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Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 45

Great Expectations

Chapter 45

Turning from the Temple gate as soon as I had read the warning, I

made the best of my way to Fleet-street, and there got a late

hackney chariot and drove to the Hummums in Covent Garden. In those

times a bed was always to be got there at any hour of the night,

and the chamberlain, letting me in at his ready wicket, lighted the

candle next in order on his shelf, and showed me straight into the

bedroom next in order on his list. It was a sort of vault on the

ground floor at the back, with a despotic monster of a four-post

bedstead in it, straddling over the whole place, putting one of his

arbitrary legs into the fire-place and another into the doorway,

and squeezing the wretched little washing-stand in quite a Divinely

Righteous manner.

As I had asked for a night-light, the chamberlain had brought me

in, before he left me, the good old constitutional rush-light of

those virtuous days - an object like the ghost of a walking-cane,

which instantly broke its back if it were touched, which nothing

could ever be lighted at, and which was placed in solitary

confinement at the bottom of a high tin tower, perforated with

round holes that made a staringly wide-awake pattern on the walls.

When I had got into bed, and lay there footsore, weary, and

wretched, I found that I could no more close my own eyes than I

could close the eyes of this foolish Argus. And thus, in the gloom

and death of the night, we stared at one another.

What a doleful night! How anxious, how dismal, how long! There was

an inhospitable smell in the room, of cold soot and hot dust; and,

as I looked up into the corners of the tester over my head, I

thought what a number of blue-bottle flies from the butchers', and

earwigs from the market, and grubs from the country, must be

holding on up there, lying by for next summer. This led me to

speculate whether any of them ever tumbled down, and then I fancied

that I felt light falls on my face - a disagreeable turn of thought,

suggesting other and more objectionable approaches up my back. When

I had lain awake a little while, those extraordinary voices with

which silence teems, began to make themselves audible. The closet

whispered, the fireplace sighed, the little washing-stand ticked,

and one guitar-string played occasionally in the chest of drawers.

At about the same time, the eyes on the wall acquired a new

expression, and in every one of those staring rounds I saw

written, DON'T GO HOME.

Whatever night-fancies and night-noises crowded on me, they never

warded off this DON'T GO HOME. It plaited itself into whatever I

thought of, as a bodily pain would have done. Not long before, I

had read in the newspapers, how a gentleman unknown had come to the

Hummums in the night, and had gone to bed, and had destroyed

himself, and had been found in the morning weltering in blood. It

came into my head that he must have occupied this very vault of

mine, and I got out of bed to assure myself that there were no red

marks about; then opened the door to look out into the passages,

and cheer myself with the companionship of a distant light, near

which I knew the chamberlain to be dozing. But all this time, why I

was not to go home, and what had happened at home, and when I

should go home, and whether Provis was safe at home, were questions

occupying my mind so busily, that one might have supposed there

could be no more room in it for any other theme. Even when I

thought of Estella, and how we had parted that day for ever, and

when I recalled all the circumstances of our parting, and all her

looks and tones, and the action of her fingers while she knitted -

even then I was pursuing, here and there and everywhere, the

caution Don't go home. When at last I dozed, in sheer exhaustion of

mind and body, it became a vast shadowy verb which I had to

conjugate. Imperative mood, present tense: Do not thou go home, let

him not go home, let us not go home, do not ye or you go home, let

not them go home. Then, potentially: I may not and I cannot go

home; and I might not, could not, would not, and should not go

home; until I felt that I was going distracted, and rolled over on

the pillow, and looked at the staring rounds upon the wall again.

I had left directions that I was to be called at seven; for it was

plain that I must see Wemmick before seeing any one else, and

equally plain that this was a case in which his Walworth

sentiments, only, could be taken. It was a relief to get out of the

room where the night had been so miserable, and I needed no second

knocking at the door to startle me from my uneasy bed.

The Castle battlements arose upon my view at eight o'clock. The

little servant happening to be entering the fortress with two hot

rolls, I passed through the postern and crossed the drawbridge, in

her company, and so came without announcement into the presence of

Wemmick as he was making tea for himself and the Aged. An open door

afforded a perspective view of the Aged in bed.

"Halloa, Mr. Pip!" said Wemmick. "You did come home, then?"

"Yes," I returned; "but I didn't go home."

"That's all right," said he, rubbing his hands. "I left a note for

you at each of the Temple gates, on the chance. Which gate did you

come to?"

I told him.

"I'll go round to the others in the course of the day and destroy

the notes," said Wemmick; "it's a good rule never to leave

documentary evidence if you can help it, because you don't know

when it may be put in. I'm going to take a liberty with you. -

Would you mind toasting this sausage for the Aged P.?"

I said I should be delighted to do it.

"Then you can go about your work, Mary Anne," said Wemmick to the

little servant; "which leaves us to ourselves, don't you see, Mr.

Pip?" he added, winking, as she disappeared.

I thanked him for his friendship and caution, and our discourse

proceeded in a low tone, while I toasted the Aged's sausage and he

buttered the crumb of the Aged's roll.

"Now, Mr. Pip, you know," said Wemmick, "you and I understand one

another. We are in our private and personal capacities, and we have

been engaged in a confidential transaction before today. Official

sentiments are one thing. We are extra official."

I cordially assented. I was so very nervous, that I had already

lighted the Aged's sausage like a torch, and been obliged to blow

it out.

"I accidentally heard, yesterday morning," said Wemmick, "being in

a certain place where I once took you - even between you and me,

it's as well not to mention names when avoidable--"

"Much better not," said I. "I understand you."

"I heard there by chance, yesterday morning," said Wemmick, "that a

certain person not altogether of uncolonial pursuits, and not

unpossessed of portable property - I don't know who it may really

be - we won't name this person--"

"Not necessary," said I.

" - had made some little stir in a certain part of the world where

a good many people go, not always in gratification of their own

inclinations, and not quite irrespective of the government


In watching his face, I made quite a firework of the Aged's

sausage, and greatly discomposed both my own attention and

Wemmick's; for which I apologized.

" - by disappearing from such place, and being no more heard of

thereabouts. From which," said Wemmick, "conjectures had been

raised and theories formed. I also heard that you at your chambers

in Garden Court, Temple, had been watched, and might be watched


"By whom?" said I.

"I wouldn't go into that," said Wemmick, evasively, "it might clash

with official responsibilities. I heard it, as I have in my time

heard other curious things in the same place. I don't tell it you

on information received. I heard it."

He took the toasting-fork and sausage from me as he spoke, and set

forth the Aged's breakfast neatly on a little tray. Previous to

placing it before him, he went into the Aged's room with a clean

white cloth, and tied the same under the old gentleman's chin, and

propped him up, and put his nightcap on one side, and gave him

quite a rakish air. Then, he placed his breakfast before him with

great care, and said, "All right, ain't you, Aged P.?" To which the

cheerful Aged replied, "All right, John, my boy, all right!" As

there seemed to be a tacit understanding that the Aged was not in a

presentable state, and was therefore to be considered invisible, I

made a pretence of being in complete ignorance of these


"This watching of me at my chambers (which I have once had reason

to suspect)," I said to Wemmick when he came back, "is inseparable

from the person to whom you have adverted; is it?"

Wemmick looked very serious. "I couldn't undertake to say that, of

my own knowledge. I mean, I couldn't undertake to say it was at

first. But it either is, or it will be, or it's in great danger of


As I saw that he was restrained by fealty to Little Britain from

saying as much as he could, and as I knew with thankfulness to him

how far out of his way he went to say what he did, I could not

press him. But I told him, after a little meditation over the fire,

that I would like to ask him a question, subject to his answering

or not answering, as he deemed right, and sure that his course

would be right. He paused in his breakfast, and crossing his arms,

and pinching his shirt-sleeves (his notion of indoor comfort was to

sit without any coat), he nodded to me once, to put my question.

"You have heard of a man of bad character, whose true name is


He answered with one other nod.

"Is he living?"

One other nod.

"Is he in London?"

He gave me one other nod, compressed the post-office exceedingly,

gave me one last nod, and went on with his breakfast.

"Now," said Wemmick, "questioning being over;" which he emphasized

and repeated for my guidance; "I come to what I did, after hearing

what I heard. I went to Garden Court to find you; not finding you,

I went to Clarriker's to find Mr. Herbert."

"And him you found?" said I, with great anxiety.

"And him I found. Without mentioning any names or going into any

details, I gave him to understand that if he was aware of anybody -

Tom, Jack, or Richard - being about the chambers, or about the

immediate neighbourhood, he had better get Tom, Jack, or Richard,

out of the way while you were out of the way."

"He would be greatly puzzled what to do?"

"He was puzzled what to do; not the less, because I gave him my

opinion that it was not safe to try to get Tom, Jack, or Richard,

too far out of the way at present. Mr. Pip, I'll tell you something.

Under existing circumstances there is no place like a great city

when you are once in it. Don't break cover too soon. Lie close.

Wait till things slacken, before you try the open, even for foreign


I thanked him for his valuable advice, and asked him what Herbert

had done?

"Mr. Herbert," said Wemmick, "after being all of a heap for half an

hour, struck out a plan. He mentioned to me as a secret, that he is

courting a young lady who has, as no doubt you are aware, a

bedridden Pa. Which Pa, having been in the Purser line of life,

lies a-bed in a bow-window where he can see the ships sail up and

down the river. You are acquainted with the young lady, most


"Not personally," said I.

The truth was, that she had objected to me as an expensive

companion who did Herbert no good, and that, when Herbert had first

proposed to present me to her, she had received the proposal with

such very moderate warmth, that Herbert had felt himself obliged to

confide the state of the case to me, with a view to the lapse of a

little time before I made her acquaintance. When I had begun to

advance Herbert's prospects by Stealth, I had been able to bear

this with cheerful philosophy; he and his affianced, for their

part, had naturally not been very anxious to introduce a third

person into their interviews; and thus, although I was assured that

I had risen in Clara's esteem, and although the young lady and I

had long regularly interchanged messages and remembrances by

Herbert, I had never seen her. However, I did not trouble Wemmick

with these particulars.

"The house with the bow-window," said Wemmick, "being by the

river-side, down the Pool there between Limehouse and Greenwich,

and being kept, it seems, by a very respectable widow who has a

furnished upper floor to let, Mr. Herbert put it to me, what did I

think of that as a temporary tenement for Tom, Jack, or Richard?

Now, I thought very well of it, for three reasons I'll give you.

That is to say. Firstly. It's altogether out of all your beats, and

is well away from the usual heap of streets great and small.

Secondly. Without going near it yourself, you could always hear of

the safety of Tom, Jack, or Richard, through Mr. Herbert. Thirdly.

After a while and when it might be prudent, if you should want to

slip Tom, Jack, or Richard, on board a foreign packet-boat, there

he is - ready."

Much comforted by these considerations, I thanked Wemmick again and

again, and begged him to proceed.

"Well, sir! Mr. Herbert threw himself into the business with a will,

and by nine o'clock last night he housed Tom, Jack, or Richard -

whichever it may be - you and I don't want to know - quite

successfully. At the old lodgings it was understood that he was

summoned to Dover, and in fact he was taken down the Dover road and

cornered out of it. Now, another great advantage of all this, is,

that it was done without you, and when, if any one was concerning

himself about your movements, you must be known to be ever so many

miles off and quite otherwise engaged. This diverts suspicion and

confuses it; and for the same reason I recommended that even if you

came back last night, you should not go home. It brings in more

confusion, and you want confusion."

Wemmick, having finished his breakfast, here looked at his watch,

and began to get his coat on.

"And now, Mr. Pip," said he, with his hands still in the sleeves, "I

have probably done the most I can do; but if I can ever do more -

from a Walworth point of view, and in a strictly private and

personal capacity - I shall be glad to do it. Here's the address.

There can be no harm in your going here to-night and seeing for

yourself that all is well with Tom, Jack, or Richard, before you go

home - which is another reason for your not going home last night.

But after you have gone home, don't go back here. You are very

welcome, I am sure, Mr. Pip;" his hands were now out of his sleeves,

and I was shaking them; "and let me finally impress one important

point upon you." He laid his hands upon my shoulders, and added in

a solemn whisper: "Avail yourself of this evening to lay hold of

his portable property. You don't know what may happen to him. Don't

let anything happen to the portable property."

Quite despairing of making my mind clear to Wemmick on this point,

I forbore to try.

"Time's up," said Wemmick, "and I must be off. If you had nothing

more pressing to do than to keep here till dark, that's what I

should advise. You look very much worried, and it would do you good

to have a perfectly quiet day with the Aged - he'll be up presently

- and a little bit of - you remember the pig?"

"Of course," said I.

"Well; and a little bit of him. That sausage you toasted was his,

and he was in all respects a first-rater. Do try him, if it is only

for old acquaintance sake. Good-bye, Aged Parent!" in a cheery


"All right, John; all right, my boy!" piped the old man from


I soon fell asleep before Wemmick's fire, and the Aged and I

enjoyed one another's society by falling asleep before it more or

less all day. We had loin of pork for dinner, and greens grown on

the estate, and I nodded at the Aged with a good intention whenever

I failed to do it drowsily. When it was quite dark, I left the Aged

preparing the fire for toast; and I inferred from the number of

teacups, as well as from his glances at the two little doors in the

wall, that Miss Skiffins was expected.

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