The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Great Expectations > Chapter 48

Great Expectations

Chapter 48

The second of the two meetings referred to in the last chapter,

occurred about a week after the first. I had again left my boat at

the wharf below Bridge; the time was an hour earlier in the

afternoon; and, undecided where to dine, I had strolled up into

Cheapside, and was strolling along it, surely the most unsettled

person in all the busy concourse, when a large hand was laid upon

my shoulder, by some one overtaking me. It was Mr. Jaggers's hand,

and he passed it through my arm.

"As we are going in the same direction, Pip, we may walk together.

Where are you bound for?"

"For the Temple, I think," said I.

"Don't you know?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Well," I returned, glad for once to get the better of him in

cross-examination, "I do not know, for I have not made up my mind."

"You are going to dine?" said Mr. Jaggers. "You don't mind admitting

that, I suppose?"

"No," I returned, "I don't mind admitting that."

"And are not engaged?"

"I don't mind admitting also, that I am not engaged."

"Then," said Mr. Jaggers, "come and dine with me."

I was going to excuse myself, when he added, "Wemmick's coming."

So, I changed my excuse into an acceptance - the few words I had

uttered, serving for the beginning of either - and we went along

Cheapside and slanted off to Little Britain, while the lights were

springing up brilliantly in the shop windows, and the street

lamp-lighters, scarcely finding ground enough to plant their

ladders on in the midst of the afternoon's bustle, were skipping up

and down and running in and out, opening more red eyes in the

gathering fog than my rushlight tower at the Hummums had opened

white eyes in the ghostly wall.

At the office in Little Britain there was the usual letter-writing,

hand-washing, candle-snuffing, and safe-locking, that closed the

business of the day. As I stood idle by Mr. Jaggers's fire, its

rising and falling flame made the two casts on the shelf look as if

they were playing a diabolical game at bo-peep with me; while the

pair of coarse fat office candles that dimly lighted Mr. Jaggers as

he wrote in a corner, were decorated with dirty winding-sheets, as

if in remembrance of a host of hanged clients.

We went to Gerrard-street, all three together, in a hackney coach:

and as soon as we got there, dinner was served. Although I should

not have thought of making, in that place, the most distant

reference by so much as a look to Wemmick's Walworth sentiments,

yet I should have had no objection to catching his eye now and then

in a friendly way. But it was not to be done. He turned his eyes on

Mr. Jaggers whenever he raised them from the table, and was as dry

and distant to me as if there were twin Wemmicks and this was the

wrong one.

"Did you send that note of Miss Havisham's to Mr. Pip, Wemmick?" Mr.

Jaggers asked, soon after we began dinner.

"No, sir," returned Wemmick; "it was going by post, when you

brought Mr. Pip into the office. Here it is." He handed it to his

principal, instead of to me.

"It's a note of two lines, Pip," said Mr. Jaggers, handing it on,

"sent up to me by Miss Havisham, on account of her not being sure

of your address. She tells me that she wants to see you on a little

matter of business you mentioned to her. You'll go down?"

"Yes," said I, casting my eyes over the note, which was exactly in

those terms.

"When do you think of going down?"

"I have an impending engagement," said I, glancing at Wemmick, who

was putting fish into the post-office, "that renders me rather

uncertain of my time. At once, I think."

"If Mr. Pip has the intention of going at once," said Wemmick to Mr.

Jaggers, "he needn't write an answer, you know."

Receiving this as an intimation that it was best not to delay, I

settled that I would go to-morrow, and said so. Wemmick drank a

glass of wine and looked with a grimly satisfied air at Mr. Jaggers,

but not at me.

"So, Pip! Our friend the Spider," said Mr. Jaggers, "has played his

cards. He has won the pool."

It was as much as I could do to assent.

"Hah! He is a promising fellow - in his way - but he may not have

it all his own way. The stronger will win in the end, but the

stronger has to be found out first. If he should turn to, and beat


"Surely," I interrupted, with a burning face and heart, "you do not

seriously think that he is scoundrel enough for that, Mr. Jaggers?"

"I didn't say so, Pip. I am putting a case. If he should turn to

and beat her, he may possibly get the strength on his side; if it

should be a question of intellect, he certainly will not. It would

be chance work to give an opinion how a fellow of that sort will

turn out in such circumstances, because it's a toss-up between two


"May I ask what they are?"

"A fellow like our friend the Spider," answered Mr. Jaggers, "either

beats, or cringes. He may cringe and growl, or cringe and not

growl; but he either beats or cringes. Ask Wemmick his opinion."

"Either beats or cringes," said Wemmick, not at all addressing

himself to me.

"So, here's to Mrs. Bentley Drummle," said Mr. Jaggers, taking a

decanter of choicer wine from his dumb-waiter, and filling for each

of us and for himself, "and may the question of supremacy be

settled to the lady's satisfaction! To the satisfaction of the lady

and the gentleman, it never will be. Now, Molly, Molly, Molly,

Molly, how slow you are to-day!"

She was at his elbow when he addressed her, putting a dish upon the

table. As she withdrew her hands from it, she fell back a step or

two, nervously muttering some excuse. And a certain action of her

fingers as she spoke arrested my attention.

"What's the matter?" said Mr. Jaggers.

"Nothing. Only the subject we were speaking of," said I, "was

rather painful to me."

The action of her fingers was like the action of knitting. She

stood looking at her master, not understanding whether she was free

to go, or whether he had more to say to her and would call her back

if she did go. Her look was very intent. Surely, I had seen exactly

such eyes and such hands, on a memorable occasion very lately!

He dismissed her, and she glided out of the room. But she remained

before me, as plainly as if she were still there. I looked at those

hands, I looked at those eyes, I looked at that flowing hair; and I

compared them with other hands, other eyes, other hair, that I knew

of, and with what those might be after twenty years of a brutal

husband and a stormy life. I looked again at those hands and eyes

of the housekeeper, and thought of the inexplicable feeling that

had come over me when I last walked - not alone - in the ruined

garden, and through the deserted brewery. I thought how the same

feeling had come back when I saw a face looking at me, and a hand

waving to me, from a stage-coach window; and how it had come back

again and had flashed about me like Lightning, when I had passed in

a carriage - not alone - through a sudden glare of light in a dark

street. I thought how one link of association had helped that

identification in the theatre, and how such a link, wanting before,

had been riveted for me now, when I had passed by a chance swift

from Estella's name to the fingers with their knitting action, and

the attentive eyes. And I felt absolutely certain that this woman

was Estella's mother.

Mr. Jaggers had seen me with Estella, and was not likely to have

missed the sentiments I had been at no pains to conceal. He nodded

when I said the subject was painful to me, clapped me on the back,

put round the wine again, and went on with his dinner.

Only twice more, did the housekeeper reappear, and then her stay in

the room was very short, and Mr. Jaggers was sharp with her. But her

hands were Estella's hands, and her eyes were Estella's eyes, and

if she had reappeared a hundred times I could have been neither

more sure nor less sure that my conviction was the truth.

It was a dull evening, for Wemmick drew his wine when it came

round, quite as a matter of business - just as he might have drawn

his salary when that came round - and with his eyes on his chief,

sat in a state of perpetual readiness for cross-examination. As to

the quantity of wine, his post-office was as indifferent and ready

as any other post-office for its quantity of letters. From my point

of view, he was the wrong twin all the time, and only externally

like the Wemmick of Walworth.

We took our leave early, and left together. Even when we were

groping among Mr. Jaggers's stock of boots for our hats, I felt that

the right twin was on his way back; and we had not gone half a

dozen yards down Gerrard-street in the Walworth direction before I

found that I was walking arm-in-arm with the right twin, and that

the wrong twin had evaporated into the evening air.

"Well!" said Wemmick, "that's over! He's a wonderful man, without

his living likeness; but I feel that I have to screw myself up when

I dine with him - and I dine more comfortably unscrewed."

I felt that this was a good statement of the case, and told him so.

"Wouldn't say it to anybody but yourself," he answered. "I know

that what is said between you and me, goes no further."

I asked him if he had ever seen Miss Havisham's adopted daughter,

Mrs. Bentley Drummle? He said no. To avoid being too abrupt, I then

spoke of the Aged, and of Miss Skiffins. He looked rather sly when

I mentioned Miss Skiffins, and stopped in the street to blow his

nose, with a roll of the head and a flourish not quite free from

latent boastfulness.

"Wemmick," said I, "do you remember telling me before I first went

to Mr. Jaggers's private house, to notice that housekeeper?"

"Did I?" he replied. "Ah, I dare say I did. Deuce take me," he

added, suddenly, "I know I did. I find I am not quite unscrewed


"A wild beast tamed, you called her."

"And what do you call her?"

"The same. How did Mr. Jaggers tame her, Wemmick?"

"That's his secret. She has been with him many a long year."

"I wish you would tell me her story. I feel a particular interest

in being acquainted with it. You know that what is said between you

and me goes no further."

"Well!" Wemmick replied, "I don't know her story - that is, I don't

know all of it. But what I do know, I'll tell you. We are in our

private and personal capacities, of course."

"Of course."

"A score or so of years ago, that woman was tried at the Old Bailey

for murder, and was acquitted. She was a very handsome young woman,

and I believe had some gipsy blood in her. Anyhow, it was hot enough

when it was up, as you may suppose."

"But she was acquitted."

"Mr. Jaggers was for her," pursued Wemmick, with a look full of

meaning, "and worked the case in a way quite astonishing. It was a

desperate case, and it was comparatively early days with him then,

and he worked it to general admiration; in fact, it may almost be

said to have made him. He worked it himself at the police-office,

day after day for many days, contending against even a committal;

and at the trial where he couldn't work it himself, sat under

Counsel, and - every one knew - put in all the salt and pepper. The

murdered person was a woman; a woman, a good ten years older, very

much larger, and very much stronger. It was a case of jealousy.

They both led tramping lives, and this woman in Gerrard-street here

had been married very young, over the broomstick (as we say), to a

tramping man, and was a perfect fury in point of jealousy. The

murdered woman - more a match for the man, certainly, in point of

years - was found dead in a barn near Hounslow Heath. There had

been a violent struggle, perhaps a fight. She was bruised and

scratched and torn, and had been held by the throat at last and

choked. Now, there was no reasonable evidence to implicate any

person but this woman, and, on the improbabilities of her having

been able to do it, Mr. Jaggers principally rested his case. You may

be sure," said Wemmick, touching me on the sleeve, "that he never

dwelt upon the strength of her hands then, though he sometimes does


I had told Wemmick of his showing us her wrists, that day of the

dinner party.

"Well, sir!" Wemmick went on; "it happened - happened, don't you

see? - that this woman was so very artfully dressed from the time

of her apprehension, that she looked much slighter than she really

was; in particular, her sleeves are always remembered to have been

so skilfully contrived that her arms had quite a delicate look. She

had only a bruise or two about her - nothing for a tramp - but the

backs of her hands were lacerated, and the question was, was it

with finger-nails? Now, Mr. Jaggers showed that she had struggled

through a great lot of brambles which were not as high as her face;

but which she could not have got through and kept her hands out of;

and bits of those brambles were actually found in her skin and put

in evidence, as well as the fact that the brambles in question were

found on examination to have been broken through, and to have

little shreds of her dress and little spots of blood upon them here

and there. But the boldest point he made, was this. It was

attempted to be set up in proof of her jealousy, that she was under

strong suspicion of having, at about the time of the murder,

frantically destroyed her child by this man - some three years old

- to revenge herself upon him. Mr. Jaggers worked that, in this way.

"We say these are not marks of finger-nails, but marks of brambles,

and we show you the brambles. You say they are marks of

finger-nails, and you set up the hypothesis that she destroyed her

child. You must accept all consequences of that hypothesis. For

anything we know, she may have destroyed her child, and the child

in clinging to her may have scratched her hands. What then? You are

not trying her for the murder of her child; why don't you? As to

this case, if you will have scratches, we say that, for anything we

know, you may have accounted for them, assuming for the sake of

argument that you have not invented them!" To sum up, sir," said

Wemmick, "Mr. Jaggers was altogether too many for the Jury, and they

gave in."

"Has she been in his service ever since?"

"Yes; but not only that," said Wemmick. "She went into his service

immediately after her acquittal, tamed as she is now. She has since

been taught one thing and another in the way of her duties, but she

was tamed from the beginning."

"Do you remember the sex of the child?"

"Said to have been a girl."

"You have nothing more to say to me to-night?"

"Nothing. I got your letter and destroyed it. Nothing."

We exchanged a cordial Good Night, and I went home, with new matter

for my thoughts, though with no relief from the old.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.