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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 30)


"Is it like him?" I asked, recoiling from the brute, as Wemmickspat upon his eyebrow and gave it a rub with his sleeve.

"Like him? It's himself, you know. The cast was made in Newgate,directly after he was taken down. You had a particular fancy forme, hadn't you, Old Artful?" said Wemmick. He then explained thisaffectionate apostrophe, by touching his brooch representing thelady and the weeping willow at the tomb with the urn upon it, andsaying, "Had it made for me, express!"

"Is the lady anybody?" said I.

"No," returned Wemmick. "Only his game. (You liked your bit ofgame, didn't you?) No; deuce a bit of a lady in the case, Mr. Pip,except one - and she wasn't of this slender ladylike sort, and youwouldn't have caught her looking after this urn - unless there wassomething to drink in it." Wemmick's attention being thus directedto his brooch, he put down the cast, and polished the brooch withhis pocket-handkerchief.

"Did that other creature come to the same end?" I asked. "He hasthe same look."

"You're right," said Wemmick; "it's the genuine look. Much as ifone nostril was caught up with a horsehair and a little fish-hook.Yes, he came to the same end; quite the natural end here, I assureyou. He forged wills, this blade did, if he didn't also put thesupposed testators to sleep too. You were a gentlemanly Cove,though" (Mr. Wemmick was again apostrophizing), "and you said youcould write Greek. Yah, Bounceable! What a liar you were! I nevermet such a liar as you!" Before putting his late friend on hisshelf again, Wemmick touched the largest of his mourning rings andsaid, "Sent out to buy it for me, only the day before."

While he was putting up the other cast and coming down from thechair, the thought crossed my mind that all his personal jewellerywas derived from like sources. As he had shown no diffidence on thesubject, I ventured on the liberty of asking him the question, whenhe stood before me, dusting his hands.

"Oh yes," he returned, "these are all gifts of that kind. Onebrings another, you see; that's the way of it. I always take 'em.They're curiosities. And they're property. They may not be worthmuch, but, after all, they're property and portable. It don'tsignify to you with your brilliant look-out, but as to myself, myguidingstar always is, "Get hold of portable property"."

When I had rendered homage to this light, he went on to say, in afriendly manner:

"If at any odd time when you have nothing better to do, youwouldn't mind coming over to see me at Walworth, I could offer youa bed, and I should consider it an honour. I have not much to showyou; but such two or three curiosities as I have got, you mightlike to look over; and I am fond of a bit of garden and asummer-house."

I said I should be delighted to accept his hospitality.

"Thankee," said he; "then we'll consider that it's to come off,when convenient to you. Have you dined with Mr. Jaggers yet?"

"Not yet."

"Well," said Wemmick, "he'll give you wine, and good wine. I'llgive you punch, and not bad punch. and now I'll tell you something.When you go to dine with Mr. Jaggers, look at his housekeeper."

"Shall I see something very uncommon?"

"Well," said Wemmick, "you'll see a wild beast tamed. Not so veryuncommon, you'll tell me. I reply, that depends on the originalwildness of the beast, and the amount of taming. It won't loweryour opinion of Mr. Jaggers's powers. Keep your eye on it."

I told him I would do so, with all the interest and curiosity thathis preparation awakened. As I was taking my departure, he asked meif I would like to devote five minutes to seeing Mr. Jaggers "atit?"

For several reasons, and not least because I didn't clearly knowwhat Mr. Jaggers would be found to be "at," I replied in theaffirmative. We dived into the City, and came up in a crowdedpolicecourt, where a blood-relation (in the murderous sense) of thedeceased with the fanciful taste in brooches, was standing at thebar, uncomfortably chewing something; while my guardian had a womanunder examination or cross-examination - I don't know which - andwas striking her, and the bench, and everybody present, with awe.If anybody, of whatsoever degree, said a word that he didn'tapprove of, he instantly required to have it "taken down." Ifanybody wouldn't make an admission, he said, "I'll have it out ofyou!" and if anybody made an admission, he said, "Now I have gotyou!" the magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger.Thieves and thieftakers hung in dread rapture on his words, andshrank when a hair of his eyebrows turned in their direction. Whichside he was on, I couldn't make out, for he seemed to me to begrinding the whole place in a mill; I only know that when I stoleout on tiptoe, he was not on the side of the bench; for, he wasmaking the legs of the old gentleman who presided, quite convulsiveunder the table, by his denunciations of his conduct as therepresentative of British law and justice in that chair that day.

Chapter 25

Bentley Drummle, who was so sulky a fellow that he even took up abook as if its writer had done him an injury, did not take up anacquaintance in a more agreeable spirit. Heavy in figure, movement,and comprehension - in the sluggish complexion of his face, and inthe large awkward tongue that seemed to loll about in his mouth ashe himself lolled about in a room - he was idle, proud, niggardly,reserved, and suspicious. He came of rich people down inSomersetshire, who had nursed this combination of qualities untilthey made the discovery that it was just of age and a blockhead.Thus, Bentley Drummle had come to Mr. Pocket when he was a headtaller than that gentleman, and half a dozen heads thicker thanmost gentlemen.

Startop had been spoilt by a weak mother and kept at home when heought to have been at school, but he was devotedly attached to her,and admired her beyond measure. He had a woman's delicacy offeature, and was - "as you may see, though you never saw her," saidHerbert to me - exactly like his mother. It was but natural that Ishould take to him much more kindly than to Drummle, and that, evenin the earliest evenings of our boating, he and I should pullhomeward abreast of one another, conversing from boat to boat,while Bentley Drummle came up in our wake alone, under theoverhanging banks and among the rushes. He would always creepin-shore like some uncomfortable amphibious creature, even when thetide would have sent him fast upon his way; and I always think ofhim as coming after us in the dark or by the back-water, when ourown two boats were breaking the sunset or the moonlight inmid-stream.

Herbert was my intimate companion and friend. I presented him witha half-share in my boat, which was the occasion of his often comingdown to Hammersmith; and my possession of a halfshare in hischambers often took me up to London. We used to walk between thetwo places at all hours. I have an affection for the road yet(though it is not so pleasant a road as it was then), formed in theimpressibility of untried youth and hope.

When I had been in Mr. Pocket's family a month or two, Mr. and Mrs.Camilla turned up. Camilla was Mr. Pocket's sister. Georgiana, whomI had seen at Miss Havisham's on the same occasion, also turned up.she was a cousin - an indigestive single woman, who called herrigidity religion, and her liver love. These people hated me withthe hatred of cupidity and disappointment. As a matter of course,they fawned upon me in my prosperity with the basest meanness.Towards Mr. Pocket, as a grown-up infant with no notion of his owninterests, they showed the complacent forbearance I had heard themexpress. Mrs. Pocket they held in contempt; but they allowed thepoor soul to have been heavily disappointed in life, because thatshed a feeble reflected light upon themselves.

These were the surroundings among which I settled down, and appliedmyself to my education. I soon contracted expensive habits, andbegan to spend an amount of money that within a few short months Ishould have thought almost fabulous; but through good and evil Istuck to my books. There was no other merit in this, than my havingsense enough to feel my deficiencies. Between Mr. Pocket and HerbertI got on fast; and, with one or the other always at my elbow togive me the start I wanted, and clear obstructions out of my road,I must have been as great a dolt as Drummle if I had done less.

I had not seen Mr. Wemmick for some weeks, when I thought I wouldwrite him a note and propose to go home with him on a certainevening. He replied that it would give him much pleasure, and thathe would expect me at the office at six o'clock. Thither I went,and there I found him, putting the key of his safe down his back asthe clock struck.

"Did you think of walking down to Walworth?" said he.

"Certainly," said I, "if you approve."

"Very much," was Wemmick's reply, "for I have had my legs under thedesk all day, and shall be glad to stretch them. Now, I'll tell youwhat I have got for supper, Mr. Pip. I have got a stewed steak -which is of home preparation - and a cold roast fowl - which isfrom the cook's-shop. I think it's tender, because the master ofthe shop was a Juryman in some cases of ours the other day, and welet him down easy. I reminded him of it when I bought the fowl, andI said, "Pick us out a good one, old Briton, because if we hadchosen to keep you in the box another day or two, we could easilyhave done it." He said to that, "Let me make you a present of thebest fowl in the shop." I let him, of course. As far as it goes,it's property and portable. You don't object to an aged parent, Ihope?"

I really thought he was still speaking of the fowl, until he added,"Because I have got an aged parent at my place." I then said whatpoliteness required.

"So, you haven't dined with Mr. Jaggers yet?" he pursued, as wewalked along.

"Not yet."

"He told me so this afternoon when he heard you were coming. Iexpect you'll have an invitation to-morrow. He's going to ask yourpals, too. Three of 'em; ain't there?"

Although I was not in the habit of counting Drummle as one of myintimate associates, I answered, "Yes."

"Well, he's going to ask the whole gang;" I hardly feltcomplimented by the word; "and whatever he gives you, he'll giveyou good. Don't look forward to variety, but you'll haveexcellence. And there'sa nother rum thing in his house," proceededWemmick, after a moment's pause, as if the remark followed on thehousekeeper understood; "he never lets a door or window be fastenedat night."

"Is he never robbed?"

"That's it!" returned Wemmick. "He says, and gives it out publicly,"I want to see the man who'll rob me." Lord bless you, I have heardhim, a hundred times if I have heard him once, say to regularcracksmen in our front office, "You know where I live; now, no boltis ever drawn there; why don't you do a stroke of business with me?Come; can't I tempt you?" Not a man of them, sir, would be boldenough to try it on, for love or money."

"They dread him so much?" said I.

"Dread him," said Wemmick. "I believe you they dread him. Not butwhat he's artful, even in his defiance of them. No silver, sir.Britannia metal, every spoon."

"So they wouldn't have much," I observed, "even if they--"

"Ah! But he would have much," said Wemmick, cutting me short, "andthey know it. He'd have their lives, and the lives of scores of'em. He'd have all he could get. And it's impossible to say what hecouldn't get, if he gave his mind to it."

I was falling into meditation on my guardian's greatness, whenWemmick remarked:

"As to the absence of plate, that's only his natural depth, youknow. A river's its natural depth, and he's his natural depth. Lookat his watch-chain. That's real enough."

"It's very massive," said I.

"Massive?" repeated Wemmick. "I think so. And his watch is a goldrepeater, and worth a hundred pound if it's worth a penny. Mr. Pip,there are about seven hundred thieves in this town who know allabout that watch; there's not a man, a woman, or a child, amongthem, who wouldn't identify the smallest link in that chain, anddrop it as if it was red-hot, if inveigled into touching it."

At first with such discourse, and afterwards with conversation of amore general nature, did Mr. Wemmick and I beguile the time and theroad, until he gave me to understand that we had arrived in thedistrict of Walworth.

It appeared to be a collection of back lanes, ditches, and littlegardens, and to present the aspect of a rather dull retirement.Wemmick's house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plotsof garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a batterymounted with guns.

"My own doing," said Wemmick. "Looks pretty; don't it?"

I highly commended it, I think it was the smallest house I eversaw; with the queerest gothic windows (by far the greater part ofthem sham), and a gothic door, almost too small to get in at.

"That's a real flagstaff, you see," said Wemmick, "and on Sundays Irun up a real flag. Then look here. After I have crossed thisbridge, I hoist it up - so - and cut off the communication."

The bridge was a plank, and it crossed a chasm about four feet wideand two deep. But it was very pleasant to see the pride with whichhe hoisted it up and made it fast; smiling as he did so, with arelish and not merely mechanically.

"At nine o'clock every night, Greenwich time," said Wemmick, "thegun fires. There he is, you see! And when you hear him go, I thinkyou'll say he's a Stinger."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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