Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 41)

At certain times - meaning at uncertain times, for they depended onour humour - I would say to Herbert, as if it were a remarkablediscovery:

"My dear Herbert, we are getting on badly."

"My dear Handel," Herbert would say to me, in all sincerity, if youwill believe me, those very words were on my lips, by a strangecoincidence."

"Then, Herbert," I would respond, "let us look into out affairs."

We always derived profound satisfaction from making an appointmentfor this purpose. I always thought this was business, this was theway to confront the thing, this was the way to take the foe by thethroat. And I know Herbert thought so too.

We ordered something rather special for dinner, with a bottle ofsomething similarly out of the common way, in order that our mindsmight be fortified for the occasion, and we might come well up tothe mark. Dinner over, we produced a bundle of pens, a copioussupply of ink, and a goodly show of writing and blotting paper.For, there was something very comfortable in having plenty ofstationery.

I would then take a sheet of paper, and write across the top of it,in a neat hand, the heading, "Memorandum of Pip's debts;" withBarnard's Inn and the date very carefully added. Herbert would alsotake a sheet of paper, and write across it with similarformalities, "Memorandum of Herbert's debts."

Each of us would then refer to a confused heap of papers at hisside, which had been thrown into drawers, worn into holes inPockets, half-burnt in lighting candles, stuck for weeks into thelooking-glass, and otherwise damaged. The sound of our pens going,refreshed us exceedingly, insomuch that I sometimes found itdifficult to distinguish between this edifying business proceedingand actually paying the money. In point of meritorious character,the two things seemed about equal.

When we had written a little while, I would ask Herbert how he goton? Herbert probably would have been scratching his head in a mostrueful manner at the sight of his accumulating figures.

"They are mounting up, Handel," Herbert would say; "upon my life,they are mounting up."

"Be firm, Herbert," I would retort, plying my own pen with greatassiduity. "Look the thing in the face. Look into your affairs.Stare them out of countenance."

"So I would, Handel, only they are staring me out of countenance."

However, my determined manner would have its effect, and Herbertwould fall to work again. After a time he would give up once more,on the plea that he had not got Cobbs's bill, or Lobbs's, orNobbs's, as the case might be.

"Then, Herbert, estimate; estimate it in round numbers, and put itdown."

"What a fellow of resource you are!" my friend would reply, withadmiration. "Really your business powers are very remarkable."

I thought so too. I established with myself on these occasions, thereputation of a first-rate man of business - prompt, decisive,energetic, clear, cool-headed. When I had got all myresponsibilities down upon my list, I compared each with the bill,and ticked it off. My self-approval when I ticked an entry wasquite a luxurious sensation. When I had no more ticks to make, Ifolded all my bills up uniformly, docketed each on the back, andtied the whole into a symmetrical bundle. Then I did the same forHerbert (who modestly said he had not my administrative genius),and felt that I had brought his affairs into a focus for him.

My business habits had one other bright feature, which i called"leaving a Margin." For example; supposing Herbert's debts to beone hundred and sixty-four pounds four-and-twopence, I would say,"Leave a margin, and put them down at two hundred." Or, supposingmy own to be four times as much, I would leave a margin, and putthem down at seven hundred. I had the highest opinion of the wisdomof this same Margin, but I am bound to acknowledge that on lookingback, I deem it to have been an expensive device. For, we alwaysran into new debt immediately, to the full extent of the margin,and sometimes, in the sense of freedom and solvency it imparted,got pretty far on into another margin.

But there was a calm, a rest, a virtuous hush, consequent on theseexaminations of our affairs that gave me, for the time, anadmirable opinion of myself. Soothed by my exertions, my method,and Herbert's compliments, I would sit with his symmetrical bundleand my own on the table before me among the stationary, and feellike a Bank of some sort, rather than a private individual.

We shut our outer door on these solemn occasions, in order that wemight not be interrupted. I had fallen into my serene state oneevening, when we heard a letter dropped through the slit in thesaid door, and fall on the ground. "It's for you, Handel," saidHerbert, going out and coming back with it, "and I hope there isnothing the matter." This was in allusion to its heavy black sealand border.

The letter was signed TRABB & CO., and its contents were simply,that I was an honoured sir, and that they begged to inform me thatMrs. J. Gargery had departed this life on Monday last, at twentyminutes past six in the evening, and that my attendance wasrequested at the interment on Monday next at three o'clock in theafternoon.

Chapter 35

It was the first time that a grave had opened in my road of life,and the gap it made in the smooth ground was wonderful. The figureof my sister in her chair by the kitchen fire, haunted me night andday. That the place could possibly be, without her, was somethingmy mind seemed unable to compass; and whereas she had seldom ornever been in my thoughts of late, I had now the strangest ideasthat she was coming towards me in the street, or that she wouldpresently knock at the door. In my rooms too, with which she hadnever been at all associated, there was at once the blankness ofdeath and a perpetual suggestion of the sound of her voice or theturn of her face or figure, as if she were still alive and had beenoften there.

Whatever my fortunes might have been, I could scarcely haverecalled my sister with much tenderness. But I suppose there is ashock of regret which may exist without much tenderness. Under itsinfluence (and perhaps to make up for the want of the softerfeeling) I was seized with a violent indignation against theassailant from whom she had suffered so much; and I felt that onsufficient proof I could have revengefully pursued Orlick, or anyone else, to the last extremity.

Having written to Joe, to offer consolation, and to assure him thatI should come to the funeral, I passed the intermediate days in thecurious state of mind I have glanced at. I went down early in themorning, and alighted at the Blue Boar in good time to walk over tothe forge.

It was fine summer weather again, and, as I walked along, the timeswhen I was a little helpless creature, and my sister did not spareme, vividly returned. But they returned with a gentle tone uponthem that softened even the edge of Tickler. For now, the verybreath of the beans and clover whispered to my heart that the daymust come when it would be well for my memory that others walkingin the sunshine should be softened as they thought of me.

At last I came within sight of the house, and saw that Trabb andCo. had put in a funereal execution and taken possession. Twodismally absurd persons, each ostentatiously exhibiting a crutchdone up in a black bandage - as if that instrument could possiblycommunicate any comfort to anybody - were posted at the front door;and in one of them I recognized a postboy discharged from the Boarfor turning a young couple into a sawpit on their bridal morning,in consequence of intoxication rendering it necessary for him toride his horse clasped round the neck with both arms. All thechildren of the village, and most of the women, were admiring thesesable warders and the closed windows of the house and forge; and asI came up, one of the two warders (the postboy) knocked at the door- implying that I was far too much exhausted by grief, to havestrength remaining to knock for myself.

Another sable warder (a carpenter, who had once eaten two geese fora wager) opened the door, and showed me into the best parlour.Here, Mr. Trabb had taken unto himself the best table, and had gotall the leaves up, and was holding a kind of black Bazaar, with theaid of a quantity of black pins. At the moment of my arrival, hehad just finished putting somebody's hat into black long-clothes,like an African baby; so he held out his hand for mine. But I,misled by the action, and confused by the occasion, shook handswith him with every testimony of warm affection.

Poor dear Joe, entangled in a little black cloak tied in a largebow under his chin, was seated apart at the upper end of the room;where, as chief mourner, he had evidently been stationed by Trabb.When I bent down and said to him, "Dear Joe, how are you?" he said,"Pip, old chap, you knowed her when she were a fine figure of a--"and clasped my hand and said no more.

Biddy, looking very neat and modest in her black dress, wentquietly here and there, and was very helpful. When I had spoken toBiddy, as I thought it not a time for talking I went and sat downnear Joe, and there began to wonder in what part of the house it -she - my sister - was. The air of the parlour being faint with thesmell of sweet cake, I looked about for the table of refreshments;it was scarcely visible until one had got accustomed to the gloom,but there was a cut-up plum-cake upon it, and there were cut-uporanges, and sandwiches, and biscuits, and two decanters that Iknew very well as ornaments, but had never seen used in all mylife; one full of port, and one of sherry. Standing at this table,I became conscious of the servile Pumblechook in a black cloak andseveral yards of hatband, who was alternately stuffing himself, andmaking obsequious movements to catch my attention. The moment hesucceeded, he came over to me (breathing sherry and crumbs), andsaid in a subdued voice, "May I, dear sir?" and did. I thendescried Mr. and Mrs. Hubble; the last-named in a decent speechlessparoxysm in a corner. We were all going to "follow," and were allin course of being tied up separately (by Trabb) into ridiculousbundles.

"Which I meantersay, Pip," Joe whispered me, as we were being whatMr. Trabb called "formed" in the parlour, two and two - and it wasdreadfully like a preparation for some grim kind of dance; "which Imeantersay, sir, as I would in preference have carried her to thechurch myself, along with three or four friendly ones wot come toit with willing harts and arms, but it were considered wot theneighbours would look down on such and would be of opinions as itwere wanting in respect."

"Pocket-handkerchiefs out, all!" cried Mr. Trabb at this point, in adepressed business-like voice. "Pocket-handkerchiefs out! We areready!"

So, we all put our pocket-handkerchiefs to our faces, as if ournoses were bleeding, and filed out two and two; Joe and I; Biddyand Pumblechook; Mr. and Mrs. Hubble. The remains of my poor sisterhad been brought round by the kitchen door, and, it being a pointof Undertaking ceremony that the six bearers must be stifled andblinded under a horrible black velvet housing with a white border,the whole looked like a blind monster with twelve human legs,shuffling and blundering along, under the guidance of two keepers -the postboy and his comrade.

The neighbourhood, however, highly approved of these arrangements,and we were much admired as we went through the village; the moreyouthful and vigorous part of the community making dashes now andthen to cut us off, and lying in wait to intercept us at points ofvantage. At such times the more exuberant among them called out inan excited manner on our emergence round some corner of expectancy,"Here they come!" "Here they are!" and we were all but cheered. Inthis progress I was much annoyed by the abject Pumblechook, who,being behind me, persisted all the way as a delicate attention inarranging my streaming hatband, and smoothing my cloak. My thoughtswere further distracted by the excessive pride of Mr. and Mrs.Hubble, who were surpassingly conceited and vainglorious in beingmembers of so distinguished a procession.

And now, the range of marshes lay clear before us, with the sailsof the ships on the river growing out of it; and we went into thechurchyard, close to the graves of my unknown parents, PhilipPirrip, late of this parish, and Also Georgiana, Wife of the Above.And there, my sister was laid quietly in the earth while the larkssang high above it, and the light wind strewed it with beautifulshadows of clouds and trees.

Of the conduct of the worldly-minded Pumblechook while this wasdoing, I desire to say no more than it was all addressed to me; andthat even when those noble passages were read which remind humanityhow it brought nothing into the world and can take nothing out, andhow it fleeth like a shadow and never continueth long in one stay,I heard him cough a reservation of the case of a young gentlemanwho came unexpectedly into large property. When we got back, he hadthe hardihood to tell me that he wished my sister could have knownI had done her so much honour, and to hint that she would haveconsidered it reasonably purchased at the price of her death. Afterthat, he drank all the rest of the sherry, and Mr. Hubble drank theport, and the two talked (which I have since observed to becustomary in such cases) as if they were of quite another race fromthe deceased, and were notoriously immortal. Finally, he went awaywith Mr. and Mrs. Hubble - to make an evening of it, I felt sure, andto tell the Jolly Bargemen that he was the founder of my fortunesand my earliest benefactor.

When they were all gone, and when Trabb and his men - but not hisboy: I looked for him - had crammed their mummery into bags, andwere gone too, the house felt wholesomer. Soon afterwards, Biddy,Joe, and I, had a cold dinner together; but we dined in the bestparlour, not in the old kitchen, and Joe was so exceedinglyparticular what he did with his knife and fork and the saltcellarand what not, that there was great restraint upon us. But afterdinner, when I made him take his pipe, and when I had loitered withhim about the forge, and when we sat down together on the greatblock of stone outside it, we got on better. I noticed that afterthe funeral Joe changed his clothes so far, as to make a compromisebetween his Sunday dress and working dress: in which the dearfellow looked natural, and like the Man he was.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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