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3  An opportunity for Pip

 

I always knew I would be apprenticed to Joe as soon as I was old enoughand so I used to spend most of the day helping him in the forgeHoweverI also attended the village evening schoolwhich was organized by an ancient relation of Mr Wopsle'sHer teaching mostly consisted of falling asleep while we children fought each otherbut Mr Wopsle's young cousinBiddytried to keep us under control and teach us to readwrite and countMr Wopsleexaminedus every three monthsIn fact he did not ask us any questions at allbut read aloud from Shakespearewaving his arms dramatically and enjoying the sound of his own voice

One nightabout a year after the escaped convicts had been caughtI was sitting by the kitchen firewriting a letter to JoeI didn't need tobecause he was sitting right next to mebut I wanted to practise my writingAfter an hour or two of hard workI passed this letter to him

Pipold boy!’cried Joeopening his kind blue eyes very wide.‘What a lot you've learntHere's a J and an Othat's for Joeisn't itPip?’

I wondered whether I would have to teach Joe from the beginningso I asked,‘How do you write GargeryJoe?’

I don't write it at all,’said Joe.‘Butyou knowI am fond of readingGive me a good book or newspapera good fire and I ask no moreWellWhen you come to a J and an Ohow interesting reading is!’

Didn't you ever go to schoolJoewhen you were young?’

NoPipYou seemy father drank a lotand when he drankhe used to hit my motherand me toosometimesSo she and I ran away from him several timesAnd she used to say,“NowJoeyou can go to school.”But my father had such a good heart that he didn't want to be without usSo he always came to find usand took us homeand hit usSo you seePipI never learnt much.’

Poor Joe!’

But rememberPipmy father had a good heart.’

I wondered about thatbut said nothing

He let me become a blacksmithwhich was his job tooonly he never worked at itI earned the money for the familyuntil he diedAnd listen to thisPipI wanted to put this on his gravestone

Whatever the fault he had from the start

Rememberreaderhe had a good heart.’

Did you invent that yourselfJoe?’I askedsurprised .

I did,’said Joe proudly.‘It came to me in a momentFrom my own headButPipsad to saythere wasn't enough money for the gravestoneMy poor mother needed itIn bad healthshe wasShe died soon afterFound peace at last.’Joe's blue eyes were watery.‘I was lonely thenand I met your sisterNowPip,’Joe looked firmly at mebecause he knew I was not going to agree with him,‘your sister is a fine woman!’

I could think of nothing better to say thanI'm glad you think soJoe.’

So am I,’said Joe.‘I'm glad I think soVery kind of herbringing you up by handSuch a tiny baby you wereSo when I offered to marry your sisterI said,“And bring the poor little child to live with usThere's room for him at the forge!”’

I put my arms round Joe's neck and cried into his shirt

Don't cryold boy!’he said.‘Always the best of friendsyou and me!’ As I dried my tearshe continued,‘So here we arePipNow if you teach me a bitand I warn you now that I'm very stupidMrs Joe must never knowAnd whyBecause she likes to be-in charge-you know-giving the orders.’

Joe,’I asked,‘why don't you ever rebel?’

Well,’said Joe,‘ to start withyour sister's cleverAnd I'm notAnd another thingand this is seriousold boywhen I think of my poor mother's hard lifeI'm afraid of not behaving right to a womanSo I'd much rather seem a bit weak with Mrs Joe than shout at heror hurt heror hit herI'm just sorry she scolds you as wellPipand hits you with the stickI wish I could take all the scolding myselfBut there it isPip.’

Just then we heard the sound of a horse on the roadMrs Joe and Uncle Pumblechook were returning from marketThe carriage arrivedand in a rush of cold airthey were in the kitchen

Now,’said Mrs Joeexcitedly throwing off her cloak,‘if this boy isn't grateful tonighthe never will be!’

She's offering the boy a great opportunity,’agreed PumblechookTrying to look gratefulI looked at Joemaking the wordShe?’with my lipsHe clearly did not know either

You were speaking of a she?’he said Politely to them

She is a sheI suppose,’Mrs Joe replied crossly.‘Unless you call Miss Havisham a heAnd even you wouldn't do that.’

The rich Miss Havisham who lives all alone in the big house in town?’asked Joe

There aren't any other Miss Havishams that I know ofShe wants a boy to go and play thereShe asked Uncle Pumblechook if he knew of anyoneAnd Uncle Pumblechookthinking of us as he always doessuggested this boyAnd what's moreUncle Pumblechookrealizing that this boy's fortune may be made by going to Miss Havisham'shas of-fered to take him into town tonight in his carriageand let him sleep in his own houseand deliver him tomorrow to Miss Havisham'sAnd just look!’she criedcatching hold of me.‘Look at the dirt on this by!’

I was washed from top to toe in Mrs Joe's usual violent mannerand handed overin my tightest Sunday clothesto Mr PumblechookIn the carriage taking me into townI cried a littleI had never been away from Joe beforeand I had no idea what was going to happen to me at Miss Havisham's

Mr Pumblechook seemed to agree with my sister that I should be punished as much as possibleeven when eatingand so for breakfast next morning he gave me a large piece of bread with very little butterand a cup of warm water with very little milkand insisted on checking my learning

What's seven and thirteenboy?’He continued testing me all through breakfast.‘And nineAnd eleven?’

So I was glad to arrive at Miss Havisham's house at about ten oclockIt was a large housemade of old stoneand with iron bars on the windowsWe rang the belland waited at the gateEven then Mr Pumblechook said,‘And fourteen?’but I pretended not to hear himThen a young lady came to open the gateand let me inMr Pumblechook was following me when she stopped him

Do you wish to see Miss Havisham?’she asked

If Miss Havisham wishes to see me,’answered Mr Pumblechooka little confused

Ah!’said the girl,‘but you seeshe doesn't.’

Mr Pumblechook dared not protest but he whispered angrily to me before he turned away,‘BoyBehave well here and re-member those who brought you up by hand!’I thought he would come back and call through the gate,‘And sixteen?’but he did not

The young lady took me through the untidy garden to the houseAlthough she called me boy,’she was the same age as mebut she seemed much older than meShe was beautifuland as proud as a queenWe went through many dark passages until we reached a doorwhere she left metaking her candle with her

I knocked at the door and was told to enterI found myself in a large roomwhere the curtains were closed to allow no daylight inand the candles were litIn the centre of the roomsitting at a tablewas the strangest lady I have ever seenor shall ever seeShe was wearing a wedding dress made of rich materialShe had a bride's flowers in her hairbut her hair was whiteThere were suitcases full of dresses and Jewels around herready for a journeyShe only had one white shoe on.‘Then I realized that over the years the white wedding dress had become yellowand the flowers in her hair had diedand the bride inside the dress had grown oldEverything in the room was ancient and dyingThe only brightness in the room was in her dark old eyesthat stared at me

Who are you?’said the lady at the table

PipmadamMr Pumblechook's boyCome-to play.’

Come closeLet me look at you.’As I stood in front of herI noticed that her watch and a clock in the room had both stopped at twenty minutes to nine

You aren't afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?’asked Miss Havisham

I am sorry to say I told a huge lie by saying,‘No.’

Do you know what ths is?’she askedputting her hand on her left side

Yesmadam.’It made me think of my convict's travel-ling companion.‘Your heartmadam,’I added

My heartBroken!’she cried almost proudlywith a strange smileThen she said,‘I am tiredI want to see some-thing differentPlay.’

No order could be more difficult to obey in that house and that roomI was desperate enough to consider rushing round the table pretending to be Pumblechook's carriagebut I could not make myself do itand just stood there helplessly

I'm very sorrymadam,’I said,‘my sister will be very angry with me if you complainbut I can't play just nowEverything is so strangeand newand sad…’I stoppedafraid to say moreMiss Havisham looked down at her dressand then at her face in the mirror on the table

So strange to himso well-known to me,’she whispered

So new to himso old to meAnd so sad to us bothCall Es-tella!’

When Estella finally camewith her candlealong the dark passageMiss Havisham picked up a jewel from her table and put it in Estella's hair.‘Very prettymy dearIt will be yours one dayNow let me see you play cards with this boy.’

With this boyBut he's a common working boy!’

I thought I heard Miss Havisham whisper,‘WellYou can break his heart!’She satlike a dead body ready for the gravewatching us play cards in the candle-lightI almost wondered if she was afraid that daylight would turn her into dust

What coarse hands this boy hasAnd what thick boots!’cried Estella in disgustbefore we had finished our first gameI was suddenly aware that what she said was true

What do you think of her?’ Whispered Miss Havisham to me

I think she's very proud,’I whispered back

Anything else?’

I think she's very pretty.’

Anything else?’

I think she's very rudeAnd-and I'd like to go home.’

And never see her againalthough she's so pretty?’

I don't knowI'd-I'd like to go home now.’

Miss Havisham smiled.‘You can go homeCome again in six days'timeEstellagive him some foodGOPip.’

And so I found myself back in the overgrown garden in the bright daylightEstella put some bread and meat down on the ground for melike a dogI was so offended by her behaviour towards me that tears came to my eyesAs soon as she saw thisShe gave a delighted laughand pushed me out of the gateI walked the four miles home to the forgethinking about all I had seenAs I looked sadly at my hands and bootsI remembered that I was only a common working boyand wished I could be different

My sister was curious to know all the details of my visitand kept asking me question after questionSomehow I felt I could notor did not want toexplain about Miss Havisham and her strange houseI knew my sister would not understandAnd the worst of it wasthat old fool Pumblechook arrived at tea-timeto ask more questionsJust looking at his fishy staring eyes and open mouth made me want to keep silent

Leave this boy to memadam,’he told Mrs Joe.‘I'll make him concentrateNowboywhat's forty-three and seventy-two?’

I don't know,’I saidI didn't careeither

Is it eighty-fivefor example?’he joked

Yes!’I answeredalthough I knew it wasn'tMy sister hit me hard on the head

Boy!’he continued.‘Describe Miss Havisham.’

Very tall and dark,’I saidlying

Is sheuncle?’asked my sister eagerly

Oh yes,’answered Mr PumblechookSo I knew immediately that he had never seen her.‘This is the way to get information from this boy,’he added quietly to Mrs Joe

How well you make him obey youuncle!’said Mrs Joe

NowboyWhat was she doing when you arrived?’

She was sitting in a black carriage,’I replied

Mr Pumblechook and Mrs Joe stared at each other.‘In a black carriage?’they repeated

Yes,’I saidbecoming more confident.‘And Miss Estellaher nieceI thinkhanded in gold plates with cake and wine through the windows

Was anybody else there?’asked Mr Pumblechook

Four dogshuge onesThey ate meat out of a silver basket.’

Where was this carriageboy?’

In her roomBut there weren't any horses.’

Can this be possibleuncle?’asked Mrs Joe

She's a strange womanmadamIt's quite possibleWhat did you play atboy?’

We played with flags,’I answeredWhat lies I was telling!‘Estella waved a blue oneand I had a red oneand Miss Havisham waved one with little gold stars onout of the carriage window.’

Fortunately they asked no more questionsand were still discussing the wonderful things I had seenwhen Joe came in from the forgeWhen I saw his blue eyes open wide in surpriseI felt very sorry I had liedand that eveningas soon as I found Joe alone for a momentI confessed to him that I had lied about my visit to Miss Havisham

Is none of it truePip?’he askedshocked.‘No black carriage ? But at least there were dogs weren't therePipNoNot even one dog?’

NoJoeI'm sorry.’

Pipold boy!’His kind face looked very unhappy.‘If you tell lieswhere do you think you'll go when you die?’

I knowJoeit's terribleI don't know what happenedOh I wish I didn't have such thick boots and such coarse handsI'm so miserableJoeThat beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham's said I was commonAnd I know I amSomehow that made me tell lies.’ One thing to rememberPip,’ said Joelighting his pipe slowly,‘is that lies are always wrongYou can't stop being common by telling liesThat's not the way to do itAnd you're learning all the timePipLook at that letter you wrote me last nightEven the King had to start learning at the beginning, didn't heThat reminds meany flags at Miss Havisham'sNoThat's a pityLook herePipthis is a true friend speaking to youTake my adviceNo more lieslive well, and die happy.

Encouraged by Joe's honest words I went to bedbut I couldn't stop myself thinking that Estella would consider Joe's boots too thick and his hands too coarseand our whole family commonThat was a day I shall never forget

 


 

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