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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 8)


Mrs. Joe made occasional trips with Uncle Pumblechook onmarket-days, to assist him in buying such household stuffs andgoods as required a woman's judgment; Uncle Pumblechook being abachelor and reposing no confidences in his domestic servant. Thiswas market-day, and Mrs. Joe was out on one of these expeditions.

Joe made the fire and swept the hearth, and then we went to thedoor to listen for the chaise-cart. It was a dry cold night, andthe wind blew keenly, and the frost was white and hard. A man woulddie to-night of lying out on the marshes, I thought. And then Ilooked at the stars, and considered how awful if would be for a manto turn his face up to them as he froze to death, and see no helpor pity in all the glittering multitude.

"Here comes the mare," said Joe, "ringing like a peal of bells!"

The sound of her iron shoes upon the hard road was quite musical,as she came along at a much brisker trot than usual. We got a chairout, ready for Mrs. Joe's alighting, and stirred up the fire thatthey might see a bright window, and took a final survey of thekitchen that nothing might be out of its place. When we hadcompleted these preparations, they drove up, wrapped to the eyes.Mrs. Joe was soon landed, and Uncle Pumblechook was soon down too,covering the mare with a cloth, and we were soon all in thekitchen, carrying so much cold air in with us that it seemed todrive all the heat out of the fire.

"Now," said Mrs. Joe, unwrapping herself with haste and excitement,and throwing her bonnet back on her shoulders where it hung by thestrings: "if this boy an't grateful this night, he never will be!"

I looked as grateful as any boy possibly could, who was whollyuninformed why he ought to assume that expression.

"It's only to be hoped," said my sister, "that he won't bePomp-eyed. But I have my fears."

"She an't in that line, Mum," said Mr. Pumblechook. "She knowsbetter."

She? I looked at Joe, making the motion with my lips and eyebrows,"She?" Joe looked at me, making the motion with his lips andeyebrows, "She?" My sister catching him in the act, he drew theback of his hand across his nose with his usual conciliatory air onsuch occasions, and looked at her.

"Well?" said my sister, in her snappish way. "What are you staringat? Is the house a-fire?"

" - Which some individual," Joe politely hinted, "mentioned - she."

"And she is a she, I suppose?" said my sister. "Unless you callMiss Havisham a he. And I doubt if even you'll go so far as that."

"Miss Havisham, up town?" said Joe.

"Is there any Miss Havisham down town?" returned my sister.

"She wants this boy to go and play there. And of course he's going.And he had better play there," said my sister, shaking her head atme as an encouragement to be extremely light and sportive, "or I'llwork him."

I had heard of Miss Havisham up town - everybody for miles round,had heard of Miss Havisham up town - as an immensely rich and grimlady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded againstrobbers, and who led a life of seclusion.

"Well to be sure!" said Joe, astounded. "I wonder how she come toknow Pip!"

"Noodle!" cried my sister. "Who said she knew him?"

" - Which some individual," Joe again politely hinted, "mentionedthat she wanted him to go and play there."

"And couldn't she ask Uncle Pumblechook if he knew of a boy to goand play there? Isn't it just barely possible that UnclePumblechook may be a tenant of hers, and that he may sometimes - wewon't say quarterly or half-yearly, for that would be requiring toomuch of you - but sometimes - go there to pay his rent? Andcouldn't she then ask Uncle Pumblechook if he knew of a boy to goand play there? And couldn't Uncle Pumblechook, being alwaysconsiderate and thoughtful for us - though you may not think it,Joseph," in a tone of the deepest reproach, as if he were the mostcallous of nephews, "then mention this boy, standing Prancing here"- which I solemnly declare I was not doing - "that I have for everbeen a willing slave to?"

"Good again!" cried Uncle Pumblechook. "Well put! Prettily pointed!Good indeed! Now Joseph, you know the case."

"No, Joseph," said my sister, still in a reproachful manner, whileJoe apologetically drew the back of his hand across and across hisnose, "you do not yet - though you may not think it - know thecase. You may consider that you do, but you do not, Joseph. For youdo not know that Uncle Pumblechook, being sensible that foranything we can tell, this boy's fortune may be made by his goingto Miss Havisham's, has offered to take him into town to-night inhis own chaise-cart, and to keep him to-night, and to take him withhis own hands to Miss Havisham's to-morrow morning. And Lor-a-mussyme!" cried my sister, casting off her bonnet in sudden desperation,"here I stand talking to mere Mooncalfs, with Uncle Pumblechookwaiting, and the mare catching cold at the door, and the boy grimedwith crock and dirt from the hair of his head to the sole of hisfoot!"

With that, she pounced upon me, like an eagle on a lamb, and myface was squeezed into wooden bowls in sinks, and my head was putunder taps of water-butts, and I was soaped, and kneaded, andtowelled, and thumped, and harrowed, and rasped, until I really wasquite beside myself. (I may here remark that I suppose myself to bebetter acquainted than any living authority, with the ridgy effectof a wedding-ring, passing unsympathetically over the humancountenance.)

When my ablutions were completed, I was put into clean linen of thestiffest character, like a young penitent into sackcloth, and wastrussed up in my tightest and fearfullest suit. I was thendelivered over to Mr. Pumblechook, who formally received me as if hewere the Sheriff, and who let off upon me the speech that I knew hehad been dying to make all along: "Boy, be for ever grateful to allfriends, but especially unto them which brought you up by hand!"

"Good-bye, Joe!"

"God bless you, Pip, old chap!"

I had never parted from him before, and what with my feelings andwhat with soap-suds, I could at first see no stars from thechaise-cart. But they twinkled out one by one, without throwing anylight on the questions why on earth I was going to play at MissHavisham's, and what on earth I was expected to play at.

Chapter 8

Mr. Pumblechook's premises in the High-street of the market town,were of a peppercorny and farinaceous character, as the premises ofa corn-chandler and seedsman should be. It appeared to me that hemust be a very happy man indeed, to have so many little drawers inhis shop; and I wondered when I peeped into one or two on the lowertiers, and saw the tied-up brown paper packets inside, whether theflower-seeds and bulbs ever wanted of a fine day to break out ofthose jails, and bloom.

It was in the early morning after my arrival that I entertainedthis speculation. On the previous night, I had been sent straightto bed in an attic with a sloping roof, which was so low in thecorner where the bedstead was, that I calculated the tiles as beingwithin a foot of my eyebrows. In the same early morning, Idiscovered a singular affinity between seeds and corduroys. Mr.Pumblechook wore corduroys, and so did his shopman; and somehow,there was a general air and flavour about the corduroys, so much inthe nature of seeds, and a general air and flavour about the seeds,so much in the nature of corduroys, that I hardly knew which waswhich. The same opportunity served me for noticing that Mr.Pumblechook appeared to conduct his business by looking across thestreet at the saddler, who appeared to transact his business bykeeping his eye on the coach-maker, who appeared to get on in lifeby putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker,who in his turn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stoodat his door and yawned at the chemist. The watch-maker, alwaysporing over a little desk with a magnifying glass at his eye, andalways inspected by a group of smock-frocks poring over him throughthe glass of his shop-window, seemed to be about the only person inthe High-street whose trade engaged his attention.

Mr. Pumblechook and I breakfasted at eight o'clock in the parlourbehind the shop, while the shopman took his mug of tea and hunch ofbread-and-butter on a sack of peas in the front premises. Iconsidered Mr. Pumblechook wretched company. Besides being possessedby my sister's idea that a mortifying and penitential characterought to be imparted to my diet - besides giving me as much crumbas possible in combination with as little butter, and putting sucha quantity of warm water into my milk that it would have been morecandid to have left the milk out altogether - his conversationconsisted of nothing but arithmetic. On my politely bidding himGood morning, he said, pompously, "Seven times nine, boy?" And howshould I be able to answer, dodged in that way, in a strange place,on an empty stomach! I was hungry, but before I had swallowed amorsel, he began a running sum that lasted all through thebreakfast. "Seven?" "And four?" "And eight?" "And six?" "And two?""And ten?" And so on. And after each figure was disposed of, it wasas much as I could do to get a bite or a sup, before the next came;while he sat at his ease guessing nothing, and eating bacon and hotroll, in (if I may be allowed the expression) a gorging andgormandising manner.

For such reasons I was very glad when ten o'clock came and westarted for Miss Havisham's; though I was not at all at my easeregarding the manner in which I should acquit myself under thatlady's roof. Within a quarter of an hour we came to Miss Havisham'shouse, which was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great manyiron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of thosethat remained, all the lower were rustily barred. There was acourt-yard in front, and that was barred; so, we had to wait, afterringing the bell, until some one should come to open it. While wewaited at the gate, I peeped in (even then Mr. Pumblechook said,"And fourteen?" but I pretended not to hear him), and saw that atthe side of the house there was a large brewery. No brewing was goingon in it, and none seemed to have gone on for a long long time.

A window was raised, and a clear voice demanded "What name?" Towhich my conductor replied, "Pumblechook." The voice returned,"Quite right," and the window was shut again, and a young lady cameacross the court-yard, with keys in her hand.

"This," said Mr. Pumblechook, "is Pip."

"This is Pip, is it?" returned the young lady, who was very prettyand seemed very proud; "come in, Pip."

Mr. Pumblechook was coming in also, when she stopped him with thegate.

"Oh!" she said. "Did you wish to see Miss Havisham?"

"If Miss Havisham wished to see me," returned Mr. Pumblechook,discomfited.

"Ah!" said the girl; "but you see she don't."

She said it so finally, and in such an undiscussible way, that Mr.Pumblechook, though in a condition of ruffled dignity, could notprotest. But he eyed me severely - as if I had done anything tohim! - and departed with the words reproachfully delivered: "Boy!Let your behaviour here be a credit unto them which brought you upby hand!" I was not free from apprehension that he would come backto propound through the gate, "And sixteen?" But he didn't.

My young conductress locked the gate, and we went across thecourt-yard. It was paved and clean, but grass was growing in everycrevice. The brewery buildings had a little lane of communicationwith it, and the wooden gates of that lane stood open, and all thebrewery beyond, stood open, away to the high enclosing wall; andall was empty and disused. The cold wind seemed to blow colderthere, than outside the gate; and it made a shrill noise in howlingin and out at the open sides of the brewery, like the noise of windin the rigging of a ship at sea.

She saw me looking at it, and she said, "You could drink withouthurt all the strong beer that's brewed there now, boy."

"I should think I could, miss," said I, in a shy way.

"Better not try to brew beer there now, or it would turn out sour,boy; don't you think so?"

"It looks like it, miss."

"Not that anybody means to try," she added, "for that's all donewith, and the place will stand as idle as it is, till it falls. Asto strong beer, there's enough of it in the cellars already, todrown the Manor House."

"Is that the name of this house, miss?"

"One of its names, boy."

"It has more than one, then, miss?"

"One more. Its other name was Satis; which is Greek, or Latin, orHebrew, or all three - or all one to me - for enough."

"Enough House," said I; "that's a curious name, miss."

"Yes," she replied; "but it meant more than it said. It meant, whenit was given, that whoever had this house, could want nothing else.They must have been easily satisfied in those days, I should think.But don't loiter, boy."

Though she called me "boy" so often, and with a carelessness thatwas far from complimentary, she was of about my own age. She seemedmuch older than I, of course, being a girl, and beautiful andself-possessed; and she was as scornful of me as if she had beenone-and-twenty, and a queen.

We went into the house by a side door - the great front entrancehad two chains across it outside - and the first thing I noticedwas, that the passages were all dark, and that she had left acandle burning there. She took it up, and we went through morepassages and up a staircase, and still it was all dark, and onlythe candle lighted us.

At last we came to the door of a room, and she said, "Go in."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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