Beowulf is an epic poem detailing the heroic acts of the Anglo-Saxon warrior king, Beowulf. Originally, it was a legends told by the Geats in Scandinavia. Like most legends and myths, Beowulf’s stories were passed down orally. The poems were most likely memorized and performed by traveling storytellers who made a living by going to different cities and towns to entertain the Geatish citizens. The legend of Beowulf is compared by scholars to the Iliad and Odyssey, the epic poems which shaped Greek literature.
While the legends were passed down through the generations through oral storytelling, the poem we have today is one written long after the legend of Beowulf was originally told. Historians believe that the poem originated at around 500 A.D. and was penned some two or three hundred years later, around 700 or 800 A.D. This disparity of time is clearly marked by the migration of the Anglo-Saxons to England, where the culture began to change.
In old Scandinavia, the societal structure was based on the middle ages warrior culture in which a strong king protected his people. Like many people in the feudal ages, the Geats had a pagan religion whose roots show through very clearly in Beowulf. Many historical figures who lived around the sixth century are also present in the poem, making it easy to guess when the stories originated.
The only known manuscript of the epic, however, was penned after the migration of the Geats to England. The most obvious clue to this conclusion is the fact that the anonymous narrator of Beowulf is Christian. It was only after the migration to England that the culture began to shift away from paganism and many people converted to Christianity. The Christian influences in the copy of Beowulf we read today were most likely not in the original stories, but rather added in order to merge the old culture with the new religion. The poem itself is written in old English, a very ancient form of Germanic English brought over from Scandinavia. While it is called old English, it is virtually unrecognizable by modern day English speakers.
Beowulf was not always a famous poem – in fact, it remained in relative obscurity and was almost burned in a fire during the 18th century. It was not until the 19th century that the epic was rediscovered, and new interest was brought to it. In the early 1900’s, J.R.R. Tolkien, a British author and scholar, wrote a paper on Beowulf that caused the academic world to take the poem more seriously. Today, Beowulf is largely considered an original of English literature. It is taught in high schools and colleges all over the world, although in an easy to read translation of the original old English.
The warrior kings of Denmark began with Scyld, and after several generations his descendant, Hrothgar, came to rule. He was a just king and gathered builders from all over the world to build a great hall called Heorot. At Heorot, the people of Denmark came to drink and tell tales, and there was a time of peace. However, Grendel, a cursed descendant of Cain who lived in the swamp near Heorot became angry at their merrymaking. One night he entered the great hall and slaughtered thirty men. From then on, he terrorized Heorot and the surrounding countryside. He was so strong that no one could beat him, and tales began to spread of his strength and terror.
After over a decade, the tales spread to the land of Geat, where the great warrior hero Beowulf heard of them. Wanting to help Hrothgar and prove his worth, Beowulf set out with fourteen warriors to slay Grendel. Hrothgar is pleased but warns Beowulf that many men have tried to kill Grendel before and failed. Beowulf is so confident, however, that the Danes begin to believe in him.
That night Beowulf and his men camp in the great hall. Grendel approaches and is joyous to find warriors for him to kill. He eats one of Beowulf’s men before the warrior, who was pretending to be asleep, grabbed Grendel’s arm. A great fight ensues, and eventually Beowulf rips the shoulder and arm off. Realizing he is going to die, Grendel flees to the swamp, leaving his arm behind. Hrothgar is overjoyed at Beowulf’s victory, and rewards him with treasure. They celebrate late into the night and fall asleep in the hall, unaware that the danger is not over.
Grendel’s mother, also a strong and powerful demon, wants revenge. She enters the hall and kills one of Hrothgar’s close friends, carrying his body back to her lair. Hrothgar once again asks Beowulf for help, and he agrees to go after her. They travel to the swamp and Beowulf begins to swim down to the depths. It takes him all day, but eventually he finds Grendel’s mother and defeats her as well. He is given more treasure and sails back to Geatland victorious.
Eventually Beowulf becomes King when his kinsmen die, and reigns for fifty years. The time of peace ends when a thief accidentally steals a piece of treasure from a dragon underground. The dragon begins ravaging the countryside, and Beowulf realizes he must fight one more time. He chooses warriors to accompany him, and makes a great shield to defend against the dragon’s fire. The dragon is about to overpower him when a young warrior named Wiglaf steps in and helps defeat the beast. Before the dragon dies, however, it bites Beowulf in the neck.
Realizing that he is about to die, Beowulf asks Wiglaf to bring him proof of the dragon’s treasure. Wiglaf goes down and sees the immense pile of gold and jewels, bringing an armful back up to where Beowulf is resting. After seeing the treasure, Beowulf dies in peace. After Beowulf dies, Wiglaf is ashamed at the other warriors for being too cowardly to help during the battle.
At its root, Beowulf is a story about a hero. But not just that, Beowulf embodies many heroic ideals commonly found in the middle ages, centering on bravery, strength, and honor. Beowulf is inhuman in his strength, but he is wise and just as well. He does not get in unnecessary fights or purposefully pick on those less strong than he is; instead he uses his strength to defend those weaker than himself. Heroes such as Beowulf are very common in legends and myths, and they adhere to a strict code of honor. In this sense, Beowulf is a very typical hero of ancient culture.
In the feudal era, kings were of utmost importance to society. They won their positions by being the strongest warrior in the land. An ideal king was strong and would be able to protect their people from other violent influences and wars. In Beowulf, the first great warrior king of Denmark was Scyld, and from him many generations of kings were born. Lineage was very important to everybody, and many knew others not only by their name but by their father’s name as well. Beowulf’s father, for instance, although already deceased by the time the poem begins, is repeatedly brought up in conversation and his good reputation is added to Beowulf’s.
In Beowulf’s world, monsters threatening the peace of humanity abound. Monsters serve as a way for heroes to show their strength and gain a reputation by slaying as many strong monsters as possible. The poem is divided up into three major fights in which Beowulf faces Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and finally a terrifying dragon. According to the narrator, Grendel and his mother are both descendants of Cain along with all the monsters in the rest of the world. In this perspective, these fictional monsters represent the twisted and warped parts humanity that the heroes must fight against.
What would a hero be without a legendary weapon? In Beowulf, special attention is given to impressive weapons, especially swords. During his second fight with Grendel’s mother, another warrior named Unferth lends Beowulf his family sword, passed down through the generations. Later, Beowulf finds a legendary sword used by giants that was said never to have lost a battle. The weapons, it seems, have just as much to their reputation as the heroes who wield them. Although Beowulf proves that he is a hero without the use of a weapon when he faces Grendel completely unarmed in order to gain more glory.
One of the benefits of going around slaying monsters was acquiring rare and ancient treasures. Either taken from the monster’s lair or given as payment, treasure was a very important aspect of Beowulf’s story. Beowulf is rewarded with great treasures for defeating both Grendel and his mother. However, he does not keep the treasure for himself but gives it freely to his kinsman Hygelac. Valuable treasures were passed down in families and served as important heirlooms in society. After Beowulf slew the dragon, he was thankful that he would leave so much treasure for his people as his legacy. In many respects, the value of treasure was not in the gold and jewels but rather in reputation and history.
Although the narrator of Beowulf is Christian, there is still a definite influence of paganism throughout the stories in the poem. When Hrothgar and his people become terrorized by Grendel, the wise men convene and send offering to the gods in order to appease them. Even Grendel and the other monsters have roots in ancient pagan culture, although a Christian spin is put on them by explaining them as the descendants of Cain. The culture of heroes and slaying monsters is definitely from the old world of Scandinavia.
Although the original myths did not include Christian influences, the anonymous writer who penned the poem added Christianity throughout the legends. The characters themselves rarely mention The Lord or refer to the Christian religion; the narrator, however, frequently interjects with observations about the actions and motivations of the characters, painting them in a good or bad light based on how much they coincide with Christian morals and values. There are many points where the Christian narrator seems to struggle with equating the old stories with the new way of looking at the world.
The middle ages were a time of very strict gender roles. Men took the role of powerful protector, and women gentle housekeepers. The poem touches on the issue of gender briefly by comparing Hygelac’s queen, Hygd, with an ancient queen who was arrogant and violent. The narrator makes it clear that the ideal woman is gentle, beautiful and wise. The most interesting case in Beowulf is Grendel’s mother, a swamp demon who has lost all semblance of femininity and is considered a warped being. She takes on a very active, masculine role in avenging her son and is eventually punished for it by Beowulf.
In Beowulf, water is the symbol of ancient and unknown things. Both Grendel and his mother came from the swamp, which is reminiscent of the primordial waters in ancient creation myths. Hrothgar warns Beowulf that the bottom of the swamp waters has never been explored. Beowulf, being the hero, makes it down to the bottom while fighting off numerous sea monsters. Under water, he does not have his full strength and it is almost as if the water weakens him. Later, when the dragon dies, the warriors push its body off a cliff and into the water below.
Just as water signifies ancient places and darkness, light continually acts throughout the poem as a signifier of God and heroism. When Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother, a light shines out through the dark waters allowing Beowulf to find Grendel’s body. The narrator makes many references to God being associated with light, and monsters with darkness. Even the dragon dwells in a vast underground cave and only after it is defeated can the warriors explore the cavern using torches and golden banners to light their way.
The protagonist and namesake of the poem, Beowulf is a man of great power who seeks glory by slaying monsters and helping others. He is from Geatland, and comes from a noble family. He seeks honor and glory at the risk of his own life, as shown when he decided to face Grendel without weapons or armor so that it would be an even match. Eventually Beowulf became king of the Geats, and was loved by all. He gave his life slaying the dragon that was terrorizing his country and was revered after his death.
While the narrator of Beowulf is not named nor does he ever appear, his writing sets the stage for all the action to take place, and his comments frame how the reader is supposed to think about the events and the characters. Originally, the legends of Beowulf had no Christian influences, but since the narrator is writing the poem from a Christian standpoint he adds to the poem to create a bridge between the old and new cultures of the Anglo-Saxon people.
The elderly warrior king of Denmark, Hrothgar is descended from a long line of warrior kings. He built the great mead hall named Heorot as a symbol of his peaceful and prosperous reign. Even in his old age, Hrothgar was well respected by his people and he was crushed when Grendel began terrorizing not only Heorot by the rest of the country as well. When Beowulf successfully defeats Grendel and his mother, Hrothgar shows all the necessary courtesy and treats Beowulf as his own son.
Hrothgar’s queen, Healhtheow joins him at all the important feasts. She wears a large amount of gold jewelry, and, fittingly, awarded Beowulf with several of the more valuable treasures for killing the monsters that threatened Denmark. In Heorot, Healhtheow was the picture of the perfect hostess and acted kindly towards Beowulf and his warriors.
A Dane warrior who is envious of Beowulf’s fame throughout the country. The night before Beowulf faces Grendel, Unferth tries to mock him by saying that he is not as strong as he needs to be to defeat Grendel and that he lost a swimming match to his friend Breca when they were young. Beowulf counters these insults with his version of events in which he slew hundreds of sea monsters during the swim and still beat Breca, winning the confidence of the Danes. Later, Unferth apologizes and even lends Beowulf his family sword in recompense.
Grendel is an evil descendant of Cain who lives in the swamp near the great hall of Heorot. He heard the Danes’ merrymaking and became angry, slaughtering thirty men the first night and continuing his rampage for over a decade. Grendel has no reason to be evil other than he was born of a traitor and a murderer. Many scholars believe that he symbolizes the original evil in mankind because he seems to be part human and part monster. During his fight with Beowulf, Grendel has his shoulder and arm torn off by Beowulf and flees to the swamp to die.
Like Grendel, Grendel’s mother is also an evil descendant of Cain. She comes out of the swamp after her son is killed seeking revenge on those who hurt him. While she is just as vicious as her son, she is not as strong and is forced to flee Heorot after only killing one person. Beowulf chases her underwater, and after a battle in which he is almost killed himself, slays her with a giant’s sword. When she is dead, a light appears and all the sea monsters are gone from the waters. Like Grendel, she symbolizes the abstract evil present in man.
The king of Geatland and one of Beowulf’s few kinsmen, Hygelac is an honorable and well-loved king in the poem. Although he only appears for one scene, he and Beowulf appear to be very close. He is greatly relieved to see Beowulf safe after defeating Grendel. Beowulf, being loyal to both kinsman and king, gives all the treasure he earned from his adventures to Hygelac, who in turn rewards Beowulf with lands and riches.
Hygd is Hygelac queen, hailed for her gentleness and beauty. She is contrasted in the poem to an ancient queen who frequently had people killed just for looking at her in a way she didn’t like. Hygd is nothing like this, and is praised for embodying the gentle feminine standards of the Anglo-Saxon culture.
The third and final monster that Beowulf faces, the dragon is an ancient creature who was cursed to horde treasure found in graves. He finds a vast cavern full of treasure amassed by a man who was the last of his clan. The dragon guarded the cave for three hundred years until a servant accidentally found the cave and ran out with a golden goblet. The dragon ravaged the countryside, eventually burning down Beowulf’s throne and forcing him to fight. Unlike Grendel and his mother, the dragon does not have any sort of humanity about it, and is killed unceremoniously. For killing the dragon, Beowulf is compared to the greatest hero of all time, who also killed a dragon.
Wiglaf is a young Geatish warrior who helps Beowulf defeat the dragon when all the others run towards the woods in fear of the beast. Wiglaf has a strong sense of honor and courage and reprimands the other warriors, calling them cowards for running away. He is with Beowulf at the very end, and before the hero dies he gives the young warrior his armor. At the end of the poem, Wiglaf seems like the most likely successor of Beowulf since he has no heirs.
Beowulf opens hailing the great warrior kings of Danes. The first of these kings was named Scyld the Scefing. Although he was abandoned by his parents, he was very strong and soon rose to power. When he became king, his subjects showered him with gifts and honor. Soon, Scyld had an heir, a boy named Beow. He became famous and earned the loyalty of all his father’s clansmen.
Beow, having already become well-known and well-loved, became king after his father passed away. Eventually, his heir Halfdane succeeded him. Halfdane had a reputation for being a wise man, and was blessed with four children. He had three sons, Heorogar, Hrothgar and Halga, as well as one daughter who became the Queen of Swedes.
Hrothgar was a glorified warrior, and soon became famous throughout the land. He decided to build a great hall from which to rule from, and brought builders from all over the world to construct it. When it was completed, Hrothgar named the hall Heorot. Here Hrothgar ruled, as well as distributed gifts and drank with his men.
The clansmen lived in a time of peace, and enjoyed many years of drinking and merry making. However, that peace ended when Grendel, a descendant of Cain, came out of the swamp. Grendel was banished to exile by the creator, and spent his life among the other evil descendants of Cain. These included bad spirits, elves and giants. Despite the fact that they would never win, these evil forces continually battled against the Creator.
One night Grendel came out of the swamp and listened to the revelers singing and partying. After they fell asleep, he went inside the great hall and slaughtered thirty of the men before going back to his lair. At dawn, the men awoke and realized that there had been a massacre in the night. The people began mourning, and the leader of the Danes trailed Grendel back to his lair. They did not find him, however, and the next night Grendel struck again.
Eventually the great hall stood empty. For twelve years Grendel terrorized the country, bringing sorrow wherever he went. The people began spreading tales about how Grendel’s hatred for Hrothgar and his people. Grendel refused to make peace with the men, and could not be bought with gold. He preyed on the young and old alike, and everyone was terrified of him.
Hrothgar was grief-stricken because he could not hold Heorot. He brought together the nobles of the land and any wise men he could find to see if they had any ideas. However, nothing could be done and they made offerings to the pagan gods because they did not have any ideas. The narrator points out that they did not know they could ask for help from The Lord.
Eventually, the tales of Grendel spread to surrounding countries. Beowulf, a relative of Hygelac, was the greatest warrior of the Geats. When he heard of Grendel, he decided to help Hrothgar. Although he was loved by his people, they let him leave and blessed him. Beowulf chose fourteen of the boldest men in the kingdom and prepared for the journey. The fourteen warriors, fully armed with mail and weapons, boarded a ship to cross the sea. They sailed to Hrothgar’s land, and eventually landed safely. They climbed ashore and prayed to the gods, thanking them for safe passage.
A Scylding clansman, watching from a cliff, saw the warriors come ashore. He saw their glittering armor and weapons, and wondered what kind of men they were. Immediately, he got on his horse and rode down to find out. When he got closer, he pointed his spear at them and began asking questions. Although he noticed that one of the warriors looked like a great hero, he was still suspicious because they might be spies. He threatens them to speak quickly and tell him why they have come ashore.
The leader of the warriors begins to speak, answering the clansman’s questions. He explains that they are from the clan of Geats, and that his father’s name is Extheow. They heard of the terror that has been wrecked on Hrothgar and have come to help slay the monster once and for all.
After hearing their story, the clansmen happily grants the warriors passage across the land. He promises to send men to guard their boat while they are trying to kill Grendel so that they can return home safely. The clansman shows them the way to Heorot, and eventually they come to the great hall, which is the most beautiful building in sight. The clansman leaves the warriors, wishing them luck before he returns to guard their ship.
When Beowulf and his men get to the great hall, they set down their weapons and armor to rest. A warrior of Hrothgar approaches them and asks who they are, remarking that he has never seen men with so much armor before. Beowulf greets the warrior, giving him name and asking to speak to Hrothgar himself. The warrior tells them to wait while he asks Hrothgar if he will see them.
The warrior goes to where Hrothgar sits, still surrounded by his men though he is now old and gray. He gives Hrothgar the news that there is a group of warriors who wish to talk to him, and advises Hrothgar to listen to them because their leader looks like a mighty hero.
Hrothgar tells Wulfgar, his warrior, to welcome the group in. Hrothgar knew Beowulf’s father, and has heard tales of Beowulf’s legendary strength. He is glad that such brave men have come to help him in his time of need, and intends to welcome them as honored guests. Wulfgar travels back to the band of warriors with his message of welcome from Hrothgar. He says that they will be allowed inside Heorot in their armor, but insists that they leave their weapons outside. Beowulf and his warriors leave their weapons, and a few men stay behind to guard them.
Inside, Beowulf greets Hrothgar very formally. He goes into detail about some of his famed battles, and asks Hrothgar for permission to kill Grendel. Beowulf wishes to fight Grendel in single combat, and since Grendel does not use weapons Beowulf does not intend to either. He vows to either kill Grendel or be killed himself. Beowulf does have one request though, and that is in the event of his death that Hrothgar send his armor back to his land since his body will be eaten by the monster.
Hrothgar responds to Beowulf’s request by recalling the actions of his father, who killed Heatholaf of the Wylfings and sailed to Hrothgar who had become the ruler of the Danes not long before. Hrothgar settled the argument by sending a tribute to the Wylfings, and after that Ecgtheow swore his loyalty to Hrothgar.
Although Hrothgar does not wish to ask others for help in solving his problems, the situation with Grendel has become so desperate that he has no choice. He tells Beowulf that he may fight Grendel, but warns him that many other brave warriors have come to Heorot vowing that they would kill the famed monster. None of them succeeded and are now dead. Nevertheless, he invites Beowulf and his men to sit down and feast with them.
A man named Unferth spoke up during the feast. He was envious of Beowulf’s achievements, and tries to undermine him. He asks Beowulf if he is the same man who swam across the ocean despite great risk to himself and lost to Brecaa. Even though they fought for seven days, Unferth mocks that no one has lasted one day against Grendel despite their bravery.
Beowulf calmly replies to Unferth with his own version of the story. He tells Unferth that he must have drank too much beer and not remembered right. Both boys, he and Breca decided to swim the ocean. They took weapons to defend themselves, and set out. They swam for five days before a huge storm overtook them. Sea monsters were awakened, and one of them dragged Beowulf down to the deeps before Beowulf managed to kill it with his sword. Monsters continued attacking, but Beowulf killed them.
By the end of the night, the shores were safe and no sailors ever had trouble in those waters a gain. Beowulf came to shore unhurt but exhausted. He takes a break from his story to mock Unferth, saying that he has never fought a battle like that, and also pointing out that if he were as brave as he talked, Grendel wouldn’t be going around terrorizing the Danes. Although many brave men have died trying to defeat Grendel, Beowulf is confident that he will be victorious.
After hearing this tale, Hrothgar and his hall became joyous. The Queen comes out with a cup and gives it to Hrothgar to drink. After he drinks, she takes the cup to everyone in the hall before stopping at Beowulf. As he takes the cup, Beowulf gives a short, formal speech, reiterating his confidence. The Queen sits down next to her husband and the feast continues.
When the sun sinks down below the horizon, Hrothgar and his men leave. Hrothgar remarks that Beowulf’s group is the first he has ever left in the hall alone, and promises that if they defeat Grendel that they can ask for anything they want within his power.
Hrothgar and his men leave the hall for the night. Beowulf casts off his armor and sets aside his weapons. He gives a speech to his men, reminding them of why he is going to fight Grendel with armor, sword or shield. Beowulf then asks God to grant the victory to whoever is in the right. After his speech, Beowulf relaxes while his men lie awake in bed. None of them know for sure if they will go back home. In the dark, Grendel makes his way towards the great hall.
Grendel makes his way to the great hall from the swamp. He sees the heroes, all asleep, and walks in with eyes aflame. He laughs when he sees them sleeping, and thinks about how he will kill them all before sunrise. He grabs the warrior closest to him and kills him, drinking his blood and eating his body piece by piece until there is nothing left. After his feast, Grendel moves towards the great hero who is reclining thinking to take him next.
Beowulf has been awake the whole time, and has watched Grendel devour the warrior. Grendel thinks about leaving, but suddenly his fingers are caught by some enormous strength. Beowulf has ahold of Grendel’s hand, and for Grendel is afraid. He thinks of his safe den back in the swamp, and breaks free trying to escape. Beowulf chases after him, and the hall awakens.
Everything is chaos; the warriors are awake, and some of the Danes have come back. They see Beowulf fighting Grendel, and are amazed at the destruction that the two inflict on the hall. They are surprised that it is able to stand such an intense battle. Suddenly they hear a terrifying wail – Grendel is injured and Beowulf has him pinned.
Beowulf and Grendel are still struggling in the hall, and the warriors around them try to help by striking at Grendel with their swords and spears. However, none of their weapons can pierce Grendel’s skin because he is protected by a powerful spell. Despite this, Grendel begins to lose strength and gives in to Beowulf, whose grip on the demon is so strong that Grendel’s very bones and muscles begin to give away. Finally, Beowulf succeeds in ripping the entire arm off Grendel, who knows he is going to die. Grendel is driven out of the hall and goes back to his lair in the swamp to die.
Beowulf has once again proven himself, and saved the Danes from the evil terror of Grendel. As proof of Beowulf’s bravery, the shoulder and arm Beowulf ripped off of Grendel was mounted on the wall of the great hall.
In the morning people traveled from all around to the hall in order to see proof of Beowulf’s victory and to celebrate. They looked at the footprints Grendel left as he fled the hall and followed them all the way to the demon’s lair in the swamp. In Grendel’s den they found large amounts of blood, and also realized Grendel had drowned himself in the muddy waters. Sure that his soul was now in hell, the clansmen rode home from the swamp in a joyous mood.
Tales began to spread of Beowulf’s glory, and he was hailed as the most valiant warrior in the world. However, the Danes remained loyal to Hrothgar, their king. Songs began to be sung about Beowulf, and he was likened to the legendary warrior Sigemund. During his life, Sigemund was famous for killing monsters but his crowning glory was killing a vicious dragon that had a horde of treasure. Sigemund slew the dragon with his sword and took the gold back to his kingdom.
Eventually, Hrothgar himself came to the hall in order to see the proof of Grendel’s destructions, and brought his queen with him.
Hrothgar reached the hall and saw Grendel’s arm on the wall. He is very grateful that Grendel is dead, and admits that he had lost all hope of Grendel ever being killed. Beowulf, however, succeeded in vanquishing the evil terror, and for that Hrothgar offers Beowulf any wealth in the kingdom. He goes even further, announcing to all the warriors and clansmen that he will think of Beowulf as one of his own sons from that day forth. He says that Beowulf’s fame will spread throughout the world, and that his name will never be forgotten.
Beowulf responds to Hrothgar, telling him that he is happy to have killed such a terrible monster. The only thing he wished is that Grendel had died in the hall instead of escaping back to the swamp. Beowulf says that everything happened as God had planned, and that there is still the proof of Grendel’s arm to satisfy the king.
Throughout the speeches, Unferth, who had mocked Beowulf earlier and tried to undermine his strength, remained silent. The arm Beowulf took from Grendel was hard, and the claws described as being made of steel. It was obvious that a sword could never have severed the arm from the rest of Grendel’s body, and so the fact that Beowulf ripped it off is proof of Beowulf’s enormous strength.
The men and women gathered in the hall began to clean and repair it for the upcoming feast to be held in celebration of Grendel’s death. The hall, however, was in bad shape from the fight. Only the roof was untouched by the fierce battle waged the night before. Eventually, the hall was ready for the feast and Hrothgar himself arrived to attend the banquet. Noble men from all over the land traveled to Heorot in order to celebrate with Beowulf and Hrothgar, and they drank merrily.
During the feast, Hrothgar bestowed many gifts upon Beowulf in payment of his mighty deed. He gave the warrior a new set of armor, a battle banner woven with gold and a splendid sword. Beowulf drank in the hall with everyone else, and he was not ashamed to be seen receiving such valuable gifts in front of his men because he knew he deserved them.
Hrothgar had his men lead in eight war horses. One of the horses had a saddle that was set with jewels; Hrothgar had used the saddle during his battle days, and gave it graciously to Beowulf along with the other gifts.
The Geats were also paid back in gold for the warrior that Grendel killed, and everyone admitted that if Beowulf had not been there that all the warriors would most likely have been killed by Grendel as well. The narrator remarks that through God, men are blessed with insight.
After this last gift, minstrels begin singing. One of Hrothgar’s singers begins the tale of Finn and his sons. Finn was the ruler of the Frisians and his wife was named Hildeburh. She was also the sister of Hnaef, the ruler of the Danes. During a battle between the two warring tribes, Hnaef was killed along with Hildeburh’s son. At these losses, and also the large amount of casualties on both sides of the battlefield, Hildeburh began to grieve.
A truce was offered, and the two sides made a treaty promising to treat each other fairly. Hnaef, a great warrior, was burned on a pyre beside Hildeburh’s son. Hildeburh grieved over them both as they burned until their bodies were completely consumed by the flames.
Because it was winter, the Danes were forced to stay with Finn and his people until spring came. Although they kept the truce, the leader of the Danes, named Hengest, still harbored bad feelings towards Finn. When it came time for them to leave, they slaughtered Finn and his kinsman, taking his treasures and his wife back with them to Denmark.
The song is finished, and the Queen enters the hall, sitting next to her husband. It is noted that although Unferth did try to shame Beowulf that he still has a good reputation among the men because of his courage. The Queen speaks to Hrothgar, telling him that she supports him naming Beowulf one of their sons. She believes that when Hrothgar dies and her sons ascend the throne that Beowulf will be a friend to them when they need help. She looks over at Beowulf, who is sitting on the benches in between her sons Hrothric and Hrothmund.
The Queen gives Beowulf a cup and gifts of gold and jewels. The pieces of jewelry she gifted Beowulf with were worn by other great men in the past, mighty warriors. When the hall erupts in talk and excitement about the gifts, the Queen tells everyone that Beowulf has earned them with his deeds. She says that Beowulf’s name will never be forgotten, and prays that he will be blessed. She also asks that he be a friend to her children if they ever need him.
After her speech, the Queen returns to Hrothgar’s side. When the feast is over, Hrothgar and his men leave to go to sleep. No one knows that a new danger is outside, waiting. The clansmen sleep with their weapons and shields nearby because they are always ready to protect their leader.
All those in the hall went to sleep. They did not know it, but another monster was coming to the hall – Grendel’s mother. She had been banished to the swamps after Cain killed Abel. Cain became the father of all monsters, including her son Grendel whom Beowulf killed with the help of God. Now Grendel’s mother, grieving over her son’s death, comes to Heorot to avenge him.
She bursts into the hall with great strength, but because she is a woman her strength is a little less than Grendel’s. The warriors in the hall wake up and Grendel’s mother decides to flee. Before she goes, she grabs her son’s arm as well as one of Hrothgar’s liegemen and takes them back with her to the swamp. Beowulf was not in the hall to stop her because he was sleeping somewhere else that night.
Seeing the destruction caused by monsters, Hrothgar is saddened and laments that his grief will never come to an end. In the morning Beowulf comes into the hall, unaware of the attack the night before. He asks Hrothgar if he slept peacefully throughout the night.
Hrothgar is offended that Beowulf dares to ask such a mindless question. Seeing that Beowulf does not know the night’s events, Hrothgar tells him of the female monster who came to avenge Grendel. The man she took in the night was Hrothgar’s advisor and one of his close friends, Aeschere.
Across the land there were tales of two monsters, one male and one female. The male was Grendel, and the one who attacked the great hall Hrothgar believes to be the female in the stories. The two monsters live in an extremely dangerous part of the swamp. It is so inhospitable that it has never been fully explored. The tales say that by night the water is lit on fire, and that all who have entered into the deep water there have never come out.
Despite this peril, Hrothgar asks Beowulf if he will once again be brave and come to the rescue of the Danes. If Beowulf is willing to follow the demon into the swamp and kill her, Hrothgar promises to give Beowulf large amounts of ancient treasure and gold.
Beowulf tells Hrothgar that he will gladly avenge the death of Aeschere. He remarks that everyone must die, but Beowulf plans on winning as much glory as he can before that happens. Beowulf vows to Hrothgar that he will track down Grendel’s mother in the swamp, saying confidently that she will not be able to hide from him even if she decides to flee.
Beowulf has horses saddled and mounts on his own steed, leading his men off towards the swamp. They follow Grendel’s mother’s foot prints across the plain and the moor until they come to some cliffs. The waters at the bottom of the cliffs are dyed red with blood, and the men go to investigate. When they get to the shore, they are dismayed to see Aeschere’s head floating on the waves.
Sea monsters are in the water, drawn to the scent of blood. The warriors sound their horns and the monsters begin swimming away. One of them is shot by the warden of Geats with his bow, and it begins to die in the water. The other warriors go over and finish it off with their spears, dragging it ashore when it is dead.
Beowulf appears, ready for battle. His armor is shining and he has his gold helmet on to protect him. In his hand is an ancient weapon called Hrunting. The sword was lent to him by none other than Unferth, who gave it to Beowulf after drinking at the feast.
Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar, reminding him that, if he should die in battle, to take care of his men and send his gifts back to his homeland. He then bequeaths his own sword to Unferth, in exchange for using the legendary Hrunting. With this, Beowulf says that he will either kill Grendel’s mother or die trying before plunging into the water.
He swims most of a day before coming in sight of the bottom of the ocean. Grendel’s mother realizes that she is being followed, and reaches out at him with her claws. Beowulf’s armor, however, protects him from her attacks. Many sea monsters tried to kill Beowulf while he chases after the female demon, but he fends them off.
Eventually, Beowulf spots a hall which he guesses is Grendel’s mother’s lair. He sees her and swings Hrunting directly at her. Even though the sword has never lost a battle, it is incapable of piercing her flesh. Realizing that the sword is useless, Beowulf flings it aside in order that he can fight with his bare hands. Beowulf seizes her by the shoulder and she falls to the ground. Quickly she fights back, and the two grapple until Beowulf, spent, falls down. Grendel’s mother takes a short sword and drives it at Beowulf in order to take her revenge. His armor once again protects him, and Beowulf is spared.
After Beowulf stood, he saw the ancient sword of Eotens which, according to legend, was the most powerful sword in the world. It was made by giants and regular men could not swing it because it was so heavy. Beowulf, however, lifts the sword and, in one sweep, cuts off Grendel’s mother’s head. She sinks to the floor, the blade bloodied. After the demon is killed, a light blazes out. Curious, Beowulf looks around him to see if he can find the cause. As Beowulf walks down the hall, he spots Grendel’s corpse. Angry at all the men Grendel had killed, Beowulf cuts off his head.
Above the waters, Hrothgar and the group see that large amounts of blood are turning the water red. It has been nine hours since Beowulf went into the water, and Hrothgar and his men give up hope of him returning. Beowulf’s warriors, both fearing and hoping, wait to see if Beowulf will emerge from the depths.
Back under the water, Beowulf’s sword is melting after touching Grendel’s blood. The blade dissolves, leaving the massive jeweled hilt. Beowulf heads back up, noticing that since the demon has been killed all the sea monsters have disappeared. There are many treasures in the deep, but he takes only Grendel’s head and the sword hilt as proof of his conquest.
Once at the surface, his men greet him gladly and thank God for his safe return. Grendel’s head is so heavy that four men have to carry it back to Hrothgar’s hall. When they enter the hall with Beowulf and the severed head everyone is amazed.
Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar, announcing that he succeeded in killing Grendel’s mother, and almost died in the process. However, he was shielded by the Lord. The great sword Hrunting did not do Beowulf any good, but he found an even greater weapon hanging on the wall. Although the blade itself disintegrated, Beowulf shows the king the hilt he brought back from the depths. He goes on to assure Hrothgar that his kingdom is now safe from both the evil demons, and gave him the hilt as a gift.
Hrothgar examines the hilt and is amazed at how old it is. The sword hilt is passed down through the generations, becoming a treasured heirloom that reminds the people of the trials they have overcome. Hrothgar speaks to Beowulf, telling him that he is grateful once again for saving the kingdom, and reiterates his promise to treat Beowulf as family. He calls Beowulf a true hero, and tells everyone that his name will pass into legend. Not only does Hrothgar consider Beowulf strong, but recognizes that he has wisdom as well. Hrothgar tells the story of the former king Heremod, who was a violent and unwise king, and warns Beowulf against ever becoming too proud.
Hrothgar continues his speech, telling Beowulf that he should not forget his own mortality. He is strong now, but one day he will be old and no longer invulnerable. Hrothgar himself believed in his youth that nothing could keep him from defending his people; the coming of Grendel got rid of those illusions. Hrothgar thanks Beowulf for killing both Grendel and his mother, telling him that in the morning he will receive his treasure.
He invites Beowulf and his warriors to sit and feast in celebration. Beowulf is glad to be able to sit down, and the banquet begins. After the feast, Beowulf goes to bed and everyone in the hall sleeps peacefully.
In the morning Beowulf and his warriors are getting ready to go home. Beowulf gives Hrunting back to Unferth, and even though it failed him in battle Beowulf still praises the sword and thanks Unferth for lending it to him. After graciously giving Unferth back his sword, Beowulf makes his way to Hrothgar.
Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar, telling him that they plan to go back to Hygelac. He tells the king that if he ever has any more need of him to just call and Beowulf will come to his aid with thousands of warriors. He also says that if Hrothgar’s son Hrethric ever comes to Geats that he will be treated as a friend.
Hrothgar answers him, telling Beowulf that he is wise beyond his years. He hopes that Beowulf will be a good leader, and expresses a genuine fondness for the young hero. Hrothgar declares that their two kingdoms will have a mutual peace, and will not hesitate to help the other in a time of need as long as he is alive. After the speech, Hrothgar presents Beowulf with twelve treasures to take back with him.
They bid farewell for a final time, and Hrothgar hugs Beowulf. Hrothgar has a feeling that he and Beowulf will not see each other again, and Hrothgar truly loves him as a son. After their farewell, Beowulf goes towards the boat.
Beowulf and his men get to the shore, and greet the warden who was guarding their boat for them. They load the treasure and horses onto the ship, and Beowulf gives a golden sword to the man for faithfully guarding their boat. After loading up the ship, Beowulf and his warriors leave Daneland and travel back to Geatland. A guard was stationed on the cliffs of their homeland to watch for their return, and he comes to the beach to greet them. They bring the ship ashore, and he anchors it so that it will not blow away.
Beowulf asks the men to carry the treasure back home to where Hygelac dwells. Hygelac lives in a mighty castle and has a young queen named Hygd. She is a good queen, and is not prideful like the ancient queen who had men killed just for looking at her face. The ancient queen was named Modthyrth, but legend told that she became less cruel after marrying the mighty warrior Offa.
Beowulf goes quickly to Hygelac’s castle, and Hygelac is told of the hero’s return. After hearing the good news, Hygelac orders the hall to be made ready for Beowulf and his men, and when they arrive he greets them warmly. He offers them seats at his table, and wants to know everything that happened on their journey. He reminds Beowulf that he did not want him to undertake such a risky venture, but is glad that he is home safe.
Beowulf responds to Hygelac, telling him that he did succeed in killing Grendel and by doing so avenging all those he killed. He tells Hygelac that when he arrived at Hrothgar’s hall he and his men were treated very well by both Hrothgar and his queen. During his stay, Beowulf overheard that Hrothgar’s daughter is supposed to marry a prince of Heathobard, one of the Dane’s former enemies. In the past, many battles were waged over land and there were many casualties on both sides. Beowulf is afraid that the marriage will bring the two clans too close and, being reminded of the wrongs done to the other, will start the fighting anew.
Realizing that he has gotten off track, Beowulf turns the tale back to Grendel. He tells Hygelac of how they waited for the monster in the great hall, and how he killed only one warrior before trying to ensnare Beowulf and getting caught. Beowulf is a good storyteller, and makes sure to make everything sound intense. He tells Hygelac that after Grendel was killed Hrothgar rewarded him handsomely and they feasted. That night Grendel’s mother came and Beowulf was asked to follow her into the swamp to kill her in her lair. Beowulf tells Hygelac that he succeeded once again, and that Hrothgar rewarded him with even more treasure.
Beowulf offers his kinsman and prince all the treasures that he received from Hrothgar. He knows that he does not have many remaining kinsman, and wishes to please his uncle. He gives Hygelac the suit of armour and ancient sword that was used by Heorogar, as well as four of the armoured horses. To Hygelac’s wife Beowulf gifted three horses and a beautiful necklace. Beowulf was strong as well as wise, to treat his family so well. Even though Beowulf was stronger than most men, he did not commit violence needlessly or get into drunken brawls.
In return for his gifts Hygelac gives Beowulf an ancient heirloom sword of their family and lays it in his lap. He also gives him a large portion of land and a huge manor. After a few years Hygelac is killed, and his son cannot protect the kingdom. Beowulf becomes king of the realm, and rules for fifty years. After fifty years, Beowulf is old but wise, and a new danger presents itself. A Dragon lives in a nearby mountain range, and one day someone steals a golden goblet from its horde of treasure. Because of this crime, the dragon’s wrath will be unleashed on all the people of Geatland.
The man who stole the goblet did not do so on purpose. He was fleeing from his master and sought shelter in the cave where the dragon lived. He saw the treasure, and then the dragon. Terrified, he ran out of the cave carrying the goblet that was in his hand.
The treasure belonged to an ancient lord, who hid all his possessions deep in the earth. He was the last of his people, and the treasure was his one pleasure. His people were killed in battle, and the ancient lord wished that the treasure would never be touched by another man. Eventually he died and a dragon found his treasure. This particular dragon was cursed to take treasure from graves and it stayed in that cave for three hundred years.
When the thief went back to his master and told them of the great treasure hidden beneath the ground, they decided to plunder it. When the dragon awoke, it was very angry and followed the men who stole its treasure. The dragon began to burn the country side, and eventually its wrath would cause Beowulf’s end.
The dragon continued to burn the land and people of Geatland, and eventually it even burned the throne room of the Geats – Beowulf’s home. Beowulf, now old, becomes saddened at this tragedy. He thinks that it is his fault the dragon is terrorizing his kingdom and becomes bitter. Realizing that something must be done, Beowulf plots vengeance. He commands the welders to make an enormous war shield out of iron so that it cannot burn against the dragon’s flames.
Beowulf knew that his life would end along with the dragon’s. He did not fear the dragon, because even after he earned fame by killing Grendel and his mother he continued to fight many monsters and earn even more glory. He triumphed in the battle his kinsman Hygelac was killed in, and swam while wearing thirty coats of armour. After Hygelac was slain, Hygd welcomes Beowulf back to the kingdom and Hygelac’s son took over the realm. However, he died in another fight against the enemies of the Geats, and Beowulf became a good and noble king in his place.
Beowulf’s first act as king was to take vengeance on the Swedes who had killed Hygelac’s son. During his rule, he proved that he could overcome many perilous situations – until the dragon came.
Ready for his final battle, Beowulf goes with eleven other lords to seek the dragon. He had heard about the goblet that was stolen and finds the man who took it. Reluctant, the man leads Beowulf and his men to the cave where the dragon dwells every day. Although Beowulf is gloomy at his impending doom, he gives a speech to his men. He recounts his childhood, and how king Hrethel raised him along with his other three sons, one of which was Hygelac. One of Hrethel’s sons was killed on accident by another, and this grieved Hrethel greatly. However, he could not take vengeance for his son’s death without hurting his other son.
The king Hrethel’s grief at losing his son was almost more than he could bear. He left his sons land and wealth when he passed away, and after his death there was a time of struggle between Sweden and Geatland. Beowulf fought in the front lines of the battle, and he preferred it that way. He ends his speech to the men by coming back to the dragon, declaring that he will engage in one more battle if the dragon will meet him outside the lair on open ground. He calls his warriors near and bids them farewell, explaining that he would rather not fight with sword and shield but that because the dragon is so powerful he needs a weapon to make the fight an equal match. He tells the men to wait farther away because the fight is his alone.
At the end of the speech everyone stands and goes to their respective places. Beowulf finds an arch of stone that has access to the cavern within. He cannot go down without risking being burned alive, and so he makes a war cry loud enough that the dragon can’t help but hear it. The smoke and poison of the dragon’s breath begins to come out of the cave, and Beowulf raises his shield and sword in preparation for the fight. When the dragon emerges, he and Beowulf regard each other warily. They are each afraid of the other, but the fight begins.
Beowulf’s great shield does not protect him from the dragon’s fire for as long as he would have wanted, and Beowulf lifts his arm and swings the sword, which does not pierce the dragon’s flesh. Even though it was the best sword and shield in the land, Beowulf’s protection failed him. Fire engulfs Beowulf, and his fellow comrades flee towards the woods. Only one remains, a noble kinsman of Beowulf.
The one warrior who remained behind was named Wiglaf, son of Weohstan. As he watched Beowulf struggle against the dragon’s flames, he remembered all the good the Beowulf had done for him over the years. He drew his old sword, an heirloom from Eanmund, and faced the dragon. He called out to the other warriors, reminding them of their promise to Beowulf made before the battle. In the hall, Beowulf chose them because they were strong warriors and, although he wanted to slay the dragon for himself, he needs them to help. Wiglaf finishes his heroic speech by saying that he would rather die trying to help Beowulf than return with their noble king slaughtered.
With this, Wiglaf goes through the dragon’s flames to help Beowulf. He calls out to Beowulf, giving him courage and reminding him of the glory and strength of his youth. The dragon’s flames burn almost all of Wiglaf’s armour away, but he manages to get behind the great iron shield with Beowulf. After hearing Wiglaf’s bold speech, Beowulf once again has hope that he can defeat the dragon and save his kingdom. He strikes his sword at the dragon with all his strength and the sword shatters. The dragon strikes at Beowulf and gets him in the neck, and blood begins to spurt out of the wound.
Seeing Beowulf hurt, Wiglaf reaches out even though his hand is badly burned and stabs the beast until its fire is lessened. Finally Beowulf is able to draw a knife and stab the dragon in another spot. Between the two of them, the dragon breathes its last breathe.
Slaying the dragon is Beowulf’s last great feat, as he knows that the dragon’s poison flowing through his blood will kill him. Beowulf walks to the edge of the arch and speaks to Wiglaf. He wants his kinsman to go down into the cavern and look at all the jewels and treasure. Beowulf reminisces about the fifty years that he was king of the Geats, and wishes that he had been blessed with a male hair to pass down his weapons and armour to. Despite the lack of an heir, Beowulf ruled with fairness and bravery. Beowulf wants to behold the treasure left behind by the dragon before he dies.
Wiglaf goes swiftly into the cavern to do as Beowulf wished. He sees mountains of gold and jewels, and treasures spanning many eras. He finds a banner woven with gold and picks it up. It gleams so bright that he is able to see everything. He grabs an armful of treasure and runs back up to the archway.
When he gets back to Beowulf, the elderly hero is greatly weakened by the lack of blood. Wiglaf, hoping to revive him, splashes Beowulf with water. Beowulf opens his eyes and sees the sample of treasure that Wiglaf has brought with him from the dragon’s lair. He is thankful that he could live to see such treasure, and is grateful that he can leave such a gift for his people. He says he has paid for the treasure with his life, and tells Wiglaf that when he dies he wants to be buried on the headland. His burial will be called Beowulf’s Barrow in honor of his memory.
Before Beowulf dies, he takes off his gold jewellery and armour, giving it to the brave young Wiglaf. He says his words of farewell, and his soul leaves his body to join his ancestors.
Wiglaf watches Beowulf as he dies, although it is very hard for him to do. He is sad that the hero is dead, but is thankful that the dragon who killed him is slain as well. With this last victory, he is able to say that Beowulf killed all of his enemies in battle. Beowulf paid for the treasure in the caverns with his death.
The other warriors who had hidden in the trees come out once they see that the dragon is dead. It is obvious from their walk that they’re ashamed at their actions. They see Wiglaf splashing Beowulf with water, trying to wake him again to no avail. Death comes for every man, and Beowulf was not an exception.
Finally Wiglaf realizes that Beowulf is dead for good, and turns to the other warriors. Angrily, he accuses them of being cowards and not helping their king when they were needed. He says that the treasures Beowulf gave to them were wasted. He alone was able to help Beowulf, although he only succeeded in weakening the dragon by stabbing it long enough to allow Beowulf to land the killing blow. Wiglaf tells the men that the kingdom will know of their cowardice, and that they will not get any of the treasure left behind by the dragon. He says that it is better for a warrior to be dead than to live a life of shame.
Wiglaf has the others announce the death of Beowulf to those who are anxiously waiting for news of the battle. The messenger goes around, telling the people that Beowulf’s dead body lays beside the dragon that he slew and that Wiglaf is by his side, grieving. With their leader dead, the Geats believe that war is imminent, because historically after a great leader dies there is an upheaval with the surrounding countries trying to take advantage of the weakened state.
The messenger reminds the people of the story of Hygelac’s fall. The messenger also says that he is sure the Swedes will attack them because of their long history of violence against one another. In times past, the Geats kidnaped Ongentheow’s wife and the ruler of Sweden retaliated with war. Both sides fought at Ravenswood, and when hope seemed lost Hygelac came to rescue the Geats.
The battle between the Swedes and the Geats turned with Hygelac’s arrival, and the leader of the Swedes, Ongentheow, realized that he was overpowered. Hygelac was a mighty warrior, and went after Ongentheow with his sword. A man named Wulf eventually smashed Ongentheow’s head with his weapon, killing him. Ongentheow’s brother took his sword and armour before fleeing back to Sweden. As a reward for killing the leader of the Swedes, Wulf was given riches, lands, and Hygelac’s daughter in marriage.
The messenger finishes his story with a prediction that since Beowulf is dead the Swedes will want revenge for the death of Ongentheow. During Beowulf’s reign they dared not attack, but Beowulf is no longer able to protect the Geats from the old blood feuds. The messenger urges everyone to go to where Beowulf’s body lays next to the dragon, and get ready for his funeral. He also says that they should burn all the treasure that Beowulf won by fighting the dragon along with him.
At hearing these messages, the warriors become sad. They go to the cliff and find Beowulf’s body stretched out beside the dragon. The great monster was enormous, at least fifty feet long where it lay dead. When they try to go into the cavern, however, they discover that the great mound of treasure cannot be touched by any human unless God allows it.
The treasure in the cavern was placed under a spell so that no one who was greedy could touch it or enter the inner lair. Beowulf, however, had not wanted the treasure for himself but for his people. Wiglaf speaks, saying that the treasure belongs to the Geats, but that because of the sad way in which it was won it will be impossible to enjoy. He tells the people present how he fetched a sample of the treasure from below for Beowulf to see while he was still alive, and relates that he wanted to be buried in a burrow.
Wiglaf takes warriors down into the cavern to look at the great collection of treasure while others are busy collecting wood to make a pyre for Beowulf’s body. He chooses seven men to go with him to the caverns, and they light their way with a torch. The treasure lying on the ground is easily picked up and there is so much of it that the men don’t have to fight over what they want. Once out of the cavern, they push the dragon’s body into the water and it is swallowed by the waves. After this is done, Beowulf is taken to Hrones-Ness to be buried.
The people of Geats make a huge funeral pyre and covered it with all sorts of armour and weapons, just as Beowulf wanted. They hold the funeral on top of a hill, and watch as Beowulf and his weapons burn. An old woman, grieving, dreads the days to come saying that they will be full of death and battle.
On the place where Beowulf’s body burned, the people make a great mound. It takes them ten days, and they make sure that it is filled with all sorts of treasure. All this was done to mourn the passing of the greatest hero and beloved king that Geatland had ever known.
Pip realizes that if Compeyson is alive and anywhere near London, he wouldn’t hesitate to turn Magwitch over to the authorities. He and Herbert agree that he must be whisked out of the country by sea. Pip has also given some thought to Estella. He shivers to think what the lady would think of him now, with a former convict as the founder of his fortunes. He resolves that she must never know.
Pip decides he must visit Estella before leaving England. He goes to her residence in Richmond, but the family she stays with says she has returned to Miss Havisham at Satis House. Pip thinks this is mysterious because she’s never gone there before without him accompanying her. He tells Magwitch a falsehood about needing to see Joe one more time and takes the next day’s coach to the marsh country.
Stepping off at the Blue Boar, Pip is disgusted to see Bentley Drummle. At first, they pretend not to know each other. Later, as they both stand near the fire, they get into a testy exchange. Drummle tells the waiter that “the lady” won’t be riding today, meaning Estella. Pip is in a blind rage. They come very near a brawl, but then some other guests come in and Drummle leaves. As he’s mounting his horse, Pip thinks he sees Orlick helping him with his coat. As he prepares to visit Miss Havisham and Estella, he couldn’t be in a worse state of mind.
Why should I pause to ask how much of my shrinking from Provis might be traced to Estella? Why should I loiter on my road, to compare the state of mind in which I had tried to rid myself of the stain of the prison before meeting her at the coach-office, with the state of mind in which I now reflected on the abyss between Estella in her pride and beauty, and the returned transport whom I harbored? The road would be none the smoother for it, the end would be none the better for it, he would not be helped, nor I extenuated.
A new fear had been engendered in my mind by his narrative; or rather, his narrative had given form and purpose to the fear that was already there. If Compeyson were alive and should discover his return, I could hardly doubt the consequence. That, Compeyson stood in mortal fear of him, neither of the two could know much better than I; and that any such man as that man had been described to be would hesitate to release himself for good from a dreaded enemy by the safe means of becoming an informer was scarcely to be imagined.
Never had I breathed, and never would I breathe–or so I resolved –a word of Estella to Provis. But, I said to Herbert that, before I could go abroad, I must see both Estella and Miss Havisham. This was when we were left alone on the night of the day when Provis told us his story. I resolved to go out to Richmond next day, and I went.
On my presenting myself at Mrs. Brandley’s, Estella’s maid was called to tell that Estella had gone into the country. Where? To Satis House, as usual. Not as usual, I said, for she had never yet gone there without me; when was she coming back? There was an air of reservation in the answer which increased my perplexity, and the answer was, that her maid believed she was only coming back at all for a little while. I could make nothing of this, except that it was meant that I should make nothing of it, and I went home again in complete discomfiture.
Another night consultation with Herbert after Provis was gone home (I always took him home, and always looked well about me), led us to the conclusion that nothing should be said about going abroad until I came back from Miss Havisham’s. In the mean time, Herbert and I were to consider separately what it would be best to say; whether we should devise any pretence of being afraid that he was under suspicious observation; or whether I, who had never yet been abroad, should propose an expedition. We both knew that I had but to propose anything, and he would consent. We agreed that his remaining many days in his present hazard was not to be thought of.
Next day I had the meanness to feign that I was under a binding promise to go down to Joe; but I was capable of almost any meanness towards Joe or his name. Provis was to be strictly careful while I was gone, and Herbert was to take the charge of him that I had taken. I was to be absent only one night, and, on my return, the gratification of his impatience for my starting as a gentleman on a greater scale was to be begun. It occurred to me then, and as I afterwards found to Herbert also, that he might be best got away across the water, on that pretence,–as, to make purchases, or the like.
Having thus cleared the way for my expedition to Miss Havisham’s, I set off by the early morning coach before it was yet light, and was out on the open country road when the day came creeping on, halting and whimpering and shivering, and wrapped in patches of cloud and rags of mist, like a beggar. When we drove up to the Blue Boar after a drizzly ride, whom should I see come out under the gateway, toothpick in hand, to look at the coach, but Bentley Drummle!
As he pretended not to see me, I pretended not to see him. It was a very lame pretence on both sides; the lamer, because we both went into the coffee-room, where he had just finished his breakfast, and where I ordered mine. It was poisonous to me to see him in the town, for I very well knew why he had come there.
Pretending to read a smeary newspaper long out of date, which had nothing half so legible in its local news, as the foreign matter of coffee, pickles, fish sauces, gravy, melted butter, and wine with which it was sprinkled all over, as if it had taken the measles in a highly irregular form, I sat at my table while he stood before the fire. By degrees it became an enormous injury to me that he stood before the fire. And I got up, determined to have my share of it. I had to put my hand behind his legs for the poker when I went up to the fireplace to stir the fire, but still pretended not to know him.
“Is this a cut?” said Mr. Drummle.
“Oh!” said I, poker in hand; “it’s you, is it? How do you do? I was wondering who it was, who kept the fire off.”
With that, I poked tremendously, and having done so, planted myself side by side with Mr. Drummle, my shoulders squared and my back to the fire.
“You have just come down?” said Mr. Drummle, edging me a little away with his shoulder.
“Yes,” said I, edging him a little away with my shoulder.
“Beastly place,” said Drummle. “Your part of the country, I think?”
“Yes,” I assented. “I am told it’s very like your Shropshire.”
“Not in the least like it,” said Drummle.
Here Mr. Drummle looked at his boots and I looked at mine, and then Mr. Drummle looked at my boots, and I looked at his.
“Have you been here long?” I asked, determined not to yield an inch of the fire.
“Long enough to be tired of it,” returned Drummle, pretending to yawn, but equally determined.
“Do you stay here long?”
“Can’t say,” answered Mr. Drummle. “Do you?”
“Can’t say,” said I.
I felt here, through a tingling in my blood, that if Mr. Drummle’s shoulder had claimed another hair’s breadth of room, I should have jerked him into the window; equally, that if my own shoulder had urged a similar claim, Mr. Drummle would have jerked me into the nearest box. He whistled a little. So did I.
“Large tract of marshes about here, I believe?” said Drummle.
“Yes. What of that?” said I.
Mr. Drummle looked at me, and then at my boots, and then said, “Oh!” and laughed.
“Are you amused, Mr. Drummle?”
“No,” said he, “not particularly. I am going out for a ride in the saddle. I mean to explore those marshes for amusement. Out-of-the-way villages there, they tell me. Curious little public-houses–and smithies–and that. Waiter!”
“Is that horse of mine ready?”
“Brought round to the door, sir.”
“I say. Look here, you sir. The lady won’t ride to-day; the weather won’t do.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And I don’t dine, because I’m going to dine at the lady’s.”
“Very good, sir.”
Then, Drummle glanced at me, with an insolent triumph on his great-jowled face that cut me to the heart, dull as he was, and so exasperated me, that I felt inclined to take him in my arms (as the robber in the story-book is said to have taken the old lady) and seat him on the fire.
One thing was manifest to both of us, and that was, that until relief came, neither of us could relinquish the fire. There we stood, well squared up before it, shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot, with our hands behind us, not budging an inch. The horse was visible outside in the drizzle at the door, my breakfast was put on the table, Drummle’s was cleared away, the waiter invited me to begin, I nodded, we both stood our ground.
“Have you been to the Grove since?” said Drummle.
“No,” said I, “I had quite enough of the Finches the last time I was there.”
“Was that when we had a difference of opinion?”
“Yes,” I replied, very shortly.
“Come, come! They let you off easily enough,” sneered Drummle. “You shouldn’t have lost your temper.”
“Mr. Drummle,” said I, “you are not competent to give advice on that subject. When I lose my temper (not that I admit having done so on that occasion), I don’t throw glasses.”
“I do,” said Drummle.
After glancing at him once or twice, in an increased state of smouldering ferocity, I said,–
“Mr. Drummle, I did not seek this conversation, and I don’t think it an agreeable one.”
“I am sure it’s not,” said he, superciliously over his shoulder; “I don’t think anything about it.”
“And therefore,” I went on, “with your leave, I will suggest that we hold no kind of communication in future.”
“Quite my opinion,” said Drummle, “and what I should have suggested myself, or done–more likely–without suggesting. But don’t lose your temper. Haven’t you lost enough without that?”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Waiter!,” said Drummle, by way of answering me.
The waiter reappeared.
“Look here, you sir. You quite understand that the young lady don’t ride to-day, and that I dine at the young lady’s?”
“Quite so, sir!”
When the waiter had felt my fast-cooling teapot with the palm of his hand, and had looked imploringly at me, and had gone out, Drummle, careful not to move the shoulder next me, took a cigar from his pocket and bit the end off, but showed no sign of stirring. Choking and boiling as I was, I felt that we could not go a word further, without introducing Estella’s name, which I could not endure to hear him utter; and therefore I looked stonily at the opposite wall, as if there were no one present, and forced myself to silence. How long we might have remained in this ridiculous position it is impossible to say, but for the incursion of three thriving farmers–laid on by the waiter, I think–who came into the coffee-room unbuttoning their great-coats and rubbing their hands, and before whom, as they charged at the fire, we were obliged to give way.
I saw him through the window, seizing his horse’s mane, and mounting in his blundering brutal manner, and sidling and backing away. I thought he was gone, when he came back, calling for a light for the cigar in his mouth, which he had forgotten. A man in a dust-colored dress appeared with what was wanted,–I could not have said from where: whether from the inn yard, or the street, or where not,–and as Drummle leaned down from the saddle and lighted his cigar and laughed, with a jerk of his head towards the coffee-room windows, the slouching shoulders and ragged hair of this man whose back was towards me reminded me of Orlick.
Too heavily out of sorts to care much at the time whether it were he or no, or after all to touch the breakfast, I washed the weather and the journey from my face and hands, and went out to the memorable old house that it would have been so much the better for me never to have entered, never to have seen.
Pip surprises Estella and Miss Havisham with his unexpected visit. Estella is knitting by the fire. Pip explains to Miss Havisham that Matthew and Herbert Pocket are very different than the other pockets. He asks if Miss Havisham can continue his good deed of investing in his future. She agrees to the idea and agrees to remain a secret donor.
Miss Havisham realizes that Pip has discovered his true benefactor. She doesn’t deny that she allowed him to continue in the illusion that it was her all along. She remarks that it was merely a coincidence that she and Pip’s benefactor had the same lawyer. For his part, Pip understands that the trickery was undertaken to exact punishment on the greedy Pockets. But he says that Miss Havisham never considered what effect that might have on him. She becomes angry and wonders why Pip would think she could possibly be kind or considerate.
The conversation turns to Estella. She reveals that she is indeed going to be married to Bentley Drummle. She’s choses the dullest of all her admirers as punishment to the rest, she says. She guarantees he won’t be happy. Pip is horrified and almost glad to be leaving the country. He wishes her well but is ashamed for her to choose such a brute as a husband.
Returning home, Pip is greeted by the guardsman with a note from Wemmick. It says “Do not go home.”
In the room where the dressing-table stood, and where the wax- candles burnt on the wall, I found Miss Havisham and Estella; Miss Havisham seated on a settee near the fire, and Estella on a cushion at her feet. Estella was knitting, and Miss Havisham was looking on. They both raised their eyes as I went in, and both saw an alteration in me. I derived that, from the look they interchanged.
“And what wind,” said Miss Havisham, “blows you here, Pip?”
Though she looked steadily at me, I saw that she was rather confused. Estella, pausing a moment in her knitting with her eyes upon me, and then going on, I fancied that I read in the action of her fingers, as plainly as if she had told me in the dumb alphabet, that she perceived I had discovered my real benefactor.
“Miss Havisham,” said I, “I went to Richmond yesterday, to speak to Estella; and finding that some wind had blown her here, I followed.”
Miss Havisham motioning to me for the third or fourth time to sit down, I took the chair by the dressing-table, which I had often seen her occupy. With all that ruin at my feet and about me, it seemed a natural place for me, that day.
“What I had to say to Estella, Miss Havisham, I will say before you, presently–in a few moments. It will not surprise you, it will not displease you. I am as unhappy as you can ever have meant me to be.”
Miss Havisham continued to look steadily at me. I could see in the action of Estella’s fingers as they worked that she attended to what I said; but she did not look up.
“I have found out who my patron is. It is not a fortunate discovery, and is not likely ever to enrich me in reputation, station, fortune, anything. There are reasons why I must say no more of that. It is not my secret, but another’s.”
As I was silent for a while, looking at Estella and considering how to go on, Miss Havisham repeated, “It is not your secret, but another’s. Well?”
“When you first caused me to be brought here, Miss Havisham, when I belonged to the village over yonder, that I wish I had never left, I suppose I did really come here, as any other chance boy might have come,–as a kind of servant, to gratify a want or a whim, and to be paid for it?”
“Ay, Pip,” replied Miss Havisham, steadily nodding her head; “you did.”
“And that Mr. Jaggers–”
“Mr. Jaggers,” said Miss Havisham, taking me up in a firm tone, “had nothing to do with it, and knew nothing of it. His being my lawyer, and his being the lawyer of your patron is a coincidence. He holds the same relation towards numbers of people, and it might easily arise. Be that as it may, it did arise, and was not brought about by any one.”
Any one might have seen in her haggard face that there was no suppression or evasion so far.
“But when I fell into the mistake I have so long remained in, at least you led me on?” said I.
“Yes,” she returned, again nodding steadily, “I let you go on.”
“Was that kind?”
“Who am I,” cried Miss Havisham, striking her stick upon the floor and flashing into wrath so suddenly that Estella glanced up at her in surprise,–”who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?”
It was a weak complaint to have made, and I had not meant to make it. I told her so, as she sat brooding after this outburst.
“Well, well, well!” she said. “What else?”
“I was liberally paid for my old attendance here,” I said, to soothe her, “in being apprenticed, and I have asked these questions only for my own information. What follows has another (and I hope more disinterested) purpose. In humoring my mistake, Miss Havisham, you punished–practised on–perhaps you will supply whatever term expresses your intention, without offence–your self-seeking relations?”
“I did. Why, they would have it so! So would you. What has been my history, that I should be at the pains of entreating either them or you not to have it so! You made your own snares. I never made them.”
Waiting until she was quiet again,–for this, too, flashed out of her in a wild and sudden way,–I went on.
“I have been thrown among one family of your relations, Miss Havisham, and have been constantly among them since I went to London. I know them to have been as honestly under my delusion as I myself. And I should be false and base if I did not tell you, whether it is acceptable to you or no, and whether you are inclined to give credence to it or no, that you deeply wrong both Mr. Matthew Pocket and his son Herbert, if you suppose them to be otherwise than generous, upright, open, and incapable of anything designing or mean.”
“They are your friends,” said Miss Havisham.
“They made themselves my friends,” said I, “when they supposed me to have superseded them; and when Sarah Pocket, Miss Georgiana, and Mistress Camilla were not my friends, I think.”
This contrasting of them with the rest seemed, I was glad to see, to do them good with her. She looked at me keenly for a little while, and then said quietly,–
“What do you want for them?”
“Only,” said I, “that you would not confound them with the others. They may be of the same blood, but, believe me, they are not of the same nature.”
Still looking at me keenly, Miss Havisham repeated,–
“What do you want for them?”
“I am not so cunning, you see,” I said, in answer, conscious that I reddened a little, “as that I could hide from you, even if I desired, that I do want something. Miss Havisham, if you would spare the money to do my friend Herbert a lasting service in life, but which from the nature of the case must be done without his knowledge, I could show you how.”
“Why must it be done without his knowledge?” she asked, settling her hands upon her stick, that she might regard me the more attentively.
“Because,” said I, “I began the service myself, more than two years ago, without his knowledge, and I don’t want to be betrayed. Why I fail in my ability to finish it, I cannot explain. It is a part of the secret which is another person’s and not mine.”
She gradually withdrew her eyes from me, and turned them on the fire. After watching it for what appeared in the silence and by the light of the slowly wasting candles to be a long time, she was roused by the collapse of some of the red coals, and looked towards me again–at first, vacantly–then, with a gradually concentrating attention. All this time Estella knitted on. When Miss Havisham had fixed her attention on me, she said, speaking as if there had been no lapse in our dialogue,–
“Estella,” said I, turning to her now, and trying to command my trembling voice, “you know I love you. You know that I have loved you long and dearly.”
She raised her eyes to my face, on being thus addressed, and her fingers plied their work, and she looked at me with an unmoved countenance. I saw that Miss Havisham glanced from me to her, and from her to me.
“I should have said this sooner, but for my long mistake. It induced me to hope that Miss Havisham meant us for one another. While I thought you could not help yourself, as it were, I refrained from saying it. But I must say it now.”
Preserving her unmoved countenance, and with her fingers still going, Estella shook her head.
“I know,” said I, in answer to that action,–”I know. I have no hope that I shall ever call you mine, Estella. I am ignorant what may become of me very soon, how poor I may be, or where I may go. Still, I love you. I have loved you ever since I first saw you in this house.”
Looking at me perfectly unmoved and with her fingers busy, she shook her head again.
“It would have been cruel in Miss Havisham, horribly cruel, to practise on the susceptibility of a poor boy, and to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not. I think that, in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella.”
I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart and hold it there, as she sat looking by turns at Estella and at me.
“It seems,” said Estella, very calmly, “that there are sentiments, fancies,–I don’t know how to call them,–which I am not able to comprehend. When you say you love me, I know what you mean, as a form of words; but nothing more. You address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don’t care for what you say at all. I have tried to warn you of this; now, have I not?”
I said in a miserable manner, “Yes.”
“Yes. But you would not be warned, for you thought I did not mean it. Now, did you not think so?”
“I thought and hoped you could not mean it. You, so young, untried, and beautiful, Estella! Surely it is not in Nature.”
“It is in my nature,” she returned. And then she added, with a stress upon the words, “It is in the nature formed within me. I make a great difference between you and all other people when I say so much. I can do no more.”
“Is it not true,” said I, “that Bentley Drummle is in town here, and pursuing you?”
“It is quite true,” she replied, referring to him with the indifference of utter contempt.
“That you encourage him, and ride out with him, and that he dines with you this very day?”
She seemed a little surprised that I should know it, but again replied, “Quite true.”
“You cannot love him, Estella!”
Her fingers stopped for the first time, as she retorted rather angrily, “What have I told you? Do you still think, in spite of it, that I do not mean what I say?”
“You would never marry him, Estella?”
She looked towards Miss Havisham, and considered for a moment with her work in her hands. Then she said, “Why not tell you the truth? I am going to be married to him.”
I dropped my face into my hands, but was able to control myself better than I could have expected, considering what agony it gave me to hear her say those words. When I raised my face again, there was such a ghastly look upon Miss Havisham’s, that it impressed me, even in my passionate hurry and grief.
“Estella, dearest Estella, do not let Miss Havisham lead you into this fatal step. Put me aside for ever,–you have done so, I well know,–but bestow yourself on some worthier person than Drummle. Miss Havisham gives you to him, as the greatest slight and injury that could be done to the many far better men who admire you, and to the few who truly love you. Among those few there may be one who loves you even as dearly, though he has not loved you as long, as I. Take him, and I can bear it better, for your sake!”
My earnestness awoke a wonder in her that seemed as if it would have been touched with compassion, if she could have rendered me at all intelligible to her own mind.
“I am going,” she said again, in a gentler voice, “to be married to him. The preparations for my marriage are making, and I shall be married soon. Why do you injuriously introduce the name of my mother by adoption? It is my own act.”
“Your own act, Estella, to fling yourself away upon a brute?”
“On whom should I fling myself away?” she retorted, with a smile. “Should I fling myself away upon the man who would the soonest feel (if people do feel such things) that I took nothing to him? There! It is done. I shall do well enough, and so will my husband. As to leading me into what you call this fatal step, Miss Havisham would have had me wait, and not marry yet; but I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it. Say no more. We shall never understand each other.”
“Such a mean brute, such a stupid brute!” I urged, in despair.
“Don’t be afraid of my being a blessing to him,” said Estella; “I shall not be that. Come! Here is my hand. Do we part on this, you visionary boy–or man?”
“O Estella!” I answered, as my bitter tears fell fast on her hand, do what I would to restrain them; “even if I remained in England and could hold my head up with the rest, how could I see you Drummle’s wife?”
“Nonsense,” she returned,–”nonsense. This will pass in no time.”
“You will get me out of your thoughts in a week.”
“Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since,–on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation, I associate you only with the good; and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!”
In what ecstasy of unhappiness I got these broken words out of myself, I don’t know. The rhapsody welled up within me, like blood from an inward wound, and gushed out. I held her hand to my lips some lingering moments, and so I left her. But ever afterwards, I remembered,–and soon afterwards with stronger reason,–that while Estella looked at me merely with incredulous wonder, the spectral figure of Miss Havisham, her hand still covering her heart, seemed all resolved into a ghastly stare of pity and remorse.
All done, all gone! So much was done and gone, that when I went out at the gate, the light of the day seemed of a darker color than when I went in. For a while, I hid myself among some lanes and by-paths, and then struck off to walk all the way to London. For, I had by that time come to myself so far as to consider that I could not go back to the inn and see Drummle there; that I could not bear to sit upon the coach and be spoken to; that I could do nothing half so good for myself as tire myself out.
It was past midnight when I crossed London Bridge. Pursuing the narrow intricacies of the streets which at that time tended westward near the Middlesex shore of the river, my readiest access to the Temple was close by the river-side, through Whitefriars. I was not expected till to-morrow; but I had my keys, and, if Herbert were gone to bed, could get to bed myself without disturbing him.
As it seldom happened that I came in at that Whitefriars gate after the Temple was closed, and as I was very muddy and weary, I did not take it ill that the night-porter examined me with much attention as he held the gate a little way open for me to pass in. To help his memory I mentioned my name.
“I was not quite sure, sir, but I thought so. Here’s a note, sir. The messenger that brought it, said would you be so good as read it by my lantern?”
Much surprised by the request, I took the note. It was directed to Philip Pip, Esquire, and on the top of the superscription were the words, “PLEASE READ THIS, HERE.” I opened it, the watchman holding up his light, and read inside, in Wemmick’s writing,–
“DON’T GO HOME.”
Pip takes the note from Wemmick seriously and takes lodgings in another part of London. He has a terrible night’s sleep, between imagining bugs falling on his face and his worries about what’s possibly gone wrong. As soon as it’s light, he heads straight for Walworth, where Wemmick lives with the Aged.
Wemmick isn’t too surprised to see him and is glad that Pip didn’t go home. He explains in a roundabout way that someone suspects Magwitch of being back in London. He can’t say too much because the situation is complicated. Likewise, he doesn’t want to know more than he has to, so that he may later have plausible deniability. His employer – Jaggers – is involved somehow. Wemmick gives Pip advice on how to cover his tracks. He explains that the city is probably the best place to hide during a pursuit.
Wemmick explains that Pip’s recent guest has been moved to a better, safer location – a room above the home of Herbert’s fiancée. The place is convenient for several reasons. For one, it’s out of Pip’s usual path. He’s never actually visited Herbert’s secret bride to be, Clara. Second, it’s on the river. When the time is right, it will be easy to move whoever it is that needs to be moved.
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 neighborhood, 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.
Pip travels to Mill Pond Bank, downstream from his residence at the Temple, where Herbert’s fiancée lives. He meets Herbert there, who explains that Magwitch has taken the rooms on the third floor under the name “Mr. Campbell.” Herbert’s fiancée is Clara, and her father lives on the second floor. He never leaves his rooms and stays drunk on rum. Her father would not approve of any marriage, so Herbert must remain a secret for the time being.
After a few introductions, Pip and Herbert go upstairs to talk with their secret friend. Pip has decided not to tell him anything about Compeyson. He worries that Magwitch may go into a blind rage and seek him out. Instead, they explain that there’s some unknown risk – Wemmick has heard that Magwitch may have been spotted.
Herbert devises a plan for getting Magwitch safely out of the city. He suggests that Pip keep a boat at the Temple and get into the habit of rowing up and down the river. After a while, no one will pay any attention to him. At a point in the future, Pip and Herbert will take Magwitch downstream. For now, Magwitch will signal that all is well from his window by slowly drawing the blinds.
Eight o’clock had struck before I got into the air, that was scented, not disagreeably, by the chips and shavings of the long-shore boat-builders, and mast, oar, and block makers. All that water-side region of the upper and lower Pool below Bridge was unknown ground to me; and when I struck down by the river, I found that the spot I wanted was not where I had supposed it to be, and was anything but easy to find. It was called Mill Pond Bank, Chinks’s Basin; and I had no other guide to Chinks’s Basin than the Old Green Copper Rope-walk.
It matters not what stranded ships repairing in dry docks I lost myself among, what old hulls of ships in course of being knocked to pieces, what ooze and slime and other dregs of tide, what yards of ship-builders and ship-breakers, what rusty anchors blindly biting into the ground, though for years off duty, what mountainous country of accumulated casks and timber, how many ropewalks that were not the Old Green Copper. After several times falling short of my destination and as often overshooting it, I came unexpectedly round a corner, upon Mill Pond Bank. It was a fresh kind of place, all circumstances considered, where the wind from the river had room to turn itself round; and there were two or three trees in it, and there was the stump of a ruined windmill, and there was the Old Green Copper Ropewalk,–whose long and narrow vista I could trace in the moonlight, along a series of wooden frames set in the ground, that looked like superannuated haymaking-rakes which had grown old and lost most of their teeth.
Selecting from the few queer houses upon Mill Pond Bank a house with a wooden front and three stories of bow-window (not bay-window, which is another thing), I looked at the plate upon the door, and read there, Mrs. Whimple. That being the name I wanted, I knocked, and an elderly woman of a pleasant and thriving appearance responded. She was immediately deposed, however, by Herbert, who silently led me into the parlor and shut the door. It was an odd sensation to see his very familiar face established quite at home in that very unfamiliar room and region; and I found myself looking at him, much as I looked at the corner-cupboard with the glass and china, the shells upon the chimney-piece, and the colored engravings on the wall, representing the death of Captain Cook, a ship-launch, and his Majesty King George the Third in a state coachman’s wig, leather-breeches, and top-boots, on the terrace at Windsor.
“All is well, Handel,” said Herbert, “and he is quite satisfied, though eager to see you. My dear girl is with her father; and if you’ll wait till she comes down, I’ll make you known to her, and then we’ll go up stairs. That’s her father.”
I had become aware of an alarming growling overhead, and had probably expressed the fact in my countenance.
“I am afraid he is a sad old rascal,” said Herbert, smiling, “but I have never seen him. Don’t you smell rum? He is always at it.”
“At rum?” said I.
“Yes,” returned Herbert, “and you may suppose how mild it makes his gout. He persists, too, in keeping all the provisions up stairs in his room, and serving them out. He keeps them on shelves over his head, and will weigh them all. His room must be like a chandler’s shop.”
While he thus spoke, the growling noise became a prolonged roar, and then died away.
“What else can be the consequence,” said Herbert, in explanation, “if he will cut the cheese? A man with the gout in his right hand– and everywhere else–can’t expect to get through a Double Gloucester without hurting himself.”
He seemed to have hurt himself very much, for he gave another furious roar.
“To have Provis for an upper lodger is quite a godsend to Mrs. Whimple,” said Herbert, “for of course people in general won’t stand that noise. A curious place, Handel; isn’t it?”
It was a curious place, indeed; but remarkably well kept and clean.
“Mrs. Whimple,” said Herbert, when I told him so, “is the best of housewives, and I really do not know what my Clara would do without her motherly help. For, Clara has no mother of her own, Handel, and no relation in the world but old Gruffandgrim.”
“Surely that’s not his name, Herbert?”
“No, no,” said Herbert, “that’s my name for him. His name is Mr. Barley. But what a blessing it is for the son of my father and mother to love a girl who has no relations, and who can never bother herself or anybody else about her family!”
Herbert had told me on former occasions, and now reminded me, that he first knew Miss Clara Barley when she was completing her education at an establishment at Hammersmith, and that on her being recalled home to nurse her father, he and she had confided their affection to the motherly Mrs. Whimple, by whom it had been fostered and regulated with equal kindness and discretion, ever since. It was understood that nothing of a tender nature could possibly be confided to old Barley, by reason of his being totally unequal to the consideration of any subject more psychological than Gout, Rum, and Purser’s stores.
As we were thus conversing in a low tone while Old Barley’s sustained growl vibrated in the beam that crossed the ceiling, the room door opened, and a very pretty, slight, dark-eyed girl of twenty or so came in with a basket in her hand: whom Herbert tenderly relieved of the basket, and presented, blushing, as “Clara.” She really was a most charming girl, and might have passed for a captive fairy, whom that truculent Ogre, Old Barley, had pressed into his service.
“Look here,” said Herbert, showing me the basket, with a compassionate and tender smile, after we had talked a little; “here’s poor Clara’s supper, served out every night. Here’s her allowance of bread, and here’s her slice of cheese, and here’s her rum,–which I drink. This is Mr. Barley’s breakfast for to-morrow, served out to be cooked. Two mutton-chops, three potatoes, some split peas, a little flour, two ounces of butter, a pinch of salt, and all this black pepper. It’s stewed up together, and taken hot, and it’s a nice thing for the gout, I should think!”
There was something so natural and winning in Clara’s resigned way of looking at these stores in detail, as Herbert pointed them out; and something so confiding, loving, and innocent in her modest manner of yielding herself to Herbert’s embracing arm; and something so gentle in her, so much needing protection on Mill Pond Bank, by Chinks’s Basin, and the Old Green Copper Ropewalk, with Old Barley growling in the beam,–that I would not have undone the engagement between her and Herbert for all the money in the pocket-book I had never opened.
I was looking at her with pleasure and admiration, when suddenly the growl swelled into a roar again, and a frightful bumping noise was heard above, as if a giant with a wooden leg were trying to bore it through the ceiling to come at us. Upon this Clara said to Herbert, “Papa wants me, darling!” and ran away.
“There is an unconscionable old shark for you!” said Herbert. “What do you suppose he wants now, Handel?”
“I don’t know,” said I. “Something to drink?”
“That’s it!” cried Herbert, as if I had made a guess of extraordinary merit. “He keeps his grog ready mixed in a little tub on the table. Wait a moment, and you’ll hear Clara lift him up to take some. There he goes!” Another roar, with a prolonged shake at the end. “Now,” said Herbert, as it was succeeded by silence, “he’s drinking. Now,” said Herbert, as the growl resounded in the beam once more, “he’s down again on his back!”
Clara returned soon afterwards, and Herbert accompanied me up stairs to see our charge. As we passed Mr. Barley’s door, he was heard hoarsely muttering within, in a strain that rose and fell like wind, the following Refrain, in which I substitute good wishes for something quite the reverse:–
“Ahoy! Bless your eyes, here’s old Bill Barley. Here’s old Bill Barley, bless your eyes. Here’s old Bill Barley on the flat of his back, by the Lord. Lying on the flat of his back like a drifting old dead flounder, here’s your old Bill Barley, bless your eyes. Ahoy! Bless you.”
In this strain of consolation, Herbert informed me the invisible Barley would commune with himself by the day and night together; Often, while it was light, having, at the same time, one eye at a telescope which was fitted on his bed for the convenience of sweeping the river.
In his two cabin rooms at the top of the house, which were fresh and airy, and in which Mr. Barley was less audible than below, I found Provis comfortably settled. He expressed no alarm, and seemed to feel none that was worth mentioning; but it struck me that he was softened,–indefinably, for I could not have said how, and could never afterwards recall how when I tried, but certainly.
The opportunity that the day’s rest had given me for reflection had resulted in my fully determining to say nothing to him respecting Compeyson. For anything I knew, his animosity towards the man might otherwise lead to his seeking him out and rushing on his own destruction. Therefore, when Herbert and I sat down with him by his fire, I asked him first of all whether he relied on Wemmick’s judgment and sources of information?
“Ay, ay, dear boy!” he answered, with a grave nod, “Jaggers knows.”
“Then, I have talked with Wemmick,” said I, “and have come to tell you what caution he gave me and what advice.”
This I did accurately, with the reservation just mentioned; and I told him how Wemmick had heard, in Newgate prison (whether from officers or prisoners I could not say), that he was under some suspicion, and that my chambers had been watched; how Wemmick had recommended his keeping close for a time, and my keeping away from him; and what Wemmick had said about getting him abroad. I added, that of course, when the time came, I should go with him, or should follow close upon him, as might be safest in Wemmick’s judgment. What was to follow that I did not touch upon; neither, indeed, was I at all clear or comfortable about it in my own mind, now that I saw him in that softer condition, and in declared peril for my sake. As to altering my way of living by enlarging my expenses, I put it to him whether in our present unsettled and difficult circumstances, it would not be simply ridiculous, if it were no worse?
He could not deny this, and indeed was very reasonable throughout. His coming back was a venture, he said, and he had always known it to be a venture. He would do nothing to make it a desperate venture, and he had very little fear of his safety with such good help.
Herbert, who had been looking at the fire and pondering, here said that something had come into his thoughts arising out of Wemmick’s suggestion, which it might be worth while to pursue. “We are both good watermen, Handel, and could take him down the river ourselves when the right time comes. No boat would then be hired for the purpose, and no boatmen; that would save at least a chance of suspicion, and any chance is worth saving. Never mind the season; don’t you think it might be a good thing if you began at once to keep a boat at the Temple stairs, and were in the habit of rowing up and down the river? You fall into that habit, and then who notices or minds? Do it twenty or fifty times, and there is nothing special in your doing it the twenty-first or fifty-first.”
I liked this scheme, and Provis was quite elated by it. We agreed that it should be carried into execution, and that Provis should never recognize us if we came below Bridge, and rowed past Mill Pond Bank. But we further agreed that he should pull down the blind in that part of his window which gave upon the east, whenever he saw us and all was right.
Our conference being now ended, and everything arranged, I rose to go; remarking to Herbert that he and I had better not go home together, and that I would take half an hour’s start of him. “I don’t like to leave you here,” I said to Provis, “though I cannot doubt your being safer here than near me. Good by!”
“Dear boy,” he answered, clasping my hands, “I don’t know when we may meet again, and I don’t like good by. Say good night!”
“Good night! Herbert will go regularly between us, and when the time comes you may be certain I shall be ready. Good night, good night!”
We thought it best that he should stay in his own rooms; and we left him on the landing outside his door, holding a light over the stair-rail to light us down stairs. Looking back at him, I thought of the first night of his return, when our positions were reversed, and when I little supposed my heart could ever be as heavy and anxious at parting from him as it was now.
Old Barley was growling and swearing when we repassed his door, with no appearance of having ceased or of meaning to cease. When we got to the foot of the stairs, I asked Herbert whether he had preserved the name of Provis. He replied, certainly not, and that the lodger was Mr. Campbell. He also explained that the utmost known of Mr. Campbell there was, that he (Herbert) had Mr. Campbell consigned to him, and felt a strong personal interest in his being well cared for, and living a secluded life. So, when we went into the parlor where Mrs. Whimple and Clara were seated at work, I said nothing of my own interest in Mr. Campbell, but kept it to myself.
When I had taken leave of the pretty, gentle, dark-eyed girl, and of the motherly woman who had not outlived her honest sympathy with a little affair of true love, I felt as if the Old Green Copper Ropewalk had grown quite a different place. Old Barley might be as old as the hills, and might swear like a whole field of troopers, but there were redeeming youth and trust and hope enough in Chinks’s Basin to fill it to overflowing. And then I thought of Estella, and of our parting, and went home very sadly.
All things were as quiet in the Temple as ever I had seen them. The windows of the rooms on that side, lately occupied by Provis, were dark and still, and there was no lounger in Garden Court. I walked past the fountain twice or thrice before I descended the steps that were between me and my rooms, but I was quite alone. Herbert, coming to my bedside when he came in,–for I went straight to bed, dispirited and fatigued,–made the same report. Opening one of the windows after that, he looked out into the moonlight, and told me that the pavement was a solemnly empty as the pavement of any cathedral at that same hour.
Next day I set myself to get the boat. It was soon done, and the boat was brought round to the Temple stairs, and lay where I could reach her within a minute or two. Then, I began to go out as for training and practice: sometimes alone, sometimes with Herbert. I was often out in cold, rain, and sleet, but nobody took much note of me after I had been out a few times. At first, I kept above Blackfriars Bridge; but as the hours of the tide changed, I took towards London Bridge. It was Old London Bridge in those days, and at certain states of the tide there was a race and fall of water there which gave it a bad reputation. But I knew well enough how to “shoot’ the bridge after seeing it done, and so began to row about among the shipping in the Pool, and down to Erith. The first time I passed Mill Pond Bank, Herbert and I were pulling a pair of oars; and, both in going and returning, we saw the blind towards the east come down. Herbert was rarely there less frequently than three times in a week, and he never brought me a single word of intelligence that was at all alarming. Still, I knew that there was cause for alarm, and I could not get rid of the notion of being watched. Once received, it is a haunting idea; how many undesigning persons I suspected of watching me, it would be hard to calculate.
In short, I was always full of fears for the rash man who was in hiding. Herbert had sometimes said to me that he found it pleasant to stand at one of our windows after dark, when the tide was running down, and to think that it was flowing, with everything it bore, towards Clara. But I thought with dread that it was flowing towards Magwitch, and that any black mark on its surface might be his pursuers, going swiftly, silently, and surely, to take him.
Time passes slowly. Pip continues rowing up and down the river several times a week. One evening, he happens to catch a play with Mr. Wopsle as one of the lead actors. The performance is equally ridiculous as before, but Pip enjoys himself. It’s one of the few moments in which he isn’t worrying about Magwitch, the people hunting him, or his money woes. Mr. Wopsle has not been as successful in drama as he had hoped. However, his spirits are still high. The man sees that his young friend Pip is in the audience.
After the play concludes, Pip and Mr. Wopsle meet outside the theater and walk together. Mr. Wopsle says he saw something very unusual during the performance – sitting behind Pip was the “other” convict from the marshes, the one that Pip knows as Compeyson. He remembers the day out on the marshes very clearly and is quite sure of the man’s identity. Pip has to pretend that this news doesn’t affect him. For Mr. Woplse, it’s simply a bizarre coincidence. For Pip, however, it’s proof that bad people are watching him closely. He sends a letter to Wemmick informing him of this new discovery. He decides again that it’s best for Magwitch not to know too many details.
Some weeks passed without bringing any change. We waited for Wemmick, and he made no sign. If I had never known him out of Little Britain, and had never enjoyed the privilege of being on a familiar footing at the Castle, I might have doubted him; not so for a moment, knowing him as I did.
My worldly affairs began to wear a gloomy appearance, and I was pressed for money by more than one creditor. Even I myself began to know the want of money (I mean of ready money in my own pocket), and to relieve it by converting some easily spared articles of jewelery into cash. But I had quite determined that it would be a heartless fraud to take more money from my patron in the existing state of my uncertain thoughts and plans. Therefore, I had sent him the unopened pocket-book by Herbert, to hold in his own keeping, and I felt a kind of satisfaction–whether it was a false kind or a true, I hardly know–in not having profited by his generosity since his revelation of himself.
As the time wore on, an impression settled heavily upon me that Estella was married. Fearful of having it confirmed, though it was all but a conviction, I avoided the newspapers, and begged Herbert (to whom I had confided the circumstances of our last interview) never to speak of her to me. Why I hoarded up this last wretched little rag of the robe of hope that was rent and given to the winds, how do I know? Why did you who read this, commit that not dissimilar inconsistency of your own last year, last month, last week?
It was an unhappy life that I lived; and its one dominant anxiety, towering over all its other anxieties, like a high mountain above a range of mountains, never disappeared from my view. Still, no new cause for fear arose. Let me start from my bed as I would, with the terror fresh upon me that he was discovered; let me sit listening, as I would with dread, for Herbert’s returning step at night, lest it should be fleeter than ordinary, and winged with evil news,–for all that, and much more to like purpose, the round of things went on. Condemned to inaction and a state of constant restlessness and suspense, I rowed about in my boat, and waited, waited, waited, as I best could.
There were states of the tide when, having been down the river, I could not get back through the eddy-chafed arches and starlings of old London Bridge; then, I left my boat at a wharf near the Custom House, to be brought up afterwards to the Temple stairs. I was not averse to doing this, as it served to make me and my boat a commoner incident among the water-side people there. From this slight occasion sprang two meetings that I have now to tell of.
One afternoon, late in the month of February, I came ashore at the wharf at dusk. I had pulled down as far as Greenwich with the ebb tide, and had turned with the tide. It had been a fine bright day, but had become foggy as the sun dropped, and I had had to feel my way back among the shipping, pretty carefully. Both in going and returning, I had seen the signal in his window, All well.
As it was a raw evening, and I was cold, I thought I would comfort myself with dinner at once; and as I had hours of dejection and solitude before me if I went home to the Temple, I thought I would afterwards go to the play. The theatre where Mr. Wopsle had achieved his questionable triumph was in that water-side neighborhood (it is nowhere now), and to that theatre I resolved to go. I was aware that Mr. Wopsle had not succeeded in reviving the Drama, but, on the contrary, had rather partaken of its decline. He had been ominously heard of, through the play-bills, as a faithful Black, in connection with a little girl of noble birth, and a monkey. And Herbert had seen him as a predatory Tartar of comic propensities, with a face like a red brick, and an outrageous hat all over bells.
I dined at what Herbert and I used to call a geographical chop-house, where there were maps of the world in porter-pot rims on every half-yard of the tablecloths, and charts of gravy on every one of the knives,–to this day there is scarcely a single chop-house within the Lord Mayor’s dominions which is not geographical,–and wore out the time in dozing over crumbs, staring at gas, and baking in a hot blast of dinners. By and by, I roused myself, and went to the play.
There, I found a virtuous boatswain in His Majesty’s service,–a most excellent man, though I could have wished his trousers not quite so tight in some places, and not quite so loose in others,– who knocked all the little men’s hats over their eyes, though he was very generous and brave, and who wouldn’t hear of anybody’s paying taxes, though he was very patriotic. He had a bag of money in his pocket, like a pudding in the cloth, and on that property married a young person in bed-furniture, with great rejoicings; the whole population of Portsmouth (nine in number at the last census) turning out on the beach to rub their own hands and shake everybody else’s, and sing “Fill, fill!” A certain dark-complexioned Swab, however, who wouldn’t fill, or do anything else that was proposed to him, and whose heart was openly stated (by the boatswain) to be as black as his figure-head, proposed to two other Swabs to get all mankind into difficulties; which was so effectually done (the Swab family having considerable political influence) that it took half the evening to set things right, and then it was only brought about through an honest little grocer with a white hat, black gaiters, and red nose, getting into a clock, with a gridiron, and listening, and coming out, and knocking everybody down from behind with the gridiron whom he couldn’t confute with what he had overheard. This led to Mr. Wopsle’s (who had never been heard of before) coming in with a star and garter on, as a plenipotentiary of great power direct from the Admiralty, to say that the Swabs were all to go to prison on the spot, and that he had brought the boatswain down the Union Jack, as a slight acknowledgment of his public services. The boatswain, unmanned for the first time, respectfully dried his eyes on the Jack, and then cheering up, and addressing Mr. Wopsle as Your Honor, solicited permission to take him by the fin. Mr. Wopsle, conceding his fin with a gracious dignity, was immediately shoved into a dusty corner, while everybody danced a hornpipe; and from that corner, surveying the public with a discontented eye, became aware of me.
The second piece was the last new grand comic Christmas pantomime, in the first scene of which, it pained me to suspect that I detected Mr. Wopsle with red worsted legs under a highly magnified phosphoric countenance and a shock of red curtain-fringe for his hair, engaged in the manufacture of thunderbolts in a mine, and displaying great cowardice when his gigantic master came home (very hoarse) to dinner. But he presently presented himself under worthier circumstances; for, the Genius of Youthful Love being in want of assistance,–on account of the parental brutality of an ignorant farmer who opposed the choice of his daughter’s heart, by purposely falling upon the object, in a flour-sack, out of the first-floor window,–summoned a sententious Enchanter; and he, coming up from the antipodes rather unsteadily, after an apparently violent journey, proved to be Mr. Wopsle in a high-crowned hat, with a necromantic work in one volume under his arm. The business of this enchanter on earth being principally to be talked at, sung at, butted at, danced at, and flashed at with fires of various colors, he had a good deal of time on his hands. And I observed, with great surprise, that he devoted it to staring in my direction as if he were lost in amazement.
There was something so remarkable in the increasing glare of Mr. Wopsle’s eye, and he seemed to be turning so many things over in his mind and to grow so confused, that I could not make it out. I sat thinking of it long after he had ascended to the clouds in a large watch-case, and still I could not make it out. I was still thinking of it when I came out of the theatre an hour afterwards, and found him waiting for me near the door.
“How do you do?” said I, shaking hands with him as we turned down the street together. “I saw that you saw me.”
“Saw you, Mr. Pip!” he returned. “Yes, of course I saw you. But who else was there?”
“It is the strangest thing,” said Mr. Wopsle, drifting into his lost look again; “and yet I could swear to him.”
Becoming alarmed, I entreated Mr. Wopsle to explain his meaning.
“Whether I should have noticed him at first but for your being there,” said Mr. Wopsle, going on in the same lost way, “I can’t be positive; yet I think I should.”
Involuntarily I looked round me, as I was accustomed to look round me when I went home; for these mysterious words gave me a chill.
“Oh! He can’t be in sight,” said Mr. Wopsle. “He went out before I went off. I saw him go.”
Having the reason that I had for being suspicious, I even suspected this poor actor. I mistrusted a design to entrap me into some admission. Therefore I glanced at him as we walked on together, but said nothing.
“I had a ridiculous fancy that he must be with you, Mr. Pip, till I saw that you were quite unconscious of him, sitting behind you there like a ghost.”
My former chill crept over me again, but I was resolved not to speak yet, for it was quite consistent with his words that he might be set on to induce me to connect these references with Provis. Of course, I was perfectly sure and safe that Provis had not been there.
“I dare say you wonder at me, Mr. Pip; indeed, I see you do. But it is so very strange! You’ll hardly believe what I am going to tell you. I could hardly believe it myself, if you told me.”
“Indeed?” said I.
“No, indeed. Mr. Pip, you remember in old times a certain Christmas Day, when you were quite a child, and I dined at Gargery’s, and some soldiers came to the door to get a pair of handcuffs mended?”
“I remember it very well.”
“And you remember that there was a chase after two convicts, and that we joined in it, and that Gargery took you on his back, and that I took the lead, and you kept up with me as well as you could?”
“I remember it all very well.” Better than he thought,–except the last clause.
“And you remember that we came up with the two in a ditch, and that there was a scuffle between them, and that one of them had been severely handled and much mauled about the face by the other?”
“I see it all before me.”
“And that the soldiers lighted torches, and put the two in the centre, and that we went on to see the last of them, over the black marshes, with the torchlight shining on their faces,–I am particular about that,–with the torchlight shining on their faces, when there was an outer ring of dark night all about us?”
“Yes,” said I. “I remember all that.”
“Then, Mr. Pip, one of those two prisoners sat behind you tonight. I saw him over your shoulder.”
“Steady!” I thought. I asked him then, “Which of the two do you suppose you saw?”
“The one who had been mauled,” he answered readily, “and I’ll swear I saw him! The more I think of him, the more certain I am of him.”
“This is very curious!” said I, with the best assumption I could put on of its being nothing more to me. “Very curious indeed!”
I cannot exaggerate the enhanced disquiet into which this conversation threw me, or the special and peculiar terror I felt at Compeyson’s having been behind me “like a ghost.” For if he had ever been out of my thoughts for a few moments together since the hiding had begun, it was in those very moments when he was closest to me; and to think that I should be so unconscious and off my guard after all my care was as if I had shut an avenue of a hundred doors to keep him out, and then had found him at my elbow. I could not doubt, either, that he was there, because I was there, and that, however slight an appearance of danger there might be about us, danger was always near and active.
I put such questions to Mr. Wopsle as, When did the man come in? He could not tell me that; he saw me, and over my shoulder he saw the man. It was not until he had seen him for some time that he began to identify him; but he had from the first vaguely associated him with me, and known him as somehow belonging to me in the old village time. How was he dressed? Prosperously, but not noticeably otherwise; he thought, in black. Was his face at all disfigured? No, he believed not. I believed not too, for, although in my brooding state I had taken no especial notice of the people behind me, I thought it likely that a face at all disfigured would have attracted my attention.
When Mr. Wopsle had imparted to me all that he could recall or I extract, and when I had treated him to a little appropriate refreshment, after the fatigues of the evening, we parted. It was between twelve and one o’clock when I reached the Temple, and the gates were shut. No one was near me when I went in and went home.
Herbert had come in, and we held a very serious council by the fire. But there was nothing to be done, saving to communicate to Wemmick what I had that night found out, and to remind him that we waited for his hint. As I thought that I might compromise him if I went too often to the Castle, I made this communication by letter. I wrote it before I went to bed, and went out and posted it; and again no one was near me. Herbert and I agreed that we could do nothing else but be very cautious. And we were very cautious indeed, –more cautious than before, if that were possible,–and I for my part never went near Chinks’s Basin, except when I rowed by, and then I only looked at Mill Pond Bank as I looked at anything else.
Pip lands his boat near Cheapside and walks around the streets, considering where he might eat. He’s surprised by Jaggers coming up behind him. The lawyer suggests they eat together. Pip would have refused, until he hears that Wemmick is joining them also. He goes along with Jaggers back to the office, and then the three of them set out for Gerrard Street in a coach.
At Jaggers’ home, the lawyer informs Pip that Miss Havisham has requested his presence concerning a matter of business they had previously discussed. To Pip’s anguish, Jaggers toasts the future Mrs. Bentley Drummle. As they are speaking of Estella, Pip notices something about the hands of Jaggers’ servant, Molly. She has the same hands as Estella. He further notices that her eyes and hair are similar, too. Soon, he can’t deny the obvious – Molly is Estella’s mother.
Wemmick and Pip leave Jaggers’ home together. At Pip’s request, Wemmick tells the story of Molly, or at least as much of it as he knows. Many years ago, Molly was acquitted of murder with the help of Jaggers. She’s been in service to him ever since. Wemmick doesn’t know any details about Molly’s child. During the trial, it was put forward that Molly had killed her child in a rage or jealousy.
The second of the two meetings referred to in the last chapter occurred about a week after the first. I had again left my boat at the wharf below Bridge; the time was an hour earlier in the afternoon; and, undecided where to dine, I had strolled up into Cheapside, and was strolling along it, surely the most unsettled person in all the busy concourse, when a large hand was laid upon my shoulder by some one overtaking me. It was Mr. Jaggers’s hand, and he passed it through my arm.
“As we are going in the same direction, Pip, we may walk together. Where are you bound for?”
“For the Temple, I think,” said I.
“Don’t you know?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“Well,” I returned, glad for once to get the better of him in cross-examination, “I do not know, for I have not made up my mind.”
“You are going to dine?” said Mr. Jaggers. “You don’t mind admitting that, I suppose?”
“No,” I returned, “I don’t mind admitting that.”
“And are not engaged?”
“I don’t mind admitting also that I am not engaged.”
“Then,” said Mr. Jaggers, “come and dine with me.”
I was going to excuse myself, when he added, “Wemmick’s coming.” So I changed my excuse into an acceptance,–the few words I had uttered, serving for the beginning of either,–and we went along Cheapside and slanted off to Little Britain, while the lights were springing up brilliantly in the shop windows, and the street lamp-lighters, scarcely finding ground enough to plant their ladders on in the midst of the afternoon’s bustle, were skipping up and down and running in and out, opening more red eyes in the gathering fog than my rushlight tower at the Hummums had opened white eyes in the ghostly wall.
At the office in Little Britain there was the usual letter-writing, hand-washing, candle-snuffing, and safe-locking, that closed the business of the day. As I stood idle by Mr. Jaggers’s fire, its rising and falling flame made the two casts on the shelf look as if they were playing a diabolical game at bo-peep with me; while the pair of coarse, fat office candles that dimly lighted Mr. Jaggers as he wrote in a corner were decorated with dirty winding-sheets, as if in remembrance of a host of hanged clients.
We went to Gerrard Street, all three together, in a hackney-coach: And, as soon as we got there, dinner was served. Although I should not have thought of making, in that place, the most distant reference by so much as a look to Wemmick’s Walworth sentiments, yet I should have had no objection to catching his eye now and then in a friendly way. But it was not to be done. He turned his eyes on Mr. Jaggers whenever he raised them from the table, and was as dry and distant to me as if there were twin Wemmicks, and this was the wrong one.
“Did you send that note of Miss Havisham’s to Mr. Pip, Wemmick?” Mr. Jaggers asked, soon after we began dinner.
“No, sir,” returned Wemmick; “it was going by post, when you brought Mr. Pip into the office. Here it is.” He handed it to his principal instead of to me.
“It’s a note of two lines, Pip,” said Mr. Jaggers, handing it on, “sent up to me by Miss Havisham on account of her not being sure of your address. She tells me that she wants to see you on a little matter of business you mentioned to her. You’ll go down?”
“Yes,” said I, casting my eyes over the note, which was exactly in those terms.
“When do you think of going down?”
“I have an impending engagement,” said I, glancing at Wemmick, who was putting fish into the post-office, “that renders me rather uncertain of my time. At once, I think.”
“If Mr. Pip has the intention of going at once,” said Wemmick to Mr. Jaggers, “he needn’t write an answer, you know.”
Receiving this as an intimation that it was best not to delay, I settled that I would go to-morrow, and said so. Wemmick drank a glass of wine, and looked with a grimly satisfied air at Mr. Jaggers, but not at me.
“So, Pip! Our friend the Spider,” said Mr. Jaggers, “has played his cards. He has won the pool.”
It was as much as I could do to assent.
“Hah! He is a promising fellow–in his way–but he may not have it all his own way. The stronger will win in the end, but the stronger has to be found out first. If he should turn to, and beat her–”
“Surely,” I interrupted, with a burning face and heart, “you do not seriously think that he is scoundrel enough for that, Mr. Jaggers?”
“I didn’t say so, Pip. I am putting a case. If he should turn to and beat her, he may possibly get the strength on his side; if it should be a question of intellect, he certainly will not. It would be chance work to give an opinion how a fellow of that sort will turn out in such circumstances, because it’s a toss-up between two results.”
“May I ask what they are?”
“A fellow like our friend the Spider,” answered Mr. Jaggers, “either beats or cringes. He may cringe and growl, or cringe and not growl; but he either beats or cringes. Ask Wemmick his opinion.”
“Either beats or cringes,” said Wemmick, not at all addressing himself to me.
“So here’s to Mrs. Bentley Drummle,” said Mr. Jaggers, taking a decanter of choicer wine from his dumb-waiter, and filling for each of us and for himself, “and may the question of supremacy be settled to the lady’s satisfaction! To the satisfaction of the lady and the gentleman, it never will be. Now, Molly, Molly, Molly, Molly, how slow you are to-day!”
She was at his elbow when he addressed her, putting a dish upon the table. As she withdrew her hands from it, she fell back a step or two, nervously muttering some excuse. And a certain action of her fingers, as she spoke, arrested my attention.
“What’s the matter?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“Nothing. Only the subject we were speaking of,” said I, “was rather painful to me.”
The action of her fingers was like the action of knitting. She stood looking at her master, not understanding whether she was free to go, or whether he had more to say to her and would call her back if she did go. Her look was very intent. Surely, I had seen exactly such eyes and such hands on a memorable occasion very lately!
He dismissed her, and she glided out of the room. But she remained before me as plainly as if she were still there. I looked at those hands, I looked at those eyes, I looked at that flowing hair; and I compared them with other hands, other eyes, other hair, that I knew of, and with what those might be after twenty years of a brutal husband and a stormy life. I looked again at those hands and eyes of the housekeeper, and thought of the inexplicable feeling that had come over me when I last walked–not alone–in the ruined garden, and through the deserted brewery. I thought how the same feeling had come back when I saw a face looking at me, and a hand waving to me from a stage-coach window; and how it had come back again and had flashed about me like lightning, when I had passed in a carriage–not alone–through a sudden glare of light in a dark street. I thought how one link of association had helped that identification in the theatre, and how such a link, wanting before, had been riveted for me now, when I had passed by a chance swift from Estella’s name to the fingers with their knitting action, and the attentive eyes. And I felt absolutely certain that this woman was Estella’s mother.
Mr. Jaggers had seen me with Estella, and was not likely to have missed the sentiments I had been at no pains to conceal. He nodded when I said the subject was painful to me, clapped me on the back, put round the wine again, and went on with his dinner.
Only twice more did the housekeeper reappear, and then her stay in the room was very short, and Mr. Jaggers was sharp with her. But her hands were Estella’s hands, and her eyes were Estella’s eyes, and if she had reappeared a hundred times I could have been neither more sure nor less sure that my conviction was the truth.
It was a dull evening, for Wemmick drew his wine, when it came round, quite as a matter of business,–just as he might have drawn his salary when that came round,–and with his eyes on his chief, sat in a state of perpetual readiness for cross-examination. As to the quantity of wine, his post-office was as indifferent and ready as any other post-office for its quantity of letters. From my point of view, he was the wrong twin all the time, and only externally like the Wemmick of Walworth.
We took our leave early, and left together. Even when we were groping among Mr. Jaggers’s stock of boots for our hats, I felt that the right twin was on his way back; and we had not gone half a dozen yards down Gerrard Street in the Walworth direction, before I found that I was walking arm in arm with the right twin, and that the wrong twin had evaporated into the evening air.
“Well!” said Wemmick, “that’s over! He’s a wonderful man, without his living likeness; but I feel that I have to screw myself up when I dine with him,–and I dine more comfortably unscrewed.”
I felt that this was a good statement of the case, and told him so.
“Wouldn’t say it to anybody but yourself,” he answered. “I know that what is said between you and me goes no further.”
I asked him if he had ever seen Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter, Mrs. Bentley Drummle. He said no. To avoid being too abrupt, I then spoke of the Aged and of Miss Skiffins. He looked rather sly when I mentioned Miss Skiffins, and stopped in the street to blow his nose, with a roll of the head, and a flourish not quite free from latent boastfulness.
“Wemmick,” said I, “do you remember telling me, before I first went to Mr. Jaggers’s private house, to notice that housekeeper?”
“Did I?” he replied. “Ah, I dare say I did. Deuce take me,” he added, suddenly, “I know I did. I find I am not quite unscrewed yet.”
“A wild beast tamed, you called her.”
“And what do you call her?”
“The same. How did Mr. Jaggers tame her, Wemmick?”
“That’s his secret. She has been with him many a long year.”
“I wish you would tell me her story. I feel a particular interest in being acquainted with it. You know that what is said between you and me goes no further.”
“Well!” Wemmick replied, “I don’t know her story,–that is, I don’t know all of it. But what I do know I’ll tell you. We are in our private and personal capacities, of course.”
“A score or so of years ago, that woman was tried at the Old Bailey for murder, and was acquitted. She was a very handsome young woman, and I believe had some gypsy blood in her. Anyhow, it was hot enough when it was up, as you may suppose.”
“But she was acquitted.”
“Mr. Jaggers was for her,” pursued Wemmick, with a look full of meaning, “and worked the case in a way quite astonishing. It was a desperate case, and it was comparatively early days with him then, and he worked it to general admiration; in fact, it may almost be said to have made him. He worked it himself at the police-office, day after day for many days, contending against even a committal; and at the trial where he couldn’t work it himself, sat under counsel, and–every one knew–put in all the salt and pepper. The murdered person was a woman,–a woman a good ten years older, very much larger, and very much stronger. It was a case of jealousy. They both led tramping lives, and this woman in Gerrard Street here had been married very young, over the broomstick (as we say), to a tramping man, and was a perfect fury in point of jealousy. The murdered woman,–more a match for the man, certainly, in point of years–was found dead in a barn near Hounslow Heath. There had been a violent struggle, perhaps a fight. She was bruised and scratched and torn, and had been held by the throat, at last, and choked. Now, there was no reasonable evidence to implicate any person but this woman, and on the improbabilities of her having been able to do it Mr. Jaggers principally rested his case. You may be sure,” said Wemmick, touching me on the sleeve, “that he never dwelt upon the strength of her hands then, though he sometimes does now.”
I had told Wemmick of his showing us her wrists, that day of the dinner party.
“Well, sir!” Wemmick went on; “it happened–happened, don’t you see?–that this woman was so very artfully dressed from the time of her apprehension, that she looked much slighter than she really was; in particular, her sleeves are always remembered to have been so skilfully contrived that her arms had quite a delicate look. She had only a bruise or two about her,–nothing for a tramp,–but the backs of her hands were lacerated, and the question was, Was it with finger-nails? Now, Mr. Jaggers showed that she had struggled through a great lot of brambles which were not as high as her face; but which she could not have got through and kept her hands out of; and bits of those brambles were actually found in her skin and put in evidence, as well as the fact that the brambles in question were found on examination to have been broken through, and to have little shreds of her dress and little spots of blood upon them here and there. But the boldest point he made was this: it was attempted to be set up, in proof of her jealousy, that she was under strong suspicion of having, at about the time of the murder, frantically destroyed her child by this man–some three years old –to revenge herself upon him. Mr. Jaggers worked that in this way: “We say these are not marks of finger-nails, but marks of brambles, and we show you the brambles. You say they are marks of finger-nails, and you set up the hypothesis that she destroyed her child. You must accept all consequences of that hypothesis. For anything we know, she may have destroyed her child, and the child in clinging to her may have scratched her hands. What then? You are not trying her for the murder of her child; why don’t you? As to this case, if you will have scratches, we say that, for anything we know, you may have accounted for them, assuming for the sake of argument that you have not invented them?” To sum up, sir,” said Wemmick, “Mr. Jaggers was altogether too many for the jury, and they gave in.”
“Has she been in his service ever since?”
“Yes; but not only that,” said Wemmick, “she went into his service immediately after her acquittal, tamed as she is now. She has since been taught one thing and another in the way of her duties, but she was tamed from the beginning.”
“Do you remember the sex of the child?”
“Said to have been a girl.”
“You have nothing more to say to me to-night?”
“Nothing. I got your letter and destroyed it. Nothing.”
We exchanged a cordial good-night, and I went home, with new matter for my thoughts, though with no relief from the old.
Miss Havisham is remorseful for the unhappiness she has caused to Pip. She regrets turning Estella into a monster and asks for Pip’s forgiveness. Pip says there’s nothing to forgive; that he would have fallen in love with Estella either way. Miss Havisham stares at the fire, only half listening to what Pip says.
Pip begins to fill in the details of the secret business arrangement that has benefited Herbert Pocket. He says that 900 pounds are needed to seal the deal and ensure his future. Miss Havisham writes a formal note for Jaggers to deliver the money to Pip. She then collapses on the floor, saying, “What have I done?” over and over again.
Pip walks around the old property, remembering his younger days. He remembers how terrible Estella made him feel as a boy. As he nears the gate, he decides to walk back up and see Miss Havisham one last time. Standing outside her room, he sees her dress catch fire. She rushes toward him. He does his best to put out the flames, burning his own hands in the process. The injuries are serious, and Miss Havisham is laid upon the table where she prophesied that she would lay when dead. She is in shock, repeating a handful of phrases and unaware of the world.
Putting Miss Havisham’s note in my pocket, that it might serve as my credentials for so soon reappearing at Satis House, in case her waywardness should lead her to express any surprise at seeing me, I went down again by the coach next day. But I alighted at the Halfway House, and breakfasted there, and walked the rest of the distance; for I sought to get into the town quietly by the unfrequented ways, and to leave it in the same manner.
The best light of the day was gone when I passed along the quiet echoing courts behind the High Street. The nooks of ruin where the old monks had once had their refectories and gardens, and where the strong walls were now pressed into the service of humble sheds and stables, were almost as silent as the old monks in their graves. The cathedral chimes had at once a sadder and a more remote sound to me, as I hurried on avoiding observation, than they had ever had before; so, the swell of the old organ was borne to my ears like funeral music; and the rooks, as they hovered about the gray tower and swung in the bare high trees of the priory garden, seemed to call to me that the place was changed, and that Estella was gone out of it for ever.
An elderly woman, whom I had seen before as one of the servants who lived in the supplementary house across the back courtyard, opened the gate. The lighted candle stood in the dark passage within, as of old, and I took it up and ascended the staircase alone. Miss Havisham was not in her own room, but was in the larger room across the landing. Looking in at the door, after knocking in vain, I saw her sitting on the hearth in a ragged chair, close before, and lost in the contemplation of, the ashy fire.
Doing as I had often done, I went in, and stood touching the old chimney-piece, where she could see me when she raised her eyes. There was an air or utter loneliness upon her, that would have moved me to pity though she had wilfully done me a deeper injury than I could charge her with. As I stood compassionating her, and thinking how, in the progress of time, I too had come to be a part of the wrecked fortunes of that house, her eyes rested on me. She stared, and said in a low voice, “Is it real?”
“It is I, Pip. Mr. Jaggers gave me your note yesterday, and I have lost no time.”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
As I brought another of the ragged chairs to the hearth and sat down, I remarked a new expression on her face, as if she were afraid of me.
“I want,” she said, “to pursue that subject you mentioned to me when you were last here, and to show you that I am not all stone. But perhaps you can never believe, now, that there is anything human in my heart?”
When I said some reassuring words, she stretched out her tremulous right hand, as though she was going to touch me; but she recalled it again before I understood the action, or knew how to receive it.
“You said, speaking for your friend, that you could tell me how to do something useful and good. Something that you would like done, is it not?”
“Something that I would like done very much.”
“What is it?”
I began explaining to her that secret history of the partnership. I had not got far into it, when I judged from her looks that she was thinking in a discursive way of me, rather than of what I said. It seemed to be so; for, when I stopped speaking, many moments passed before she showed that she was conscious of the fact.
“Do you break off,” she asked then, with her former air of being afraid of me, “because you hate me too much to bear to speak to me?”
“No, no,” I answered, “how can you think so, Miss Havisham! I stopped because I thought you were not following what I said.”
“Perhaps I was not,” she answered, putting a hand to her head. “Begin again, and let me look at something else. Stay! Now tell me.”
She set her hand upon her stick in the resolute way that sometimes was habitual to her, and looked at the fire with a strong expression of forcing herself to attend. I went on with my explanation, and told her how I had hoped to complete the transaction out of my means, but how in this I was disappointed. That part of the subject (I reminded her) involved matters which could form no part of my explanation, for they were the weighty secrets of another.
“So!” said she, assenting with her head, but not looking at me. “And how much money is wanting to complete the purchase?”
I was rather afraid of stating it, for it sounded a large sum. “Nine hundred pounds.”
“If I give you the money for this purpose, will you keep my secret as you have kept your own?”
“Quite as faithfully.”
“And your mind will be more at rest?”
“Much more at rest.”
“Are you very unhappy now?”
She asked this question, still without looking at me, but in an unwonted tone of sympathy. I could not reply at the moment, for my voice failed me. She put her left arm across the head of her stick, and softly laid her forehead on it.
“I am far from happy, Miss Havisham; but I have other causes of disquiet than any you know of. They are the secrets I have mentioned.”
After a little while, she raised her head, and looked at the fire Again.
“It is noble in you to tell me that you have other causes of unhappiness, Is it true?”
“Can I only serve you, Pip, by serving your friend? Regarding that as done, is there nothing I can do for you yourself?”
“Nothing. I thank you for the question. I thank you even more for the tone of the question. But there is nothing.”
She presently rose from her seat, and looked about the blighted room for the means of writing. There were none there, and she took from her pocket a yellow set of ivory tablets, mounted in tarnished gold, and wrote upon them with a pencil in a case of tarnished gold that hung from her neck.
“You are still on friendly terms with Mr. Jaggers?”
“Quite. I dined with him yesterday.”
“This is an authority to him to pay you that money, to lay out at your irresponsible discretion for your friend. I keep no money here; but if you would rather Mr. Jaggers knew nothing of the matter, I will send it to you.”
“Thank you, Miss Havisham; I have not the least objection to receiving it from him.”
She read me what she had written; and it was direct and clear, and evidently intended to absolve me from any suspicion of profiting by the receipt of the money. I took the tablets from her hand, and it trembled again, and it trembled more as she took off the chain to which the pencil was attached, and put it in mine. All this she did without looking at me.
“My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name, “I forgive her,” though ever so long after my broken heart is dust pray do it!”
“O Miss Havisham,” said I, “I can do it now. There have been sore mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with you.”
She turned her face to me for the first time since she had averted it, and, to my amazement, I may even add to my terror, dropped on her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole, they must often have been raised to heaven from her mother’s side.
To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my feet gave me a shock through all my frame. I entreated her to rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung her head over it and wept. I had never seen her shed a tear before, and, in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her without speaking. She was not kneeling now, but was down upon the ground.
“O!” she cried, despairingly. “What have I done! What have I done!”
“If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any circumstances. Is she married?”
It was a needless question, for a new desolation in the desolate house had told me so.
“What have I done! What have I done!” She wrung her hands, and crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over again. “What have I done!”
I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker, I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?
“Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done!” And so again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done!
“Miss Havisham,” I said, when her cry had died away, “you may dismiss me from your mind and conscience. But Estella is a different case, and if you can ever undo any scrap of what you have done amiss in keeping a part of her right nature away from her, it will be better to do that than to bemoan the past through a hundred years.”
“Yes, yes, I know it. But, Pip–my dear!” There was an earnest womanly compassion for me in her new affection. “My dear! Believe this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery like my own. At first, I meant no more.”
“Well, well!” said I. “I hope so.”
“But as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually did worse, and with my praises, and with my jewels, and with my teachings, and with this figure of myself always before her, a warning to back and point my lessons, I stole her heart away, and put ice in its place.”
“Better,” I could not help saying, “to have left her a natural heart, even to be bruised or broken.”
With that, Miss Havisham looked distractedly at me for a while, and then burst out again, What had she done!
“If you knew all my story,” she pleaded, “you would have some compassion for me and a better understanding of me.”
“Miss Havisham,” I answered, as delicately as I could, “I believe I may say that I do know your story, and have known it ever since I first left this neighborhood. It has inspired me with great commiseration, and I hope I understand it and its influences. Does what has passed between us give me any excuse for asking you a question relative to Estella? Not as she is, but as she was when she first came here?”
She was seated on the ground, with her arms on the ragged chair, and her head leaning on them. She looked full at me when I said this, and replied, “Go on.”
“Whose child was Estella?”
She shook her head.
“You don’t know?”
She shook her head again.
“But Mr. Jaggers brought her here, or sent her here?”
“Brought her here.”
“Will you tell me how that came about?”
She answered in a low whisper and with caution: “I had been shut up in these rooms a long time (I don’t know how long; you know what time the clocks keep here), when I told him that I wanted a little girl to rear and love, and save from my fate. I had first seen him when I sent for him to lay this place waste for me; having read of him in the newspapers, before I and the world parted. He told me that he would look about him for such an orphan child. One night he brought her here asleep, and I called her Estella.”
“Might I ask her age then?”
“Two or three. She herself knows nothing, but that she was left an orphan and I adopted her.”
So convinced I was of that woman’s being her mother, that I wanted no evidence to establish the fact in my own mind. But, to any mind, I thought, the connection here was clear and straight.
What more could I hope to do by prolonging the interview? I had succeeded on behalf of Herbert, Miss Havisham had told me all she knew of Estella, I had said and done what I could to ease her mind. No matter with what other words we parted; we parted.
Twilight was closing in when I went down stairs into the natural air. I called to the woman who had opened the gate when I entered, that I would not trouble her just yet, but would walk round the place before leaving. For I had a presentiment that I should never be there again, and I felt that the dying light was suited to my last view of it.
By the wilderness of casks that I had walked on long ago, and on which the rain of years had fallen since, rotting them in many places, and leaving miniature swamps and pools of water upon those that stood on end, I made my way to the ruined garden. I went all round it; round by the corner where Herbert and I had fought our battle; round by the paths where Estella and I had walked. So cold, so lonely, so dreary all!
Taking the brewery on my way back, I raised the rusty latch of a little door at the garden end of it, and walked through. I was going out at the opposite door,–not easy to open now, for the damp wood had started and swelled, and the hinges were yielding, and the threshold was encumbered with a growth of fungus,–when I turned my head to look back. A childish association revived with wonderful force in the moment of the slight action, and I fancied that I saw Miss Havisham hanging to the beam. So strong was the impression, that I stood under the beam shuddering from head to foot before I knew it was a fancy,–though to be sure I was there in an instant.
The mournfulness of the place and time, and the great terror of this illusion, though it was but momentary, caused me to feel an indescribable awe as I came out between the open wooden gates where I had once wrung my hair after Estella had wrung my heart. Passing on into the front courtyard, I hesitated whether to call the woman to let me out at the locked gate of which she had the key, or first to go up stairs and assure myself that Miss Havisham was as safe and well as I had left her. I took the latter course and went up.
I looked into the room where I had left her, and I saw her seated in the ragged chair upon the hearth close to the fire, with her back towards me. In the moment when I was withdrawing my head to go quietly away, I saw a great flaming light spring up. In the same moment I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire blazing all about her, and soaring at least as many feet above her head as she was high.
I had a double-caped great-coat on, and over my arm another thick coat. That I got them off, closed with her, threw her down, and got them over her; that I dragged the great cloth from the table for the same purpose, and with it dragged down the heap of rottenness in the midst, and all the ugly things that sheltered there; that we were on the ground struggling like desperate enemies, and that the closer I covered her, the more wildly she shrieked and tried to free herself,–that this occurred I knew through the result, but not through anything I felt, or thought, or knew I did. I knew nothing until I knew that we were on the floor by the great table, and that patches of tinder yet alight were floating in the smoky air, which, a moment ago, had been her faded bridal dress.
Then, I looked round and saw the disturbed beetles and spiders running away over the floor, and the servants coming in with breathless cries at the door. I still held her forcibly down with all my strength, like a prisoner who might escape; and I doubt if I even knew who she was, or why we had struggled, or that she had been in flames, or that the flames were out, until I saw the patches of tinder that had been her garments no longer alight but falling in a black shower around us.
She was insensible, and I was afraid to have her moved, or even touched. Assistance was sent for, and I held her until it came, as if I unreasonably fancied (I think I did) that, if I let her go, the fire would break out again and consume her. When I got up, on the surgeon’s coming to her with other aid, I was astonished to see that both my hands were burnt; for, I had no knowledge of it through the sense of feeling.
On examination it was pronounced that she had received serious hurts, but that they of themselves were far from hopeless; the danger lay mainly in the nervous shock. By the surgeon’s directions, her bed was carried into that room and laid upon the great table, which happened to be well suited to the dressing of her injuries. When I saw her again, an hour afterwards, she lay, indeed, where I had seen her strike her stick, and had heard her say that she would lie one day.
Though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of something that had been and was changed was still upon her.
I found, on questioning the servants, that Estella was in Paris, and I got a promise from the surgeon that he would write to her by the next post. Miss Havisham’s family I took upon myself; intending to communicate with Mr. Matthew Pocket only, and leave him to do as he liked about informing the rest. This I did next day, through Herbert, as soon as I returned to town.
There was a stage, that evening, when she spoke collectedly of what had happened, though with a certain terrible vivacity. Towards midnight she began to wander in her speech; and after that it gradually set in that she said innumerable times in a low solemn voice, “What have I done!” And then, “When she first came, I meant to save her from misery like mine.” And then, “Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her!’” She never changed the order of these three sentences, but she sometimes left out a word in one or other of them; never putting in another word, but always leaving a blank and going on to the next word.
As I could do no service there, and as I had, nearer home, that pressing reason for anxiety and fear which even her wanderings could not drive out of my mind, I decided, in the course of the night that I would return by the early morning coach, walking on a mile or so, and being taken up clear of the town. At about six o’clock of the morning, therefore, I leaned over her and touched her lips with mine, just as they said, not stopping for being touched, “Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her.’”
Pip has his left arm immobilized in a sling and his right hand bandaged. Herbert acts as nurse, regularly changing bandages and keeping Pip’s attention off the pain and shock of the event. They both understand that Pip must recover as quickly as possible. The boat trips up and down river must continue. Any day they may have to ferry Magwitch out of the city.
Herbert says that he spoke for a couple of hours with Magwitch, and the rough old colonist is becoming much more civilized. He also learned much more of his backstory, in particular his associations with Compeyson and Molly. Pip is eager to here more. He suspects there’s some as yet hidden connection between Magwitch, Jaggers and Molly, but he’s not certain of anything yet.
Herbert explains that Magwitch and Molly had a child. When the little girl was 2 or 3 years old, Molly threatened to kill the child as punishment for Magwitch. As far as he knows, she went through with the awful act. Pip remembers that Estella came to Miss Havisham when she was only about two. Finally, all the clues come together, and he delivers the news to Herbert – Abel Magwitch is Estella’s father.
My hands had been dressed twice or thrice in the night, and again in the morning. My left arm was a good deal burned to the elbow, and, less severely, as high as the shoulder; it was very painful, but the flames had set in that direction, and I felt thankful it was no worse. My right hand was not so badly burnt but that I could move the fingers. It was bandaged, of course, but much less inconveniently than my left hand and arm; those I carried in a sling; and I could only wear my coat like a cloak, loose over my shoulders and fastened at the neck. My hair had been caught by the fire, but not my head or face.
When Herbert had been down to Hammersmith and seen his father, he came back to me at our chambers, and devoted the day to attending on me. He was the kindest of nurses, and at stated times took off the bandages, and steeped them in the cooling liquid that was kept ready, and put them on again, with a patient tenderness that I was deeply grateful for.
At first, as I lay quiet on the sofa, I found it painfully difficult, I might say impossible, to get rid of the impression of the glare of the flames, their hurry and noise, and the fierce burning smell. If I dozed for a minute, I was awakened by Miss Havisham’s cries, and by her running at me with all that height of fire above her head. This pain of the mind was much harder to strive against than any bodily pain I suffered; and Herbert, seeing that, did his utmost to hold my attention engaged.
Neither of us spoke of the boat, but we both thought of it. That was made apparent by our avoidance of the subject, and by our agreeing–without agreement–to make my recovery of the use of my hands a question of so many hours, not of so many weeks.
My first question when I saw Herbert had been of course, whether all was well down the river? As he replied in the affirmative, with perfect confidence and cheerfulness, we did not resume the subject until the day was wearing away. But then, as Herbert changed the bandages, more by the light of the fire than by the outer light, he went back to it spontaneously.
“I sat with Provis last night, Handel, two good hours.”
“Where was Clara?”
“Dear little thing!” said Herbert. “She was up and down with Gruffandgrim all the evening. He was perpetually pegging at the floor the moment she left his sight. I doubt if he can hold out long, though. What with rum and pepper,–and pepper and rum,–I should think his pegging must be nearly over.”
“And then you will be married, Herbert?”
“How can I take care of the dear child otherwise?–Lay your arm out upon the back of the sofa, my dear boy, and I’ll sit down here, and get the bandage off so gradually that you shall not know when it comes. I was speaking of Provis. Do you know, Handel, he improves?”
“I said to you I thought he was softened when I last saw him.”
“So you did. And so he is. He was very communicative last night, and told me more of his life. You remember his breaking off here about some woman that he had had great trouble with.–Did I hurt you?”
I had started, but not under his touch. His words had given me a start.
“I had forgotten that, Herbert, but I remember it now you speak of it.”
“Well! He went into that part of his life, and a dark wild part it is. Shall I tell you? Or would it worry you just now?”
“Tell me by all means. Every word.”
Herbert bent forward to look at me more nearly, as if my reply had been rather more hurried or more eager than he could quite account for. “Your head is cool?” he said, touching it.
“Quite,” said I. “Tell me what Provis said, my dear Herbert.”
“It seems,” said Herbert, “–there’s a bandage off most charmingly, and now comes the cool one,–makes you shrink at first, my poor dear fellow, don’t it? but it will be comfortable presently, –it seems that the woman was a young woman, and a jealous woman, and a revengeful woman; revengeful, Handel, to the last degree.”
“To what last degree?”
“Murder.–Does it strike too cold on that sensitive place?”
“I don’t feel it. How did she murder? Whom did she murder?” “Why, the deed may not have merited quite so terrible a name,” said Herbert, “but, she was tried for it, and Mr. Jaggers defended her, and the reputation of that defence first made his name known to Provis. It was another and a stronger woman who was the victim, and there had been a struggle–in a barn. Who began it, or how fair it was, or how unfair, may be doubtful; but how it ended is certainly not doubtful, for the victim was found throttled.”
“Was the woman brought in guilty?”
“No; she was acquitted.–My poor Handel, I hurt you!”
“It is impossible to be gentler, Herbert. Yes? What else?”
“This acquitted young woman and Provis had a little child; a little child of whom Provis was exceedingly fond. On the evening of the very night when the object of her jealousy was strangled as I tell you, the young woman presented herself before Provis for one moment, and swore that she would destroy the child (which was in her possession), and he should never see it again; then she vanished.–There’s the worst arm comfortably in the sling once more, and now there remains but the right hand, which is a far easier job. I can do it better by this light than by a stronger, for my hand is steadiest when I don’t see the poor blistered patches too distinctly.–You don’t think your breathing is affected, my dear boy? You seem to breathe quickly.”
“Perhaps I do, Herbert. Did the woman keep her oath?”
“There comes the darkest part of Provis’s life. She did.”
“That is, he says she did.”
“Why, of course, my dear boy,” returned Herbert, in a tone of surprise, and again bending forward to get a nearer look at me. “He says it all. I have no other information.”
“No, to be sure.”
“Now, whether,” pursued Herbert, “he had used the child’s mother ill, or whether he had used the child’s mother well, Provis doesn’t say; but she had shared some four or five years of the wretched life he described to us at this fireside, and he seems to have felt pity for her, and forbearance towards her. Therefore, fearing he should be called upon to depose about this destroyed child, and so be the cause of her death, he hid himself (much as he grieved for the child), kept himself dark, as he says, out of the way and out of the trial, and was only vaguely talked of as a certain man called Abel, out of whom the jealousy arose. After the acquittal she disappeared, and thus he lost the child and the child’s mother.”
“I want to ask–”
“A moment, my dear boy, and I have done. That evil genius, Compeyson, the worst of scoundrels among many scoundrels, knowing of his keeping out of the way at that time and of his reasons for doing so, of course afterwards held the knowledge over his head as a means of keeping him poorer and working him harder. It was clear last night that this barbed the point of Provis’s animosity.”
“I want to know,” said I, “and particularly, Herbert, whether he told you when this happened?”
“Particularly? Let me remember, then, what he said as to that. His expression was, ‘a round score o’ year ago, and a’most directly after I took up wi’ Compeyson.’ How old were you when you came upon him in the little churchyard?”
“I think in my seventh year.”
“Ay. It had happened some three or four years then, he said, and you brought into his mind the little girl so tragically lost, who would have been about your age.”
“Herbert,” said I, after a short silence, in a hurried way, “can you see me best by the light of the window, or the light of the fire?”
“By the firelight,” answered Herbert, coming close again.
“Look at me.”
“I do look at you, my dear boy.”
“I do touch you, my dear boy.”
“You are not afraid that I am in any fever, or that my head is much disordered by the accident of last night?”
“N-no, my dear boy,” said Herbert, after taking time to examine me. “You are rather excited, but you are quite yourself.”
“I know I am quite myself. And the man we have in hiding down the river, is Estella’s Father.”
The next day, Pip goes to visit Jaggers and Wemmick at the office. Jaggers authorizes the check for 900 pounds that will enrich Herbert’s business venture. Pip unfolds the story of Estella’s true parentage. Jaggers knows about the mother, but that the father is “Provis” is news to him. Pip would like for Estella to be reunited with her parents. Jaggers sees things differently.
Jaggers explains how the situation between he and Molly came about. As part of the deal in securing her acquittal, Estella was to be raised in a more suitable environment, and so avoid the life of poverty and crime. Jaggers says that he regularly sees children brought before the courts. He saw an opportunity to prevent that for Estella. When Molly was unable to suppress her violent tendencies, Jaggers brought her under his service.
The lawyer points out to Pip that revealing the parents to their child would benefit no one, at least not as he saw it. Wemmick seems to agree. Pip begs Jaggers to have some human feelings, and then asks Wemmick to remember that he has a castle and an Aged Parent at home. Wemmick is annoyed that Pip would bring his home life into the open while at the office. Jaggers is surprised, and lovingly calls Wemmick an impostor.
What purpose I had in view when I was hot on tracing out and proving Estella’s parentage, I cannot say. It will presently be seen that the question was not before me in a distinct shape until it was put before me by a wiser head than my own.
But when Herbert and I had held our momentous conversation, I was seized with a feverish conviction that I ought to hunt the matter down,–that I ought not to let it rest, but that I ought to see Mr. Jaggers, and come at the bare truth. I really do not know whether I felt that I did this for Estella’s sake, or whether I was glad to transfer to the man in whose preservation I was so much concerned some rays of the romantic interest that had so long surrounded me. Perhaps the latter possibility may be the nearer to the truth.
Any way, I could scarcely be withheld from going out to Gerrard Street that night. Herbert’s representations that, if I did, I should probably be laid up and stricken useless, when our fugitive’s safety would depend upon me, alone restrained my impatience. On the understanding, again and again reiterated, that, come what would, I was to go to Mr. Jaggers to-morrow, I at length submitted to keep quiet, and to have my hurts looked after, and to stay at home. Early next morning we went out together, and at the corner of Giltspur Street by Smithfield, I left Herbert to go his way into the City, and took my way to Little Britain.
There were periodical occasions when Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick went over the office accounts, and checked off the vouchers, and put all things straight. On these occasions, Wemmick took his books and papers into Mr. Jaggers’s room, and one of the up-stairs clerks came down into the outer office. Finding such clerk on Wemmick’s post that morning, I knew what was going on; but I was not sorry to have Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick together, as Wemmick would then hear for himself that I said nothing to compromise him.
My appearance, with my arm bandaged and my coat loose over my shoulders, favored my object. Although I had sent Mr. Jaggers a brief account of the accident as soon as I had arrived in town, yet I had to give him all the details now; and the speciality of the occasion caused our talk to be less dry and hard, and less strictly regulated by the rules of evidence, than it had been before. While I described the disaster, Mr. Jaggers stood, according to his wont, before the fire. Wemmick leaned back in his chair, staring at me, with his hands in the pockets of his trousers, and his pen put horizontally into the post. The two brutal casts, always inseparable in my mind from the official proceedings, seemed to be congestively considering whether they didn’t smell fire at the present moment.
My narrative finished, and their questions exhausted, I then produced Miss Havisham’s authority to receive the nine hundred pounds for Herbert. Mr. Jaggers’s eyes retired a little deeper into his head when I handed him the tablets, but he presently handed them over to Wemmick, with instructions to draw the check for his signature. While that was in course of being done, I looked on at Wemmick as he wrote, and Mr. Jaggers, poising and swaying himself on his well-polished boots, looked on at me. “I am sorry, Pip,” said he, as I put the check in my pocket, when he had signed it, “that we do nothing for you.”
“Miss Havisham was good enough to ask me,” I returned, “whether she could do nothing for me, and I told her No.”
“Everybody should know his own business,” said Mr. Jaggers. And I saw Wemmick’s lips form the words “portable property.”
“I should not have told her No, if I had been you,” said Mr Jaggers; “but every man ought to know his own business best.”
“Every man’s business,” said Wemmick, rather reproachfully towards me, “is portable property.”
As I thought the time was now come for pursuing the theme I had at heart, I said, turning on Mr. Jaggers:–
“I did ask something of Miss Havisham, however, sir. I asked her to give me some information relative to her adopted daughter, and she gave me all she possessed.”
“Did she?” said Mr. Jaggers, bending forward to look at his boots and then straightening himself. “Hah! I don’t think I should have done so, if I had been Miss Havisham. But she ought to know her own business best.”
“I know more of the history of Miss Havisham’s adopted child than Miss Havisham herself does, sir. I know her mother.”
Mr. Jaggers looked at me inquiringly, and repeated “Mother?”
“I have seen her mother within these three days.”
“Yes?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“And so have you, sir. And you have seen her still more recently.”
“Yes?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“Perhaps I know more of Estella’s history than even you do,” said I. “I know her father too.”
A certain stop that Mr. Jaggers came to in his manner–he was too self-possessed to change his manner, but he could not help its being brought to an indefinably attentive stop–assured me that he did not know who her father was. This I had strongly suspected from Provis’s account (as Herbert had repeated it) of his having kept himself dark; which I pieced on to the fact that he himself was not Mr. Jaggers’s client until some four years later, and when he could have no reason for claiming his identity. But, I could not be sure of this unconsciousness on Mr. Jaggers’s part before, though I was quite sure of it now.
“So! You know the young lady’s father, Pip?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“Yes,” I replied, “and his name is Provis–from New South Wales.”
Even Mr. Jaggers started when I said those words. It was the slightest start that could escape a man, the most carefully repressed and the sooner checked, but he did start, though he made it a part of the action of taking out his pocket-handkerchief. How Wemmick received the announcement I am unable to say; for I was afraid to look at him just then, lest Mr. Jaggers’s sharpness should detect that there had been some communication unknown to him between us.
“And on what evidence, Pip,” asked Mr. Jaggers, very coolly, as he paused with his handkerchief half way to his nose, “does Provis make this claim?”
“He does not make it,” said I, “and has never made it, and has no knowledge or belief that his daughter is in existence.”
For once, the powerful pocket-handkerchief failed. My reply was so Unexpected, that Mr. Jaggers put the handkerchief back into his pocket without completing the usual performance, folded his arms, and looked with stern attention at me, though with an immovable face.
Then I told him all I knew, and how I knew it; with the one reservation that I left him to infer that I knew from Miss Havisham what I in fact knew from Wemmick. I was very careful indeed as to that. Nor did I look towards Wemmick until I had finished all I had to tell, and had been for some time silently meeting Mr. Jaggers’s look. When I did at last turn my eyes in Wemmick’s direction, I found that he had unposted his pen, and was intent upon the table before him.
“Hah!” said Mr. Jaggers at last, as he moved towards the papers on the table. “What item was it you were at, Wemmick, when Mr. Pip came in?”
But I could not submit to be thrown off in that way, and I made a passionate, almost an indignant appeal, to him to be more frank and manly with me. I reminded him of the false hopes into which I had lapsed, the length of time they had lasted, and the discovery I had made: and I hinted at the danger that weighed upon my spirits. I represented myself as being surely worthy of some little confidence from him, in return for the confidence I had just now imparted. I said that I did not blame him, or suspect him, or mistrust him, but I wanted assurance of the truth from him. And if he asked me why I wanted it, and why I thought I had any right to it, I would tell him, little as he cared for such poor dreams, that I had loved Estella dearly and long, and that although I had lost her, and must live a bereaved life, whatever concerned her was still nearer and dearer to me than anything else in the world. And seeing that Mr. Jaggers stood quite still and silent, and apparently quite obdurate, under this appeal, I turned to Wemmick, and said, “Wemmick, I know you to be a man with a gentle heart. I have seen your pleasant home, and your old father, and all the innocent, cheerful playful ways with which you refresh your business life. And I entreat you to say a word for me to Mr. Jaggers, and to represent to him that, all circumstances considered, he ought to be more open with me!”
I have never seen two men look more oddly at one another than Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick did after this apostrophe. At first, a misgiving crossed me that Wemmick would be instantly dismissed from his employment; but it melted as I saw Mr. Jaggers relax into something like a smile, and Wemmick become bolder.
“What’s all this?” said Mr. Jaggers. “You with an old father, and you with pleasant and playful ways?”
“Well!” returned Wemmick. “If I don’t bring ‘em here, what does it matter?”
“Pip,” said Mr. Jaggers, laying his hand upon my arm, and smiling openly, “this man must be the most cunning impostor in all London.”
“Not a bit of it,” returned Wemmick, growing bolder and bolder. “I think you’re another.”
Again they exchanged their former odd looks, each apparently still distrustful that the other was taking him in.
“You with a pleasant home?” said Mr. Jaggers.
“Since it don’t interfere with business,” returned Wemmick, “let it be so. Now, I look at you, sir, I shouldn’t wonder if you might be planning and contriving to have a pleasant home of your own one of these days, when you’re tired of all this work.”
Mr. Jaggers nodded his head retrospectively two or three times, and actually drew a sigh. “Pip,” said he, “we won’t talk about ‘poor dreams;’ you know more about such things than I, having much fresher experience of that kind. But now about this other matter. I’ll put a case to you. Mind! I admit nothing.”
He waited for me to declare that I quite understood that he expressly said that he admitted nothing.
“Now, Pip,” said Mr. Jaggers, “put this case. Put the case that a woman, under such circumstances as you have mentioned, held her child concealed, and was obliged to communicate the fact to her legal adviser, on his representing to her that he must know, with an eye to the latitude of his defence, how the fact stood about that child. Put the case that, at the same time he held a trust to find a child for an eccentric rich lady to adopt and bring up.”
“I follow you, sir.”
“Put the case that he lived in an atmosphere of evil, and that all he saw of children was their being generated in great numbers for certain destruction. Put the case that he often saw children solemnly tried at a criminal bar, where they were held up to be seen; put the case that he habitually knew of their being imprisoned, whipped, transported, neglected, cast out, qualified in all ways for the hangman, and growing up to be hanged. Put the case that pretty nigh all the children he saw in his daily business life he had reason to look upon as so much spawn, to develop into the fish that were to come to his net,–to be prosecuted, defended, forsworn, made orphans, bedevilled somehow.”
“I follow you, sir.”
“Put the case, Pip, that here was one pretty little child out of the heap who could be saved; whom the father believed dead, and dared make no stir about; as to whom, over the mother, the legal adviser had this power: “I know what you did, and how you did it. You came so and so, you did such and such things to divert suspicion. I have tracked you through it all, andI tell it you all. Part with the child, unless it should benecessary to produce it to clear you, and then it shall be produced. Give the child into my hands, and I will do my best to bring you off. If you are saved, your child is saved too; if you are lost, your child is still saved.” Put the case that this was done, and that the woman was cleared.”
“I understand you perfectly.”
“But that I make no admissions?”
“That you make no admissions.” And Wemmick repeated, “No admissions.”
“Put the case, Pip, that passion and the terror of death had a little shaken the woman’s intellects, and that when she was set at liberty, she was scared out of the ways of the world, and went to him to be sheltered. Put the case that he took her in, and that he kept down the old, wild, violent nature whenever he saw an inkling of its breaking out, by asserting his power over her in the old way. Do you comprehend the imaginary case?”
“Put the case that the child grew up, and was married for money. That the mother was still living. That the father was still living. That the mother and father, unknown to one another, were dwelling within so many miles, furlongs, yards if you like, of one another. That the secret was still a secret, except that you had got wind of it. Put that last case to yourself very carefully.”
“I ask Wemmick to put it to himself very carefully.”
And Wemmick said, “I do.”
“For whose sake would you reveal the secret? For the father’s? I think he would not be much the better for the mother. For the mother’s? I think if she had done such a deed she would be safer where she was. For the daughter’s? I think it would hardly serve her to establish her parentage for the information of her husband, and to drag her back to disgrace, after an escape of twenty years, pretty secure to last for life. But add the case that you had loved her, Pip, and had made her the subject of those ‘poor dreams’ which have, at one time or another, been in the heads of more men than you think likely, then I tell you that you had better–and would much sooner when you had thought well of it–chop off that bandaged left hand of yours with your bandaged right hand, and then pass the chopper on to Wemmick there, to cut that off too.”
I looked at Wemmick, whose face was very grave. He gravely touched his lips with his forefinger. I did the same. Mr. Jaggers did the same. “Now, Wemmick,” said the latter then, resuming his usual manner, “what item was it you were at when Mr. Pip came in?”
Standing by for a little, while they were at work, I observed that the odd looks they had cast at one another were repeated several times: with this difference now, that each of them seemed suspicious, not to say conscious, of having shown himself in a weak and unprofessional light to the other. For this reason, I suppose, they were now inflexible with one another; Mr. Jaggers being highly dictatorial, and Wemmick obstinately justifying himself whenever there was the smallest point in abeyance for a moment. I had never seen them on such ill terms; for generally they got on very well indeed together.
But they were both happily relieved by the opportune appearance of Mike, the client with the fur cap and the habit of wiping his nose on his sleeve, whom I had seen on the very first day of my appearance within those walls. This individual, who, either in his own person or in that of some member of his family, seemed to be always in trouble (which in that place meant Newgate), called to announce that his eldest daughter was taken up on suspicion of shoplifting. As he imparted this melancholy circumstance to Wemmick, Mr. Jaggers standing magisterially before the fire and taking no share in the proceedings, Mike’s eye happened to twinkle with a tear.
“What are you about?” demanded Wemmick, with the utmost indignation. “What do you come snivelling here for?”
“I didn’t go to do it, Mr. Wemmick.”
“You did,” said Wemmick. “How dare you? You’re not in a fit state to come here, if you can’t come here without spluttering like a bad pen. What do you mean by it?”
“A man can’t help his feelings, Mr. Wemmick,” pleaded Mike.
“His what?” demanded Wemmick, quite savagely. “Say that again!”
“Now look here my man,” said Mr. Jaggers, advancing a step, and pointing to the door. “Get out of this office. I’ll have no feelings here. Get out.”
“It serves you right,” said Wemmick, “Get out.”
So, the unfortunate Mike very humbly withdrew, and Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick appeared to have re-established their good understanding, and went to work again with an air of refreshment upon them as if they had just had lunch.
Pip receives word from Wemmick that they should carry out their plans of escape early in the week, or Wednesday at the latest. Pip’s injuries have been slow to heal. He’s not capable of rowing, only steering. He and Herbert consider what they might do; they decide that Startop is both a good boatman and trustworthy. They agree to tell him as little as possible. The escape is planned for Wednesday morning.
Before Wednesday arrives, Pip receives another note in his door. This time, the note is anonymous. The sender requests that he come to the marshes at 9 p.m. to learn something important pertaining to his “Uncle Provis.” Without giving it too much thought, he sets out for the marsh country. Later, in the coach, he questions the wisdom of following the guidance of an anonymous note.
Pip avoids the Blue Boar and stays at a smaller inn. The landlord tells Pip’s story, without knowing that he’s talking to Pip himself. He says that Mr. Pumblechook is the founder of the boy’s fortunes, and that Pip is certainly an ungrateful gentleman. Pip loses his appetite. When the time comes, he strikes out for the limekiln near the marshes.
From Little Britain I went, with my check in my pocket, to Miss Skiffins’s brother, the accountant; and Miss Skiffins’s brother, the accountant, going straight to Clarriker’s and bringing Clarriker to me, I had the great satisfaction of concluding that arrangement. It was the only good thing I had done, and the only completed thing I had done, since I was first apprised of my great expectations.
Clarriker informing me on that occasion that the affairs of the House were steadily progressing, that he would now be able to establish a small branch-house in the East which was much wanted for the extension of the business, and that Herbert in his new partnership capacity would go out and take charge of it, I found that I must have prepared for a separation from my friend, even though my own affairs had been more settled. And now, indeed, I felt as if my last anchor were loosening its hold, and I should soon be driving with the winds and waves.
But there was recompense in the joy with which Herbert would come home of a night and tell me of these changes, little imagining that he told me no news, and would sketch airy pictures of himself conducting Clara Barley to the land of the Arabian Nights, and of me going out to join them (with a caravan of camels, I believe), and of our all going up the Nile and seeing wonders. Without being sanguine as to my own part in those bright plans, I felt that Herbert’s way was clearing fast, and that old Bill Barley had but to stick to his pepper and rum, and his daughter would soon be happily provided for.
We had now got into the month of March. My left arm, though it presented no bad symptoms, took, in the natural course, so long to heal that I was still unable to get a coat on. My right arm was tolerably restored; disfigured, but fairly serviceable.
On a Monday morning, when Herbert and I were at breakfast, I received the following letter from Wemmick by the post.
“Walworth. Burn this as soon as read. Early in the week, or say Wednesday, you might do what you know of, if you felt disposed to try it. Now burn.”
When I had shown this to Herbert and had put it in the fire–but not before we had both got it by heart–we considered what to do. For, of course my being disabled could now be no longer kept out of view.
“I have thought it over again and again,” said Herbert, “and I think I know a better course than taking a Thames waterman. Take Startop. A good fellow, a skilled hand, fond of us, and enthusiastic and honorable.”
I had thought of him more than once.
“But how much would you tell him, Herbert?”
“It is necessary to tell him very little. Let him suppose it a mere freak, but a secret one, until the morning comes: then let him know that there is urgent reason for your getting Provis aboard and away. You go with him?”
It had seemed to me, in the many anxious considerations I had given the point, almost indifferent what port we made for,–Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp,–the place signified little, so that he was out of England. Any foreign steamer that fell in our way and would take us up would do. I had always proposed to myself to get him well down the river in the boat; certainly well beyond Gravesend, which was a critical place for search or inquiry if suspicion were afoot. As foreign steamers would leave London at about the time of high-water, our plan would be to get down the river by a previous ebb-tide, and lie by in some quiet spot until we could pull off to one. The time when one would be due where we lay, wherever that might be, could be calculated pretty nearly, if we made inquiries beforehand.
Herbert assented to all this, and we went out immediately after breakfast to pursue our investigations. We found that a steamer for Hamburg was likely to suit our purpose best, and we directed our thoughts chiefly to that vessel. But we noted down what other foreign steamers would leave London with the same tide, and we satisfied ourselves that we knew the build and color of each. We then separated for a few hours: I, to get at once such passports as were necessary; Herbert, to see Startop at his lodgings. We both did what we had to do without any hindrance, and when we met again at one o’clock reported it done. I, for my part, was prepared with passports; Herbert had seen Startop, and he was more than ready to join.
Those two should pull a pair of oars, we settled, and I would steer; our charge would be sitter, and keep quiet; as speed was not our object, we should make way enough. We arranged that Herbert should not come home to dinner before going to Mill Pond Bank that evening; that he should not go there at all to-morrow evening, Tuesday; that he should prepare Provis to come down to some stairs hard by the house, on Wednesday, when he saw us approach, and not sooner; that all the arrangements with him should be concluded that Monday night; and that he should be communicated with no more in any way, until we took him on board.
These precautions well understood by both of us, I went home.
On opening the outer door of our chambers with my key, I found a letter in the box, directed to me; a very dirty letter, though not ill-written. It had been delivered by hand (of course, since I left home), and its contents were these:–
“If you are not afraid to come to the old marshes to-night or tomorrow night at nine, and to come to the little sluice-house by the limekiln, you had better come. If you want information regarding your uncle Provis, you had much better come and tell no one, and lose no time. You must come alone. Bring this with you.”
I had had load enough upon my mind before the receipt of this strange letter. What to do now, I could not tell. And the worst was, that I must decide quickly, or I should miss the afternoon coach, which would take me down in time for to-night. To-morrow night I could not think of going, for it would be too close upon the time of the flight. And again, for anything I knew, the proffered information might have some important bearing on the flight itself.
If I had had ample time for consideration, I believe I should still have gone. Having hardly any time for consideration,–my watch showing me that the coach started within half an hour,–I resolved to go. I should certainly not have gone, but for the reference to my Uncle Provis. That, coming on Wemmick’s letter and the morning’s busy preparation, turned the scale.
It is so difficult to become clearly possessed of the contents of almost any letter, in a violent hurry, that I had to read this mysterious epistle again twice, before its injunction to me to be secret got mechanically into my mind. Yielding to it in the same mechanical kind of way, I left a note in pencil for Herbert, telling him that as I should be so soon going away, I knew not for how long, I had decided to hurry down and back, to ascertain for myself how Miss Havisham was faring. I had then barely time to get my great-coat, lock up the chambers, and make for the coach-office by the short by-ways. If I had taken a hackney-chariot and gone by the streets, I should have missed my aim; going as I did, I caught the coach just as it came out of the yard. I was the only inside passenger, jolting away knee-deep in straw, when I came to myself.
For I really had not been myself since the receipt of the letter; it had so bewildered me, ensuing on the hurry of the morning. The morning hurry and flutter had been great; for, long and anxiously as I had waited for Wemmick, his hint had come like a surprise at last. And now I began to wonder at myself for being in the coach, and to doubt whether I had sufficient reason for being there, and to consider whether I should get out presently and go back, and to argue against ever heeding an anonymous communication, and, in short, to pass through all those phases of contradiction and indecision to which I suppose very few hurried people are strangers. Still, the reference to Provis by name mastered everything. I reasoned as I had reasoned already without knowing it, –if that be reasoning,–in case any harm should befall him through my not going, how could I ever forgive myself!
It was dark before we got down, and the journey seemed long and dreary to me, who could see little of it inside, and who could not go outside in my disabled state. Avoiding the Blue Boar, I put up at an inn of minor reputation down the town, and ordered some dinner. While it was preparing, I went to Satis House and inquired for Miss Havisham; she was still very ill, though considered something better.
My inn had once been a part of an ancient ecclesiastical house, and I dined in a little octagonal common-room, like a font. As I was not able to cut my dinner, the old landlord with a shining bald head did it for me. This bringing us into conversation, he was so good as to entertain me with my own story,–of course with the popular feature that Pumblechook was my earliest benefactor and the founder of my fortunes.
“Do you know the young man?” said I.
“Know him!” repeated the landlord. “Ever since he was–no height at all.”
“Does he ever come back to this neighborhood?”
“Ay, he comes back,” said the landlord, “to his great friends, now and again, and gives the cold shoulder to the man that made him.”
“What man is that?”
“Him that I speak of,” said the landlord. “Mr. Pumblechook.”
“Is he ungrateful to no one else?”
“No doubt he would be, if he could,” returned the landlord, “but he can’t. And why? Because Pumblechook done everything for him.”
“Does Pumblechook say so?”
“Say so!” replied the landlord. “He han’t no call to say so.”
“But does he say so?”
“It would turn a man’s blood to white wine winegar to hear him tell of it, sir,” said the landlord.
I thought, “Yet Joe, dear Joe, you never tell of it. Long-suffering and loving Joe, you never complain. Nor you, sweet-tempered Biddy!”
“Your appetite’s been touched like by your accident,” said the landlord, glancing at the bandaged arm under my coat. “Try a tenderer bit.”
“No, thank you,” I replied, turning from the table to brood over the fire. “I can eat no more. Please take it away.”
I had never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe, as through the brazen impostor Pumblechook. The falser he, the truer Joe; the meaner he, the nobler Joe.
My heart was deeply and most deservedly humbled as I mused over the fire for an hour or more. The striking of the clock aroused me, but not from my dejection or remorse, and I got up and had my coat fastened round my neck, and went out. I had previously sought in my pockets for the letter, that I might refer to it again; but I could not find it, and was uneasy to think that it must have been dropped in the straw of the coach. I knew very well, however, that the appointed place was the little sluice-house by the limekiln on the marshes, and the hour nine. Towards the marshes I now went straight, having no time to spare.
Pip finds an empty, weather-beaten shack near the limekiln. Inside, a candle burns. He knocks and waits for an answer. He steps in and examines the surroundings, but no one seems to be there. As he looks at the candles, someone slips a noose on him from behind and ties his arms back, causing extreme pain. Everything has gone dark. Pip has fallen into a trap.
When his captor strikes a flint, he sees that it’s Orlick. The mean-spirited former workman reveals that he’s long held a grudge against Pip. He blames Pip for Biddy’s rejection. He knows that Pip got him dismissed from the post at Miss Havisham’s. He also thinks Pip’s sister targeted him for special abuse, which is why he knocked her out cold in the kitchen.
Orlick goes on to explain that he was watching his movements in London. That’s how he came to know about “Uncle Provis.” He also began working for Compeyson and therefore learned the real identity of Provis. Orlick says he will kill Pip on the spot. Pip’s life flashes before his eyes.
Pip yells out one last time, and a group of people burst into the room. Orlick escapes. Pip sees that Herbert, Startop and Trabb’s boy have come to his rescue. Herbert was suspicious of the visit from the very beginning and decided to follow from London.
Wednesday, the day of escape, approaches, and Pip tries to recover from the pain of his re-injured arm.
It was a dark night, though the full moon rose as I left the enclosed lands, and passed out upon the marshes. Beyond their dark line there was a ribbon of clear sky, hardly broad enough to hold the red large moon. In a few minutes she had ascended out of that clear field, in among the piled mountains of cloud.
There was a melancholy wind, and the marshes were very dismal. A stranger would have found them insupportable, and even to me they were so oppressive that I hesitated, half inclined to go back. But I knew them well, and could have found my way on a far darker night, and had no excuse for returning, being there. So, having come there against my inclination, I went on against it.
The direction that I took was not that in which my old home lay, nor that in which we had pursued the convicts. My back was turned towards the distant Hulks as I walked on, and, though I could see the old lights away on the spits of sand, I saw them over my shoulder. I knew the limekiln as well as I knew the old Battery, but they were miles apart; so that, if a light had been burning at each point that night, there would have been a long strip of the blank horizon between the two bright specks.
At first, I had to shut some gates after me, and now and then to stand still while the cattle that were lying in the banked-up pathway arose and blundered down among the grass and reeds. But after a little while I seemed to have the whole flats to myself.
It was another half-hour before I drew near to the kiln. The lime was burning with a sluggish stifling smell, but the fires were made up and left, and no workmen were visible. Hard by was a small stone-quarry. It lay directly in my way, and had been worked that day, as I saw by the tools and barrows that were lying about.
Coming up again to the marsh level out of this excavation,–for the rude path lay through it,–I saw a light in the old sluice-house. I quickened my pace, and knocked at the door with my hand. Waiting for some reply, I looked about me, noticing how the sluice was abandoned and broken, and how the house–of wood with a tiled roof –would not be proof against the weather much longer, if it were so even now, and how the mud and ooze were coated with lime, and how the choking vapor of the kiln crept in a ghostly way towards me. Still there was no answer, and I knocked again. No answer still, and I tried the latch.
It rose under my hand, and the door yielded. Looking in, I saw a lighted candle on a table, a bench, and a mattress on a truckle bedstead. As there was a loft above, I called, “Is there any one here?” but no voice answered. Then I looked at my watch, and, finding that it was past nine, called again, “Is there any one here?” There being still no answer, I went out at the door, irresolute what to do.
It was beginning to rain fast. Seeing nothing save what I had seen already, I turned back into the house, and stood just within the shelter of the doorway, looking out into the night. While I was considering that some one must have been there lately and must soon be coming back, or the candle would not be burning, it came into my head to look if the wick were long. I turned round to do so, and had taken up the candle in my hand, when it was extinguished by some violent shock; and the next thing I comprehended was, that I had been caught in a strong running noose, thrown over my head from behind.
“Now,” said a suppressed voice with an oath, “I’ve got you!”
“What is this?” I cried, struggling. “Who is it? Help, help, help!”
Not only were my arms pulled close to my sides, but the pressure on my bad arm caused me exquisite pain. Sometimes, a strong man’s hand, sometimes a strong man’s breast, was set against my mouth to deaden my cries, and with a hot breath always close to me, I struggled ineffectually in the dark, while I was fastened tight to the wall. “And now,” said the suppressed voice with another oath, “call out again, and I’ll make short work of you!”
Faint and sick with the pain of my injured arm, bewildered by the surprise, and yet conscious how easily this threat could be put in execution, I desisted, and tried to ease my arm were it ever so little. But, it was bound too tight for that. I felt as if, having been burnt before, it were now being boiled.
The sudden exclusion of the night, and the substitution of black darkness in its place, warned me that the man had closed a shutter. After groping about for a little, he found the flint and steel he wanted, and began to strike a light. I strained my sight upon the sparks that fell among the tinder, and upon which he breathed and breathed, match in hand, but I could only see his lips, and the blue point of the match; even those but fitfully. The tinder was damp,–no wonder there,–and one after another the sparks died out.
The man was in no hurry, and struck again with the flint and steel. As the sparks fell thick and bright about him, I could see his hands, and touches of his face, and could make out that he was seated and bending over the table; but nothing more. Presently I saw his blue lips again, breathing on the tinder, and then a flare of light flashed up, and showed me Orlick.
Whom I had looked for, I don’t know. I had not looked for him. Seeing him, I felt that I was in a dangerous strait indeed, and I kept my eyes upon him.
He lighted the candle from the flaring match with great deliberation, and dropped the match, and trod it out. Then he put the candle away from him on the table, so that he could see me, and sat with his arms folded on the table and looked at me. I made out that I was fastened to a stout perpendicular ladder a few inches from the wall,–a fixture there,–the means of ascent to the loft above.
“Now,” said he, when we had surveyed one another for some time, “I’ve got you.”
“Unbind me. Let me go!”
“Ah!” he returned, “I’ll let you go. I’ll let you go to the moon, I’ll let you go to the stars. All in good time.”
“Why have you lured me here?”
“Don’t you know?” said he, with a deadly look.
“Why have you set upon me in the dark?”
“Because I mean to do it all myself. One keeps a secret better than two. O you enemy, you enemy!”
His enjoyment of the spectacle I furnished, as he sat with his arms folded on the table, shaking his head at me and hugging himself, had a malignity in it that made me tremble. As I watched him in silence, he put his hand into the corner at his side, and took up a gun with a brass-bound stock.
“Do you know this?” said he, making as if he would take aim at me. “Do you know where you saw it afore? Speak, wolf!”
“Yes,” I answered.
“You cost me that place. You did. Speak!”
“What else could I do?”
“You did that, and that would be enough, without more. How dared you to come betwixt me and a young woman I liked?”
“When did I?”
“When didn’t you? It was you as always give Old Orlick a bad name to her.”
“You gave it to yourself; you gained it for yourself. I could have done you no harm, if you had done yourself none.”
“You’re a liar. And you’ll take any pains, and spend any money, to drive me out of this country, will you?” said he, repeating my words to Biddy in the last interview I had with her. “Now, I’ll tell you a piece of information. It was never so well worth your while to get me out of this country as it is to-night. Ah! If it was all your money twenty times told, to the last brass farden!” As he shook his heavy hand at me, with his mouth snarling like a tiger’s, I felt that it was true.
“What are you going to do to me?”
“I’m a going,” said he, bringing his fist down upon the table with a heavy blow, and rising as the blow fell to give it greater force,– “I’m a going to have your life!”
He leaned forward staring at me, slowly unclenched his hand and drew it across his mouth as if his mouth watered for me, and sat down again.
“You was always in Old Orlick’s way since ever you was a child. You goes out of his way this present night. He’ll have no more on you. You’re dead.”
I felt that I had come to the brink of my grave. For a moment I looked wildly round my trap for any chance of escape; but there was none.
“More than that,” said he, folding his arms on the table again, “I won’t have a rag of you, I won’t have a bone of you, left on earth. I’ll put your body in the kiln,–I’d carry two such to it, on my Shoulders,–and, let people suppose what they may of you, they shall never know nothing.”
My mind, with inconceivable rapidity followed out all the consequences of such a death. Estella’s father would believe I had deserted him, would be taken, would die accusing me; even Herbert would doubt me, when he compared the letter I had left for him with the fact that I had called at Miss Havisham’s gate for only a moment; Joe and Biddy would never know how sorry I had been that night, none would ever know what I had suffered, how true I had meant to be, what an agony I had passed through. The death close before me was terrible, but far more terrible than death was the dread of being misremembered after death. And so quick were my thoughts, that I saw myself despised by unborn generations,– Estella’s children, and their children,–while the wretch’s words were yet on his lips.
“Now, wolf,” said he, “afore I kill you like any other beast,– which is wot I mean to do and wot I have tied you up for,–I’ll have a good look at you and a good goad at you. O you enemy!”
It had passed through my thoughts to cry out for help again; though few could know better than I, the solitary nature of the spot, and the hopelessness of aid. But as he sat gloating over me, I was supported by a scornful detestation of him that sealed my lips. Above all things, I resolved that I would not entreat him, and that I would die making some last poor resistance to him. Softened as my thoughts of all the rest of men were in that dire extremity; humbly beseeching pardon, as I did, of Heaven; melted at heart, as I was, by the thought that I had taken no farewell, and never now could take farewell of those who were dear to me, or could explain myself to them, or ask for their compassion on my miserable errors,– still, if I could have killed him, even in dying, I would have done it.
He had been drinking, and his eyes were red and bloodshot. Around his neck was slung a tin bottle, as I had often seen his meat and drink slung about him in other days. He brought the bottle to his lips, and took a fiery drink from it; and I smelt the strong spirits that I saw flash into his face.
“Wolf!” said he, folding his arms again, “Old Orlick’s a going to tell you somethink. It was you as did for your shrew sister.”
Again my mind, with its former inconceivable rapidity, had exhausted the whole subject of the attack upon my sister, her illness, and her death, before his slow and hesitating speech had formed these words.
“It was you, villain,” said I.
“I tell you it was your doing,–I tell you it was done through you,” he retorted, catching up the gun, and making a blow with the stock at the vacant air between us. “I come upon her from behind, as I come upon you to-night. I giv’ it her! I left her for dead, and if there had been a limekiln as nigh her as there is now nigh you, she shouldn’t have come to life again. But it warn’t Old Orlick as did it; it was you. You was favored, and he was bullied and beat. Old Orlick bullied and beat, eh? Now you pays for it. You done it; now you pays for it.”
He drank again, and became more ferocious. I saw by his tilting of the bottle that there was no great quantity left in it. I distinctly understood that he was working himself up with its contents to make an end of me. I knew that every drop it held was a drop of my life. I knew that when I was changed into a part of the vapor that had crept towards me but a little while before, like my own warning ghost, he would do as he had done in my sister’s case,–make all haste to the town, and be seen slouching about there drinking at the alehouses. My rapid mind pursued him to the town, made a picture of the street with him in it, and contrasted its lights and life with the lonely marsh and the white vapor creeping over it, into which I should have dissolved.
It was not only that I could have summed up years and years and years while he said a dozen words, but that what he did say presented pictures to me, and not mere words. In the excited and exalted state of my brain, I could not think of a place without seeing it, or of persons without seeing them. It is impossible to overstate the vividness of these images, and yet I was so intent, all the time, upon him himself,–who would not be intent on the tiger crouching to spring!–that I knew of the slightest action of his fingers.
When he had drunk this second time, he rose from the bench on which he sat, and pushed the table aside. Then, he took up the candle, and, shading it with his murderous hand so as to throw its light on me, stood before me, looking at me and enjoying the sight.
“Wolf, I’ll tell you something more. It was Old Orlick as you tumbled over on your stairs that night.”
I saw the staircase with its extinguished lamps. I saw the shadows of the heavy stair-rails, thrown by the watchman’s lantern on the wall. I saw the rooms that I was never to see again; here, a door half open; there, a door closed; all the articles of furniture around.
“And why was Old Orlick there? I’ll tell you something more, wolf. You and her have pretty well hunted me out of this country, so far as getting a easy living in it goes, and I’ve took up with new companions, and new masters. Some of ‘em writes my letters when I wants ‘em wrote,–do you mind?–writes my letters, wolf! They writes fifty hands; they’re not like sneaking you, as writes but one. I’ve had a firm mind and a firm will to have your life, since you was down here at your sister’s burying. I han’t seen a way to get you safe, and I’ve looked arter you to know your ins and outs. For, says Old Orlick to himself, ‘Somehow or another I’ll have him!’ What! When I looks for you, I finds your uncle Provis, eh?”
Mill Pond Bank, and Chinks’s Basin, and the Old Green Copper Ropewalk, all so clear and plain! Provis in his rooms, the signal whose use was over, pretty Clara, the good motherly woman, old Bill Barley on his back, all drifting by, as on the swift stream of my life fast running out to sea!
“You with a uncle too! Why, I know’d you at Gargery’s when you was so small a wolf that I could have took your weazen betwixt this finger and thumb and chucked you away dead (as I’d thoughts o’ doing, odd times, when I see you loitering amongst the pollards on a Sunday), and you hadn’t found no uncles then. No, not you! But when Old Orlick come for to hear that your uncle Provis had most like wore the leg-iron wot Old Orlick had picked up, filed asunder, on these meshes ever so many year ago, and wot he kep by him till he dropped your sister with it, like a bullock, as he means to drop you–hey?–when he come for to hear that–hey?”
In his savage taunting, he flared the candle so close at me that I turned my face aside to save it from the flame.
“Ah!” he cried, laughing, after doing it again, “the burnt child dreads the fire! Old Orlick knowed you was burnt, Old Orlick knowed you was smuggling your uncle Provis away, Old Orlick’s a match for you and know’d you’d come to-night! Now I’ll tell you something more, wolf, and this ends it. There’s them that’s as good a match for your uncle Provis as Old Orlick has been for you. Let him ‘ware them, when he’s lost his nevvy! Let him ‘ware them, when no man can’t find a rag of his dear relation’s clothes, nor yet a bone of his body. There’s them that can’t and that won’t have Magwitch,– yes, I know the name!–alive in the same land with them, and that’s had such sure information of him when he was alive in another land, as that he couldn’t and shouldn’t leave it unbeknown and put them in danger. P’raps it’s them that writes fifty hands, and that’s not like sneaking you as writes but one. ‘Ware Compeyson, Magwitch, and the gallows!”
He flared the candle at me again, smoking my face and hair, and for an instant blinding me, and turned his powerful back as he replaced the light on the table. I had thought a prayer, and had been with Joe and Biddy and Herbert, before he turned towards me again.
There was a clear space of a few feet between the table and the opposite wall. Within this space, he now slouched backwards and forwards. His great strength seemed to sit stronger upon him than ever before, as he did this with his hands hanging loose and heavy at his sides, and with his eyes scowling at me. I had no grain of hope left. Wild as my inward hurry was, and wonderful the force of the pictures that rushed by me instead of thoughts, I could yet clearly understand that, unless he had resolved that I was within a few moments of surely perishing out of all human knowledge, he would never have told me what he had told.
Of a sudden, he stopped, took the cork out of his bottle, and tossed it away. Light as it was, I heard it fall like a plummet. He swallowed slowly, tilting up the bottle by little and little, and now he looked at me no more. The last few drops of liquor he poured into the palm of his hand, and licked up. Then, with a sudden hurry of violence and swearing horribly, he threw the bottle from him, and stooped; and I saw in his hand a stone-hammer with a long heavy handle.
The resolution I had made did not desert me, for, without uttering one vain word of appeal to him, I shouted out with all my might, and struggled with all my might. It was only my head and my legs that I could move, but to that extent I struggled with all the force, until then unknown, that was within me. In the same instant I heard responsive shouts, saw figures and a gleam of light dash in at the door, heard voices and tumult, and saw Orlick emerge from a struggle of men, as if it were tumbling water, clear the table at a leap, and fly out into the night.
After a blank, I found that I was lying unbound, on the floor, in the same place, with my head on some one’s knee. My eyes were fixed on the ladder against the wall, when I came to myself,–had opened on it before my mind saw it,–and thus as I recovered consciousness, I knew that I was in the place where I had lost it.
Too indifferent at first, even to look round and ascertain who supported me, I was lying looking at the ladder, when there came between me and it a face. The face of Trabb’s boy!
“I think he’s all right!” said Trabb’s boy, in a sober voice; “but ain’t he just pale though!”
At these words, the face of him who supported me looked over into mine, and I saw my supporter to be–
“Herbert! Great Heaven!”
“Softly,” said Herbert. “Gently, Handel. Don’t be too eager.”
“And our old comrade, Startop!” I cried, as he too bent over me.
“Remember what he is going to assist us in,” said Herbert, “and be calm.”
The allusion made me spring up; though I dropped again from the pain in my arm. “The time has not gone by, Herbert, has it? What night is to-night? How long have I been here?” For, I had a strange and strong misgiving that I had been lying there a long time – a day and a night,–two days and nights,–more.
“The time has not gone by. It is still Monday night.”
“And you have all to-morrow, Tuesday, to rest in,” said Herbert. “But you can’t help groaning, my dear Handel. What hurt have you got? Can you stand?”
“Yes, yes,” said I, “I can walk. I have no hurt but in this throbbing arm.”
They laid it bare, and did what they could. It was violently swollen and inflamed, and I could scarcely endure to have it touched. But, they tore up their handkerchiefs to make fresh bandages, and carefully replaced it in the sling, until we could get to the town and obtain some cooling lotion to put upon it. In a little while we had shut the door of the dark and empty sluice-house, and were passing through the quarry on our way back. Trabb’s boy–Trabb’s overgrown young man now–went before us with a lantern, which was the light I had seen come in at the door. But, the moon was a good two hours higher than when I had last seen the sky, and the night, though rainy, was much lighter. The white vapor of the kiln was passing from us as we went by, and as I had thought a prayer before, I thought a thanksgiving now.
Entreating Herbert to tell me how he had come to my rescue,–which at first he had flatly refused to do, but had insisted on my remaining quiet,–I learnt that I had in my hurry dropped the letter, open, in our chambers, where he, coming home to bring with him Startop whom he had met in the street on his way to me, found it, very soon after I was gone. Its tone made him uneasy, and the more so because of the inconsistency between it and the hasty letter I had left for him. His uneasiness increasing instead of subsiding, after a quarter of an hour’s consideration, he set off for the coach-office with Startop, who volunteered his company, to make inquiry when the next coach went down. Finding that the afternoon coach was gone, and finding that his uneasiness grew into positive alarm, as obstacles came in his way, he resolved to follow in a post-chaise. So he and Startop arrived at the Blue Boar, fully expecting there to find me, or tidings of me; but, finding neither, went on to Miss Havisham’s, where they lost me. Hereupon they went back to the hotel (doubtless at about the time when I was hearing the popular local version of my own story) to refresh themselves and to get some one to guide them out upon the marshes. Among the loungers under the Boar’s archway happened to be Trabb’s Boy,–true to his ancient habit of happening to be everywhere where he had no business,–and Trabb’s boy had seen me passing from Miss Havisham’s in the direction of my dining-place. Thus Trabb’s boy became their guide, and with him they went out to the sluice-house, though by the town way to the marshes, which I had avoided. Now, as they went along, Herbert reflected, that I might, after all, have been brought there on some genuine and serviceable errand tending to Provis’s safety, and, bethinking himself that in that case interruption must be mischievous, left his guide and Startop on the edge of the quarry, and went on by himself, and stole round the house two or three times, endeavouring to ascertain whether all was right within. As he could hear nothing but indistinct sounds of one deep rough voice (this was while my mind was so busy), he even at last began to doubt whether I was there, when suddenly I cried out loudly, and he answered the cries, and rushed in, closely followed by the other two.
When I told Herbert what had passed within the house, he was for our immediately going before a magistrate in the town, late at night as it was, and getting out a warrant. But, I had already considered that such a course, by detaining us there, or binding us to come back, might be fatal to Provis. There was no gainsaying this difficulty, and we relinquished all thoughts of pursuing Orlick at that time. For the present, under the circumstances, we deemed it prudent to make rather light of the matter to Trabb’s boy; who, I am convinced, would have been much affected by disappointment, if he had known that his intervention saved me from the limekiln. Not that Trabb’s boy was of a malignant nature, but that he had too much spare vivacity, and that it was in his constitution to want variety and excitement at anybody’s expense. When we parted, I presented him with two guineas (which seemed to meet his views), and told him that I was sorry ever to have had an ill opinion of him (which made no impression on him at all).
Wednesday being so close upon us, we determined to go back to London that night, three in the post-chaise; the rather, as we should then be clear away before the night’s adventure began to be talked of. Herbert got a large bottle of stuff for my arm; and by dint of having this stuff dropped over it all the night through, I was just able to bear its pain on the journey. It was daylight when we reached the Temple, and I went at once to bed, and lay in bed all day.
My terror, as I lay there, of falling ill, and being unfitted for tomorrow, was so besetting, that I wonder it did not disable me of itself. It would have done so, pretty surely, in conjunction with the mental wear and tear I had suffered, but for the unnatural strain upon me that to-morrow was. So anxiously looked forward to, charged with such consequences, its results so impenetrably hidden, though so near.
No precaution could have been more obvious than our refraining from communication with him that day; yet this again increased my restlessness. I started at every footstep and every sound, believing that he was discovered and taken, and this was the messenger to tell me so. I persuaded myself that I knew he was taken; that there was something more upon my mind than a fear or a presentiment; that the fact had occurred, and I had a mysterious knowledge of it. As the days wore on, and no ill news came, as the day closed in and darkness fell, my overshadowing dread of being disabled by illness before to-morrow morning altogether mastered me. My burning arm throbbed, and my burning head throbbed, and I fancied I was beginning to wander. I counted up to high numbers, to make sure of myself, and repeated passages that I knew in prose and verse. It happened sometimes that in the mere escape of a fatigued mind, I dozed for some moments or forgot; then I would say to myself with a start, “Now it has come, and I am turning delirious!”
They kept me very quiet all day, and kept my arm constantly dressed, and gave me cooling drinks. Whenever I fell asleep, I awoke with the notion I had had in the sluice-house, that a long time had elapsed and the opportunity to save him was gone. About midnight I got out of bed and went to Herbert, with the conviction that I had been asleep for four-and-twenty hours, and that Wednesday was past. It was the last self-exhausting effort of my fretfulness, for after that I slept soundly.
Wednesday morning was dawning when I looked out of window. The winking lights upon the bridges were already pale, the coming sun was like a marsh of fire on the horizon. The river, still dark and mysterious, was spanned by bridges that were turning coldly gray, with here and there at top a warm touch from the burning in the sky. As I looked along the clustered roofs, with church-towers and spires shooting into the unusually clear air, the sun rose up, and a veil seemed to be drawn from the river, and millions of sparkles burst out upon its waters. From me too, a veil seemed to be drawn, and I felt strong and well.
Herbert lay asleep in his bed, and our old fellow-student lay asleep on the sofa. I could not dress myself without help; but I made up the fire, which was still burning, and got some coffee ready for them. In good time they too started up strong and well, and we admitted the sharp morning air at the windows, and looked at the tide that was still flowing towards us.
“When it turns at nine o’clock,” said Herbert, cheerfully, “look out for us, and stand ready, you over there at Mill Pond Bank!”
They set out in the morning. Their plan is to be far downstream by nightfall and put in at the first public house they see. Everything goes smoothly during the day. The weather is agreeable and no one seems to have followed them.
Outside of London, the riverbanks are desolate. There doesn’t seem to be anyone living nearby. Traffic on the river is light. It’s dark when they find a run-down establishment that will take them in for the night. One of the people there mentions a four-oared galley that has traveled up and down the river all day. Pip is instantly suspicious. He stays up late and sees a couple of people look into their boat. Magwitch is less concerned, but Herbert and Pip agree that they need to be extra cautious.
Next morning, they wait quietly for a steamer that’s expected to pass by at 1 p.m. They put in the river about noon. They row toward the steamer when it appears, but suddenly the four-oared galley comes into view also. Compeyson is sitting inside. There’s a struggle and both men fall into the water.
Only Magwitch resurfaces. He’s badly hurt on the head and in his chest. The authorities take him into custody. Pip is allowed to accompany him to London.
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. We had out pea-coats with us, and I took a bag. Of all my worldly possessions I took no more than the few necessaries that filled the bag. Where I might go, what I might do, or when I might return, were questions utterly unknown to me; nor did I vex my mind with them, for it was wholly set on Provis’s safety. I only wondered for the passing moment, as I stopped at the door and looked back, under what altered circumstances I should next see those rooms, if ever.
We loitered down to the Temple stairs, and stood loitering there, as if we were not quite decided to go upon the water at all. Of course, I had taken care that the boat should be ready and everything in order. After a little show of indecision, which there were none to see but the two or three amphibious creatures belonging to our Temple stairs, we went on board and cast off; Herbert in the bow, I steering. It was then about high-water,– half-past eight.
Our plan was this. The tide, beginning to run down at nine, and being with us until three, we intended still to creep on after it had turned, and row against it until dark. We should then be well in those long reaches below Gravesend, between Kent and Essex, where the river is broad and solitary, where the water-side inhabitants are very few, and where lone public-houses are scattered here and there, of which we could choose one for a resting-place. There, we meant to lie by all night. The steamer for Hamburg and the steamer for Rotterdam would start from London at about nine on Thursday morning. We should know at what time to expect them, according to where we were, and would hail the first; so that, if by any accident we were not taken abroad, we should have another chance. We knew the distinguishing marks of each vessel.
The relief of being at last engaged in the execution of the purpose was so great to me that I felt it difficult to realize the condition in which I had been a few hours before. The crisp air, the sunlight, the movement on the river, and the moving river itself,–the road that ran with us, seeming to sympathize with us, animate us, and encourage us on,–freshened me with new hope. I felt mortified to be of so little use in the boat; but, there were few better oarsmen than my two friends, and they rowed with a steady stroke that was to last all day.
At that time, the steam-traffic on the Thames was far below its present extent, and watermen’s boats were far more numerous. Of barges, sailing colliers, and coasting-traders, there were perhaps, as many as now; but of steam-ships, great and small, not a tithe or a twentieth part so many. Early as it was, there were plenty of scullers going here and there that morning, and plenty of barges dropping down with the tide; the navigation of the river between bridges, in an open boat, was a much easier and commoner matter in those days than it is in these; and we went ahead among many skiffs and wherries briskly.
Old London Bridge was soon passed, and old Billingsgate Market with its oyster-boats and Dutchmen, and the White Tower and Traitor’s Gate, and we were in among the tiers of shipping. Here were the Leith, Aberdeen, and Glasgow steamers, loading and unloading goods, and looking immensely high out of the water as we passed alongside; here, were colliers by the score and score, with the coal-whippers plunging off stages on deck, as counterweights to measures of coal swinging up, which were then rattled over the side into barges; here, at her moorings was to-morrow’s steamer for Rotterdam, of which we took good notice; and here to-morrow’s for Hamburg, under whose bowsprit we crossed. And now I, sitting in the stern, could see, with a faster beating heart, Mill Pond Bank and Mill Pond stairs.
“Is he there?” said Herbert.
“Right! He was not to come down till he saw us. Can you see his signal?”
“Not well from here; but I think I see it.–Now I see him! Pull both. Easy, Herbert. Oars!”
We touched the stairs lightly for a single moment, and he was on board, and we were off again. He had a boat-cloak with him, and a black canvas bag; and he looked as like a river-pilot as my heart could have wished.
“Dear boy!” he said, putting his arm on my shoulder, as he took his seat. “Faithful dear boy, well done. Thankye, thankye!”
Again among the tiers of shipping, in and out, avoiding rusty chain-cables frayed hempen hawsers and bobbing buoys, sinking for the moment floating broken baskets, scattering floating chips of wood and shaving, cleaving floating scum of coal, in and out, under the figure-head of the John of Sunderland making a speech to the winds (as is done by many Johns), and the Betsy of Yarmouth with a firm formality of bosom and her knobby eyes starting two inches out of her head; in and out, hammers going in ship-builders’ yards, saws going at timber, clashing engines going at things unknown, pumps going in leaky ships, capstans going, ships going out to sea, and unintelligible sea-creatures roaring curses over the bulwarks at respondent lightermen, in and out,–out at last upon the clearer river, where the ships’ boys might take their fenders in, no longer fishing in troubled waters with them over the side, and where the festooned sails might fly out to the wind.
At the Stairs where we had taken him abroad, and ever since, I had looked warily for any token of our being suspected. I had seen none. We certainly had not been, and at that time as certainly we were not either attended or followed by any boat. If we had been waited on by any boat, I should have run in to shore, and have obliged her to go on, or to make her purpose evident. But we held our own without any appearance of molestation.
He had his boat-cloak on him, and looked, as I have said, a natural part of the scene. It was remarkable (but perhaps the wretched life he had led accounted for it) that he was the least anxious of any of us. He was not indifferent, for he told me that he hoped to live to see his gentleman one of the best of gentlemen in a foreign country; he was not disposed to be passive or resigned, as I understood it; but he had no notion of meeting danger half way. When it came upon him, he confronted it, but it must come before he troubled himself.
“If you knowed, dear boy,” he said to me, “what it is to sit here alonger my dear boy and have my smoke, arter having been day by day betwixt four walls, you’d envy me. But you don’t know what it is.”
“I think I know the delights of freedom,” I answered.
“Ah,” said he, shaking his head gravely. “But you don’t know it equal to me. You must have been under lock and key, dear boy, to know it equal to me,–but I ain’t a going to be low.”
It occurred to me as inconsistent, that, for any mastering idea, he should have endangered his freedom, and even his life. But I reflected that perhaps freedom without danger was too much apart from all the habit of his existence to be to him what it would be to another man. I was not far out, since he said, after smoking a little:–
“You see, dear boy, when I was over yonder, t’other side the world, I was always a looking to this side; and it come flat to be there, for all I was a growing rich. Everybody knowed Magwitch, and Magwitch could come, and Magwitch could go, and nobody’s head would be troubled about him. They ain’t so easy concerning me here, dear boy,–wouldn’t be, leastwise, if they knowed where I was.”
“If all goes well,” said I, “you will be perfectly free and safe again within a few hours.”
“Well,” he returned, drawing a long breath, “I hope so.”
“And think so?”
He dipped his hand in the water over the boat’s gunwale, and said, smiling with that softened air upon him which was not new to me:–
“Ay, I s’pose I think so, dear boy. We’d be puzzled to be more quiet and easy-going than we are at present. But–it’s a flowing so soft and pleasant through the water, p’raps, as makes me think it–I was a thinking through my smoke just then, that we can no more see to the bottom of the next few hours than we can see to the bottom of this river what I catches hold of. Nor yet we can’t no more hold their tide than I can hold this. And it’s run through my fingers and gone, you see!” holding up his dripping hand.
“But for your face I should think you were a little despondent,” said I.
“Not a bit on it, dear boy! It comes of flowing on so quiet, and of that there rippling at the boat’s head making a sort of a Sunday tune. Maybe I’m a growing a trifle old besides.”
He put his pipe back in his mouth with an undisturbed expression of face, and sat as composed and contented as if we were already out of England. Yet he was as submissive to a word of advice as if he had been in constant terror; for, when we ran ashore to get some bottles of beer into the boat, and he was stepping out, I hinted that I thought he would be safest where he was, and he said. “Do you, dear boy?” and quietly sat down again.
The air felt cold upon the river, but it was a bright day, and the sunshine was very cheering. The tide ran strong, I took care to lose none of it, and our steady stroke carried us on thoroughly well. By imperceptible degrees, as the tide ran out, we lost more and more of the nearer woods and hills, and dropped lower and lower between the muddy banks, but the tide was yet with us when we were off Gravesend. As our charge was wrapped in his cloak, I purposely passed within a boat or two’s length of the floating Custom House, and so out to catch the stream, alongside of two emigrant ships, and under the bows of a large transport with troops on the forecastle looking down at us. And soon the tide began to slacken, and the craft lying at anchor to swing, and presently they had all swung round, and the ships that were taking advantage of the new tide to get up to the Pool began to crowd upon us in a fleet, and we kept under the shore, as much out of the strength of the tide now as we could, standing carefully off from low shallows and mudbanks.
Our oarsmen were so fresh, by dint of having occasionally let her drive with the tide for a minute or two, that a quarter of an hour’s rest proved full as much as they wanted. We got ashore among some slippery stones while we ate and drank what we had with us, and looked about. It was like my own marsh country, flat and monotonous, and with a dim horizon; while the winding river turned and turned, and the great floating buoys upon it turned and turned, and everything else seemed stranded and still. For now the last of the fleet of ships was round the last low point we had headed; and the last green barge, straw-laden, with a brown sail, had followed; and some ballast-lighters, shaped like a child’s first rude imitation of a boat, lay low in the mud; and a little squat shoal-lighthouse on open piles stood crippled in the mud on stilts and crutches; and slimy stakes stuck out of the mud, and slimy stones stuck out of the mud, and red landmarks and tidemarks stuck out of the mud, and an old landing-stage and an old roofless building slipped into the mud, and all about us was stagnation and mud.
We pushed off again, and made what way we could. It was much harder work now, but Herbert and Startop persevered, and rowed and rowed and rowed until the sun went down. By that time the river had lifted us a little, so that we could see above the bank. There was the red sun, on the low level of the shore, in a purple haze, fast deepening into black; and there was the solitary flat marsh; and far away there were the rising grounds, between which and us there seemed to be no life, save here and there in the foreground a melancholy gull.
As the night was fast falling, and as the moon, being past the full, would not rise early, we held a little council; a short one, for clearly our course was to lie by at the first lonely tavern we could find. So, they plied their oars once more, and I looked out for anything like a house. Thus we held on, speaking little, for four or five dull miles. It was very cold, and, a collier coming by us, with her galley-fire smoking and flaring, looked like a comfortable home. The night was as dark by this time as it would be until morning; and what light we had, seemed to come more from the river than the sky, as the oars in their dipping struck at a few reflected stars.
At this dismal time we were evidently all possessed by the idea that we were followed. As the tide made, it flapped heavily at irregular intervals against the shore; and whenever such a sound came, one or other of us was sure to start, and look in that direction. Here and there, the set of the current had worn down the bank into a little creek, and we were all suspicious of such places, and eyed them nervously. Sometimes, “What was that ripple?” one of us would say in a low voice. Or another, “Is that a boat yonder?” And afterwards we would fall into a dead silence, and I would sit impatiently thinking with what an unusual amount of noise the oars worked in the thowels.
At length we descried a light and a roof, and presently afterwards ran alongside a little causeway made of stones that had been picked up hard by. Leaving the rest in the boat, I stepped ashore, and found the light to be in a window of a public-house. It was a dirty place enough, and I dare say not unknown to smuggling adventurers; but there was a good fire in the kitchen, and there were eggs and bacon to eat, and various liquors to drink. Also, there were two double-bedded rooms,–”such as they were,” the landlord said. No other company was in the house than the landlord, his wife, and a grizzled male creature, the “Jack” of the little causeway, who was as slimy and smeary as if he had been low-water mark too.
With this assistant, I went down to the boat again, and we all came ashore, and brought out the oars, and rudder and boat-hook, and all else, and hauled her up for the night. We made a very good meal by the kitchen fire, and then apportioned the bedrooms: Herbert and Startop were to occupy one; I and our charge the other. We found the air as carefully excluded from both, as if air were fatal to life; and there were more dirty clothes and bandboxes under the beds than I should have thought the family possessed. But we considered ourselves well off, notwithstanding, for a more solitary place we could not have found.
While we were comforting ourselves by the fire after our meal, the Jack–who was sitting in a corner, and who had a bloated pair of shoes on, which he had exhibited while we were eating our eggs and bacon, as interesting relics that he had taken a few days ago from the feet of a drowned seaman washed ashore–asked me if we had seen a four-oared galley going up with the tide? When I told him No, he said she must have gone down then, and yet she “took up too,” when she left there.
“They must ha’ thought better on’t for some reason or another,” said the Jack, “and gone down.”
“A four-oared galley, did you say?” said I.
“A four,” said the Jack, “and two sitters.”
“Did they come ashore here?”
“They put in with a stone two-gallon jar for some beer. I’d ha’ been glad to pison the beer myself,” said the Jack, “or put some rattling physic in it.”
“I know why,” said the Jack. He spoke in a slushy voice, as if much mud had washed into his throat.
“He thinks,” said the landlord, a weakly meditative man with a pale eye, who seemed to rely greatly on his Jack,–”he thinks they was, what they wasn’t.”
“I knows what I thinks,” observed the Jack.
“You thinks Custum ‘Us, Jack?” said the landlord.
“I do,” said the Jack.
“Then you’re wrong, Jack.”
In the infinite meaning of his reply and his boundless confidence in his views, the Jack took one of his bloated shoes off, looked into it, knocked a few stones out of it on the kitchen floor, and put it on again. He did this with the air of a Jack who was so right that he could afford to do anything.
“Why, what do you make out that they done with their buttons then, Jack?” asked the landlord, vacillating weakly.
“Done with their buttons?” returned the Jack. “Chucked ‘em overboard. Swallered ‘em. Sowed ‘em, to come up small salad. Done with their buttons!”
“Don’t be cheeky, Jack,” remonstrated the landlord, in a melancholy and pathetic way.
“A Custum ‘Us officer knows what to do with his Buttons,” said the Jack, repeating the obnoxious word with the greatest contempt, “when they comes betwixt him and his own light. A four and two sitters don’t go hanging and hovering, up with one tide and down with another, and both with and against another, without there being Custum ‘Us at the bottom of it.” Saying which he went out in disdain; and the landlord, having no one to reply upon, found it impracticable to pursue the subject.
This dialogue made us all uneasy, and me very uneasy. The dismal wind was muttering round the house, the tide was flapping at the shore, and I had a feeling that we were caged and threatened. A four-oared galley hovering about in so unusual a way as to attract this notice was an ugly circumstance that I could not get rid of. When I had induced Provis to go up to bed, I went outside with my two companions (Startop by this time knew the state of the case), and held another council. Whether we should remain at the house until near the steamer’s time, which would be about one in the afternoon, or whether we should put off early in the morning, was the question we discussed. On the whole we deemed it the better course to lie where we were, until within an hour or so of the steamer’s time, and then to get out in her track, and drift easily with the tide. Having settled to do this, we returned into the house and went to bed.
I lay down with the greater part of my clothes on, and slept well for a few hours. When I awoke, the wind had risen, and the sign of the house (the Ship) was creaking and banging about, with noises that startled me. Rising softly, for my charge lay fast asleep, I looked out of the window. It commanded the causeway where we had hauled up our boat, and, as my eyes adapted themselves to the light of the clouded moon, I saw two men looking into her. They passed by under the window, looking at nothing else, and they did not go down to the landing-place which I could discern to be empty, but struck across the marsh in the direction of the Nore.
My first impulse was to call up Herbert, and show him the two men going away. But reflecting, before I got into his room, which was at the back of the house and adjoined mine, that he and Startop had had a harder day than I, and were fatigued, I forbore. Going back to my window, I could see the two men moving over the marsh. In that light, however, I soon lost them, and, feeling very cold, lay down to think of the matter, and fell asleep again.
We were up early. As we walked to and fro, all four together, before breakfast, I deemed it right to recount what I had seen. Again our charge was the least anxious of the party. It was very likely that the men belonged to the Custom House, he said quietly, and that they had no thought of us. I tried to persuade myself that it was so,–as, indeed, it might easily be. However, I proposed that he and I should walk away together to a distant point we could see, and that the boat should take us aboard there, or as near there as might prove feasible, at about noon. This being considered a good precaution, soon after breakfast he and I set forth, without saying anything at the tavern.
He smoked his pipe as we went along, and sometimes stopped to clap me on the shoulder. One would have supposed that it was I who was in danger, not he, and that he was reassuring me. We spoke very little. As we approached the point, I begged him to remain in a sheltered place, while I went on to reconnoitre; for it was towards it that the men had passed in the night. He complied, and I went on alone. There was no boat off the point, nor any boat drawn up anywhere near it, nor were there any signs of the men having embarked there. But, to be sure, the tide was high, and there might have been some footpints under water.
When he looked out from his shelter in the distance, and saw that I waved my hat to him to come up, he rejoined me, and there we waited; sometimes lying on the bank, wrapped in our coats, and sometimes moving about to warm ourselves, until we saw our boat coming round. We got aboard easily, and rowed out into the track of the steamer. By that time it wanted but ten minutes of one o’clock, and we began to look out for her smoke.
But, it was half-past one before we saw her smoke, and soon afterwards we saw behind it the smoke of another steamer. As they were coming on at full speed, we got the two bags ready, and took that opportunity of saying good by to Herbert and Startop. We had all shaken hands cordially, and neither Herbert’s eyes nor mine were quite dry, when I saw a four-oared galley shoot out from under the bank but a little way ahead of us, and row out into the same track.
A stretch of shore had been as yet between us and the steamer’s smoke, by reason of the bend and wind of the river; but now she was visible, coming head on. I called to Herbert and Startop to keep before the tide, that she might see us lying by for her, and I adjured Provis to sit quite still, wrapped in his cloak. He answered cheerily, “Trust to me, dear boy,” and sat like a statue. Meantime the galley, which was very skilfully handled, had crossed us, let us come up with her, and fallen alongside. Leaving just room enough for the play of the oars, she kept alongside, drifting when we drifted, and pulling a stroke or two when we pulled. Of the two sitters one held the rudder-lines, and looked at us attentively, –as did all the rowers; the other sitter was wrapped up, much as Provis was, and seemed to shrink, and whisper some instruction to the steerer as he looked at us. Not a word was spoken in either boat.
Startop could make out, after a few minutes, which steamer was first, and gave me the word “Hamburg,” in a low voice, as we sat face to face. She was nearing us very fast, and the beating of her peddles grew louder and louder. I felt as if her shadow were absolutely upon us, when the galley hailed us. I answered.
“You have a returned Transport there,” said the man who held the lines. “That’s the man, wrapped in the cloak. His name is Abel Magwitch, otherwise Provis. I apprehend that man, and call upon him to surrender, and you to assist.”
At the same moment, without giving any audible direction to his crew, he ran the galley abroad of us. They had pulled one sudden stroke ahead, had got their oars in, had run athwart us, and were holding on to our gunwale, before we knew what they were doing. This caused great confusion on board the steamer, and I heard them calling to us, and heard the order given to stop the paddles, and heard them stop, but felt her driving down upon us irresistibly. In the same moment, I saw the steersman of the galley lay his hand on his prisoner’s shoulder, and saw that both boats were swinging round with the force of the tide, and saw that all hands on board the steamer were running forward quite frantically. Still, in the same moment, I saw the prisoner start up, lean across his captor, and pull the cloak from the neck of the shrinking sitter in the galley. Still in the same moment, I saw that the face disclosed, was the face of the other convict of long ago. Still, in the same moment, I saw the face tilt backward with a white terror on it that I shall never forget, and heard a great cry on board the steamer, and a loud splash in the water, and felt the boat sink from under me.
It was but for an instant that I seemed to struggle with a thousand mill-weirs and a thousand flashes of light; that instant past, I was taken on board the galley. Herbert was there, and Startop was there; but our boat was gone, and the two convicts were gone.
What with the cries aboard the steamer, and the furious blowing off of her steam, and her driving on, and our driving on, I could not at first distinguish sky from water or shore from shore; but the crew of the galley righted her with great speed, and, pulling certain swift strong strokes ahead, lay upon their oars, every man looking silently and eagerly at the water astern. Presently a dark object was seen in it, bearing towards us on the tide. No man spoke, but the steersman held up his hand, and all softly backed water, and kept the boat straight and true before it. As it came nearer, I saw it to be Magwitch, swimming, but not swimming freely. He was taken on board, and instantly manacled at the wrists and ankles.
The galley was kept steady, and the silent, eager look-out at the water was resumed. But, the Rotterdam steamer now came up, and apparently not understanding what had happened, came on at speed. By the time she had been hailed and stopped, both steamers were drifting away from us, and we were rising and falling in a troubled wake of water. The look-out was kept, long after all was still again and the two steamers were gone; but everybody knew that it was hopeless now.
At length we gave it up, and pulled under the shore towards the tavern we had lately left, where we were received with no little surprise. Here I was able to get some comforts for Magwitch,– Provis no longer,–who had received some very severe injury in the Chest, and a deep cut in the head.
He told me that he believed himself to have gone under the keel of the steamer, and to have been struck on the head in rising. The injury to his chest (which rendered his breathing extremely painful) he thought he had received against the side of the galley. He added that he did not pretend to say what he might or might not have done to Compeyson, but that, in the moment of his laying his hand on his cloak to identify him, that villain had staggered up and staggered back, and they had both gone overboard together, when the sudden wrenching of him (Magwitch) out of our boat, and the endeavor of his captor to keep him in it, had capsized us. He told me in a whisper that they had gone down fiercely locked in each other’s arms, and that there had been a struggle under water, and that he had disengaged himself, struck out, and swum away.
I never had any reason to doubt the exact truth of what he thus told me. The officer who steered the galley gave the same account of their going overboard.
When I asked this officer’s permission to change the prisoner’s wet clothes by purchasing any spare garments I could get at the public-house, he gave it readily: merely observing that he must take charge of everything his prisoner had about him. So the pocket-book which had once been in my hands passed into the officer’s. He further gave me leave to accompany the prisoner to London; but declined to accord that grace to my two friends.
The Jack at the Ship was instructed where the drowned man had gone down, and undertook to search for the body in the places where it was likeliest to come ashore. His interest in its recovery seemed to me to be much heightened when he heard that it had stockings on. Probably, it took about a dozen drowned men to fit him out completely; and that may have been the reason why the different articles of his dress were in various stages of decay.
We remained at the public-house until the tide turned, and then Magwitch was carried down to the galley and put on board. Herbert and Startop were to get to London by land, as soon as they could. We had a doleful parting, and when I took my place by Magwitch’s side, I felt that that was my place henceforth while he lived.
For now, my repugnance to him had all melted away; and in the Hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously, towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.
His breathing became more difficult and painful as the night drew on, and often he could not repress a groan. I tried to rest him on the arm I could use, in any easy position; but it was dreadful to think that I could not be sorry at heart for his being badly hurt, since it was unquestionably best that he should die. That there were, still living, people enough who were able and willing to identify him, I could not doubt. That he would be leniently treated, I could not hope. He who had been presented in the worst light at his trial, who had since broken prison and had been tried again, who had returned from transportation under a life sentence, and who had occasioned the death of the man who was the cause of his arrest.
As we returned towards the setting sun we had yesterday left behind us, and as the stream of our hopes seemed all running back, I told him how grieved I was to think that he had come home for my sake.
“Dear boy,” he answered, “I’m quite content to take my chance. I’ve seen my boy, and he can be a gentleman without me.”
No. I had thought about that, while we had been there side by side. No. Apart from any inclinations of my own, I understood Wemmick’s hint now. I foresaw that, being convicted, his possessions would be forfeited to the Crown.
“Lookee here, dear boy,” said he “It’s best as a gentleman should not be knowed to belong to me now. Only come to see me as if you come by chance alonger Wemmick. Sit where I can see you when I am swore to, for the last o’ many times, and I don’t ask no more.”
“I will never stir from your side,” said I, “when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!”
I felt his hand tremble as it held mine, and he turned his face away as he lay in the bottom of the boat, and I heard that old sound in his throat,–softened now, like all the rest of him. It was a good thing that he had touched this point, for it put into my mind what I might not otherwise have thought of until too late,– that he need never know how his hopes of enriching me had perished.
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