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Chapter 36

Herbert and I went on from bad to worse, in the way of increasing
our debts, looking into our affairs, leaving Margins, and the like
exemplary transactions; and Time went on, whether or no, as he has
a way of doing; and I came of age - in fulfilment of Herbert's
prediction, that I should do so before I knew where I was.

Herbert himself had come of age, eight months before me. As he had
nothing else than his majority to come into, the event did not make
a profound sensation in Barnard's Inn. But we had looked forward to
my one-and-twentieth birthday, with a crowd of speculations and
anticipations, for we had both considered that my guardian could
hardly help saying something definite on that occasion.

I had taken care to have it well understood in Little Britain, when
my birthday was. On the day before it, I received an official note
from Wemmick, informing me that Mr. Jaggers would be glad if I would
call upon him at five in the afternoon of the auspicious day. This
convinced us that something great was to happen, and threw me into
an unusual flutter when I repaired to my guardian's office, a model
of punctuality.

In the outer office Wemmick offered me his congratulations, and
incidentally rubbed the side of his nose with a folded piece of
tissuepaper that I liked the look of. But he said nothing
respecting it, and motioned me with a nod into my guardian's room.
It was November, and my guardian was standing before his fire
leaning his back against the chimney-piece, with his hands under
his coattails.

"Well, Pip," said he, "I must call you Mr. Pip to-day.
Congratulations, Mr. Pip."

We shook hands - he was always a remarkably short shaker - and I
thanked him.

"Take a chair, Mr. Pip," said my guardian.

As I sat down, and he preserved his attitude and bent his brows at
his boots, I felt at a disadvantage, which reminded me of that old
time when I had been put upon a tombstone. The two ghastly casts on
the shelf were not far from him, and their expression was as if
they were making a stupid apoplectic attempt to attend to the
conversation.

"Now my young friend," my guardian began, as if I were a witness in
the box, "I am going to have a word or two with you."

"If you please, sir."

"What do you suppose," said Mr. Jaggers, bending forward to look at
the ground, and then throwing his head back to look at the ceiling,
"what do you suppose you are living at the rate of?"

"At the rate of, sir?"

"At," repeated Mr. Jaggers, still looking at the ceiling, "the -
rate - of?" And then looked all round the room, and paused with his
pocket-handkerchief in his hand, half way to his nose.

I had looked into my affairs so often, that I had thoroughly
destroyed any slight notion I might ever have had of their
bearings. Reluctantly, I confessed myself quite unable to answer
the question. This reply seemed agreeable to Mr. Jaggers, who said,
"I thought so!" and blew his nose with an air of satisfaction.

"Now, I have asked you a question, my friend," said Mr. Jaggers.
"Have you anything to ask me?"

"Of course it would be a great relief to me to ask you several
questions, sir; but I remember your prohibition."

"Ask one," said Mr. Jaggers.

"Is my benefactor to be made known to me to-day?"

"No. Ask another."

"Is that confidence to be imparted to me soon?"

"Waive that, a moment," said Mr. Jaggers, "and ask another."

I looked about me, but there appeared to be now no possible escape
from the inquiry, "Have - I - anything to receive, sir?" On that,
Mr. Jaggers said, triumphantly, "I thought we should come to it!"
and called to Wemmick to give him that piece of paper. Wemmick
appeared, handed it in, and disappeared.

"Now, Mr. Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, "attend, if you please. You have
been drawing pretty freely here; your name occurs pretty often in
Wemmick's cash-book; but you are in debt, of course?"

"I am afraid I must say yes, sir."

"You know you must say yes; don't you?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Yes, sir."

"I don't ask you what you owe, because you don't know; and if you
did know, you wouldn't tell me; you would say less. Yes, yes, my
friend," cried Mr. Jaggers, waving his forefinger to stop me, as I
made a show of protesting: "it's likely enough that you think you
wouldn't, but you would. You'll excuse me, but I know better than
you. Now, take this piece of paper in your hand. You have got it?
Very good. Now, unfold it and tell me what it is."

"This is a bank-note," said I, "for five hundred pounds."

"That is a bank-note," repeated Mr. Jaggers, "for five hundred
pounds. And a very handsome sum of money too, I think. You consider
it so?"

"How could I do otherwise!"

"Ah! But answer the question," said Mr. Jaggers.

"Undoubtedly."

"You consider it, undoubtedly, a handsome sum of money. Now, that
handsome sum of money, Pip, is your own. It is a present to you on
this day, in earnest of your expectations. And at the rate of that
handsome sum of money per annum, and at no higher rate, you are to
live until the donor of the whole appears. That is to say, you will
now take your money affairs entirely into your own hands, and you
will draw from Wemmick one hundred and twenty-five pounds per
quarter, until you are in communication with the fountain-head, and
no longer with the mere agent. As I have told you before, I am the
mere agent. I execute my instructions, and I am paid for doing so.
I think them injudicious, but I am not paid for giving any opinion
on their merits."

I was beginning to express my gratitude to my benefactor for the
great liberality with which I was treated, when Mr. Jaggers stopped
me. "I am not paid, Pip," said he, coolly, "to carry your words to
any one;" and then gathered up his coat-tails, as he had gathered
up the subject, and stood frowning at his boots as if he suspected
them of designs against him.

After a pause, I hinted:

"There was a question just now, Mr. Jaggers, which you desired me to
waive for a moment. I hope I am doing nothing wrong in asking it
again?"

"What is it?" said he.

I might have known that he would never help me out; but it took me
aback to have to shape the question afresh, as if it were quite
new. "Is it likely," I said, after hesitating, "that my patron, the
fountain-head you have spoken of, Mr. Jaggers, will soon--" there I
delicately stopped.

"Will soon what?" asked Mr. Jaggers. "That's no question as it
stands, you know."

"Will soon come to London," said I, after casting about for a
precise form of words, "or summon me anywhere else?"

"Now here," replied Mr. Jaggers, fixing me for the first time with
his dark deep-set eyes, "we must revert to the evening when we
first encountered one another in your village. What did I tell you
then, Pip?"

"You told me, Mr. Jaggers, that it might be years hence when that
person appeared."

"Just so," said Mr. Jaggers; "that's my answer."

As we looked full at one another, I felt my breath come quicker in
my strong desire to get something out of him. And as I felt that it
came quicker, and as I felt that he saw that it came quicker, I
felt that I had less chance than ever of getting anything out of
him.

"Do you suppose it will still be years hence, Mr. Jaggers?"

Mr. Jaggers shook his head - not in negativing the question, but in
altogether negativing the notion that he could anyhow be got to
answer it - and the two horrible casts of the twitched faces
looked, when my eyes strayed up to them, as if they had come to a
crisis in their suspended attention, and were going to sneeze.

"Come!" said Mr. Jaggers, warming the backs of his legs with the
backs of his warmed hands, "I'll be plain with you, my friend Pip.
That's a question I must not be asked. You'll understand that,
better, when I tell you it's a question that might compromise me.
Come! I'll go a little further with you; I'll say something more."

He bent down so low to frown at his boots, that he was able to rub
the calves of his legs in the pause he made.

"When that person discloses," said Mr. Jaggers, straightening
himself, "you and that person will settle your own affairs. When
that person discloses, my part in this business will cease and
determine. When that person discloses, it will not be necessary for
me to know anything about it. And that's all I have got to say."

We looked at one another until I withdrew my eyes, and looked
thoughtfully at the floor. From this last speech I derived the
notion that Miss Havisham, for some reason or no reason, had not
taken him into her confidence as to her designing me for Estella;
that he resented this, and felt a jealousy about it; or that he
really did object to that scheme, and would have nothing to do with
it. When I raised my eyes again, I found that he had been shrewdly
looking at me all the time, and was doing so still.

"If that is all you have to say, sir," I remarked, "there can be
nothing left for me to say."

He nodded assent, and pulled out his thief-dreaded watch, and asked
me where I was going to dine? I replied at my own chambers, with
Herbert. As a necessary sequence, I asked him if he would favour us
with his company, and he promptly accepted the invitation. But he
insisted on walking home with me, in order that I might make no
extra preparation for him, and first he had a letter or two to
write, and (of course) had his hands to wash. So, I said I would go
into the outer office and talk to Wemmick.

The fact was, that when the five hundred pounds had come into my
pocket, a thought had come into my head which had been often there
before; and it appeared to me that Wemmick was a good person to
advise with, concerning such thought.

He had already locked up his safe, and made preparations for going
home. He had left his desk, brought out his two greasy office
candlesticks and stood them in line with the snuffers on a slab
near the door, ready to be extinguished; he had raked his fire low,
put his hat and great-coat ready, and was beating himself all over
the chest with his safe-key, as an athletic exercise after
business.

"Mr. Wemmick," said I, "I want to ask your opinion. I am very
desirous to serve a friend."

Wemmick tightened his post-office and shook his head, as if his
opinion were dead against any fatal weakness of that sort.

"This friend," I pursued, "is trying to get on in commercial life,
but has no money, and finds it difficult and disheartening to make
a beginning. Now, I want somehow to help him to a beginning."

"With money down?" said Wemmick, in a tone drier than any sawdust.

"With some money down," I replied, for an uneasy remembrance shot
across me of that symmetrical bundle of papers at home; "with some
money down, and perhaps some anticipation of my expectations."

"Mr. Pip," said Wemmick, "I should like just to run over with you on
my fingers, if you please, the names of the various bridges up as
high as Chelsea Reach. Let's see; there's London, one; Southwark,
two; Blackfriars, three; Waterloo, four; Westminster, five;
Vauxhall, six." He had checked off each bridge in its turn, with
the handle of his safe-key on the palm of his hand. "There's as
many as six, you see, to choose from."

"I don't understand you," said I.

"Choose your bridge, Mr. Pip," returned Wemmick, "and take a walk
upon your bridge, and pitch your money into the Thames over the
centre arch of your bridge, and you know the end of it. Serve a
friend with it, and you may know the end of it too - but it's a
less pleasant and profitable end."

I could have posted a newspaper in his mouth, he made it so wide
after saying this.

"This is very discouraging," said I.

"Meant to be so," said Wemmick.

"Then is it your opinion," I inquired, with some little
indignation, "that a man should never--"

" - Invest portable property in a friend?" said Wemmick. "Certainly
he should not. Unless he wants to get rid of the friend - and then
it becomes a question how much portable property it may be worth to
get rid of him."

"And that," said I, "is your deliberate opinion, Mr. Wemmick?"

"That," he returned, "is my deliberate opinion in this office."

"Ah!" said I, pressing him, for I thought I saw him near a loophole
here; "but would that be your opinion at Walworth?"

"Mr. Pip," he replied, with gravity, "Walworth is one place, and
this office is another. Much as the Aged is one person, and Mr.
Jaggers is another. They must not be confounded together. My
Walworth sentiments must be taken at Walworth; none but my official
sentiments can be taken in this office."

"Very well," said I, much relieved, "then I shall look you up at
Walworth, you may depend upon it."

"Mr. Pip," he returned, "you will be welcome there, in a private and
personal capacity."

We had held this conversation in a low voice, well knowing my
guardian's ears to be the sharpest of the sharp. As he now appeared
in his doorway, towelling his hands, Wemmick got on his greatcoat
and stood by to snuff out the candles. We all three went into the
street together, and from the door-step Wemmick turned his way, and
Mr. Jaggers and I turned ours.

I could not help wishing more than once that evening, that Mr.
Jaggers had had an Aged in Gerrard-street, or a Stinger, or a
Something, or a Somebody, to unbend his brows a little. It was an
uncomfortable consideration on a twenty-first birthday, that coming
of age at all seemed hardly worth while in such a guarded and
suspicious world as he made of it. He was a thousand times better
informed and cleverer than Wemmick, and yet I would a thousand
times rather have had Wemmick to dinner. And Mr. Jaggers made not me
alone intensely melancholy, because, after he was gone, Herbert
said of himself, with his eyes fixed on the fire, that he thought
he must have committed a felony and forgotten the details of it, he
felt so dejected and guilty.



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