Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 43)

"Will soon come to London," said I, after casting about for aprecise form of words, "or summon me anywhere else?"

"Now here," replied Mr. Jaggers, fixing me for the first time withhis dark deep-set eyes, "we must revert to the evening when wefirst encountered one another in your village. What did I tell youthen, Pip?"

"You told me, Mr. Jaggers, that it might be years hence when thatperson appeared."

"Just so," said Mr. Jaggers; "that's my answer."

As we looked full at one another, I felt my breath come quicker inmy strong desire to get something out of him. And as I felt that itcame quicker, and as I felt that he saw that it came quicker, Ifelt that I had less chance than ever of getting anything out ofhim.

"Do you suppose it will still be years hence, Mr. Jaggers?"

Mr. Jaggers shook his head - not in negativing the question, but inaltogether negativing the notion that he could anyhow be got toanswer it - and the two horrible casts of the twitched faceslooked, when my eyes strayed up to them, as if they had come to acrisis in their suspended attention, and were going to sneeze.

"Come!" said Mr. Jaggers, warming the backs of his legs with thebacks of his warmed hands, "I'll be plain with you, my friend Pip.That's a question I must not be asked. You'll understand that,better, when I tell you it's a question that might compromise me.Come! I'll go a little further with you; I'll say something more."

He bent down so low to frown at his boots, that he was able to rubthe calves of his legs in the pause he made.

"When that person discloses," said Mr. Jaggers, straighteninghimself, "you and that person will settle your own affairs. Whenthat person discloses, my part in this business will cease anddetermine. When that person discloses, it will not be necessary forme to know anything about it. And that's all I have got to say."

We looked at one another until I withdrew my eyes, and lookedthoughtfully at the floor. From this last speech I derived thenotion that Miss Havisham, for some reason or no reason, had nottaken him into her confidence as to her designing me for Estella;that he resented this, and felt a jealousy about it; or that hereally did object to that scheme, and would have nothing to do withit. When I raised my eyes again, I found that he had been shrewdlylooking at me all the time, and was doing so still.

"If that is all you have to say, sir," I remarked, "there can benothing left for me to say."

He nodded assent, and pulled out his thief-dreaded watch, and askedme where I was going to dine? I replied at my own chambers, withHerbert. As a necessary sequence, I asked him if he would favour uswith his company, and he promptly accepted the invitation. But heinsisted on walking home with me, in order that I might make noextra preparation for him, and first he had a letter or two towrite, and (of course) had his hands to wash. So, I said I would gointo the outer office and talk to Wemmick.

The fact was, that when the five hundred pounds had come into mypocket, a thought had come into my head which had been often therebefore; and it appeared to me that Wemmick was a good person toadvise with, concerning such thought.

He had already locked up his safe, and made preparations for goinghome. He had left his desk, brought out his two greasy officecandlesticks and stood them in line with the snuffers on a slabnear the door, ready to be extinguished; he had raked his fire low,put his hat and great-coat ready, and was beating himself all overthe chest with his safe-key, as an athletic exercise afterbusiness.

"Mr. Wemmick," said I, "I want to ask your opinion. I am verydesirous to serve a friend."

Wemmick tightened his post-office and shook his head, as if hisopinion were dead against any fatal weakness of that sort.

"This friend," I pursued, "is trying to get on in commercial life,but has no money, and finds it difficult and disheartening to makea beginning. Now, I want somehow to help him to a beginning."

"With money down?" said Wemmick, in a tone drier than any sawdust.

"With some money down," I replied, for an uneasy remembrance shotacross me of that symmetrical bundle of papers at home; "with somemoney down, and perhaps some anticipation of my expectations."

"Mr. Pip," said Wemmick, "I should like just to run over with you onmy fingers, if you please, the names of the various bridges up ashigh as Chelsea Reach. Let's see; there's London, one; Southwark,two; Blackfriars, three; Waterloo, four; Westminster, five;Vauxhall, six." He had checked off each bridge in its turn, withthe handle of his safe-key on the palm of his hand. "There's asmany as six, you see, to choose from."

"I don't understand you," said I.

"Choose your bridge, Mr. Pip," returned Wemmick, "and take a walkupon your bridge, and pitch your money into the Thames over thecentre arch of your bridge, and you know the end of it. Serve afriend with it, and you may know the end of it too - but it's aless pleasant and profitable end."

I could have posted a newspaper in his mouth, he made it so wideafter saying this.

"This is very discouraging," said I.

"Meant to be so," said Wemmick.

"Then is it your opinion," I inquired, with some littleindignation, "that a man should never--"

" - Invest portable property in a friend?" said Wemmick. "Certainlyhe should not. Unless he wants to get rid of the friend - and thenit becomes a question how much portable property it may be worth toget rid of him."

"And that," said I, "is your deliberate opinion, Mr. Wemmick?"

"That," he returned, "is my deliberate opinion in this office."

"Ah!" said I, pressing him, for I thought I saw him near a loopholehere; "but would that be your opinion at Walworth?"

"Mr. Pip," he replied, with gravity, "Walworth is one place, andthis office is another. Much as the Aged is one person, and Mr.Jaggers is another. They must not be confounded together. MyWalworth sentiments must be taken at Walworth; none but my officialsentiments can be taken in this office."

"Very well," said I, much relieved, "then I shall look you up atWalworth, you may depend upon it."

"Mr. Pip," he returned, "you will be welcome there, in a private andpersonal capacity."

We had held this conversation in a low voice, well knowing myguardian's ears to be the sharpest of the sharp. As he now appearedin his doorway, towelling his hands, Wemmick got on his greatcoatand stood by to snuff out the candles. We all three went into thestreet together, and from the door-step Wemmick turned his way, andMr. Jaggers and I turned ours.

I could not help wishing more than once that evening, that Mr.Jaggers had had an Aged in Gerrard-street, or a Stinger, or aSomething, or a Somebody, to unbend his brows a little. It was anuncomfortable consideration on a twenty-first birthday, that comingof age at all seemed hardly worth while in such a guarded andsuspicious world as he made of it. He was a thousand times betterinformed and cleverer than Wemmick, and yet I would a thousandtimes rather have had Wemmick to dinner. And Mr. Jaggers made not mealone intensely melancholy, because, after he was gone, Herbertsaid of himself, with his eyes fixed on the fire, that he thoughthe must have committed a felony and forgotten the details of it, hefelt so dejected and guilty.

Chapter 37

Deeming Sunday the best day for taking Mr. Wemmick's Walworthsentiments, I devoted the next ensuing Sunday afternoon to apilgrimage to the Castle. On arriving before the battlements, Ifound the Union Jack flying and the drawbridge up; but undeterredby this show of defiance and resistance, I rang at the gate, andwas admitted in a most pacific manner by the Aged.

"My son, sir," said the old man, after securing the drawbridge,"rather had it in his mind that you might happen to drop in, and heleft word that he would soon be home from his afternoon's walk. Heis very regular in his walks, is my son. Very regular ineverything, is my son."

I nodded at the old gentleman as Wemmick himself might have nodded,and we went in and sat down by the fireside.

"You made acquaintance with my son, sir," said the old man, in hischirping way, while he warmed his hands at the blaze, "at hisoffice, I expect?" I nodded. "Hah! I have heerd that my son is awonderful hand at his business, sir?" I nodded hard. "Yes; so theytell me. His business is the Law?" I nodded harder. "Which makes itmore surprising in my son," said the old man, "for he was notbrought up to the Law, but to the Wine-Coopering."

Curious to know how the old gentleman stood informed concerning thereputation of Mr. Jaggers, I roared that name at him. He threw meinto the greatest confusion by laughing heartily and replying in avery sprightly manner, "No, to be sure; you're right." And to thishour I have not the faintest notion what he meant, or what joke hethought I had made.

As I could not sit there nodding at him perpetually, without makingsome other attempt to interest him, I shouted at inquiry whetherhis own calling in life had been "the Wine-Coopering." By dint ofstraining that term out of myself several times and tapping the oldgentleman on the chest to associate it with him, I at lastsucceeded in making my meaning understood.

"No," said the old gentleman; "the warehousing, the warehousing.First, over yonder;" he appeared to mean up the chimney, but Ibelieve he intended to refer me to Liverpool; "and then in the Cityof London here. However, having an infirmity - for I am hard ofhearing, sir--"

I expressed in pantomime the greatest astonishment.

" - Yes, hard of hearing; having that infirmity coming upon me, myson he went into the Law, and he took charge of me, and he bylittle and little made out this elegant and beautiful property. Butreturning to what you said, you know," pursued the old man, againlaughing heartily, "what I say is, No to be sure; you're right."

I was modestly wondering whether my utmost ingenuity would haveenabled me to say anything that would have amused him half as muchas this imaginary pleasantry, when I was startled by a sudden clickin the wall on one side of the chimney, and the ghostly tumblingopen of a little wooden flap with "JOHN" upon it. The old man,following my eyes, cried with great triumph, "My son's come home!"and we both went out to the drawbridge.

It was worth any money to see Wemmick waving a salute to me fromthe other side of the moat, when we might have shaken hands acrossit with the greatest ease. The Aged was so delighted to work thedrawbridge, that I made no offer to assist him, but stood quietuntil Wemmick had come across, and had presented me to MissSkiffins: a lady by whom he was accompanied.

Miss Skiffins was of a wooden appearance, and was, like her escort,in the post-office branch of the service. She might have been sometwo or three years younger than Wemmick, and I judged her to standpossessed of portable property. The cut of her dress from the waistupward, both before and behind, made her figure very like a boy'skite; and I might have pronounced her gown a little too decidedlyorange, and her gloves a little too intensely green. But she seemedto be a good sort of fellow, and showed a high regard for the Aged.I was not long in discovering that she was a frequent visitor atthe Castle; for, on our going in, and my complimenting Wemmick onhis ingenious contrivance for announcing himself to the Aged, hebegged me to give my attention for a moment to the other side ofthe chimney, and disappeared. Presently another click came, andanother little door tumbled open with "Miss Skiffins" on it; thenMiss Skiffins shut up and John tumbled open; then Miss Skiffins andJohn both tumbled open together, and finally shut up together. OnWemmick's return from working these mechanical appliances, Iexpressed the great admiration with which I regarded them, and hesaid, "Well, you know, they're both pleasant and useful to theAged. And by George, sir, it's a thing worth mentioning, that ofall the people who come to this gate, the secret of those pulls isonly known to the Aged, Miss Skiffins, and me!"

"And Mr. Wemmick made them," added Miss Skiffins, "with his ownhands out of his own head."

While Miss Skiffins was taking off her bonnet (she retained hergreen gloves during the evening as an outward and visible sign thatthere was company), Wemmick invited me to take a walk with himround the property, and see how the island looked in wintertime.Thinking that he did this to give me an opportunity of taking hisWalworth sentiments, I seized the opportunity as soon as we wereout of the Castle.

Having thought of the matter with care, I approached my subject asif I had never hinted at it before. I informed Wemmick that I wasanxious in behalf of Herbert Pocket, and I told him how we hadfirst met, and how we had fought. I glanced at Herbert's home, andat his character, and at his having no means but such as he wasdependent on his father for: those, uncertain and unpunctual.

I alluded to the advantages I had derived in my first rawness andignorance from his society, and I confessed that I feared I had butill repaid them, and that he might have done better without me andmy expectations. Keeping Miss Havisham in the background at a greatdistance, I still hinted at the possibility of my having competedwith him in his prospects, and at the certainty of his possessing agenerous soul, and being far above any mean distrusts,retaliations, or designs. For all these reasons (I told Wemmick),and because he was my young companion and friend, and I had a greataffection for him, I wished my own good fortune to reflect somerays upon him, and therefore I sought advice from Wemmick'sexperience and knowledge of men and affairs, how I could best trywith my resources to help Herbert to some present income - say of ahundred a year, to keep him in good hope and heart - and graduallyto buy him on to some small partnership. I begged Wemmick, inconclusion, to understand that my help must always be renderedwithout Herbert's knowledge or suspicion, and that there was no oneelse in the world with whom I could advise. I wound up by laying myhand upon his shoulder, and saying, "I can't help confiding in you,though I know it must be troublesome to you; but that is yourfault, in having ever brought me here."

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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