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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Part 10 out of 11

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"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?"

"No doubt."

"Where?"

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 got
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 colour 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 neighbourhood?"

"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.

Chapter 53

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 vapour 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. Oh 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. Oh, 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 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 favoured, 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 vapour 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 ale-houses. 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
vapour 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
over-state 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
Rope-Walk, 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
mostlike 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."

"Thank God!"

"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 vapour
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 day 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 grey,
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!"

Chapter 54

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 waterside
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.

"Not yet."

"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 nobby eyes starting two inches out
of her head, in and out, hammers going in shipbuilders'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."

"Why?"

"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."

"Am I!"

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-bye 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
endeavour 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
pocketbook 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.

Chapter 55

He was taken to the Police Court next day, and would have been
immediately committed for trial, but that it was necessary to send
down for an old officer of the prison-ship from which he had once
escaped, to speak to his identity. Nobody doubted it; but,
Compeyson, who had meant to depose to it, was tumbling on the
tides, dead, and it happened that there was not at that time any
prison officer in London who could give the required evidence. I
had gone direct to Mr. Jaggers at his private house, on my arrival
over night, to retain his assistance, and Mr. Jaggers on the
prisoner's behalf would admit nothing. It was the sole resource,
for he told me that the case must be over in five minutes when the
witness was there, and that no power on earth could prevent its
going against us.

I imparted to Mr. Jaggers my design of keeping him in ignorance of
the fate of his wealth. Mr. Jaggers was querulous and angry with me
for having "let it slip through my fingers," and said we must
memorialize by-and-by, and try at all events for some of it. But,
he did not conceal from me that although there might be many cases
in which the forfeiture would not be exacted, there were no
circumstances in this case to make it one of them. I understood
that, very well. I was not related to the outlaw, or connected with
him by any recognizable tie; he had put his hand to no writing or
settlement in my favour before his apprehension, and to do so now
would be idle. I had no claim, and I finally resolved, and ever
afterwards abided by the resolution, that my heart should never be
sickened with the hopeless task of attempting to establish one.

There appeared to be reason for supposing that the drowned informer
had hoped for a reward out of this forfeiture, and had obtained
some accurate knowledge of Magwitch's affairs. When his body was
found, many miles from the scene of his death, and so horribly
disfigured that he was only recognizable by the contents of his
pockets, notes were still legible, folded in a case he carried.
Among these, were the name of a banking-house in New South Wales
where a sum of money was, and the designation of certain lands of
considerable value. Both these heads of information were in a list
that Magwitch, while in prison, gave to Mr. Jaggers, of the
possessions he supposed I should inherit. His ignorance, poor
fellow, at last served him; he never mistrusted but that my
inheritance was quite safe, with Mr. Jaggers's aid.

After three days' delay, during which the crown prosecution stood
over for the production of the witness from the prison-ship, the
witness came, and completed the easy case. He was committed to take
his trial at the next Sessions, which would come on in a month.

It was at this dark time of my life that Herbert returned home one
evening, a good deal cast down, and said:

"My dear Handel, I fear I shall soon have to leave you."

His partner having prepared me for that, I was less surprised than
he thought.

"We shall lose a fine opportunity if I put off going to Cairo, and
I am very much afraid I must go, Handel, when you most need me."

"Herbert, I shall always need you, because I shall always love you;
but my need is no greater now, than at another time."

"You will be so lonely."

"I have not leisure to think of that," said I. "You know that I am
always with him to the full extent of the time allowed, and that I
should be with him all day long, if I could. And when I come away
from him, you know that my thoughts are with him."

The dreadful condition to which he was brought, was so appalling to
both of us, that we could not refer to it in plainer words.

"My dear fellow," said Herbert, "let the near prospect of our
separation - for, it is very near - be my justification for
troubling you about yourself. Have you thought of your future?"

"No, for I have been afraid to think of any future."

"But yours cannot be dismissed; indeed, my dear dear Handel, it
must not be dismissed. I wish you would enter on it now, as far as
a few friendly words go, with me."

"I will," said I.

"In this branch house of ours, Handel, we must have a--"

I saw that his delicacy was avoiding the right word, so I said, "A
clerk."

"A clerk. And I hope it is not at all unlikely that he may expand
(as a clerk of your acquaintance has expanded) into a partner. Now,
Handel - in short, my dear boy, will you come to me?"

There was something charmingly cordial and engaging in the manner
in which after saying "Now, Handel," as if it were the grave
beginning of a portentous business exordium, he had suddenly given
up that tone, stretched out his honest hand, and spoken like a
schoolboy.

"Clara and I have talked about it again and again," Herbert
pursued, "and the dear little thing begged me only this evening,
with tears in her eyes, to say to you that if you will live with us
when we come together, she will do her best to make you happy, and
to convince her husband's friend that he is her friend too. We
should get on so well, Handel!"

I thanked her heartily, and I thanked him heartily, but said I
could not yet make sure of joining him as he so kindly offered.
Firstly, my mind was too preoccupied to be able to take in the
subject clearly. Secondly - Yes! Secondly, there was a vague
something lingering in my thoughts that will come out very near the
end of this slight narrative.

"But if you thought, Herbert, that you could, without doing any
injury to your business, leave the question open for a little
while--"

"For any while," cried Herbert. "Six months, a year!"

"Not so long as that," said I. "Two or three months at most."

Herbert was highly delighted when we shook hands on this
arrangement, and said he could now take courage to tell me that he
believed he must go away at the end of the week.

"And Clara?" said I.

"The dear little thing," returned Herbert, "holds dutifully to her
father as long as he lasts; but he won't last long. Mrs. Whimple
confides to me that he is certainly going."

"Not to say an unfeeling thing," said I, "he cannot do better than
go."

"I am afraid that must be admitted," said Herbert: "and then I
shall come back for the dear little thing, and the dear little
thing and I will walk quietly into the nearest church. Remember!
The blessed darling comes of no family, my dear Handel, and never
looked into the red book, and hasn't a notion about her grandpapa.
What a fortune for the son of my mother!"

On the Saturday in that same week, I took my leave of Herbert -
full of bright hope, but sad and sorry to leave me - as he sat on
one of the seaport mail coaches. I went into a coffee-house to
write a little note to Clara, telling her he had gone off, sending
his love to her over and over again, and then went to my lonely
home - if it deserved the name, for it was now no home to me, and I
had no home anywhere.

On the stairs I encountered Wemmick, who was coming down, after an
unsuccessful application of his knuckles to my door. I had not seen
him alone, since the disastrous issue of the attempted flight; and
he had come, in his private and personal capacity, to say a few
words of explanation in reference to that failure.

"The late Compeyson," said Wemmick, "had by little and little got
at the bottom of half of the regular business now transacted, and
it was from the talk of some of his people in trouble (some of his
people being always in trouble) that I heard what I did. I kept my
ears open, seeming to have them shut, until I heard that he was
absent, and I thought that would be the best time for making the
attempt. I can only suppose now, that it was a part of his policy,
as a very clever man, habitually to deceive his own instruments.
You don't blame me, I hope, Mr. Pip? I am sure I tried to serve you,
with all my heart."

"I am as sure of that, Wemmick, as you can be, and I thank you most
earnestly for all your interest and friendship."

"Thank you, thank you very much. It's a bad job," said Wemmick,
scratching his head, "and I assure you I haven't been so cut up for
a long time. What I look at, is the sacrifice of so much portable
property. Dear me!"

"What I think of, Wemmick, is the poor owner of the property."

"Yes, to be sure," said Wemmick. "Of course there can be no
objection to your being sorry for him, and I'd put down a
five-pound note myself to get him out of it. But what I look at, is
this. The late Compeyson having been beforehand with him in
intelligence of his return, and being so determined to bring him to
book, I do not think he could have been saved. Whereas, the
portable property certainly could have been saved. That's the
difference between the property and the owner, don't you see?"

I invited Wemmick to come up-stairs, and refresh himself with a
glass of grog before walking to Walworth. He accepted the
invitation. While he was drinking his moderate allowance, he said,
with nothing to lead up to it, and after having appeared rather
fidgety:

"What do you think of my meaning to take a holiday on Monday, Mr.
Pip?"

"Why, I suppose you have not done such a thing these twelve
months."

"These twelve years, more likely," said Wemmick. "Yes. I'm going to
take a holiday. More than that; I'm going to take a walk. More than
that; I'm going to ask you to take a walk with me."

I was about to excuse myself, as being but a bad companion just
then, when Wemmick anticipated me.

"I know your engagements," said he, "and I know you are out of
sorts, Mr. Pip. But if you could oblige me, I should take it as a
kindness. It ain't a long walk, and it's an early one. Say it might
occupy you (including breakfast on the walk) from eight to twelve.
Couldn't you stretch a point and manage it?"

He had done so much for me at various times, that this was very
little to do for him. I said I could manage it - would manage it -
and he was so very much pleased by my acquiescence, that I was
pleased too. At his particular request, I appointed to call for him
at the Castle at half-past eight on Monday morning, and so we
parted for the time.

Punctual to my appointment, I rang at the Castle gate on the Monday
morning, and was received by Wemmick himself: who struck me as
looking tighter than usual, and having a sleeker hat on. Within,
there were two glasses of rum-and-milk prepared, and two biscuits.
The Aged must have been stirring with the lark, for, glancing into
the perspective of his bedroom, I observed that his bed was empty.

When we had fortified ourselves with the rum-and-milk and biscuits,
and were going out for the walk with that training preparation on
us, I was considerably surprised to see Wemmick take up a
fishing-rod, and put it over his shoulder. "Why, we are not going
fishing!" said I. "No," returned Wemmick, "but I like to walk with
one."

I thought this odd; however, I said nothing, and we set off. We
went towards Camberwell Green, and when we were thereabouts,
Wemmick said suddenly:

"Halloa! Here's a church!"

There was nothing very surprising in that; but a gain, I was rather
surprised, when he said, as if he were animated by a brilliant
idea:

"Let's go in!"

We went in, Wemmick leaving his fishing-rod in the porch, and
looked all round. In the mean time, Wemmick was diving into his
coat-pockets, and getting something out of paper there.

"Halloa!" said he. "Here's a couple of pair of gloves! Let's put
'em on!"

As the gloves were white kid gloves, and as the post-office was
widened to its utmost extent, I now began to have my strong
suspicions. They were strengthened into certainty when I beheld the
Aged enter at a side door, escorting a lady.

"Halloa!" said Wemmick. "Here's Miss Skiffins! Let's have a
wedding."

That discreet damsel was attired as usual, except that she was now
engaged in substituting for her green kid gloves, a pair of white.
The Aged was likewise occupied in preparing a similar sacrifice for
the altar of Hymen. The old gentleman, however, experienced so much
difficulty in getting his gloves on, that Wemmick found it
necessary to put him with his back against a pillar, and then to
get behind the pillar himself and pull away at them, while I for my
part held the old gentleman round the waist, that he might present
and equal and safe resistance. By dint of this ingenious Scheme,
his gloves were got on to perfection.

The clerk and clergyman then appearing, we were ranged in order at
those fatal rails. True to his notion of seeming to do it all
without preparation, I heard Wemmick say to himself as he took
something out of his waistcoat-pocket before the service began,
"Halloa! Here's a ring!"

I acted in the capacity of backer, or best-man, to the bridegroom;
while a little limp pew opener in a soft bonnet like a baby's, made
a feint of being the bosom friend of Miss Skiffins. The
responsibility of giving the lady away, devolved upon the Aged,
which led to the clergyman's being unintentionally scandalized, and
it happened thus. When he said, "Who giveth this woman to be
married to this man?" the old gentlemen, not in the least knowing
what point of the ceremony we had arrived at, stood most amiably
beaming at the ten commandments. Upon which, the clergyman said
again, "WHO giveth this woman to be married to this man?" The old
gentleman being still in a state of most estimable unconsciousness,
the bridegroom cried out in his accustomed voice, "Now Aged P. you
know; who giveth?" To which the Aged replied with great briskness,
before saying that he gave, "All right, John, all right, my boy!"
And the clergyman came to so gloomy a pause upon it, that I had
doubts for the moment whether we should get completely married that
day.

It was completely done, however, and when we were going out of
church, Wemmick took the cover off the font, and put his white
gloves in it, and put the cover on again. Mrs. Wemmick, more heedful
of the future, put her white gloves in her pocket and assumed her
green. "Now, Mr. Pip," said Wemmick, triumphantly shouldering the
fishing-rod as we came out, "let me ask you whether anybody would
suppose this to be a wedding-party!"

Breakfast had been ordered at a pleasant little tavern, a mile or
so away upon the rising ground beyond the Green, and there was a
bagatelle board in the room, in case we should desire to unbend our
minds after the solemnity. It was pleasant to observe that Mrs.
Wemmick no longer unwound Wemmick's arm when it adapted itself to
her figure, but sat in a high-backed chair against the wall, like a
violoncello in its case, and submitted to be embraced as that
melodious instrument might have done.

We had an excellent breakfast, and when any one declined anything
on table, Wemmick said, "Provided by contract, you know; don't be
afraid of it!" I drank to the new couple, drank to the Aged, drank
to the Castle, saluted the bride at parting, and made myself as
agreeable as I could.

Wemmick came down to the door with me, and I again shook hands with
him, and wished him joy.

"Thankee!" said Wemmick, rubbing his hands. "She's such a manager
of fowls, you have no idea. You shall have some eggs, and judge for
yourself. I say, Mr. Pip!" calling me back, and speaking low. "This
is altogether a Walworth sentiment, please."

"I understand. Not to be mentioned in Little Britain," said I.

Wemmick nodded. "After what you let out the other day, Mr. Jaggers
may as well not know of it. He might think my brain was softening,
or something of the kind."

Chapter 56

He lay in prison very ill, during the whole interval between his
committal for trial, and the coming round of the Sessions. He had
broken two ribs, they had wounded one of his lungs, and he breathed
with great pain and difficulty, which increased daily. It was a
consequence of his hurt, that he spoke so low as to be scarcely
audible; therefore, he spoke very little. But, he was ever ready to
listen to me, and it became the first duty of my life to say to
him, and read to him, what I knew he ought to hear.

Being far too ill to remain in the common prison, he was removed,
after the first day or so, into the infirmary. This gave me
opportunities of being with him that I could not otherwise have
had. And but for his illness he would have been put in irons, for
he was regarded as a determined prison-breaker, and I know not what
else.

Although I saw him every day, it was for only a short time; hence,
the regularly recurring spaces of our separation were long enough
to record on his face any slight changes that occurred in his
physical state. I do not recollect that I once saw any change in it
for the better; he wasted, and became slowly weaker and worse, day
by day, from the day when the prison door closed upon him.

The kind of submission or resignation that he showed, was that of a
man who was tired out. I sometimes derived an impression, from his
manner or from a whispered word or two which escaped him, that he
pondered over the question whether he might have been a better man
under better circumstances. But, he never justified himself by a
hint tending that way, or tried to bend the past out of its eternal
shape.

It happened on two or three occasions in my presence, that his
desperate reputation was alluded to by one or other of the people
in attendance on him. A smile crossed his face then, and he turned
his eyes on me with a trustful look, as if he were confident that I
had seen some small redeeming touch in him, even so long ago as when
I was a little child. As to all the rest, he was humble and
contrite, and I never knew him complain.

When the Sessions came round, Mr. Jaggers caused an application to
be made for the postponement of his trial until the following
Sessions. It was obviously made with the assurance that he could
not live so long, and was refused. The trial came on at once, and,
when he was put to the bar, he was seated in a chair. No objection
was made to my getting close to the dock, on the outside of it, and
holding the hand that he stretched forth to me.

The trial was very short and very clear. Such things as could be
said for him, were said - how he had taken to industrious habits,
and had thriven lawfully and reputably. But, nothing could unsay
the fact that he had returned, and was there in presence of the
Judge and Jury. It was impossible to try him for that, and do
otherwise than find him guilty.

At that time, it was the custom (as I learnt from my terrible
experience of that Sessions) to devote a concluding day to the
passing of Sentences, and to make a finishing effect with the
Sentence of Death. But for the indelible picture that my
remembrance now holds before me, I could scarcely believe, even as
I write these words, that I saw two-and-thirty men and women put
before the Judge to receive that sentence together. Foremost among
the two-and-thirty, was he; seated, that he might get breath enough
to keep life in him.

The whole scene starts out again in the vivid colours of the
moment, down to the drops of April rain on the windows of the
court, glittering in the rays of April sun. Penned in the dock, as
I again stood outside it at the corner with his hand in mine, were
the two-and-thirty men and women; some defiant, some stricken with
terror, some sobbing and weeping, some covering their faces, some
staring gloomily about. There had been shrieks from among the women
convicts, but they had been stilled, a hush had succeeded. The
sheriffs with their great chains and nosegays, other civic gewgaws
and monsters, criers, ushers, a great gallery full of people - a
large theatrical audience - looked on, as the two-and-thirty and
the Judge were solemnly confronted. Then, the Judge addressed them.
Among the wretched creatures before him whom he must single out for
special address, was one who almost from his infancy had been an
offender against the laws; who, after repeated imprisonments and
punishments, had been at length sentenced to exile for a term of
years; and who, under circumstances of great violence and daring
had made his escape and been re-sentenced to exile for life. That
miserable man would seem for a time to have become convinced of his
errors, when far removed from the scenes of his old offences, and
to have lived a peaceable and honest life. But in a fatal moment,
yielding to those propensities and passions, the indulgence of
which had so long rendered him a scourge to society, he had quitted
his haven of rest and repentance, and had come back to the country
where he was proscribed. Being here presently denounced, he had for
a time succeeded in evading the officers of Justice, but being at
length seized while in the act of flight, he had resisted them, and
had - he best knew whether by express design, or in the blindness
of his hardihood - caused the death of his denouncer, to whom his
whole career was known. The appointed punishment for his return to
the land that had cast him out, being Death, and his case being
this aggravated case, he must prepare himself to Die.

The sun was striking in at the great windows of the court, through
the glittering drops of rain upon the glass, and it made a broad
shaft of light between the two-and-thirty and the Judge, linking
both together, and perhaps reminding some among the audience, how
both were passing on, with absolute equality, to the greater
Judgment that knoweth all things and cannot err. Rising for a
moment, a distinct speck of face in this way of light, the prisoner
said, "My Lord, I have received my sentence of Death from the
Almighty, but I bow to yours," and sat down again. There was some
hushing, and the Judge went on with what he had to say to the rest.
Then, they were all formally doomed, and some of them were
supported out, and some of them sauntered out with a haggard look
of bravery, and a few nodded to the gallery, and two or three shook
hands, and others went out chewing the fragments of herb they had
taken from the sweet herbs lying about. He went last of all,
because of having to be helped from his chair and to go very
slowly; and he held my hand while all the others were removed, and
while the audience got up (putting their dresses right, as they
might at church or elsewhere) and pointed down at this criminal or
at that, and most of all at him and me.

I earnestly hoped and prayed that he might die before the
Recorder's Report was made, but, in the dread of his lingering on,
I began that night to write out a petition to the Home Secretary of
State, setting forth my knowledge of him, and how it was that he
had come back for my sake. I wrote it as fervently and pathetically
as I could, and when I had finished it and sent it in, I wrote out
other petitions to such men in authority as I hoped were the most
merciful, and drew up one to the Crown itself. For several days and
nights after he was sentenced I took no rest except when I fell
asleep in my chair, but was wholly absorbed in these appeals. And
after I had sent them in, I could not keep away from the places
where they were, but felt as if they were more hopeful and less
desperate when I was near them. In this unreasonable restlessness
and pain of mind, I would roam the streets of an evening, wandering
by those offices and houses where I had left the petitions. To the
present hour, the weary western streets of London on a cold dusty
spring night, with their ranges of stern shut-up mansions and their
long rows of lamps, are melancholy to me from this association.

The daily visits I could make him were shortened now, and he was
more strictly kept. Seeing, or fancying, that I was suspected of an
intention of carrying poison to him, I asked to be searched before
I sat down at his bedside, and told the officer who was always
there, that I was willing to do anything that would assure him of
the singleness of my designs. Nobody was hard with him, or with me.
There was duty to be done, and it was done, but not harshly. The
officer always gave me the assurance that he was worse, and some
other sick prisoners in the room, and some other prisoners who
attended on them as sick nurses (malefactors, but not incapable of
kindness, God be thanked!), always joined in the same report.

As the days went on, I noticed more and more that he would lie
placidly looking at the white ceiling, with an absence of light in
his face, until some word of mine brightened it for an instant, and
then it would subside again. Sometimes he was almost, or quite,
unable to speak; then, he would answer me with slight pressures on
my hand, and I grew to understand his meaning very well.

The number of the days had risen to ten, when I saw a greater
change in him than I had seen yet. His eyes were turned towards the
door, and lighted up as I entered.

"Dear boy," he said, as I sat down by his bed: "I thought you was
late. But I knowed you couldn't be that."

"It is just the time," said I. "I waited for it at the gate."

"You always waits at the gate; don't you, dear boy?"

"Yes. Not to lose a moment of the time."

"Thank'ee dear boy, thank'ee. God bless you! You've never deserted
me, dear boy."

I pressed his hand in silence, for I could not forget that I had
once meant to desert him.

"And what's the best of all," he said, "you've been more
comfortable alonger me, since I was under a dark cloud, than when
the sun shone. That's best of all."

He lay on his back, breathing with great difficulty. Do what he
would, and love me though he did, the light left his face ever and
again, and a film came over the placid look at the white ceiling.

"Are you in much pain to-day?"

"I don't complain of none, dear boy."

"You never do complain."

He had spoken his last words. He smiled, and I understood his touch
to mean that he wished to lift my hand, and lay it on his breast. I
laid it there, and he smiled again, and put both his hands upon it.

The allotted time ran out, while we were thus; but, looking round,
I found the governor of the prison standing near me, and he
whispered, "You needn't go yet." I thanked him gratefully, and
asked, "Might I speak to him, if he can hear me?"

The governor stepped aside, and beckoned the officer away. The
change, though it was made without noise, drew back the film from
the placid look at the white ceiling, and he looked most
affectionately at me.

"Dear Magwitch, I must tell you, now at last. You understand what I
say?"

A gentle pressure on my hand.

"You had a child once, whom you loved and lost."

A stronger pressure on my hand.

"She lived and found powerful friends. She is living now. She is a
lady and very beautiful. And I love her!"

With a last faint effort, which would have been powerless but for
my yielding to it and assisting it, he raised my hand to his lips.
Then, he gently let it sink upon his breast again, with his own
hands lying on it. The placid look at the white ceiling came back,
and passed away, and his head dropped quietly on his breast.

Mindful, then, of what we had read together, I thought of the two
men who went up into the Temple to pray, and I knew there were no
better words that I could say beside his bed, than "O Lord, be
merciful to him, a sinner!"

Chapter 57

Now that I was left wholly to myself, I gave notice of my intention
to quit the chambers in the Temple as soon as my tenancy could
legally determine, and in the meanwhile to underlet them. At once I
put bills up in the windows; for, I was in debt, and had scarcely
any money, and began to be seriously alarmed by the state of my
affairs. I ought rather to write that I should have been alarmed if
I had had energy and concentration enough to help me to the clear
perception of any truth beyond the fact that I was falling very
ill. The late stress upon me had enabled me to put off illness, but
not to put it away; I knew that it was coming on me now, and I knew
very little else, and was even careless as to that.

For a day or two, I lay on the sofa, or on the floor - anywhere,
according as I happened to sink down - with a heavy head and aching
limbs, and no purpose, and no power. Then there came one night
which appeared of great duration, and which teemed with anxiety and
horror; and when in the morning I tried to sit up in my bed and
think of it, I found I could not do so.

Whether I really had been down in Garden Court in the dead of the
night, groping about for the boat that I supposed to be there;
whether I had two or three times come to myself on the staircase
with great terror, not knowing how I had got out of bed; whether I
had found myself lighting the lamp, possessed by the idea that he
was coming up the stairs, and that the lights were blown out;
whether I had been inexpressibly harassed by the distracted
talking, laughing, and groaning, of some one, and had half
suspected those sounds to be of my own making; whether there had
been a closed iron furnace in a dark corner of the room, and a
voice had called out over and over again that Miss Havisham was
consuming within it; these were things that I tried to settle with
myself and get into some order, as I lay that morning on my bed.
But, the vapour of a limekiln would come between me and them,
disordering them all, and it was through the vapour at last that I
saw two men looking at me.

"What do you want?" I asked, starting; "I don't know you."

"Well, sir," returned one of them, bending down and touching me on
the shoulder, "this is a matter that you'll soon arrange, I dare
say, but you're arrested."

"What is the debt?"

"Hundred and twenty-three pound, fifteen, six. Jeweller's account,
I think."

"What is to be done?"

"You had better come to my house," said the man. "I keep a very
nice house."

I made some attempt to get up and dress myself. When I next
attended to them, they were standing a little off from the bed,
looking at me. I still lay there.

"You see my state," said I. "I would come with you if I could; but
indeed I am quite unable. If you take me from here, I think I shall
die by the way."

Perhaps they replied, or argued the point, or tried to encourage me
to believe that I was better than I thought. Forasmuch as they hang
in my memory by only this one slender thread, I don't know what
they did, except that they forbore to remove me.

That I had a fever and was avoided, that I suffered greatly, that I
often lost my reason, that the time seemed interminable, that I
confounded impossible existences with my own identity; that I was a
brick in the house wall, and yet entreating to be released from the
giddy place where the builders had set me; that I was a steel beam
of a vast engine, clashing and whirling over a gulf, and yet that I
implored in my own person to have the engine stopped, and my part
in it hammered off; that I passed through these phases of disease,
I know of my own remembrance, and did in some sort know at the
time. That I sometimes struggled with real people, in the belief
that they were murderers, and that I would all at once comprehend
that they meant to do me good, and would then sink exhausted in
their arms, and suffer them to lay me down, I also knew at the
time. But, above all, I knew that there was a constant tendency in
all these people - who, when I was very ill, would present all
kinds of extraordinary transformations of the human face, and would
be much dilated in size - above all, I say, I knew that there was
an extraordinary tendency in all these people, sooner or later to
settle down into the likeness of Joe.

After I had turned the worst point of my illness, I began to notice
that while all its other features changed, this one consistent
feature did not change. Whoever came about me, still settled down
into Joe. I opened my eyes in the night, and I saw in the great
chair at the bedside, Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and,
sitting on the window-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open
window, still I saw Joe. I asked for cooling drink, and the dear
hand that gave it me was Joe's. I sank back on my pillow after
drinking, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon
me was the face of Joe.

At last, one day, I took courage, and said, "Is it Joe?"

And the dear old home-voice answered, "Which it air, old chap."

"O Joe, you break my heart! Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe.
Tell me of my ingratitude. Don't be so good to me!"

For, Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side
and put his arm round my neck, in his joy that I knew him.

"Which dear old Pip, old chap," said Joe, "you and me was ever
friends. And when you're well enough to go out for a ride - what
larks!"

After which, Joe withdrew to the window, and stood with his back
towards me, wiping his eyes. And as my extreme weakness prevented
me from getting up and going to him, I lay there, penitently
whispering, "O God bless him! O God bless this gentle Christian
man!"

Joe's eyes were red when I next found him beside me; but, I was
holding his hand, and we both felt happy.

"How long, dear Joe?"

"Which you meantersay, Pip, how long have your illness lasted, dear
old chap?"

"Yes, Joe."

"It's the end of May, Pip. To-morrow is the first of June."

"And have you been here all that time, dear Joe?"

"Pretty nigh, old chap. For, as I says to Biddy when the news of
your being ill were brought by letter, which it were brought by the
post and being formerly single he is now married though underpaid
for a deal of walking and shoe-leather, but wealth were not a
object on his part, and marriage were the great wish of his hart--"

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