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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - HTML preview

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with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a

 

Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

 

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be

 

supposed. But I saw that everything within my view which ought to

 

be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was

 

faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had

 

withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no

 

brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that

 

the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman,

 

and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to

 

skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork

 

at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage

 

lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh

 

churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had

 

been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and

 

skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I

 

should have cried out, if I could.

 

"Who is it?" said the lady at the table.

 

"Pip, ma'am."

 

"Pip?"

 

"Mr. Pumblechook's boy, ma'am. Come--to play."

 

"Come nearer; let me look at you. Come close." It was when I stood before her, avoiding her eyes, that I took note

 

of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had

 

stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had

 

stopped at twenty minutes to nine.

 

"Look at me," said Miss Havisham. "You are not afraid of a woman

 

who has never seen the sun since you were born?"

 

I regret to state that I was not afraid of telling the enormous lie

 

comprehended in the answer "No."

 

"Do you know what I touch here?" she said, laying her hands, one

 

upon the other, on her left side.

 

"Yes, ma'am." (It made me think of the young man.)

 

"What do I touch?"

 

"Your heart."

 

"Broken!"

 

She uttered the word with an eager look, and with strong emphasis,

 

and with a weird smile that had a kind of boast in it. Afterwards she kept her hands there for a little while, and slowly took them

 

away as if they were heavy.

 

"I am tired," said Miss Havisham. "I want diversion, and I have

 

done with men and women. Play."

 

I think it will be conceded by my most disputatious reader, that

 

she could hardly have directed an unfortunate boy to do anything in

 

the wide world more difficult to be done under the circumstances.

 

"I sometimes have sick fancies," she went on, "and I have a sick

 

fancy that I want to see some play. There, there!" with an impatient

 

movement of the fingers of her right hand; "play, play, play!"

 

For a moment, with the fear of my sister's working me before my

 

eyes, I had a desperate idea of starting round the room in the

 

assumed character of Mr. Pumblechook's chaise-cart. But I felt

 

myself so unequal to the performance that I gave it up, and stood

 

looking at Miss Havisham in what I suppose she took for a dogged

 

manner, inasmuch as she said, when we had taken a good look at each

 

other,--

 

"Are you sullen and obstinate?"

 

"No, ma'am, I am very sorry for you, and very sorry I can't play just now. If you complain of me I shall get into trouble with my

 

sister, so I would do it if I could; but it's so new here, and so

 

strange, and so fine,--and melancholy--." I stopped, fearing I might

 

say too much, or had already said it, and we took another look at

 

each other.

 

Before she spoke again, she turned her eyes from me, and looked at

 

the dress she wore, and at the dressing-table, and finally at

 

herself in the looking-glass.

 

"So new to him," she muttered, "so old to me; so strange to him, so

 

familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us! Call Estella."

 

As she was still looking at the reflection of herself, I thought

 

she was still talking to herself, and kept quiet.

 

"Call Estella," she repeated, flashing a look at me. "You can do

 

that. Call Estella. At the door."

 

To stand in the dark in a mysterious passage of an unknown house,

 

bawling Estella to a scornful young lady neither visible nor

 

responsive, and feeling it a dreadful liberty so to roar out her

 

name, was almost as bad as playing to order. But she answered at

 

last, and her light came along the dark passage like a star. Miss Havisham beckoned her to come close, and took up a jewel from

 

the table, and tried its effect upon her fair young bosom and

 

against her pretty brown hair. "Your own, one day, my dear, and you

 

will use it well. Let me see you play cards with this boy."

 

"With this boy? Why, he is a common laboring boy!"

 

I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer,--only it seemed so

 

Unlikely,--"Well? You can break his heart."

 

"What do you play, boy?" asked Estella of myself, with the greatest

 

disdain.

 

"Nothing but beggar my neighbor, miss."

 

"Beggar him," said Miss Havisham to Estella. So we sat down to

 

cards.

 

It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had

 

stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago. I noticed

 

that Miss Havisham put down the jewel exactly on the spot from

 

which she had taken it up. As Estella dealt the cards, I glanced at

 

the dressing-table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once

 

white, now yellow, had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot

 

from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this

 

arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed

 

objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form

 

could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a

 

shroud.

 

So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards; the frillings and

 

trimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper. I knew

 

nothing then of the discoveries that are occasionally made of

 

bodies buried in ancient times, which fall to powder in the moment

 

of being distinctly seen; but, I have often thought since, that she

 

must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day

 

would have struck her to dust.

 

"He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy!" said Estella with disdain,

 

before our first game was out. "And what coarse hands he has! And

 

what thick boots!"

 

I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I

 

began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me

 

was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.

 

She won the game, and I dealt. I misdealt, as was only natural,

 

when I knew she was lying in wait for me to do wrong; and she

 

denounced me for a stupid, clumsy laboring-boy. "You say nothing of her," remarked Miss Havisham to me, as she

 

looked on. "She says many hard things of you, but you say nothing

 

of her. What do you think of her?"

 

"I don't like to say," I stammered.

 

"Tell me in my ear," said Miss Havisham, bending down.

 

"I think she is very proud," I replied, in a whisper.

 

"Anything else?"

 

"I think she is very pretty."

 

"Anything else?"

 

"I think she is very insulting." (She was looking at me then with a

 

look of supreme aversion.)

 

"Anything else?"

 

"I think I should like to go home."

 

"And never see her again, though she is so pretty?" "I am not sure that I shouldn't like to see her again, but I should

 

like to go home now."

 

"You shall go soon," said Miss Havisham, aloud. "Play the game

 

out."

 

Saving for the one weird smile at first, I should have felt almost

 

sure that Miss Havisham's face could not smile. It had dropped into

 

a watchful and brooding expression,--most likely when all the

 

things about her had become transfixed,--and it looked as if

 

nothing could ever lift it up again. Her chest had dropped, so that

 

she stooped; and her voice had dropped, so that she spoke low, and

 

with a dead lull upon her; altogether, she had the appearance of

 

having dropped body and soul, within and without, under the weight

 

of a crushing blow.

 

I played the game to an end with Estella, and she beggared me. She

 

threw the cards down on the table when she had won them all, as if

 

she despised them for having been won of me.

 

"When shall I have you here again?" said Miss Havisham. "Let me

 

think."

 

I was beginning to remind her that to-day was Wednesday, when she checked me with her former impatient movement of the fingers of her

 

right hand.

 

"There, there! I know nothing of days of the week; I know nothing

 

of weeks of the year. Come again after six days. You hear?"

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 

"Estella, take him down. Let him have something to eat, and let him

 

roam and look about him while he eats. Go, Pip."

 

I followed the candle down, as I had followed the candle up, and

 

she stood it in the place where we had found it. Until she opened

 

the side entrance, I had fancied, without thinking about it, that

 

it must necessarily be night-time. The rush of the daylight quite

 

confounded me, and made me feel as if I had been in the candlelight

 

of the strange room many hours.

 

"You are to wait here, you boy," said Estella; and disappeared and

 

closed the door.

 

I took the opportunity of being alone in the courtyard to look at

 

my coarse hands and my common boots. My opinion of those

 

accessories was not favorable. They had never troubled me before,

 

but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards Jacks,

 

which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more

 

genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too.

 

She came back, with some bread and meat and a little mug of beer.

 

She put the mug down on the stones of the yard, and gave me the

 

bread and meat without looking at me, as insolently as if I were a

 

dog in disgrace. I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended,

 

angry, sorry,--I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart--God

 

knows what its name was,--that tears started to my eyes. The moment

 

they sprang there, the girl looked at me with a quick delight in

 

having been the cause of them. This gave me power to keep them back

 

and to look at her: so, she gave a contemptuous toss--but with a

 

sense, I thought, of having made too sure that I was so wounded--

 

and left me.

 

But when she was gone, I looked about me for a place to hide my

 

face in, and got behind one of the gates in the brewery-lane, and

 

leaned my sleeve against the wall there, and leaned my forehead on

 

it and cried. As I cried, I kicked the wall, and took a hard twist

 

at my hair; so bitter were my feelings, and so sharp was the smart

 

without a name, that needed counteraction.

 

My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world

 

in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as

 

injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be

 

exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its

 

rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a

 

big-boned Irish hunter. Within myself, I had sustained, from my

 

babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, from

 

the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and

 

violent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profound

 

conviction that her bringing me up by hand gave her no right to

 

bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts,

 

and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this

 

assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and

 

unprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morally

 

timid and very sensitive.

 

I got rid of my injured feelings for the time by kicking them into

 

the brewery wall, and twisting them out of my hair, and then I

 

smoothed my face with my sleeve, and came from behind the gate. The

 

bread and meat were acceptable, and the beer was warming and

 

tingling, and I was soon in spirits to look about me.

 

To be sure, it was a deserted place, down to the pigeon-house in

 

the brewery-yard, which had been blown crooked on its pole by some

 

high wind, and would have made the pigeons think themselves at sea,

 

if there had been any pigeons there to be rocked by it. But there were no pigeons in the dove-cot, no horses in the stable, no pigs

 

in the sty, no malt in the storehouse, no smells of grains and

 

beer in the copper or the vat. All the uses and scents of the

 

brewery might have evaporated with its last reek of smoke. In a

 

by-yard, there was a wilderness of empty casks, which had a certain

 

sour remembrance of better days lingering about them; but it was

 

too sour to be accepted as a sample of the beer that was gone,--and

 

in this respect I remember those recluses as being like most

 

others.

 

Behind the furthest end of the brewery, was a rank garden with an

 

old wall; not so high but that I could struggle up and hold on long

 

enough to look over it, and see that the rank garden was the garden

 

of the house, and that it was overgrown with tangled weeds, but

 

that there was a track upon the green and yellow paths, as if some

 

one sometimes walked there, and that Estella was walking away from

 

me even then. But she seemed to be everywhere. For when I yielded

 

to the temptation presented by the casks, and began to walk on

 

them, I saw her walking on them at the end of the yard of casks.

 

She had her back towards me, and held her pretty brown hair spread

 

out in her two hands, and never looked round, and passed out of my

 

view directly. So, in the brewery itself,--by which I mean the

 

large paved lofty place in which they used to make the beer, and

 

where the brewing utensils still were. When I first went into it,

 

and, rather oppressed by its gloom, stood near the door looking about me, I saw her pass among the extinguished fires, and ascend

 

some light iron stairs, and go out by a gallery high overhead, as

 

if she were going out into the sky.

 

It was in this place, and at this moment, that a strange thing

 

happened to my fancy. I thought it a strange thing then, and I

 

thought it a stranger thing long afterwards. I turned my eyes--a

 

little dimmed by looking up at the frosty light--towards a great

 

wooden beam in a low nook of the building near me on my right hand,

 

and I saw a figure hanging there by the neck. A figure all in

 

yellow white, with but one shoe to the feet; and it hung so, that I

 

could see that the faded trimmings of the dress were like earthy

 

paper, and that the face was Miss Havisham's, with a movement going

 

over the whole countenance as if she were trying to call to me. In

 

the terror of seeing the figure, and in the terror of being certain

 

that it had not been there a moment before, I at first ran from it,

 

and then ran towards it. And my terror was greatest of all when I

 

found no figure there.

 

Nothing less than the frosty light of the cheerful sky, the sight

 

of people passing beyond the bars of the court-yard gate, and the

 

reviving influence of the rest of the bread and meat and beer,

 

would have brought me round. Even with those aids, I might not have

 

come to myself as soon as I did, but that I saw Estella approaching

 

with the keys, to let me out. She would have some fair reason for looking down upon me, I thought, if she saw me frightened; and she

 

would have no fair reason.

 

She gave me a triumphant glance in passing me, as if she rejoiced

 

that my hands were so coarse and my boots were so thick, and she

 

opened the gate, and stood holding it. I was passing out without

 

looking at her, when she touched me with a taunting hand.

 

"Why don't you cry?"