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Chapter 21

Casting my eyes on Mr. Wemmick as we went along, to see what he was
like in the light of day, I found him to be a dry man, rather short
in stature, with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to
have been imperfectly chipped out with a dull-edged chisel. There
were some marks in it that might have been dimples, if the material
had been softer and the instrument finer, but which, as it was,
were only dints. The chisel had made three or four of these
attempts at embellishment over his nose, but had given them up
without an effort to smooth them off. I judged him to be a bachelor
from the frayed condition of his linen, and he appeared to have
sustained a good many bereavements; for, he wore at least four
mourning rings, besides a brooch representing a lady and a weeping
willow at a tomb with an urn on it. I noticed, too, that several
rings and seals hung at his watch chain, as if he were quite laden
with remembrances of departed friends. He had glittering eyes -
small, keen, and black - and thin wide mottled lips. He had had
them, to the best of my belief, from forty to fifty years.

"So you were never in London before?" said Mr. Wemmick to me.

"No," said I.

"I was new here once," said Mr. Wemmick. "Rum to think of now!"

"You are well acquainted with it now?"

"Why, yes," said Mr. Wemmick. "I know the moves of it."

"Is it a very wicked place?" I asked, more for the sake of saying
something than for information.

"You may get cheated, robbed, and murdered, in London. But there
are plenty of people anywhere, who'll do that for you."

"If there is bad blood between you and them," said I, to soften it
off a little.

"Oh! I don't know about bad blood," returned Mr. Wemmick; "there's
not much bad blood about. They'll do it, if there's anything to be
got by it."

"That makes it worse."

"You think so?" returned Mr. Wemmick. "Much about the same, I should
say."

He wore his hat on the back of his head, and looked straight before
him: walking in a self-contained way as if there were nothing in
the streets to claim his attention. His mouth was such a postoffice
of a mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling. We had
got to the top of Holborn Hill before I knew that it was merely a
mechanical appearance, and that he was not smiling at all.

"Do you know where Mr. Matthew Pocket lives?" I asked Mr. Wemmick.

"Yes," said he, nodding in the direction. "At Hammersmith, west of
London."

"Is that far?"

"Well! Say five miles."

"Do you know him?"

"Why, you're a regular cross-examiner!" said Mr. Wemmick, looking at
me with an approving air. "Yes, I know him. I know him!"

There was an air of toleration or depreciation about his utterance
of these words, that rather depressed me; and I was still looking
sideways at his block of a face in search of any encouraging note
to the text, when he said here we were at Barnard's Inn. My
depression was not alleviated by the announcement, for, I had
supposed that establishment to be an hotel kept by Mr. Barnard, to
which the Blue Boar in our town was a mere public-house. Whereas I
now found Barnard to be a disembodied spirit, or a fiction, and his
inn the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed
together in a rank corner as a club for Tom-cats.

We entered this haven through a wicket-gate, and were disgorged by
an introductory passage into a melancholy little square that looked
to me like a flat burying-ground. I thought it had the most dismal
trees in it, and the most dismal sparrows, and the most dismal
cats, and the most dismal houses (in number half a dozen or so),
that I had ever seen. I thought the windows of the sets of chambers
into which those houses were divided, were in every stage of
dilapidated blind and curtain, crippled flower-pot, cracked glass,
dusty decay, and miserable makeshift; while To Let To Let To Let,
glared at me from empty rooms, as if no new wretches ever came
there, and the vengeance of the soul of Barnard were being slowly
appeased by the gradual suicide of the present occupants and their
unholy interment under the gravel. A frouzy mourning of soot and
smoke attired this forlorn creation of Barnard, and it had strewn
ashes on its head, and was undergoing penance and humiliation as a
mere dust-hole. Thus far my sense of sight; while dry rot and wet
rot and all the silent rots that rot in neglected roof and cellar -
rot of rat and mouse and bug and coaching-stables near at hand
besides - addressed themselves faintly to my sense of smell, and
moaned, "Try Barnard's Mixture."

So imperfect was this realization of the first of my great
expectations, that I looked in dismay at Mr. Wemmick. "Ah!" said he,
mistaking me; "the retirement reminds you of the country. So it
does me."

He led me into a corner and conducted me up a flight of stairs -
which appeared to me to be slowly collapsing into sawdust, so that
one of those days the upper lodgers would look out at their doors
and find themselves without the means of coming down - to a set of
chambers on the top floor. MR. POCKET, JUN., was painted on the
door, and there was a label on the letter-box, "Return shortly."

"He hardly thought you'd come so soon," Mr. Wemmick explained. "You
don't want me any more?"

"No, thank you," said I.

"As I keep the cash," Mr. Wemmick observed, "we shall most likely
meet pretty often. Good day."

"Good day."

I put out my hand, and Mr. Wemmick at first looked at it as if he
thought I wanted something. Then he looked at me, and said,
correcting himself,

"To be sure! Yes. You're in the habit of shaking hands?"

I was rather confused, thinking it must be out of the London
fashion, but said yes.

"I have got so out of it!" said Mr. Wemmick - "except at last. Very
glad, I'm sure, to make your acquaintance. Good day!"

When we had shaken hands and he was gone, I opened the staircase
window and had nearly beheaded myself, for, the lines had rotted
away, and it came down like the guillotine. Happily it was so quick
that I had not put my head out. After this escape, I was content to
take a foggy view of the Inn through the window's encrusting dirt,
and to stand dolefully looking out, saying to myself that London
was decidedly overrated.

Mr. Pocket, Junior's, idea of Shortly was not mine, for I had nearly
maddened myself with looking out for half an hour, and had written
my name with my finger several times in the dirt of every pane in
the window, before I heard footsteps on the stairs. Gradually there
arose before me the hat, head, neckcloth, waistcoat, trousers,
boots, of a member of society of about my own standing. He had a
paper-bag under each arm and a pottle of strawberries in one hand,
and was out of breath.

"Mr. Pip?" said he.

"Mr. Pocket?" said I.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed. "I am extremely sorry; but I knew there
was a coach from your part of the country at midday, and I thought
you would come by that one. The fact is, I have been out on your
account - not that that is any excuse - for I thought, coming from
the country, you might like a little fruit after dinner, and I went
to Covent Garden Market to get it good."

For a reason that I had, I felt as if my eyes would start out of my
head. I acknowledged his attention incoherently, and began to think
this was a dream.

"Dear me!" said Mr. Pocket, Junior. "This door sticks so!"

As he was fast making jam of his fruit by wrestling with the door
while the paper-bags were under his arms, I begged him to allow me
to hold them. He relinquished them with an agreeable smile, and
combated with the door as if it were a wild beast. It yielded so
suddenly at last, that he staggered back upon me, and I staggered
back upon the opposite door, and we both laughed. But still I felt
as if my eyes must start out of my head, and as if this must be a
dream.

"Pray come in," said Mr. Pocket, Junior. "Allow me to lead the way.
I am rather bare here, but I hope you'll be able to make out
tolerably well till Monday. My father thought you would get on more
agreeably through to-morrow with me than with him, and might like
to take a walk about London. I am sure I shall be very happy to
show London to you. As to our table, you won't find that bad, I
hope, for it will be supplied from our coffee-house here, and (it
is only right I should add) at your expense, such being Mr.
Jaggers's directions. As to our lodging, it's not by any means
splendid, because I have my own bread to earn, and my father hasn't
anything to give me, and I shouldn't be willing to take it, if he
had. This is our sitting-room - just such chairs and tables and
carpet and so forth, you see, as they could spare from home. You
mustn't give me credit for the tablecloth and spoons and castors,
because they come for you from the coffee-house. This is my little
bedroom; rather musty, but Barnard's is musty. This is your
bed-room; the furniture's hired for the occasion, but I trust it
will answer the purpose; if you should want anything, I'll go and
fetch it. The chambers are retired, and we shall be alone together,
but we shan't fight, I dare say. But, dear me, I beg your pardon,
you're holding the fruit all this time. Pray let me take these bags
from you. I am quite ashamed."

As I stood opposite to Mr. Pocket, Junior, delivering him the bags,
One, Two, I saw the starting appearance come into his own eyes that
I knew to be in mine, and he said, falling back:

"Lord bless me, you're the prowling boy!"

"And you," said I, "are the pale young gentleman!"



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
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