Turning from the Temple gate as soon as I had read the warning, I made th_est of my way to Fleet Street, and there got a late hackney chariot and drov_o the Hummums in Covent Garden. In those times a bed was always to be go_here at any hour of the night, and the chamberlain, letting me in at hi_eady wicket, lighted the candle next in order on his shelf, and showed m_traight into the bedroom next in order on his list. It was a sort of vault o_he ground floor at the back, with a despotic monster of a four-post bedstea_n it, straddling over the whole place, putting one of his arbitrary legs int_he fireplace and another into the doorway, and squeezing the wretched littl_ashing-stand in quite a Divinely Righteous manner.
As I had asked for a night-light, the chamberlain had brought me in, before h_eft me, the good old constitutional rushlight of those virtuous days.—a_bject like the ghost of a walking-cane, which instantly broke its back if i_ere touched, which nothing could ever be lighted at, and which was placed i_olitary confinement at the bottom of a high tin tower, perforated with roun_oles that made a staringly wide-awake pattern on the walls. When I had go_nto bed, and lay there footsore, weary, and wretched, I found that I could n_ore close my own eyes than I could close the eyes of this foolish Argus. An_hus, 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 a_nhospitable smell in the room, of cold soot and hot dust; and, as I looked u_nto 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 fro_he country, must be holding on up there, lying by for next summer. This le_e to speculate whether any of them ever tumbled down, and then I fancied tha_ felt light falls on my face,—a disagreeable turn of thought, suggestin_ther and more objectionable approaches up my back. When I had lain awake _ittle while, those extraordinary voices with which silence teems began t_ake themselves audible. The closet whispered, the fireplace sighed, th_ittle washing-stand ticked, and one guitar-string played occasionally in th_hest of drawers. At about the same time, the eyes on the wall acquired a ne_xpression, and in every one of those staring rounds I saw written, DON’T G_OME.
Whatever night-fancies and night-noises crowded on me, they never warded of_his DON’T GO HOME. It plaited itself into whatever I thought of, as a bodil_ain would have done. Not long before, I had read in the newspapers, how _entleman 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 i_lood. It came into my head that he must have occupied this very vault o_ine, and I got out of bed to assure myself that there were no red mark_bout; then opened the door to look out into the passages, and cheer mysel_ith the companionship of a distant light, near which I knew the chamberlai_o be dozing. But all this time, why I was not to go home, and what ha_appened at home, and when I should go home, and whether Provis was safe a_ome, were questions occupying my mind so busily, that one might have suppose_here could be no more room in it for any other theme. Even when I thought o_stella, and how we had parted that day forever, and when I recalled all th_ircumstances of our parting, and all her looks and tones, and the action o_er fingers while she knitted,— even then I was pursuing, here and there an_verywhere, the caution, Don’t go home. When at last I dozed, in shee_xhaustion of mind and body, it became a vast shadowy verb which I had t_onjugate. Imperative mood, present tense: Do not thou go home, let him not g_ome, let us not go home, do not ye or you go home, let not them go home. The_otentially: I may not and I cannot go home; and I might not, could not, woul_ot, and should not go home; until I felt that I was going distracted, an_olled over on the pillow, and looked at the staring rounds upon the wal_gain.
I had left directions that I was to be called at seven; for it was plain tha_ must see Wemmick before seeing any one else, and equally plain that this wa_ case in which his Walworth sentiments only could be taken. It was a relie_o get out of the room where the night had been so miserable, and I needed n_econd knocking at the door to startle me from my uneasy bed.
The Castle battlements arose upon my view at eight o’clock. The little servan_appening to be entering the fortress with two hot rolls, I passed through th_ostern and crossed the drawbridge in her company, and so came withou_nnouncement into the presence of Wemmick as he was making tea for himself an_he 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 eac_f 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 ca_elp it, because you don’t know when it may be put in. I’m going to take _iberty 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 littl_ervant; “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 _ow tone, while I toasted the Aged’s sausage and he buttered the crumb of th_ged’s roll.
“Now, Mr. Pip, you know,” said Wemmick, “you and I understand one another. W_re in our private and personal capacities, and we have been engaged in _onfidential transaction before to-day. Official sentiments are one thing. W_re extra official.”
I cordially assented. I was so very nervous, that I had already lighted th_ged’s sausage like a torch, and been obliged to blow it out.
“I accidentally heard, yesterday morning,” said Wemmick, “being in a certai_lace where I once took you,—even between you and me, it’s as well not t_ention names when avoidable—”
“Much better not,” said I. “I understand you.”
“I heard there by chance, yesterday morning,” said Wemmick, “that a certai_erson not altogether of uncolonial pursuits, and not unpossessed of portabl_roperty,—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 man_eople go, not always in gratification of their own inclinations, and no_uite irrespective of the government expense—”
In watching his face, I made quite a firework of the Aged’s sausage, an_reatly discomposed both my own attention and Wemmick’s; for which _pologized.
“—By disappearing from such place, and being no more heard of thereabouts.
From which,” said Wemmick, “conjectures had been raised and theories formed. _lso heard that you at your chambers in Garden Court, Temple, had bee_atched, and might be watched again.”
“By whom?” said I.
“I wouldn’t go into that,” said Wemmick, evasively, “it might clash wit_fficial responsibilities. I heard it, as I have in my time heard othe_urious 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 th_ged’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 unde_he old gentleman’s chin, and propped him up, and put his nightcap on on_ide, and gave him quite a rakish air. Then he placed his breakfast before hi_ith great care, and said, “All right, ain’t you, Aged P.?” To which th_heerful Aged replied, “All right, John, my boy, all right!” As there seeme_o be a tacit understanding that the Aged was not in a presentable state, an_as therefore to be considered invisible, I made a pretence of being i_omplete ignorance of these proceedings.
“This watching of me at my chambers (which I have once had reason t_uspect),” I said to Wemmick when he came back, “is inseparable from th_erson to whom you have adverted; is it?”
Wemmick looked very serious. “I couldn’t undertake to say that, of my ow_nowledge. I mean, I couldn’t undertake to say it was at first. But it eithe_s, 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 a_uch as he could, and as I knew with thankfulness to him how far out of hi_ay he went to say what he did, I could not press him. But I told him, after _ittle 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 tha_is 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 si_ithout 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 on_ast nod, and went on with his breakfast.
“Now,” said Wemmick, “questioning being over,” which he emphasized an_epeated for my guidance, “I come to what I did, after hearing what I heard. _ent to Garden Court to find you; not finding you, I went to Clarriker’s t_ind Mr. Herbert.”
“And him you found?” said I, with great anxiety.
“And him I found. Without mentioning any names or going into any details, _ave him to understand that if he was aware of anybody— Tom, Jack, o_ichard—being about the chambers, or about the immediate neighborhood, he ha_etter get Tom, Jack, or Richard out of the way while you were out of th_ay.”
“He would be greatly puzzled what to do?”
“He was puzzled what to do; not the less, because I gave him my opinion tha_t was not safe to try to get Tom, Jack, or Richard too far out of the way a_resent. Mr. Pip, I’ll tell you something. Under existing circumstances, ther_s no place like a great city when you are once in it. Don’t break cover to_oon. Lie close. Wait till things slacken, before you try the open, even fo_oreign 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 youn_ady who has, as no doubt you are aware, a bedridden Pa. Which Pa, having bee_n the Purser line of life, lies a-bed in a bow-window where he can see th_hips sail up and down the river. You are acquainted with the young lady, mos_robably?”
“Not personally,” said I.
The truth was, that she had objected to me as an expensive companion who di_erbert no good, and that, when Herbert had first proposed to present me t_er, she had received the proposal with such very moderate warmth, tha_erbert had felt himself obliged to confide the state of the case to me, wit_ view to the lapse of a little time before I made her acquaintance. When _ad begun to advance Herbert’s prospects by stealth, I had been able to bea_his with cheerful philosophy: he and his affianced, for their part, ha_aturally not been very anxious to introduce a third person into thei_nterviews; and thus, although I was assured that I had risen in Clara’_steem, and although the young lady and I had long regularly interchange_essages and remembrances by Herbert, I had never seen her. However, I did no_rouble Wemmick with these particulars.
“The house with the bow-window,” said Wemmick, “being by the river-side, dow_he Pool there between Limehouse and Greenwich, and being kept, it seems, by _ery respectable widow who has a furnished upper floor to let, Mr. Herbert pu_t to me, what did I think of that as a temporary tenement for Tom, Jack, o_ichard? Now, I thought very well of it, for three reasons I’ll give you. Tha_s to say: Firstly. It’s altogether out of all your beats, and is well awa_rom the usual heap of streets great and small. Secondly. Without going nea_t 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, i_ou 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, an_egged him to proceed.
“Well, sir! Mr. Herbert threw himself into the business with a will, and b_ine o’clock last night he housed Tom, Jack, or Richard,— whichever it ma_e,—you and I don’t want to know,—quite successfully. At the old lodgings i_as understood that he was summoned to Dover, and, in fact, he was taken dow_he Dover road and cornered out of it. Now, another great advantage of al_his is, that it was done without you, and when, if any one was concernin_imself about your movements, you must be known to be ever so many miles of_nd quite otherwise engaged. This diverts suspicion and confuses it; and fo_he same reason I recommended that, even if you came back last night, yo_hould not go home. It brings in more confusion, and you want confusion.”
Wemmick, having finished his breakfast, here looked at his watch, and began t_et his coat on.
“And now, Mr. Pip,” said he, with his hands still in the sleeves, “I hav_robably done the most I can do; but if I can ever do more,— from a Walwort_oint of view, and in a strictly private and personal capacity,—I shall b_lad 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 las_ight. But, after you have gone home, don’t go back here. You are ver_elcome, I am sure, Mr. Pip”; his hands were now out of his sleeves, and I wa_haking them; “and let me finally impress one important point upon you.” H_aid his hands upon my shoulders, and added in a solemn whisper: “Avai_ourself of this evening to lay hold of his portable property. You don’t kno_hat 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 forbor_o try.
“Time’s up,” said Wemmick, “and I must be off. If you had nothing mor_ressing to do than to keep here till dark, that’s what I should advise. Yo_ook very much worried, and it would do you good to have a perfectly quiet da_ith the Aged,—he’ll be up presently, —and a little bit of—you remember th_ig?”
“Of course,” said I.
“Well; and a little bit of him. That sausage you toasted was his, and he wa_n all respects a first-rater. Do try him, if it is only for old acquaintanc_ake. 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 on_nother’s society by falling asleep before it more or less all day. We ha_oin of pork for dinner, and greens grown on the estate; and I nodded at th_ged with a good intention whenever I failed to do it drowsily. When it wa_uite dark, I left the Aged preparing the fire for toast; and I inferred fro_he number of teacups, as well as from his glances at the two little doors i_he wall, that Miss Skiffins was expected.