Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 33)

I took what Joe gave me, and found it to be the crumpled playbillof a small metropolitan theatre, announcing the first appearance,in that very week, of "the celebrated Provincial Amateur of Roscianrenown, whose unique performance in the highest tragic walk of ourNational Bard has lately occasioned so great a sensation in localdramatic circles."

"Were you at his performance, Joe?" I inquired.

"I were," said Joe, with emphasis and solemnity.

"Was there a great sensation?"

"Why," said Joe, "yes, there certainly were a peck of orange-peel.Partickler, when he see the ghost. Though I put it to yourself,sir, whether it were calc'lated to keep a man up to his work with agood hart, to be continiwally cutting in betwixt him and the Ghostwith "Amen!" A man may have had a misfortun' and been in theChurch," said Joe, lowering his voice to an argumentative andfeeling tone, "but that is no reason why you should put him out atsuch a time. Which I meantersay, if the ghost of a man's own fathercannot be allowed to claim his attention, what can, Sir? Stillmore, when his mourning "at is unfortunately made so small as thatthe weight of the black feathers brings it off, try to keep it onhow you may."

A ghost-seeing effect in Joe's own countenance informed me thatHerbert had entered the room. So, I presented Joe to Herbert, whoheld out his hand; but Joe backed from it, and held on by thebird's-nest.

"Your servant, Sir," said Joe, "which I hope as you and Pip" - herehis eye fell on the Avenger, who was putting some toast on table,and so plainly denoted an intention to make that young gentlemanone of the family, that I frowned it down and confused him more -"I meantersay, you two gentlemen - which I hope as you get yourelths in this close spot? For the present may be a werry good inn,according to London opinions," said Joe, confidentially, "and Ibelieve its character do stand i; but I wouldn't keep a pig in itmyself - not in the case that I wished him to fatten wholesome andto eat with a meller flavour on him."

Having borne this flattering testimony to the merits of ourdwelling-place, and having incidentally shown this tendency to callme "sir," Joe, being invited to sit down to table, looked all roundthe room for a suitable spot on which to deposit his hat - as if itwere only on some very few rare substances in nature that it couldfind a resting place - and ultimately stood it on an extreme cornerof the chimney-piece, from which it ever afterwards fell off atintervals.

"Do you take tea, or coffee, Mr. Gargery?" asked Herbert, who alwayspresided of a morning.

"Thankee, Sir," said Joe, stiff from head to foot, "I'll takewhichever is most agreeable to yourself."

"What do you say to coffee?"

"Thankee, Sir," returned Joe, evidently dispirited by the proposal,"since you are so kind as make chice of coffee, I will not runcontrairy to your own opinions. But don't you never find it alittle 'eating?"

"Say tea then," said Herbert, pouring it out.

Here Joe's hat tumbled off the mantel-piece, and he started out ofhis chair and picked it up, and fitted it to the same exact spot.As if it were an absolute point of good breeding that it shouldtumble off again soon.

"When did you come to town, Mr. Gargery?"

"Were it yesterday afternoon?" said Joe, after coughing behind hishand, as if he had had time to catch the whooping-cough since hecame. "No it were not. Yes it were. Yes. It were yesterdayafternoon" (with an appearance of mingled wisdom, relief, andstrict impartiality).

"Have you seen anything of London, yet?"

"Why, yes, Sir," said Joe, "me and Wopsle went off straight to lookat the Blacking Ware'us. But we didn't find that it come up to itslikeness in the red bills at the shop doors; which I meantersay,"added Joe, in an explanatory manner, "as it is there drawd tooarchitectooralooral."

I really believe Joe would have prolonged this word (mightilyexpressive to my mind of some architecture that I know) into aperfect Chorus, but for his attention being providentiallyattracted by his hat, which was toppling. Indeed, it demanded fromhim a constant attention, and a quickness of eye and hand, verylike that exacted by wicket-keeping. He made extraordinary playwith it, and showed the greatest skill; now, rushing at it andcatching it neatly as it dropped; now, merely stopping it midway,beating it up, and humouring it in various parts of the room andagainst a good deal of the pattern of the paper on the wall, beforehe felt it safe to close with it; finally, splashing it into theslop-basin, where I took the liberty of laying hands upon it.

As to his shirt-collar, and his coat-collar, they were perplexingto reflect upon - insoluble mysteries both. Why should a man scrapehimself to that extent, before he could consider himself fulldressed? Why should he suppose it necessary to be purified bysuffering for his holiday clothes? Then he fell into suchunaccountable fits of meditation, with his fork midway between hisplate and his mouth; had his eyes attracted in such strangedirections; was afflicted with such remarkable coughs; sat so farfrom the table, and dropped so much more than he ate, and pretendedthat he hadn't dropped it; that I was heartily glad when Herbertleft us for the city.

I had neither the good sense nor the good feeling to know that thiswas all my fault, and that if I had been easier with Joe, Joe wouldhave been easier with me. I felt impatient of him and out of temperwith him; in which condition he heaped coals of fire on my head.

"Us two being now alone, Sir," - began Joe.

"Joe," I interrupted, pettishly, "how can you call me, Sir?"

Joe looked at me for a single instant with something faintly likereproach. Utterly preposterous as his cravat was, and as hiscollars were, I was conscious of a sort of dignity in the look.

"Us two being now alone," resumed Joe, "and me having theintentions and abilities to stay not many minutes more, I will nowconclude - leastways begin - to mention what have led to my havinghad the present honour. For was it not," said Joe, with his old airof lucid exposition, "that my only wish were to be useful to you, Ishould not have had the honour of breaking wittles in the companyand abode of gentlemen."

I was so unwilling to see the look again, that I made noremonstrance against this tone.

"Well, Sir," pursued Joe, "this is how it were. I were at theBargemen t'other night, Pip;" whenever he subsided into affection,he called me Pip, and whenever he relapsed into politeness hecalled me Sir; "when there come up in his shay-cart, Pumblechook.Which that same identical," said Joe, going down a new track, "docomb my 'air the wrong way sometimes, awful, by giving out up anddown town as it were him which ever had your infant companionationand were looked upon as a playfellow by yourself."

"Nonsense. It was you, Joe."

"Which I fully believed it were, Pip," said Joe, slightly tossinghis head, "though it signify little now, Sir. Well, Pip; this sameidentical, which his manners is given to blusterous, come to me atthe Bargemen (wot a pipe and a pint of beer do give refreshment tothe working-man, Sir, and do not over stimilate), and his wordwere, 'Joseph, Miss Havisham she wish to speak to you.'"

"Miss Havisham, Joe?"

"'She wish,' were Pumblechook's word, 'to speak to you.'" Joe satand rolled his eyes at the ceiling.

"Yes, Joe? Go on, please."

"Next day, Sir," said Joe, looking at me as if I were a long wayoff, "having cleaned myself, I go and I see Miss A."

"Miss A., Joe? Miss Havisham?"

"Which I say, Sir," replied Joe, with an air of legal formality, asif he were making his will, "Miss A., or otherways Havisham. Herexpression air then as follering: 'Mr. Gargery. You air incorrespondence with Mr. Pip?' Having had a letter from you, I wereable to say 'I am.' (When I married your sister, Sir, I said 'Iwill;' and when I answered your friend, Pip, I said 'I am.') 'Wouldyou tell him, then,' said she, 'that which Estella has come homeand would be glad to see him.'"

I felt my face fire up as I looked at Joe. I hope one remote causeof its firing, may have been my consciousness that if I had knownhis errand, I should have given him more encouragement.

"Biddy," pursued Joe, "when I got home and asked her fur to writethe message to you, a little hung back. Biddy says, "I know he willbe very glad to have it by word of mouth, it is holidaytime, youwant to see him, go!" I have now concluded, Sir," said Joe, risingfrom his chair, "and, Pip, I wish you ever well and ever prosperingto a greater and a greater heighth."

"But you are not going now, Joe?"

"Yes I am," said Joe.

"But you are coming back to dinner, Joe?"

"No I am not," said Joe.

Our eyes met, and all the "Sir" melted out of that manly heart ashe gave me his hand.

"Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings weldedtogether, as I may say, and one man's a blacksmith, and one's awhitesmith, and one's a goldsmith, and one's a coppersmith.Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. Ifthere's been any fault at all to-day, it's mine. You and me is nottwo figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else butwhat is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. Itain't that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shallnever see me no more in these clothes. I'm wrong in these clothes.I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th' meshes. Youwon't find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forgedress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won't findhalf so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish tosee me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and seeJoe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burntapron, sticking to the old work. I'm awful dull, but I hope I'vebeat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so GODbless you, dear old Pip, old chap, GOD bless you!"

I had not been mistaken in my fancy that there was a simple dignityin him. The fashion of his dress could no more come in its way whenhe spoke these words, than it could come in its way in Heaven. Hetouched me gently on the forehead, and went out. As soon as I couldrecover myself sufficiently, I hurried out after him and looked forhim in the neighbouring streets; but he was gone.

Chapter 28

It was clear that I must repair to our town next day, and in thefirst flow of my repentance it was equally clear that I must stayat Joe's. But, when I had secured my box-place by to-morrow's coachand had been down to Mr. Pocket's and back, I was not by any meansconvinced on the last point, and began to invent reasons and makeexcuses for putting up at the Blue Boar. I should be aninconvenience at Joe's; I was not expected, and my bed would not beready; I should be too far from Miss Havisham's, and she wasexacting and mightn't like it. All other swindlers upon earth arenothing to the self-swindlers, and with such pretences did I cheatmyself. Surely a curious thing. That I should innocently take a badhalf-crown of somebody else's manufacture, is reasonable enough;but that I should knowingly reckon the spurious coin of my ownmake, as good money! An obliging stranger, under pretence ofcompactly folding up my bank-notes for security's sake, abstractsthe notes and gives me nutshells; but what is his sleight of handto mine, when I fold up my own nutshells and pass them on myself asnotes!

Having settled that I must go to the Blue Boar, my mind was muchdisturbed by indecision whether or not to take the Avenger. It wastempting to think of that expensive Mercenary publicly airing hisboots in the archway of the Blue Boar's posting-yard; it was almostsolemn to imagine him casually produced in the tailor's shop andconfounding the disrespectful senses of Trabb's boy. On the otherhand, Trabb's boy might worm himself into his intimacy and tell himthings; or, reckless and desperate wretch as I knew he could be,might hoot him in the High-street, My patroness, too, might hear ofhim, and not approve. On the whole, I resolved to leave the Avengerbehind.

It was the afternoon coach by which I had taken my place, and, aswinter had now come round, I should not arrive at my destinationuntil two or three hours after dark. Our time of starting from theCross Keys was two o'clock. I arrived on the ground with a quarterof an hour to spare, attended by the Avenger - if I may connectthat expression with one who never attended on me if he couldpossibly help it.

At that time it was customary to carry Convicts down to thedockyards by stage-coach. As I had often heard of them in thecapacity of outside passengers, and had more than once seen them onthe high road dangling their ironed legs over the coach roof, I hadno cause to be surprised when Herbert, meeting me in the yard, cameup and told me there were two convicts going down with me. But Ihad a reason that was an old reason now, for constitutionallyfaltering whenever I heard the word convict.

"You don't mind them, Handel?" said Herbert.

"Oh no!"

"I thought you seemed as if you didn't like them?"

"I can't pretend that I do like them, and I suppose you don'tparticularly. But I don't mind them."

"See! There they are," said Herbert, "coming out of the Tap. What adegraded and vile sight it is!"

They had been treating their guard, I suppose, for they had agaoler with them, and all three came out wiping their mouths ontheir hands. The two convicts were handcuffed together, and hadirons on their legs - irons of a pattern that I knew well. Theywore the dress that I likewise knew well. Their keeper had a braceof pistols, and carried a thick-knobbed bludgeon under his arm; buthe was on terms of good understanding with them, and stood, withthem beside him, looking on at the putting-to of the horses, ratherwith an air as if the convicts were an interesting Exhibition notformally open at the moment, and he the Curator. One was a tallerand stouter man than the other, and appeared as a matter of course,according to the mysterious ways of the world both convict andfree, to have had allotted to him the smaller suit of clothes. Hisarms and legs were like great pincushions of those shapes, and hisattire disguised him absurdly; but I knew his half-closed eye atone glance. There stood the man whom I had seen on the settle atthe Three Jolly Bargemen on a Saturday night, and who had broughtme down with his invisible gun!

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 113653 times


Page generation 0.001 seconds