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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 37

Great Expectations

Chapter 37

Deeming Sunday the best day for taking Mr. Wemmick's Walworth

sentiments, I devoted the next ensuing Sunday afternoon to a

pilgrimage to the Castle. On arriving before the battlements, I

found the Union Jack flying and the drawbridge up; but undeterred

by this show of defiance and resistance, I rang at the gate, and

was admitted in a most pacific manner by the Aged.

"My son, sir," said the old man, after securing the drawbridge,

"rather had it in his mind that you might happen to drop in, and he

left word that he would soon be home from his afternoon's walk. He

is very regular in his walks, is my son. Very regular in

everything, is my son."

I nodded at the old gentleman as Wemmick himself might have nodded,

and we went in and sat down by the fireside.

"You made acquaintance with my son, sir," said the old man, in his

chirping way, while he warmed his hands at the blaze, "at his

office, I expect?" I nodded. "Hah! I have heerd that my son is a

wonderful hand at his business, sir?" I nodded hard. "Yes; so they

tell me. His business is the Law?" I nodded harder. "Which makes it

more surprising in my son," said the old man, "for he was not

brought up to the Law, but to the Wine-Coopering."

Curious to know how the old gentleman stood informed concerning the

reputation of Mr. Jaggers, I roared that name at him. He threw me

into the greatest confusion by laughing heartily and replying in a

very sprightly manner, "No, to be sure; you're right." And to this

hour I have not the faintest notion what he meant, or what joke he

thought I had made.

As I could not sit there nodding at him perpetually, without making

some other attempt to interest him, I shouted at inquiry whether

his own calling in life had been "the Wine-Coopering." By dint of

straining that term out of myself several times and tapping the old

gentleman on the chest to associate it with him, I at last

succeeded in making my meaning understood.

"No," said the old gentleman; "the warehousing, the warehousing.

First, over yonder;" he appeared to mean up the chimney, but I

believe he intended to refer me to Liverpool; "and then in the City

of London here. However, having an infirmity - for I am hard of

hearing, sir--"

I expressed in pantomime the greatest astonishment.

" - Yes, hard of hearing; having that infirmity coming upon me, my

son he went into the Law, and he took charge of me, and he by

little and little made out this elegant and beautiful property. But

returning to what you said, you know," pursued the old man, again

laughing heartily, "what I say is, No to be sure; you're right."

I was modestly wondering whether my utmost ingenuity would have

enabled me to say anything that would have amused him half as much

as this imaginary pleasantry, when I was startled by a sudden click

in the wall on one side of the chimney, and the ghostly tumbling

open of a little wooden flap with "JOHN" upon it. The old man,

following my eyes, cried with great triumph, "My son's come home!"

and we both went out to the drawbridge.

It was worth any money to see Wemmick waving a salute to me from

the other side of the moat, when we might have shaken hands across

it with the greatest ease. The Aged was so delighted to work the

drawbridge, that I made no offer to assist him, but stood quiet

until Wemmick had come across, and had presented me to Miss

Skiffins: a lady by whom he was accompanied.

Miss Skiffins was of a wooden appearance, and was, like her escort,

in the post-office branch of the service. She might have been some

two or three years younger than Wemmick, and I judged her to stand

possessed of portable property. The cut of her dress from the waist

upward, both before and behind, made her figure very like a boy's

kite; and I might have pronounced her gown a little too decidedly

orange, and her gloves a little too intensely green. But she seemed

to be a good sort of fellow, and showed a high regard for the Aged.

I was not long in discovering that she was a frequent visitor at

the Castle; for, on our going in, and my complimenting Wemmick on

his ingenious contrivance for announcing himself to the Aged, he

begged me to give my attention for a moment to the other side of

the chimney, and disappeared. Presently another click came, and

another little door tumbled open with "Miss Skiffins" on it; then

Miss Skiffins shut up and John tumbled open; then Miss Skiffins and

John both tumbled open together, and finally shut up together. On

Wemmick's return from working these mechanical appliances, I

expressed the great admiration with which I regarded them, and he

said, "Well, you know, they're both pleasant and useful to the

Aged. And by George, sir, it's a thing worth mentioning, that of

all the people who come to this gate, the secret of those pulls is

only known to the Aged, Miss Skiffins, and me!"

"And Mr. Wemmick made them," added Miss Skiffins, "with his own

hands out of his own head."

While Miss Skiffins was taking off her bonnet (she retained her

green gloves during the evening as an outward and visible sign that

there was company), Wemmick invited me to take a walk with him

round the property, and see how the island looked in wintertime.

Thinking that he did this to give me an opportunity of taking his

Walworth sentiments, I seized the opportunity as soon as we were

out of the Castle.

Having thought of the matter with care, I approached my subject as

if I had never hinted at it before. I informed Wemmick that I was

anxious in behalf of Herbert Pocket, and I told him how we had

first met, and how we had fought. I glanced at Herbert's home, and

at his character, and at his having no means but such as he was

dependent on his father for: those, uncertain and unpunctual.

I alluded to the advantages I had derived in my first rawness and

ignorance from his society, and I confessed that I feared I had but

ill repaid them, and that he might have done better without me and

my expectations. Keeping Miss Havisham in the background at a great

distance, I still hinted at the possibility of my having competed

with him in his prospects, and at the certainty of his possessing a

generous soul, and being far above any mean distrusts,

retaliations, or designs. For all these reasons (I told Wemmick),

and because he was my young companion and friend, and I had a great

affection for him, I wished my own good fortune to reflect some

rays upon him, and therefore I sought advice from Wemmick's

experience and knowledge of men and affairs, how I could best try

with my resources to help Herbert to some present income - say of a

hundred a year, to keep him in good hope and heart - and gradually

to buy him on to some small partnership. I begged Wemmick, in

conclusion, to understand that my help must always be rendered

without Herbert's knowledge or suspicion, and that there was no one

else in the world with whom I could advise. I wound up by laying my

hand upon his shoulder, and saying, "I can't help confiding in you,

though I know it must be troublesome to you; but that is your

fault, in having ever brought me here."

Wemmick was silent for a little while, and then said with a kind of

start, "Well you know, Mr. Pip, I must tell you one thing. This is

devilish good of you."

"Say you'll help me to be good then," said I.

"Ecod," replied Wemmick, shaking his head, "that's not my trade."

"Nor is this your trading-place," said I.

"You are right," he returned. "You hit the nail on the head. Mr.

Pip, I'll put on my considering-cap, and I think all you want to

do, may be done by degrees. Skiffins (that's her brother) is an

accountant and agent. I'll look him up and go to work for you."

"I thank you ten thousand times."

"On the contrary," said he, "I thank you, for though we are

strictly in our private and personal capacity, still it may be

mentioned that there are Newgate cobwebs about, and it brushes them


After a little further conversation to the same effect, we returned

into the Castle where we found Miss Skiffins preparing tea. The

responsible duty of making the toast was delegated to the Aged, and

that excellent old gentleman was so intent upon it that he seemed

to me in some danger of melting his eyes. It was no nominal meal

that we were going to make, but a vigorous reality. The Aged

prepared such a haystack of buttered toast, that I could scarcely

see him over it as it simmered on an iron stand hooked on to the

top-bar; while Miss Skiffins brewed such a jorum of tea, that the

pig in the back premises became strongly excited, and repeatedly

expressed his desire to participate in the entertainment.

The flag had been struck, and the gun had been fired, at the right

moment of time, and I felt as snugly cut off from the rest of

Walworth as if the moat were thirty feet wide by as many deep.

Nothing disturbed the tranquillity of the Castle, but the

occasional tumbling open of John and Miss Skiffins: which little

doors were a prey to some spasmodic infirmity that made me

sympathetically uncomfortable until I got used to it. I inferred

from the methodical nature of Miss Skiffins's arrangements that she

made tea there every Sunday night; and I rather suspected that a

classic brooch she wore, representing the profile of an undesirable

female with a very straight nose and a very new moon, was a piece

of portable property that had been given her by Wemmick.

We ate the whole of the toast, and drank tea in proportion, and it

was delightful to see how warm and greasy we all got after it. The

Aged especially, might have passed for some clean old chief of a

savage tribe, just oiled. After a short pause for repose, Miss

Skiffins - in the absence of the little servant who, it seemed,

retired to the bosom of her family on Sunday afternoons - washed up

the tea-things, in a trifling lady-like amateur manner that

compromised none of us. Then, she put on her gloves again, and we

drew round the fire, and Wemmick said, "Now Aged Parent, tip us the


Wemmick explained to me while the Aged got his spectacles out, that

this was according to custom, and that it gave the old gentleman

infinite satisfaction to read the news aloud. "I won't offer an

apology," said Wemmick, "for he isn't capable of many pleasures -

are you, Aged P.?"

"All right, John, all right," returned the old man, seeing himself

spoken to.

"Only tip him a nod every now and then when he looks off his

paper," said Wemmick, "and he'll be as happy as a king. We are all

attention, Aged One."

"All right, John, all right!" returned the cheerful old man: so

busy and so pleased, that it really was quite charming.

The Aged's reading reminded me of the classes at Mr. Wopsle's

great-aunt's, with the pleasanter peculiarity that it seemed to

come through a keyhole. As he wanted the candles close to him, and

as he was always on the verge of putting either his head or the

newspaper into them, he required as much watching as a powder-mill.

But Wemmick was equally untiring and gentle in his vigilance, and

the Aged read on, quite unconscious of his many rescues. Whenever

he looked at us, we all expressed the greatest interest and

amazement, and nodded until he resumed again.

As Wemmick and Miss Skiffins sat side by side, and as I sat in a

shadowy corner, I observed a slow and gradual elongation of Mr.

Wemmick's mouth, powerfully suggestive of his slowly and gradually

stealing his arm round Miss Skiffins's waist. In course of time I

saw his hand appear on the other side of Miss Skiffins; but at that

moment Miss Skiffins neatly stopped him with the green glove,

unwound his arm again as if it were an article of dress, and with

the greatest deliberation laid it on the table before her. Miss

Skiffins's composure while she did this was one of the most

remarkable sights I have ever seen, and if I could have thought the

act consistent with abstraction of mind, I should have deemed that

Miss Skiffins performed it mechanically.

By-and-by, I noticed Wemmick's arm beginning to disappear again,

and gradually fading out of view. Shortly afterwards, his mouth

began to widen again. After an interval of suspense on my part that

was quite enthralling and almost painful, I saw his hand appear on

the other side of Miss Skiffins. Instantly, Miss Skiffins stopped

it with the neatness of a placid boxer, took off that girdle or

cestus as before, and laid it on the table. Taking the table to

represent the path of virtue, I am justified in stating that during

the whole time of the Aged's reading, Wemmick's arm was straying

from the path of virtue and being recalled to it by Miss Skiffins.

At last, the Aged read himself into a light slumber. This was the

time for Wemmick to produce a little kettle, a tray of glasses, and

a black bottle with a porcelain-topped cork, representing some

clerical dignitary of a rubicund and social aspect. With the aid of

these appliances we all had something warm to drink: including the

Aged, who was soon awake again. Miss Skiffins mixed, and I observed

that she and Wemmick drank out of one glass. Of course I knew

better than to offer to see Miss Skiffins home, and under the

circumstances I thought I had best go first: which I did, taking a

cordial leave of the Aged, and having passed a pleasant evening.

Before a week was out, I received a note from Wemmick, dated

Walworth, stating that he hoped he had made some advance in that

matter appertaining to our private and personal capacities, and

that he would be glad if I could come and see him again upon it.

So, I went out to Walworth again, and yet again, and yet again, and

I saw him by appointment in the City several times, but never held

any communication with him on the subject in or near Little

Britain. The upshot was, that we found a worthy young merchant or

shipping-broker, not long established in business, who wanted

intelligent help, and who wanted capital, and who in due course of

time and receipt would want a partner. Between him and me, secret

articles were signed of which Herbert was the subject, and I paid

him half of my five hundred pounds down, and engaged for sundry

other payments: some, to fall due at certain dates out of my

income: some, contingent on my coming into my property. Miss

Skiffins's brother conducted the negotiation. Wemmick pervaded it

throughout, but never appeared in it.

The whole business was so cleverly managed, that Herbert had not

the least suspicion of my hand being in it. I never shall forget

the radiant face with which he came home one afternoon, and told

me, as a mighty piece of news, of his having fallen in with one

Clarriker (the young merchant's name), and of Clarriker's having

shown an extraordinary inclination towards him, and of his belief

that the opening had come at last. Day by day as his hopes grew

stronger and his face brighter, he must have thought me a more and

more affectionate friend, for I had the greatest difficulty in

restraining my tears of triumph when I saw him so happy. At length,

the thing being done, and he having that day entered Clarriker's

House, and he having talked to me for a whole evening in a flush of

pleasure and success, I did really cry in good earnest when I went

to bed, to think that my expectations had done some good to


A great event in my life, the turning point of my life, now opens

on my view. But, before I proceed to narrate it, and before I pass

on to all the changes it involved, I must give one chapter to

Estella. It is not much to give to the theme that so long filled

my heart.

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