Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 32

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Chapter XXXII

One day when I was busy with my books and Mr. Pocket, I received a note by the post, the mere outside of which threw me into a great flutter; for, though I had never seen the handwriting in which it was addressed, I divined whose hand it was. It had no set beginning, as Dear Mr. Pip, or Dear Pip, or Dear Sir, or Dear Anything, but ran thus:—

"I am to come to London the day after to-morrow by the midday coach. I believe it was settled you should meet me? At all events Miss Havisham has that impression, and I write in obedience to it. She sends you her regard.

"Yours, ESTELLA."

If there had been time, I should probably have ordered several suits of clothes for this occasion; but as there was not, I was fain to be content with those I had. My appetite vanished instantly, and I knew no peace or rest until the day arrived. Not that its arrival brought me either; for, then I was worse than ever, and began haunting the coach-office in Wood Street, Cheapside, before the coach had left the Blue Boar in our town. For all that I knew this perfectly well, I still felt as if it were not safe to let the coach-office be out of my sight longer than five minutes at a time; and in this condition of unreason I had performed the first half-hour of a watch of four or five hours, when Wemmick ran against me.

"Halloa, Mr. Pip," said he; "how do you do? I should hardly have thought this was your beat."

I explained that I was waiting to meet somebody who was coming up by coach, and I inquired after the Castle and the Aged.

"Both flourishing thankye," said Wemmick, "and particularly the Aged. He's in wonderful feather. He'll be eighty-two next birthday. I have a notion of firing eighty-two times, if the neighborhood shouldn't complain, and that cannon of mine should prove equal to the pressure. However, this is not London talk. Where do you think I am going to?"

"To the office?" said I, for he was tending in that direction.

"Next thing to it," returned Wemmick, "I am going to Newgate. We are in a banker's-parcelw case just at present, and I have been down the road taking a squint at the scene of action, and thereupon must have a word or two with our client."

"Did your client commit the robbery?" I asked.

"Bless your soul and body, no," answered Wemmick, very drily. "But he is accused of it. So might you or I be. Either of us might be accused of it, you know."

"Only neither of us is," I remarked.

"Yah!" said Wemmick, touching me on the breast with his forefinger; "you're a deep one, Mr. Pip! Would you like to have a look at Newgate? Have you time to spare?"

I had so much time to spare, that the proposal came as a relief, notwithstanding its irreconcilability with my latent desire to keep my eye on the coach-office. Muttering that I would make the inquiry whether I had time to walk with him, I went into the office, and ascertained from the clerk with the nicest precision and much to the trying of his temper, the earliest moment at which the coach could be expected,—which I knew beforehand, quite as well as he. I then rejoined Mr. Wemmick, and affecting to consult my watch, and to be surprised by the information I had received, accepted his offer.

We were at Newgate in a few minutes, and we passed through the lodge where some fettersw were hanging up on the bare walls among the prison rules, into the interior of the jail. At that time jails were much neglected, and the period of exaggerated reaction consequent on all public wrongdoing—and which is always its heaviest and longest punishment—was still far off. So felons were not lodged and fed better than soldiers, (to say nothing of paupers,) and seldom set fire to their prisons with the excusable object of improving the flavor of their soup.h It was visiting time when Wemmick took me in, and a potmanw was going his rounds with beer; and the prisoners, behind bars in yards, were buying beer, and talking to friends; and a frowzy,w ugly, disorderly, depressing scene it was.

X [w] banker's-parcel

Things

I cannot find in available sources a description of a banker's-parcel. The case involves either the bank's ownership of some fraction of land, joint stock, or other property. Or a banker's-parcel is a term to describe the box or other sort of container in which money and valuable documents are transported. One wonders if in this and other similar references to crime Dickens is alluding to actual events reported in the newspapers.

X [w] fetters

Things

Chains with leg irons. Fetters bind a person or animal by the leg.

X [h] improving the flavor of their soup.

Daily Life

Dickens is referring to the inmates of Chatham Convict Prison who in February, 1861, rioted, protesting the conditions of their imprisonment, especially the reduction in their food rations. His satire is at the expense of the convicts, which may surprise us, for his attitude toward prisons and convicts is generally sympathetic and more akin to Joe's compassion for the inmates of the Hulks.…

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X [w] potman

People

A barman in a pub or in this instance a barman combined with deliveryman who provides beer to the convicts. Having money, prisoners could order take-out delivery of food and drink.

X [w] frowzy,

Ill-smelling; filthy.