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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 37)


"My dear Handel," he returned, "I shall esteem and respect yourconfidence."

"It concerns myself, Herbert," said I, "and one other person."

Herbert crossed his feet, looked at the fire with his head on oneside, and having looked at it in vain for some time, looked at mebecause I didn't go on.

"Herbert," said I, laying my hand upon his knee, "I love - I adore- Estella."

Instead of being transfixed, Herbert replied in an easymatter-ofcourse way, "Exactly. Well?"

"Well, Herbert? Is that all you say? Well?"

"What next, I mean?" said Herbert. "Of course I know that."

"How do you know it?" said I.

"How do I know it, Handel? Why, from you."

"I never told you."

"Told me! You have never told me when you have got your hair cut,but I have had senses to perceive it. You have always adored her,ever since I have known you. You brought your adoration and yourportmanteau here, together. Told me! Why, you have always told meall day long. When you told me your own story, you told me plainlythat you began adoring her the first time you saw her, when youwere very young indeed."

"Very well, then," said I, to whom this was a new and not unwelcomelight, "I have never left off adoring her. And she has come back, amost beautiful and most elegant creature. And I saw her yesterday.And if I adored her before, I now doubly adore her."

"Lucky for you then, Handel," said Herbert, "that you are pickedout for her and allotted to her. Without encroaching on forbiddenground, we may venture to say that there can be no doubt betweenourselves of that fact. Have you any idea yet, of Estella's viewson the adoration question?"

I shook my head gloomily. "Oh! She is thousands of miles away, fromme," said I.

"Patience, my dear Handel: time enough, time enough. But you havesomething more to say?"

"I am ashamed to say it," I returned, "and yet it's no worse to sayit than to think it. You call me a lucky fellow. Of course, I am. Iwas a blacksmith's boy but yesterday; I am - what shall I say I am- to-day?"

"Say, a good fellow, if you want a phrase," returned Herbert,smiling, and clapping his hand on the back of mine, "a good fellow,with impetuosity and hesitation, boldness and diffidence, actionand dreaming, curiously mixed in him."

I stopped for a moment to consider whether there really was thismixture in my character. On the whole, I by no means recognized theanalysis, but thought it not worth disputing.

"When I ask what I am to call myself to-day, Herbert," I went on,"I suggest what I have in my thoughts. You say I am lucky. I know Ihave done nothing to raise myself in life, and that Fortune alonehas raised me; that is being very lucky. And yet, when I think ofEstella--"

("And when don't you, you know?" Herbert threw in, with his eyes onthe fire; which I thought kind and sympathetic of him.)

" - Then, my dear Herbert, I cannot tell you how dependent anduncertain I feel, and how exposed to hundreds of chances. Avoidingforbidden ground, as you did just now, I may still say that on theconstancy of one person (naming no person) all my expectationsdepend. And at the best, how indefinite and unsatisfactory, only toknow so vaguely what they are!" In saying this, I relieved my mindof what had always been there, more or less, though no doubt mostsince yesterday.

"Now, Handel," Herbert replied, in his gay hopeful way, "it seemsto me that in the despondency of the tender passion, we are lookinginto our gift-horse's mouth with a magnifying-glass. Likewise, itseems to me that, concentrating our attention on the examination,we altogether overlook one of the best points of the animal. Didn'tyou tell me that your guardian, Mr. Jaggers, told you in thebeginning, that you were not endowed with expectations only? Andeven if he had not told you so - though that is a very large If, Igrant - could you believe that of all men in London, Mr. Jaggers isthe man to hold his present relations towards you unless he weresure of his ground?"

I said I could not deny that this was a strong point. I said it(people often do so, in such cases) like a rather reluctantconcession to truth and justice; - as if I wanted to deny it!

"I should think it was a strong point," said Herbert, "and I shouldthink you would be puzzled to imagine a stronger; as to the rest,you must bide your guardian's time, and he must bide his client'stime. You'll be one-and-twenty before you know where you are, andthen perhaps you'll get some further enlightenment. At all events,you'll be nearer getting it, for it must come at last."

"What a hopeful disposition you have!" said I, gratefully admiringhis cheery ways.

"I ought to have," said Herbert, "for I have not much else. I mustacknowledge, by-the-bye, that the good sense of what I have justsaid is not my own, but my father's. The only remark I ever heardhim make on your story, was the final one: "The thing is settledand done, or Mr. Jaggers would not be in it." And now before I sayanything more about my father, or my father's son, and repayconfidence with confidence, I want to make myself seriouslydisagreeable to you for a moment - positively repulsive."

"You won't succeed," said I.

"Oh yes I shall!" said he. "One, two, three, and now I am in forit. Handel, my good fellow;" though he spoke in this light tone, hewas very much in earnest: "I have been thinking since we have beentalking with our feet on this fender, that Estella surely cannot bea condition of your inheritance, if she was never referred to byyour guardian. Am I right in so understanding what you have toldme, as that he never referred to her, directly or indirectly, inany way? Never even hinted, for instance, that your patron mighthave views as to your marriage ultimately?"

"Never."

"Now, Handel, I am quite free from the flavour of sour grapes, uponmy soul and honour! Not being bound to her, can you not detachyourself from her? - I told you I should be disagreeable."

I turned my head aside, for, with a rush and a sweep, like the oldmarsh winds coming up from the sea, a feeling like that which hadsubdued me on the morning when I left the forge, when the mistswere solemnly rising, and when I laid my hand upon the villagefinger-post, smote upon my heart again. There was silence betweenus for a little while.

"Yes; but my dear Handel," Herbert went on, as if we had beentalking instead of silent, "its having been so strongly rooted inthe breast of a boy whom nature and circumstances made so romantic,renders it very serious. Think of her bringing-up, and think ofMiss Havisham. Think of what she is herself (now I am repulsive andyou abominate me). This may lead to miserable things."

"I know it, Herbert," said I, with my head still turned away, "butI can't help it."

"You can't detach yourself?"

"No. Impossible!"

"You can't try, Handel?"

"No. Impossible!"

"Well!" said Herbert, getting up with a lively shake as if he hadbeen asleep, and stirring the fire; "now I'll endeavour to makemyself agreeable again!"

So he went round the room and shook the curtains out, put thechairs in their places, tidied the books and so forth that werelying about, looked into the hall, peeped into the letter-box, shutthe door, and came back to his chair by the fire: where he satdown, nursing his left leg in both arms.

"I was going to say a word or two, Handel, concerning my father andmy father's son. I am afraid it is scarcely necessary for myfather's son to remark that my father's establishment is notparticularly brilliant in its housekeeping."

"There is always plenty, Herbert," said I: to say somethingencouraging.

"Oh yes! and so the dustman says, I believe, with the strongestapproval, and so does the marine-store shop in the back street.Gravely, Handel, for the subject is grave enough, you know how itis, as well as I do. I suppose there was a time once when my fatherhad not given matters up; but if ever there was, the time is gone.May I ask you if you have ever had an opportunity of remarking,down in your part of the country, that the children of not exactlysuitable marriages, are always most particularly anxious to bemarried?"

This was such a singular question, that I asked him in return, "Isit so?"

"I don't know," said Herbert, "that's what I want to know. Becauseit is decidedly the case with us. My poor sister Charlotte who wasnext me and died before she was fourteen, was a striking example.Little Jane is the same. In her desire to be matrimoniallyestablished, you might suppose her to have passed her shortexistence in the perpetual contemplation of domestic bliss. LittleAlick in a frock has already made arrangements for his union with asuitable young person at Kew. And indeed, I think we are allengaged, except the baby."

"Then you are?" said I.

"I am," said Herbert; "but it's a secret."

I assured him of my keeping the secret, and begged to be favouredwith further particulars. He had spoken so sensibly and feelinglyof my weakness that I wanted to know something about his strength.

"May I ask the name?" I said.

"Name of Clara," said Herbert.

"Live in London?"

"Yes. perhaps I ought to mention," said Herbert, who had becomecuriously crestfallen and meek, since we entered on the interestingtheme, "that she is rather below my mother's nonsensical familynotions. Her father had to do with the victualling ofpassenger-ships. I think he was a species of purser."

"What is he now?" said I.

"He's an invalid now," replied Herbert.

"Living on - ?"

"On the first floor," said Herbert. Which was not at all what Imeant, for I had intended my question to apply to his means. "Ihave never seen him, for he has always kept his room overhead,since I have known Clara. But I have heard him constantly. He makestremendous rows - roars, and pegs at the floor with some frightfulinstrument." In looking at me and then laughing heartily, Herbertfor the time recovered his usual lively manner.

"Don't you expect to see him?" said I.

"Oh yes, I constantly expect to see him," returned Herbert,"because I never hear him, without expecting him to come tumblingthrough the ceiling. But I don't know how long the rafters mayhold."

When he had once more laughed heartily, he became meek again, andtold me that the moment he began to realize Capital, it was hisintention to marry this young lady. He added as a self-evidentproposition, engendering low spirits, "But you can't marry, youknow, while you're looking about you."

As we contemplated the fire, and as I thought what a difficultvision to realize this same Capital sometimes was, I put my handsin my pockets. A folded piece of paper in one of them attracting myattention, I opened it and found it to be the playbill I hadreceived from Joe, relative to the celebrated provincial amateur ofRoscian renown. "And bless my heart," I involuntarily added aloud,"it's to-night!"

This changed the subject in an instant, and made us hurriedlyresolve to go to the play. So, when I had pledged myself to comfortand abet Herbert in the affair of his heart by all practicable andimpracticable means, and when Herbert had told me that hisaffianced already knew me by reputation and that I should bepresented to her, and when we had warmly shaken hands upon ourmutual confidence, we blew out our candles, made up our fire,locked our door, and issued forth in quest of Mr. Wopsle andDenmark.

Chapter 31

On our arrival in Denmark, we found the king and queen of thatcountry elevated in two arm-chairs on a kitchen-table, holding aCourt. The whole of the Danish nobility were in attendance;consisting of a noble boy in the wash-leather boots of a giganticancestor, a venerable Peer with a dirty face who seemed to haverisen from the people late in life, and the Danish chivalry with acomb in its hair and a pair of white silk legs, and presenting onthe whole a feminine appearance. My gifted townsman stood gloomilyapart, with folded arms, and I could have wished that his curls andforehead had been more probable.

Several curious little circumstances transpired as the actionproceeded. The late king of the country not only appeared to havebeen troubled with a cough at the time of his decease, but to havetaken it with him to the tomb, and to have brought it back. Theroyal phantom also carried a ghostly manuscript round itstruncheon, to which it had the appearance of occasionallyreferring, and that, too, with an air of anxiety and a tendency tolose the place of reference which were suggestive of a state ofmortality. It was this, I conceive, which led to the Shade's beingadvised by the gallery to "turn over!" - a recommendation which ittook extremely ill. It was likewise to be noted of this majesticspirit that whereas it always appeared with an air of having beenout a long time and walked an immense distance, it perceptibly camefrom a closely contiguous wall. This occasioned its terrors to bereceived derisively. The Queen of Denmark, a very buxom lady,though no doubt historically brazen, was considered by the publicto have too much brass about her; her chin being attached to herdiadem by a broad band of that metal (as if she had a gorgeoustoothache), her waist being encircled by another, and each of herarms by another, so that she was openly mentioned as "thekettledrum." The noble boy in the ancestral boots, wasinconsistent; representing himself, as it were in one breath, as anable seaman, a strolling actor, a grave-digger, a clergyman, and aperson of the utmost importance at a Court fencing-match, on theauthority of whose practised eye and nice discrimination the fineststrokes were judged. This gradually led to a want of toleration forhim, and even - on his being detected in holy orders, and decliningto perform the funeral service - to the general indignation takingthe form of nuts. Lastly, Ophelia was a prey to such slow musicalmadness, that when, in course of time, she had taken off her whitemuslin scarf, folded it up, and buried it, a sulky man who had beenlong cooling his impatient nose against an iron bar in the frontrow of the gallery, growled, "Now the baby's put to bed let's havesupper!" Which, to say the least of it, was out of keeping.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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