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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 20)


Curious to know whether Biddy suspected him of having had a hand inthat murderous attack of which my sister had never been able togive any account, I asked her why she did not like him.

"Oh!" she replied, glancing over her shoulder as he slouched afterus, "because I - I am afraid he likes me."

"Did he ever tell you he liked you?" I asked, indignantly.

"No," said Biddy, glancing over her shoulder again, "he never toldme so; but he dances at me, whenever he can catch my eye."

However novel and peculiar this testimony of attachment, I did notdoubt the accuracy of the interpretation. I was very hot indeedupon Old Orlick's daring to admire her; as hot as if it were anoutrage on myself.

"But it makes no difference to you, you know," said Biddy, calmly.

"No, Biddy, it makes no difference to me; only I don't like it; Idon't approve of it."

"Nor I neither," said Biddy. "Though that makes no difference toyou."

"Exactly," said I; "but I must tell you I should have no opinion ofyou, Biddy, if he danced at you with your own consent."

I kept an eye on Orlick after that night, and, whenevercircumstances were favourable to his dancing at Biddy, got beforehim, to obscure that demonstration. He had struck root in Joe'sestablishment, by reason of my sister's sudden fancy for him, or Ishould have tried to get him dismissed. He quite understood andreciprocated my good intentions, as I had reason to knowthereafter.

And now, because my mind was not confused enough before, Icomplicated its confusion fifty thousand-fold, by having states andseasons when I was clear that Biddy was immeasurably better thanEstella, and that the plain honest working life to which I wasborn, had nothing in it to be ashamed of, but offered me sufficientmeans of self-respect and happiness. At those times, I would decideconclusively that my disaffection to dear old Joe and the forge,was gone, and that I was growing up in a fair way to be partnerswith Joe and to keep company with Biddy - when all in a moment someconfounding remembrance of the Havisham days would fall upon me,like a destructive missile, and scatter my wits again. Scatteredwits take a long time picking up; and often, before I had got themwell together, they would be dispersed in all directions by onestray thought, that perhaps after all Miss Havisham was going tomake my fortune when my time was out.

If my time had run out, it would have left me still at the heightof my perplexities, I dare say. It never did run out, however, butwas brought to a premature end, as I proceed to relate.

Chapter 18

It was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship to Joe, and it was aSaturday night. There was a group assembled round the fire at theThree Jolly Bargemen, attentive to Mr. Wopsle as he read thenewspaper aloud. Of that group I was one.

A highly popular murder had been committed, and Mr. Wopsle wasimbrued in blood to the eyebrows. He gloated over every abhorrentadjective in the description, and identified himself with everywitness at the Inquest. He faintly moaned, "I am done for," as thevictim, and he barbarously bellowed, "I'll serve you out," as themurderer. He gave the medical testimony, in pointed imitation ofour local practitioner; and he piped and shook, as the agedturnpike-keeper who had heard blows, to an extent so very paralyticas to suggest a doubt regarding the mental competency of thatwitness. The coroner, in Mr. Wopsle's hands, became Timon of Athens;the beadle, Coriolanus. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and we allenjoyed ourselves, and were delightfully comfortable. In this cozystate of mind we came to the verdict Wilful Murder.

Then, and not sooner, I became aware of a strange gentleman leaningover the back of the settle opposite me, looking on. There was anexpression of contempt on his face, and he bit the side of a greatforefinger as he watched the group of faces.

"Well!" said the stranger to Mr. Wopsle, when the reading was done,"you have settled it all to your own satisfaction, I have nodoubt?"

Everybody started and looked up, as if it were the murderer. Helooked at everybody coldly and sarcastically.

"Guilty, of course?" said he. "Out with it. Come!"

"Sir," returned Mr. Wopsle, "without having the honour of youracquaintance, I do say Guilty." Upon this, we all took courage tounite in a confirmatory murmur.

"I know you do," said the stranger; "I knew you would. I told youso. But now I'll ask you a question. Do you know, or do you notknow, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent,until he is proved - proved - to be guilty?"

"Sir," Mr. Wopsle began to reply, "as an Englishman myself, I--"

"Come!" said the stranger, biting his forefinger at him. "Don'tevade the question. Either you know it, or you don't know it. Whichis it to be?"

He stood with his head on one side and himself on one side, in abullying interrogative manner, and he threw his forefinger at Mr.Wopsle - as it were to mark him out - before biting it again.

"Now!" said he. "Do you know it, or don't you know it?"

"Certainly I know it," replied Mr. Wopsle.

"Certainly you know it. Then why didn't you say so at first? Now,I'll ask you another question;" taking possession of Mr. Wopsle, asif he had a right to him. "Do you know that none of these witnesseshave yet been cross-examined?"

Mr. Wopsle was beginning, "I can only say--" when the strangerstopped him.

"What? You won't answer the question, yes or no? Now, I'll try youagain." Throwing his finger at him again. "Attend to me. Are youaware, or are you not aware, that none of these witnesses have yetbeen cross-examined? Come, I only want one word from you. Yes, orno?"

Mr. Wopsle hesitated, and we all began to conceive rather a pooropinion of him.

"Come!" said the stranger, "I'll help you. You don't deserve help,but I'll help you. Look at that paper you hold in your hand. Whatis it?"

"What is it?" repeated Mr. Wopsle, eyeing it, much at a loss.

"Is it," pursued the stranger in his most sarcastic and suspiciousmanner, "the printed paper you have just been reading from?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Undoubtedly. Now, turn to that paper, and tell me whether itdistinctly states that the prisoner expressly said that his legaladvisers instructed him altogether to reserve his defence?"

"I read that just now," Mr. Wopsle pleaded.

"Never mind what you read just now, sir; I don't ask you what youread just now. You may read the Lord's Prayer backwards, if youlike - and, perhaps, have done it before to-day. Turn to the paper.No, no, no my friend; not to the top of the column; you know betterthan that; to the bottom, to the bottom." (We all began to think Mr.Wopsle full of subterfuge.) "Well? Have you found it?"

"Here it is," said Mr. Wopsle.

"Now, follow that passage with your eye, and tell me whether itdistinctly states that the prisoner expressly said that he wasinstructed by his legal advisers wholly to reserve his defence?Come! Do you make that of it?"

Mr. Wopsle answered, "Those are not the exact words."

"Not the exact words!" repeated the gentleman, bitterly. "Is thatthe exact substance?"

"Yes," said Mr. Wopsle.

"Yes," repeated the stranger, looking round at the rest of thecompany with his right hand extended towards the witness, Wopsle."And now I ask you what you say to the conscience of that man who,with that passage before his eyes, can lay his head upon his pillowafter having pronounced a fellow-creature guilty, unheard?"

We all began to suspect that Mr. Wopsle was not the man we hadthought him, and that he was beginning to be found out.

"And that same man, remember," pursued the gentleman, throwing hisfinger at Mr. Wopsle heavily; "that same man might be summoned as ajuryman upon this very trial, and, having thus deeply committedhimself, might return to the bosom of his family and lay his headupon his pillow, after deliberately swearing that he would well andtruly try the issue joined between Our Sovereign Lord the King andthe prisoner at the bar, and would a true verdict give according tothe evidence, so help him God!"

We were all deeply persuaded that the unfortunate Wopsle had gonetoo far, and had better stop in his reckless career while there wasyet time.

The strange gentleman, with an air of authority not to be disputed,and with a manner expressive of knowing something secret aboutevery one of us that would effectually do for each individual if hechose to disclose it, left the back of the settle, and came intothe space between the two settles, in front of the fire, where heremained standing: his left hand in his pocket, and he biting theforefinger of his right.

"From information I have received," said he, looking round at us aswe all quailed before him, "I have reason to believe there is ablacksmith among you, by name Joseph - or Joe - Gargery. Which isthe man?"

"Here is the man," said Joe.

The strange gentleman beckoned him out of his place, and Joe went.

"You have an apprentice," pursued the stranger, "commonly known asPip? Is he here?"

"I am here!" I cried.

The stranger did not recognize me, but I recognized him as thegentleman I had met on the stairs, on the occasion of my secondvisit to Miss Havisham. I had known him the moment I saw himlooking over the settle, and now that I stood confronting him withhis hand upon my shoulder, I checked off again in detail, his largehead, his dark complexion, his deep-set eyes, his bushy blackeyebrows, his large watch-chain, his strong black dots of beard andwhisker, and even the smell of scented soap on his great hand.

"I wish to have a private conference with you two," said he, whenhe had surveyed me at his leisure. "It will take a little time.Perhaps we had better go to your place of residence. I prefer notto anticipate my communication here; you will impart as much or aslittle of it as you please to your friends afterwards; I havenothing to do with that."

Amidst a wondering silence, we three walked out of the JollyBargemen, and in a wondering silence walked home. While goingalong, the strange gentleman occasionally looked at me, andoccasionally bit the side of his finger. As we neared home, Joevaguely acknowledging the occasion as an impressive and ceremoniousone, went on ahead to open the front door. Our conference was heldin the state parlour, which was feebly lighted by one candle.

It began with the strange gentleman's sitting down at the table,drawing the candle to him, and looking over some entries in hispocket-book. He then put up the pocket-book and set the candle alittle aside: after peering round it into the darkness at Joe andme, to ascertain which was which.

"My name," he said, "is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. I ampretty well known. I have unusual business to transact with you,and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. Ifmy advice had been asked, I should not have been here. It was notasked, and you see me here. What I have to do as the confidentialagent of another, I do. No less, no more."

Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, hegot up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned uponit; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot onthe ground.

"Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you ofthis young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancelhis indentures, at his request and for his good? You would wantnothing for so doing?"

"Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip'sway," said Joe, staring.

"Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose," returned MrJaggers. "The question is, Would you want anything? Do you wantanything?"

"The answer is," returned Joe, sternly, "No."

I thought Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a foolfor his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered betweenbreathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.

"Very well," said Mr. Jaggers. "Recollect the admission you havemade, and don't try to go from it presently."

"Who's a-going to try?" retorted Joe.

"I don't say anybody is. Do you keep a dog?"

"Yes, I do keep a dog."

"Bear in mind then, that Brag is a good dog, but Holdfast is abetter. Bear that in mind, will you?" repeated Mr. Jaggers, shuttinghis eyes and nodding his head at Joe, as if he were forgiving himsomething. "Now, I return to this young fellow. And thecommunication I have got to make is, that he has greatexpectations."

Joe and I gasped, and looked at one another.

"I am instructed to communicate to him," said Mr. Jaggers, throwinghis finger at me sideways, "that he will come into a handsomeproperty. Further, that it is the desire of the present possessorof that property, that he be immediately removed from his presentsphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as agentleman - in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations."

My dream was out; my wild fancy was surpassed by sober reality;Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale.

"Now, Mr. Pip," pursued the lawyer, "I address the rest of what Ihave to say, to you. You are to understand, first, that it is therequest of the person from whom I take my instructions, that youalways bear the name of Pip. You will have no objection, I daresay, to your great expectations being encumbered with that easycondition. But if you have any objection, this is the time tomention it."

My heart was beating so fast, and there was such a singing in myears, that I could scarcely stammer I had no objection.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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