"So!" she said, without being startled or surprised; "the days have

worn away, have they?"

"Yes, ma'am. To-day is--"

"There, there, there!" with the impatient movement of her fingers.

"I don't want to know. Are you ready to play?"

I was obliged to answer in some confusion, "I don't think I am,

ma'am."

"Not at cards again?" she demanded, with a searching look.

"Yes, ma'am; I could do that, if I was wanted."

"Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy," said Miss

Havisham, impatiently, "and you are unwilling to play, are you

willing to work?"

I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had been

able to find for the other question, and I said I was quite

willing.

"Then go into that opposite room," said she, pointing at the door

behind me with her withered hand, "and wait there till I come."

I crossed the staircase landing, and entered the room she

indicated. From that room, too, the daylight was completely

excluded, and it had an airless smell that was oppressive. A fire

had been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was

more disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smoke

which hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air - like

our own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the high

chimneypiece faintly lighted the chamber: or, it would be more

expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness. It was spacious,

and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing

in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The

most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on

it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the

clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centrepiece of some kind

was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with

cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked

along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to

grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with

blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if

some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just

transpired in the spider community.

I heard the mice too, rattling behind the panels, as if the same

occurrence were important to their interests. But, the blackbeetles

took no notice of the agitation, and groped about the hearth in a

ponderous elderly way, as if they were short-sighted and hard of

hearing, and not on terms with one another.

These crawling things had fascinated my attention and I was

watching them from a distance, when Miss Havisham laid a hand upon

my shoulder. In her other hand she had a crutch-headed stick on

which she leaned, and she looked like the Witch of the place.

"This," said she, pointing to the long table with her stick, "is

where I will be laid when I am dead. They shall come and look at me

here."

With some vague misgiving that she might get upon the table then

and there and die at once, the complete realization of the ghastly

waxwork at the Fair, I shrank under her touch.

"What do you think that is?" she asked me, again pointing with her

stick; "that, where those cobwebs are?"

"I can't guess what it is, ma'am."

"It's a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!"

She looked all round the room in a glaring manner, and then said,

leaning on me while her hand twitched my shoulder, "Come, come,

come! Walk me, walk me!"

I made out from this, that the work I had to do, was to walk Miss

Havisham round and round the room. Accordingly, I started at once,

and she leaned upon my shoulder, and we went away at a pace that

might have been an imitation (founded on my first impulse under

that roof) of Mr. Pumblechook's chaise-cart.

She was not physically strong, and after a little time said,

"Slower!" Still, we went at an impatient fitful speed, and as we

went, she twitched the hand upon my shoulder, and worked her mouth,

and led me to believe that we were going fast because her thoughts

went fast.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

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