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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 36

Great Expectations

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


"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.


"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


"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


"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


"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.

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