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Great Expectations

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Chapter XLIII.


Why should I pause to ask how much of my shrinking from Provis might be traced to Estella? Why should I loiter on my road, to compare the state of mind in which I had tried to rid myself of the stain of the prison before meeting her at the coach-office, with the state of mind in which I now reflected on the abyss between Estella in her pride and beauty, and the returned transport whom I harboured? The road would be none the smoother for it, the end would be none the better for it, he would not be helped, nor I extenuated.

A new fear had been engendered in my mind by his narrative; or rather, his narrative had given form and purpose to the fear that was already there. If Compeyson were alive and should discover his return, I could hardly doubt the consequence. That Compeyson stood in mortal fear of him, neither of the two could know much better than I; and that any such man as that man had been described to be would hesitate to release himself for good from a dreaded enemy by the safe means of becoming an informer was scarcely to be imagined.

Never had I breathed, and never would I breathe—or so I resolved—a word of Estella to Provis. But, I said to Herbert that, before I could go abroad, I must see both Estella and Miss Havisham. This was when we were left alone on the night of the day when Provis told us his story. I resolved to go out to Richmond next day, and I went.

On my presenting myself at Mrs. Brandley’s, Estella’s maid was called to tell that Estella had gone into the country. Where? To Satis House, as usual. Not as usual, I said, for she had never yet gone there without me; when was she coming back? There was an air of reservation in the answer which increased my perplexity, and the answer was, that her maid believed she was only coming back at all for a little while. I could make nothing of this, except that it was meant that I should make nothing of it, and I went home again in complete discomfiture.

Another night consultation with Herbert after Provis was gone home (I always took him home, and always looked well about me), led us to the conclusion that nothing should be said about going abroad until I came back from Miss Havisham’s. In the mean time, Herbert and I were to consider separately what it would be best to say; whether we should devise any pretence of being afraid that he was under suspicious observation; or whether I, who had never yet been abroad, should propose an expedition. We both knew that I had but to propose anything, and he would consent. We agreed that his remaining many days in his present hazard was not to be thought of.

Next day I had the meanness to feign that I was under a binding promise to go down to Joe; but I was capable of almost any meanness towards Joe or his name. Provis was to be strictly careful while I was gone, and Herbert was to take the charge of him that I had taken. I was to be absent only one night, and, on my return, the gratification of his impatience for my starting as a gentleman on a greater scale was to be begun. It occurred to me then, and as I afterwards found to Herbert also, that he might be best got away across the water, on that pretence,—as, to make purchases, or the like.

Having thus cleared the way for my expedition to Miss Havisham’s, I set off by the early morning coach before it was yet light, and was out on the open country road when the day came creeping on, halting and whimpering and shivering, and wrapped in patches of cloud and rags of mist, like a beggar. When we drove up to the Blue Boar after a drizzly ride, whom should I see come out under the gateway, toothpick in hand, to look at the coach, but Bentley Drummle!

As he pretended not to see me, I pretended not to see him. It was a very lame pretence on both sides; the lamer, because we both went into the coffee-room, where he had just finished his breakfast, and where I ordered mine. It was poisonous to me to see him in the town, for I very well knew why he had come there.

Pretending to read a smeary newspaper long out of date, which had nothing half so legible in its local news, as the foreign matter of coffee, pickles, fish sauces, gravy, melted butter, and wine with which it was sprinkled all over, as if it had taken the measles in a highly irregular form, I sat at my table while he stood before the fire. By degrees it became an enormous injury to me that he stood before the fire. And I got up, determined to have my share of it. I had to put my hand behind his legs for the poker when I went up to the fireplace to stir the fire, but still pretended not to know him.

“Is this a cut?” said Mr. Drummle.

“Oh!” said I, poker in hand; “it’s you, is it? How do you do? I was wondering who it was, who kept the fire off.”

With that, I poked tremendously, and having done so, planted myself side by side with Mr. Drummle, my shoulders squared and my back to the fire.

“You have just come down?” said Mr. Drummle, edging me a little away with his shoulder.

“Yes,” said I, edging him a little away with my shoulder.

“Beastly place,” said Drummle. “Your part of the country, I think?”

“Yes,” I assented. “I am told it’s very like your Shropshire.”

“Not in the least like it,” said Drummle.

Here Mr. Drummle looked at his boots and I looked at mine, and then Mr. Drummle looked at my boots, and I looked at his.

“Have you been here long?” I asked, determined not to yield an inch of the fire.

“Long enough to be tired of it,” returned Drummle, pretending to yawn, but equally determined.

“Do you stay here long?”

“Can’t say,” answered Mr. Drummle. “Do you?”

“Can’t say,” said I.

I felt here, through a tingling in my blood, that if Mr. Drummle’s shoulder had claimed another hair’s breadth of room, I should have jerked him into the window; equally, that if my own shoulder had urged a similar claim, Mr. Drummle would have jerked me into the nearest box. He whistled a little. So did I.

“Large tract of marshes about here, I believe?” said Drummle.

“Yes. What of that?” said I.

Mr. Drummle looked at me, and then at my boots, and then said, “Oh!” and laughed.

“Are you amused, Mr. Drummle?”

“No,” said he, “not particularly. I am going out for a ride in the saddle. I mean to explore those marshes for amusement. Out-of-the-way villages there, they tell me. Curious little public-houses—and smithies—and that. Waiter!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is that horse of mine ready?”

“Brought round to the door, sir.”

“I say. Look here, you sir. The lady won’t ride to-day; the weather won’t do.”

“Very good, sir.”

“And I don’t dine, because I’m going to dine at the lady’s.”

“Very good, sir.”

Then, Drummle glanced at me, with an insolent triumph on his great-jowled face that cut me to the heart, dull as he was, and so exasperated me, that I felt inclined to take him in my arms (as the robber in the story-book is said to have taken the old lady) and seat him on the fire.

One thing was manifest to both of us, and that was, that until relief came, neither of us could relinquish the fire. There we stood, well squared up before it, shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot, with our hands behind us, not budging an inch. The horse was visible outside in the drizzle at the door, my breakfast was put on the table, Drummle’s was cleared away, the waiter invited me to begin, I nodded, we both stood our ground.

“Have you been to the Grove since?” said Drummle.

“No,” said I, “I had quite enough of the Finches the last time I was there.”

“Was that when we had a difference of opinion?”

“Yes,” I replied, very shortly.

“Come, come! They let you off easily enough,” sneered Drummle. “You shouldn’t have lost your temper.”

“Mr. Drummle,” said I, “you are not competent to give advice on that subject. When I lose my temper (not that I admit having done so on that occasion), I don’t throw glasses.”

“I do,” said Drummle.

After glancing at him once or twice, in an increased state of smouldering ferocity, I said,—

“Mr. Drummle, I did not seek this conversation, and I don’t think it an agreeable one.”

“I am sure it’s not,” said he, superciliously over his shoulder; “I don’t think anything about it.”

“And therefore,” I went on, “with your leave, I will suggest that we hold no kind of communication in future.”

“Quite my opinion,” said Drummle, “and what I should have suggested myself, or done—more likely—without suggesting. But don’t lose your temper. Haven’t you lost enough without that?”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Waiter!” said Drummle, by way of answering me.

The waiter reappeared.

“Look here, you sir. You quite understand that the young lady don’t ride to-day, and that I dine at the young lady’s?”

“Quite so, sir!”

When the waiter had felt my fast-cooling teapot with the palm of his hand, and had looked imploringly at me, and had gone out, Drummle, careful not to move the shoulder next me, took a cigar from his pocket and bit the end off, but showed no sign of stirring. Choking and boiling as I was, I felt that we could not go a word further, without introducing Estella’s name, which I could not endure to hear him utter; and therefore I looked stonily at the opposite wall, as if there were no one present, and forced myself to silence. How long we might have remained in this ridiculous position it is impossible to say, but for the incursion of three thriving farmers—laid on by the waiter, I think—who came into the coffee-room unbuttoning their great-coats and rubbing their hands, and before whom, as they charged at the fire, we were obliged to give way.

I saw him through the window, seizing his horse’s mane, and mounting in his blundering brutal manner, and sidling and backing away. I thought he was gone, when he came back, calling for a light for the cigar in his mouth, which he had forgotten. A man in a dust-coloured dress appeared with what was wanted,—I could not have said from where: whether from the inn yard, or the street, or where not,—and as Drummle leaned down from the saddle and lighted his cigar and laughed, with a jerk of his head towards the coffee-room windows, the slouching shoulders and ragged hair of this man whose back was towards me reminded me of Orlick.

Too heavily out of sorts to care much at the time whether it were he or no, or after all to touch the breakfast, I washed the weather and the journey from my face and hands, and went out to the memorable old house that it would have been so much the better for me never to have entered, never to have seen.


Chapter XLIV.


In the room where the dressing-table stood, and where the wax-candles burnt on the wall, I found Miss Havisham and Estella; Miss Havisham seated on a settee near the fire, and Estella on a cushion at her feet. Estella was knitting, and Miss Havisham was looking on. They both raised their eyes as I went in, and both saw an alteration in me. I derived that, from the look they interchanged.

“And what wind,” said Miss Havisham, “blows you here, Pip?”

Though she looked steadily at me, I saw that she was rather confused. Estella, pausing a moment in her knitting with her eyes upon me, and then going on, I fancied that I read in the action of her fingers, as plainly as if she had told me in the dumb alphabet, that she perceived I had discovered my real benefactor.

“Miss Havisham,” said I, “I went to Richmond yesterday, to speak to Estella; and finding that some wind had blown her here, I followed.”

Miss Havisham motioning to me for the third or fourth time to sit down, I took the chair by the dressing-table, which I had often seen her occupy. With all that ruin at my feet and about me, it seemed a natural place for me, that day.

“What I had to say to Estella, Miss Havisham, I will say before you, presently—in a few moments. It will not surprise you, it will not displease you. I am as unhappy as you can ever have meant me to be.”

Miss Havisham continued to look steadily at me. I could see in the action of Estella’s fingers as they worked that she attended to what I said; but she did not look up.

“I have found out who my patron is. It is not a fortunate discovery, and is not likely ever to enrich me in reputation, station, fortune, anything. There are reasons why I must say no more of that. It is not my secret, but another’s.”

As I was silent for a while, looking at Estella and considering how to go on, Miss Havisham repeated, “It is not your secret, but another’s. Well?”

“When you first caused me to be brought here, Miss Havisham, when I belonged to the village over yonder, that I wish I had never left, I suppose I did really come here, as any other chance boy might have come,—as a kind of servant, to gratify a want or a whim, and to be paid for it?”

“Ay, Pip,” replied Miss Havisham, steadily nodding her head; “you did.”

“And that Mr. Jaggers—”

“Mr. Jaggers,” said Miss Havisham, taking me up in a firm tone, “had nothing to do with it, and knew nothing of it. His being my lawyer, and his being the lawyer of your patron is a coincidence. He holds the same relation towards numbers of people, and it might easily arise. Be that as it may, it did arise, and was not brought about by any one.”

Any one might have seen in her haggard face that there was no suppression or evasion so far.

“But when I fell into the mistake I have so long remained in, at least you led me on?” said I.

“Yes,” she returned, again nodding steadily, “I let you go on.”

“Was that kind?”

“Who am I,” cried Miss Havisham, striking her stick upon the floor and flashing into wrath so suddenly that Estella glanced up at her in surprise,—“who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?”

It was a weak complaint to have made, and I had not meant to make it. I told her so, as she sat brooding after this outburst.

“Well, well, well!” she said. “What else?”

“I was liberally paid for my old attendance here,” I said, to soothe her, “in being apprenticed, and I have asked these questions only for my own information. What follows has another (and I hope more disinterested) purpose. In humouring my mistake, Miss Havisham, you punished—practised on—perhaps you will supply whatever term expresses your intention, without offence—your self-seeking relations?”

“I did. Why, they would have it so! So would you. What has been my history, that I should be at the pains of entreating either them or you not to have it so! You made your own snares. I never made them.”

Waiting until she was quiet again,—for this, too, flashed out of her in a wild and sudden way,—I went on.

“I have been thrown among one family of your relations, Miss Havisham, and have been constantly among them since I went to London. I know them to have been as honestly under my delusion as I myself. And I should be false and base if I did not tell you, whether it is acceptable to you or no, and whether you are inclined to give credence to it or no, that you deeply wrong both Mr. Matthew Pocket and his son Herbert, if you suppose them to be otherwise than generous, upright, open, and incapable of anything designing or mean.”

“They are your friends,” said Miss Havisham.

“They made themselves my friends,” said I, “when they supposed me to have superseded them; and when Sarah Pocket, Miss Georgiana, and Mistress Camilla were not my friends, I think.”

This contrasting of them with the rest seemed, I was glad to see, to do them good with her. She looked at me keenly for a little while, and then said quietly,—

“What do you want for them?”

“Only,” said I, “that you would not confound them with the others. They may be of the same blood, but, believe me, they are not of the same nature.”

Still looking at me keenly, Miss Havisham repeated,—

“What do you want for them?”

“I am not so cunning, you see,” I said, in answer, conscious that I reddened a little, “as that I could hide from you, even if I desired, that I do want something. Miss Havisham, if you would spare the money to do my friend Herbert a lasting service in life, but which from the nature of the case must be done without his knowledge, I could show you how.”

“Why must it be done without his knowledge?” she asked, settling her hands upon her stick, that she might regard me the more attentively.

“Because,” said I, “I began the service myself, more than two years ago, without his knowledge, and I don’t want to be betrayed. Why I fail in my ability to finish it, I cannot explain. It is a part of the secret which is another person’s and not mine.”

She gradually withdrew her eyes from me, and turned them on the fire. After watching it for what appeared in the silence and by the light of the slowly wasting candles to be a long time, she was roused by the collapse of some of the red coals, and looked towards me again—at first, vacantly—then, with a gradually concentrating attention. All this time Estella knitted on. When Miss Havisham had fixed her attention on me, she said, speaking as if there had been no lapse in our dialogue,—

“What else?”

“Estella,” said I, turning to her now, and trying to command my trembling voice, “you know I love you. You know that I have loved you long and dearly.”

She raised her eyes to my face, on being thus addressed, and her fingers plied their work, and she looked at me with an unmoved countenance. I saw that Miss Havisham glanced from me to her, and from her to me.

“I should have said this sooner, but for my long mistake. It induced me to hope that Miss Havisham meant us for one another. While I thought you could not help yourself, as it were, I refrained from saying it. But I must say it now.”

Preserving her unmoved countenance, and with her fingers still going, Estella shook her head.

“I know,” said I, in answer to that action,—“I know. I have no hope that I shall ever call you mine, Estella. I am ignorant what may become of me very soon, how poor I may be, or where I may go. Still, I love you. I have loved you ever since I first saw you in this house.”

Looking at me perfectly unmoved and with her fingers busy, she shook her head again.

“It would have been cruel in Miss Havisham, horribly cruel, to practise on the susceptibility of a poor boy, and to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not. I think that, in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella.”

I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart and hold it there, as she sat looking by turns at Estella and at me.

“It seems,” said Estella, very calmly, “that there are sentiments, fancies,—I don’t know how to call them,—which I am not able to comprehend. When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a form of words; but nothing more. You address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don’t care for what you say at all. I have tried to warn you of this; now, have I not?”

I said in a miserable manner, “Yes.”

“Yes. But you would not be warned, for you thought I did not mean it. Now, did you not think so?”

“I thought and hoped you could not mean it. You, so young, untried, and beautiful, Estella! Surely it is not in Nature.”

“It is in my nature,” she returned. And then she added, with a stress upon the words, “It is in the nature formed within me. I make a great difference between you and all other people when I say so much. I can do no more.”

“Is it not true,” said I, “that Bentley Drummle is in town here, and pursuing you?”

“It is quite true,” she replied, referring to him with the indifference of utter contempt.

“That you encourage him, and ride out with him, and that he dines with you this very day?”

She seemed a little surprised that I should know it, but again replied, “Quite true.”

“You cannot love him, Estella!”

Her fingers stopped for the first time, as she retorted rather angrily, “What have I told you? Do you still think, in spite of it, that I do not mean what I say?”

“You would never marry him, Estella?”

She looked towards Miss Havisham, and considered for a moment with her work in her hands. Then she said, “Why not tell you the truth? I am going to be married to him.”

I dropped my face into my hands, but was able to control myself better than I could have expected, considering what agony it gave me to hear her say those words. When I raised my face again, there was such a ghastly look upon Miss Havisham’s, that it impressed me, even in my passionate hurry and grief.

“Estella, dearest Estella, do not let Miss Havisham lead you into this fatal step. Put me aside for ever,—you have done so, I well know,—but bestow yourself on some worthier person than Drummle. Miss Havisham gives you to him, as the greatest slight and injury that could be done to the many far better men who admire you, and to the few who truly love you. Among those few there may be one who loves you even as dearly, though he has not loved you as long, as I. Take him, and I can bear it better, for your sake!”

My earnestness awoke a wonder in her that seemed as if it would have been touched with compassion, if she could have rendered me at all intelligible to her own mind.

“I am going,” she said again, in a gentler voice, “to be married to him. The preparations for my marriage are making, and I shall be married soon. Why do you injuriously introduce the name of my mother by adoption? It is my own act.”

“Your own act, Estella, to fling yourself away upon a brute?”

“On whom should I fling myself away?” she retorted, with a smile. “Should I fling myself away upon the man who would the soonest feel (if people do feel such things) that I took nothing to him? There! It is done. I shall do well enough, and so will my husband. As to leading me into what you call this fatal step, Miss Havisham would have had me wait, and not marry yet; but I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it. Say no more. We shall never understand each other.”

“Such a mean brute, such a stupid brute!” I urged, in despair.

“Don’t be afraid of my being a blessing to him,” said Estella; “I shall not be that. Come! Here is my hand. Do we part on this, you visionary boy—or man?”

“O Estella!” I answered, as my bitter tears fell fast on her hand, do what I would to restrain them; “even if I remained in England and could hold my head up with the rest, how could I see you Drummle’s wife?”

“Nonsense,” she returned,—“nonsense. This will pass in no time.”

“Never, Estella!”

“You will get me out of your thoughts in a week.”

“Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since,—on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation, I associate you only with the good; and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!”

In what ecstasy of unhappiness I got these broken words out of myself, I don’t know. The rhapsody welled up within me, like blood from an inward wound, and gushed out. I held her hand to my lips some lingering moments, and so I left her. But ever afterwards, I remembered,—and soon afterwards with stronger reason,—that while Estella looked at me merely with incredulous wonder, the spectral figure of Miss Havisham, her hand still covering her heart, seemed all resolved into a ghastly stare of pity and remorse.

All done, all gone! So much was done and gone, that when I went out at the gate, the light of the day seemed of a darker colour than when I went in. For a while, I hid myself among some lanes and by-paths, and then struck off to walk all the way to London. For, I had by that time come to myself so far as to consider that I could not go back to the inn and see Drummle there; that I could not bear to sit upon the coach and be spoken to; that I could do nothing half so good for myself as tire myself out.

It was past midnight when I crossed London Bridge. Pursuing the narrow intricacies of the streets which at that time tended westward near the Middlesex shore of the river, my readiest access to the Temple was close by the river-side, through Whitefriars. I was not expected till to-morrow; but I had my keys, and, if Herbert were gone to bed, could get to bed myself without disturbing him.

As it seldom happened that I came in at that Whitefriars gate after the Temple was closed, and as I was very muddy and weary, I did not take it ill that the night-porter examined me with much attention as he held the gate a little way open for me to pass in. To help his memory I mentioned my name.

“I was not quite sure, sir, but I thought so. Here’s a note, sir. The messenger that brought it, said would you be so good as read it by my lantern?”

Much surprised by the request, I took the note. It was directed to Philip Pip, Esquire, and on the top of the superscription were the words, “PLEASE READ THIS, HERE.” I opened it, the watchman holding up his light, and read inside, in Wemmick’s writing,—

“DON’T GO HOME.”


Chapter XLV.


Turning from the Temple gate as soon as I had read the warning, I made the best of my way to Fleet Street, and there got a late hackney chariot and drove to the Hummums in Covent Garden. In those times a bed was always to be got there at any hour of the night, and the chamberlain, letting me in at his ready wicket, lighted the candle next in order on his shelf, and showed me straight into the bedroom next in order on his list. It was a sort of vault on the ground floor at the back, with a despotic monster of a four-post bedstead in it, straddling over the whole place, putting one of his arbitrary legs into the fireplace and another into the doorway, and squeezing the wretched little washing-stand in quite a Divinely Righteous manner.

As I had asked for a night-light, the chamberlain had brought me in, before he left me, the good old constitutional rushlight of those virtuous days—an object like the ghost of a walking-cane, which instantly broke its back if it were touched, which nothing could ever be lighted at, and which was placed in solitary confinement at the bottom of a high tin tower, perforated with round holes that made a staringly wide-awake pattern on the walls. When I had got into bed, and lay there footsore, weary, and wretched, I found that I could no more close my own eyes than I could close the eyes of this foolish Argus. And thus, in the gloom and death of the night, we stared at one another.

What a doleful night! How anxious, how dismal, how long! There was an inhospitable smell in the room, of cold soot and hot dust; and, as I looked up into the corners of the tester over my head, I thought what a number of blue-bottle flies from the butchers’, and earwigs from the market, and grubs from the country, must be holding on up there, lying by for next summer. This led me to speculate whether any of them ever tumbled down, and then I fancied that I felt light falls on my face,—a disagreeable turn of thought, suggesting other and more objectionable approaches up my back. When I had lain awake a little while, those extraordinary voices with which silence teems began to make themselves audible. The closet whispered, the fireplace sighed, the little washing-stand ticked, and one guitar-string played occasionally in the chest of drawers. At about the same time, the eyes on the wall acquired a new expression, and in every one of those staring rounds I saw written, DON’T GO HOME.

Whatever night-fancies and night-noises crowded on me, they never warded off this DON’T GO HOME. It plaited itself into whatever I thought of, as a bodily pain would have done. Not long before, I had read in the newspapers, how a gentleman unknown had come to the Hummums in the night, and had gone to bed, and had destroyed himself, and had been found in the morning weltering in blood. It came into my head that he must have occupied this very vault of mine, and I got out of bed to assure myself that there were no red marks about; then opened the door to look out into the passages, and cheer myself with the companionship of a distant light, near which I knew the chamberlain to be dozing. But all this time, why I was not to go home, and what had happened at home, and when I should go home, and whether Provis was safe at home, were questions occupying my mind so busily, that one might have supposed there could be no more room in it for any other theme. Even when I thought of Estella, and how we had parted that day forever, and when I recalled all the circumstances of our parting, and all her looks and tones, and the action of her fingers while she knitted,—even then I was pursuing, here and there and everywhere, the caution, Don’t go home. When at last I dozed, in sheer exhaustion of mind and body, it became a vast shadowy verb which I had to conjugate. Imperative mood, present tense: Do not thou go home, let him not go home, let us not go home, do not ye or you go home, let not them go home. Then potentially: I may not and I cannot go home; and I might not, could not, would not, and should not go home; until I felt that I was going distracted, and rolled over on the pillow, and looked at the staring rounds upon the wall again.

I had left directions that I was to be called at seven; for it was plain that I must see Wemmick before seeing any one else, and equally plain that this was a case in which his Walworth sentiments only could be taken. It was a relief to get out of the room where the night had been so miserable, and I needed no second knocking at the door to startle me from my uneasy bed.

The Castle battlements arose upon my view at eight o’clock. The little servant happening to be entering the fortress with two hot rolls, I passed through the postern and crossed the drawbridge in her company, and so came without announcement into the presence of Wemmick as he was making tea for himself and the Aged. An open door afforded a perspective view of the Aged in bed.

“Halloa, Mr. Pip!” said Wemmick. “You did come home, then?”

“Yes,” I returned; “but I didn’t go home.”

“That’s all right,” said he, rubbing his hands. “I left a note for you at each of the Temple gates, on the chance. Which gate did you come to?”

I told him.

“I’ll go round to the others in the course of the day and destroy the notes,” said Wemmick; “it’s a good rule never to leave documentary evidence if you can help it, because you don’t know when it may be put in. I’m going to take a liberty with you. Would you mind toasting this sausage for the Aged P.?”

I said I should be delighted to do it.

“Then you can go about your work, Mary Anne,” said Wemmick to the little servant; “which leaves us to ourselves, don’t you see, Mr. Pip?” he added, winking, as she disappeared.

I thanked him for his friendship and caution, and our discourse proceeded in a low tone, while I toasted the Aged’s sausage and he buttered the crumb of the Aged’s roll.

“Now, Mr. Pip, you know,” said Wemmick, “you and I understand one another. We are in our private and personal capacities, and we have been engaged in a confidential transaction before to-day. Official sentiments are one thing. We are extra official.”

I cordially assented. I was so very nervous, that I had already lighted the Aged’s sausage like a torch, and been obliged to blow it out.

“I accidentally heard, yesterday morning,” said Wemmick, “being in a certain place where I once took you,—even between you and me, it’s as well not to mention names when avoidable—”

“Much better not,” said I. “I understand you.”

“I heard there by chance, yesterday morning,” said Wemmick, “that a certain person not altogether of uncolonial pursuits, and not unpossessed of portable property,—I don’t know who it may really be,—we won’t name this person—”

“Not necessary,” said I.

“—Had made some little stir in a certain part of the world where a good many people go, not always in gratification of their own inclinations, and not quite irrespective of the government expense—”

In watching his face, I made quite a firework of the Aged’s sausage, and greatly discomposed both my own attention and Wemmick’s; for which I apologised.

“—By disappearing from such place, and being no more heard of thereabouts. From which,” said Wemmick, “conjectures had been raised and theories formed. I also heard that you at your chambers in Garden Court, Temple, had been watched, and might be watched again.”

“By whom?” said I.

“I wouldn’t go into that,” said Wemmick, evasively, “it might clash with official responsibilities. I heard it, as I have in my time heard other curious things in the same place. I don’t tell it you on information received. I heard it.”

He took the toasting-fork and sausage from me as he spoke, and set forth the Aged’s breakfast neatly on a little tray. Previous to placing it before him, he went into the Aged’s room with a clean white cloth, and tied the same under the old gentleman’s chin, and propped him up, and put his nightcap on one side, and gave him quite a rakish air. Then he placed his breakfast before him with great care, and said, “All right, ain’t you, Aged P.?” To which the cheerful Aged replied, “All right, John, my boy, all right!” As there seemed to be a tacit understanding that the Aged was not in a presentable state, and was therefore to be considered invisible, I made a pretence of being in complete ignorance of these proceedings.

“This watching of me at my chambers (which I have once had reason to suspect),” I said to Wemmick when he came back, “is inseparable from the person to whom you have adverted; is it?”

Wemmick looked very serious. “I couldn’t undertake to say that, of my own knowledge. I mean, I couldn’t undertake to say it was at first. But it either is, or it will be, or it’s in great danger of being.”

As I saw that he was restrained by fealty to Little Britain from saying as much as he could, and as I knew with thankfulness to him how far out of his way he went to say what he did, I could not press him. But I told him, after a little meditation over the fire, that I would like to ask him a question, subject to his answering or not answering, as he deemed right, and sure that his course would be right. He paused in his breakfast, and crossing his arms, and pinching his shirt-sleeves (his notion of in-door comfort was to sit without any coat), he nodded to me once, to put my question.

“You have heard of a man of bad character, whose true name is Compeyson?”

He answered with one other nod.

“Is he living?”

One other nod.

“Is he in London?”

He gave me one other nod, compressed the post-office exceedingly, gave me one last nod, and went on with his breakfast.

“Now,” said Wemmick, “questioning being over,” which he emphasised and repeated for my guidance, “I come to what I did, after hearing what I heard. I went to Garden Court to find you; not finding you, I went to Clarriker’s to find Mr. Herbert.”

“And him you found?” said I, with great anxiety.

“And him I found. Without mentioning any names or going into any details, I gave him to understand that if he was aware of anybody—Tom, Jack, or Richard—being about the chambers, or about the immediate neighbourhood, he had better get Tom, Jack, or Richard out of the way while you were out of the way.”

“He would be greatly puzzled what to do?”

“He was puzzled what to do; not the less, because I gave him my opinion that it was not safe to try to get Tom, Jack, or Richard too far out of the way at present. Mr. Pip, I’ll tell you something. Under existing circumstances, there is no place like a great city when you are once in it. Don’t break cover too soon. Lie close. Wait till things slacken, before you try the open, even for foreign air.”

I thanked him for his valuable advice, and asked him what Herbert had done?

“Mr. Herbert,” said Wemmick, “after being all of a heap for half an hour, struck out a plan. He mentioned to me as a secret, that he is courting a young lady who has, as no doubt you are aware, a bedridden Pa. Which Pa, having been in the Purser line of life, lies a-bed in a bow-window where he can see the ships sail up and down the river. You are acquainted with the young lady, most probably?”

“Not personally,” said I.

The truth was, that she had objected to me as an expensive companion who did Herbert no good, and that, when Herbert had first proposed to present me to her, she had received the proposal with such very moderate warmth, that Herbert had felt himself obliged to confide the state of the case to me, with a view to the lapse of a little time before I made her acquaintance. When I had begun to advance Herbert’s prospects by stealth, I had been able to bear this with cheerful philosophy: he and his affianced, for their part, had naturally not been very anxious to introduce a third person into their interviews; and thus, although I was assured that I had risen in Clara’s esteem, and although the young lady and I had long regularly interchanged messages and remembrances by Herbert, I had never seen her. However, I did not trouble Wemmick with these particulars.

“The house with the bow-window,” said Wemmick, “being by the river-side, down the Pool there between Limehouse and Greenwich, and being kept, it seems, by a very respectable widow who has a furnished upper floor to let, Mr. Herbert put it to me, what did I think of that as a temporary tenement for Tom, Jack, or Richard? Now, I thought very well of it, for three reasons I’ll give you. That is to say: Firstly. It’s altogether out of all your beats, and is well away from the usual heap of streets great and small. Secondly. Without going near it yourself, you could always hear of the safety of Tom, Jack, or Richard, through Mr. Herbert. Thirdly. After a while and when it might be prudent, if you should want to slip Tom, Jack, or Richard on board a foreign packet-boat, there he is—ready.”

Much comforted by these considerations, I thanked Wemmick again and again, and begged him to proceed.

“Well, sir! Mr. Herbert threw himself into the business with a will, and by nine o’clock last night he housed Tom, Jack, or Richard,—whichever it may be,—you and I don’t want to know,—quite successfully. At the old lodgings it was understood that he was summoned to Dover, and, in fact, he was taken down the Dover road and cornered out of it. Now, another great advantage of all this is, that it was done without you, and when, if any one was concerning himself about your movements, you must be known to be ever so many miles off and quite otherwise engaged. This diverts suspicion and confuses it; and for the same reason I recommended that, even if you came back last night, you should not go home. It brings in more confusion, and you want confusion.”

Wemmick, having finished his breakfast, here looked at his watch, and began to get his coat on.

“And now, Mr. Pip,” said he, with his hands still in the sleeves, “I have probably done the most I can do; but if I can ever do more,—from a Walworth point of view, and in a strictly private and personal capacity,—I shall be glad to do it. Here’s the address. There can be no harm in your going here to-night, and seeing for yourself that all is well with Tom, Jack, or Richard, before you go home,—which is another reason for your not going home last night. But, after you have gone home, don’t go back here. You are very welcome, I am sure, Mr. Pip”; his hands were now out of his sleeves, and I was shaking them; “and let me finally impress one important point upon you.” He laid his hands upon my shoulders, and added in a solemn whisper: “Avail yourself of this evening to lay hold of his portable property. You don’t know what may happen to him. Don’t let anything happen to the portable property.”

Quite despairing of making my mind clear to Wemmick on this point, I forbore to try.

“Time’s up,” said Wemmick, “and I must be off. If you had nothing more pressing to do than to keep here till dark, that’s what I should advise. You look very much worried, and it would do you good to have a perfectly quiet day with the Aged,—he’ll be up presently,—and a little bit of—you remember the pig?”

“Of course,” said I.

“Well; and a little bit of him. That sausage you toasted was his, and he was in all respects a first-rater. Do try him, if it is only for old acquaintance sake. Good-bye, Aged Parent!” in a cheery shout.

“All right, John; all right, my boy!” piped the old man from within.

I soon fell asleep before Wemmick’s fire, and the Aged and I enjoyed one another’s society by falling asleep before it more or less all day. We had loin of pork for dinner, and greens grown on the estate; and I nodded at the Aged with a good intention whenever I failed to do it drowsily. When it was quite dark, I left the Aged preparing the fire for toast; and I inferred from the number of teacups, as well as from his glances at the two little doors in the wall, that Miss Skiffins was expected.