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Chapter 48

The second of the two meetings referred to in the last chapter,
occurred about a week after the first. I had again left my boat at
the wharf below Bridge; the time was an hour earlier in the
afternoon; and, undecided where to dine, I had strolled up into
Cheapside, and was strolling along it, surely the most unsettled
person in all the busy concourse, when a large hand was laid upon
my shoulder, by some one overtaking me. It was Mr. Jaggers's hand,
and he passed it through my arm.

"As we are going in the same direction, Pip, we may walk together.
Where are you bound for?"

"For the Temple, I think," said I.

"Don't you know?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Well," I returned, glad for once to get the better of him in
cross-examination, "I do not know, for I have not made up my mind."

"You are going to dine?" said Mr. Jaggers. "You don't mind admitting
that, I suppose?"

"No," I returned, "I don't mind admitting that."

"And are not engaged?"

"I don't mind admitting also, that I am not engaged."

"Then," said Mr. Jaggers, "come and dine with me."

I was going to excuse myself, when he added, "Wemmick's coming."
So, I changed my excuse into an acceptance - the few words I had
uttered, serving for the beginning of either - and we went along
Cheapside and slanted off to Little Britain, while the lights were
springing up brilliantly in the shop windows, and the street
lamp-lighters, scarcely finding ground enough to plant their
ladders on in the midst of the afternoon's bustle, were skipping up
and down and running in and out, opening more red eyes in the
gathering fog than my rushlight tower at the Hummums had opened
white eyes in the ghostly wall.

At the office in Little Britain there was the usual letter-writing,
hand-washing, candle-snuffing, and safe-locking, that closed the
business of the day. As I stood idle by Mr. Jaggers's fire, its
rising and falling flame made the two casts on the shelf look as if
they were playing a diabolical game at bo-peep with me; while the
pair of coarse fat office candles that dimly lighted Mr. Jaggers as
he wrote in a corner, were decorated with dirty winding-sheets, as
if in remembrance of a host of hanged clients.

We went to Gerrard-street, all three together, in a hackney coach:
and as soon as we got there, dinner was served. Although I should
not have thought of making, in that place, the most distant
reference by so much as a look to Wemmick's Walworth sentiments,
yet I should have had no objection to catching his eye now and then
in a friendly way. But it was not to be done. He turned his eyes on
Mr. Jaggers whenever he raised them from the table, and was as dry
and distant to me as if there were twin Wemmicks and this was the
wrong one.

"Did you send that note of Miss Havisham's to Mr. Pip, Wemmick?" Mr.
Jaggers asked, soon after we began dinner.

"No, sir," returned Wemmick; "it was going by post, when you
brought Mr. Pip into the office. Here it is." He handed it to his
principal, instead of to me.

"It's a note of two lines, Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, handing it on,
"sent up to me by Miss Havisham, on account of her not being sure
of your address. She tells me that she wants to see you on a little
matter of business you mentioned to her. You'll go down?"

"Yes," said I, casting my eyes over the note, which was exactly in
those terms.

"When do you think of going down?"

"I have an impending engagement," said I, glancing at Wemmick, who
was putting fish into the post-office, "that renders me rather
uncertain of my time. At once, I think."

"If Mr. Pip has the intention of going at once," said Wemmick to Mr.
Jaggers, "he needn't write an answer, you know."

Receiving this as an intimation that it was best not to delay, I
settled that I would go to-morrow, and said so. Wemmick drank a
glass of wine and looked with a grimly satisfied air at Mr. Jaggers,
but not at me.

"So, Pip! Our friend the Spider," said Mr. Jaggers, "has played his
cards. He has won the pool."

It was as much as I could do to assent.

"Hah! He is a promising fellow - in his way - but he may not have
it all his own way. The stronger will win in the end, but the
stronger has to be found out first. If he should turn to, and beat
her--"

"Surely," I interrupted, with a burning face and heart, "you do not
seriously think that he is scoundrel enough for that, Mr. Jaggers?"

"I didn't say so, Pip. I am putting a case. If he should turn to
and beat her, he may possibly get the strength on his side; if it
should be a question of intellect, he certainly will not. It would
be chance work to give an opinion how a fellow of that sort will
turn out in such circumstances, because it's a toss-up between two
results."

"May I ask what they are?"

"A fellow like our friend the Spider," answered Mr. Jaggers, "either
beats, or cringes. He may cringe and growl, or cringe and not
growl; but he either beats or cringes. Ask Wemmick his opinion."

"Either beats or cringes," said Wemmick, not at all addressing
himself to me.

"So, here's to Mrs. Bentley Drummle," said Mr. Jaggers, taking a
decanter of choicer wine from his dumb-waiter, and filling for each
of us and for himself, "and may the question of supremacy be
settled to the lady's satisfaction! To the satisfaction of the lady
and the gentleman, it never will be. Now, Molly, Molly, Molly,
Molly, how slow you are to-day!"

She was at his elbow when he addressed her, putting a dish upon the
table. As she withdrew her hands from it, she fell back a step or
two, nervously muttering some excuse. And a certain action of her
fingers as she spoke arrested my attention.

"What's the matter?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Nothing. Only the subject we were speaking of," said I, "was
rather painful to me."

The action of her fingers was like the action of knitting. She
stood looking at her master, not understanding whether she was free
to go, or whether he had more to say to her and would call her back
if she did go. Her look was very intent. Surely, I had seen exactly
such eyes and such hands, on a memorable occasion very lately!

He dismissed her, and she glided out of the room. But she remained
before me, as plainly as if she were still there. I looked at those
hands, I looked at those eyes, I looked at that flowing hair; and I
compared them with other hands, other eyes, other hair, that I knew
of, and with what those might be after twenty years of a brutal
husband and a stormy life. I looked again at those hands and eyes
of the housekeeper, and thought of the inexplicable feeling that
had come over me when I last walked - not alone - in the ruined
garden, and through the deserted brewery. I thought how the same
feeling had come back when I saw a face looking at me, and a hand
waving to me, from a stage-coach window; and how it had come back
again and had flashed about me like Lightning, when I had passed in
a carriage - not alone - through a sudden glare of light in a dark
street. I thought how one link of association had helped that
identification in the theatre, and how such a link, wanting before,
had been riveted for me now, when I had passed by a chance swift
from Estella's name to the fingers with their knitting action, and
the attentive eyes. And I felt absolutely certain that this woman
was Estella's mother.

Mr. Jaggers had seen me with Estella, and was not likely to have
missed the sentiments I had been at no pains to conceal. He nodded
when I said the subject was painful to me, clapped me on the back,
put round the wine again, and went on with his dinner.

Only twice more, did the housekeeper reappear, and then her stay in
the room was very short, and Mr. Jaggers was sharp with her. But her
hands were Estella's hands, and her eyes were Estella's eyes, and
if she had reappeared a hundred times I could have been neither
more sure nor less sure that my conviction was the truth.

It was a dull evening, for Wemmick drew his wine when it came
round, quite as a matter of business - just as he might have drawn
his salary when that came round - and with his eyes on his chief,
sat in a state of perpetual readiness for cross-examination. As to
the quantity of wine, his post-office was as indifferent and ready
as any other post-office for its quantity of letters. From my point
of view, he was the wrong twin all the time, and only externally
like the Wemmick of Walworth.

We took our leave early, and left together. Even when we were
groping among Mr. Jaggers's stock of boots for our hats, I felt that
the right twin was on his way back; and we had not gone half a
dozen yards down Gerrard-street in the Walworth direction before I
found that I was walking arm-in-arm with the right twin, and that
the wrong twin had evaporated into the evening air.

"Well!" said Wemmick, "that's over! He's a wonderful man, without
his living likeness; but I feel that I have to screw myself up when
I dine with him - and I dine more comfortably unscrewed."

I felt that this was a good statement of the case, and told him so.

"Wouldn't say it to anybody but yourself," he answered. "I know
that what is said between you and me, goes no further."

I asked him if he had ever seen Miss Havisham's adopted daughter,
Mrs. Bentley Drummle? He said no. To avoid being too abrupt, I then
spoke of the Aged, and of Miss Skiffins. He looked rather sly when
I mentioned Miss Skiffins, and stopped in the street to blow his
nose, with a roll of the head and a flourish not quite free from
latent boastfulness.

"Wemmick," said I, "do you remember telling me before I first went
to Mr. Jaggers's private house, to notice that housekeeper?"

"Did I?" he replied. "Ah, I dare say I did. Deuce take me," he
added, suddenly, "I know I did. I find I am not quite unscrewed
yet."

"A wild beast tamed, you called her."

"And what do you call her?"

"The same. How did Mr. Jaggers tame her, Wemmick?"

"That's his secret. She has been with him many a long year."

"I wish you would tell me her story. I feel a particular interest
in being acquainted with it. You know that what is said between you
and me goes no further."

"Well!" Wemmick replied, "I don't know her story - that is, I don't
know all of it. But what I do know, I'll tell you. We are in our
private and personal capacities, of course."

"Of course."

"A score or so of years ago, that woman was tried at the Old Bailey
for murder, and was acquitted. She was a very handsome young woman,
and I believe had some gipsy blood in her. Anyhow, it was hot enough
when it was up, as you may suppose."

"But she was acquitted."

"Mr. Jaggers was for her," pursued Wemmick, with a look full of
meaning, "and worked the case in a way quite astonishing. It was a
desperate case, and it was comparatively early days with him then,
and he worked it to general admiration; in fact, it may almost be
said to have made him. He worked it himself at the police-office,
day after day for many days, contending against even a committal;
and at the trial where he couldn't work it himself, sat under
Counsel, and - every one knew - put in all the salt and pepper. The
murdered person was a woman; a woman, a good ten years older, very
much larger, and very much stronger. It was a case of jealousy.
They both led tramping lives, and this woman in Gerrard-street here
had been married very young, over the broomstick (as we say), to a
tramping man, and was a perfect fury in point of jealousy. The
murdered woman - more a match for the man, certainly, in point of
years - was found dead in a barn near Hounslow Heath. There had
been a violent struggle, perhaps a fight. She was bruised and
scratched and torn, and had been held by the throat at last and
choked. Now, there was no reasonable evidence to implicate any
person but this woman, and, on the improbabilities of her having
been able to do it, Mr. Jaggers principally rested his case. You may
be sure," said Wemmick, touching me on the sleeve, "that he never
dwelt upon the strength of her hands then, though he sometimes does
now."

I had told Wemmick of his showing us her wrists, that day of the
dinner party.

"Well, sir!" Wemmick went on; "it happened - happened, don't you
see? - that this woman was so very artfully dressed from the time
of her apprehension, that she looked much slighter than she really
was; in particular, her sleeves are always remembered to have been
so skilfully contrived that her arms had quite a delicate look. She
had only a bruise or two about her - nothing for a tramp - but the
backs of her hands were lacerated, and the question was, was it
with finger-nails? Now, Mr. Jaggers showed that she had struggled
through a great lot of brambles which were not as high as her face;
but which she could not have got through and kept her hands out of;
and bits of those brambles were actually found in her skin and put
in evidence, as well as the fact that the brambles in question were
found on examination to have been broken through, and to have
little shreds of her dress and little spots of blood upon them here
and there. But the boldest point he made, was this. It was
attempted to be set up in proof of her jealousy, that she was under
strong suspicion of having, at about the time of the murder,
frantically destroyed her child by this man - some three years old
- to revenge herself upon him. Mr. Jaggers worked that, in this way.
"We say these are not marks of finger-nails, but marks of brambles,
and we show you the brambles. You say they are marks of
finger-nails, and you set up the hypothesis that she destroyed her
child. You must accept all consequences of that hypothesis. For
anything we know, she may have destroyed her child, and the child
in clinging to her may have scratched her hands. What then? You are
not trying her for the murder of her child; why don't you? As to
this case, if you will have scratches, we say that, for anything we
know, you may have accounted for them, assuming for the sake of
argument that you have not invented them!" To sum up, sir," said
Wemmick, "Mr. Jaggers was altogether too many for the Jury, and they
gave in."

"Has she been in his service ever since?"

"Yes; but not only that," said Wemmick. "She went into his service
immediately after her acquittal, tamed as she is now. She has since
been taught one thing and another in the way of her duties, but she
was tamed from the beginning."

"Do you remember the sex of the child?"

"Said to have been a girl."

"You have nothing more to say to me to-night?"

"Nothing. I got your letter and destroyed it. Nothing."

We exchanged a cordial Good Night, and I went home, with new matter
for my thoughts, though with no relief from the old.



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