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

well."

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

know.

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.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

All Pages of This Book