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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 12

Great Expectations

Chapter 12

My mind grew very uneasy on the subject of the pale young

gentleman. The more I thought of the fight, and recalled the pale

young gentleman on his back in various stages of puffy and

incrimsoned countenance, the more certain it appeared that

something would be done to me. I felt that the pale young

gentleman's blood was on my head, and that the Law would avenge it.

Without having any definite idea of the penalties I had incurred,

it was clear to me that village boys could not go stalking about

the country, ravaging the houses of gentlefolks and pitching into

the studious youth of England, without laying themselves open to

severe punishment. For some days, I even kept close at home, and

looked out at the kitchen door with the greatest caution and

trepidation before going on an errand, lest the officers of the

County Jail should pounce upon me. The pale young gentleman's nose

had stained my trousers, and I tried to wash out that evidence of

my guilt in the dead of night. I had cut my knuckles against the

pale young gentleman's teeth, and I twisted my imagination into a

thousand tangles, as I devised incredible ways of accounting for

that damnatory circumstance when I should be haled before the


When the day came round for my return to the scene of the deed of

violence, my terrors reached their height. Whether myrmidons of

Justice, specially sent down from London, would be lying in ambush

behind the gate? Whether Miss Havisham, preferring to take personal

vengeance for an outrage done to her house, might rise in those

grave-clothes of hers, draw a pistol, and shoot me dead? Whether

suborned boys - a numerous band of mercenaries - might be engaged

to fall upon me in the brewery, and cuff me until I was no more? It

was high testimony to my confidence in the spirit of the pale young

gentleman, that I never imagined him accessory to these

retaliations; they always came into my mind as the acts of

injudicious relatives of his, goaded on by the state of his visage

and an indignant sympathy with the family features.

However, go to Miss Havisham's I must, and go I did. And behold!

nothing came of the late struggle. It was not alluded to in any

way, and no pale young gentleman was to be discovered on the

premises. I found the same gate open, and I explored the garden,

and even looked in at the windows of the detached house; but, my

view was suddenly stopped by the closed shutters within, and all

was lifeless. Only in the corner where the combat had taken place,

could I detect any evidence of the young gentleman's existence.

There were traces of his gore in that spot, and I covered them with

garden-mould from the eye of man.

On the broad landing between Miss Havisham's own room and that

other room in which the long table was laid out, I saw a

garden-chair - a light chair on wheels, that you pushed from

behind. It had been placed there since my last visit, and I

entered, that same day, on a regular occupation of pushing Miss

Havisham in this chair (when she was tired of walking with her hand

upon my shoulder) round her own room, and across the landing, and

round the other room. Over and over and over again, we would make

these journeys, and sometimes they would last as long as three

hours at a stretch. I insensibly fall into a general mention of

these journeys as numerous, because it was at once settled that I

should return every alternate day at noon for these purposes, and

because I am now going to sum up a period of at least eight or ten


As we began to be more used to one another, Miss Havisham talked

more to me, and asked me such questions as what had I learnt and

what was I going to be? I told her I was going to be apprenticed to

Joe, I believed; and I enlarged upon my knowing nothing and wanting

to know everything, in the hope that she might offer some help

towards that desirable end. But, she did not; on the contrary, she

seemed to prefer my being ignorant. Neither did she ever give me

any money - or anything but my daily dinner - nor ever stipulate

that I should be paid for my services.

Estella was always about, and always let me in and out, but never

told me I might kiss her again. Sometimes, she would coldly

tolerate me; sometimes, she would condescend to me; sometimes, she

would be quite familiar with me; sometimes, she would tell me

energetically that she hated me. Miss Havisham would often ask me

in a whisper, or when we were alone, "Does she grow prettier and

prettier, Pip?" And when I said yes (for indeed she did), would

seem to enjoy it greedily. Also, when we played at cards Miss

Havisham would look on, with a miserly relish of Estella's moods,

whatever they were. And sometimes, when her moods were so many and

so contradictory of one another that I was puzzled what to say or

do, Miss Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuring

something in her ear that sounded like "Break their hearts my pride

and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!"

There was a song Joe used to hum fragments of at the forge, of

which the burden was Old Clem. This was not a very ceremonious way

of rendering homage to a patron saint; but, I believe Old Clem

stood in that relation towards smiths. It was a song that imitated

the measure of beating upon iron, and was a mere lyrical excuse for

the introduction of Old Clem's respected name. Thus, you were to

hammer boys round - Old Clem! With a thump and a sound - Old Clem!

Beat it out, beat it out - Old Clem! With a clink for the stout -

Old Clem! Blow the fire, blow the fire - Old Clem! Roaring dryer,

soaring higher - Old Clem! One day soon after the appearance of the

chair, Miss Havisham suddenly saying to me, with the impatient

movement of her fingers, "There, there, there! Sing!" I was

surprised into crooning this ditty as I pushed her over the floor.

It happened so to catch her fancy, that she took it up in a low

brooding voice as if she were singing in her sleep. After that, it

became customary with us to have it as we moved about, and Estella

would often join in; though the whole strain was so subdued, even

when there were three of us, that it made less noise in the grim

old house than the lightest breath of wind.

What could I become with these surroundings? How could my character

fail to be influenced by them? Is it to be wondered at if my

thoughts were dazed, as my eyes were, when I came out into the

natural light from the misty yellow rooms?

Perhaps, I might have told Joe about the pale young gentleman, if I

had not previously been betrayed into those enormous inventions to

which I had confessed. Under the circumstances, I felt that Joe

could hardly fail to discern in the pale young gentleman, an

appropriate passenger to be put into the black velvet coach;

therefore, I said nothing of him. Besides: that shrinking from

having Miss Havisham and Estella discussed, which had come upon me

in the beginning, grew much more potent as time went on. I reposed

complete confidence in no one but Biddy; but, I told poor Biddy

everything. Why it came natural to me to do so, and why Biddy had a

deep concern in everything I told her, I did not know then, though

I think I know now.

Meanwhile, councils went on in the kitchen at home, fraught with

almost insupportable aggravation to my exasperated spirit. That

ass, Pumblechook, used often to come over of a night for the purpose

of discussing my prospects with my sister; and I really do believe

(to this hour with less penitence than I ought to feel), that if

these hands could have taken a linchpin out of his chaise-cart,

they would have done it. The miserable man was a man of that

confined stolidity of mind, that he could not discuss my prospects

without having me before him - as it were, to operate upon - and he

would drag me up from my stool (usually by the collar) where I was

quiet in a corner, and, putting me before the fire as if I were

going to be cooked, would begin by saying, "Now, Mum, here is this

boy! Here is this boy which you brought up by hand. Hold up your

head, boy, and be for ever grateful unto them which so did do. Now,

Mum, with respections to this boy!" And then he would rumple my

hair the wrong way - which from my earliest remembrance, as already

hinted, I have in my soul denied the right of any fellow-creature

to do - and would hold me before him by the sleeve: a spectacle of

imbecility only to be equalled by himself.

Then, he and my sister would pair off in such nonsensical

speculations about Miss Havisham, and about what she would do with

me and for me, that I used to want - quite painfully - to burst

into spiteful tears, fly at Pumblechook, and pummel him all over.

In these dialogues, my sister spoke to me as if she were morally

wrenching one of my teeth out at every reference; while Pumblechook

himself, self-constituted my patron, would sit supervising me with

a depreciatory eye, like the architect of my fortunes who thought

himself engaged on a very unremunerative job.

In these discussions, Joe bore no part. But he was often talked at,

while they were in progress, by reason of Mrs. Joe's perceiving that

he was not favourable to my being taken from the forge. I was fully

old enough now, to be apprenticed to Joe; and when Joe sat with the

poker on his knees thoughtfully raking out the ashes between the

lower bars, my sister would so distinctly construe that innocent

action into opposition on his part, that she would dive at him,

take the poker out of his hands, shake him, and put it away. There

was a most irritating end to every one of these debates. All in a

moment, with nothing to lead up to it, my sister would stop herself

in a yawn, and catching sight of me as it were incidentally, would

swoop upon me with, "Come! there's enough of you! You get along to

bed; you've given trouble enough for one night, I hope!" As if I

had besought them as a favour to bother my life out.

We went on in this way for a long time, and it seemed likely that

we should continue to go on in this way for a long time, when, one

day, Miss Havisham stopped short as she and I were walking, she

leaning on my shoulder; and said with some displeasure:

"You are growing tall, Pip!"

I thought it best to hint, through the medium of a meditative look,

that this might be occasioned by circumstances over which I had no


She said no more at the time; but, she presently stopped and looked

at me again; and presently again; and after that, looked frowning

and moody. On the next day of my attendance when our usual exercise

was over, and I had landed her at her dressingtable, she stayed me

with a movement of her impatient fingers:

"Tell me the name again of that blacksmith of yours."

"Joe Gargery, ma'am."

"Meaning the master you were to be apprenticed to?"

"Yes, Miss Havisham."

"You had better be apprenticed at once. Would Gargery come here

with you, and bring your indentures, do you think?"

I signified that I had no doubt he would take it as an honour to be


"Then let him come."

"At any particular time, Miss Havisham?"

"There, there! I know nothing about times. Let him come soon, and

come along with you."

When I got home at night, and delivered this message for Joe, my

sister "went on the Rampage," in a more alarming degree than at any

previous period. She asked me and Joe whether we supposed she was

door-mats under our feet, and how we dared to use her so, and what

company we graciously thought she was fit for? When she had

exhausted a torrent of such inquiries, she threw a candlestick at

Joe, burst into a loud sobbing, got out the dustpan - which was

always a very bad sign - put on her coarse apron, and began

cleaning up to a terrible extent. Not satisfied with a dry

cleaning, she took to a pail and scrubbing-brush, and cleaned us

out of house and home, so that we stood shivering in the back-yard.

It was ten o'clock at night before we ventured to creep in again,

and then she asked Joe why he hadn't married a Negress Slave at

once? Joe offered no answer, poor fellow, but stood feeling his

whisker and looking dejectedly at me, as if he thought it really

might have been a better speculation.

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