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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 44)


Wemmick was silent for a little while, and then said with a kind ofstart, "Well you know, Mr. Pip, I must tell you one thing. This isdevilish good of you."

"Say you'll help me to be good then," said I.

"Ecod," replied Wemmick, shaking his head, "that's not my trade."

"Nor is this your trading-place," said I.

"You are right," he returned. "You hit the nail on the head. Mr.Pip, I'll put on my considering-cap, and I think all you want todo, may be done by degrees. Skiffins (that's her brother) is anaccountant and agent. I'll look him up and go to work for you."

"I thank you ten thousand times."

"On the contrary," said he, "I thank you, for though we arestrictly in our private and personal capacity, still it may bementioned that there are Newgate cobwebs about, and it brushes themaway."

After a little further conversation to the same effect, we returnedinto the Castle where we found Miss Skiffins preparing tea. Theresponsible duty of making the toast was delegated to the Aged, andthat excellent old gentleman was so intent upon it that he seemedto me in some danger of melting his eyes. It was no nominal mealthat we were going to make, but a vigorous reality. The Agedprepared such a haystack of buttered toast, that I could scarcelysee him over it as it simmered on an iron stand hooked on to thetop-bar; while Miss Skiffins brewed such a jorum of tea, that thepig in the back premises became strongly excited, and repeatedlyexpressed his desire to participate in the entertainment.

The flag had been struck, and the gun had been fired, at the rightmoment of time, and I felt as snugly cut off from the rest ofWalworth as if the moat were thirty feet wide by as many deep.Nothing disturbed the tranquillity of the Castle, but theoccasional tumbling open of John and Miss Skiffins: which littledoors were a prey to some spasmodic infirmity that made mesympathetically uncomfortable until I got used to it. I inferredfrom the methodical nature of Miss Skiffins's arrangements that shemade tea there every Sunday night; and I rather suspected that aclassic brooch she wore, representing the profile of an undesirablefemale with a very straight nose and a very new moon, was a pieceof portable property that had been given her by Wemmick.

We ate the whole of the toast, and drank tea in proportion, and itwas delightful to see how warm and greasy we all got after it. TheAged especially, might have passed for some clean old chief of asavage tribe, just oiled. After a short pause for repose, MissSkiffins - in the absence of the little servant who, it seemed,retired to the bosom of her family on Sunday afternoons - washed upthe tea-things, in a trifling lady-like amateur manner thatcompromised none of us. Then, she put on her gloves again, and wedrew round the fire, and Wemmick said, "Now Aged Parent, tip us thepaper."

Wemmick explained to me while the Aged got his spectacles out, thatthis was according to custom, and that it gave the old gentlemaninfinite satisfaction to read the news aloud. "I won't offer anapology," said Wemmick, "for he isn't capable of many pleasures -are you, Aged P.?"

"All right, John, all right," returned the old man, seeing himselfspoken to.

"Only tip him a nod every now and then when he looks off hispaper," said Wemmick, "and he'll be as happy as a king. We are allattention, Aged One."

"All right, John, all right!" returned the cheerful old man: sobusy and so pleased, that it really was quite charming.

The Aged's reading reminded me of the classes at Mr. Wopsle'sgreat-aunt's, with the pleasanter peculiarity that it seemed tocome through a keyhole. As he wanted the candles close to him, andas he was always on the verge of putting either his head or thenewspaper into them, he required as much watching as a powder-mill.But Wemmick was equally untiring and gentle in his vigilance, andthe Aged read on, quite unconscious of his many rescues. Wheneverhe looked at us, we all expressed the greatest interest andamazement, and nodded until he resumed again.

As Wemmick and Miss Skiffins sat side by side, and as I sat in ashadowy corner, I observed a slow and gradual elongation of Mr.Wemmick's mouth, powerfully suggestive of his slowly and graduallystealing his arm round Miss Skiffins's waist. In course of time Isaw his hand appear on the other side of Miss Skiffins; but at thatmoment Miss Skiffins neatly stopped him with the green glove,unwound his arm again as if it were an article of dress, and withthe greatest deliberation laid it on the table before her. MissSkiffins's composure while she did this was one of the mostremarkable sights I have ever seen, and if I could have thought theact consistent with abstraction of mind, I should have deemed thatMiss Skiffins performed it mechanically.

By-and-by, I noticed Wemmick's arm beginning to disappear again,and gradually fading out of view. Shortly afterwards, his mouthbegan to widen again. After an interval of suspense on my part thatwas quite enthralling and almost painful, I saw his hand appear onthe other side of Miss Skiffins. Instantly, Miss Skiffins stoppedit with the neatness of a placid boxer, took off that girdle orcestus as before, and laid it on the table. Taking the table torepresent the path of virtue, I am justified in stating that duringthe whole time of the Aged's reading, Wemmick's arm was strayingfrom the path of virtue and being recalled to it by Miss Skiffins.

At last, the Aged read himself into a light slumber. This was thetime for Wemmick to produce a little kettle, a tray of glasses, anda black bottle with a porcelain-topped cork, representing someclerical dignitary of a rubicund and social aspect. With the aid ofthese appliances we all had something warm to drink: including theAged, who was soon awake again. Miss Skiffins mixed, and I observedthat she and Wemmick drank out of one glass. Of course I knewbetter than to offer to see Miss Skiffins home, and under thecircumstances I thought I had best go first: which I did, taking acordial leave of the Aged, and having passed a pleasant evening.

Before a week was out, I received a note from Wemmick, datedWalworth, stating that he hoped he had made some advance in thatmatter appertaining to our private and personal capacities, andthat he would be glad if I could come and see him again upon it.So, I went out to Walworth again, and yet again, and yet again, andI saw him by appointment in the City several times, but never heldany communication with him on the subject in or near LittleBritain. The upshot was, that we found a worthy young merchant orshipping-broker, not long established in business, who wantedintelligent help, and who wanted capital, and who in due course oftime and receipt would want a partner. Between him and me, secretarticles were signed of which Herbert was the subject, and I paidhim half of my five hundred pounds down, and engaged for sundryother payments: some, to fall due at certain dates out of myincome: some, contingent on my coming into my property. MissSkiffins's brother conducted the negotiation. Wemmick pervaded itthroughout, but never appeared in it.

The whole business was so cleverly managed, that Herbert had notthe least suspicion of my hand being in it. I never shall forgetthe radiant face with which he came home one afternoon, and toldme, as a mighty piece of news, of his having fallen in with oneClarriker (the young merchant's name), and of Clarriker's havingshown an extraordinary inclination towards him, and of his beliefthat the opening had come at last. Day by day as his hopes grewstronger and his face brighter, he must have thought me a more andmore affectionate friend, for I had the greatest difficulty inrestraining my tears of triumph when I saw him so happy. At length,the thing being done, and he having that day entered Clarriker'sHouse, and he having talked to me for a whole evening in a flush ofpleasure and success, I did really cry in good earnest when I wentto bed, to think that my expectations had done some good tosomebody.

A great event in my life, the turning point of my life, now openson my view. But, before I proceed to narrate it, and before I passon to all the changes it involved, I must give one chapter toEstella. It is not much to give to the theme that so long filledmy heart.

Chapter 38

If that staid old house near the Green at Richmond should ever cometo be haunted when I am dead, it will be haunted, surely, by myghost. O the many, many nights and days through which the unquietspirit within me haunted that house when Estella lived there! Letmy body be where it would, my spirit was always wandering,wandering, wandering, about that house.

The lady with whom Estella was placed, Mrs. Brandley by name, was awidow, with one daughter several years older than Estella. Themother looked young, and the daughter looked old; the mother'scomplexion was pink, and the daughter's was yellow; the mother setup for frivolity, and the daughter for theology. They were in whatis called a good position, and visited, and were visited by,numbers of people. Little, if any, community of feeling subsistedbetween them and Estella, but the understanding was establishedthat they were necessary to her, and that she was necessary tothem. Mrs. Brandley had been a friend of Miss Havisham's before thetime of her seclusion.

In Mrs. Brandley's house and out of Mrs. Brandley's house, I sufferedevery kind and degree of torture that Estella could cause me. Thenature of my relations with her, which placed me on terms offamiliarity without placing me on terms of favour, conduced to mydistraction. She made use of me to tease other admirers, and sheturned the very familiarity between herself and me, to the accountof putting a constant slight on my devotion to her. If I had beenher secretary, steward, half-brother, poor relation - if I had beena younger brother of her appointed husband - I could not haveseemed to myself, further from my hopes when I was nearest to her.The privilege of calling her by her name and hearing her call me bymine, became under the circumstances an aggravation of my trials;and while I think it likely that it almost maddened her otherlovers, I know too certainly that it almost maddened me.

She had admirers without end. No doubt my jealousy made an admirerof every one who went near her; but there were more than enough ofthem without that.

I saw her often at Richmond, I heard of her often in town, and Iused often to take her and the Brandleys on the water; there werepicnics, fete days, plays, operas, concerts, parties, all sorts ofpleasures, through which I pursued her - and they were all miseriesto me. I never had one hour's happiness in her society, and yet mymind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on thehappiness of having her with me unto death.

Throughout this part of our intercourse - and it lasted, as willpresently be seen, for what I then thought a long time - shehabitually reverted to that tone which expressed that ourassociation was forced upon us. There were other times when shewould come to a sudden check in this tone and in all her manytones, and would seem to pity me.

"Pip, Pip," she said one evening, coming to such a check, when wesat apart at a darkening window of the house in Richmond; "will younever take warning?"

"Of what?"

"Of me."

"Warning not to be attracted by you, do you mean, Estella?"

"Do I mean! If you don't know what I mean, you are blind."

I should have replied that Love was commonly reputed blind, but forthe reason that I always was restrained - and this was not theleast of my miseries - by a feeling that it was ungenerous to pressmyself upon her, when she knew that she could not choose but obeyMiss Havisham. My dread always was, that this knowledge on her partlaid me under a heavy disadvantage with her pride, and made me thesubject of a rebellious struggle in her bosom.

"At any rate," said I, "I have no warning given me just now, foryou wrote to me to come to you, this time."

"That's true," said Estella, with a cold careless smile that alwayschilled me.

After looking at the twilight without, for a little while, she wenton to say:

"The time has come round when Miss Havisham wishes to have me for aday at Satis. You are to take me there, and bring me back, if youwill. She would rather I did not travel alone, and objects toreceiving my maid, for she has a sensitive horror of being talkedof by such people. Can you take me?"

"Can I take you, Estella!"

"You can then? The day after to-morrow, if you please. You are topay all charges out of my purse, You hear the condition of yourgoing?"

"And must obey," said I.

This was all the preparation I received for that visit, or forothers like it: Miss Havisham never wrote to me, nor had I ever somuch as seen her handwriting. We went down on the next day but one,and we found her in the room where I had first beheld her, and itis needless to add that there was no change in Satis House.

She was even more dreadfully fond of Estella than she had been whenI last saw them together; I repeat the word advisedly, for therewas something positively dreadful in the energy of her looks andembraces. She hung upon Estella's beauty, hung upon her words, hungupon her gestures, and sat mumbling her own trembling fingers whileshe looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautifulcreature she had reared.

From Estella she looked at me, with a searching glance that seemedto pry into my heart and probe its wounds. "How does she use you,Pip; how does she use you?" she asked me again, with her witch-likeeagerness, even in Estella's hearing. But, when we sat by herflickering fire at night, she was most weird; for then, keepingEstella's hand drawn through her arm and clutched in her own hand,she extorted from her, by dint of referring back to what Estellahad told her in her regular letters, the names and conditions ofthe men whom she had fascinated; and as Miss Havisham dwelt uponthis roll, with the intensity of a mind mortally hurt and diseased,she sat with her other hand on her crutch stick, and her chin onthat, and her wan bright eyes glaring at me, a very spectre.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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