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 fireplace 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 rushlight 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 forever, 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 to-day. 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 expense—”
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 again.”
“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 proceedings.
“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 being.”
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 in-door 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 Compeyson?”
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 air.”
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 probably?”
“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 by, Aged Parent!” in a cheery shout.
“All right, John; all right, my boy!” piped the old man from within.
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.