It was the first time that a grave had opened in my road of life, and the ga_t made in the smooth ground was wonderful. The figure of my sister in he_hair by the kitchen fire, haunted me night and day. That the place coul_ossibly be, without her, was something my mind seemed unable to compass; an_hereas she had seldom or never been in my thoughts of late, I had now th_trangest ideas that she was coming towards me in the street, or that sh_ould presently knock at the door. In my rooms too, with which she had neve_een at all associated, there was at once the blankness of death and _erpetual suggestion of the sound of her voice or the turn of her face o_igure, as if she were still alive and had been often there.
Whatever my fortunes might have been, I could scarcely have recalled my siste_ith much tenderness. But I suppose there is a shock of regret which may exis_ithout much tenderness. Under its influence (and perhaps to make up for th_ant of the softer feeling) I was seized with a violent indignation agains_he assailant from whom she had suffered so much; and I felt that o_ufficient proof I could have revengefully pursued Orlick, or any one else, t_he last extremity.
Having written to Joe, to offer him consolation, and to assure him that _ould come to the funeral, I passed the intermediate days in the curious stat_f mind I have glanced at. I went down early in the morning, and alighted a_he Blue Boar in good time to walk over to the forge.
It was fine summer weather again, and, as I walked along, the times when I wa_ little helpless creature, and my sister did not spare me, vividly returned.
But they returned with a gentle tone upon them that softened even the edge o_ickler. For now, the very breath of the beans and clover whispered to m_eart that the day must come when it would be well for my memory that other_alking in the sunshine should be softened as they thought of me.
At last I came within sight of the house, and saw that Trabb and Co. had pu_n a funereal execution and taken possession. Two dismally absurd persons, each ostentatiously exhibiting a crutch done up in a black bandage,—as if tha_nstrument could possibly communicate any comfort to anybody,—were posted a_he front door; and in one of them I recognized a postboy discharged from th_oar for turning a young couple into a sawpit on their bridal morning, i_onsequence of intoxication rendering it necessary for him to ride his hors_lasped round the neck with both arms. All the children of the village, an_ost of the women, were admiring these sable warders and the closed windows o_he house and forge; and as I came up, one of the two warders (the postboy) knocked at the door, —implying that I was far too much exhausted by grief t_ave strength remaining to knock for myself.
Another sable warder (a carpenter, who had once eaten two geese for a wager) opened the door, and showed me into the best parlor. Here, Mr. Trabb had take_nto himself the best table, and had got all the leaves up, and was holding _ind of black Bazaar, with the aid of a quantity of black pins. At the momen_f my arrival, he had just finished putting somebody’s hat into black long- clothes, like an African baby; so he held out his hand for mine. But I, misle_y the action, and confused by the occasion, shook hands with him with ever_estimony of warm affection.
Poor dear Joe, entangled in a little black cloak tied in a large bow under hi_hin, was seated apart at the upper end of the room; where, as chief mourner, he had evidently been stationed by Trabb. When I bent down and said to him, “Dear Joe, how are you?” he said, “Pip, old chap, you knowed her when she wer_ fine figure of a—” and clasped my hand and said no more.
Biddy, looking very neat and modest in her black dress, went quietly here an_here, and was very helpful. When I had spoken to Biddy, as I thought it not _ime for talking I went and sat down near Joe, and there began to wonder i_hat part of the house it— she—my sister—was. The air of the parlor bein_aint with the smell of sweet-cake, I looked about for the table o_efreshments; it was scarcely visible until one had got accustomed to th_loom, but there was a cut-up plum cake upon it, and there were cut-u_ranges, and sandwiches, and biscuits, and two decanters that I knew very wel_s ornaments, but had never seen used in all my life; one full of port, an_ne of sherry. Standing at this table, I became conscious of the servil_umblechook in a black cloak and several yards of hatband, who was alternatel_tuffing himself, and making obsequious movements to catch my attention. Th_oment he succeeded, he came over to me (breathing sherry and crumbs), an_aid in a subdued voice, “May I, dear sir?” and did. I then descried Mr. an_rs. Hubble; the last-named in a decent speechless paroxysm in a corner. W_ere all going to “follow,” and were all in course of being tied up separately (by Trabb) into ridiculous bundles.
“Which I meantersay, Pip,” Joe whispered me, as we were being what Mr. Trab_alled “formed” in the parlor, two and two,—and it was dreadfully like _reparation for some grim kind of dance; “which I meantersay, sir, as I woul_n preference have carried her to the church myself, along with three or fou_riendly ones wot come to it with willing harts and arms, but it wer_onsidered wot the neighbors would look down on such and would be of opinion_s it were wanting in respect.”
“Pocket-handkerchiefs out, all!” cried Mr. Trabb at this point, in a depresse_usiness-like voice. “Pocket-handkerchiefs out! We are ready!”
So we all put our pocket-handkerchiefs to our faces, as if our noses wer_leeding, and filed out two and two; Joe and I; Biddy and Pumblechook; Mr. an_rs. Hubble. The remains of my poor sister had been brought round by th_itchen door, and, it being a point of Undertaking ceremony that the si_earers must be stifled and blinded under a horrible black velvet housing wit_ white border, the whole looked like a blind monster with twelve human legs, shuffling and blundering along, under the guidance of two keepers,— th_ostboy and his comrade.
The neighborhood, however, highly approved of these arrangements, and we wer_uch admired as we went through the village; the more youthful and vigorou_art of the community making dashes now and then to cut us off, and lying i_ait to intercept us at points of vantage. At such times the more exuberan_mong them called out in an excited manner on our emergence round some corne_f expectancy, “Here they come!” “Here they are!” and we were all but cheered.
In this progress I was much annoyed by the abject Pumblechook, who, bein_ehind me, persisted all the way as a delicate attention in arranging m_treaming hatband, and smoothing my cloak. My thoughts were further distracte_y the excessive pride of Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, who were surpassingly conceite_nd vainglorious in being members of so distinguished a procession.
And now the range of marshes lay clear before us, with the sails of the ship_n the river growing out of it; and we went into the churchyard, close to th_raves of my unknown parents, Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and Als_eorgiana, Wife of the Above. And there, my sister was laid quietly in th_arth, while the larks sang high above it, and the light wind strewed it wit_eautiful shadows of clouds and trees.
Of the conduct of the worldly minded Pumblechook while this was doing, _esire to say no more than it was all addressed to me; and that even whe_hose noble passages were read which remind humanity how it brought nothin_nto the world and can take nothing out, and how it fleeth like a shadow an_ever continueth long in one stay, I heard him cough a reservation of the cas_f a young gentleman who came unexpectedly into large property. When we go_ack, he had the hardihood to tell me that he wished my sister could hav_nown I had done her so much honor, and to hint that she would have considere_t reasonably purchased at the price of her death. After that, he drank al_he rest of the sherry, and Mr. Hubble drank the port, and the two talked (which I have since observed to be customary in such cases) as if they were o_uite another race from the deceased, and were notoriously immortal. Finally, he went away with Mr. and Mrs. Hubble,—to make an evening of it, I felt sure, and to tell the Jolly Bargemen that he was the founder of my fortunes and m_arliest benefactor.
When they were all gone, and when Trabb and his men—but not his Boy; I looke_or him—had crammed their mummery into bags, and were gone too, the house fel_holesomer. Soon afterwards, Biddy, Joe, and I, had a cold dinner together; but we dined in the best parlor, not in the old kitchen, and Joe was s_xceedingly particular what he did with his knife and fork and the saltcella_nd what not, that there was great restraint upon us. But after dinner, when _ade him take his pipe, and when I had loitered with him about the forge, an_hen we sat down together on the great block of stone outside it, we got o_etter. I noticed that after the funeral Joe changed his clothes so far, as t_ake a compromise between his Sunday dress and working dress; in which th_ear fellow looked natural, and like the Man he was.
He was very much pleased by my asking if I might sleep in my own little room, and I was pleased too; for I felt that I had done rather a great thing i_aking the request. When the shadows of evening were closing in, I took a_pportunity of getting into the garden with Biddy for a little talk.
“Biddy,” said I, “I think you might have written to me about these sa_atters.”
“Do you, Mr. Pip?” said Biddy. “I should have written if I had thought that.”
“Don’t suppose that I mean to be unkind, Biddy, when I say I consider that yo_ught to have thought that.”
“Do you, Mr. Pip?”
She was so quiet, and had such an orderly, good, and pretty way with her, tha_ did not like the thought of making her cry again. After looking a little a_er downcast eyes as she walked beside me, I gave up that point.
“I suppose it will be difficult for you to remain here now, Biddy dear?”
“Oh! I can’t do so, Mr. Pip,” said Biddy, in a tone of regret but still o_uiet conviction. “I have been speaking to Mrs. Hubble, and I am going to he_o-morrow. I hope we shall be able to take some care of Mr. Gargery, together, until he settles down.”
“How are you going to live, Biddy? If you want any mo—”
“How am I going to live?” repeated Biddy, striking in, with a momentary flus_pon her face. “I’ll tell you, Mr. Pip. I am going to try to get the place o_istress in the new school nearly finished here. I can be well recommended b_ll the neighbors, and I hope I can be industrious and patient, and teac_yself while I teach others. You know, Mr. Pip,” pursued Biddy, with a smile, as she raised her eyes to my face, “the new schools are not like the old, bu_ learnt a good deal from you after that time, and have had time since then t_mprove.”
“I think you would always improve, Biddy, under any circumstances.”
“Ah! Except in my bad side of human nature,” murmured Biddy.
It was not so much a reproach as an irresistible thinking aloud. Well! _hought I would give up that point too. So, I walked a little further wit_iddy, looking silently at her downcast eyes.
“I have not heard the particulars of my sister’s death, Biddy.”
“They are very slight, poor thing. She had been in one of her ba_tates—though they had got better of late, rather than worse— for four days, when she came out of it in the evening, just at tea-time, and said quit_lainly, ‘Joe.’ As she had never said any word for a long while, I ran an_etched in Mr. Gargery from the forge. She made signs to me that she wante_im to sit down close to her, and wanted me to put her arms round his neck. S_ put them round his neck, and she laid her head down on his shoulder quit_ontent and satisfied. And so she presently said ‘Joe’ again, and once ‘Pardon,’ and once ‘Pip.’ And so she never lifted her head up any more, and i_as just an hour later when we laid it down on her own bed, because we foun_he was gone.”
Biddy cried; the darkening garden, and the lane, and the stars that wer_oming out, were blurred in my own sight.
“Nothing was ever discovered, Biddy?”
“Do you know what is become of Orlick?”
“I should think from the color of his clothes that he is working in th_uarries.”
“Of course you have seen him then?—Why are you looking at that dark tree i_he lane?”
“I saw him there, on the night she died.”
“That was not the last time either, Biddy?”
“No; I have seen him there, since we have been walking here.—It is of no use,” said Biddy, laying her hand upon my arm, as I was for running out, “you know _ould not deceive you; he was not there a minute, and he is gone.”
It revived my utmost indignation to find that she was still pursued by thi_ellow, and I felt inveterate against him. I told her so, and told her that _ould spend any money or take any pains to drive him out of that country. B_egrees she led me into more temperate talk, and she told me how Joe loved me, and how Joe never complained of anything,—she didn’t say, of me; she had n_eed; I knew what she meant,—but ever did his duty in his way of life, with _trong hand, a quiet tongue, and a gentle heart.
“Indeed, it would be hard to say too much for him,” said I; “and Biddy, w_ust often speak of these things, for of course I shall be often down her_ow. I am not going to leave poor Joe alone.”
Biddy said never a single word.
“Biddy, don’t you hear me?”
“Yes, Mr. Pip.”
“Not to mention your calling me Mr. Pip,—which appears to me to be in ba_aste, Biddy,—what do you mean?”
“What do I mean?” asked Biddy, timidly.
“Biddy,” said I, in a virtuously self-asserting manner, “I must request t_now what you mean by this?”
“By this?” said Biddy.
“Now, don’t echo,” I retorted. “You used not to echo, Biddy.”
“Used not!” said Biddy. “O Mr. Pip! Used!”
Well! I rather thought I would give up that point too. After another silen_urn in the garden, I fell back on the main position.
“Biddy,” said I, “I made a remark respecting my coming down here often, to se_oe, which you received with a marked silence. Have the goodness, Biddy, t_ell me why.”
“Are you quite sure, then, that you will come to see him often?” asked Biddy, stopping in the narrow garden walk, and looking at me under the stars with _lear and honest eye.
“O dear me!” said I, as if I found myself compelled to give up Biddy i_espair. “This really is a very bad side of human nature! Don’t say any more, if you please, Biddy. This shocks me very much.”
For which cogent reason I kept Biddy at a distance during supper, and when _ent up to my own old little room, took as stately a leave of her as I could, in my murmuring soul, deem reconcilable with the churchyard and the event o_he day. As often as I was restless in the night, and that was every quarte_f an hour, I reflected what an unkindness, what an injury, what an injustice, Biddy had done me.
Early in the morning I was to go. Early in the morning I was out, and lookin_n, unseen, at one of the wooden windows of the forge. There I stood, fo_inutes, looking at Joe, already at work with a glow of health and strengt_pon his face that made it show as if the bright sun of the life in store fo_im were shining on it.
“Good by, dear Joe!—No, don’t wipe it off—for God’s sake, give me you_lackened hand!—I shall be down soon and often.”
“Never too soon, sir,” said Joe, “and never too often, Pip!”
Biddy was waiting for me at the kitchen door, with a mug of new milk and _rust of bread. “Biddy,” said I, when I gave her my hand at parting, “I am no_ngry, but I am hurt.”
“No, don’t be hurt,” she pleaded quite pathetically; “let only me be hurt, i_ have been ungenerous.”
Once more, the mists were rising as I walked away. If they disclosed to me, a_ suspect they did, that I should not come back, and that Biddy was quit_ight, all I can say is,—they were quite right too.