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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 15

Great Expectations

Chapter 15

As I was getting too big for Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt's room, my

education under that preposterous female terminated. Not, however,

until Biddy had imparted to me everything she knew, from the little

catalogue of prices, to a comic song she had once bought for a

halfpenny. Although the only coherent part of the latter piece of

literature were the opening lines,

When I went to Lunnon town sirs, Too rul loo rul Too rul loo rul

Wasn't I done very brown sirs? Too rul loo rul Too rul loo rul

- still, in my desire to be wiser, I got this composition by heart

with the utmost gravity; nor do I recollect that I questioned its

merit, except that I thought (as I still do) the amount of Too rul

somewhat in excess of the poetry. In my hunger for information, I

made proposals to Mr. Wopsle to bestow some intellectual crumbs upon

me; with which he kindly complied. As it turned out, however, that

he only wanted me for a dramatic lay-figure, to be contradicted and

embraced and wept over and bullied and clutched and stabbed and

knocked about in a variety of ways, I soon declined that course of

instruction; though not until Mr. Wopsle in his poetic fury had

severely mauled me.

Whatever I acquired, I tried to impart to Joe. This statement

sounds so well, that I cannot in my conscience let it pass

unexplained. I wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that he

might be worthier of my society and less open to Estella's


The old Battery out on the marshes was our place of study, and a

broken slate and a short piece of slate pencil were our educational

implements: to which Joe always added a pipe of tobacco. I never

knew Joe to remember anything from one Sunday to another, or to

acquire, under my tuition, any piece of information whatever. Yet

he would smoke his pipe at the Battery with a far more sagacious

air than anywhere else - even with a learned air - as if he

considered himself to be advancing immensely. Dear fellow, I hope

he did.

It was pleasant and quiet, out there with the sails on the river

passing beyond the earthwork, and sometimes, when the tide was low,

looking as if they belonged to sunken ships that were still sailing

on at the bottom of the water. Whenever I watched the vessels

standing out to sea with their white sails spread, I somehow

thought of Miss Havisham and Estella; and whenever the light struck

aslant, afar off, upon a cloud or sail or green hill-side or

water-line, it was just the same. - Miss Havisham and Estella and

the strange house and the strange life appeared to have something

to do with everything that was picturesque.

One Sunday when Joe, greatly enjoying his pipe, had so plumed

himself on being "most awful dull," that I had given him up for the

day, I lay on the earthwork for some time with my chin on my hand,

descrying traces of Miss Havisham and Estella all over the

prospect, in the sky and in the water, until at last I resolved to

mention a thought concerning them that had been much in my head.

"Joe," said I; "don't you think I ought to make Miss Havisham a


"Well, Pip," returned Joe, slowly considering. "What for?"

"What for, Joe? What is any visit made for?"

"There is some wisits, p'r'aps," said Joe, "as for ever remains

open to the question, Pip. But in regard to wisiting Miss Havisham.

She might think you wanted something - expected something of her."

"Don't you think I might say that I did not, Joe?"

"You might, old chap," said Joe. "And she might credit it.

Similarly she mightn't."

Joe felt, as I did, that he had made a point there, and he pulled

hard at his pipe to keep himself from weakening it by repetition.

"You see, Pip," Joe pursued, as soon as he was past that danger,

"Miss Havisham done the handsome thing by you. When Miss Havisham

done the handsome thing by you, she called me back to say to me as

that were all."

"Yes, Joe. I heard her."

"ALL," Joe repeated, very emphatically.

"Yes, Joe. I tell you, I heard her."

"Which I meantersay, Pip, it might be that her meaning were - Make

a end on it! - As you was! - Me to the North, and you to the South!

- Keep in sunders!"

I had thought of that too, and it was very far from comforting to

me to find that he had thought of it; for it seemed to render it

more probable.

"But, Joe."

"Yes, old chap."

"Here am I, getting on in the first year of my time, and, since the

day of my being bound, I have never thanked Miss Havisham, or asked

after her, or shown that I remember her."

"That's true, Pip; and unless you was to turn her out a set of

shoes all four round - and which I meantersay as even a set of

shoes all four round might not be acceptable as a present, in a

total wacancy of hoofs--"

"I don't mean that sort of remembrance, Joe; I don't mean a


But Joe had got the idea of a present in his head and must harp

upon it. "Or even," said he, "if you was helped to knocking her up

a new chain for the front door - or say a gross or two of

shark-headed screws for general use - or some light fancy article,

such as a toasting-fork when she took her muffins - or a gridiron

when she took a sprat or such like--"

"I don't mean any present at all, Joe," I interposed.

"Well," said Joe, still harping on it as though I had particularly

pressed it, "if I was yourself, Pip, I wouldn't. No, I would not.

For what's a door-chain when she's got one always up? And

shark-headers is open to misrepresentations. And if it was a

toasting-fork, you'd go into brass and do yourself no credit. And

the oncommonest workman can't show himself oncommon in a gridiron -

for a gridiron IS a gridiron," said Joe, steadfastly impressing it

upon me, as if he were endeavouring to rouse me from a fixed

delusion, "and you may haim at what you like, but a gridiron it

will come out, either by your leave or again your leave, and you

can't help yourself--"

"My dear Joe," I cried, in desperation, taking hold of his coat,

"don't go on in that way. I never thought of making Miss Havisham

any present."

"No, Pip," Joe assented, as if he had been contending for that, all

along; "and what I say to you is, you are right, Pip."

"Yes, Joe; but what I wanted to say, was, that as we are rather

slack just now, if you would give me a half-holiday to-morrow, I

think I would go up-town and make a call on Miss Est - Havisham."

"Which her name," said Joe, gravely, "ain't Estavisham, Pip, unless

she have been rechris'ened."

"I know, Joe, I know. It was a slip of mine. What do you think of

it, Joe?"

In brief, Joe thought that if I thought well of it, he thought well

of it. But, he was particular in stipulating that if I were not

received with cordiality, or if I were not encouraged to repeat my

visit as a visit which had no ulterior object but was simply one of

gratitude for a favour received, then this experimental trip should

have no successor. By these conditions I promised to abide.

Now, Joe kept a journeyman at weekly wages whose name was Orlick.

He pretended that his Christian name was Dolge - a clear

impossibility - but he was a fellow of that obstinate disposition

that I believe him to have been the prey of no delusion in this

particular, but wilfully to have imposed that name upon the village

as an affront to its understanding. He was a broadshouldered

loose-limbed swarthy fellow of great strength, never in a hurry,

and always slouching. He never even seemed to come to his work on

purpose, but would slouch in as if by mere accident; and when he

went to the Jolly Bargemen to eat his dinner, or went away at

night, he would slouch out, like Cain or the Wandering Jew, as if

he had no idea where he was going and no intention of ever coming

back. He lodged at a sluice-keeper's out on the marshes, and on

working days would come slouching from his hermitage, with his

hands in his pockets and his dinner loosely tied in a bundle round

his neck and dangling on his back. On Sundays he mostly lay all day

on the sluice-gates, or stood against ricks and barns. He always

slouched, locomotively, with his eyes on the ground; and, when

accosted or otherwise required to raise them, he looked up in a

half resentful, half puzzled way, as though the only thought he

ever had, was, that it was rather an odd and injurious fact that he

should never be thinking.

This morose journeyman had no liking for me. When I was very small

and timid, he gave me to understand that the Devil lived in a black

corner of the forge, and that he knew the fiend very well: also

that it was necessary to make up the fire, once in seven years,

with a live boy, and that I might consider myself fuel. When I

became Joe's 'prentice, Orlick was perhaps confirmed in some

suspicion that I should displace him; howbeit, he liked me still

less. Not that he ever said anything, or did anything, openly

importing hostility; I only noticed that he always beat his sparks

in my direction, and that whenever I sang Old Clem, he came in out

of time.

Dolge Orlick was at work and present, next day, when I reminded Joe

of my half-holiday. He said nothing at the moment, for he and Joe

had just got a piece of hot iron between them, and I was at the

bellows; but by-and-by he said, leaning on his hammer:

"Now, master! Sure you're not a-going to favour only one of us. If

Young Pip has a half-holiday, do as much for Old Orlick." I suppose

he was about five-and-twenty, but he usually spoke of himself as an

ancient person.

"Why, what'll you do with a half-holiday, if you get it?" said Joe.

"What'll I do with it! What'll he do with it? I'll do as much with

it as him," said Orlick.

"As to Pip, he's going up-town," said Joe.

"Well then, as to Old Orlick, he's a-going up-town," retorted that

worthy. "Two can go up-town. Tan't only one wot can go up-town.

"Don't lose your temper," said Joe.

"Shall if I like," growled Orlick. "Some and their up-towning! Now,

master! Come. No favouring in this shop. Be a man!"

The master refusing to entertain the subject until the journeyman

was in a better temper, Orlick plunged at the furnace, drew out a

red-hot bar, made at me with it as if he were going to run it

through my body, whisked it round my head, laid it on the anvil,

hammered it out - as if it were I, I thought, and the sparks were

my spirting blood - and finally said, when he had hammered himself

hot and the iron cold, and he again leaned on his hammer:

"Now, master!"

"Are you all right now?" demanded Joe.

"Ah! I am all right," said gruff Old Orlick.

"Then, as in general you stick to your work as well as most men,"

said Joe, "let it be a half-holiday for all."

My sister had been standing silent in the yard, within hearing -

she was a most unscrupulous spy and listener - and she instantly

looked in at one of the windows.

"Like you, you fool!" said she to Joe, "giving holidays to great

idle hulkers like that. You are a rich man, upon my life, to waste

wages in that way. I wish I was his master!"

"You'd be everybody's master, if you durst," retorted Orlick, with

an ill-favoured grin.

("Let her alone," said Joe.)

"I'd be a match for all noodles and all rogues," returned my

sister, beginning to work herself into a mighty rage. "And I

couldn't be a match for the noodles, without being a match for your

master, who's the dunder-headed king of the noodles. And I couldn't

be a match for the rogues, without being a match for you, who are

the blackest-looking and the worst rogue between this and France.


"You're a foul shrew, Mother Gargery, growled the journeyman. "If

that makes a judge of rogues, you ought to be a good'un."

("Let her alone, will you?" said Joe.)

"What did you say?" cried my sister, beginning to scream. "What did

you say? What did that fellow Orlick say to me, Pip? What did he

call me, with my husband standing by? O! O! O!" Each of these

exclamations was a shriek; and I must remark of my sister, what is

equally true of all the violent women I have ever seen, that

passion was no excuse for her, because it is undeniable that

instead of lapsing into passion, she consciously and deliberately

took extraordinary pains to force herself into it, and became

blindly furious by regular stages; "what was the name he gave me

before the base man who swore to defend me? O! Hold me! O!"

"Ah-h-h!" growled the journeyman, between his teeth, "I'd hold you,

if you was my wife. I'd hold you under the pump, and choke it out

of you."

("I tell you, let her alone," said Joe.)

"Oh! To hear him!" cried my sister, with a clap of her hands and a

scream together - which was her next stage. "To hear the names he's

giving me! That Orlick! In my own house! Me, a married woman! With

my husband standing by! O! O!" Here my sister, after a fit of

clappings and screamings, beat her hands upon her bosom and upon

her knees, and threw her cap off, and pulled her hair down - which

were the last stages on her road to frenzy. Being by this time a

perfect Fury and a complete success, she made a dash at the door,

which I had fortunately locked.

What could the wretched Joe do now, after his disregarded

parenthetical interruptions, but stand up to his journeyman, and

ask him what he meant by interfering betwixt himself and Mrs. Joe;

and further whether he was man enough to come on? Old Orlick felt

that the situation admitted of nothing less than coming on, and was

on his defence straightway; so, without so much as pulling off

their singed and burnt aprons, they went at one another, like two

giants. But, if any man in that neighbourhood could stand up long

against Joe, I never saw the man. Orlick, as if he had been of no

more account than the pale young gentleman, was very soon among the

coal-dust, and in no hurry to come out of it. Then, Joe unlocked

the door and picked up my sister, who had dropped insensible at the

window (but who had seen the fight first, I think), and who was

carried into the house and laid down, and who was recommended to

revive, and would do nothing but struggle and clench her hands in

Joe's hair. Then, came that singular calm and silence which succeed

all uproars; and then, with the vague sensation which I have always

connected with such a lull - namely, that it was Sunday, and

somebody was dead - I went up-stairs to dress myself.

When I came down again, I found Joe and Orlick sweeping up, without

any other traces of discomposure than a slit in one of Orlick's

nostrils, which was neither expressive nor ornamental. A pot of

beer had appeared from the Jolly Bargemen, and they were sharing it

by turns in a peaceable manner. The lull had a sedative and

philosophical influence on Joe, who followed me out into the road

to say, as a parting observation that might do me good, "On the

Rampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip - such is Life!"

With what absurd emotions (for, we think the feelings that are very

serious in a man quite comical in a boy) I found myself again going

to Miss Havisham's, matters little here. Nor, how I passed and

repassed the gate many times before I could make up my mind to

ring. Nor, how I debated whether I should go away without ringing;

nor, how I should undoubtedly have gone, if my time had been my

own, to come back.

Miss Sarah Pocket came to the gate. No Estella.

"How, then? You here again?" said Miss Pocket. "What do you want?"

When I said that I only came to see how Miss Havisham was, Sarah

evidently deliberated whether or no she should send me about my

business. But, unwilling to hazard the responsibility, she let me

in, and presently brought the sharp message that I was to "come


Everything was unchanged, and Miss Havisham was alone.

"Well?" said she, fixing her eyes upon me. "I hope you want

nothing? You'll get nothing."

"No, indeed, Miss Havisham. I only wanted you to know that I am

doing very well in my apprenticeship, and am always much obliged to


"There, there!" with the old restless fingers. "Come now and then;

come on your birthday. - Ay!" she cried suddenly, turning herself

and her chair towards me, "You are looking round for Estella? Hey?"

I had been looking round - in fact, for Estella - and I stammered

that I hoped she was well.

"Abroad," said Miss Havisham; "educating for a lady; far out of

reach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feel

that you have lost her?"

There was such a malignant enjoyment in her utterance of the last

words, and she broke into such a disagreeable laugh, that I was at

a loss what to say. She spared me the trouble of considering, by

dismissing me. When the gate was closed upon me by Sarah of the

walnut-shell countenance, I felt more than ever dissatisfied with

my home and with my trade and with everything; and that was all I

took by that motion.

As I was loitering along the High-street, looking in disconsolately

at the shop windows, and thinking what I would buy if I were a

gentleman, who should come out of the bookshop but Mr. Wopsle. Mr

Wopsle had in his hand the affecting tragedy of George Barnwell, in

which he had that moment invested sixpence, with the view of

heaping every word of it on the head of Pumblechook, with whom he

was going to drink tea. No sooner did he see me, than he appeared

to consider that a special Providence had put a 'prentice in his

way to be read at; and he laid hold of me, and insisted on my

accompanying him to the Pumblechookian parlour. As I knew it would

be miserable at home, and as the nights were dark and the way was

dreary, and almost any companionship on the road was better than

none, I made no great resistance; consequently, we turned into

Pumblechook's just as the street and the shops were lighting up.

As I never assisted at any other representation of George Barnwell,

I don't know how long it may usually take; but I know very well

that it took until half-past nine o' clock that night, and that

when Mr. Wopsle got into Newgate, I thought he never would go to the

scaffold, he became so much slower than at any former period of his

disgraceful career. I thought it a little too much that he should

complain of being cut short in his flower after all, as if he had

not been running to seed, leaf after leaf, ever since his course

began. This, however, was a mere question of length and

wearisomeness. What stung me, was the identification of the whole

affair with my unoffending self. When Barnwell began to go wrong, I

declare that I felt positively apologetic, Pumblechook's indignant

stare so taxed me with it. Wopsle, too, took pains to present me in

the worst light. At once ferocious and maudlin, I was made to

murder my uncle with no extenuating circumstances whatever;

Millwood put me down in argument, on every occasion; it became

sheer monomania in my master's daughter to care a button for me;

and all I can say for my gasping and procrastinating conduct on the

fatal morning, is, that it was worthy of the general feebleness of

my character. Even after I was happily hanged and Wopsle had closed

the book, Pumblechook sat staring at me, and shaking his head, and

saying, "Take warning, boy, take warning!" as if it were a

well-known fact that I contemplated murdering a near relation,

provided I could only induce one to have the weakness to become my


It was a very dark night when it was all over, and when I set out

with Mr. Wopsle on the walk home. Beyond town, we found a heavy

mist out, and it fell wet and thick. The turnpike lamp was a blur,

quite out of the lamp's usual place apparently, and its rays looked

solid substance on the fog. We were noticing this, and saying how

that the mist rose with a change of wind from a certain quarter of

our marshes, when we came upon a man, slouching under the lee of

the turnpike house.

"Halloa!" we said, stopping. "Orlick, there?"

"Ah!" he answered, slouching out. "I was standing by, a minute, on

the chance of company."

"You are late," I remarked.

Orlick not unnaturally answered, "Well? And you're late."

"We have been," said Mr. Wopsle, exalted with his late performance,

"we have been indulging, Mr. Orlick, in an intellectual evening."

Old Orlick growled, as if he had nothing to say about that, and we

all went on together. I asked him presently whether he had been

spending his half-holiday up and down town?

"Yes," said he, "all of it. I come in behind yourself. I didn't see

you, but I must have been pretty close behind you. By-the-bye, the

guns is going again."

"At the Hulks?" said I.

"Ay! There's some of the birds flown from the cages. The guns have

been going since dark, about. You'll hear one presently."

In effect, we had not walked many yards further, when the

wellremembered boom came towards us, deadened by the mist, and

heavily rolled away along the low grounds by the river, as if it

were pursuing and threatening the fugitives.

"A good night for cutting off in," said Orlick. "We'd be puzzled

how to bring down a jail-bird on the wing, to-night."

The subject was a suggestive one to me, and I thought about it in

silence. Mr. Wopsle, as the ill-requited uncle of the evening's

tragedy, fell to meditating aloud in his garden at Camberwell.

Orlick, with his hands in his pockets, slouched heavily at my side.

It was very dark, very wet, very muddy, and so we splashed along.

Now and then, the sound of the signal cannon broke upon us again,

and again rolled sulkily along the course of the river. I kept

myself to myself and my thoughts. Mr. Wopsle died amiably at

Camberwell, and exceedingly game on Bosworth Field, and in the

greatest agonies at Glastonbury. Orlick sometimes growled, "Beat it

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

Clem!" I thought he had been drinking, but he was not drunk.

Thus, we came to the village. The way by which we approached it,

took us past the Three Jolly Bargemen, which we were surprised to

find - it being eleven o'clock - in a state of commotion, with the

door wide open, and unwonted lights that had been hastily caught up

and put down, scattered about. Mr. Wopsle dropped in to ask what was

the matter (surmising that a convict had been taken), but came

running out in a great hurry.

"There's something wrong," said he, without stopping, "up at your

place, Pip. Run all!"

"What is it?" I asked, keeping up with him. So did Orlick, at my


"I can't quite understand. The house seems to have been violently

entered when Joe Gargery was out. Supposed by convicts. Somebody

has been attacked and hurt."

We were running too fast to admit of more being said, and we made

no stop until we got into our kitchen. It was full of people; the

whole village was there, or in the yard; and there was a surgeon,

and there was Joe, and there was a group of women, all on the floor

in the midst of the kitchen. The unemployed bystanders drew back

when they saw me, and so I became aware of my sister - lying

without sense or movement on the bare boards where she had been

knocked down by a tremendous blow on the back of the head, dealt by

some unknown hand when her face was turned towards the fire -

destined never to be on the Rampage again, while she was the wife

of Joe.

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