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Chapter 9

When I reached home, my sister was very curious to know all about
Miss Havisham's, and asked a number of questions. And I soon found
myself getting heavily bumped from behind in the nape of the neck
and the small of the back, and having my face ignominiously shoved
against the kitchen wall, because I did not answer those questions
at sufficient length.

If a dread of not being understood be hidden in the breasts of
other young people to anything like the extent to which it used to
be hidden in mine - which I consider probable, as I have no
particular reason to suspect myself of having been a monstrosity -
it is the key to many reservations. I felt convinced that if I
described Miss Havisham's as my eyes had seen it, I should not be
understood. Not only that, but I felt convinced that Miss Havisham
too would not be understood; and although she was perfectly
incomprehensible to me, I entertained an impression that there
would be something coarse and treacherous in my dragging her as she
really was (to say nothing of Miss Estella) before the
contemplation of Mrs. Joe. Consequently, I said as little as I
could, and had my face shoved against the kitchen wall.

The worst of it was that that bullying old Pumblechook, preyed upon
by a devouring curiosity to be informed of all I had seen and
heard, came gaping over in his chaise-cart at tea-time, to have the
details divulged to him. And the mere sight of the torment, with
his fishy eyes and mouth open, his sandy hair inquisitively on end,
and his waistcoat heaving with windy arithmetic, made me vicious in
my reticence.

"Well, boy," Uncle Pumblechook began, as soon as he was seated in
the chair of honour by the fire. "How did you get on up town?"

I answered, "Pretty well, sir," and my sister shook her fist at me.

"Pretty well?" Mr. Pumblechook repeated. "Pretty well is no answer.
Tell us what you mean by pretty well, boy?"

Whitewash on the forehead hardens the brain into a state of
obstinacy perhaps. Anyhow, with whitewash from the wall on my
forehead, my obstinacy was adamantine. I reflected for some time,
and then answered as if I had discovered a new idea, "I mean pretty
well."

My sister with an exclamation of impatience was going to fly at me
- I had no shadow of defence, for Joe was busy in the forge when Mr.
Pumblechook interposed with "No! Don't lose your temper. Leave this
lad to me, ma'am; leave this lad to me." Mr. Pumblechook then turned
me towards him, as if he were going to cut my hair, and said:

"First (to get our thoughts in order): Forty-three pence?"

I calculated the consequences of replying "Four Hundred Pound," and
finding them against me, went as near the answer as I could - which
was somewhere about eightpence off. Mr. Pumblechook then put me
through my pence-table from "twelve pence make one shilling," up to
"forty pence make three and fourpence," and then triumphantly
demanded, as if he had done for me, "Now! How much is forty-three
pence?" To which I replied, after a long interval of reflection, "I
don't know." And I was so aggravated that I almost doubt if I did
know.

Mr. Pumblechook worked his head like a screw to screw it out of me,
and said, "Is forty-three pence seven and sixpence three fardens,
for instance?"

"Yes!" said I. And although my sister instantly boxed my ears, it
was highly gratifying to me to see that the answer spoilt his joke,
and brought him to a dead stop.

"Boy! What like is Miss Havisham?" Mr. Pumblechook began again when
he had recovered; folding his arms tight on his chest and applying
the screw.

"Very tall and dark," I told him.

"Is she, uncle?" asked my sister.

Mr. Pumblechook winked assent; from which I at once inferred that he
had never seen Miss Havisham, for she was nothing of the kind.

"Good!" said Mr. Pumblechook conceitedly. ("This is the way to have
him! We are beginning to hold our own, I think, Mum?")

"I am sure, uncle," returned Mrs. Joe, "I wish you had him always:
you know so well how to deal with him."

"Now, boy! What was she a-doing of, when you went in today?" asked
Mr. Pumblechook.

"She was sitting," I answered, "in a black velvet coach."

Mr. Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe stared at one another - as they well
might - and both repeated, "In a black velvet coach?"

"Yes," said I. "And Miss Estella - that's her niece, I think -
handed her in cake and wine at the coach-window, on a gold plate.
And we all had cake and wine on gold plates. And I got up behind
the coach to eat mine, because she told me to."

"Was anybody else there?" asked Mr. Pumblechook.

"Four dogs," said I.

"Large or small?"

"Immense," said I. "And they fought for veal cutlets out of a
silver basket."

Mr. Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe stared at one another again, in utter
amazement. I was perfectly frantic - a reckless witness under the
torture - and would have told them anything.

"Where was this coach, in the name of gracious?" asked my sister.

"In Miss Havisham's room." They stared again. "But there weren't
any horses to it." I added this saving clause, in the moment of
rejecting four richly caparisoned coursers which I had had wild
thoughts of harnessing.

"Can this be possible, uncle?" asked Mrs. Joe. "What can the boy
mean?"

"I'll tell you, Mum," said Mr. Pumblechook. "My opinion is, it's a
sedan-chair. She's flighty, you know - very flighty - quite flighty
enough to pass her days in a sedan-chair."

"Did you ever see her in it, uncle?" asked Mrs. Joe.

"How could I," he returned, forced to the admission, "when I never
see her in my life? Never clapped eyes upon her!"

"Goodness, uncle! And yet you have spoken to her?"

"Why, don't you know," said Mr. Pumblechook, testily, "that when I
have been there, I have been took up to the outside of her door,
and the door has stood ajar, and she has spoke to me that way.
Don't say you don't know that, Mum. Howsever, the boy went there to
play. What did you play at, boy?"

"We played with flags," I said. (I beg to observe that I think of
myself with amazement, when I recall the lies I told on this
occasion.)

"Flags!" echoed my sister.

"Yes," said I. "Estella waved a blue flag, and I waved a red one,
and Miss Havisham waved one sprinkled all over with little gold
stars, out at the coach-window. And then we all waved our swords
and hurrahed."

"Swords!" repeated my sister. "Where did you get swords from?"

"Out of a cupboard," said I. "And I saw pistols in it - and jam -
and pills. And there was no daylight in the room, but it was all
lighted up with candles."

"That's true, Mum," said Mr. Pumblechook, with a grave nod. "That's
the state of the case, for that much I've seen myself." And then
they both stared at me, and I, with an obtrusive show of
artlessness on my countenance, stared at them, and plaited the
right leg of my trousers with my right hand.

If they had asked me any more questions I should undoubtedly have
betrayed myself, for I was even then on the point of mentioning
that there was a balloon in the yard, and should have hazarded the
statement but for my invention being divided between that
phenomenon and a bear in the brewery. They were so much occupied,
however, in discussing the marvels I had already presented for
their consideration, that I escaped. The subject still held them
when Joe came in from his work to have a cup of tea. To whom my
sister, more for the relief of her own mind than for the
gratification of his, related my pretended experiences.

Now, when I saw Joe open his blue eyes and roll them all round the
kitchen in helpless amazement, I was overtaken by penitence; but
only as regarded him - not in the least as regarded the other two.
Towards Joe, and Joe only, I considered myself a young monster,
while they sat debating what results would come to me from Miss
Havisham's acquaintance and favour. They had no doubt that Miss
Havisham would "do something" for me; their doubts related to the
form that something would take. My sister stood out for "property."
Mr. Pumblechook was in favour of a handsome premium for binding me
apprentice to some genteel trade - say, the corn and seed trade,
for instance. Joe fell into the deepest disgrace with both, for
offering the bright suggestion that I might only be presented with
one of the dogs who had fought for the veal-cutlets. "If a fool's
head can't express better opinions than that," said my sister, "and
you have got any work to do, you had better go and do it." So he
went.

After Mr. Pumblechook had driven off, and when my sister was washing
up, I stole into the forge to Joe, and remained by him until he had
done for the night. Then I said, "Before the fire goes out, Joe, I
should like to tell you something."

"Should you, Pip?" said Joe, drawing his shoeing-stool near the
forge. "Then tell us. What is it, Pip?"

"Joe," said I, taking hold of his rolled-up shirt sleeve, and
twisting it between my finger and thumb, "you remember all that
about Miss Havisham's?"

"Remember?" said Joe. "I believe you! Wonderful!"

"It's a terrible thing, Joe; it ain't true."

"What are you telling of, Pip?" cried Joe, falling back in the
greatest amazement. "You don't mean to say it's--"

"Yes I do; it's lies, Joe."

"But not all of it? Why sure you don't mean to say, Pip, that there
was no black welwet coach?" For, I stood shaking my head. "But at
least there was dogs, Pip? Come, Pip," said Joe, persuasively, "if
there warn't no weal-cutlets, at least there was dogs?"

"No, Joe."

"A dog?" said Joe. "A puppy? Come?"

"No, Joe, there was nothing at all of the kind."

As I fixed my eyes hopelessly on Joe, Joe contemplated me in
dismay. "Pip, old chap! This won't do, old fellow! I say! Where do
you expect to go to?"

"It's terrible, Joe; an't it?"

"Terrible?" cried Joe. "Awful! What possessed you?"

"I don't know what possessed me, Joe," I replied, letting his shirt
sleeve go, and sitting down in the ashes at his feet, hanging my
head; "but I wish you hadn't taught me to call Knaves at cards,
Jacks; and I wish my boots weren't so thick nor my hands so
coarse."

And then I told Joe that I felt very miserable, and that I hadn't
been able to explain myself to Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook who were so
rude to me, and that there had been a beautiful young lady at Miss
Havisham's who was dreadfully proud, and that she had said I was
common, and that I knew I was common, and that I wished I was not
common, and that the lies had come of it somehow, though I didn't
know how.

This was a case of metaphysics, at least as difficult for Joe to
deal with, as for me. But Joe took the case altogether out of the
region of metaphysics, and by that means vanquished it.

"There's one thing you may be sure of, Pip," said Joe, after some
rumination, "namely, that lies is lies. Howsever they come, they
didn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, and
work round to the same. Don't you tell no more of 'em, Pip. That
ain't the way to get out of being common, old chap. And as to being
common, I don't make it out at all clear. You are oncommon in some
things. You're oncommon small. Likewise you're a oncommon scholar."

"No, I am ignorant and backward, Joe."

"Why, see what a letter you wrote last night! Wrote in print even!
I've seen letters - Ah! and from gentlefolks! - that I'll swear
weren't wrote in print," said Joe.

"I have learnt next to nothing, Joe. You think much of me. It's
only that."

"Well, Pip," said Joe, "be it so or be it son't, you must be a
common scholar afore you can be a oncommon one, I should hope! The
king upon his throne, with his crown upon his 'ed, can't sit and
write his acts of Parliament in print, without having begun, when
he were a unpromoted Prince, with the alphabet - Ah!" added Joe,
with a shake of the head that was full of meaning, "and begun at A
too, and worked his way to Z. And I know what that is to do, though
I can't say I've exactly done it."

There was some hope in this piece of wisdom, and it rather
encouraged me.

"Whether common ones as to callings and earnings," pursued Joe,
reflectively, "mightn't be the better of continuing for a keep
company with common ones, instead of going out to play with
oncommon ones - which reminds me to hope that there were a flag,
perhaps?"

"No, Joe."

"(I'm sorry there weren't a flag, Pip). Whether that might be, or
mightn't be, is a thing as can't be looked into now, without
putting your sister on the Rampage; and that's a thing not to be
thought of, as being done intentional. Lookee here, Pip, at what is
said to you by a true friend. Which this to you the true friend
say. If you can't get to be oncommon through going straight, you'll
never get to do it through going crooked. So don't tell no more on
'em, Pip, and live well and die happy."

"You are not angry with me, Joe?"

"No, old chap. But bearing in mind that them were which I
meantersay of a stunning and outdacious sort - alluding to them
which bordered on weal-cutlets and dog-fighting - a sincere
wellwisher would adwise, Pip, their being dropped into your
meditations, when you go up-stairs to bed. That's all, old chap,
and don't never do it no more."

When I got up to my little room and said my prayers, I did not
forget Joe's recommendation, and yet my young mind was in that
disturbed and unthankful state, that I thought long after I laid me
down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how
thick his boots, and how coarse his hands. I thought how Joe and my
sister were then sitting in the kitchen, and how I had come up to
bed from the kitchen, and how Miss Havisham and Estella never sat
in a kitchen, but were far above the level of such common doings. I
fell asleep recalling what I "used to do" when I was at Miss
Havisham's; as though I had been there weeks or months, instead of
hours; and as though it were quite an old subject of remembrance,
instead of one that had arisen only that day.

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me.
But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck
out of it, and think how different its course would have been.
Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain
of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound
you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.



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