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Great Expectations

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Chapter XXV.


Bentley Drummle, who was so sulky a fellow that he even took up a book as if its writer had done him an injury, did not take up an acquaintance in a more agreeable spirit. Heavy in figure, movement, and comprehension,—in the sluggish complexion of his face, and in the large, awkward tongue that seemed to loll about in his mouth as he himself lolled about in a room,—he was idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, and suspicious. He came of rich people down in Somersetshire, who had nursed this combination of qualities until they made the discovery that it was just of age and a blockhead. Thus, Bentley Drummle had come to Mr. Pocket when he was a head taller than that gentleman, and half a dozen heads thicker than most gentlemen.

Startop had been spoilt by a weak mother and kept at home when he ought to have been at school, but he was devotedly attached to her, and admired her beyond measure. He had a woman’s delicacy of feature, and was—“as you may see, though you never saw her,” said Herbert to me—“exactly like his mother.” It was but natural that I should take to him much more kindly than to Drummle, and that, even in the earliest evenings of our boating, he and I should pull homeward abreast of one another, conversing from boat to boat, while Bentley Drummle came up in our wake alone, under the overhanging banks and among the rushes. He would always creep in-shore like some uncomfortable amphibious creature, even when the tide would have sent him fast upon his way; and I always think of him as coming after us in the dark or by the back-water, when our own two boats were breaking the sunset or the moonlight in mid-stream.

Herbert was my intimate companion and friend. I presented him with a half-share in my boat, which was the occasion of his often coming down to Hammersmith; and my possession of a half-share in his chambers often took me up to London. We used to walk between the two places at all hours. I have an affection for the road yet (though it is not so pleasant a road as it was then), formed in the impressibility of untried youth and hope.

When I had been in Mr. Pocket’s family a month or two, Mr. and Mrs. Camilla turned up. Camilla was Mr. Pocket’s sister. Georgiana, whom I had seen at Miss Havisham’s on the same occasion, also turned up. She was a cousin,—an indigestive single woman, who called her rigidity religion, and her liver love. These people hated me with the hatred of cupidity and disappointment. As a matter of course, they fawned upon me in my prosperity with the basest meanness. Towards Mr. Pocket, as a grown-up infant with no notion of his own interests, they showed the complacent forbearance I had heard them express. Mrs. Pocket they held in contempt; but they allowed the poor soul to have been heavily disappointed in life, because that shed a feeble reflected light upon themselves.

These were the surroundings among which I settled down, and applied myself to my education. I soon contracted expensive habits, and began to spend an amount of money that within a few short months I should have thought almost fabulous; but through good and evil I stuck to my books. There was no other merit in this, than my having sense enough to feel my deficiencies. Between Mr. Pocket and Herbert I got on fast; and, with one or the other always at my elbow to give me the start I wanted, and clear obstructions out of my road, I must have been as great a dolt as Drummle if I had done less.

I had not seen Mr. Wemmick for some weeks, when I thought I would write him a note and propose to go home with him on a certain evening. He replied that it would give him much pleasure, and that he would expect me at the office at six o’clock. Thither I went, and there I found him, putting the key of his safe down his back as the clock struck.

“Did you think of walking down to Walworth?” said he.

“Certainly,” said I, “if you approve.”

“Very much,” was Wemmick’s reply, “for I have had my legs under the desk all day, and shall be glad to stretch them. Now, I’ll tell you what I have got for supper, Mr. Pip. I have got a stewed steak,—which is of home preparation,—and a cold roast fowl,—which is from the cook’s-shop. I think it’s tender, because the master of the shop was a Juryman in some cases of ours the other day, and we let him down easy. I reminded him of it when I bought the fowl, and I said, “Pick us out a good one, old Briton, because if we had chosen to keep you in the box another day or two, we could easily have done it.” He said to that, “Let me make you a present of the best fowl in the shop.” I let him, of course. As far as it goes, it’s property and portable. You don’t object to an aged parent, I hope?”

I really thought he was still speaking of the fowl, until he added, “Because I have got an aged parent at my place.” I then said what politeness required.

“So, you haven’t dined with Mr. Jaggers yet?” he pursued, as we walked along.

“Not yet.”

“He told me so this afternoon when he heard you were coming. I expect you’ll have an invitation to-morrow. He’s going to ask your pals, too. Three of ’em; ain’t there?”

Although I was not in the habit of counting Drummle as one of my intimate associates, I answered, “Yes.”

“Well, he’s going to ask the whole gang,”—I hardly felt complimented by the word,—“and whatever he gives you, he’ll give you good. Don’t look forward to variety, but you’ll have excellence. And there’s another rum thing in his house,” proceeded Wemmick, after a moment’s pause, as if the remark followed on the housekeeper understood; “he never lets a door or window be fastened at night.”

“Is he never robbed?”

“That’s it!” returned Wemmick. “He says, and gives it out publicly, “I want to see the man who’ll rob me.” Lord bless you, I have heard him, a hundred times, if I have heard him once, say to regular cracksmen in our front office, “You know where I live; now, no bolt is ever drawn there; why don’t you do a stroke of business with me? Come; can’t I tempt you?” Not a man of them, sir, would be bold enough to try it on, for love or money.”

“They dread him so much?” said I.

“Dread him,” said Wemmick. “I believe you they dread him. Not but what he’s artful, even in his defiance of them. No silver, sir. Britannia metal, every spoon.”

“So they wouldn’t have much,” I observed, “even if they—”

“Ah! But he would have much,” said Wemmick, cutting me short, “and they know it. He’d have their lives, and the lives of scores of ’em. He’d have all he could get. And it’s impossible to say what he couldn’t get, if he gave his mind to it.”

I was falling into meditation on my guardian’s greatness, when Wemmick remarked:—

“As to the absence of plate, that’s only his natural depth, you know. A river’s its natural depth, and he’s his natural depth. Look at his watch-chain. That’s real enough.”

“It’s very massive,” said I.

“Massive?” repeated Wemmick. “I think so. And his watch is a gold repeater, and worth a hundred pound if it’s worth a penny. Mr. Pip, there are about seven hundred thieves in this town who know all about that watch; there’s not a man, a woman, or a child, among them, who wouldn’t identify the smallest link in that chain, and drop it as if it was red hot, if inveigled into touching it.”

At first with such discourse, and afterwards with conversation of a more general nature, did Mr. Wemmick and I beguile the time and the road, until he gave me to understand that we had arrived in the district of Walworth.

It appeared to be a collection of back lanes, ditches, and little gardens, and to present the aspect of a rather dull retirement. Wemmick’s house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plots of garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns.

“My own doing,” said Wemmick. “Looks pretty; don’t it?”

I highly commended it, I think it was the smallest house I ever saw; with the queerest gothic windows (by far the greater part of them sham), and a gothic door almost too small to get in at.

“That’s a real flagstaff, you see,” said Wemmick, “and on Sundays I run up a real flag. Then look here. After I have crossed this bridge, I hoist it up—so—and cut off the communication.”

The bridge was a plank, and it crossed a chasm about four feet wide and two deep. But it was very pleasant to see the pride with which he hoisted it up and made it fast; smiling as he did so, with a relish and not merely mechanically.

“At nine o’clock every night, Greenwich time,” said Wemmick, “the gun fires. There he is, you see! And when you hear him go, I think you’ll say he’s a Stinger.”

The piece of ordnance referred to, was mounted in a separate fortress, constructed of lattice-work. It was protected from the weather by an ingenious little tarpaulin contrivance in the nature of an umbrella.

“Then, at the back,” said Wemmick, “out of sight, so as not to impede the idea of fortifications,—for it’s a principle with me, if you have an idea, carry it out and keep it up,—I don’t know whether that’s your opinion—”

I said, decidedly.

“—At the back, there’s a pig, and there are fowls and rabbits; then, I knock together my own little frame, you see, and grow cucumbers; and you’ll judge at supper what sort of a salad I can raise. So, sir,” said Wemmick, smiling again, but seriously too, as he shook his head, “if you can suppose the little place besieged, it would hold out a devil of a time in point of provisions.”

Then, he conducted me to a bower about a dozen yards off, but which was approached by such ingenious twists of path that it took quite a long time to get at; and in this retreat our glasses were already set forth. Our punch was cooling in an ornamental lake, on whose margin the bower was raised. This piece of water (with an island in the middle which might have been the salad for supper) was of a circular form, and he had constructed a fountain in it, which, when you set a little mill going and took a cork out of a pipe, played to that powerful extent that it made the back of your hand quite wet.

“I am my own engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber, and my own gardener, and my own Jack of all Trades,” said Wemmick, in acknowledging my compliments. “Well; it’s a good thing, you know. It brushes the Newgate cobwebs away, and pleases the Aged. You wouldn’t mind being at once introduced to the Aged, would you? It wouldn’t put you out?”

I expressed the readiness I felt, and we went into the castle. There we found, sitting by a fire, a very old man in a flannel coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf.

“Well aged parent,” said Wemmick, shaking hands with him in a cordial and jocose way, “how am you?”

“All right, John; all right!” replied the old man.

“Here’s Mr. Pip, aged parent,” said Wemmick, “and I wish you could hear his name. Nod away at him, Mr. Pip; that’s what he likes. Nod away at him, if you please, like winking!”

“This is a fine place of my son’s, sir,” cried the old man, while I nodded as hard as I possibly could. “This is a pretty pleasure-ground, sir. This spot and these beautiful works upon it ought to be kept together by the Nation, after my son’s time, for the people’s enjoyment.”

“You’re as proud of it as Punch; ain’t you, Aged?” said Wemmick, contemplating the old man, with his hard face really softened; “there’s a nod for you;” giving him a tremendous one; “there’s another for you;” giving him a still more tremendous one; “you like that, don’t you? If you’re not tired, Mr. Pip—though I know it’s tiring to strangers—will you tip him one more? You can’t think how it pleases him.”

I tipped him several more, and he was in great spirits. We left him bestirring himself to feed the fowls, and we sat down to our punch in the arbour; where Wemmick told me, as he smoked a pipe, that it had taken him a good many years to bring the property up to its present pitch of perfection.

“Is it your own, Mr. Wemmick?”

“O yes,” said Wemmick, “I have got hold of it, a bit at a time. It’s a freehold, by George!”

“Is it indeed? I hope Mr. Jaggers admires it?”

“Never seen it,” said Wemmick. “Never heard of it. Never seen the Aged. Never heard of him. No; the office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office behind me. If it’s not in any way disagreeable to you, you’ll oblige me by doing the same. I don’t wish it professionally spoken about.”

Of course I felt my good faith involved in the observance of his request. The punch being very nice, we sat there drinking it and talking, until it was almost nine o’clock. “Getting near gun-fire,” said Wemmick then, as he laid down his pipe; “it’s the Aged’s treat.”

Proceeding into the Castle again, we found the Aged heating the poker, with expectant eyes, as a preliminary to the performance of this great nightly ceremony. Wemmick stood with his watch in his hand until the moment was come for him to take the red-hot poker from the Aged, and repair to the battery. He took it, and went out, and presently the Stinger went off with a Bang that shook the crazy little box of a cottage as if it must fall to pieces, and made every glass and teacup in it ring. Upon this, the Aged—who I believe would have been blown out of his arm-chair but for holding on by the elbows—cried out exultingly, “He’s fired! I heerd him!” and I nodded at the old gentleman until it is no figure of speech to declare that I absolutely could not see him.

The interval between that time and supper Wemmick devoted to showing me his collection of curiosities. They were mostly of a felonious character; comprising the pen with which a celebrated forgery had been committed, a distinguished razor or two, some locks of hair, and several manuscript confessions written under condemnation,—upon which Mr. Wemmick set particular value as being, to use his own words, “every one of ’em Lies, sir.” These were agreeably dispersed among small specimens of china and glass, various neat trifles made by the proprietor of the museum, and some tobacco-stoppers carved by the Aged. They were all displayed in that chamber of the Castle into which I had been first inducted, and which served, not only as the general sitting-room but as the kitchen too, if I might judge from a saucepan on the hob, and a brazen bijou over the fireplace designed for the suspension of a roasting-jack.

There was a neat little girl in attendance, who looked after the Aged in the day. When she had laid the supper-cloth, the bridge was lowered to give her means of egress, and she withdrew for the night. The supper was excellent; and though the Castle was rather subject to dry-rot insomuch that it tasted like a bad nut, and though the pig might have been farther off, I was heartily pleased with my whole entertainment. Nor was there any drawback on my little turret bedroom, beyond there being such a very thin ceiling between me and the flagstaff, that when I lay down on my back in bed, it seemed as if I had to balance that pole on my forehead all night.

Wemmick was up early in the morning, and I am afraid I heard him cleaning my boots. After that, he fell to gardening, and I saw him from my gothic window pretending to employ the Aged, and nodding at him in a most devoted manner. Our breakfast was as good as the supper, and at half-past eight precisely we started for Little Britain. By degrees, Wemmick got dryer and harder as we went along, and his mouth tightened into a post-office again. At last, when we got to his place of business and he pulled out his key from his coat-collar, he looked as unconscious of his Walworth property as if the Castle and the drawbridge and the arbour and the lake and the fountain and the Aged, had all been blown into space together by the last discharge of the Stinger.


Chapter XXVI.


It fell out as Wemmick had told me it would, that I had an early opportunity of comparing my guardian’s establishment with that of his cashier and clerk. My guardian was in his room, washing his hands with his scented soap, when I went into the office from Walworth; and he called me to him, and gave me the invitation for myself and friends which Wemmick had prepared me to receive. “No ceremony,” he stipulated, “and no dinner dress, and say to-morrow.” I asked him where we should come to (for I had no idea where he lived), and I believe it was in his general objection to make anything like an admission, that he replied, “Come here, and I’ll take you home with me.” I embrace this opportunity of remarking that he washed his clients off, as if he were a surgeon or a dentist. He had a closet in his room, fitted up for the purpose, which smelt of the scented soap like a perfumer’s shop. It had an unusually large jack-towel on a roller inside the door, and he would wash his hands, and wipe them and dry them all over this towel, whenever he came in from a police court or dismissed a client from his room. When I and my friends repaired to him at six o’clock next day, he seemed to have been engaged on a case of a darker complexion than usual, for we found him with his head butted into this closet, not only washing his hands, but laving his face and gargling his throat. And even when he had done all that, and had gone all round the jack-towel, he took out his penknife and scraped the case out of his nails before he put his coat on.

There were some people slinking about as usual when we passed out into the street, who were evidently anxious to speak with him; but there was something so conclusive in the halo of scented soap which encircled his presence, that they gave it up for that day. As we walked along westward, he was recognised ever and again by some face in the crowd of the streets, and whenever that happened he talked louder to me; but he never otherwise recognised anybody, or took notice that anybody recognised him.

He conducted us to Gerrard Street, Soho, to a house on the south side of that street. Rather a stately house of its kind, but dolefully in want of painting, and with dirty windows. He took out his key and opened the door, and we all went into a stone hall, bare, gloomy, and little used. So, up a dark brown staircase into a series of three dark brown rooms on the first floor. There were carved garlands on the panelled walls, and as he stood among them giving us welcome, I know what kind of loops I thought they looked like.

Dinner was laid in the best of these rooms; the second was his dressing-room; the third, his bedroom. He told us that he held the whole house, but rarely used more of it than we saw. The table was comfortably laid—no silver in the service, of course—and at the side of his chair was a capacious dumb-waiter, with a variety of bottles and decanters on it, and four dishes of fruit for dessert. I noticed throughout, that he kept everything under his own hand, and distributed everything himself.

There was a bookcase in the room; I saw from the backs of the books, that they were about evidence, criminal law, criminal biography, trials, acts of Parliament, and such things. The furniture was all very solid and good, like his watch-chain. It had an official look, however, and there was nothing merely ornamental to be seen. In a corner was a little table of papers with a shaded lamp: so that he seemed to bring the office home with him in that respect too, and to wheel it out of an evening and fall to work.

As he had scarcely seen my three companions until now,—for he and I had walked together,—he stood on the hearth-rug, after ringing the bell, and took a searching look at them. To my surprise, he seemed at once to be principally if not solely interested in Drummle.

“Pip,” said he, putting his large hand on my shoulder and moving me to the window, “I don’t know one from the other. Who’s the Spider?”

“The spider?” said I.

“The blotchy, sprawly, sulky fellow.”

“That’s Bentley Drummle,” I replied; “the one with the delicate face is Startop.”

Not making the least account of “the one with the delicate face,” he returned, “Bentley Drummle is his name, is it? I like the look of that fellow.”

He immediately began to talk to Drummle: not at all deterred by his replying in his heavy reticent way, but apparently led on by it to screw discourse out of him. I was looking at the two, when there came between me and them the housekeeper, with the first dish for the table.

She was a woman of about forty, I supposed,—but I may have thought her younger than she was. Rather tall, of a lithe nimble figure, extremely pale, with large faded eyes, and a quantity of streaming hair. I cannot say whether any diseased affection of the heart caused her lips to be parted as if she were panting, and her face to bear a curious expression of suddenness and flutter; but I know that I had been to see Macbeth at the theatre, a night or two before, and that her face looked to me as if it were all disturbed by fiery air, like the faces I had seen rise out of the Witches’ caldron.

She set the dish on, touched my guardian quietly on the arm with a finger to notify that dinner was ready, and vanished. We took our seats at the round table, and my guardian kept Drummle on one side of him, while Startop sat on the other. It was a noble dish of fish that the housekeeper had put on table, and we had a joint of equally choice mutton afterwards, and then an equally choice bird. Sauces, wines, all the accessories we wanted, and all of the best, were given out by our host from his dumb-waiter; and when they had made the circuit of the table, he always put them back again. Similarly, he dealt us clean plates and knives and forks, for each course, and dropped those just disused into two baskets on the ground by his chair. No other attendant than the housekeeper appeared. She set on every dish; and I always saw in her face, a face rising out of the caldron. Years afterwards, I made a dreadful likeness of that woman, by causing a face that had no other natural resemblance to it than it derived from flowing hair to pass behind a bowl of flaming spirits in a dark room.

Induced to take particular notice of the housekeeper, both by her own striking appearance and by Wemmick’s preparation, I observed that whenever she was in the room she kept her eyes attentively on my guardian, and that she would remove her hands from any dish she put before him, hesitatingly, as if she dreaded his calling her back, and wanted him to speak when she was nigh, if he had anything to say. I fancied that I could detect in his manner a consciousness of this, and a purpose of always holding her in suspense.

Dinner went off gayly, and although my guardian seemed to follow rather than originate subjects, I knew that he wrenched the weakest part of our dispositions out of us. For myself, I found that I was expressing my tendency to lavish expenditure, and to patronise Herbert, and to boast of my great prospects, before I quite knew that I had opened my lips. It was so with all of us, but with no one more than Drummle: the development of whose inclination to gird in a grudging and suspicious way at the rest, was screwed out of him before the fish was taken off.

It was not then, but when we had got to the cheese, that our conversation turned upon our rowing feats, and that Drummle was rallied for coming up behind of a night in that slow amphibious way of his. Drummle upon this, informed our host that he much preferred our room to our company, and that as to skill he was more than our master, and that as to strength he could scatter us like chaff. By some invisible agency, my guardian wound him up to a pitch little short of ferocity about this trifle; and he fell to baring and spanning his arm to show how muscular it was, and we all fell to baring and spanning our arms in a ridiculous manner.

Now the housekeeper was at that time clearing the table; my guardian, taking no heed of her, but with the side of his face turned from her, was leaning back in his chair biting the side of his forefinger and showing an interest in Drummle, that, to me, was quite inexplicable. Suddenly, he clapped his large hand on the housekeeper’s, like a trap, as she stretched it across the table. So suddenly and smartly did he do this, that we all stopped in our foolish contention.

“If you talk of strength,” said Mr. Jaggers, “I’ll show you a wrist. Molly, let them see your wrist.”

Her entrapped hand was on the table, but she had already put her other hand behind her waist. “Master,” she said, in a low voice, with her eyes attentively and entreatingly fixed upon him. “Don’t.”

“I’ll show you a wrist,” repeated Mr. Jaggers, with an immovable determination to show it. “Molly, let them see your wrist.”

“Master,” she again murmured. “Please!”

“Molly,” said Mr. Jaggers, not looking at her, but obstinately looking at the opposite side of the room, “let them see both your wrists. Show them. Come!”

He took his hand from hers, and turned that wrist up on the table. She brought her other hand from behind her, and held the two out side by side. The last wrist was much disfigured,—deeply scarred and scarred across and across. When she held her hands out she took her eyes from Mr. Jaggers, and turned them watchfully on every one of the rest of us in succession.

“There’s power here,” said Mr. Jaggers, coolly tracing out the sinews with his forefinger. “Very few men have the power of wrist that this woman has. It’s remarkable what mere force of grip there is in these hands. I have had occasion to notice many hands; but I never saw stronger in that respect, man’s or woman’s, than these.”

While he said these words in a leisurely, critical style, she continued to look at every one of us in regular succession as we sat. The moment he ceased, she looked at him again. “That’ll do, Molly,” said Mr. Jaggers, giving her a slight nod; “you have been admired, and can go.” She withdrew her hands and went out of the room, and Mr. Jaggers, putting the decanters on from his dumb-waiter, filled his glass and passed round the wine.

“At half-past nine, gentlemen,” said he, “we must break up. Pray make the best use of your time. I am glad to see you all. Mr. Drummle, I drink to you.”

If his object in singling out Drummle were to bring him out still more, it perfectly succeeded. In a sulky triumph, Drummle showed his morose depreciation of the rest of us, in a more and more offensive degree, until he became downright intolerable. Through all his stages, Mr. Jaggers followed him with the same strange interest. He actually seemed to serve as a zest to Mr. Jaggers’s wine.

In our boyish want of discretion I dare say we took too much to drink, and I know we talked too much. We became particularly hot upon some boorish sneer of Drummle’s, to the effect that we were too free with our money. It led to my remarking, with more zeal than discretion, that it came with a bad grace from him, to whom Startop had lent money in my presence but a week or so before.

“Well,” retorted Drummle; “he’ll be paid.”

“I don’t mean to imply that he won’t,” said I, “but it might make you hold your tongue about us and our money, I should think.”

“You should think!” retorted Drummle. “Oh Lord!”

“I dare say,” I went on, meaning to be very severe, “that you wouldn’t lend money to any of us if we wanted it.”

“You are right,” said Drummle. “I wouldn’t lend one of you a sixpence. I wouldn’t lend anybody a sixpence.”

“Rather mean to borrow under those circumstances, I should say.”

“You should say,” repeated Drummle. “Oh Lord!”

This was so very aggravating—the more especially as I found myself making no way against his surly obtuseness—that I said, disregarding Herbert’s efforts to check me,—

“Come, Mr. Drummle, since we are on the subject, I’ll tell you what passed between Herbert here and me, when you borrowed that money.”

“I don’t want to know what passed between Herbert there and you,” growled Drummle. And I think he added in a lower growl, that we might both go to the devil and shake ourselves.

“I’ll tell you, however,” said I, “whether you want to know or not. We said that as you put it in your pocket very glad to get it, you seemed to be immensely amused at his being so weak as to lend it.”

Drummle laughed outright, and sat laughing in our faces, with his hands in his pockets and his round shoulders raised; plainly signifying that it was quite true, and that he despised us as asses all.

Hereupon Startop took him in hand, though with a much better grace than I had shown, and exhorted him to be a little more agreeable. Startop, being a lively, bright young fellow, and Drummle being the exact opposite, the latter was always disposed to resent him as a direct personal affront. He now retorted in a coarse, lumpish way, and Startop tried to turn the discussion aside with some small pleasantry that made us all laugh. Resenting this little success more than anything, Drummle, without any threat or warning, pulled his hands out of his pockets, dropped his round shoulders, swore, took up a large glass, and would have flung it at his adversary’s head, but for our entertainer’s dexterously seizing it at the instant when it was raised for that purpose.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Jaggers, deliberately putting down the glass, and hauling out his gold repeater by its massive chain, “I am exceedingly sorry to announce that it’s half past nine.”

On this hint we all rose to depart. Before we got to the street door, Startop was cheerily calling Drummle “old boy,” as if nothing had happened. But the old boy was so far from responding, that he would not even walk to Hammersmith on the same side of the way; so Herbert and I, who remained in town, saw them going down the street on opposite sides; Startop leading, and Drummle lagging behind in the shadow of the houses, much as he was wont to follow in his boat.

As the door was not yet shut, I thought I would leave Herbert there for a moment, and run upstairs again to say a word to my guardian. I found him in his dressing-room surrounded by his stock of boots, already hard at it, washing his hands of us.

I told him I had come up again to say how sorry I was that anything disagreeable should have occurred, and that I hoped he would not blame me much.

“Pooh!” said he, sluicing his face, and speaking through the water-drops; “it’s nothing, Pip. I like that Spider though.”

He had turned towards me now, and was shaking his head, and blowing, and towelling himself.

“I am glad you like him, sir,” said I—“but I don’t.”

“No, no,” my guardian assented; “don’t have too much to do with him. Keep as clear of him as you can. But I like the fellow, Pip; he is one of the true sort. Why, if I was a fortune-teller—”

Looking out of the towel, he caught my eye.

“But I am not a fortune-teller,” he said, letting his head drop into a festoon of towel, and towelling away at his two ears. “You know what I am, don’t you? Good night, Pip.”

“Good night, sir.”

In about a month after that, the Spider’s time with Mr. Pocket was up for good, and, to the great relief of all the house but Mrs. Pocket, he went home to the family hole.


Chapter XXVII.


“MY DEAR MR PIP:—

“I write this by request of Mr. Gargery, for to let you know that he is going to London in company with Mr. Wopsle and would be glad if agreeable to be allowed to see you. He would call at Barnard’s Hotel Tuesday morning at nine o’clock, when if not agreeable please leave word. Your poor sister is much the same as when you left. We talk of you in the kitchen every night, and wonder what you are saying and doing. If now considered in the light of a liberty, excuse it for the love of poor old days. No more, dear Mr. Pip, from

“Your ever obliged, and affectionate servant,        
“BIDDY.”

“P.S. He wishes me most particular to write what larks. He says you will understand. I hope and do not doubt it will be agreeable to see him, even though a gentleman, for you had ever a good heart, and he is a worthy, worthy man. I have read him all, excepting only the last little sentence, and he wishes me most particular to write again what larks.”

I received this letter by the post on Monday morning, and therefore its appointment was for next day. Let me confess exactly with what feelings I looked forward to Joe’s coming.

Not with pleasure, though I was bound to him by so many ties; no; with considerable disturbance, some mortification, and a keen sense of incongruity. If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money. My greatest reassurance was that he was coming to Barnard’s Inn, not to Hammersmith, and consequently would not fall in Bentley Drummle’s way. I had little objection to his being seen by Herbert or his father, for both of whom I had a respect; but I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt. So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.

I had begun to be always decorating the chambers in some quite unnecessary and inappropriate way or other, and very expensive those wrestles with Barnard proved to be. By this time, the rooms were vastly different from what I had found them, and I enjoyed the honour of occupying a few prominent pages in the books of a neighbouring upholsterer. I had got on so fast of late, that I had even started a boy in boots,—top boots,—in bondage and slavery to whom I might have been said to pass my days. For, after I had made the monster (out of the refuse of my washerwoman’s family), and had clothed him with a blue coat, canary waistcoat, white cravat, creamy breeches, and the boots already mentioned, I had to find him a little to do and a great deal to eat; and with both of those horrible requirements he haunted my existence.

This avenging phantom was ordered to be on duty at eight on Tuesday morning in the hall, (it was two feet square, as charged for floorcloth,) and Herbert suggested certain things for breakfast that he thought Joe would like. While I felt sincerely obliged to him for being so interested and considerate, I had an odd half-provoked sense of suspicion upon me, that if Joe had been coming to see him, he wouldn’t have been quite so brisk about it.

However, I came into town on the Monday night to be ready for Joe, and I got up early in the morning, and caused the sitting-room and breakfast-table to assume their most splendid appearance. Unfortunately the morning was drizzly, and an angel could not have concealed the fact that Barnard was shedding sooty tears outside the window, like some weak giant of a Sweep.

As the time approached I should have liked to run away, but the Avenger pursuant to orders was in the hall, and presently I heard Joe on the staircase. I knew it was Joe, by his clumsy manner of coming upstairs,—his state boots being always too big for him,—and by the time it took him to read the names on the other floors in the course of his ascent. When at last he stopped outside our door, I could hear his finger tracing over the painted letters of my name, and I afterwards distinctly heard him breathing in at the keyhole. Finally he gave a faint single rap, and Pepper—such was the compromising name of the avenging boy—announced “Mr. Gargery!” I thought he never would have done wiping his feet, and that I must have gone out to lift him off the mat, but at last he came in.

“Joe, how are you, Joe?”

“Pip, how AIR you, Pip?”

With his good honest face all glowing and shining, and his hat put down on the floor between us, he caught both my hands and worked them straight up and down, as if I had been the last-patented Pump.

“I am glad to see you, Joe. Give me your hat.”

But Joe, taking it up carefully with both hands, like a bird’s-nest with eggs in it, wouldn’t hear of parting with that piece of property, and persisted in standing talking over it in a most uncomfortable way.

“Which you have that growed,” said Joe, “and that swelled, and that gentle-folked;” Joe considered a little before he discovered this word; “as to be sure you are a honour to your king and country.”

“And you, Joe, look wonderfully well.”

“Thank God,” said Joe, “I’m ekerval to most. And your sister, she’s no worse than she were. And Biddy, she’s ever right and ready. And all friends is no backerder, if not no forarder. ’Ceptin Wopsle; he’s had a drop.”

All this time (still with both hands taking great care of the bird’s-nest), Joe was rolling his eyes round and round the room, and round and round the flowered pattern of my dressing-gown.

“Had a drop, Joe?”

“Why yes,” said Joe, lowering his voice, “he’s left the Church and went into the playacting. Which the playacting have likeways brought him to London along with me. And his wish were,” said Joe, getting the bird’s-nest under his left arm for the moment, and groping in it for an egg with his right; “if no offence, as I would ’and you that.”

I took what Joe gave me, and found it to be the crumpled play-bill of a small metropolitan theatre, announcing the first appearance, in that very week, of “the celebrated Provincial Amateur of Roscian renown, whose unique performance in the highest tragic walk of our National Bard has lately occasioned so great a sensation in local dramatic circles.”

“Were you at his performance, Joe?” I inquired.

“I were,” said Joe, with emphasis and solemnity.

“Was there a great sensation?”

“Why,” said Joe, “yes, there certainly were a peck of orange-peel. Partickler when he see the ghost. Though I put it to yourself, sir, whether it were calc’lated to keep a man up to his work with a good hart, to be continiwally cutting in betwixt him and the Ghost with “Amen!” A man may have had a misfortun’ and been in the Church,” said Joe, lowering his voice to an argumentative and feeling tone, “but that is no reason why you should put him out at such a time. Which I meantersay, if the ghost of a man’s own father cannot be allowed to claim his attention, what can, Sir? Still more, when his mourning ’at is unfortunately made so small as that the weight of the black feathers brings it off, try to keep it on how you may.”

A ghost-seeing effect in Joe’s own countenance informed me that Herbert had entered the room. So, I presented Joe to Herbert, who held out his hand; but Joe backed from it, and held on by the bird’s-nest.

“Your servant, Sir,” said Joe, “which I hope as you and Pip”—here his eye fell on the Avenger, who was putting some toast on table, and so plainly denoted an intention to make that young gentleman one of the family, that I frowned it down and confused him more—“I meantersay, you two gentlemen,—which I hope as you get your elths in this close spot? For the present may be a werry good inn, according to London opinions,” said Joe, confidentially, “and I believe its character do stand it; but I wouldn’t keep a pig in it myself,—not in the case that I wished him to fatten wholesome and to eat with a meller flavour on him.”

Having borne this flattering testimony to the merits of our dwelling-place, and having incidentally shown this tendency to call me “sir,” Joe, being invited to sit down to table, looked all round the room for a suitable spot on which to deposit his hat,—as if it were only on some very few rare substances in nature that it could find a resting place,—and ultimately stood it on an extreme corner of the chimney-piece, from which it ever afterwards fell off at intervals.

“Do you take tea, or coffee, Mr. Gargery?” asked Herbert, who always presided of a morning.

“Thankee, Sir,” said Joe, stiff from head to foot, “I’ll take whichever is most agreeable to yourself.”

“What do you say to coffee?”

“Thankee, Sir,” returned Joe, evidently dispirited by the proposal, “since you are so kind as make chice of coffee, I will not run contrairy to your own opinions. But don’t you never find it a little ’eating?”

“Say tea then,” said Herbert, pouring it out.

Here Joe’s hat tumbled off the mantel-piece, and he started out of his chair and picked it up, and fitted it to the same exact spot. As if it were an absolute point of good breeding that it should tumble off again soon.

“When did you come to town, Mr. Gargery?”

“Were it yesterday afternoon?” said Joe, after coughing behind his hand, as if he had had time to catch the whooping-cough since he came. “No it were not. Yes it were. Yes. It were yesterday afternoon” (with an appearance of mingled wisdom, relief, and strict impartiality).

“Have you seen anything of London yet?”

“Why, yes, Sir,” said Joe, “me and Wopsle went off straight to look at the Blacking Ware’us. But we didn’t find that it come up to its likeness in the red bills at the shop doors; which I meantersay,” added Joe, in an explanatory manner, “as it is there drawd too architectooralooral.”

I really believe Joe would have prolonged this word (mightily expressive to my mind of some architecture that I know) into a perfect Chorus, but for his attention being providentially attracted by his hat, which was toppling. Indeed, it demanded from him a constant attention, and a quickness of eye and hand, very like that exacted by wicket-keeping. He made extraordinary play with it, and showed the greatest skill; now, rushing at it and catching it neatly as it dropped; now, merely stopping it midway, beating it up, and humouring it in various parts of the room and against a good deal of the pattern of the paper on the wall, before he felt it safe to close with it; finally splashing it into the slop-basin, where I took the liberty of laying hands upon it.

[Illustration]

As to his shirt-collar, and his coat-collar, they were perplexing to reflect upon,—insoluble mysteries both. Why should a man scrape himself to that extent, before he could consider himself full dressed? Why should he suppose it necessary to be purified by suffering for his holiday clothes? Then he fell into such unaccountable fits of meditation, with his fork midway between his plate and his mouth; had his eyes attracted in such strange directions; was afflicted with such remarkable coughs; sat so far from the table, and dropped so much more than he ate, and pretended that he hadn’t dropped it; that I was heartily glad when Herbert left us for the City.

I had neither the good sense nor the good feeling to know that this was all my fault, and that if I had been easier with Joe, Joe would have been easier with me. I felt impatient of him and out of temper with him; in which condition he heaped coals of fire on my head.

“Us two being now alone, sir,”—began Joe.

“Joe,” I interrupted, pettishly, “how can you call me, sir?”

Joe looked at me for a single instant with something faintly like reproach. Utterly preposterous as his cravat was, and as his collars were, I was conscious of a sort of dignity in the look.

“Us two being now alone,” resumed Joe, “and me having the intentions and abilities to stay not many minutes more, I will now conclude—leastways begin—to mention what have led to my having had the present honour. For was it not,” said Joe, with his old air of lucid exposition, “that my only wish were to be useful to you, I should not have had the honour of breaking wittles in the company and abode of gentlemen.”

I was so unwilling to see the look again, that I made no remonstrance against this tone.

“Well, sir,” pursued Joe, “this is how it were. I were at the Bargemen t’other night, Pip;”—whenever he subsided into affection, he called me Pip, and whenever he relapsed into politeness he called me sir; “when there come up in his shay-cart, Pumblechook. Which that same identical,” said Joe, going down a new track, “do comb my ’air the wrong way sometimes, awful, by giving out up and down town as it were him which ever had your infant companionation and were looked upon as a playfellow by yourself.”

“Nonsense. It was you, Joe.”

“Which I fully believed it were, Pip,” said Joe, slightly tossing his head, “though it signify little now, sir. Well, Pip; this same identical, which his manners is given to blusterous, come to me at the Bargemen (wot a pipe and a pint of beer do give refreshment to the workingman, sir, and do not over stimilate), and his word were, ‘Joseph, Miss Havisham she wish to speak to you.’”

“Miss Havisham, Joe?”

“‘She wish,’ were Pumblechook’s word, ‘to speak to you.’” Joe sat and rolled his eyes at the ceiling.

“Yes, Joe? Go on, please.”

“Next day, sir,” said Joe, looking at me as if I were a long way off, “having cleaned myself, I go and I see Miss A.”

“Miss A., Joe? Miss Havisham?”

“Which I say, sir,” replied Joe, with an air of legal formality, as if he were making his will, “Miss A., or otherways Havisham. Her expression air then as follering: ‘Mr. Gargery. You air in correspondence with Mr. Pip?’ Having had a letter from you, I were able to say ‘I am.’ (When I married your sister, sir, I said ‘I will;’ and when I answered your friend, Pip, I said ‘I am.’) ‘Would you tell him, then,’ said she, ‘that which Estella has come home and would be glad to see him.’”

I felt my face fire up as I looked at Joe. I hope one remote cause of its firing may have been my consciousness that if I had known his errand, I should have given him more encouragement.

“Biddy,” pursued Joe, “when I got home and asked her fur to write the message to you, a little hung back. Biddy says, ‘I know he will be very glad to have it by word of mouth, it is holiday time, you want to see him, go!’ I have now concluded, sir,” said Joe, rising from his chair, “and, Pip, I wish you ever well and ever prospering to a greater and a greater height.”

“But you are not going now, Joe?”

“Yes I am,” said Joe.

“But you are coming back to dinner, Joe?”

“No I am not,” said Joe.

Our eyes met, and all the “Sir” melted out of that manly heart as he gave me his hand.

“Pip, dear old chap, life is made of ever so many partings welded together, as I may say, and one man’s a blacksmith, and one’s a whitesmith, and one’s a goldsmith, and one’s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come. If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine. You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends. It ain’t that I am proud, but that I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I’m wrong in these clothes. I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’ meshes. You won’t find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe. You won’t find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. I’m awful dull, but I hope I’ve beat out something nigh the rights of this at last. And so GOD bless you, dear old Pip, old chap, GOD bless you!”

I had not been mistaken in my fancy that there was a simple dignity in him. The fashion of his dress could no more come in its way when he spoke these words than it could come in its way in Heaven. He touched me gently on the forehead, and went out. As soon as I could recover myself sufficiently, I hurried out after him and looked for him in the neighbouring streets; but he was gone.