Great Expectations Chapter XXI
by Charles Dickens

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Chapter XXI

CASTING MY EYES on Mr. Wemmick as we went along, to see what he was like in the light of day, I found him to be a dry man, rather short in stature, with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to have been imperfectly chipped out with a dull-edged chisel. There were some marks in it that might have been dimples, if the material had been softer and the instrument finer, but which, as it was, were only dints. The chisel had made three or four of these attempts at embellishment over his nose, but had given them up without an effort to smooth them off. I judged him to be a bachelor from the frayed condition of his linen, and he appeared to have sustained a good many bereavements; for he wore at least four mourning rings, besides a brooch representing a lady and a weeping willow at a tomb with an urn on it. I noticed, too, that several rings and seals hung at his watch chain, as if he were quite laden with remembrances of departed friends. He had glittering eyes—small, keen, and black—and thin wide mottled lips. He had had them, to the best of my belief, from forty to fifty years.

“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.”

He wore his hat on the back of his head, and looked straight before him: walking in a self-contained way as if there were nothing in the streets to claim his attention. His mouth was such a post-office of a mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling. We had got to the top of Holborn Hill before I knew that it was merely a mechanical appearance, and that he was not smiling at all.

“Do you know where Mr. Matthew Pocket lives?” I asked Mr. Wemmick.

“Yes,” said he, nodding in the direction. “At Hammersmith, west of London.”

“Is that far?”

“Well! Say five miles.”

“Do you know him?”

“Why, you are a regular cross-examiner!” said Mr. Wemmick, looking at me with an approving air. “Yes, I know him. I know him!”

There was an air of toleration or depreciation about his utterance of these words, that rather depressed me; and I was still looking sideways at his block of a face in search of any encouraging note to the text, when he said here we were at Barnard's Inn. My depression was not alleviated by the announcement, for, I had supposed that establishment to be an hotel kept by Mr. Barnard, to which the Blue Boar in our town was a mere public-house. Whereas I now found Barnard to be a disembodied spirit, or a fiction, and his inn the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for Tom-cats.

We entered this haven through a wicket-gate, and were disgorged by an introductory passage into a melancholy little square that looked to me like a flat burying-ground. I thought it had the most dismal trees in it, and the most dismal sparrows, and the most dismal cats, and the most dismal houses (in number half a dozen or so), that I had ever seen. I thought the windows of the sets of chambers into which those houses were divided, were in every stage of dilapidated blind and curtain, crippled flower-pot, cracked glass, dusty decay, and miserable makeshift; while To Let To Let To Let, glared at me from empty rooms, as if no new wretches ever came there, and the vengeance of the soul of...

(The entire section is 1,765 words.)