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Chapter 26

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 tomorrow."
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 recognized 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 recognized anybody, or
took notice that anybody recognized 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 gaily, 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 patronize
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 dumbwaiter,
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 up-stairs 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.



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