Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 29)

I was made very uneasy in my mind by Mrs. Pocket's falling into adiscussion with Drummle respecting two baronetcies, while she ate asliced orange steeped in sugar and wine, and forgetting all aboutthe baby on her lap: who did most appalling things with thenutcrackers. At length, little Jane perceiving its young brains tobe imperilled, softly left her place, and with many small artificescoaxed the dangerous weapon away. Mrs. Pocket finishing her orangeat about the same time, and not approving of this, said to Jane:

"You naughty child, how dare you? Go and sit down this instant!"

"Mamma dear," lisped the little girl, "baby ood have put hith eyethout."

"How dare you tell me so?" retorted Mrs. Pocket. "Go and sit down inyour chair this moment!"

Mrs. Pocket's dignity was so crushing, that I felt quite abashed: asif I myself had done something to rouse it.

"Belinda," remonstrated Mr. Pocket, from the other end of the table,"how can you be so unreasonable? Jane only interfered for theprotection of baby."

"I will not allow anybody to interfere," said Mrs. Pocket. "I amsurprised, Matthew, that you should expose me to the affront ofinterference."

"Good God!" cried Mr. Pocket, in an outbreak of desolatedesperation. "Are infants to be nutcrackered into their tombs, andis nobody to save them?"

"I will not be interfered with by Jane," said Mrs. Pocket, with amajestic glance at that innocent little offender. "I hope I know mypoor grandpapa's position. Jane, indeed!"

Mr. Pocket got his hands in his hair again, and this time really didlift himself some inches out of his chair. "Hear this!" hehelplessly exclaimed to the elements. "Babies are to benutcrackered dead, for people's poor grandpapa's positions!" Thenhe let himself down again, and became silent.

We all looked awkwardly at the table-cloth while this was going on.A pause succeeded, during which the honest and irrepressible babymade a series of leaps and crows at little Jane, who appeared to meto be the only member of the family (irrespective of servants) withwhom it had any decided acquaintance.

"Mr. Drummle," said Mrs. Pocket, "will you ring for Flopson? Jane,you undutiful little thing, go and lie down. Now, baby darling,come with ma!"

The baby was the soul of honour, and protested with all its might.It doubled itself up the wrong way over Mrs. Pocket's arm, exhibiteda pair of knitted shoes and dimpled ankles to the company in lieuof its soft face, and was carried out in the highest state ofmutiny. And it gained its point after all, for I saw it through thewindow within a few minutes, being nursed by little Jane.

It happened that the other five children were left behind at thedinner-table, through Flopson's having some private engagement, andtheir not being anybody else's business. I thus became aware of themutual relations between them and Mr. Pocket, which were exemplifiedin the following manner. Mr. Pocket, with the normal perplexity ofhis face heightened and his hair rumpled, looked at them for someminutes, as if he couldn't make out how they came to be boardingand lodging in that establishment, and why they hadn't beenbilleted by Nature on somebody else. Then, in a distant, Missionaryway he asked them certain questions - as why little Joe had thathole in his frill: who said, Pa, Flopson was going to mend it whenshe had time - and how little Fanny came by that whitlow: who said,Pa, Millers was going to poultice it when she didn't forget. Then,he melted into parental tenderness, and gave them a shilling apieceand told them to go and play; and then as they went out, with onevery strong effort to lift himself up by the hair he dismissed thehopeless subject.

In the evening there was rowing on the river. As Drummle andStartop had each a boat, I resolved to set up mine, and to cut themboth out. I was pretty good at most exercises in which countryboysare adepts, but, as I was conscious of wanting elegance of stylefor the Thames - not to say for other waters - I at once engaged toplace myself under the tuition of the winner of a prizewherry whoplied at our stairs, and to whom I was introduced by my new allies.This practical authority confused me very much, by saying I had thearm of a blacksmith. If he could have known how nearly thecompliment lost him his pupil, I doubt if he would have paid it.

There was a supper-tray after we got home at night, and I think weshould all have enjoyed ourselves, but for a rather disagreeabledomestic occurrence. Mr. Pocket was in good spirits, when ahousemaid came in, and said, "If you please, sir, I should wish tospeak to you."

"Speak to your master?" said Mrs. Pocket, whose dignity was rousedagain. "How can you think of such a thing? Go and speak to Flopson.Or speak to me - at some other time."

"Begging your pardon, ma'am," returned the housemaid, "I shouldwish to speak at once, and to speak to master."

Hereupon, Mr. Pocket went out of the room, and we made the best ofourselves until he came back.

"This is a pretty thing, Belinda!" said Mr. Pocket, returning with acountenance expressive of grief and despair. "Here's the cook lyinginsensibly drunk on the kitchen floor, with a large bundle of freshbutter made up in the cupboard ready to sell for grease!"

Mrs. Pocket instantly showed much amiable emotion, and said, "Thisis that odious Sophia's doing!"

"What do you mean, Belinda?" demanded Mr. Pocket.

"Sophia has told you," said Mrs. Pocket. "Did I not see her with myown eyes and hear her with my own ears, come into the room just nowand ask to speak to you?"

"But has she not taken me down stairs, Belinda," returned Mr.Pocket, "and shown me the woman, and the bundle too?"

"And do you defend her, Matthew," said Mrs. Pocket, "for makingmischief?"

Mr. Pocket uttered a dismal groan.

"Am I, grandpapa's granddaughter, to be nothing in the house?" saidMrs. Pocket. "Besides, the cook has always been a very nicerespectful woman, and said in the most natural manner when she cameto look after the situation, that she felt I was born to be aDuchess."

There was a sofa where Mr. Pocket stood, and he dropped upon it inthe attitude of the Dying Gladiator. Still in that attitude hesaid, with a hollow voice, "Good night, Mr. Pip," when I deemed itadvisable to go to bed and leave him.

Chapter 24

After two or three days, when I had established myself in my roomand had gone backwards and forwards to London several times, andhad ordered all I wanted of my tradesmen, Mr. Pocket and I had along talk together. He knew more of my intended career than I knewmyself, for he referred to his having been told by Mr. Jaggers thatI was not designed for any profession, and that I should be wellenough educated for my destiny if I could "hold my own" with theaverage of young men in prosperous circumstances. I acquiesced, ofcourse, knowing nothing to the contrary.

He advised my attending certain places in London, for theacquisition of such mere rudiments as I wanted, and my investinghim with the functions of explainer and director of all my studies.He hoped that with intelligent assistance I should meet with littleto discourage me, and should soon be able to dispense with any aidbut his. Through his way of saying this, and much more to similarpurpose, he placed himself on confidential terms with me in anadmirable manner; and I may state at once that he was always sozealous and honourable in fulfilling his compact with me, that hemade me zealous and honourable in fulfilling mine with him. If hehad shown indifference as a master, I have no doubt I should havereturned the compliment as a pupil; he gave me no such excuse, andeach of us did the other justice. Nor, did I ever regard him ashaving anything ludicrous about him - or anything but what wasserious, honest, and good - in his tutor communication with me.

When these points were settled, and so far carried out as that Ihad begun to work in earnest, it occurred to me that if I couldretain my bedroom in Barnard's Inn, my life would be agreeablyvaried, while my manners would be none the worse for Herbert'ssociety. Mr. Pocket did not object to this arrangement, but urgedthat before any step could possibly be taken in it, it must besubmitted to my guardian. I felt that this delicacy arose out ofthe consideration that the plan would save Herbert some expense, soI went off to Little Britain and imparted my wish to Mr. Jaggers.

"If I could buy the furniture now hired for me," said I, "and oneor two other little things, I should be quite at home there."

"Go it!" said Mr. Jaggers, with a short laugh. "I told you you'd geton. Well! How much do you want?"

I said I didn't know how much.

"Come!" retorted Mr. Jaggers. "How much? Fifty pounds?"

"Oh, not nearly so much."

"Five pounds?" said Mr. Jaggers.

This was such a great fall, that I said in discomfiture, "Oh! morethan that."

"More than that, eh!" retorted Mr. Jaggers, lying in wait for me,with his hands in his pockets, his head on one side, and his eyeson the wall behind me; "how much more?"

"It is so difficult to fix a sum," said I, hesitating.

"Come!" said Mr. Jaggers. "Let's get at it. Twice five; will thatdo? Three times five; will that do? Four times five; will that do?"

I said I thought that would do handsomely.

"Four times five will do handsomely, will it?" said Mr. Jaggers,knitting his brows. "Now, what do you make of four times five?"

"What do I make of it?"

"Ah!" said Mr. Jaggers; "how much?"

"I suppose you make it twenty pounds," said I, smiling.

"Never mind what I make it, my friend," observed Mr. Jaggers, with aknowing and contradictory toss of his head. "I want to know whatyou make it."

"Twenty pounds, of course."

"Wemmick!" said Mr. Jaggers, opening his office door. "Take Mr. Pip'swritten order, and pay him twenty pounds."

This strongly marked way of doing business made a strongly markedimpression on me, and that not of an agreeable kind. Mr. Jaggersnever laughed; but he wore great bright creaking boots, and, inpoising himself on these boots, with his large head bent down andhis eyebrows joined together, awaiting an answer, he sometimescaused the boots to creak, as if they laughed in a dry andsuspicious way. As he happened to go out now, and as Wemmick wasbrisk and talkative, I said to Wemmick that I hardly knew what tomake of Mr. Jaggers's manner.

"Tell him that, and he'll take it as a compliment," answeredWemmick; "he don't mean that you should know what to make of it. -Oh!" for I looked surprised, "it's not personal; it's professional:only professional."

Wemmick was at his desk, lunching - and crunching - on a dry hardbiscuit; pieces of which he threw from time to time into his slitof a mouth, as if he were posting them.

"Always seems to me," said Wemmick, "as if he had set a mantrap andwas watching it. Suddenly - click - you're caught!"

Without remarking that man-traps were not among the amenities oflife, I said I supposed he was very skilful?

"Deep," said Wemmick, "as Australia." Pointing with his pen at theoffice floor, to express that Australia was understood, for thepurposes of the figure, to be symmetrically on the opposite spot ofthe globe. "If there was anything deeper," added Wemmick, bringinghis pen to paper, "he'd be it."

Then, I said I supposed he had a fine business, and Wemmick said,"Ca-pi-tal!" Then I asked if there were many clerks? to which hereplied:

"We don't run much into clerks, because there's only one Jaggers,and people won't have him at second-hand. There are only four ofus. Would you like to see 'em? You are one of us, as I may say."

I accepted the offer. When Mr. Wemmick had put all the biscuit intothe post, and had paid me my money from a cash-box in a safe, thekey of which safe he kept somewhere down his back and produced fromhis coat-collar like an iron pigtail, we went up-stairs. The housewas dark and shabby, and the greasy shoulders that had left theirmark in Mr. Jaggers's room, seemed to have been shuffling up anddown the staircase for years. In the front first floor, a clerk wholooked something between a publican and a rat-catcher - a largepale puffed swollen man - was attentively engaged with three orfour people of shabby appearance, whom he treated asunceremoniously as everybody seemed to be treated who contributedto Mr. Jaggers's coffers. "Getting evidence together," said Mr.Wemmick, as we came out, "for the Bailey."

In the room over that, a little flabby terrier of a clerk withdangling hair (his cropping seemed to have been forgotten when hewas a puppy) was similarly engaged with a man with weak eyes, whomMr. Wemmick presented to me as a smelter who kept his pot alwaysboiling, and who would melt me anything I pleased - and who was inan excessive white-perspiration, as if he had been trying his art onhimself. In a back room, a high-shouldered man with a face-ache tiedup in dirty flannel, who was dressed in old black clothes that borethe appearance of having been waxed, was stooping over his work ofmaking fair copies of the notes of the other two gentlemen, for Mr.Jaggers's own use.

This was all the establishment. When we went down-stairs again,Wemmick led me into my guardian's room, and said, "This you've seenalready."

"Pray," said I, as the two odious casts with the twitchy leer uponthem caught my sight again, "whose likenesses are those?"

"These?" said Wemmick, getting upon a chair, and blowing the dustoff the horrible heads before bringing them down. "These are twocelebrated ones. Famous clients of ours that got us a world ofcredit. This chap (why you must have come down in the night andbeen peeping into the inkstand, to get this blot upon your eyebrow,you old rascal!) murdered his master, and, considering that hewasn't brought up to evidence, didn't plan it badly."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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