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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 14

Great Expectations

Chapter 14

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be

black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be

retributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I

can testify.

Home had never been a very pleasant place to me, because of my

sister's temper. But, Joe had sanctified it, and I had believed in

it. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I

had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the

Temple of State whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice

of roast fowls; I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though

not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the

glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year, all

this was changed. Now, it was all coarse and common, and I would

not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account.

How much of my ungracious condition of mind may have been my own

fault, how much Miss Havisham's, how much my sister's, is now of no

moment to me or to any one. The change was made in me; the thing

was done. Well or ill done, excusably or inexcusably, it was done.

Once, it had seemed to me that when I should at last roll up my

shirt-sleeves and go into the forge, Joe's 'prentice, I should be

distinguished and happy. Now the reality was in my hold, I only

felt that I was dusty with the dust of small coal, and that I had a

weight upon my daily remembrance to which the anvil was a feather.

There have been occasions in my later life (I suppose as in most

lives) when I have felt for a time as if a thick curtain had fallen

on all its interest and romance, to shut me out from anything save

dull endurance any more. Never has that curtain dropped so heavy

and blank, as when my way in life lay stretched out straight before

me through the newly-entered road of apprenticeship to Joe.

I remember that at a later period of my "time," I used to stand

about the churchyard on Sunday evenings when night was falling,

comparing my own perspective with the windy marsh view, and making

out some likeness between them by thinking how flat and low both

were, and how on both there came an unknown way and a dark mist and

then the sea. I was quite as dejected on the first working-day of

my apprenticeship as in that after-time; but I am glad to know that

I never breathed a murmur to Joe while my indentures lasted. It is

about the only thing I am glad to know of myself in that


For, though it includes what I proceed to add, all the merit of

what I proceed to add was Joe's. It was not because I was faithful,

but because Joe was faithful, that I never ran away and went for a

soldier or a sailor. It was not because I had a strong sense of the

virtue of industry, but because Joe had a strong sense of the

virtue of industry, that I worked with tolerable zeal against the

grain. It is not possible to know how far the influence of any

amiable honest-hearted duty-doing man flies out into the world; but

it is very possible to know how it has touched one's self in going

by, and I know right well, that any good that intermixed itself

with my apprenticeship came of plain contented Joe, and not of

restlessly aspiring discontented me.

What I wanted, who can say? How can I say, when I never knew? What

I dreaded was, that in some unlucky hour I, being at my grimiest

and commonest, should lift up my eyes and see Estella looking in at

one of the wooden windows of the forge. I was haunted by the fear

that she would, sooner or later, find me out, with a black face and

hands, doing the coarsest part of my work, and would exult over me

and despise me. Often after dark, when I was pulling the bellows

for Joe, and we were singing Old Clem, and when the thought how we

used to sing it at Miss Havisham's would seem to show me Estella's

face in the fire, with her pretty hair fluttering in the wind and

her eyes scorning me, - often at such a time I would look towards

those panels of black night in the wall which the wooden windows

then were, and would fancy that I saw her just drawing her face

away, and would believe that she had come at last.

After that, when we went in to supper, the place and the meal would

have a more homely look than ever, and I would feel more ashamed of

home than ever, in my own ungracious breast.

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