Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 4)

Joe and I going to church, therefore, must have been a movingspectacle for compassionate minds. Yet, what I suffered outside,was nothing to what I underwent within. The terrors that hadassailed me whenever Mrs. Joe had gone near the pantry, or out ofthe room, were only to be equalled by the remorse with which mymind dwelt on what my hands had done. Under the weight of my wickedsecret, I pondered whether the Church would be powerful enough toshield me from the vengeance of the terrible young man, if Idivulged to that establishment. I conceived the idea that the timewhen the banns were read and when the clergyman said, "Ye are nowto declare it!" would be the time for me to rise and propose aprivate conference in the vestry. I am far from being sure that Imight not have astonished our small congregation by resorting tothis extreme measure, but for its being Christmas Day and noSunday.

Mr. Wopsle, the clerk at church, was to dine with us; and Mr. Hubblethe wheelwright and Mrs. Hubble; and Uncle Pumblechook (Joe's uncle,but Mrs. Joe appropriated him), who was a well-to-do corn-chandlerin the nearest town, and drove his own chaise-cart. The dinner hourwas half-past one. When Joe and I got home, we found the tablelaid, and Mrs. Joe dressed, and the dinner dressing, and the frontdoor unlocked (it never was at any other time) for the company toenter by, and everything most splendid. And still, not a word ofthe robbery.

The time came, without bringing with it any relief to my feelings,and the company came. Mr. Wopsle, united to a Roman nose and alarge shining bald forehead, had a deep voice which he wasuncommonly proud of; indeed it was understood among hisacquaintance that if you could only give him his head, he wouldread the clergyman into fits; he himself confessed that if theChurch was "thrown open," meaning to competition, he would notdespair of making his mark in it. The Church not being "thrownopen," he was, as I have said, our clerk. But he punished theAmens tremendously; and when he gave out the psalm - always givingthe whole verse - he looked all round the congregation first, asmuch as to say, "You have heard my friend overhead; oblige me withyour opinion of this style!"

I opened the door to the company - making believe that it was ahabit of ours to open that door - and I opened it first to Mr.Wopsle, next to Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, and last of all to UnclePumblechook. N.B., I was not allowed to call him uncle, under theseverest penalties.

"Mrs. Joe," said Uncle Pumblechook: a large hard-breathingmiddle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes,and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked asif he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to;"I have brought you, as the compliments of the season - I havebrought you, Mum, a bottle of sherry wine - and I have brought you,Mum, a bottle of port wine."

Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty,with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles likedumb-bells. Every Christmas Day, Mrs. Joe replied, as she nowreplied, "Oh, Un - cle Pum - ble - chook! This IS kind!" EveryChristmas Day, he retorted, as he now retorted, "It's no more thanyour merits. And now are you all bobbish, and how's Sixpennorth ofhalfpence?" meaning me.

We dined on these occasions in the kitchen, and adjourned, for thenuts and oranges and apples, to the parlour; which was a changevery like Joe's change from his working clothes to his Sundaydress. My sister was uncommonly lively on the present occasion, andindeed was generally more gracious in the society of Mrs. Hubblethan in other company. I remember Mrs. Hubble as a little curlysharp-edged person in sky-blue, who held a conventionally juvenileposition, because she had married Mr. Hubble - I don't know at whatremote period - when she was much younger than he. I remember MrHubble as a tough high-shouldered stooping old man, of a sawdustyfragrance, with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in myshort days I always saw some miles of open country between themwhen I met him coming up the lane.

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn'trobbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezedin at an acute angle of the table-cloth, with the table in mychest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I wasnot allowed to speak (I didn't want to speak), nor because I wasregaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, andwith those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living,had had the least reason to be vain. No; I should not have mindedthat, if they would only have left me alone. But they wouldn'tleave me alone. They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if theyfailed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, andstick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate littlebull in a Spanish arena, I got so smartingly touched up by thesemoral goads.

It began the moment we sat down to dinner. Mr. Wopsle said gracewith theatrical declamation - as it now appears to me, somethinglike a religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard theThird - and ended with the very proper aspiration that we might betruly grateful. Upon which my sister fixed me with her eye, andsaid, in a low reproachful voice, "Do you hear that? Be grateful."

"Especially," said Mr. Pumblechook, "be grateful, boy, to them whichbrought you up by hand."

Mrs. Hubble shook her head, and contemplating me with a mournfulpresentiment that I should come to no good, asked, "Why is it thatthe young are never grateful?" This moral mystery seemed too muchfor the company until Mr. Hubble tersely solved it by saying,"Naterally wicious." Everybody then murmured "True!" and looked atme in a particularly unpleasant and personal manner.

Joe's station and influence were something feebler (if possible)when there was company, than when there was none. But he alwaysaided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, andhe always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there wereany. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate,at this point, about half a pint.

A little later on in the dinner, Mr. Wopsle reviewed the sermon withsome severity, and intimated - in the usual hypothetical case ofthe Church being "thrown open" - what kind of sermon he would havegiven them. After favouring them with some heads of that discourse,he remarked that he considered the subject of the day's homily,ill-chosen; which was the less excusable, he added, when there wereso many subjects "going about."

"True again," said Uncle Pumblechook. "You've hit it, sir! Plenty ofsubjects going about, for them that know how to put salt upon theirtails. That's what's wanted. A man needn't go far to find asubject, if he's ready with his salt-box." Mr. Pumblechook added,after a short interval of reflection, "Look at Pork alone. There'sa subject! If you want a subject, look at Pork!"

"True, sir. Many a moral for the young," returned Mr. Wopsle; and Iknew he was going to lug me in, before he said it; "might bededuced from that text."

("You listen to this," said my sister to me, in a severeparenthesis.)

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Swine," pursued Mr. Wopsle, in his deepest voice, and pointing hisfork at my blushes, as if he were mentioning my Christian name;"Swine were the companions of the prodigal. The gluttony of Swineis put before us, as an example to the young." (I thought thispretty well in him who had been praising up the pork for being soplump and juicy.) "What is detestable in a pig, is more detestablein a boy."

"Or girl," suggested Mr. Hubble.

"Of course, or girl, Mr. Hubble," assented Mr. Wopsle, ratherirritably, "but there is no girl present."

"Besides," said Mr. Pumblechook, turning sharp on me, "think whatyou've got to be grateful for. If you'd been born a Squeaker--"

"He was, if ever a child was," said my sister, most emphatically.

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Well, but I mean a four-footed Squeaker," said Mr. Pumblechook. "Ifyou had been born such, would you have been here now? Not you--"

"Unless in that form," said Mr. Wopsle, nodding towards the dish.

"But I don't mean in that form, sir," returned Mr. Pumblechook, whohad an objection to being interrupted; "I mean, enjoying himselfwith his elders and betters, and improving himself with theirconversation, and rolling in the lap of luxury. Would he have beendoing that? No, he wouldn't. And what would have been yourdestination?" turning on me again. "You would have been disposed offor so many shillings according to the market price of the article,and Dunstable the butcher would have come up to you as you lay inyour straw, and he would have whipped you under his left arm, andwith his right he would have tucked up his frock to get a penknifefrom out of his waistcoat-pocket, and he would have shed yourblood and had your life. No bringing up by hand then. Not a bit ofit!"

Joe offered me more gravy, which I was afraid to take.

"He was a world of trouble to you, ma'am," said Mrs. Hubble,commiserating my sister.

"Trouble?" echoed my sister; "trouble?" and then entered on afearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, andall the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all the highplaces I had tumbled from, and all the low places I had tumbledinto, and all the injuries I had done myself, and all the times shehad wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to gothere.

I think the Romans must have aggravated one another very much, withtheir noses. Perhaps, they became the restless people they were, inconsequence. Anyhow, Mr. Wopsle's Roman nose so aggravated me,during the recital of my misdemeanours, that I should have liked topull it until he howled. But, all I had endured up to this time,was nothing in comparison with the awful feelings that tookpossession of me when the pause was broken which ensued upon mysister's recital, and in which pause everybody had looked at me (asI felt painfully conscious) with indignation and abhorrence.

"Yet," said Mr. Pumblechook, leading the company gently back to thetheme from which they had strayed, "Pork - regarded as biled - isrich, too; ain't it?"

"Have a little brandy, uncle," said my sister.

O Heavens, it had come at last! He would find it was weak, he wouldsay it was weak, and I was lost! I held tight to the leg of thetable under the cloth, with both hands, and awaited my fate.

My sister went for the stone bottle, came back with the stonebottle, and poured his brandy out: no one else taking any. Thewretched man trifled with his glass - took it up, looked at itthrough the light, put it down - prolonged my misery. All thistime, Mrs. Joe and Joe were briskly clearing the table for the pieand pudding.

I couldn't keep my eyes off him. Always holding tight by the leg ofthe table with my hands and feet, I saw the miserable creaturefinger his glass playfully, take it up, smile, throw his head back,and drink the brandy off. Instantly afterwards, the company wereseized with unspeakable consternation, owing to his springing tohis feet, turning round several times in an appalling spasmodicwhooping-cough dance, and rushing out at the door; he then becamevisible through the window, violently plunging and expectorating,making the most hideous faces, and apparently out of his mind.

I held on tight, while Mrs. Joe and Joe ran to him. I didn't knowhow I had done it, but I had no doubt I had murdered him somehow.In my dreadful situation, it was a relief when he was brought back,and, surveying the company all round as if they had disagreed withhim, sank down into his chair with the one significant gasp, "Tar!"

I had filled up the bottle from the tar-water jug. I knew he wouldbe worse by-and-by. I moved the table, like a Medium of the presentday, by the vigour of my unseen hold upon it.

"Tar!" cried my sister, in amazement. "Why, how ever could Tar comethere?"

But, Uncle Pumblechook, who was omnipotent in that kitchen,wouldn't hear the word, wouldn't hear of the subject, imperiouslywaved it all away with his hand, and asked for hot gin-and-water.My sister, who had begun to be alarmingly meditative, had to employherself actively in getting the gin, the hot water, the sugar, andthe lemon-peel, and mixing them. For the time being at least, I wassaved. I still held on to the leg of the table, but clutched it nowwith the fervour of gratitude.

By degrees, I became calm enough to release my grasp and partake ofpudding. Mr. Pumblechook partook of pudding. All partook of pudding.The course terminated, and Mr. Pumblechook had begun to beam underthe genial influence of gin-and-water. I began to think I shouldget over the day, when my sister said to Joe, "Clean plates -cold."

I clutched the leg of the table again immediately, and pressed itto my bosom as if it had been the companion of my youth and friendof my soul. I foresaw what was coming, and I felt that this time Ireally was gone.

"You must taste," said my sister, addressing the guests with herbest grace, "You must taste, to finish with, such a delightful anddelicious present of Uncle Pumblechook's!"

Must they! Let them not hope to taste it!

"You must know," said my sister, rising, "it's a pie; a savourypork pie."

The company murmured their compliments. Uncle Pumblechook, sensibleof having deserved well of his fellow-creatures, said - quitevivaciously, all things considered - "Well, Mrs. Joe, we'll do ourbest endeavours; let us have a cut at this same pie."

My sister went out to get it. I heard her steps proceed to thepantry. I saw Mr. Pumblechook balance his knife. I saw re-awakeningappetite in the Roman nostrils of Mr. Wopsle. I heard Mr. Hubbleremark that "a bit of savoury pork pie would lay atop of anythingyou could mention, and do no harm," and I heard Joe say, "You shallhave some, Pip." I have never been absolutely certain whether Iuttered a shrill yell of terror, merely in spirit, or in the bodilyhearing of the company. I felt that I could bear no more, and thatI must run away. I released the leg of the table, and ran for mylife.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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