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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 9

Great Expectations

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


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


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


"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


"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


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


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,


"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.

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