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Chapter 51

What purpose I had in view when I was hot on tracing out and
proving Estella's parentage, I cannot say. It will presently be
seen that the question was not before me in a distinct shape, until
it was put before me by a wiser head than my own.

But, when Herbert and I had held our momentous conversation, I was
seized with a feverish conviction that I ought to hunt the matter
down - that I ought not to let it rest, but that I ought to see Mr.
Jaggers, and come at the bare truth. I really do not know whether I
felt that I did this for Estella's sake, or whether I was glad to
transfer to the man in whose preservation I was so much concerned,
some rays of the romantic interest that had so long surrounded her.
Perhaps the latter possibility may be the nearer to the truth.

Any way, I could scarcely be withheld from going out to
Gerrard-street that night. Herbert's representations that if I did,
I should probably be laid up and stricken useless, when our
fugitive's safety would depend upon me, alone restrained my
impatience. On the understanding, again and again reiterated, that
come what would, I was to go to Mr. Jaggers to-morrow, I at length
submitted to keep quiet, and to have my hurts looked after, and to
stay at home. Early next morning we went out together, and at the
corner of Giltspur-street by Smithfield, I left Herbert to go his
way into the City, and took my way to Little Britain.

There were periodical occasions when Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick went
over the office accounts, and checked off the vouchers, and put all
things straight. On these occasions Wemmick took his books and
papers into Mr. Jaggers's room, and one of the up-stairs clerks came
down into the outer office. Finding such clerk on Wemmick's post
that morning, I knew what was going on; but, I was not sorry to
have Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick together, as Wemmick would then hear
for himself that I said nothing to compromise him.

My appearance with my arm bandaged and my coat loose over my
shoulders, favoured my object. Although I had sent Mr. Jaggers a
brief account of the accident as soon as I had arrived in town, yet
I had to give him all the details now; and the speciality of the
occasion caused our talk to be less dry and hard, and less strictly
regulated by the rules of evidence, than it had been before. While
I described the disaster, Mr. Jaggers stood, according to his wont,
before the fire. Wemmick leaned back in his chair, staring at me,
with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, and his pen put
horizontally into the post. The two brutal casts, always
inseparable in my mind from the official proceedings, seemed to be
congestively considering whether they didn't smell fire at the
present moment.

My narrative finished, and their questions exhausted, I then
produced Miss Havisham's authority to receive the nine hundred
pounds for Herbert. Mr. Jaggers's eyes retired a little deeper into
his head when I handed him the tablets, but he presently handed
them over to Wemmick, with instructions to draw the cheque for his
signature. While that was in course of being done, I looked on at
Wemmick as he wrote, and Mr. Jaggers, poising and swaying himself on
his well-polished boots, looked on at me. "I am sorry, Pip," said
he, as I put the cheque in my pocket, when he had signed it, "that
we do nothing for you."

"Miss Havisham was good enough to ask me," I returned, "whether she
could do nothing for me, and I told her No."

"Everybody should know his own business," said Mr. Jaggers. And I
saw Wemmick's lips form the words "portable property."

"I should not have told her No, if I had been you," said Mr
Jaggers; "but every man ought to know his own business best."

"Every man's business," said Wemmick, rather reproachfully towards
me, "is portable property."

As I thought the time was now come for pursuing the theme I had at
heart, I said, turning on Mr. Jaggers:

"I did ask something of Miss Havisham, however, sir. I asked her to
give me some information relative to her adopted daughter, and she
gave me all she possessed."

"Did she?" said Mr. Jaggers, bending forward to look at his boots
and then straightening himself. "Hah! I don't think I should have
done so, if I had been Miss Havisham. But she ought to know her own
business best."

"I know more of the history of Miss Havisham's adopted child, than
Miss Havisham herself does, sir. I know her mother."

Mr. Jaggers looked at me inquiringly, and repeated "Mother?"

"I have seen her mother within these three days."

"Yes?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"And so have you, sir. And you have seen her still more recently."

"Yes?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Perhaps I know more of Estella's history than even you do," said
I. "I know her father too."

A certain stop that Mr. Jaggers came to in his manner - he was too
self-possessed to change his manner, but he could not help its
being brought to an indefinably attentive stop - assured me that he
did not know who her father was. This I had strongly suspected from
Provis's account (as Herbert had repeated it) of his having kept
himself dark; which I pieced on to the fact that he himself was not
Mr. Jaggers's client until some four years later, and when he could
have no reason for claiming his identity. But, I could not be sure
of this unconsciousness on Mr. Jaggers's part before, though I was
quite sure of it now.

"So! You know the young lady's father, Pip?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Yes," I replied, "and his name is Provis - from New South Wales."

Even Mr. Jaggers started when I said those words. It was the
slightest start that could escape a man, the most carefully
repressed and the soonest checked, but he did start, though he made
it a part of the action of taking out his pocket-handkerchief. How
Wemmick received the announcement I am unable to say, for I was
afraid to look at him just then, lest Mr. Jaggers's sharpness should
detect that there had been some communication unknown to him
between us.

"And on what evidence, Pip," asked Mr. Jaggers, very coolly, as he
paused with his handkerchief half way to his nose, "does Provis
make this claim?"

"He does not make it," said I, "and has never made it, and has no
knowledge or belief that his daughter is in existence."

For once, the powerful pocket-handkerchief failed. My reply was so
unexpected that Mr. Jaggers put the handkerchief back into his
pocket without completing the usual performance, folded his arms,
and looked with stern attention at me, though with an immovable
face.

Then I told him all I knew, and how I knew it; with the one
reservation that I left him to infer that I knew from Miss Havisham
what I in fact knew from Wemmick. I was very careful indeed as to
that. Nor, did I look towards Wemmick until I had finished all I
had to tell, and had been for some time silently meeting Mr.
Jaggers's look. When I did at last turn my eyes in Wemmick's
direction, I found that he had unposted his pen, and was intent
upon the table before him.

"Hah!" said Mr. Jaggers at last, as he moved towards the papers on
the table, " - What item was it you were at, Wemmick, when Mr. Pip
came in?"

But I could not submit to be thrown off in that way, and I made a
passionate, almost an indignant, appeal to him to be more frank and
manly with me. I reminded him of the false hopes into which I had
lapsed, the length of time they had lasted, and the discovery I had
made: and I hinted at the danger that weighed upon my spirits. I
represented myself as being surely worthy of some little confidence
from him, in return for the confidence I had just now imparted. I
said that I did not blame him, or suspect him, or mistrust him, but
I wanted assurance of the truth from him. And if he asked me why I
wanted it and why I thought I had any right to it, I would tell
him, little as he cared for such poor dreams, that I had loved
Estella dearly and long, and that, although I had lost her and must
live a bereaved life, whatever concerned her was still nearer and
dearer to me than anything else in the world. And seeing that Mr.
Jaggers stood quite still and silent, and apparently quite
obdurate, under this appeal, I turned to Wemmick, and said,
"Wemmick, I know you to be a man with a gentle heart. I have seen
your pleasant home, and your old father, and all the innocent
cheerful playful ways with which you refresh your business life.
And I entreat you to say a word for me to Mr. Jaggers, and to
represent to him that, all circumstances considered, he ought to be
more open with me!"

I have never seen two men look more oddly at one another than Mr.
Jaggers and Wemmick did after this apostrophe. At first, a
misgiving crossed me that Wemmick would be instantly dismissed from
his employment; but, it melted as I saw Mr. Jaggers relax into
something like a smile, and Wemmick become bolder.

"What's all this?" said Mr. Jaggers. "You with an old father, and
you with pleasant and playful ways?"

"Well!" returned Wemmick. "If I don't bring 'em here, what does it
matter?"

"Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, laying his hand upon my arm, and smiling
openly, "this man must be the most cunning impostor in all London."

"Not a bit of it," returned Wemmick, growing bolder and bolder. "I
think you're another."

Again they exchanged their former odd looks, each apparently still
distrustful that the other was taking him in.

"You with a pleasant home?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Since it don't interfere with business," returned Wemmick, "let it
be so. Now, I look at you, sir, I shouldn't wonder if you might be
planning and contriving to have a pleasant home of your own, one of
these days, when you're tired of all this work."

Mr. Jaggers nodded his head retrospectively two or three times, and
actually drew a sigh. "Pip," said he, "we won't talk about 'poor
dreams;' you know more about such things than I, having much
fresher experience of that kind. But now, about this other matter.
I'll put a case to you. Mind! I admit nothing."

He waited for me to declare that I quite understood that he
expressly said that he admitted nothing.

"Now, Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, "put this case. Put the case that a
woman, under such circumstances as you have mentioned, held her
child concealed, and was obliged to communicate the fact to her
legal adviser, on his representing to her that he must know, with
an eye to the latitude of his defence, how the fact stood about
that child. Put the case that at the same time he held a trust to
find a child for an eccentric rich lady to adopt and bring up."

"I follow you, sir."

"Put the case that he lived in an atmosphere of evil, and that all
he saw of children, was, their being generated in great numbers for
certain destruction. Put the case that he often saw children
solemnly tried at a criminal bar, where they were held up to be
seen; put the case that he habitually knew of their being
imprisoned, whipped, transported, neglected, cast out, qualified in
all ways for the hangman, and growing up to be hanged. Put the case
that pretty nigh all the children he saw in his daily business
life, he had reason to look upon as so much spawn, to develop into
the fish that were to come to his net - to be prosecuted, defended,
forsworn, made orphans, bedevilled somehow."

"I follow you, sir."

"Put the case, Pip, that here was one pretty little child out of
the heap, who could be saved; whom the father believed dead, and
dared make no stir about; as to whom, over the mother, the legal
adviser had this power: "I know what you did, and how you did it.
You came so and so, this was your manner of attack and this the
manner of resistance, you went so and so, you did such and such
things to divert suspicion. I have tracked you through it all, and
I tell it you all. Part with the child, unless it should be
necessary to produce it to clear you, and then it shall be
produced. Give the child into my hands, and I will do my best to
bring you off. If you are saved, your child is saved too; if you
are lost, your child is still saved." Put the case that this was
done, and that the woman was cleared."

"I understand you perfectly."

"But that I make no admissions?"

"That you make no admissions." And Wemmick repeated, "No
admissions."

"Put the case, Pip, that passion and the terror of death had a
little shaken the woman's intellect, and that when she was set at
liberty, she was scared out of the ways of the world and went to
him to be sheltered. Put the case that he took her in, and that he
kept down the old wild violent nature whenever he saw an inkling of
its breaking out, by asserting his power over her in the old way.
Do you comprehend the imaginary case?"

"Quite."

"Put the case that the child grew up, and was married for money.
That the mother was still living. That the father was still living.
That the mother and father unknown to one another, were dwelling
within so many miles, furlongs, yards if you like, of one another.
That the secret was still a secret, except that you had got wind of
it. Put that last case to yourself very carefully."

"I do."

"I ask Wemmick to put it to himself very carefully."

And Wemmick said, "I do."

"For whose sake would you reveal the secret? For the father's? I
think he would not be much the better for the mother. For the
mother's? I think if she had done such a deed she would be safer
where she was. For the daughter's? I think it would hardly serve
her, to establish her parentage for the information of her husband,
and to drag her back to disgrace, after an escape of twenty years,
pretty secure to last for life. But, add the case that you had
loved her, Pip, and had made her the subject of those 'poor dreams'
which have, at one time or another, been in the heads of more men
than you think likely, then I tell you that you had better - and
would much sooner when you had thought well of it - chop off that
bandaged left hand of yours with your bandaged right hand, and then
pass the chopper on to Wemmick there, to cut that off, too."

I looked at Wemmick, whose face was very grave. He gravely touched
his lips with his forefinger. I did the same. Mr. Jaggers did the
same. "Now, Wemmick," said the latter then, resuming his usual
manner, "what item was it you were at, when Mr. Pip came in?"

Standing by for a little, while they were at work, I observed that
the odd looks they had cast at one another were repeated several
times: with this difference now, that each of them seemed
suspicious, not to say conscious, of having shown himself in a weak
and unprofessional light to the other. For this reason, I suppose,
they were now inflexible with one another; Mr. Jaggers being highly
dictatorial, and Wemmick obstinately justifying himself whenever
there was the smallest point in abeyance for a moment. I had never
seen them on such ill terms; for generally they got on very well
indeed together.

But, they were both happily relieved by the opportune appearance of
Mike, the client with the fur cap and the habit of wiping his nose
on his sleeve, whom I had seen on the very first day of my
appearance within those walls. This individual, who, either in his
own person or in that of some member of his family, seemed to be
always in trouble (which in that place meant Newgate), called to
announce that his eldest daughter was taken up on suspicion of
shop-lifting. As he imparted this melancholy circumstance to
Wemmick, Mr. Jaggers standing magisterially before the fire and
taking no share in the proceedings, Mike's eye happened to twinkle
with a tear.

"What are you about?" demanded Wemmick, with the utmost
indignation. "What do you come snivelling here for?"

"I didn't go to do it, Mr. Wemmick."

"You did," said Wemmick. "How dare you? You're not in a fit state
to come here, if you can't come here without spluttering like a bad
pen. What do you mean by it?"

"A man can't help his feelings, Mr. Wemmick," pleaded Mike.

"His what?" demanded Wemmick, quite savagely. "Say that again!"

"Now, look here my man," said Mr. Jaggers, advancing a step, and
pointing to the door. "Get out of this office. I'll have no
feelings here. Get out."

"It serves you right," said Wemmick, "Get out."

So the unfortunate Mike very humbly withdrew, and Mr. Jaggers and
Wemmick appeared to have re-established their good understanding,
and went to work again with an air of refreshment upon them as if
they had just had lunch.



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