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Chapter 17

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I now fell into a regular routine of apprenticeship life, which was varied beyond the limits of the village and the marshes, by no more remarkable circumstance than the arrival of my birthday and my paying another visit to Miss Havisham. I found Miss Sarah Pocket still on duty at the gate; I found Miss Havisham just as I had left her, and she spoke of Estella in the very same way, if not in the very same words. The interview lasted but a few minutes, and she gave me a guinea when I was going, and told me to come again on my next birthday. I may mention at once that this became an annual custom. I tried to decline taking the guinea on the first occasion, but with no better effect than causing her to ask me very angrily, if I expected more? Then, and after that, I took it.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still. Daylight never entered the house as to my thoughts and remembrances of it, any more than as to the actual fact. It bewildered me, and under its influence I continued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed of home.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Imperceptibly I became conscious of a change in Biddy, however. Her shoes came up at the heel, her hair grew bright and neat, her hands were always clean. She was not beautiful,—she was common, and could not be like Estella,—but she was pleasant and wholesome and sweet-tempered. She had not been with us more than a year (I remember her being newly out of mourning at the time it struck me), when I observed to myself one evening that she had curiously thoughtful and attentive eyes; eyes that were very pretty and very good.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It came of my lifting up my own eyes from a task I was poring at—writing some passages from a book, to improve myself in two ways at once by a sort of stratagem—and seeing Biddy observant of what I was about. I laid down my pen, and Biddy stopped in her needlework without laying it down.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “Biddy,” said I, “how do you manage it? Either I am very stupid, or you are very clever.”

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 “What is it that I manage? I don’t know,” returned Biddy, smiling.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 She managed our whole domestic life, and wonderfully too; but I did not mean that, though that made what I did mean more surprising.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “How do you manage, Biddy,” said I, “to learn everything that I learn, and always to keep up with me?” I was beginning to be rather vain of my knowledge, for I spent my birthday guineas on it, and set aside the greater part of my pocket-money for similar investment; though I have no doubt, now, that the little I knew was extremely dear at the price.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “I might as well ask you,” said Biddy, “how you manage?”

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 “No; because when I come in from the forge of a night, any one can see me turning to at it. But you never turn to at it, Biddy.”

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 “I suppose I must catch it like a cough,” said Biddy, quietly; and went on with her sewing.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Pursuing my idea as I leaned back in my wooden chair, and looked at Biddy sewing away with her head on one side, I began to think her rather an extraordinary girl. For I called to mind now, that she was equally accomplished in the terms of our trade, and the names of our different sorts of work, and our various tools. In short, whatever I knew, Biddy knew. Theoretically, she was already as good a blacksmith as I, or better.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 “You are one of those, Biddy,” said I, “who make the most of every chance. You never had a chance before you came here, and see how improved you are!”

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Biddy looked at me for an instant, and went on with her sewing. “I was your first teacher though; wasn’t I?” said she, as she sewed.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 “Biddy!” I exclaimed, in amazement. “Why, you are crying!”

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 “No I am not,” said Biddy, looking up and laughing. “What put that in your head?”

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 What could have put it in my head but the glistening of a tear as it dropped on her work? I sat silent, recalling what a drudge she had been until Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt successfully overcame that bad habit of living, so highly desirable to be got rid of by some people. I recalled the hopeless circumstances by which she had been surrounded in the miserable little shop and the miserable little noisy evening school, with that miserable old bundle of incompetence always to be dragged and shouldered. I reflected that even in those untoward times there must have been latent in Biddy what was now developing, for, in my first uneasiness and discontent I had turned to her for help, as a matter of course. Biddy sat quietly sewing, shedding no more tears, and while I looked at her and thought about it all, it occurred to me that perhaps I had not been sufficiently grateful to Biddy. I might have been too reserved, and should have patronized her more (though I did not use that precise word in my meditations) with my confidence.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 “Yes, Biddy,” I observed, when I had done turning it over, “you were my first teacher, and that at a time when we little thought of ever being together like this, in this kitchen.”

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 “Ah, poor thing!” replied Biddy. It was like her self-forgetfulness to transfer the remark to my sister, and to get up and be busy about her, making her more comfortable; “that’s sadly true!”

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 “Well!” said I, “we must talk together a little more, as we used to do. And I must consult you a little more, as I used to do. Let us have a quiet walk on the marshes next Sunday, Biddy, and a long chat.”

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 My sister was never left alone now; but Joe more than readily undertook the care of her on that Sunday afternoon, and Biddy and I went out together. It was summer-time, and lovely weather. When we had passed the village and the church and the churchyard, and were out on the marshes and began to see the sails of the ships as they sailed on, I began to combine Miss Havisham and Estella with the prospect, in my usual way. When we came to the river-side and sat down on the bank, with the water rippling at our feet, making it all more quiet than it would have been without that sound, I resolved that it was a good time and place for the admission of Biddy into my inner confidence.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 “Biddy,” said I, after binding her to secrecy, “I want to be a gentleman.”

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 “O, I wouldn’t, if I was you!” she returned. “I don’t think it would answer.”

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 “Biddy,” said I, with some severity, “I have particular reasons for wanting to be a gentleman.”

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 “You know best, Pip; but don’t you think you are happier as you are?”

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 “Biddy,” I exclaimed, impatiently, “I am not at all happy as I am. I am disgusted with my calling and with my life. I have never taken to either, since I was bound. Don’t be absurd.”

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 “Was I absurd?” said Biddy, quietly raising her eyebrows; “I am sorry for that; I didn’t mean to be. I only want you to do well, and to be comfortable.”

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 “Well, then, understand once for all that I never shall or can be comfortable—or anything but miserable—there, Biddy!—unless I can lead a very different sort of life from the life I lead now.”

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 “That’s a pity!” said Biddy, shaking her head with a sorrowful air.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Now, I too had so often thought it a pity, that, in the singular kind of quarrel with myself which I was always carrying on, I was half inclined to shed tears of vexation and distress when Biddy gave utterance to her sentiment and my own. I told her she was right, and I knew it was much to be regretted, but still it was not to be helped.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 “If I could have settled down,” I said to Biddy, plucking up the short grass within reach, much as I had once upon a time pulled my feelings out of my hair and kicked them into the brewery wall,—”if I could have settled down and been but half as fond of the forge as I was when I was little, I know it would have been much better for me. You and I and Joe would have wanted nothing then, and Joe and I would perhaps have gone partners when I was out of my time, and I might even have grown up to keep company with you, and we might have sat on this very bank on a fine Sunday, quite different people. I should have been good enough for you; shouldn’t I, Biddy?”

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Biddy sighed as she looked at the ships sailing on, and returned for answer, “Yes; I am not over-particular.” It scarcely sounded flattering, but I knew she meant well.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 “Instead of that,” said I, plucking up more grass and chewing a blade or two, “see how I am going on. Dissatisfied, and uncomfortable, and—what would it signify to me, being coarse and common, if nobody had told me so!”

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Biddy turned her face suddenly towards mine, and looked far more attentively at me than she had looked at the sailing ships.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 “It was neither a very true nor a very polite thing to say,” she remarked, directing her eyes to the ships again. “Who said it?”

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 I was disconcerted, for I had broken away without quite seeing where I was going to. It was not to be shuffled off now, however, and I answered, “The beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham’s, and she’s more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be a gentleman on her account.” Having made this lunatic confession, I began to throw my torn-up grass into the river, as if I had some thoughts of following it.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 “Do you want to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over?” Biddy quietly asked me, after a pause.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 “I don’t know,” I moodily answered.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 “Because, if it is to spite her,” Biddy pursued, “I should think—but you know best—that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think—but you know best—she was not worth gaining over.”

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Exactly what I myself had thought, many times. Exactly what was perfectly manifest to me at the moment. But how could I, a poor dazed village lad, avoid that wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest of men fall every day?

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 “It may be all quite true,” said I to Biddy, “but I admire her dreadfully.”

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 In short, I turned over on my face when I came to that, and got a good grasp on the hair on each side of my head, and wrenched it well. All the while knowing the madness of my heart to be so very mad and misplaced, that I was quite conscious it would have served my face right, if I had lifted it up by my hair, and knocked it against the pebbles as a punishment for belonging to such an idiot.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Biddy was the wisest of girls, and she tried to reason no more with me. She put her hand, which was a comfortable hand though roughened by work, upon my hands, one after another, and gently took them out of my hair. Then she softly patted my shoulder in a soothing way, while with my face upon my sleeve I cried a little,—exactly as I had done in the brewery yard,—and felt vaguely convinced that I was very much ill-used by somebody, or by everybody; I can’t say which.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 “I am glad of one thing,” said Biddy, “and that is, that you have felt you could give me your confidence, Pip. And I am glad of another thing, and that is, that of course you know you may depend upon my keeping it and always so far deserving it. If your first teacher (dear! such a poor one, and so much in need of being taught herself!) had been your teacher at the present time, she thinks she knows what lesson she would set. But it would be a hard one to learn, and you have got beyond her, and it’s of no use now.” So, with a quiet sigh for me, Biddy rose from the bank, and said, with a fresh and pleasant change of voice, “Shall we walk a little farther, or go home?”

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 “Biddy,” I cried, getting up, putting my arm round her neck, and giving her a kiss, “I shall always tell you everything.”

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 “Till you’re a gentleman,” said Biddy.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 “You know I never shall be, so that’s always. Not that I have any occasion to tell you anything, for you know everything I know,—as I told you at home the other night.”

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 “Ah!” said Biddy, quite in a whisper, as she looked away at the ships. And then repeated, with her former pleasant change, “shall we walk a little farther, or go home?”

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 I said to Biddy we would walk a little farther, and we did so, and the summer afternoon toned down into the summer evening, and it was very beautiful. I began to consider whether I was not more naturally and wholesomely situated, after all, in these circumstances, than playing beggar my neighbor by candle-light in the room with the stopped clocks, and being despised by Estella. I thought it would be very good for me if I could get her out of my head, with all the rest of those remembrances and fancies, and could go to work determined to relish what I had to do, and stick to it, and make the best of it. I asked myself the question whether I did not surely know that if Estella were beside me at that moment instead of Biddy, she would make me miserable? I was obliged to admit that I did know it for a certainty, and I said to myself, “Pip, what a fool you are!”

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 We talked a good deal as we walked, and all that Biddy said seemed right. Biddy was never insulting, or capricious, or Biddy to-day and somebody else to-morrow; she would have derived only pain, and no pleasure, from giving me pain; she would far rather have wounded her own breast than mine. How could it be, then, that I did not like her much the better of the two?

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 “Biddy,” said I, when we were walking homeward, “I wish you could put me right.”

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 “I wish I could!” said Biddy.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 “If I could only get myself to fall in love with you,—you don’t mind my speaking so openly to such an old acquaintance?”

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 “Oh dear, not at all!” said Biddy. “Don’t mind me.”

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 “If I could only get myself to do it, that would be the thing for me.”

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 “But you never will, you see,” said Biddy.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 It did not appear quite so unlikely to me that evening, as it would have done if we had discussed it a few hours before. I therefore observed I was not quite sure of that. But Biddy said she was, and she said it decisively. In my heart I believed her to be right; and yet I took it rather ill, too, that she should be so positive on the point.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 When we came near the churchyard, we had to cross an embankment, and get over a stile near a sluice-gate. There started up, from the gate, or from the rushes, or from the ooze (which was quite in his stagnant way), Old Orlick.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 “Halloa!” he growled, “where are you two going?”

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 “Where should we be going, but home?”

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 “Well, then,” said he, “I’m jiggered if I don’t see you home!”

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 This penalty of being jiggered was a favorite supposititious case of his. He attached no definite meaning to the word that I am aware of, but used it, like his own pretended Christian name, to affront mankind, and convey an idea of something savagely damaging. When I was younger, I had had a general belief that if he had jiggered me personally, he would have done it with a sharp and twisted hook.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Biddy was much against his going with us, and said to me in a whisper, “Don’t let him come; I don’t like him.” As I did not like him either, I took the liberty of saying that we thanked him, but we didn’t want seeing home. He received that piece of information with a yell of laughter, and dropped back, but came slouching after us at a little distance.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Curious to know whether Biddy suspected him of having had a hand in that murderous attack of which my sister had never been able to give any account, I asked her why she did not like him.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 “Oh!” she replied, glancing over her shoulder as he slouched after us, “because I—I am afraid he likes me.”

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 “Did he ever tell you he liked you?” I asked indignantly.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 “No,” said Biddy, glancing over her shoulder again, “he never told me so; but he dances at me, whenever he can catch my eye.”

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 However novel and peculiar this testimony of attachment, I did not doubt the accuracy of the interpretation. I was very hot indeed upon Old Orlick’s daring to admire her; as hot as if it were an outrage on myself.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 “But it makes no difference to you, you know,” said Biddy, calmly.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 “No, Biddy, it makes no difference to me; only I don’t like it; I don’t approve of it.”

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 “Nor I neither,” said Biddy. “Though that makes no difference to you.”

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 “Exactly,” said I; “but I must tell you I should have no opinion of you, Biddy, if he danced at you with your own consent.”

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 I kept an eye on Orlick after that night, and, whenever circumstances were favorable to his dancing at Biddy, got before him to obscure that demonstration. He had struck root in Joe’s establishment, by reason of my sister’s sudden fancy for him, or I should have tried to get him dismissed. He quite understood and reciprocated my good intentions, as I had reason to know thereafter.

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 And now, because my mind was not confused enough before, I complicated its confusion fifty thousand-fold, by having states and seasons when I was clear that Biddy was immeasurably better than Estella, and that the plain honest working life to which I was born had nothing in it to be ashamed of, but offered me sufficient means of self-respect and happiness. At those times, I would decide conclusively that my disaffection to dear old Joe and the forge was gone, and that I was growing up in a fair way to be partners with Joe and to keep company with Biddy,—when all in a moment some confounding remembrance of the Havisham days would fall upon me like a destructive missile, and scatter my wits again. Scattered wits take a long time picking up; and often before I had got them well together, they would be dispersed in all directions by one stray thought, that perhaps after all Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune when my time was out.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 If my time had run out, it would have left me still at the height of my perplexities, I dare say. It never did run out, however, but was brought to a premature end, as I proceed to relate.

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Source: https://marginalia.sunygeneseoenglish.org/great-expectations/chapter-17/

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