Extract from Great Expectations (1860–61). Chs. XX–XXI


[…] Of course I had no experience of a London summer day, and my spirits may have been oppressed by the hot, exhausted air, and by the dust and grit that lay thick on everything. But I sat wondering and waiting in Mr. Jaggers’s close room until I really could not bear the two casts on the shelf above Mr. Jaggers’s chair, and got up and went out.

When I told the clerk that I would take a turn in the air while I waited, he advised me to go round the corner and I should come into Smithfield. So I came into Smithfield, and the shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam, seemed to stick to me. So I rubbed it off with all possible speed by turning into a street where I saw the great black dome of St. Paul’s bulging at me from behind a grim stone building which a bystander said was Newgate Prison. Following the wall of the jail, I found the roadway covered with straw to deaden the noise of passing vehicles, and from this, and from the quantity of people standing about smelling strongly of spirits and beer, I inferred that the trials were on.

While I looked about me here, an exceedingly dirty and partially drunk minister of justice asked me if I would like to step in and hear a trial or so, informing me that he could give me a front place for half a crown, whence I should command a full view of the Lord Chief justice in his wig and robes—mentioning that awful personage like a waxwork, and presently offering him at the reduced price of eighteenpence. As I declined the proposal on the plea of an appointment, he was so good as to take me into a yard and show me where the gallows was kept, and also where people were publicly whipped. And then he showed me the Debtors’ Door, out of which culprits came to be hanged, heightening the interest of that dreadful portal by giving me to understand that ‘four on ’em’ would come out at that door the day after tomorrow at eight in the morning, to be killed in a row. This was horrible, and gave me a sickening idea of London, the more so as the Lord Chief Justice’s proprietor wore (from his hat down to his boots and up again to his pocket handkerchief inclusive) mildewed clothes which had evidently not belonged to him originally, and which I took it into my head he had bought cheap of the executioner. Under these circumstances I thought myself well rid of him for a shilling.

I dropped into the office to ask if Mr. Jaggers had come in yet, and I found he had not, and I strolled out again. This time I made the tour of Little Britain, and turned into Bartholomew Close, and now I became aware that other people were waiting about for Mr. Jaggers as well as I. There were two men of secret appearance lounging in Bartholomew Close, and thoughtfully fitting their feet into the cracks of the pavement as they talked together, one of whom said to the other when they first passed me, that ‘Jaggers would do it if it was to be done.’ There was knot of three men and two women standing at a corner, and one of the women was crying on her dirty shawl, and the other comforted her by saying as she pulled her own shawl over her shoulders, ‘Jaggers is for him, ’Melia, and what more could you have?’ There was a red-eyed little Jew who came into the Close while I was loitering there, in company with a second little Jew whom he sent upon an errand; and while the messenger was gone, I remarked this Jew, who was of a highly excitable temperament, performing a jig of anxiety under a lamppost, and accompanying himself, in a kind of frenzy, with the words, ‘Oh Jaggerth, Jaggerth, Jaggerth! All otherth ith Cag-Maggerth, give me Jaggerth!’ These testimonies to the popularity of my guardian made a deep impression on me, and I admired and wondered more than ever.

At length, as I was looking out at the iron gate of Bartholomew Close into Little Britain, I saw Mr. Jaggers coming across the road toward me. All the others who were waiting saw him at the same time, and there was quite a rush at him. Mr. Jaggers, putting a hand on my shoulder and walking me on at his side without saying anything to me, addressed himself to his followers.

First, he took the two secret men.

‘Now I have nothing to say to you,’ said Mr. Jaggers, throwing his finger at them. ‘I want to know no more than I know. As to the result, it’s a toss-up. I told you from the first it was a toss-up. Have you paid Wemmick?’

‘We made the money up this morning, sir,’ said one of the men submissively while the other perused Mr. Jaggers’s face.

‘I don’t ask you when you made it up, or where, or whether you made it up at all. Has Wemmick got it?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said both the men together.

‘Very well, then you may go. Now I won’t have it!’ said Mr. Jaggers, waving his hand at them to put them behind him. ‘If you say a word to me, I’ll throw up the case.’

‘We thought, Mr. Jaggers—’ one of the men began, pulling off his hat.

‘That’s what I told you not to do,’ said Mr. Jaggers. ‘You thought! I think for you, that’s enough for you. If I want you, I know where to find you, I don’t want you to find me. Now I won’t have it. I won’t hear a word.’

The two men looked at one another as Mr. Jaggers waved them behind

again, and humbly fell back and were heard no more.

‘And now you!’ said Mr. Jaggers, suddenly stopping and turning on the two women with the shawls, from whom the three men had meekly separated—‘Oh! Amelia, is it?’

‘Yes, Mr. Jaggers.’

‘And do you remember,’ retorted Mr. Jaggers, ‘that but for me you wouldn’t be here and couldn’t be here?’

‘Oh yes, sir!’ exclaimed both women together. ‘Lord bless you, sir, well we knows that!’

‘Then why,’ said Mr. Jaggers, ‘do you come here?’

‘My Bill, sir!’ the crying woman pleaded.

‘Now I tell you what!’ said Mr. Jaggers, ‘Once for all. If you don’t know that your Bill’s in good hands, I know it. And if you come here bothering about your Bill, I’ll make an example of both your Bill and you, and let him slip through my fingers. Have you paid Wemmick?’

‘Oh yes, sir! Every farden.’

‘Very well. Then you have done all you have got to do. Say another word one single word—and Wemmick shall give you your money back.’

This terrible threat caused the two women to fall off immediately. No one remained now but the excitable Jew, who had already raised the skirts of Mr. Jaggers’s coat to his lips several times.

‘I don’t know this man!’ said Mr. Jaggers, in the same devastating strain. ‘What does this fellow want?’

‘Ma thear Mithter Jaggerth. Hown brother to Habraham Latharuth!’

‘Who’s he?’ said Mr. Jaggers. ‘Let go of my coat.’

The suitor, kissing the hem of the garment again before relinquishing it, replied, ‘Habraham Latharuth, on thuthpithion of plate.’

‘You’re too late,’ said Mr. Jaggers. ‘I am over the way.’

‘Holy father, Mithter Jaggerth,’ cried my excitable acquaintance, turning white, ‘don’t thay you’re again Habraham Latharuth!’

‘I am,’ said Mr. Jaggers, ‘and there’s an end of it. Get out of the way.’

‘Mithter Jaggerth! Half a moment! My hown cuthen’th gone to Mithter Wemmick at thith prethenth minute, to hoffer him hany termth. Mithter Jaggerth! Half a quarter of a moment! If you’d have thuperior prithe!—money no object!—Mithter Jaggereth—Mithter—!’

My guardian threw his supplicant off with supreme indifference, and left him dancing on the pavement as if it were red-hot. Without further interruption, we reached the front office, where we found the clerk and the man in velveteen with the fur cap.

‘Here’s Mike,’ said the clerk, getting down from his stool and approaching Mr. Jaggers confidentially.

‘Oh!’ said Mr. Jaggers, turning to the man, who was pulling a lock of hair in the middle of his forehead, like the Bull in Cock Robin pulling at the bell rope. ‘Your man comes on this afternoon. Well?’

‘Well, Mas’r Jaggers,’ returned Mike, in the voice of a sufferer from a constitutional cold, ‘arter a deal o’ trouble, I’ve found one, sir, as might do.’

‘What is he prepared to swear?’

‘Well, Mas’r Jaggers,’ said Mike, wiping his nose on his fur cap this time, ‘in a general way, anythink.’

Mr. Jaggers suddenly became most irate. ‘Now I warned you before,’ said he, throwing his forefinger at the terrified client, ‘that if ever you presumed to talk in that way here, I’d make an example of you. You infernal scoundrel, how dare you tell me that?’

The client looked scared, but bewildered too, as if he were unconscious what he had done. ‘Spoony!’ said the clerk, in a low voice, giving him a stir with his elbow. ‘Softhead! Need you say it face to face?’

‘Now I ask you, you blundering booby,’ said my guardian very sternly, ‘once more and for the last time, what the man you have brought here is prepared to swear.’

Mike looked hard at my guardian, as if he were trying to learn a lesson from his face, and slowly replied, ‘Ayther to character, or to having been in his company and never left him all the night in question.’

‘Now be careful. In what station of life is this man?’

Mike looked at his cap, and looked at the floor, and looked at the ceiling, and looked at the clerk, and even looked at me before beginning to reply in a nervous manner, ‘We’ve dressed him up like—’ when my guardian blustered out:

‘What? You will, will you?’

(‘Spoony!’ added the clerk again, with another stir.)

After some helpless casting about, Mike brightened and began again:

‘He is dressed like a ’spectable pieman. A sort of a pastry cook.’

‘Is he here?’ asked my guardian.

‘I left him,’ said Mike, ‘a-setting on some doorsteps round the corner.’

‘Take him past that window, and let me see him.’

The window indicated was the office window. We all three went to it, behind the wire blind, and presently saw the client go by in an accidental manner, with a murderous-looking tall individual in a short suit of white linen and a paper cap. This guileless confectioner was not by any means sober, and had a black eye in the green stage of recovery, which was painted over. ‘Tell him to take his witness away directly,’ said my guardian to the clerk, in extreme disgust, ‘and ask him what he means by bringing such a fellow as that.’


‘So you were never in London before?’ said Mr. Wemmick to me.

‘No,’ said I.

I was new here once,’ said Mr. Wemmick. ‘Rum to think of now!’

‘You are well acquainted with it now?’

‘Why, yes,’ said Mr. Wemmick. ‘I know the moves of it.’

‘Is it a very wicked place?’ I asked, more for the sake of saying something than for information.

‘You may get cheated, robbed, and murdered in London. But there are plenty of people anywhere who’ll do that for you.’

‘If there is bad blood between you and them,’ said I, to soften it off a little.

‘Oh, I don’t know about bad blood,’ returned Mr. Wemmick. ‘There’s not much bad blood about. They’ll do it if there’s anything to be got by it.’

‘That makes it worse.’

‘You think so?’ returned Mr. Wemmick. ‘Much about the same, I should say.’

Last modified, 16-Jan-2002 .
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