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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 25

Great Expectations

Chapter 25

Bentley Drummle, who was so sulky a fellow that he even took up a

book as if its writer had done him an injury, did not take up an

acquaintance in a more agreeable spirit. Heavy in figure, movement,

and comprehension - in the sluggish complexion of his face, and in

the large awkward tongue that seemed to loll about in his mouth as

he himself lolled about in a room - he was idle, proud, niggardly,

reserved, and suspicious. He came of rich people down in

Somersetshire, who had nursed this combination of qualities until

they made the discovery that it was just of age and a blockhead.

Thus, Bentley Drummle had come to Mr. Pocket when he was a head

taller than that gentleman, and half a dozen heads thicker than

most gentlemen.

Startop had been spoilt by a weak mother and kept at home when he

ought to have been at school, but he was devotedly attached to her,

and admired her beyond measure. He had a woman's delicacy of

feature, and was - "as you may see, though you never saw her," said

Herbert to me - exactly like his mother. It was but natural that I

should take to him much more kindly than to Drummle, and that, even

in the earliest evenings of our boating, he and I should pull

homeward abreast of one another, conversing from boat to boat,

while Bentley Drummle came up in our wake alone, under the

overhanging banks and among the rushes. He would always creep

in-shore like some uncomfortable amphibious creature, even when the

tide would have sent him fast upon his way; and I always think of

him as coming after us in the dark or by the back-water, when our

own two boats were breaking the sunset or the moonlight in


Herbert was my intimate companion and friend. I presented him with

a half-share in my boat, which was the occasion of his often coming

down to Hammersmith; and my possession of a halfshare in his

chambers often took me up to London. We used to walk between the

two places at all hours. I have an affection for the road yet

(though it is not so pleasant a road as it was then), formed in the

impressibility of untried youth and hope.

When I had been in Mr. Pocket's family a month or two, Mr. and Mrs.

Camilla turned up. Camilla was Mr. Pocket's sister. Georgiana, whom

I had seen at Miss Havisham's on the same occasion, also turned up.

she was a cousin - an indigestive single woman, who called her

rigidity religion, and her liver love. These people hated me with

the hatred of cupidity and disappointment. As a matter of course,

they fawned upon me in my prosperity with the basest meanness.

Towards Mr. Pocket, as a grown-up infant with no notion of his own

interests, they showed the complacent forbearance I had heard them

express. Mrs. Pocket they held in contempt; but they allowed the

poor soul to have been heavily disappointed in life, because that

shed a feeble reflected light upon themselves.

These were the surroundings among which I settled down, and applied

myself to my education. I soon contracted expensive habits, and

began to spend an amount of money that within a few short months I

should have thought almost fabulous; but through good and evil I

stuck to my books. There was no other merit in this, than my having

sense enough to feel my deficiencies. Between Mr. Pocket and Herbert

I got on fast; and, with one or the other always at my elbow to

give me the start I wanted, and clear obstructions out of my road,

I must have been as great a dolt as Drummle if I had done less.

I had not seen Mr. Wemmick for some weeks, when I thought I would

write him a note and propose to go home with him on a certain

evening. He replied that it would give him much pleasure, and that

he would expect me at the office at six o'clock. Thither I went,

and there I found him, putting the key of his safe down his back as

the clock struck.

"Did you think of walking down to Walworth?" said he.

"Certainly," said I, "if you approve."

"Very much," was Wemmick's reply, "for I have had my legs under the

desk all day, and shall be glad to stretch them. Now, I'll tell you

what I have got for supper, Mr. Pip. I have got a stewed steak -

which is of home preparation - and a cold roast fowl - which is

from the cook's-shop. I think it's tender, because the master of

the shop was a Juryman in some cases of ours the other day, and we

let him down easy. I reminded him of it when I bought the fowl, and

I said, "Pick us out a good one, old Briton, because if we had

chosen to keep you in the box another day or two, we could easily

have done it." He said to that, "Let me make you a present of the

best fowl in the shop." I let him, of course. As far as it goes,

it's property and portable. You don't object to an aged parent, I


I really thought he was still speaking of the fowl, until he added,

"Because I have got an aged parent at my place." I then said what

politeness required.

"So, you haven't dined with Mr. Jaggers yet?" he pursued, as we

walked along.

"Not yet."

"He told me so this afternoon when he heard you were coming. I

expect you'll have an invitation to-morrow. He's going to ask your

pals, too. Three of 'em; ain't there?"

Although I was not in the habit of counting Drummle as one of my

intimate associates, I answered, "Yes."

"Well, he's going to ask the whole gang;" I hardly felt

complimented by the word; "and whatever he gives you, he'll give

you good. Don't look forward to variety, but you'll have

excellence. And there'sa nother rum thing in his house," proceeded

Wemmick, after a moment's pause, as if the remark followed on the

housekeeper understood; "he never lets a door or window be fastened

at night."

"Is he never robbed?"

"That's it!" returned Wemmick. "He says, and gives it out publicly,

"I want to see the man who'll rob me." Lord bless you, I have heard

him, a hundred times if I have heard him once, say to regular

cracksmen in our front office, "You know where I live; now, no bolt

is ever drawn there; why don't you do a stroke of business with me?

Come; can't I tempt you?" Not a man of them, sir, would be bold

enough to try it on, for love or money."

"They dread him so much?" said I.

"Dread him," said Wemmick. "I believe you they dread him. Not but

what he's artful, even in his defiance of them. No silver, sir.

Britannia metal, every spoon."

"So they wouldn't have much," I observed, "even if they--"

"Ah! But he would have much," said Wemmick, cutting me short, "and

they know it. He'd have their lives, and the lives of scores of

'em. He'd have all he could get. And it's impossible to say what he

couldn't get, if he gave his mind to it."

I was falling into meditation on my guardian's greatness, when

Wemmick remarked:

"As to the absence of plate, that's only his natural depth, you

know. A river's its natural depth, and he's his natural depth. Look

at his watch-chain. That's real enough."

"It's very massive," said I.

"Massive?" repeated Wemmick. "I think so. And his watch is a gold

repeater, and worth a hundred pound if it's worth a penny. Mr. Pip,

there are about seven hundred thieves in this town who know all

about that watch; there's not a man, a woman, or a child, among

them, who wouldn't identify the smallest link in that chain, and

drop it as if it was red-hot, if inveigled into touching it."

At first with such discourse, and afterwards with conversation of a

more general nature, did Mr. Wemmick and I beguile the time and the

road, until he gave me to understand that we had arrived in the

district of Walworth.

It appeared to be a collection of back lanes, ditches, and little

gardens, and to present the aspect of a rather dull retirement.

Wemmick's house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plots

of garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery

mounted with guns.

"My own doing," said Wemmick. "Looks pretty; don't it?"

I highly commended it, I think it was the smallest house I ever

saw; with the queerest gothic windows (by far the greater part of

them sham), and a gothic door, almost too small to get in at.

"That's a real flagstaff, you see," said Wemmick, "and on Sundays I

run up a real flag. Then look here. After I have crossed this

bridge, I hoist it up - so - and cut off the communication."

The bridge was a plank, and it crossed a chasm about four feet wide

and two deep. But it was very pleasant to see the pride with which

he hoisted it up and made it fast; smiling as he did so, with a

relish and not merely mechanically.

"At nine o'clock every night, Greenwich time," said Wemmick, "the

gun fires. There he is, you see! And when you hear him go, I think

you'll say he's a Stinger."

The piece of ordnance referred to, was mounted in a separate

fortress, constructed of lattice-work. It was protected from the

weather by an ingenious little tarpaulin contrivance in the nature

of an umbrella.

"Then, at the back," said Wemmick, "out of sight, so as not to

impede the idea of fortifications - for it's a principle with me,

if you have an idea, carry it out and keep it up - I don't know

whether that's your opinion--"

I said, decidedly.

" - At the back, there's a pig, and there are fowls and rabbits;

then, I knock together my own little frame, you see, and grow

cucumbers; and you'll judge at supper what sort of a salad I can

raise. So, sir," said Wemmick, smiling again, but seriously too, as

he shook his head, "if you can suppose the little place besieged,

it would hold out a devil of a time in point of provisions."

Then, he conducted me to a bower about a dozen yards off, but which

was approached by such ingenious twists of path that it took quite

a long time to get at; and in this retreat our glasses were already

set forth. Our punch was cooling in an ornamental lake, on whose

margin the bower was raised. This piece of water (with an island in

the middle which might have been the salad for supper) was of a

circular form, and he had constructed a fountain in it, which, when

you set a little mill going and took a cork out of a pipe, played

to that powerful extent that it made the back of your hand quite


"I am my own engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber,

and my own gardener, and my own Jack of all Trades," said Wemmick,

in acknowledging my compliments. "Well; it's a good thing, you

know. It brushes the Newgate cobwebs away, and pleases the Aged.

You wouldn't mind being at once introduced to the Aged, would you?

It wouldn't put you out?"

I expressed the readiness I felt, and we went into the castle.

There, we found, sitting by a fire, a very old man in a flannel

coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but

intensely deaf.

"Well aged parent," said Wemmick, shaking hands with him in a

cordial and jocose way, "how am you?"

"All right, John; all right!" replied the old man.

"Here's Mr. Pip, aged parent," said Wemmick, "and I wish you could

hear his name. Nod away at him, Mr. Pip; that's what he likes. Nod

away at him, if you please, like winking!"

"This is a fine place of my son's, sir," cried the old man, while I

nodded as hard as I possibly could. "This is a pretty

pleasure-ground, sir. This spot and these beautiful works upon it

ought to be kept together by the Nation, after my son's time, for

the people's enjoyment."

"You're as proud of it as Punch; ain't you, Aged?" said Wemmick,

contemplating the old man, with his hard face really softened;

"there's a nod for you;" giving him a tremendous one; "there's

another for you;" giving him a still more tremendous one; "you like

that, don't you? If you're not tired, Mr. Pip - though I know it's

tiring to strangers - will you tip him one more? You can't think

how it pleases him."

I tipped him several more, and he was in great spirits. We left him

bestirring himself to feed the fowls, and we sat down to our punch

in the arbour; where Wemmick told me as he smoked a pipe that it

had taken him a good many years to bring the property up to its

present pitch of perfection.

"Is it your own, Mr. Wemmick?"

"O yes," said Wemmick, "I have got hold of it, a bit at a time.

It's a freehold, by George!"

"Is it, indeed? I hope Mr. Jaggers admires it?"

"Never seen it," said Wemmick. "Never heard of it. Never seen the

Aged. Never heard of him. No; the office is one thing, and private

life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle

behind me, and when I come into the Castle, I leave the office

behind me. If it's not in any way disagreeable to you, you'll

oblige me by doing the same. I don't wish it professionally spoken


Of course I felt my good faith involved in the observance of his

request. The punch being very nice, we sat there drinking it and

talking, until it was almost nine o'clock. "Getting near gun-fire,"

said Wemmick then, as he laid down his pipe; "it's the Aged's


Proceeding into the Castle again, we found the Aged heating the

poker, with expectant eyes, as a preliminary to the performance of

this great nightly ceremony. Wemmick stood with his watch in his

hand, until the moment was come for him to take the red-hot poker

from the Aged, and repair to the battery. He took it, and went out,

and presently the Stinger went off with a Bang that shook the crazy

little box of a cottage as if it must fall to pieces, and made

every glass and teacup in it ring. Upon this, the Aged - who I

believe would have been blown out of his arm-chair but for holding

on by the elbows - cried out exultingly, "He's fired! I heerd him!"

and I nodded at the old gentleman until it is no figure of speech

to declare that I absolutely could not see him.

The interval between that time and supper, Wemmick devoted to

showing me his collection of curiosities. They were mostly of a

felonious character; comprising the pen with which a celebrated

forgery had been committed, a distinguished razor or two, some

locks of hair, and several manuscript confessions written under

condemnation - upon which Mr. Wemmick set particular value as being,

to use his own words, "every one of 'em Lies, sir." These were

agreeably dispersed among small specimens of china and glass,

various neat trifles made by the proprietor of the museum, and some

tobacco-stoppers carved by the Aged. They were all displayed in

that chamber of the Castle into which I had been first inducted,

and which served, not only as the general sitting-room but as the

kitchen too, if I might judge from a saucepan on the hob, and a

brazen bijou over the fireplace designed for the suspension of a


There was a neat little girl in attendance, who looked after the

Aged in the day. When she had laid the supper-cloth, the bridge was

lowered to give her means of egress, and she withdrew for the

night. The supper was excellent; and though the Castle was rather

subject to dry-rot insomuch that it tasted like a bad nut, and

though the pig might have been farther off, I was heartily pleased

with my whole entertainment. Nor was there any drawback on my

little turret bedroom, beyond there being such a very thin ceiling

between me and the flagstaff, that when I lay down on my back in

bed, it seemed as if I had to balance that pole on my forehead all


Wemmick was up early in the morning, and I am afraid I heard him

cleaning my boots. After that, he fell to gardening, and I saw him

from my gothic window pretending to employ the Aged, and nodding at

him in a most devoted manner. Our breakfast was as good as the

supper, and at half-past eight precisely we started for Little

Britain. By degrees, Wemmick got dryer and harder as we went along,

and his mouth tightened into a post-office again. At last, when we

got to his place of business and he pulled out his key from his

coat-collar, he looked as unconscious of his Walworth property as

if the Castle and the drawbridge and the arbour and the lake and

the fountain and the Aged, had all been blown into space together

by the last discharge of the Stinger.

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