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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 4

Great Expectations

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eyes were withdrawn, secretly crossed his two forefingers, and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


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


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


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


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


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 -


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


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!"

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