the roadto say, as a parting observation that might do me good, "On theRampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip - such is Life!"

With what absurd emotions (for, we think the feelings that are veryserious in a man quite comical in a boy) I found myself again goingto Miss Havisham's, matters little here. Nor, how I passed andrepassed the gate many times before I could make up my mind toring. Nor, how I debated whether I should go away without ringing;nor, how I should undoubtedly have gone, if my time had been myown, to come back.

Miss Sarah Pocket came to the gate. No Estella.

"How, then? You here again?" said Miss Pocket. "What do you want?"

When I said that I only came to see how Miss Havisham was, Sarahevidently deliberated whether or no she should send me about mybusiness. But, unwilling to hazard the responsibility, she let mein, and presently brought the sharp message that I was to "comeup."

Everything was unchanged, and Miss Havisham was alone.

"Well?" said she, fixing her eyes upon me. "I hope you wantnothing? You'll get nothing."

"No, indeed, Miss Havisham. I only wanted you to know that I amdoing very well in my apprenticeship, and am always much obliged toyou."

"There, there!" with the old restless fingers. "Come now and then;come on your birthday. - Ay!" she cried suddenly, turning herselfand her chair towards me, "You are looking round for Estella? Hey?"

I had been looking round - in fact, for Estella - and I stammeredthat I hoped she was well.

"Abroad," said Miss Havisham; "educating for a lady; far out ofreach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feelthat you have lost her?"

There was such a malignant enjoyment in her utterance of the lastwords, and she broke into such a disagreeable laugh, that I was ata loss what to say. She spared me the trouble of considering, bydismissing me. When the gate was closed upon me by Sarah of thewalnut-shell countenance, I felt more than ever dissatisfied withmy home and with my trade and with everything; and that was all Itook by that motion.

As I was loitering along the High-street, looking in disconsolatelyat the shop windows, and thinking what I would buy if I were agentleman, who should come out of the bookshop but Mr. Wopsle. MrWopsle had in his hand the affecting tragedy of George Barnwell, inwhich he had that moment invested sixpence, with the view ofheaping every word of it on the head of Pumblechook, with whom hewas going to drink tea. No sooner did he see me, than he appearedto consider that a special Providence had put a 'prentice in hisway to be read at; and he laid hold of me, and insisted on myaccompanying him to the Pumblechookian parlour. As I knew it wouldbe miserable at home, and as the nights were dark and the way wasdreary, and almost any companionship on the road was better thannone, I made no great resistance; consequently, we turned intoPumblechook's just as the street and the shops were lighting up.

As I never assisted at any other representation of George Barnwell,I don't know how long it may usually take; but I know very wellthat it took until half-past nine o' clock that night, and thatwhen Mr. Wopsle got into Newgate, I thought he never would go to thescaffold, he became so much slower than at any former period of hisdisgraceful career. I thought it a little too much that he shouldcomplain of being cut short in his flower after all, as if he hadnot been running to seed, leaf after leaf, ever since his coursebegan. This, however, was a mere question of length andwearisomeness. What stung me, was the identification of the wholeaffair with my unoffending self. When Barnwell began to go wrong, Ideclare that I felt positively apologetic, Pumblechook's indignantstare so taxed me with it. Wopsle, too, took pains to present me inthe worst light. At once ferocious and maudlin, I was made tomurder my uncle with no extenuating circumstances whatever;Millwood put me down in argument, on every occasion; it becamesheer monomania in my master's daughter to care a button for me;and all I can say for my gasping and procrastinating conduct on thefatal morning, is, that it was worthy of the general feebleness ofmy character. Even after I was happily hanged and Wopsle had closedthe book, Pumblechook sat staring at me, and shaking his head, andsaying, "Take warning, boy, take warning!" as if it were awell-known fact that I contemplated murdering a near relation,provided I could only induce one to have the weakness to become mybenefactor.

It was a very dark night when it was all over, and when I set outwith Mr. Wopsle on the walk home. Beyond town, we found a heavymist out, and it fell wet and thick. The turnpike lamp was a blur,quite out of the lamp's usual place apparently, and its rays lookedsolid substance on the fog. We were noticing this, and saying howthat the mist rose with a change of wind from a certain quarter ofour marshes, when we came upon a man, slouching under the lee ofthe turnpike house.

"Halloa!" we said, stopping. "Orlick, there?"

"Ah!" he answered, slouching out. "I was standing by, a minute, onthe chance of company."

"You are late," I remarked.

Orlick not unnaturally answered, "Well? And you're late."

"We have been," said Mr. Wopsle, exalted with his late performance,"we have been indulging, Mr. Orlick, in an intellectual evening."

Old Orlick growled, as if he had nothing to say about that, and weall went on together. I asked him presently whether he had beenspending his half-holiday up and down town?

"Yes," said he, "all of it. I come in behind yourself. I didn't seeyou, but I must have been pretty close behind you. By-the-bye, theguns is going again."

"At the Hulks?" said I.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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