Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 27)

I had been doing this, in an excess of attention to his recital. Ithanked him, and apologized. He said, "Not at all," and resumed.

"Miss Havisham was now an heiress, and you may suppose was lookedafter as a great match. Her half-brother had now ample means again,but what with debts and what with new madness wasted them mostfearfully again. There were stronger differences between him andher, than there had been between him and his father, and it issuspected that he cherished a deep and mortal grudge against her,as having influenced the father's anger. Now, I come to the cruelpart of the story - merely breaking off, my dear Handel, to remarkthat a dinner-napkin will not go into a tumbler."

Why I was trying to pack mine into my tumbler, I am wholly unableto say. I only know that I found myself, with a perseverance worthyof a much better cause, making the most strenuous exertions tocompress it within those limits. Again I thanked him andapologized, and again he said in the cheerfullest manner, "Not atall, I am sure!" and resumed.

"There appeared upon the scene - say at the races, or the publicballs, or anywhere else you like - a certain man, who made love toMiss Havisham. I never saw him, for this happened five-and-twentyyears ago (before you and I were, Handel), but I have heard myfather mention that he was a showy-man, and the kind of man for thepurpose. But that he was not to be, without ignorance or prejudice,mistaken for a gentleman, my father most strongly asseverates;because it is a principle of his that no man who was not a truegentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a truegentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of thewood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain willexpress itself. Well! This man pursued Miss Havisham closely, andprofessed to be devoted to her. I believe she had not shown muchsusceptibility up to that time; but all the susceptibility shepossessed, certainly came out then, and she passionately loved him.There is no doubt that she perfectly idolized him. He practised onher affection in that systematic way, that he got great sums ofmoney from her, and he induced her to buy her brother out of ashare in the brewery (which had been weakly left him by his father)at an immense price, on the plea that when he was her husband hemust hold and manage it all. Your guardian was not at that time inMiss Havisham's councils, and she was too haughty and too much inlove, to be advised by any one. Her relations were poor andscheming, with the exception of my father; he was poor enough, butnot time-serving or jealous. The only independent one among them,he warned her that she was doing too much for this man, and wasplacing herself too unreservedly in his power. She took the firstopportunity of angrily ordering my father out of the house, in hispresence, and my father has never seen her since."

I thought of her having said, "Matthew will come and see me at lastwhen I am laid dead upon that table;" and I asked Herbert whetherhis father was so inveterate against her?

"It's not that," said he, "but she charged him, in the presence ofher intended husband, with being disappointed in the hope offawning upon her for his own advancement, and, if he were to go toher now, it would look true - even to him - and even to her. Toreturn to the man and make an end of him. The marriage day wasfixed, the wedding dresses were bought, the wedding tour wasplanned out, the wedding guests were invited. The day came, but notthe bridegroom. He wrote her a letter--"

"Which she received," I struck in, "when she was dressing for hermarriage? At twenty minutes to nine?"

"At the hour and minute," said Herbert, nodding, "at which sheafterwards stopped all the clocks. What was in it, further thanthat it most heartlessly broke the marriage off, I can't tell you,because I don't know. When she recovered from a bad illness thatshe had, she laid the whole place waste, as you have seen it, andshe has never since looked upon the light of day."

"Is that all the story?" I asked, after considering it.

"All I know of it; and indeed I only know so much, through piecingit out for myself; for my father always avoids it, and, even whenMiss Havisham invited me to go there, told me no more of it than itwas absolutely requisite I should understand. But I have forgottenone thing. It has been supposed that the man to whom she gave hermisplaced confidence, acted throughout in concert with herhalf-brother; that it was a conspiracy between them; and that theyshared the profits."

"I wonder he didn't marry her and get all the property," said I.

"He may have been married already, and her cruel mortification mayhave been a part of her half-brother's scheme," said Herbert.

"Mind! I don't know that."

"What became of the two men?" I asked, after again considering thesubject.

"They fell into deeper shame and degradation - if there can bedeeper - and ruin."

"Are they alive now?"

"I don't know."

"You said just now, that Estella was not related to Miss Havisham,but adopted. When adopted?"

Herbert shrugged his shoulders. "There has always been an Estella,since I have heard of a Miss Havisham. I know no more. And now,Handel," said he, finally throwing off the story as it were, "thereis a perfectly open understanding between us. All that I know aboutMiss Havisham, you know."

"And all that I know," I retorted, "you know."

"I fully believe it. So there can be no competition or perplexitybetween you and me. And as to the condition on which you hold youradvancement in life - namely, that you are not to inquire ordiscuss to whom you owe it - you may be very sure that it willnever be encroached upon, or even approached, by me, or by any onebelonging to me."

In truth, he said this with so much delicacy, that I felt thesubject done with, even though I should be under his father's rooffor years and years to come. Yet he said it with so much meaning,too, that I felt he as perfectly understood Miss Havisham to be mybenefactress, as I understood the fact myself.

It had not occurred to me before, that he had led up to the themefor the purpose of clearing it out of our way; but we were so muchthe lighter and easier for having broached it, that I now perceivedthis to be the case. We were very gay and sociable, and I askedhim, in the course of conversation, what he was? He replied, "Acapitalist - an Insurer of Ships." I suppose he saw me glancingabout the room in search of some tokens of Shipping, or capital,for he added, "In the City."

I had grand ideas of the wealth and importance of Insurers of Shipsin the City, and I began to think with awe, of having laid a youngInsurer on his back, blackened his enterprising eye, and cut hisresponsible head open. But, again, there came upon me, for myrelief, that odd impression that Herbert Pocket would never be verysuccessful or rich.

"I shall not rest satisfied with merely employing my capital ininsuring ships. I shall buy up some good Life Assurance shares, andcut into the Direction. I shall also do a little in the mining way.None of these things will interfere with my chartering a fewthousand tons on my own account. I think I shall trade," said he,leaning back in his chair, "to the East Indies, for silks, shawls,spices, dyes, drugs, and precious woods. It's an interestingtrade."

"And the profits are large?" said I.

"Tremendous!" said he.

I wavered again, and began to think here were greater expectationsthan my own.

"I think I shall trade, also," said he, putting his thumbs in hiswaistcoat pockets, "to the West Indies, for sugar, tobacco, andrum. Also to Ceylon, specially for elephants' tusks."

"You will want a good many ships," said I.

"A perfect fleet," said he.

Quite overpowered by the magnificence of these transactions, Iasked him where the ships he insured mostly traded to at present?

"I haven't begun insuring yet," he replied. "I am looking aboutme."

Somehow, that pursuit seemed more in keeping with Barnard's Inn. Isaid (in a tone of conviction), "Ah-h!"

"Yes. I am in a counting-house, and looking about me."

"Is a counting-house profitable?" I asked.

"To - do you mean to the young fellow who's in it?" he asked, inreply.

"Yes; to you."

"Why, n-no: not to me." He said this with the air of one carefullyreckoning up and striking a balance. "Not directly profitable. Thatis, it doesn't pay me anything, and I have to - keep myself."

This certainly had not a profitable appearance, and I shook my headas if I would imply that it would be difficult to lay by muchaccumulative capital from such a source of income.

"But the thing is," said Herbert Pocket, "that you look about you.That's the grand thing. You are in a counting-house, you know, andyou look about you."

It struck me as a singular implication that you couldn't be out ofa counting-house, you know, and look about you; but I silentlydeferred to his experience.

"Then the time comes," said Herbert, "when you see your opening.And you go in, and you swoop upon it and you make your capital, andthen there you are! When you have once made your capital, you havenothing to do but employ it."

This was very like his way of conducting that encounter in thegarden; very like. His manner of bearing his poverty, too, exactlycorresponded to his manner of bearing that defeat. It seemed to methat he took all blows and buffets now, with just the same air ashe had taken mine then. It was evident that he had nothing aroundhim but the simplest necessaries, for everything that I remarkedupon turned out to have been sent in on my account from thecoffee-house or somewhere else.

Yet, having already made his fortune in his own mind, he was sounassuming with it that I felt quite grateful to him for not beingpuffed up. It was a pleasant addition to his naturally pleasantways, and we got on famously. In the evening we went out for a walkin the streets, and went half-price to the Theatre; and next day wewent to church at Westminster Abbey, and in the afternoon we walkedin the Parks; and I wondered who shod all the horses there, andwished Joe did.

On a moderate computation, it was many months, that Sunday, since Ihad left Joe and Biddy. The space interposed between myself andthem, partook of that expansion, and our marshes were any distanceoff. That I could have been at our old church in my oldchurch-going clothes, on the very last Sunday that ever was, seemeda combination of impossibilities, geographical and social, solarand lunar. Yet in the London streets, so crowded with people and sobrilliantly lighted in the dusk of evening, there were depressinghints of reproaches for that I had put the poor old kitchen at homeso far away; and in the dead of night, the footsteps of someincapable impostor of a porter mooning about Barnard's Inn, underpretence of watching it, fell hollow on my heart.

On the Monday morning at a quarter before nine, Herbert went to thecounting-house to report himself - to look about him, too, Isuppose - and I bore him company. He was to come away in an hour ortwo to attend me to Hammersmith, and I was to wait about for him.It appeared to me that the eggs from which young Insurers werehatched, were incubated in dust and heat, like the eggs ofostriches, judging from the places to which those incipient giantsrepaired on a Monday morning. Nor did the counting-house whereHerbert assisted, show in my eyes as at all a good Observatory;being a back second floor up a yard, of a grimy presence in allparticulars, and with a look into another back second floor, ratherthan a look out.

I waited about until it was noon, and I went upon 'Change, and Isaw fluey men sitting there under the bills about shipping, whom Itook to be great merchants, though I couldn't understand why theyshould all be out of spirits. When Herbert came, we went and hadlunch at a celebrated house which I then quite venerated, but nowbelieve to have been the most abject superstition in Europe, andwhere I could not help noticing, even then, that there was muchmore gravy on the tablecloths and knives and waiters' clothes, thanin the steaks. This collation disposed of at a moderate price(considering the grease: which was not charged for), we went backto Barnard's Inn and got my little portmanteau, and then took coachfor Hammersmith. We arrived there at two or three o'clock in theafternoon, and had very little way to walk to Mr. Pocket's house.Lifting the latch of a gate, we passed direct into a little gardenoverlooking the river, where Mr. Pocket's children were playingabout. And unless I deceive myself on a point where my interests orprepossessions are certainly not concerned, I saw that Mr. and Mrs.Pocket's children were not growing up or being brought up, but weretumbling up.

Mrs. Pocket was sitting on a garden chair under a tree, reading,with her legs upon another garden chair; and Mrs. Pocket's twonursemaids were looking about them while the children played."Mamma," said Herbert, "this is young Mr. Pip." Upon which Mrs.Pocket received me with an appearance of amiable dignity.

"Master Alick and Miss Jane," cried one of the nurses to two of thechildren, "if you go a-bouncing up against them bushes you'll fallover into the river and be drownded, and what'll your pa say then?"

At the same time this nurse picked up Mrs. Pocket's handkerchief,and said, "If that don't make six times you've dropped it, Mum!"Upon which Mrs. Pocket laughed and said, "Thank you, Flopson," andsettling herself in one chair only, resumed her book. Hercountenance immediately assumed a knitted and intent expression asif she had been reading for a week, but before she could have readhalf a dozen lines, she fixed her eyes upon me, and said, "I hopeyour mamma is quite well?" This unexpected inquiry put me into sucha difficulty that I began saying in the absurdest way that if therehad been any such person I had no doubt she would have been quitewell and would have been very much obliged and would have sent hercompliments, when the nurse came to my rescue.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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