Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 9)

I answered, more in shyness than politeness, "After you, miss."

To this, she returned: "Don't be ridiculous, boy; I am not goingin." And scornfully walked away, and - what was worse - took thecandle with her.

This was very uncomfortable, and I was half afraid. However, theonly thing to be done being to knock at the door, I knocked, andwas told from within to enter. I entered, therefore, and foundmyself in a pretty large room, well lighted with wax candles. Noglimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing-room,as I supposed from the furniture, though much of it was of formsand uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a drapedtable with a gilded looking-glass, and that I made out at firstsight to be a fine lady's dressing-table.

Whether I should have made out this object so soon, if there hadbeen no fine lady sitting at it, I cannot say. In an arm-chair,with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on thathand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.

She was dressed in rich materials - satins, and lace, and silks -all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veildependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair,but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck andon her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table.Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packedtrunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing,for she had but one shoe on - the other was on the table near herhand - her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were notput on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, andwith her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and aprayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things,though I saw more of them in the first moments than might besupposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought tobe white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and wasfaded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress hadwithered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had nobrightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw thatthe dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman,and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk toskin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxworkat the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personagelying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marshchurches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that hadbeen dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork andskeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. Ishould have cried out, if I could.

"Who is it?" said the lady at the table.

"Pip, ma'am."


"Mr. Pumblechook's boy, ma'am. Come - to play."

"Come nearer; let me look at you. Come close."

It was when I stood before her, avoiding her eyes, that I took noteof the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch hadstopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room hadstopped at twenty minutes to nine.

"Look at me," said Miss Havisham. "You are not afraid of a womanwho has never seen the sun since you were born?"

I regret to state that I was not afraid of telling the enormous liecomprehended in the answer "No."

"Do you know what I touch here?" she said, laying her hands, oneupon the other, on her left side.

"Yes, ma'am." (It made me think of the young man.)

"What do I touch?"

"Your heart."


She uttered the word with an eager look, and with strong emphasis,and with a weird smile that had a kind of boast in it. Afterwards,she kept her hands there for a little while, and slowly took themaway as if they were heavy.

"I am tired," said Miss Havisham. "I want diversion, and I havedone with men and women. Play."

I think it will be conceded by my most disputatious reader, thatshe could hardly have directed an unfortunate boy to do anything inthe wide world more difficult to be done under the circumstances.

"I sometimes have sick fancies," she went on, "and I have a sickfancy that I want to see some play. There there!" with an impatientmovement of the fingers of her right hand; "play, play, play!"

For a moment, with the fear of my sister's working me before myeyes, I had a desperate idea of starting round the room in theassumed character of Mr. Pumblechook's chaise-cart. But, I feltmyself so unequal to the performance that I gave it up, and stoodlooking at Miss Havisham in what I suppose she took for a doggedmanner, inasmuch as she said, when we had taken a good look at eachother:

"Are you sullen and obstinate?"

"No, ma'am, I am very sorry for you, and very sorry I can't playjust now. If you complain of me I shall get into trouble with mysister, so I would do it if I could; but it's so new here, and sostrange, and so fine - and melancholy--." I stopped, fearing I mightsay too much, or had already said it, and we took another look ateach other.

Before she spoke again, she turned her eyes from me, and looked atthe dress she wore, and at the dressing-table, and finally atherself in the looking-glass.

"So new to him," she muttered, "so old to me; so strange to him, sofamiliar to me; so melancholy to both of us! Call Estella."

As she was still looking at the reflection of herself, I thoughtshe was still talking to herself, and kept quiet.

"Call Estella," she repeated, flashing a look at me. "You can dothat. Call Estella. At the door."

To stand in the dark in a mysterious passage of an unknown house,bawling Estella to a scornful young lady neither visible norresponsive, and feeling it a dreadful liberty so to roar out hername, was almost as bad as playing to order. But, she answered atlast, and her light came along the dark passage like a star.

Miss Havisham beckoned her to come close, and took up a jewel fromthe table, and tried its effect upon her fair young bosom andagainst her pretty brown hair. "Your own, one day, my dear, and youwill use it well. Let me see you play cards with this boy."

"With this boy? Why, he is a common labouring-boy!"

I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer - only it seemed sounlikely - "Well? You can break his heart."

"What do you play, boy?" asked Estella of myself, with the greatestdisdain.

"Nothing but beggar my neighbour, miss."

"Beggar him," said Miss Havisham to Estella. So we sat down tocards.

It was then I began to understand that everything in the room hadstopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago. I noticedthat Miss Havisham put down the jewel exactly on the spot fromwhich she had taken it up. As Estella dealt the cards, I glanced atthe dressing-table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, oncewhite, now yellow, had never been worn. I glanced down at the footfrom which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking onit, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without thisarrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayedobjects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed fromcould have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like ashroud.

So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards; the frillings andtrimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper. I knewnothing then, of the discoveries that are occasionally made ofbodies buried in ancient times, which fall to powder in the momentof being distinctly seen; but, I have often thought since, that shemust have looked as if the admission of the natural light of daywould have struck her to dust.

"He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!" said Estella with disdain,before our first game was out. "And what coarse hands he has! Andwhat thick boots!"

I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but Ibegan to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for mewas so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.

She won the game, and I dealt. I misdealt, as was only natural,when I knew she was lying in wait for me to do wrong; and shedenounced me for a stupid, clumsy labouring-boy.

"You say nothing of her," remarked Miss Havisham to me, as shelooked on. "She says many hard things of you, but you say nothingof her. What do you think of her?"

"I don't like to say," I stammered.

"Tell me in my ear," said Miss Havisham, bending down.

"I think she is very proud," I replied, in a whisper.

"Anything else?"

"I think she is very pretty."

"Anything else?"

"I think she is very insulting." (She was looking at me then with alook of supreme aversion.)

"Anything else?"

"I think I should like to go home."

"And never see her again, though she is so pretty?"

"I am not sure that I shouldn't like to see her again, but I shouldlike to go home now."

"You shall go soon," said Miss Havisham, aloud. "Play the gameout."

Saving for the one weird smile at first, I should have felt almostsure that Miss Havisham's face could not smile. It had dropped intoa watchful and brooding expression - most likely when all thethings about her had become transfixed - and it looked as ifnothing could ever lift it up again. Her chest had dropped, so thatshe stooped; and her voice had dropped, so that she spoke low, andwith a dead lull upon her; altogether, she had the appearance ofhaving dropped, body and soul, within and without, under the weightof a crushing blow.

I played the game to an end with Estella, and she beggared me. Shethrew the cards down on the table when she had won them all, as ifshe despised them for having been won of me.

"When shall I have you here again?" said miss Havisham. "Let methink."

I was beginning to remind her that to-day was Wednesday, when shechecked me with her former impatient movement of the fingers of herright hand.

"There, there! I know nothing of days of the week; I know nothingof weeks of the year. Come again after six days. You hear?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Estella, take him down. Let him have something to eat, and let himroam and look about him while he eats. Go, Pip."

I followed the candle down, as I had followed the candle up, andshe stood it in the place where we had found it. Until she openedthe side entrance, I had fancied, without thinking about it, thatit must necessarily be night-time. The rush of the daylight quiteconfounded me, and made me feel as if I had been in the candlelightof the strange room many hours.

"You are to wait here, you boy," said Estella; and disappeared andclosed the door.

I took the opportunity of being alone in the court-yard, to look atmy coarse hands and my common boots. My opinion of thoseaccessories was not favourable. They had never troubled me before,but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I determined to askJoe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards, Jacks,which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather moregenteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too.

She came back, with some bread and meat and a little mug of beer.She put the mug down on the stones of the yard, and gave me thebread and meat without looking at me, as insolently as if I were adog in disgrace. I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended,angry, sorry - I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart - Godknows what its name was - that tears started to my eyes. The momentthey sprang there, the girl looked at me with a quick delight inhaving been the cause of them. This gave me power to keep them backand to look at her: so, she gave a contemptuous toss - but with asense, I thought, of having made too sure that I was so wounded -and left me.

But, when she was gone, I looked about me for a place to hide myface in, and got behind one of the gates in the brewery-lane, andleaned my sleeve against the wall there, and leaned my forehead onit and cried. As I cried, I kicked the wall, and took a hard twistat my hair; so bitter were my feelings, and so sharp was the smartwithout a name, that needed counteraction.

My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little worldin which children have their existence whosoever brings them up,there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, asinjustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can beexposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and itsrocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as abig-boned Irish hunter. Within myself, I had sustained, from mybabyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, fromthe time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious andviolent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profoundconviction that her bringing me up by hand, gave her no right tobring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fastsand vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed thisassurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary andunprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morallytimid and very sensitive.

I got rid of my injured feelings for the time, by kicking them intothe brewery wall, and twisting them out of my hair, and then Ismoothed my face with my sleeve, and came from behind the gate. Thebread and meat were acceptable, and the beer was warming andtingling, and I was soon in spirits to look about me.

To be sure, it was a deserted place, down to the pigeon-house inthe brewery-yard, which had been blown crooked on its pole by somehigh wind, and would have made the pigeons think themselves at sea,if there had been any pigeons there to be rocked by it. But, therewere no pigeons in the dove-cot, no horses in the stable, no pigsin the sty, no malt in the store-house, no smells of grains andbeer in the copper or the vat. All the uses and scents of thebrewery might have evaporated with its last reek of smoke. In aby-yard, there was a wilderness of empty casks, which had a certainsour remembrance of better days lingering about them; but it wastoo sour to be accepted as a sample of the beer that was gone - andin this respect I remember those recluses as being like mostothers.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 193839 times


Page generation 0.001 seconds