Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 39)

Thus, we walked through Wemmick's greenhouse, until he turned to meand said, "Notice the man I shall shake hands with." I should havedone so, without the preparation, as he had shaken hands with noone yet.

Almost as soon as he had spoken, a portly upright man (whom I cansee now, as I write) in a well-worn olive-coloured frock-coat, witha peculiar pallor over-spreading the red in his complexion, andeyes that went wandering about when he tried to fix them, came upto a corner of the bars, and put his hand to his hat - which had agreasy and fatty surface like cold broth - with a half-serious andhalf-jocose military salute.

"Colonel, to you!" said Wemmick; "how are you, Colonel?"

"All right, Mr. Wemmick."

"Everything was done that could be done, but the evidence was toostrong for us, Colonel."

"Yes, it was too strong, sir - but I don't care."

"No, no," said Wemmick, coolly, "you don't care." Then, turning tome, "Served His Majesty this man. Was a soldier in the line andbought his discharge."

I said, "Indeed?" and the man's eyes looked at me, and then lookedover my head, and then looked all round me, and then he drew hishand across his lips and laughed.

"I think I shall be out of this on Monday, sir," he said toWemmick.

"Perhaps," returned my friend, "but there's no knowing."

"I am glad to have the chance of bidding you good-bye, Mr. Wemmick,"said the man, stretching out his hand between two bars.

"Thankye," said Wemmick, shaking hands with him. "Same to you,Colonel."

"If what I had upon me when taken, had been real, Mr. Wemmick," saidthe man, unwilling to let his hand go, "I should have asked thefavour of your wearing another ring - in acknowledgment of yourattentions."

"I'll accept the will for the deed," said Wemmick. "By-the-bye; youwere quite a pigeon-fancier." The man looked up at the sky. "I amtold you had a remarkable breed of tumblers. could you commissionany friend of yours to bring me a pair, of you've no further usefor 'em?"

"It shall be done, sir?"

"All right," said Wemmick, "they shall be taken care of. Goodafternoon, Colonel. Good-bye!" They shook hands again, and as wewalked away Wemmick said to me, "A Coiner, a very good workman. TheRecorder's report is made to-day, and he is sure to be executed onMonday. Still you see, as far as it goes, a pair of pigeons areportable property, all the same." With that, he looked back, andnodded at this dead plant, and then cast his eyes about him inwalking out of the yard, as if he were considering what other potwould go best in its place.

As we came out of the prison through the lodge, I found that thegreat importance of my guardian was appreciated by the turnkeys, noless than by those whom they held in charge. "Well, Mr. Wemmick,"said the turnkey, who kept us between the two studded and spikedlodge gates, and who carefully locked one before he unlocked theother, "what's Mr. Jaggers going to do with that waterside murder?Is he going to make it manslaughter, or what's he going to make ofit?"

"Why don't you ask him?" returned Wemmick.

"Oh yes, I dare say!" said the turnkey.

"Now, that's the way with them here. Mr. Pip," remarked Wemmick,turning to me with his post-office elongated. "They don't mind whatthey ask of me, the subordinate; but you'll never catch 'em askingany questions of my principal."

"Is this young gentleman one of the 'prentices or articled ones ofyour office?" asked the turnkey, with a grin at Mr. Wemmick'shumour.

"There he goes again, you see!" cried Wemmick, "I told you so! Asksanother question of the subordinate before his first is dry! Well,supposing Mr. Pip is one of them?"

"Why then," said the turnkey, grinning again, "he knows what Mr.Jaggers is."

"Yah!" cried Wemmick, suddenly hitting out at the turnkey in afacetious way, "you're dumb as one of your own keys when you haveto do with my principal, you know you are. Let us out, you old fox,or I'll get him to bring an action against you for falseimprisonment."

The turnkey laughed, and gave us good day, and stood laughing at usover the spikes of the wicket when we descended the steps into thestreet.

"Mind you, Mr. Pip," said Wemmick, gravely in my ear, as he took myarm to be more confidential; "I don't know that Mr. Jaggers does abetter thing than the way in which he keeps himself so high. He'salways so high. His constant height is of a piece with his immenseabilities. That Colonel durst no more take leave of him, than thatturnkey durst ask him his intentions respecting a case. Then,between his height and them, he slips in his subordinate - don'tyou see? - and so he has 'em, soul and body."

I was very much impressed, and not for the first time, by myguardian's subtlety. To confess the truth, I very heartily wished,and not for the first time, that I had had some other guardian ofminor abilities.

Mr. Wemmick and I parted at the office in Little Britain, wheresuppliants for Mr. Jaggers's notice were lingering about as usual,and I returned to my watch in the street of the coach-office, withsome three hours on hand. I consumed the whole time in thinking howstrange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint ofprison and crime; that, in my childhood out on our lonely marsheson a winter evening I should have first encountered it; that, itshould have reappeared on two occasions, starting out like a stainthat was faded but not gone; that, it should in this new waypervade my fortune and advancement. While my mind was thus engaged,I thought of the beautiful young Estella, proud and refined, comingtowards me, and I thought with absolute abhorrence of the contrastbetween the jail and her. I wished that Wemmick had not met me, orthat I had not yielded to him and gone with him, so that, of alldays in the year on this day, I might not have had Newgate in mybreath and on my clothes. I beat the prison dust off my feet as Isauntered to and fro, and I shook it out of my dress, and I exhaledits air from my lungs. So contaminated did I feel, remembering whowas coming, that the coach came quickly after all, and I was notyet free from the soiling consciousness of Mr. Wemmick'sconservatory, when I saw her face at the coach window and her handwaving to me.

What was the nameless shadow which again in that one instant hadpassed?

Chapter 33

In her furred travelling-dress, Estella seemed more delicatelybeautiful than she had ever seemed yet, even in my eyes. Her mannerwas more winning than she had cared to let it be to me before, andI thought I saw Miss Havisham's influence in the change.

We stood in the Inn Yard while she pointed out her luggage to me,and when it was all collected I remembered - having forgotteneverything but herself in the meanwhile - that I knew nothing ofher destination

"I am going to Richmond," she told me. "Our lesson is, that thereare two Richmonds, one in Surrey and one in Yorkshire, and that mineis the Surrey Richmond. The distance is ten miles. I am to have acarriage, and you are to take me. This is my purse, and you are topay my charges out of it. Oh, you must take the purse! We have nochoice, you and I, but to obey our instructions. We are not free tofollow our own devices, you and I."

As she looked at me in giving me the purse, I hoped there was aninner meaning in her words. She said them slightingly, but not withdispleasure.

"A carriage will have to be sent for, Estella. Will you rest here alittle?"

"Yes, I am to rest here a little, and I am to drink some tea, andyou are to take care of me the while."

She drew her arm through mine, as if it must be done, and Irequested a waiter who had been staring at the coach like a man whohad never seen such a thing in his life, to show us a privatesitting-room. Upon that, he pulled out a napkin, as if it were amagic clue without which he couldn't find the way up-stairs, andled us to the black hole of the establishment: fitted up with adiminishing mirror (quite a superfluous article considering thehole's proportions), an anchovy sauce-cruet, and somebody'spattens. On my objecting to this retreat, he took us into anotherroom with a dinner-table for thirty, and in the grate a scorchedleaf of a copy-book under a bushel of coal-dust. Having looked atthis extinct conflagration and shaken his head, he took my order:which, proving to be merely "Some tea for the lady," sent him outof the room in a very low state of mind.

I was, and I am, sensible that the air of this chamber, in itsstrong combination of stable with soup-stock, might have led one toinfer that the coaching department was not doing well, and that theenterprising proprietor was boiling down the horses for therefreshment department. Yet the room was all in all to me, Estellabeing in it. I thought that with her I could have been happy therefor life. (I was not at all happy there at the time, observe, and Iknew it well.)

"Where are you going to, at Richmond?" I asked Estella.

"I am going to live," said she, "at a great expense, with a ladythere, who has the power - or says she has - of taking me about,and introducing me, and showing people to me and showing me topeople."

"I suppose you will be glad of variety and admiration?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

She answered so carelessly, that I said, "You speak of yourself asif you were some one else."

"Where did you learn how I speak of others? Come, come," saidEstella, smiling delightfully, "you must not expect me to go toschool to you; I must talk in my own way. How do you thrive withMr. Pocket?"

"I live quite pleasantly there; at least--" It appeared to me thatI was losing a chance.

"At least?" repeated Estella.

"As pleasantly as I could anywhere, away from you."

"You silly boy," said Estella, quite composedly, "how can you talksuch nonsense? Your friend Mr. Matthew, I believe, is superior tothe rest of his family?"

"Very superior indeed. He is nobody's enemy--"

"Don't add but his own," interposed Estella, "for I hate that classof man. But he really is disinterested, and above small jealousyand spite, I have heard?"

"I am sure I have every reason to say so."

"You have not every reason to say so of the rest of his people,"said Estella, nodding at me with an expression of face that was atonce grave and rallying, "for they beset Miss Havisham with reportsand insinuations to your disadvantage. They watch you, misrepresentyou, write letters about you (anonymous sometimes), and you are thetorment and the occupation of their lives. You can scarcely realizeto yourself the hatred those people feel for you."

"They do me no harm, I hope?"

Instead of answering, Estella burst out laughing. This was verysingular to me, and I looked at her in considerable perplexity.When she left off - and she had not laughed languidly, but withreal enjoyment - I said, in my diffident way with her:

"I hope I may suppose that you would not be amused if they did meany harm."

"No, no you may be sure of that," said Estella. "You may be certainthat I laugh because they fail. Oh, those people with MissHavisham, and the tortures they undergo!" She laughed again, andeven now when she had told me why, her laughter was very singularto me, for I could not doubt its being genuine, and yet it seemedtoo much for the occasion. I thought there must really be somethingmore here than I knew; she saw the thought in my mind, and answeredit.

"It is not easy for even you." said Estella, "to know whatsatisfaction it gives me to see those people thwarted, or what anenjoyable sense of the ridiculous I have when they are maderidiculous. For you were not brought up in that strange house froma mere baby. - I was. You had not your little wits sharpened bytheir intriguing against you, suppressed and defenceless, under themask of sympathy and pity and what not that is soft and soothing. -I had. You did not gradually open your round childish eyes widerand wider to the discovery of that impostor of a woman whocalculates her stores of peace of mind for when she wakes up in thenight. - I did."

It was no laughing matter with Estella now, nor was she summoningthese remembrances from any shallow place. I would not have beenthe cause of that look of hers, for all my expectations in a heap.

"Two things I can tell you," said Estella. "First, notwithstandingthe proverb that constant dropping will wear away a stone, you mayset your mind at rest that these people never will - never would,in hundred years - impair your ground with Miss Havisham, in anyparticular, great or small. Second, I am beholden to you as thecause of their being so busy and so mean in vain, and there is myhand upon it."

As she gave it me playfully - for her darker mood had been butmomentary - I held it and put it to my lips. "You ridiculous boy,"said Estella, "will you never take warning? Or do you kiss my handin the same spirit in which I once let you kiss my cheek?"

"What spirit was that?" said I.

"I must think a moment A spirit of contempt for the fawners andplotters."

"If I say yes, may I kiss the cheek again?"

"You should have asked before you touched the hand. But, yes, ifyou like."

I leaned down, and her calm face was like a statue's. "Now," saidEstella, gliding away the instant I touched her cheek, "you are totake care that I have some tea, and you are to take me toRichmond."

Her reverting to this tone as if our association were forced uponus and we were mere puppets, gave me pain; but everything in ourintercourse did give me pain. Whatever her tone with me happened tobe, I could put no trust in it, and build no hope on it; and yet Iwent on against trust and against hope. Why repeat it a thousandtimes? So it always was.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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