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Chapter 4

I fully expected to find a Constable in the kitchen, waiting to
take me up. But not only was there no Constable there, but no
discovery had yet been made of the robbery. Mrs. Joe was
prodigiously busy in getting the house ready for the festivities of
the day, and Joe had been put upon the kitchen door-step to keep
him out of the dust-pan - an article into which his destiny always
led him sooner or later, when my sister was vigorously reaping the
floors of her establishment.

"And where the deuce ha' you been?" was Mrs. Joe's Christmas
salutation, when I and my conscience showed ourselves.

I said I had been down to hear the Carols. "Ah! well!" observed Mrs.
Joe. "You might ha' done worse." Not a doubt of that, I thought.

"Perhaps if I warn't a blacksmith's wife, and (what's the same
thing) a slave with her apron never off, I should have been to hear
the Carols," said Mrs. Joe. "I'm rather partial to Carols, myself,
and that's the best of reasons for my never hearing any."

Joe, who had ventured into the kitchen after me as the dust-pan had
retired before us, drew the back of his hand across his nose with a
conciliatory air when Mrs. Joe darted a look at him, and, when her
eyes were withdrawn, secretly crossed his two forefingers, and
exhibited them to me, as our token that Mrs. Joe was in a cross
temper. This was so much her normal state, that Joe and I would
often, for weeks together, be, as to our fingers, like monumental
Crusaders as to their legs.

We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled
pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome
mince-pie had been made yesterday morning (which accounted for the
mincemeat not being missed), and the pudding was already on the
boil. These extensive arrangements occasioned us to be cut off
unceremoniously in respect of breakfast; "for I an't," said Mrs.
Joe, "I an't a-going to have no formal cramming and busting and
washing up now, with what I've got before me, I promise you!"

So, we had our slices served out, as if we were two thousand troops
on a forced march instead of a man and boy at home; and we took
gulps of milk and water, with apologetic countenances, from a jug
on the dresser. In the meantime, Mrs. Joe put clean white curtains
up, and tacked a new flowered-flounce across the wide chimney to
replace the old one, and uncovered the little state parlour across
the passage, which was never uncovered at any other time, but
passed the rest of the year in a cool haze of silver paper, which
even extended to the four little white crockery poodles on the
mantelshelf, each with a black nose and a basket of flowers in his
mouth, and each the counterpart of the other. Mrs. Joe was a very
clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her
cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by
their religion.

My sister having so much to do, was going to church vicariously;
that is to say, Joe and I were going. In his working clothes, Joe
was a well-knit characteristic-looking blacksmith; in his holiday
clothes, he was more like a scarecrow in good circumstances, than
anything else. Nothing that he wore then, fitted him or seemed to
belong to him; and everything that he wore then, grazed him. On the
present festive occasion he emerged from his room, when the blithe
bells were going, the picture of misery, in a full suit of Sunday
penitentials. As to me, I think my sister must have had some
general idea that I was a young offender whom an Accoucheur
Policemen had taken up (on my birthday) and delivered over to her,
to be dealt with according to the outraged majesty of the law. I
was always treated as if I had insisted on being born, in
opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and
against the dissuading arguments of my best friends. Even when I
was taken to have a new suit of clothes, the tailor had orders to
make them like a kind of Reformatory, and on no account to let me
have the free use of my limbs.

Joe and I going to church, therefore, must have been a moving
spectacle for compassionate minds. Yet, what I suffered outside,
was nothing to what I underwent within. The terrors that had
assailed me whenever Mrs. Joe had gone near the pantry, or out of
the room, were only to be equalled by the remorse with which my
mind dwelt on what my hands had done. Under the weight of my wicked
secret, I pondered whether the Church would be powerful enough to
shield me from the vengeance of the terrible young man, if I
divulged to that establishment. I conceived the idea that the time
when the banns were read and when the clergyman said, "Ye are now
to declare it!" would be the time for me to rise and propose a
private conference in the vestry. I am far from being sure that I
might not have astonished our small congregation by resorting to
this extreme measure, but for its being Christmas Day and no
Sunday.

Mr. Wopsle, the clerk at church, was to dine with us; and Mr. Hubble
the wheelwright and Mrs. Hubble; and Uncle Pumblechook (Joe's uncle,
but Mrs. Joe appropriated him), who was a well-to-do corn-chandler
in the nearest town, and drove his own chaise-cart. The dinner hour
was half-past one. When Joe and I got home, we found the table
laid, and Mrs. Joe dressed, and the dinner dressing, and the front
door unlocked (it never was at any other time) for the company to
enter by, and everything most splendid. And still, not a word of
the 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 a
large shining bald forehead, had a deep voice which he was
uncommonly proud of; indeed it was understood among his
acquaintance that if you could only give him his head, he would
read the clergyman into fits; he himself confessed that if the
Church was "thrown open," meaning to competition, he would not
despair of making his mark in it. The Church not being "thrown
open," he was, as I have said, our clerk. But he punished the
Amens tremendously; and when he gave out the psalm - always giving
the whole verse - he looked all round the congregation first, as
much as to say, "You have heard my friend overhead; oblige me with
your opinion of this style!"

I opened the door to the company - making believe that it was a
habit 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 Uncle
Pumblechook. N.B., I was not allowed to call him uncle, under the
severest penalties.

"Mrs. Joe," said Uncle Pumblechook: a large hard-breathing
middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes,
and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as
if he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to;
"I have brought you, as the compliments of the season - I have
brought 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 like
dumb-bells. Every Christmas Day, Mrs. Joe replied, as she now
replied, "Oh, Un - cle Pum - ble - chook! This IS kind!" Every
Christmas Day, he retorted, as he now retorted, "It's no more than
your merits. And now are you all bobbish, and how's Sixpennorth of
halfpence?" meaning me.

We dined on these occasions in the kitchen, and adjourned, for the
nuts and oranges and apples, to the parlour; which was a change
very like Joe's change from his working clothes to his Sunday
dress. My sister was uncommonly lively on the present occasion, and
indeed was generally more gracious in the society of Mrs. Hubble
than in other company. I remember Mrs. Hubble as a little curly
sharp-edged person in sky-blue, who held a conventionally juvenile
position, because she had married Mr. Hubble - I don't know at what
remote period - when she was much younger than he. I remember Mr
Hubble as a tough high-shouldered stooping old man, of a sawdusty
fragrance, with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in my
short days I always saw some miles of open country between them
when I met him coming up the lane.

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn't
robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed
in at an acute angle of the table-cloth, with the table in my
chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was
not allowed to speak (I didn't want to speak), nor because I was
regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and
with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living,
had had the least reason to be vain. No; I should not have minded
that, if they would only have left me alone. But they wouldn't
leave me alone. They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they
failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and
stick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate little
bull in a Spanish arena, I got so smartingly touched up by these
moral goads.

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

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

Mrs. Hubble shook her head, and contemplating me with a mournful
presentiment that I should come to no good, asked, "Why is it that
the young are never grateful?" This moral mystery seemed too much
for the company until Mr. Hubble tersely solved it by saying,
"Naterally wicious." Everybody then murmured "True!" and looked at
me 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 always
aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and
he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were
any. 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 with
some severity, and intimated - in the usual hypothetical case of
the Church being "thrown open" - what kind of sermon he would have
given 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 were
so many subjects "going about."

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

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

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

Joe gave me some more gravy.

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

"Or girl," suggested Mr. Hubble.

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

"Besides," said Mr. Pumblechook, turning sharp on me, "think what
you'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. "If
you 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, who
had an objection to being interrupted; "I mean, enjoying himself
with his elders and betters, and improving himself with their
conversation, and rolling in the lap of luxury. Would he have been
doing that? No, he wouldn't. And what would have been your
destination?" turning on me again. "You would have been disposed of
for so many shillings according to the market price of the article,
and Dunstable the butcher would have come up to you as you lay in
your straw, and he would have whipped you under his left arm, and
with his right he would have tucked up his frock to get a penknife
from out of his waistcoat-pocket, and he would have shed your
blood and had your life. No bringing up by hand then. Not a bit of
it!"

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 a
fearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, and
all the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all the high
places I had tumbled from, and all the low places I had tumbled
into, and all the injuries I had done myself, and all the times she
had wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to go
there.

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

"Yet," said Mr. Pumblechook, leading the company gently back to the
theme from which they had strayed, "Pork - regarded as biled - is
rich, 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 would
say it was weak, and I was lost! I held tight to the leg of the
table under the cloth, with both hands, and awaited my fate.

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

I couldn't keep my eyes off him. Always holding tight by the leg of
the table with my hands and feet, I saw the miserable creature
finger his glass playfully, take it up, smile, throw his head back,
and drink the brandy off. Instantly afterwards, the company were
seized with unspeakable consternation, owing to his springing to
his feet, turning round several times in an appalling spasmodic
whooping-cough dance, and rushing out at the door; he then became
visible 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 know
how 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 with
him, 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 would
be worse by-and-by. I moved the table, like a Medium of the present
day, by the vigour of my unseen hold upon it.

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

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

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

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

"You must taste," said my sister, addressing the guests with her
best grace, "You must taste, to finish with, such a delightful and
delicious 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 savoury
pork pie."

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

My sister went out to get it. I heard her steps proceed to the
pantry. I saw Mr. Pumblechook balance his knife. I saw re-awakening
appetite in the Roman nostrils of Mr. Wopsle. I heard Mr. Hubble
remark that "a bit of savoury pork pie would lay atop of anything
you could mention, and do no harm," and I heard Joe say, "You shall
have some, Pip." I have never been absolutely certain whether I
uttered a shrill yell of terror, merely in spirit, or in the bodily
hearing of the company. I felt that I could bear no more, and that
I must run away. I released the leg of the table, and ran for my
life.

But, I ran no further than the house door, for there I ran head
foremost into a party of soldiers with their muskets: one of whom
held out a pair of handcuffs to me, saying, "Here you are, look
sharp, come on!"



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
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