By Wright Richard
By Wright Richard
Richard Wright was born to a tenant farmer and a teacher in Mississippi in 1908. He was an extremely rambunctious child that his parents had a hard time keeping control of. His father walked out on him, his younger brother, and his mother Ella when Richard was only five years old. Ella suffered a stroke and Richard was forced to take care of his mother, try to hold down a job, support his family, and move all over the country to get help from family members.
The family lived in the south during the time of the Jim Crow laws, which essentially made it impossible for a black person to achieve any success in life or a means to move onward and upward. Richard was exceptionally skilful in school, when he was permitted to attend, and began writing at a young age though no one understood why he enjoyed it. When Richard finally got to move to Chicago in his late-teens or early-twenties, he joined the Communist party and began writing for many political and Communist newspapers and also composed numerous essays.
In the 1930’s Wright published his highly successful novel “Native Son” and the autobiographical “Black Boy”. Eventually Wright left the Communist party, though he still respected any gathering of people that was passionate about their cause and intelligent. He moved to France where he became interested in Existentialism, existence, and philosophy more than ever before. He died in 1960, of a heart attack, never having published anything quite as moving and praised as “Native Son” and “Black Boy”.
Richard is a hugely rambunctious child and he causes his parents much strife in his earlier years by setting fire to the house, killing a kitten, getting in fights, and not conforming to the religious views of some of his family members. Richard’s father leaves when Richard is a young boy and not long after his mother suffers from a stroke.
Richard, his mother, and his younger brother are forced to move around living with various relatives, at times being split up, because his mother cannot hold a steady job due to random strokes she experiences that keep her out of work. Richard takes several jobs but cannot make enough to support the entire family. Richard is extremely intelligent and spends a lot of time writing, though his family and peers do not understand his love for writing or why he would do it just for fun.
Richard graduates as valedictorian of his class, and he feels as though he must move north for the chance to make something of his life and to be around people who appreciate the knowledge and desire freedom as much as he does. When Richard finally moves to Chicago, he joins up with several groups of people he respects for their passion, even if he does not totally agree with their views. Richard becomes a part of the Communist Party and writes many essays for them.
Eventually Richard begins to disagree with their politics and the way they handle certain situations. As it became apparent that Richard no longer agreed with their position, the Communists beat Richard quite badly. Richard decided that it was time to leave the Communist party and concentrate on his writing.
Racism is obviously a central theme to this story, as it is a central theme to the life of Richard Wright. In the early-mid 1900’s life for blacks was riddled with suffering, conflict, and disrespect, especially in the southern states.
Wright did not understand the difference between blacks and whites when he was younger and did not understand the tension until he got older and saw the pain and, oftentimes, death that was inflicted upon the black community by the white oppressors.
Wright often heard stories from classmates and neighbors which all became real to him when his friend’s brother was killed by white people and so was his uncle Hoskins.
Oppression occurred between a couple different groups of people throughout the novel. There is the obvious oppression of the white community over the black community, but then there is the oppression within the black community, as well.
Richard is ridiculed and discriminated against for his intellectualism and desire to write by his family members, neighbors, classmates, and eventually his Communist allies. It is not only the “superior” white race that holds the black people back, but those who are oppressed take it one step further and try to hold back those who wish to make moves to have a better life, like Richard.
For Richard, self-defense was a part of his everyday life. Richard was always fighting against someone to be himself, express himself, and better himself. He started getting in fights to keep himself from being mugged, and then to earn the respect of classmates who would ridicule him otherwise and also to prevent himself from being beaten by his family members.
Richard had been beaten so badly by his mother once that he went unconscious and developed a severe fever. Richard fought and clawed his way through everything in life, all in an attempt to accomplish the goals that everyone deemed pointless.
Richard’s pride is the one thing he always tried to hold on to, despite the fact that he lost many things over the course of his poverty stricken youth. Richard would never back down from a fight, would continue to reach for the stars and chase his dreams no matter no much resistance he encountered, and would never take a handout from anyone.
Richard realized a little later in his life that everyone needs a handout sometimes, especially in the tough economic climate during the Great Depression. He was forced to swallow his pride in order to save himself and his family, though he continued to stand for what he believed in.
Richard never gave much thought to politics as a youth, but, when he began reading various newspapers, and essays he gave a lot of thought to socialism and the changes that certain political stances could make. When Richard was introduced to the Communist party, he finally began to believe that equality was attainable, and the oppressed masses could group together and accomplish something remarkable in terms of socialization. Eventually it was the cultlike politics of the Communist party that forced Richard to search for another avenue of broadcasting his message.
When Richard was growing up the one thing he wished for more than anything in the world was independence. He always had to answer to someone and felt trapped by other people’s shallow and simplistic morals, values, and rules. Even when Richard got away from his family he was trapped by his poverty and the discrimination he faced in everyday life.
In Chicago, Richard finally felt free to express himself, though, after a while, he felt as if his actions and writing were dictated and directed by the Communist party. Richard realized that equality will take longer to achieve, and, while he has freedom, he does not necessarily have independence.
The Power of Art
Art, in the form of writing and literature for Richard, is instrumental in his ambitions and motivations. Richard becomes immersed in the stories he hears about and reads himself, thirsting for knowledge in any form he can find it.
Richard’s love for the art of writing is what drove him to always reach for a higher station in life and to find a place where he would be accepted. When Richard moves to Chicago and joins the John Reed Club he is surrounded by people who appreciate art as much as he does, though it is not always embraced by the oppressors.
Richard is always determined to do bigger and better things than those around him believe him capable of. He spends his entire life waiting for the moment when he can take the reins and move in his own direction.
It is Richard’s determination that keeps him out of trouble with the law, earns him the sympathy of certain northerners, and keeps him focused. Richard muses in his writing that he had known it would be so hard to become a writer he would never have pushed forward. This surely is not true because his determination would never have allowed him to fail.
Violence is prominent in this story, especially in the southern states. Richard is often beaten by his relatives, though after his mother encourages him to fight against those who are attacking him, he becomes quite vicious himself.
Richard is no stranger to threatening his Aunt Addie with knives or his Uncle Tom with razor blades and whenever entering a new school Richard would get in a fight to earn the respect of his peers. There is plenty of violence against black people at the hands of white people, much of it resulting in death. In Richard’s world violence was a means to self-preservation.
The one thing that always held Richard together, especially at the end of the story when he was harassed and ostracized by the Communists was his hope for a better future. Richard was always reaching for something better in his life, hoping that one day he would find it. He becomes a strong advocate for equality between the races and the uprising of the oppressed masses.
Richard’s hope for peace in the world and to influence people’s opinions through his writing is what kept him holding on through all of the suffering he endured.
Richard is a hugely stubborn, outspoken, and headstrong person who finds immense value and potential in himself. Richard’s belief in his own abilities often causes him to have friction with, and disrespect for, people who do not have the same belief in him. Richard is highly defensive of his character and his ambitions, despite the resistance he gets from others.
Richard becomes increasingly interested in the relationship between blacks and whites and makes it his mission to educate the world on oppression and its consequences. He is a dreamer who is truly dedicated to the causes he is passionate about and is often discriminated against for his intelligence.
Ella is Richard’s mother who is seriously sick for most of her adult life, being susceptible to strokes, of which she experiences many. She is forced to be out of work most of the time which puts a lot of pressure on Richard. Ella punishes Richard when he does wrong, yet shows an affection and love for him that no one else does.
Ella shows a fierce determination to raise her children after Nathan leaves, though, it is difficult with all of her health problems. Ella becomes a symbol of the suffering in the world for Richard, as he believes her suffering represents the suffering of the black community as a whole because she has no control over it.
Maggie is Ella’s sister who lives with her husband, Hoskins, when she is introduced to the story. When Hoskins is killed by some white men Maggie moves with Ella and the boys to live with Granny, and then they settle in Arkansas. She meets a mysterious man who is on the run from the law who is called Professor Matthews and they move to Detroit together.
Alan is soon sent to live with Maggie and the Professor, though Maggie moves back down south after the Professor abandons her. She moves to Chicago with Richard and his family.
Granny is an extremely religious 7th Day Adventist. She believes that fiction is sinful and full of lies and thus does not approve of reading or writing of fiction in her home. She, along with Aunt Addie, is on a mission to save Richard’s soul until they decide that he is a lost cause and give up.
Despite Granny’s resentment of Richard she makes many efforts to help Ella and her sons, knowing how difficult life has been for them with Ella’s strokes. Granny gets physical with Richard on more than one occasion, though to no avail. She has no support for Richard and his desire to be a writer.
Addie lives with Granny and is equally religious. She is the teacher at a religious school that Richard is forced to attend when living with Granny. Addie is not a fan of Richard’s and is physically abusive to him when she feels he is out of line. She beats him in front of his classmates, for something he did not do, and beats him again later at home when she tells him who really did it.
Richard threatens Addie with a knife on more than one occasion, causing her to vow to one day give him the beating she feels he deserves, though, she never does.
Also, may be known as Leon, Alan is Richard’s younger brother. Alan is the favored child, as he does not cause trouble the way that Richard does. When the boys are split up because Granny cannot care for both of them Alan moves to Detroit to live with Maggie and Professor Matthews.
Eventually Alan moves back down south, and he, Ella, and eventually Maggie, team up with Richard to save money to move north together. Once they get to Chicago Alan must work to help Richard support the family, though he falls ill and cannot work for a while.
Clark is Ella’s brother and Richard’s uncle. When Granny sends the boys to live in different places because she cannot take care of them, Richard is given the choice on where he would like to go, deciding on living with Clark to be close to his mother.
Richard is ambivalent about living with Clark until he learns that someone died in the bed he sleeps in there, which caused him to have severe nightmares. Clark is hesitant to allow Richard to move back in with Granny until Richard begins lashing out on Clark and his wife Jody.
Tom is Richard’s uncle whom he is sent to with the news that Grandfather had died. Later Uncle Tom and his family are asked to come and live at Granny’s home for a small amount of rent to help make ends meet.
Uncle Tom does not like Richard and forbids his children to associate with him. Uncle Tom makes any excuse to pick a fight with Richard, such as not appreciating his tone. Richard gets physical with him, as he does with everyone who tries to abuse him, and he threatens Tom with razor blades.
Mrs. Moss is the kind woman who allows Richard to live with her and her daughter, Bess, when he moves to Memphis. He finds Mrs. Moss to be exceedingly generous and loving, which is a different environment for him, but he feels pressure to marry her daughter Bess as he knows that is what Mrs. Moss desires, despite the fact that she barely knows him at all. Mrs. Moss and Bess are the first people Richard meets that show him there are truly kind people in the world who were not bigoted nor were they cruel.
Bess is the daughter of Mrs. Moss and is interested in marrying Richard, which is obvious in the way she tries to throw herself at him. According to Richard, Bess is very simple, ignorant, unintelligent, and naive.
Bess believes that love is all that matters in the world and all she wants out of life are to settle down and have a family. Richard is so ambitious and has such lefty goals in life that he does not understand how someone can be so simple.
Falk is one of the first white men that Richard meets that he actually forms a strong relationship and friendship with. Falk works with Richard and allows Richard to borrow his library card when he wishes to read up on Mencken.
Falk is one of the few white people who does not discriminate against black people, but rather seems to feel bad for the suffering they endure. When Richard announces that, he is moving to Chicago Falk seems genuinely happy for him, though he cannot show it in front of the other white people, for the sake of his own well-being.
Griggs is a boy who is a former classmate of Richard’s. He tells Richard that many white people are unwilling to hire him because they have heard that he is quite the troublemaker and they do not want to deal with his attitude.
Griggs tells Richard that he needs to learn to act invisible to the white people and to just be quiet and do what he is told even if he feels it is unfair because that is the only way he will be able to hold down a job. Griggs gets Richard a job working for Mr. Crane, the lens maker.
Mr. Crane owns an optical shop in Jackson, Mississippi where Richard gets a job, thanks to Griggs. Mr. Crane is from the north and understands Richard’s desire to move there because he feels that is the only place Richard may be able to accomplish anything without racism holding him back.
When Richard decides to leave the job after a week due to some harassment by white employees Mr. Crane pays him much more than he earned in the week he worked there, hoping that he would soon save enough money to head north.
The Hoffmans are the Jewish couple who own the deli that Richard works at in Chicago. The Hoffman’s have unusually thick accents, and Richard does not always understand what they are saying, which frustrates them.
Richard mistakes their frustration for racism, because that is all he has ever known in his life, though they are not racist at all, on the contrary they pity Richard. They know he lied to them about why he missed work when he was applying for another job because he was scared to tell them. They feel sorry that Richard lives in a world of constant fear and defensiveness.
The John Reed Club
The John Reed Club is a group of young artists, writers, and politically minded men who lean toward the Communist party. Some of the men are official members of the party and some are not.
Richard joins the club through some friends he makes at the post office and is profoundly inspired by their passion. He becomes a respected and high member of the club and makes some close friends, or comrades, while a member. Sadly, the Communists decide to disband all John Reed Clubs because they disapprove of such intellectual minds.
Richard is a rambunctious boy who has a knack for causing trouble to entertain himself. He accidentally sets the curtains on fire and, in turn, the entire house while his mother is caring for his grandmother who is ill. Richard hides under the porch and is dragged out by his father, Nathan, and beaten to the point of unconsciousness by his mother, Ella.
Nathan works nights and thus sleeps during the day, but is woken one day by the sound of a kitten that Richard and his brother have found. Nathan tells the boys to get rid of the kitten and to kill it if they have to, though he is being sarcastic. Richard, knowing his father was not serious, hangs the kitten, killing it. He knows that his father cannot tell him that he was not serious because it will give Richard reason to not listen to him anymore. Shortly after this incident Nathan packs up and leaves for another woman.
Ella has a stroke and cannot work, so Richard is forced to take care of the family, which is a lot of responsibility for him. Richard and his brother are constantly hungry and associate painful hunger with resentment of their father and those who can afford food. Richard becomes a fighter after Ella encourages him to beat others who try to rob him when he goes to the store for food. Richard teaches himself to read which opens many questions in his mind, especially questions about the difference between black and white people. Richard is baffled by the black people’s hatred of white people but slowly develops an understanding of the abuse they endure.
The family slips further into poverty and after sending her boys to an orphanage for a while, Ella decides to move the whole family to live with her sister, Maggie, in Arkansas. Ella makes Richard ask Nathan for money before they leave, which Nathan refuses, and Richard muses that this is the last time he had ever seen his father.
When the family is on their way to Maggie’s home they stop in Jackson, Mississippi to visit with Richard’s grandmother for a bit. Richard’s grandmother is a highly religious woman who allows a young schoolteacher, also named Ella, to rent a room from her.
Richard is intrigued by Ella and the books she is always reading. She tells him about her books, and Richard’s grandmother is not happy about this because, as a strict religious woman, she believes that fiction is nothing but lies and sin, and strictly forbids any talk of it in her home. When Richard begins to get mouthy with his grandmother, she blames it on Ella and her books, causing Ella the schoolteacher to move out.
When they arrive at Aunt Maggie’s home, they discover that she and her husband, Hoskins, always have food though Richard, fearing that it will run out, hides food all over the house for himself. Hoskins is killed by a group of white men one evening and Ella, Maggie, and the boys head back to Granny’s home in Mississippi, fearing for their own lives. They only stay with Granny for a short time before they get sick of her religious preaching and move to Arkansas together. Richard still ponders the division of blacks and whites whenever he is confronted with a discriminatory situation.
The building the family is living in turns out to be a brothel of sorts, which interests confuses Richard. Maggie soon meets a man known as Professor Matthews, who is apparently on the run from the law, and he and Maggie soon move north. After Maggie leaves, the family is in a state of poverty once again, and Richard nearly sells his dog for one dollar to buy food, which his mother tells him, he should have done because the dog is soon hit by a car and killed and a dead dog is not worth anything. World War I soon comes to an end, sparking a lot of racial conflict in the south, and Richard hears many inspiring stories of black people fighting back against the whites who have done them wrong.
Richard is becoming acutely racially proud at this point, along with his friends, though they do not necessarily understand their motives. They get in many fights to defend themselves and their cause, resulting in Richard getting stitches on one occasion though he vows to fight further if the need arises. Ella is extremely sick at this point and is forced to move herself and the boys to a cheaper apartment, which Richard must pay for by working odd jobs because Ella cannot work.
Richard becomes desperate and writes to his Granny for help, fearing what will happen to the family if help does not come. Once Granny arrives they write letters to the other family members asking for money, though Richard feels ashamed and does not want to take handouts from anyone, including the neighbors who try to give them food. Eventually money comes in from family members little by little.
The family moves back to Granny’s home in Mississippi, and other family members move in to help Granny care for the boys. It is decided that the boys will be separated and sent to live with different relatives as Granny cannot possibly care for them herself. Richard chooses to live with his uncle Clark, as it will keep him close to his mother, and his brother, Alan, goes to live with Maggie in Detroit. While living with Clark, Richard continues to get into fights and making his own weapons in case he may need to use them.
Richard begins to have terrible nightmares when he learns that the person who lived in his room before him died in his bed, and he throws fits until he is permitted to go back to Granny’s house. Richard cannot wait until he is old enough to be out on his own, knowing his mother will never be well again, as she has suffered yet another stroke. He associates his mother’s illness to the pain and suffering that life is undoubtedly about, as that is all he has known to this point.
Back at Granny’s Richard begins starving again, as there is little to eat. He begins drinking large amounts of water to make his stomach feel full. Granny is teaming up with Aunt Addie, who is also highly religious, to attempt to save Richard’s soul. Richard attends the religious school where Addie teaches, and she proceeds to beat him twice in one day, once in front of his classmates, over an understanding.
Richard retaliates by pulling a knife on Addie, and so she backs down, but is still supported by the other adults. Richard muses that while he is interested in religion he cannot bring himself to believe in God, no matter how much Addie and Granny try to make him, with the help of the other boys in the neighborhood. One day at church Richard tells Granny that he would believe in God if he saw an angel and she mistakenly thinks he tells her that he saw an angel. She tells the entire congregation what he said, and he corrects her in front of everyone, infuriating and embarrassing her.
To calm Granny down Richard tells her he will pray every single day, though he cannot bring himself to do so. When he should be praying he instead writes a story. He reads the story to the girl next door who is baffled by the fact that Richard is writing something just for fun.
Addie and Granny give up on trying to save Richard as they see it is a lost cause. Richard is permitted to return to public school, where again he gains acceptance of his peers by fighting. Richard wants to get a job so he will have money to hang out with his friends and buy snacks from the corner store, but he has a hard time finding a job that will give him Saturdays off, as Granny refuses to allow him to work Saturdays for religious reasons.
Richard, at the urging of his friend, gets a job selling newspapers, though his friend has never actually read the paper so he does not know what it is about. Shortly after he begins selling, Richard learns that the paper is filled with propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan, and he is mortified. Both Richard and his friend stop selling the paper and Richard, once again, is poor.
One day when Richard says something that Addie and Granny find offensive, Granny lunges as Richard and falls off the porch, injuring her back. Richard feels awful but does not say anything and Addie attacks him. Once again Richard pulls a knife on Addie so she stops, but vows that one day she will give him the beating he deserves, which causes Richard to sleep with a knife under his pillow for the next month.
Richard gets a job working for an insurance man and visits sharecroppers, seeing what true poverty looks like and no longer feeling so sorry for himself. When Richard’s Grandfather passes away, he is sent to tell his Uncle Tom, who is outraged by the casual way Richard delivers the news. Richard is not invited to the funeral. As Richard slowly separates himself from the family, he stands up to his Granny and tells her that he will work Saturdays whether she likes it or not because he is embarrassed at the state of the raggedy clothing he must wear. Ella is proud of Richard for standing up to her.
Richard gets a job working for a white family, which pays poorly but includes food. Richard becomes resentful of the family and hates the job because they get decent food to eat and he gets the moldy leftovers. Richard decides to quit the job when the woman of the house asks him why he bothers to attend school and laughs at him when he tells her that he wants to be a writer.
Richard soon begins working for another white family, which he also despises because of the way the treat him as well as one another, but he keeps it because he can easily steal food from them and it arms him with stories of his white employers to share with his friends who also work for white families.
Ella begins to feel better and convinces Richard to attend Baptist church with her. Richard and some other wayward boys are pressured to be Baptized and agree to it, though they do not believe in God. They all agree afterward that they feel no different.
Granny invites Uncle Tom and his family to live with them in return for paying a small amount of rent to help them out financially. Uncle Tom and Richard have a misunderstanding one day and Uncle Tom attacks Richard, only to face the razor blades that Richard wields on him, causing him to back off.
When Richard is in his summer before eighth grade, he gets a job working for a bricklayer. The owner’s dog bites him and Richard is worried because he knows of other men who have fallen extremely ill after being bitten by that dog. The owner tells Richard not to worry because “a dog bite can not hurt a nigger.”
Richard does fall ill but recovers in a couple of days, to his relief. Richard continues going to school but is disappointed at the lack of real world knowledge he is learning, as he feels he has learned nothing to help him to further his life. He writes a short story that is published by a local paper that is for blacks only, and Richard’s classmates and family do not understand why he writes just for fun.
Granny and Addie, of course, believe that fiction is sinful and full of lies so they have no support for Richard’s desire to write, nor does Ella who believes that potential employers may believe Richard’s ambition causes him to have a weak mind, and thus they will not hire him. The only person who appears to be supportive of Richard’s writing is the editor of the paper. Richard, in retrospect, muses that had he known how difficult it would be to accomplish his dream of becoming a writer he probably would have given up long ago.
Richard gets a job working at a sawmill but soon quits when he sees that one of the men is missing fingers after getting them caught in one of the machines. Richard becomes increasingly wary of black and white relations when he learns that the brother of a classmate was killed by a group of white men when they thought he was consorting with a white prostitute.
Richard becomes desperate for independence more than ever when he learns that his Uncle Tom has forbidden his children to spend time with Richard, feeling he is a bad influence. When Alan comes to visit the family, he seems to side with the rest of the family in alienating Richard, much to his surprise and dismay.
When it comes time for Richard to graduate from school he is named Valedictorian of his class, though his principal wants him to give a prewritten speech, rather than one of his own so as not to offend any white people who will be in the audience. Richard’s family agrees this is a terrific idea, but when it comes time to give the speech Richard gives one of his own and, despite the fact that everyone is clapping and celebrating afterward, he flees the graduation, disgusted by the people and events that have surrounded him for seventeen years. Richard vows to become a productive member of society and start really living in the world from this point onward
Richard begins to work at a clothing store but is disgusted by what he sees around him. His white bosses constantly humiliate the black customers when they cannot pay for their clothes or do not pay their credit on time. When Richard is making a delivery one day, his bike gets a flat and some white boys offer him a ride on the side of their car, though they quickly smash a bottle in his face when he neglects to refer to one of them as “sir.”
On another delivery, Richard finds himself in a white neighborhood at night and is harassed by the police who tell him that his employer should not send a black boy on errands in a white neighborhood at night, as it arises suspicions. Richard is eventually fired from this job because his employer knows that Richard does not approve of the way he runs things.
Richard’s friend Griggs tells Richard that he must learn to swallow his pride if he wants a job because many white folks have already heard he is a trouble maker and will not hire him. Griggs sets Richard up on a job working for a lens maker who is from the north. Unfortunately, Richard is constantly goaded by two white men who work in the shop and thus quits the job because he does not wish to be disrespected by two men who are obviously trying to drive him away.
Mr. Crane, the owner, feels sorry for Richard and does not want him to quit. He is happy that Richard is trying to move north where he will be treated more fairly and thus pays him quite a bit more than he earned for that week. Richard is confused and ashamed and leaves Mr. Crane feeling as though he is blind.
Richard gets frustrated with the slew of jobs he goes through, hating that he feels racism everywhere he goes. He eventually gets a job working at a hotel where he mops the floors with a few other black men.
The other men encourage Richard to steal things from the hotel, but he hesitates because he does not feel it is worth the risk involved. He does feel as though employers encourage the theft because they seem to prefer having a dishonest uneducated black man working for them than an honest and intelligent one. He decides that stealing is the only way he will make enough money to move himself north, so he succumbs to the pressure. He leaves the job at the hotel and begins working at a movie theater where he and his coworkers resell tickets to make money off of them, which proves to be quite lucrative. He continues his money-making by stealing a gun for a neighbor and selling it for some extra cash, eventually making enough to take himself to Memphis.
Richard is troubled by all of the stealing he has done and disgusting with himself. He promises to never steal again as it makes him feel petty.
When Richard gets to Memphis he finds a room to rent from a kind woman named Mrs. Moss. Mrs. Moss has a daughter named Bess, and it becomes clear rather early on that Mrs. Moss would like Richard to marry Bess. Richard does not understand how someone can be trusting to the point that they would want to welcome a perfect stranger into their family, and he is a little disgusted by it, being accustomed to trusting no one for his entire life.
Also, Richard has no attraction to Bess as he finds her dim and dreary. Richard soon meets another black man while he is by the waterfront and the two men find some illegal alcohol in the weeds. They decide together that they should sell it and split the money. A white man comes along who wishes to buy the alcohol for five dollars but asks that Richard and the other man move it to his car for him.
Richard is wary but helps anyway, and, after the task is completed, the other man goes off to find change for the five dollars so they can split it, but he never returns. Richard realizes that the black man, and the white man were working together, and they used Richard to help them move the illegal alcohol. Richard is terribly disappointed in himself for not catching on before he agreed to the task.
Richard begins working in another lens shop as a cleaner. He is intrigued by a black man who works the elevator named Shorty, because he allows himself to be kicked in exchange for quarters. Richard does not understand why Shorty allows himself to be mistreated in this way.
Richard is embarrassed when he is offered food by white folk who think he is starving because he is so thin and back at home Mrs. Moss and Bess realize that Richard has no intentions of marrying into their family. Some of Richard’s other coworkers, including his foreman Olin, team up with the white men who work at a rival lens shop to spark a fight between each shop’s black boy.
They tell Richard that the black boy at the other shop says he wants to kill him, and the other boy is told the same thing. Richard and the other boy meet one another and discover that they are being set up. Richard and Harrison, the other black boy, are offered five dollars by the white men if they will box one another.
Richard and Harrison agree to it, but decide amongst themselves to fake the fight, so they can get the money. When it comes time for them to fight, they realize that it is harder to fake a fight than they thought and end up actually boxing one another. The fight turns out to be pretty brutal as their frustrations come to a boil and they retaliate viciously.
One day while reading a newspaper Richard sees an editorial criticizing the white essayist H.L. Mencken. Richard is intrigued as to why a Southern black newspaper would attack a white man so viciously and thus becomes sort of obsessed with Mencken and vows to read his work.
As black people are not allowed to check books out of the library Richard, convinces his white coworker, an Irishman named Falk, to lend him his library card, which he does but heeds the warning for Richard to be careful. Richard forges a note from Falk insisting the library allow “the nigger boy” to pick up some books for him. The librarian seems suspicious for a moment, but she consents anyway.
Richard becomes an immediate fan of Mencken’s writing and his ability to be bold, assertive, and honest in everything he writes. Reading Mencken makes Richard want to write more than ever and finds himself in a bit of a dream-state at random times throughout the day.
Richard’s coworkers become suspicious of his behavior, so he tries to contain himself while at work. Ella and Alan move to Memphis to be near Richard and Alan soon finds a job. Together, the boys save money to move the entire family to Chicago, as Richard had been planning for some time.
After Ella and Alan move to Memphis, the entire family is soon joined by Maggie. Professor Matthews has abandoned Maggie, and she wishes to move to Chicago with the rest of the family. It is decided that Richard and Maggie will move to Chicago first, settle into jobs, and find a place for all of them to live with Alan and Ella following soon after.
Richard hesitates to tell his boss, or anyone else, that he will be moving north because the whites in the south do not like it when blacks move north; they take it personally, believing that blacks are not appreciative of the treatment they are receiving. Two days before he is to leave Richard tells his boss that he is moving, but he makes it seem like he does not want to leave, he is just leaving to be closer to his ailing mother.
The white men who work with Richard seem slightly resentful that he gets to move north, except for Falk who cannot express it openly, but is obviously extremely happy for Richard for accomplishing his goal of moving north. Shorty tells Richard that he is happy for him and wishes he could do the same, but knows that he is far too lazy to follow in Richard’s footsteps.
When Richard arrives in Chicago, he is immediately immersed in and impressed by the landscape, and the casual interactions he sees between black and white people. He and Maggie find a room in the building where his Aunt Cleo lives and he finds a job working at a deli. Because of the racist environment, Richard grew up in he often mistakes people’s impatience for racism and he gets offended and frustrated.
Richard is constantly in fear of upsetting a white person and begins to understand why black people surrender to white control. Richard wonders if he will ever be able to accomplish the goals he has set for himself, because he realizes the constant mental and emotional pain that black people live in, and fears he will not be able to break free.
Richard actually wants a job working for the post office because it pays well and the hours will allow him to write, though he fears he will lose his job at the deli for looking elsewhere for work and ends up quitting despite his boss’s insistence that they will not treat him the way southerners did. When Richard begins working as a dishwasher in a cafe he is bewildered by the casual way the black and white employees interact with one another and the fact that his boss treats him with respect and listens to what he has to say.
While working at the café Richard also takes on a part time job at the post office, but must pass a physical examination to get a full-time position. Richard is fifteen pounds too light to pass the exam, thus losing his job and vows to put on the extra weight before the next exam comes around. Richard spends the majority of his time with his family, who are all in Chicago at this point, and eats himself sick in an attempt to gain weight. He spends a lot of time reading, which continues to baffle his family.
Richard gains enough weight to pass the physical exam for the post office the next time it comes around, and he gets the job where he begins to make some friends with both black and white people. He joins up with a few different groups of intellectuals, all of whom he admires for their passion but not necessarily for their views, such as a black literary group and a group of Garvey supporters. When the stock market crashes Richard’s hours at the post office are markedly reduced until he loses his job altogether.
Ella gets sick again, and Alan falls ill again, putting a considerable amount of pressure on Richard to make money in a hard economic time. Desperate for a job, Richard works with an insurance company that makes money by exploiting black people, which he despises and feels terrible about. Richard learns that many of the other men in the company have sex with housewives, which Richard tries as well though he is quickly disgusted by the ignorance of the women he is meeting.
Richard becomes interested in Communism when he sees a group of Communists protesting in the street and giving speeches. He believes they have no idea why they believe in Communism and finds them weak and childish; though appreciate the passion involved in fighting for a cause. He believes that blacks in the north will never understand the real struggles of the class system in America, having never lived in areas of real prejudice as he has.
Richard loses his job and is forced to move his family to a cheaper place and accept government handouts for food, which takes a massive toll on his pride.
When Richard is waiting in line at the government relief station for food, he notices that the people who surround him are not pathetic individuals he should be ashamed to be associated with, but a community of people who are standing together in hard times. He immediately begins to feel as though he belongs to the group, rather than being an outsider and wonders what a group like that can accomplish in terms of social change. He realizes that the reason whites have so much control is because once black people are challenged they back down. He believes that if black people would stand up and fight for their rights then there would be a lot less distance between the equality of the races.
Richard gets a job working at a research facility and becomes seriously interested in the research being conducted though the white doctors will not answer any of his questions as he is just a part of the cleaning crew. Richard has no respect for the other black men who work with him due to their obvious ignorance and inactive state in the world. The research facility performs experiments on dogs, sedating them and cutting their vocal chords so they cannot whine.
Richard sees these dogs as silent sufferers, just like much of the black community. One day two of the men Richard works with get into a fight and knock over the dog cages, causing quite the mess. When they are cleaning up, they can not remember which dog goes into which cage, and Richard panics, realizing that they may have done irreversible damage to some beneficial medical research.
Richard gets into some political discussions with some friends from the post office and realizes that many of them are into Communism. He attends a John Reed meeting with them and realizes that he not only approves of the message of global unity they are promoting, but he is intoxicated by it. The white people at the meeting accept him, which he is taken aback by, and give him literature to read. He supports their idea of bringing together the masses that have been oppressed and decides he would like to join up with them and write for them, though he did not fully agree with their stance before.
Ella is horrified by the Communist paper that Richard reads and writes for, and Richard realizes that they do not speak in language that is attractive to mass amounts of people. He mentions this at a meeting, though not everyone is receptive, and decides that he will spend him time trying to educate the masses on the benefits of Communism. Richard becomes a full-fledged member of the John Reed club and feels genuinely accepted by all of them, even the white members. Eventually Richard fully joins the Communist Party though the bickering in the club between its members, as well as those who are party members and nonparty members begins to take its toll.
When a mysterious man named Comrade Young appears at a meeting one day, stating he is part of the John Reed club of Detroit as well as a party member he is accepted immediately. He begins throwing around accusations of other members of the club, strangely, and eventually disappears. When Richard and some other members go through the belongings he left behind they discover that he escaped from a mental institution. Richard and the other men are embarrassed that they allowed this man into their club and took him seriously.
Richard joins with a black Communist group and is mocked by them for his eloquent and intelligent way of speaking. They also criticize him for reading books that do not relate to the Communist party, because they believe that Communists have all of the answers to life’s questions; therefore, it is irrelevant and suspicious to look for insight elsewhere. Richard wishes to write some biographical sketches of Communist party members and is allowed to do so but is soon told that intellectuals do not fit in with the Communist party, as some in the Soviet Union have been killed or expelled for intellectual behavior.
Richard explains that he is in the relief system and has a dead-end job just to make ends meet. He is baffled by the fact that his desire to bring light to the sufferings of the black community is seen as such a negative thing. Richard begins to clash with many of the other members and a series of strange situations occur that encourage Richard to be brainwashed into certain situation and ideals, of which he refuses.
Richard attends a conference in New York City that wishes to disband all John Reed clubs due to the fact that they are seen as literary clubs, which is frowned upon by the Communist party. Richard is the only person who votes to keep the John Reed clubs and so they are disbanded.
Richard is outraged by the injustice and considers leaving the party. He is asked to drop his writing entirely and when he asks to be released from the party he is refused. They wish to keep him because they want to break his determination and undermine his character.
Richard begins work for the Federal Negro Theater and with the help of a Jewish director tries to launch a series of plays that depict the struggles of the black community. The blacks refuse to work on something so controversial and take to calling Richard the “white man’s nigger” and attack him with knives.
Richard insists on being transferred to a white theater that puts on experimental productions. Richard attends a Communist trial in which one of his old comrades, Ross, is on trial for a series of offenses. Richard is both encouraged and horrified by what he witnesses at the trial, because what is said within condemns him and thus he is shunned by his former comrades.
Richard begins work at the Federal Writer’s Project but is not accepted at this theater, either. He learns that the Communist party is behind the troubles he has faced at both theaters, and they are on a mission to sabotage any work he may find. He decides that he must make things right with the Communist party for the sake of his livelihood, though no one from the party will take a meeting with him.
Richard tries to march in the May Day Parade but cannot find his group, though he is invited to march with some of his old friends. He is spotted by two white Communists who proceed to literally throw him from the parade as his black friends stand by and watch. Richard decides that oppression has ruined everyone, including the Communists and he realizes that fighting oppression is a slow and painful process though he will not stop writing for what he believes in.
As September comes around, the Allies are losing the war, and Henry is informed that if things keep up the way they are the Allies will lose the war within the next year. Henry has nearly healed from his surgery and is expected to make a return to the front after three weeks of leave. He and Catherine are planning to take a trip somewhere together, and as they are planning Catherine tells Henry that she is three months pregnant with their child. Worried that Henry will want to leave Catherine tells him that she will not cause any trouble for him but Henry surprises her by saying he loves her and is happy they are having a child. Henry tells Catherine that “a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one” and they try to recall who made that sentiment but cannot remember. Catherine muses that the intelligent, brave men probably die thousands of deaths but are smart enough to not say anything.
It starts to rain again and just when Henry is about to take his leave he develops jaundice. Miss Van Campen decides that Henry’s jaundice has been caused by his excessive drinking, as she has found all of the empty liquor bottles that Henry has been stashing under his bed. Miss Van Campen thinks that Henry has made himself sick on purpose so that he does not have to return to battle and so she decides to punish him by putting in a petition to take away his leave, and so it is.
Henry begins packing his things and saying his goodbyes as he is heading to the front. As he is walking down the street, he sees Catherine in a cafe and signals for her to join him. Henry remarks that the couple they pass embracing outside a cathedral is like them, but Catherine disagrees as she thinks there is no one like them. He stops to buy a new gun, and he and Catherine decide to get a hotel room so they can be alone before he leaves again.
Catherine feels like a cheap prostitute, but they have no other choice for the time being. Henry worries about how Catherine will deal with having the baby while he is gone, but she assures him she will be fine and have a home set up for him when he returns.
A carriage picks up Henry and Catherine and takes them to the train station where they will part ways. When they arrive Henry gets out to catch his train and sends Catherine in the carriage back to the hospital. Henry tells Catherine to be careful to take care of herself and the baby, whom he refers to as “little Catherine”. Henry has caused a stir on the train because he has asked someone to save a seat for him while he says his goodbyes and the train is terribly crowded. Henry decides to offer his seat to the officer who has been complaining and spends the night on the floor instead.
When Henry returns to the front in Gorizia, he speaks with the lead major about the status of the war, and the possibility of it coming to an end. The major is pleased about Henry’s decorations but tells him that had he been sent on leave he would likely not have returned.
Henry goes off in search of Rinaldi whom he has not seen in quite some time. Rinaldi checks out Henry’s knee and cannot believe he was sent back to the battle after his surgery. He asks Henry if he is in love with Catherine, if they are married, and whether she is any good in bed, a question which Henry deems inappropriate as it is a private matter.
The men toast to Catherine and head to dinner where Rinaldi makes fun of the priest for old time’s sake, despite the fact that his audience is considerable smaller than it was just a few months before.
When the men are done with dinner, Henry stays and has a talk with the priest. They discuss the ending of the war, which the priest thinks will happen soon though he is not sure why. He thinks that the war has made the men more mild and gentle as that tends to happen. He cites Jesus Christ as an example as his struggles made him a gentler man. Henry no longer cares about victory or even believes in it because even if they win they have lost too many people to make the victory a happy one. The priest asks what Henry does believe in these days, and Henry replies “sleep”.
The next day Henry goes to Bainsizza where the fighting is occurring and learns from another soldier named Gino about the weaponry of the Austrians. He says that if the Austrians are to attack then the Italians will essentially be helpless. Henry feels like there is no meaning to words like “sacred” or “glorious” anymore and the only words that have meaning are names and numbers.
A bombardment occurs that night, and the Italians learn that the Germans are included in the enemy, which scares them because they have never had to deal with the Germans before. They find out that the Italian line has been broken, and everyone is being evacuated. Henry finds out that Rinaldi has gone to the hospital, and he and some of the other drivers – Bonello, Piani, and Aymo – stop to rest before continuing on their way.
A motorcade of soldiers exits the town together forming a seemingly endless line. They take turns sleeping and driving and shortly after Henry wakens he finds that the line has stopped moving.
Henry checks on the other men, finds that they are okay, and goes back to Piani’s truck where he falls asleep once again. Henry has dreams of Catherine and even speaks to her in his sleep. More people join the retreat that night, mostly peasants, and the next morning Henry and his men decide to leave the retreat and take another route themselves. They stop at a farmhouse for breakfast before continuing on their journey.
While on their retreat, the car driven by Aymo gets stuck due to the soft ground, and Henry knows the only way to ensure it does not happen again is to cut brush to lie over the ground and drive across. The other men do not want to help because they feel if they stop for any reason the enemy may catch up to them. Henry gets frustrated with the men for not wanting to help and shoots one of them. Bonello takes Henry’s gun from him and shoots the man again, killing him.
The men use everything they can find to keep the car out of the mud, but nothing seems to be working. They decide to leave the car there and continue on with the other cars, though they do not get very far before they are stuck again. Two girls that had been riding with Aymo are given money, and sent to a nearby village to hopefully take them out of danger, and the men are forced to retreat on foot as they cannot move their vehicles.
The men see the Germans coming and try to avoid them by taking another road and heading toward an embankment. The men are shot at the Aymo is killed immediately. They realize they have been shot at by the rear guard and Aymo has been killed by his own people out of fear. They realize they are in more danger from their own people than the Germans and find a farmhouse to hide out in until dark.
Piani and Bonello go to look for food, but Piani returns alone as Bonello has gone looking for the enemy with the hopes of being taken in because he feels that is his best chance of escaping. The next day they hope to rejoin the Italians and find a bunch of officers being interrogated to find out who is responsible for the rogue Italian soldiers who turned on their own people. Henry is seized and notices another officer being shot near him.
Henry takes the opportunity to duck away from his captors and jumps in the water to escape. He keeps swimming away until the sounds of the gunfire fade into the distance.
When Henry thinks that he is far enough away he gets out of the water, careful to remove the stars on his uniform that identify him as an officer. Henry counts the money that he has on him and proceeds to walk across the Venetian Plane toward the closest military train station, which he arrives at that night.
A young soldier sees Henry, and Henry is worried that his cover is blown, but the soldier allows him on the train as he assumes that Henry belongs there. Henry hides under a tarp of canvas in the gun car so he will not be found, cutting his head in the process. He reminds himself to pick the dried blood off his head before he exits the train because he does not want to draw attention to himself.
As Henry rides under the tarp, he thinks about how strong his knee has been, surprised that the surgery was so effective. He thinks about Catherine though he tries not to because he feels he may go crazy just thinking about her when he does not know if or when he will see her again.
Henry feels sure that there is no place in the war for him anymore because his army and his friends are no longer there. Physical needs overcome Henry’s thoughts as he realizes that he needs to eat, drink, sleep, and be with Catherine. All Henry wants now is to find Catherine and take her to a place where they can be safe and happy together.
Henry lets himself off the train in Milan and goes out in search of Catherine. He stops in a wine shop for coffee and ends up having a glass of wine with the owner of the shop. The owner asks Henry if he can help him with anything but Henry says he is fine. He heads to the hospital to find Catherine but finds that she has left for Stresa.
Henry finds one of the opera musicians, Ralph Simmons, he had made friends with before he left and asks the man how he can go about getting to Switzerland to be free and meet with Catherine. Simmons gives Henry some civilian clothing and sends him on his way, wishing him good luck with everything.
Henry feels strange on the train to Stresa because as a young man he is expected to be a soldier, though he is obviously not according to the public as he is wearing civilian clothing. When he arrives in Stresa, he checks in to a hotel and tells them that he is expecting his wife to be joining him. He hears that two English nurses are at a small hotel nearby, and Henry knows that must be Catherine. When he arrives, Catherine and Helen are having lunch and Catherine is delighted to see him though Helen hates him for what he has made of Catherine’s life. Henry enjoys the night he spends with Catherine as it is true bliss for him.
The next morning Catherine realizes just how horrible Henry’s experience must have been because he does not want to read the paper or anything about the war. He tells Catherine that he will share his experiences with her someday when he fully wraps his head around it. He feels as though he has committed a crime by leaving, but Catherine assures him that he is no criminal, and she cannot wait until they take off for Switzerland together.
The next morning Catherine goes off to see Helen and Henry goes fishing with Emilio, the bartender from his hotel whom he becomes fast friends with. Emilio has told Henry that any time he wants to use his boat he can. Henry and Catherine dine with Helen for lunch and run into a man named Count Greffi whom Henry knows from an earlier trip to Stresa, who is staying with his niece at the same hotel. Henry and Count Greffi spend some time together that evening and play some pool with another. The Count tells Henry his misconceptions about religion, and they discuss the war, and whether it will end in a victory for Italy.
Henry is woken by Emilio that night who tells him he has heard that the military police have a plan to take Henry in when the morning comes. Emilio offers Henry and Catherine his boat, as he feels they should leave immediately and row themselves to Switzerland where they can be safe.
Henry immediately wakes Catherine, so they can pack their things and leave. Emilio provides Henry and Catherine with the supplies they will need for their trip – a boat, sandwiches, and a bottle of brandy. Henry pays Emilio what he can for the supplies, and they make an agreement for Henry to send back 500 francs as payment for the boat when they get established.
Henry rows for the most of the night though it hurts his hands quite a bit due to the choppy water conditions from the storm. Catherine rows for a short time but Henry will not allow her to row for long. When they finally arrive in Switzerland in the morning, they are relieved and settle in to have some breakfast.
They are soon taken in by the Swiss guards who hold them until they can get temporary visas. Henry and Catherine are soon released, to their relief, and find themselves a hotel to stay in where they immediately go to sleep after their long and tiring journey.
Henry and Catherine set up a home in the town of Montreux and make friends with the couple who live downstairs from them, the Guttingens. Henry and Catherine immensely enjoy their life together in their cozy mountainside home and spend a lot of time in town together. One day they go to town so Catherine can have her hair done and they stop at a bar to have a beer.
Catherine is sure that drinking beer will keep the baby small in size because she is worried that she will have a hard time giving birth due to her narrow hips. Henry and Catherine approach the idea of marriage again, and Catherine feels it will be only right for them to wed to make their baby legitimate.
Catherine cannot wait to be American when they are married and see famous American landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Niagara Falls. Around Christmas time Catherine notices that Henry seems to be growing restless, and she suggests he change something about his appearance, such as grow a beard, to calm himself. They try to fall asleep at the same together, but Henry cannot sleep and he instead he lies awake and stares at Catherine because his mind will not rest.
During January, Henry’s beard grows to an impressive fullness. They continue taking walks together in town and enjoy the isolation of being together in a place where no one knows them. They worry that after the baby arrives they will no longer be able to enjoy the solitude that they hold so dearly.
Catherine tells Henry that after the baby comes and she loses the weight she will cut her hair shorter, and make herself attractive again so Henry will fall in love with her all over again. Henry tells Catherine that he loves her plenty already so that will be unnecessary.
Henry and Catherine decide to move to a town called Lausanne in March because the baby is about to come and they want to be closer to the hospital pending the baby’s arrival. Rather than find a place to call home right away they spend three weeks in a hotel. Catherine spends her days finding baby clothes and Henry spends a lot of his time working out at the gym. They try to spend as much of their time together as possible because they feel that the baby is remarkably close to making its arrival.
Catherine goes into labor around three o’clock in the morning one day and is rushed to the hospital where she is given a room and a gown. She tells Henry to go to breakfast because she feels he has time and so he does, though upon returning he finds that Catherine has been taken to the delivery room. Catherine spends most of the day inhaling anesthetic gas to help her through the pain of a difficult labor that is not making much progress.
The doctor decides Catherine needs to have a cesarean section and takes her away on a stretcher. The doctor comes out soon, fussing over the baby boy, but Henry rushes past him to see Catherine. Catherine asks about the baby, and Henry says he is fine, but the nurse, confused by this statement, pulls Henry aside and tells him that the baby had been strangled by the umbilical cord while it was still in the womb.
After dinner, Henry learns that Catherine is bleeding heavily and when he goes into see her she tells him she is dying. She asks Henry to promise her that he will never say the same things to other girls that he has said to her and Henry stays by her side in her last moments. After Catherine dies Henry tries to say his goodbyes with her but he cannot and he just leaves the hospital and walks through the rain alone, back to the hotel.
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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