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Great Expectations

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Chapter XL.


It was fortunate for me that I had to take precautions to ensure (so far as I could) the safety of my dreaded visitor; for, this thought pressing on me when I awoke, held other thoughts in a confused concourse at a distance.

The impossibility of keeping him concealed in the chambers was self-evident. It could not be done, and the attempt to do it would inevitably engender suspicion. True, I had no Avenger in my service now, but I was looked after by an inflammatory old female, assisted by an animated rag-bag whom she called her niece, and to keep a room secret from them would be to invite curiosity and exaggeration. They both had weak eyes, which I had long attributed to their chronically looking in at keyholes, and they were always at hand when not wanted; indeed that was their only reliable quality besides larceny. Not to get up a mystery with these people, I resolved to announce in the morning that my uncle had unexpectedly come from the country.

This course I decided on while I was yet groping about in the darkness for the means of getting a light. Not stumbling on the means after all, I was fain to go out to the adjacent Lodge and get the watchman there to come with his lantern. Now, in groping my way down the black staircase I fell over something, and that something was a man crouching in a corner.

As the man made no answer when I asked him what he did there, but eluded my touch in silence, I ran to the Lodge and urged the watchman to come quickly; telling him of the incident on the way back. The wind being as fierce as ever, we did not care to endanger the light in the lantern by rekindling the extinguished lamps on the staircase, but we examined the staircase from the bottom to the top and found no one there. It then occurred to me as possible that the man might have slipped into my rooms; so, lighting my candle at the watchman’s, and leaving him standing at the door, I examined them carefully, including the room in which my dreaded guest lay asleep. All was quiet, and assuredly no other man was in those chambers.

It troubled me that there should have been a lurker on the stairs, on that night of all nights in the year, and I asked the watchman, on the chance of eliciting some hopeful explanation as I handed him a dram at the door, whether he had admitted at his gate any gentleman who had perceptibly been dining out? Yes, he said; at different times of the night, three. One lived in Fountain Court, and the other two lived in the Lane, and he had seen them all go home. Again, the only other man who dwelt in the house of which my chambers formed a part had been in the country for some weeks, and he certainly had not returned in the night, because we had seen his door with his seal on it as we came upstairs.

“The night being so bad, sir,” said the watchman, as he gave me back my glass, “uncommon few have come in at my gate. Besides them three gentlemen that I have named, I don’t call to mind another since about eleven o’clock, when a stranger asked for you.”

“My uncle,” I muttered. “Yes.”

“You saw him, sir?”

“Yes. Oh yes.”

“Likewise the person with him?”

“Person with him!” I repeated.

“I judged the person to be with him,” returned the watchman. “The person stopped, when he stopped to make inquiry of me, and the person took this way when he took this way.”

“What sort of person?”

The watchman had not particularly noticed; he should say a working person; to the best of his belief, he had a dust-coloured kind of clothes on, under a dark coat. The watchman made more light of the matter than I did, and naturally; not having my reason for attaching weight to it.

When I had got rid of him, which I thought it well to do without prolonging explanations, my mind was much troubled by these two circumstances taken together. Whereas they were easy of innocent solution apart,—as, for instance, some diner out or diner at home, who had not gone near this watchman’s gate, might have strayed to my staircase and dropped asleep there,—and my nameless visitor might have brought some one with him to show him the way,—still, joined, they had an ugly look to one as prone to distrust and fear as the changes of a few hours had made me.

I lighted my fire, which burnt with a raw pale flare at that time of the morning, and fell into a doze before it. I seemed to have been dozing a whole night when the clocks struck six. As there was full an hour and a half between me and daylight, I dozed again; now, waking up uneasily, with prolix conversations about nothing, in my ears; now, making thunder of the wind in the chimney; at length, falling off into a profound sleep from which the daylight woke me with a start.

All this time I had never been able to consider my own situation, nor could I do so yet. I had not the power to attend to it. I was greatly dejected and distressed, but in an incoherent wholesale sort of way. As to forming any plan for the future, I could as soon have formed an elephant. When I opened the shutters and looked out at the wet wild morning, all of a leaden hue; when I walked from room to room; when I sat down again shivering, before the fire, waiting for my laundress to appear; I thought how miserable I was, but hardly knew why, or how long I had been so, or on what day of the week I made the reflection, or even who I was that made it.

At last, the old woman and the niece came in,—the latter with a head not easily distinguishable from her dusty broom,—and testified surprise at sight of me and the fire. To whom I imparted how my uncle had come in the night and was then asleep, and how the breakfast preparations were to be modified accordingly. Then I washed and dressed while they knocked the furniture about and made a dust; and so, in a sort of dream or sleep-waking, I found myself sitting by the fire again, waiting for—Him—to come to breakfast.

By and by, his door opened and he came out. I could not bring myself to bear the sight of him, and I thought he had a worse look by daylight.

“I do not even know,” said I, speaking low as he took his seat at the table, “by what name to call you. I have given out that you are my uncle.”

“That’s it, dear boy! Call me uncle.”

“You assumed some name, I suppose, on board ship?”

“Yes, dear boy. I took the name of Provis.”

“Do you mean to keep that name?”

“Why, yes, dear boy, it’s as good as another,—unless you’d like another.”

“What is your real name?” I asked him in a whisper.

“Magwitch,” he answered, in the same tone; “chrisen’d Abel.”

“What were you brought up to be?”

“A warmint, dear boy.”

He answered quite seriously, and used the word as if it denoted some profession.

“When you came into the Temple last night—” said I, pausing to wonder whether that could really have been last night, which seemed so long ago.

“Yes, dear boy?”

“When you came in at the gate and asked the watchman the way here, had you any one with you?”

“With me? No, dear boy.”

“But there was some one there?”

“I didn’t take particular notice,” he said, dubiously, “not knowing the ways of the place. But I think there was a person, too, come in alonger me.”

“Are you known in London?”

“I hope not!” said he, giving his neck a jerk with his forefinger that made me turn hot and sick.

“Were you known in London, once?”

“Not over and above, dear boy. I was in the provinces mostly.”

“Were you—tried—in London?”

“Which time?” said he, with a sharp look.

“The last time.”

He nodded. “First knowed Mr. Jaggers that way. Jaggers was for me.”

It was on my lips to ask him what he was tried for, but he took up a knife, gave it a flourish, and with the words, “And what I done is worked out and paid for!” fell to at his breakfast.

He ate in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy, and greedy. Some of his teeth had failed him since I saw him eat on the marshes, and as he turned his food in his mouth, and turned his head sideways to bring his strongest fangs to bear upon it, he looked terribly like a hungry old dog. If I had begun with any appetite, he would have taken it away, and I should have sat much as I did,—repelled from him by an insurmountable aversion, and gloomily looking at the cloth.

“I’m a heavy grubber, dear boy,” he said, as a polite kind of apology when he made an end of his meal, “but I always was. If it had been in my constitution to be a lighter grubber, I might ha’ got into lighter trouble. Similarly, I must have my smoke. When I was first hired out as shepherd t’other side the world, it’s my belief I should ha’ turned into a molloncolly-mad sheep myself, if I hadn’t a had my smoke.”

As he said so, he got up from table, and putting his hand into the breast of the pea-coat he wore, brought out a short black pipe, and a handful of loose tobacco of the kind that is called Negro-head. Having filled his pipe, he put the surplus tobacco back again, as if his pocket were a drawer. Then, he took a live coal from the fire with the tongs, and lighted his pipe at it, and then turned round on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, and went through his favourite action of holding out both his hands for mine.

“And this,” said he, dandling my hands up and down in his, as he puffed at his pipe,—“and this is the gentleman what I made! The real genuine One! It does me good fur to look at you, Pip. All I stip’late, is, to stand by and look at you, dear boy!”

I released my hands as soon as I could, and found that I was beginning slowly to settle down to the contemplation of my condition. What I was chained to, and how heavily, became intelligible to me, as I heard his hoarse voice, and sat looking up at his furrowed bald head with its iron grey hair at the sides.

“I mustn’t see my gentleman a footing it in the mire of the streets; there mustn’t be no mud on his boots. My gentleman must have horses, Pip! Horses to ride, and horses to drive, and horses for his servant to ride and drive as well. Shall colonists have their horses (and blood ’uns, if you please, good Lord!) and not my London gentleman? No, no. We’ll show ’em another pair of shoes than that, Pip; won’t us?”

He took out of his pocket a great thick pocket-book, bursting with papers, and tossed it on the table.

“There’s something worth spending in that there book, dear boy. It’s yourn. All I’ve got ain’t mine; it’s yourn. Don’t you be afeerd on it. There’s more where that come from. I’ve come to the old country fur to see my gentleman spend his money like a gentleman. That’ll be my pleasure. My pleasure ’ull be fur to see him do it. And blast you all!” he wound up, looking round the room and snapping his fingers once with a loud snap, “blast you every one, from the judge in his wig, to the colonist a stirring up the dust, I’ll show a better gentleman than the whole kit on you put together!”

“Stop!” said I, almost in a frenzy of fear and dislike, “I want to speak to you. I want to know what is to be done. I want to know how you are to be kept out of danger, how long you are going to stay, what projects you have.”

“Look’ee here, Pip,” said he, laying his hand on my arm in a suddenly altered and subdued manner; “first of all, look’ee here. I forgot myself half a minute ago. What I said was low; that’s what it was; low. Look’ee here, Pip. Look over it. I ain’t a-going to be low.”

“First,” I resumed, half groaning, “what precautions can be taken against your being recognised and seized?”

“No, dear boy,” he said, in the same tone as before, “that don’t go first. Lowness goes first. I ain’t took so many year to make a gentleman, not without knowing what’s due to him. Look’ee here, Pip. I was low; that’s what I was; low. Look over it, dear boy.”

Some sense of the grimly-ludicrous moved me to a fretful laugh, as I replied, “I have looked over it. In Heaven’s name, don’t harp upon it!”

“Yes, but look’ee here,” he persisted. “Dear boy, I ain’t come so fur, not fur to be low. Now, go on, dear boy. You was a saying—”

“How are you to be guarded from the danger you have incurred?”

“Well, dear boy, the danger ain’t so great. Without I was informed agen, the danger ain’t so much to signify. There’s Jaggers, and there’s Wemmick, and there’s you. Who else is there to inform?”

“Is there no chance person who might identify you in the street?” said I.

“Well,” he returned, “there ain’t many. Nor yet I don’t intend to advertise myself in the newspapers by the name of A.M. come back from Botany Bay; and years have rolled away, and who’s to gain by it? Still, look’ee here, Pip. If the danger had been fifty times as great, I should ha’ come to see you, mind you, just the same.”

“And how long do you remain?”

“How long?” said he, taking his black pipe from his mouth, and dropping his jaw as he stared at me. “I’m not a-going back. I’ve come for good.”

“Where are you to live?” said I. “What is to be done with you? Where will you be safe?”

“Dear boy,” he returned, “there’s disguising wigs can be bought for money, and there’s hair powder, and spectacles, and black clothes,—shorts and what not. Others has done it safe afore, and what others has done afore, others can do agen. As to the where and how of living, dear boy, give me your own opinions on it.”

“You take it smoothly now,” said I, “but you were very serious last night, when you swore it was Death.”

“And so I swear it is Death,” said he, putting his pipe back in his mouth, “and Death by the rope, in the open street not fur from this, and it’s serious that you should fully understand it to be so. What then, when that’s once done? Here I am. To go back now ’ud be as bad as to stand ground—worse. Besides, Pip, I’m here, because I’ve meant it by you, years and years. As to what I dare, I’m a old bird now, as has dared all manner of traps since first he was fledged, and I’m not afeerd to perch upon a scarecrow. If there’s Death hid inside of it, there is, and let him come out, and I’ll face him, and then I’ll believe in him and not afore. And now let me have a look at my gentleman agen.”

Once more, he took me by both hands and surveyed me with an air of admiring proprietorship: smoking with great complacency all the while.

It appeared to me that I could do no better than secure him some quiet lodging hard by, of which he might take possession when Herbert returned: whom I expected in two or three days. That the secret must be confided to Herbert as a matter of unavoidable necessity, even if I could have put the immense relief I should derive from sharing it with him out of the question, was plain to me. But it was by no means so plain to Mr. Provis (I resolved to call him by that name), who reserved his consent to Herbert’s participation until he should have seen him and formed a favourable judgment of his physiognomy. “And even then, dear boy,” said he, pulling a greasy little clasped black Testament out of his pocket, “we’ll have him on his oath.”

To state that my terrible patron carried this little black book about the world solely to swear people on in cases of emergency, would be to state what I never quite established; but this I can say, that I never knew him put it to any other use. The book itself had the appearance of having been stolen from some court of justice, and perhaps his knowledge of its antecedents, combined with his own experience in that wise, gave him a reliance on its powers as a sort of legal spell or charm. On this first occasion of his producing it, I recalled how he had made me swear fidelity in the churchyard long ago, and how he had described himself last night as always swearing to his resolutions in his solitude.

As he was at present dressed in a seafaring slop suit, in which he looked as if he had some parrots and cigars to dispose of, I next discussed with him what dress he should wear. He cherished an extraordinary belief in the virtues of “shorts” as a disguise, and had in his own mind sketched a dress for himself that would have made him something between a dean and a dentist. It was with considerable difficulty that I won him over to the assumption of a dress more like a prosperous farmer’s; and we arranged that he should cut his hair close, and wear a little powder. Lastly, as he had not yet been seen by the laundress or her niece, he was to keep himself out of their view until his change of dress was made.

It would seem a simple matter to decide on these precautions; but in my dazed, not to say distracted, state, it took so long, that I did not get out to further them until two or three in the afternoon. He was to remain shut up in the chambers while I was gone, and was on no account to open the door.

There being to my knowledge a respectable lodging-house in Essex Street, the back of which looked into the Temple, and was almost within hail of my windows, I first of all repaired to that house, and was so fortunate as to secure the second floor for my uncle, Mr. Provis. I then went from shop to shop, making such purchases as were necessary to the change in his appearance. This business transacted, I turned my face, on my own account, to Little Britain. Mr. Jaggers was at his desk, but, seeing me enter, got up immediately and stood before his fire.

“Now, Pip,” said he, “be careful.”

“I will, sir,” I returned. For, coming along I had thought well of what I was going to say.

“Don’t commit yourself,” said Mr. Jaggers, “and don’t commit any one. You understand—any one. Don’t tell me anything: I don’t want to know anything; I am not curious.”

Of course I saw that he knew the man was come.

“I merely want, Mr. Jaggers,” said I, “to assure myself that what I have been told is true. I have no hope of its being untrue, but at least I may verify it.”

Mr. Jaggers nodded. “But did you say ‘told’ or ‘informed’?” he asked me, with his head on one side, and not looking at me, but looking in a listening way at the floor. “Told would seem to imply verbal communication. You can’t have verbal communication with a man in New South Wales, you know.”

“I will say, informed, Mr. Jaggers.”

“Good.”

“I have been informed by a person named Abel Magwitch, that he is the benefactor so long unknown to me.”

“That is the man,” said Mr. Jaggers, “in New South Wales.”

“And only he?” said I.

“And only he,” said Mr. Jaggers.

“I am not so unreasonable, sir, as to think you at all responsible for my mistakes and wrong conclusions; but I always supposed it was Miss Havisham.”

“As you say, Pip,” returned Mr. Jaggers, turning his eyes upon me coolly, and taking a bite at his forefinger, “I am not at all responsible for that.”

“And yet it looked so like it, sir,” I pleaded with a downcast heart.

“Not a particle of evidence, Pip,” said Mr. Jaggers, shaking his head and gathering up his skirts. “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”

“I have no more to say,” said I, with a sigh, after standing silent for a little while. “I have verified my information, and there’s an end.”

“And Magwitch—in New South Wales—having at last disclosed himself,” said Mr. Jaggers, “you will comprehend, Pip, how rigidly throughout my communication with you, I have always adhered to the strict line of fact. There has never been the least departure from the strict line of fact. You are quite aware of that?”

“Quite, sir.”

“I communicated to Magwitch—in New South Wales—when he first wrote to me—from New South Wales—the caution that he must not expect me ever to deviate from the strict line of fact. I also communicated to him another caution. He appeared to me to have obscurely hinted in his letter at some distant idea he had of seeing you in England here. I cautioned him that I must hear no more of that; that he was not at all likely to obtain a pardon; that he was expatriated for the term of his natural life; and that his presenting himself in this country would be an act of felony, rendering him liable to the extreme penalty of the law. I gave Magwitch that caution,” said Mr. Jaggers, looking hard at me; “I wrote it to New South Wales. He guided himself by it, no doubt.”

“No doubt,” said I.

“I have been informed by Wemmick,” pursued Mr. Jaggers, still looking hard at me, “that he has received a letter, under date Portsmouth, from a colonist of the name of Purvis, or—”

“Or Provis,” I suggested.

“Or Provis—thank you, Pip. Perhaps it is Provis? Perhaps you know it’s Provis?”

“Yes,” said I.

“You know it’s Provis. A letter, under date Portsmouth, from a colonist of the name of Provis, asking for the particulars of your address, on behalf of Magwitch. Wemmick sent him the particulars, I understand, by return of post. Probably it is through Provis that you have received the explanation of Magwitch—in New South Wales?”

“It came through Provis,” I replied.

“Good day, Pip,” said Mr. Jaggers, offering his hand; “glad to have seen you. In writing by post to Magwitch—in New South Wales—or in communicating with him through Provis, have the goodness to mention that the particulars and vouchers of our long account shall be sent to you, together with the balance; for there is still a balance remaining. Good-day, Pip!”

We shook hands, and he looked hard at me as long as he could see me. I turned at the door, and he was still looking hard at me, while the two vile casts on the shelf seemed to be trying to get their eyelids open, and to force out of their swollen throats, “O, what a man he is!”

Wemmick was out, and though he had been at his desk he could have done nothing for me. I went straight back to the Temple, where I found the terrible Provis drinking rum and water and smoking negro-head, in safety.

Next day the clothes I had ordered all came home, and he put them on. Whatever he put on, became him less (it dismally seemed to me) than what he had worn before. To my thinking, there was something in him that made it hopeless to attempt to disguise him. The more I dressed him and the better I dressed him, the more he looked like the slouching fugitive on the marshes. This effect on my anxious fancy was partly referable, no doubt, to his old face and manner growing more familiar to me; but I believe too that he dragged one of his legs as if there were still a weight of iron on it, and that from head to foot there was Convict in the very grain of the man.

The influences of his solitary hut-life were upon him besides, and gave him a savage air that no dress could tame; added to these were the influences of his subsequent branded life among men, and, crowning all, his consciousness that he was dodging and hiding now. In all his ways of sitting and standing, and eating and drinking,—of brooding about in a high-shouldered reluctant style,—of taking out his great horn-handled jackknife and wiping it on his legs and cutting his food,—of lifting light glasses and cups to his lips, as if they were clumsy pannikins,—of chopping a wedge off his bread, and soaking up with it the last fragments of gravy round and round his plate, as if to make the most of an allowance, and then drying his finger-ends on it, and then swallowing it,—in these ways and a thousand other small nameless instances arising every minute in the day, there was Prisoner, Felon, Bondsman, plain as plain could be.

It had been his own idea to wear that touch of powder, and I had conceded the powder after overcoming the shorts. But I can compare the effect of it, when on, to nothing but the probable effect of rouge upon the dead; so awful was the manner in which everything in him that it was most desirable to repress, started through that thin layer of pretence, and seemed to come blazing out at the crown of his head. It was abandoned as soon as tried, and he wore his grizzled hair cut short.

Words cannot tell what a sense I had, at the same time, of the dreadful mystery that he was to me. When he fell asleep of an evening, with his knotted hands clenching the sides of the easy-chair, and his bald head tattooed with deep wrinkles falling forward on his breast, I would sit and look at him, wondering what he had done, and loading him with all the crimes in the Calendar, until the impulse was powerful on me to start up and fly from him. Every hour so increased my abhorrence of him, that I even think I might have yielded to this impulse in the first agonies of being so haunted, notwithstanding all he had done for me and the risk he ran, but for the knowledge that Herbert must soon come back. Once, I actually did start out of bed in the night, and begin to dress myself in my worst clothes, hurriedly intending to leave him there with everything else I possessed, and enlist for India as a private soldier.

I doubt if a ghost could have been more terrible to me, up in those lonely rooms in the long evenings and long nights, with the wind and the rain always rushing by. A ghost could not have been taken and hanged on my account, and the consideration that he could be, and the dread that he would be, were no small addition to my horrors. When he was not asleep, or playing a complicated kind of Patience with a ragged pack of cards of his own,—a game that I never saw before or since, and in which he recorded his winnings by sticking his jackknife into the table,—when he was not engaged in either of these pursuits, he would ask me to read to him,—“Foreign language, dear boy!” While I complied, he, not comprehending a single word, would stand before the fire surveying me with the air of an Exhibitor, and I would see him, between the fingers of the hand with which I shaded my face, appealing in dumb show to the furniture to take notice of my proficiency. The imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature he had impiously made, was not more wretched than I, pursued by the creature who had made me, and recoiling from him with a stronger repulsion, the more he admired me and the fonder he was of me.

This is written of, I am sensible, as if it had lasted a year. It lasted about five days. Expecting Herbert all the time, I dared not go out, except when I took Provis for an airing after dark. At length, one evening when dinner was over and I had dropped into a slumber quite worn out,—for my nights had been agitated and my rest broken by fearful dreams,—I was roused by the welcome footstep on the staircase. Provis, who had been asleep too, staggered up at the noise I made, and in an instant I saw his jackknife shining in his hand.

“Quiet! It’s Herbert!” I said; and Herbert came bursting in, with the airy freshness of six hundred miles of France upon him.

“Handel, my dear fellow, how are you, and again how are you, and again how are you? I seem to have been gone a twelvemonth! Why, so I must have been, for you have grown quite thin and pale! Handel, my—Halloa! I beg your pardon.”

He was stopped in his running on and in his shaking hands with me, by seeing Provis. Provis, regarding him with a fixed attention, was slowly putting up his jackknife, and groping in another pocket for something else.

“Herbert, my dear friend,” said I, shutting the double doors, while Herbert stood staring and wondering, “something very strange has happened. This is—a visitor of mine.”

“It’s all right, dear boy!” said Provis coming forward, with his little clasped black book, and then addressing himself to Herbert. “Take it in your right hand. Lord strike you dead on the spot, if ever you split in any way sumever! Kiss it!”

“Do so, as he wishes it,” I said to Herbert. So, Herbert, looking at me with a friendly uneasiness and amazement, complied, and Provis immediately shaking hands with him, said, “Now you’re on your oath, you know. And never believe me on mine, if Pip shan’t make a gentleman on you!”


Chapter XLI.


In vain should I attempt to describe the astonishment and disquiet of Herbert, when he and I and Provis sat down before the fire, and I recounted the whole of the secret. Enough, that I saw my own feelings reflected in Herbert’s face, and not least among them, my repugnance towards the man who had done so much for me.

What would alone have set a division between that man and us, if there had been no other dividing circumstance, was his triumph in my story. Saving his troublesome sense of having been “low” on one occasion since his return,—on which point he began to hold forth to Herbert, the moment my revelation was finished,—he had no perception of the possibility of my finding any fault with my good fortune. His boast that he had made me a gentleman, and that he had come to see me support the character on his ample resources, was made for me quite as much as for himself. And that it was a highly agreeable boast to both of us, and that we must both be very proud of it, was a conclusion quite established in his own mind.

“Though, look’ee here, Pip’s comrade,” he said to Herbert, after having discoursed for some time, “I know very well that once since I come back—for half a minute—I’ve been low. I said to Pip, I knowed as I had been low. But don’t you fret yourself on that score. I ain’t made Pip a gentleman, and Pip ain’t a-going to make you a gentleman, not fur me not to know what’s due to ye both. Dear boy, and Pip’s comrade, you two may count upon me always having a genteel muzzle on. Muzzled I have been since that half a minute when I was betrayed into lowness, muzzled I am at the present time, muzzled I ever will be.”

Herbert said, “Certainly,” but looked as if there were no specific consolation in this, and remained perplexed and dismayed. We were anxious for the time when he would go to his lodging and leave us together, but he was evidently jealous of leaving us together, and sat late. It was midnight before I took him round to Essex Street, and saw him safely in at his own dark door. When it closed upon him, I experienced the first moment of relief I had known since the night of his arrival.

Never quite free from an uneasy remembrance of the man on the stairs, I had always looked about me in taking my guest out after dark, and in bringing him back; and I looked about me now. Difficult as it is in a large city to avoid the suspicion of being watched, when the mind is conscious of danger in that regard, I could not persuade myself that any of the people within sight cared about my movements. The few who were passing passed on their several ways, and the street was empty when I turned back into the Temple. Nobody had come out at the gate with us, nobody went in at the gate with me. As I crossed by the fountain, I saw his lighted back windows looking bright and quiet, and, when I stood for a few moments in the doorway of the building where I lived, before going up the stairs, Garden Court was as still and lifeless as the staircase was when I ascended it.

Herbert received me with open arms, and I had never felt before so blessedly what it is to have a friend. When he had spoken some sound words of sympathy and encouragement, we sat down to consider the question, What was to be done?

The chair that Provis had occupied still remaining where it had stood,—for he had a barrack way with him of hanging about one spot, in one unsettled manner, and going through one round of observances with his pipe and his negro-head and his jackknife and his pack of cards, and what not, as if it were all put down for him on a slate,—I say his chair remaining where it had stood, Herbert unconsciously took it, but next moment started out of it, pushed it away, and took another. He had no occasion to say after that that he had conceived an aversion for my patron, neither had I occasion to confess my own. We interchanged that confidence without shaping a syllable.

“What,” said I to Herbert, when he was safe in another chair,—“what is to be done?”

“My poor dear Handel,” he replied, holding his head, “I am too stunned to think.”

“So was I, Herbert, when the blow first fell. Still, something must be done. He is intent upon various new expenses,—horses, and carriages, and lavish appearances of all kinds. He must be stopped somehow.”

“You mean that you can’t accept—”

“How can I?” I interposed, as Herbert paused. “Think of him! Look at him!”

An involuntary shudder passed over both of us.

“Yet I am afraid the dreadful truth is, Herbert, that he is attached to me, strongly attached to me. Was there ever such a fate!”

“My poor dear Handel,” Herbert repeated.

“Then,” said I, “after all, stopping short here, never taking another penny from him, think what I owe him already! Then again: I am heavily in debt,—very heavily for me, who have now no expectations,—and I have been bred to no calling, and I am fit for nothing.”

“Well, well, well!” Herbert remonstrated. “Don’t say fit for nothing.”

“What am I fit for? I know only one thing that I am fit for, and that is, to go for a soldier. And I might have gone, my dear Herbert, but for the prospect of taking counsel with your friendship and affection.”

Of course I broke down there: and of course Herbert, beyond seizing a warm grip of my hand, pretended not to know it.

“Anyhow, my dear Handel,” said he presently, “soldiering won’t do. If you were to renounce this patronage and these favours, I suppose you would do so with some faint hope of one day repaying what you have already had. Not very strong, that hope, if you went soldiering! Besides, it’s absurd. You would be infinitely better in Clarriker’s house, small as it is. I am working up towards a partnership, you know.”

Poor fellow! He little suspected with whose money.

“But there is another question,” said Herbert. “This is an ignorant, determined man, who has long had one fixed idea. More than that, he seems to me (I may misjudge him) to be a man of a desperate and fierce character.”

“I know he is,” I returned. “Let me tell you what evidence I have seen of it.” And I told him what I had not mentioned in my narrative, of that encounter with the other convict.

“See, then,” said Herbert; “think of this! He comes here at the peril of his life, for the realisation of his fixed idea. In the moment of realisation, after all his toil and waiting, you cut the ground from under his feet, destroy his idea, and make his gains worthless to him. Do you see nothing that he might do, under the disappointment?”

“I have seen it, Herbert, and dreamed of it, ever since the fatal night of his arrival. Nothing has been in my thoughts so distinctly as his putting himself in the way of being taken.”

“Then you may rely upon it,” said Herbert, “that there would be great danger of his doing it. That is his power over you as long as he remains in England, and that would be his reckless course if you forsook him.”

I was so struck by the horror of this idea, which had weighed upon me from the first, and the working out of which would make me regard myself, in some sort, as his murderer, that I could not rest in my chair, but began pacing to and fro. I said to Herbert, meanwhile, that even if Provis were recognised and taken, in spite of himself, I should be wretched as the cause, however innocently. Yes; even though I was so wretched in having him at large and near me, and even though I would far rather have worked at the forge all the days of my life than I would ever have come to this!

But there was no staving off the question, What was to be done?

“The first and the main thing to be done,” said Herbert, “is to get him out of England. You will have to go with him, and then he may be induced to go.”

“But get him where I will, could I prevent his coming back?”

“My good Handel, is it not obvious that with Newgate in the next street, there must be far greater hazard in your breaking your mind to him and making him reckless, here, than elsewhere? If a pretext to get him away could be made out of that other convict, or out of anything else in his life, now.”

“There, again!” said I, stopping before Herbert, with my open hands held out, as if they contained the desperation of the case. “I know nothing of his life. It has almost made me mad to sit here of a night and see him before me, so bound up with my fortunes and misfortunes, and yet so unknown to me, except as the miserable wretch who terrified me two days in my childhood!”

Herbert got up, and linked his arm in mine, and we slowly walked to and fro together, studying the carpet.

“Handel,” said Herbert, stopping, “you feel convinced that you can take no further benefits from him; do you?”

“Fully. Surely you would, too, if you were in my place?”

“And you feel convinced that you must break with him?”

“Herbert, can you ask me?”

“And you have, and are bound to have, that tenderness for the life he has risked on your account, that you must save him, if possible, from throwing it away. Then you must get him out of England before you stir a finger to extricate yourself. That done, extricate yourself, in Heaven’s name, and we’ll see it out together, dear old boy.”

It was a comfort to shake hands upon it, and walk up and down again, with only that done.

“Now, Herbert,” said I, “with reference to gaining some knowledge of his history. There is but one way that I know of. I must ask him point blank.”

“Yes. Ask him,” said Herbert, “when we sit at breakfast in the morning.” For he had said, on taking leave of Herbert, that he would come to breakfast with us.

With this project formed, we went to bed. I had the wildest dreams concerning him, and woke unrefreshed; I woke, too, to recover the fear which I had lost in the night, of his being found out as a returned transport. Waking, I never lost that fear.

He came round at the appointed time, took out his jackknife, and sat down to his meal. He was full of plans “for his gentleman’s coming out strong, and like a gentleman,” and urged me to begin speedily upon the pocket-book which he had left in my possession. He considered the chambers and his own lodging as temporary residences, and advised me to look out at once for a “fashionable crib” near Hyde Park, in which he could have “a shake-down.” When he had made an end of his breakfast, and was wiping his knife on his leg, I said to him, without a word of preface,—

“After you were gone last night, I told my friend of the struggle that the soldiers found you engaged in on the marshes, when we came up. You remember?”

“Remember!” said he. “I think so!”

“We want to know something about that man—and about you. It is strange to know no more about either, and particularly you, than I was able to tell last night. Is not this as good a time as another for our knowing more?”

“Well!” he said, after consideration. “You’re on your oath, you know, Pip’s comrade?”

“Assuredly,” replied Herbert.

“As to anything I say, you know,” he insisted. “The oath applies to all.”

“I understand it to do so.”

“And look’ee here! Wotever I done is worked out and paid for,” he insisted again.

“So be it.”

He took out his black pipe and was going to fill it with negro-head, when, looking at the tangle of tobacco in his hand, he seemed to think it might perplex the thread of his narrative. He put it back again, stuck his pipe in a button-hole of his coat, spread a hand on each knee, and after turning an angry eye on the fire for a few silent moments, looked round at us and said what follows.


Chapter XLII.


“Dear boy and Pip’s comrade. I am not a-going fur to tell you my life like a song, or a story-book. But to give it you short and handy, I’ll put it at once into a mouthful of English. In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail. There, you’ve got it. That’s my life pretty much, down to such times as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend.

“I’ve been done everything to, pretty well—except hanged. I’ve been locked up as much as a silver tea-kittle. I’ve been carted here and carted there, and put out of this town, and put out of that town, and stuck in the stocks, and whipped and worried and drove. I’ve no more notion where I was born than you have—if so much. I first become aware of myself down in Essex, a thieving turnips for my living. Summun had run away from me—a man—a tinker—and he’d took the fire with him, and left me wery cold.

“I know’d my name to be Magwitch, chrisen’d Abel. How did I know it? Much as I know’d the birds’ names in the hedges to be chaffinch, sparrer, thrush. I might have thought it was all lies together, only as the birds’ names come out true, I supposed mine did.

“So fur as I could find, there warn’t a soul that see young Abel Magwitch, with us little on him as in him, but wot caught fright at him, and either drove him off, or took him up. I was took up, took up, took up, to that extent that I reg’larly grow’d up took up.

“This is the way it was, that when I was a ragged little creetur as much to be pitied as ever I see (not that I looked in the glass, for there warn’t many insides of furnished houses known to me), I got the name of being hardened. ‘This is a terrible hardened one,’ they says to prison wisitors, picking out me. ‘May be said to live in jails, this boy.’ Then they looked at me, and I looked at them, and they measured my head, some on ’em,—they had better a measured my stomach,—and others on ’em giv me tracts what I couldn’t read, and made me speeches what I couldn’t understand. They always went on agen me about the Devil. But what the Devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach, mustn’t I?—Howsomever, I’m a getting low, and I know what’s due. Dear boy and Pip’s comrade, don’t you be afeerd of me being low.

“Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could,—though that warn’t as often as you may think, till you put the question whether you would ha’ been over-ready to give me work yourselves,—a bit of a poacher, a bit of a labourer, a bit of a wagoner, a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don’t pay and lead to trouble, I got to be a man. A deserting soldier in a Traveller’s Rest, what lay hid up to the chin under a lot of taturs, learnt me to read; and a travelling Giant what signed his name at a penny a time learnt me to write. I warn’t locked up as often now as formerly, but I wore out my good share of key-metal still.

“At Epsom races, a matter of over twenty years ago, I got acquainted wi’ a man whose skull I’d crack wi’ this poker, like the claw of a lobster, if I’d got it on this hob. His right name was Compeyson; and that’s the man, dear boy, what you see me a pounding in the ditch, according to what you truly told your comrade arter I was gone last night.

“He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he’d been to a public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was good-looking too. It was the night afore the great race, when I found him on the heath, in a booth that I know’d on. Him and some more was a sitting among the tables when I went in, and the landlord (which had a knowledge of me, and was a sporting one) called him out, and said, ‘I think this is a man that might suit you,’—meaning I was.

“Compeyson, he looks at me very noticing, and I look at him. He has a watch and a chain and a ring and a breast-pin and a handsome suit of clothes.

“‘To judge from appearances, you’re out of luck,’ says Compeyson to me.

“‘Yes, master, and I’ve never been in it much.’ (I had come out of Kingston Jail last on a vagrancy committal. Not but what it might have been for something else; but it warn’t.)

“‘Luck changes,’ says Compeyson; ‘perhaps yours is going to change.’

“I says, ‘I hope it may be so. There’s room.’

“‘What can you do?’ says Compeyson.

“‘Eat and drink,’ I says; ‘if you’ll find the materials.’

“Compeyson laughed, looked at me again very noticing, giv me five shillings, and appointed me for next night. Same place.

“I went to Compeyson next night, same place, and Compeyson took me on to be his man and pardner. And what was Compeyson’s business in which we was to go pardners? Compeyson’s business was the swindling, handwriting forging, stolen bank-note passing, and such-like. All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and keep his own legs out of and get the profits from and let another man in for, was Compeyson’s business. He’d no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.

“There was another in with Compeyson, as was called Arthur,—not as being so chrisen’d, but as a surname. He was in a Decline, and was a shadow to look at. Him and Compeyson had been in a bad thing with a rich lady some years afore, and they’d made a pot of money by it; but Compeyson betted and gamed, and he’d have run through the king’s taxes. So, Arthur was a dying, and a dying poor and with the horrors on him, and Compeyson’s wife (which Compeyson kicked mostly) was a having pity on him when she could, and Compeyson was a having pity on nothing and nobody.

“I might a took warning by Arthur, but I didn’t; and I won’t pretend I was partick’ler—for where ’ud be the good on it, dear boy and comrade? So I begun wi’ Compeyson, and a poor tool I was in his hands. Arthur lived at the top of Compeyson’s house (over nigh Brentford it was), and Compeyson kept a careful account agen him for board and lodging, in case he should ever get better to work it out. But Arthur soon settled the account. The second or third time as ever I see him, he come a tearing down into Compeyson’s parlour late at night, in only a flannel gown, with his hair all in a sweat, and he says to Compeyson’s wife, ‘Sally, she really is upstairs alonger me, now, and I can’t get rid of her. She’s all in white,’ he says, ‘wi’ white flowers in her hair, and she’s awful mad, and she’s got a shroud hanging over her arm, and she says she’ll put it on me at five in the morning.’

“Says Compeyson: ‘Why, you fool, don’t you know she’s got a living body? And how should she be up there, without coming through the door, or in at the window, and up the stairs?’

“‘I don’t know how she’s there,’ says Arthur, shivering dreadful with the horrors, ‘but she’s standing in the corner at the foot of the bed, awful mad. And over where her heart’s broke—you broke it!—there’s drops of blood.’

“Compeyson spoke hardy, but he was always a coward. ‘Go up alonger this drivelling sick man,’ he says to his wife, ‘and Magwitch, lend her a hand, will you?’ But he never come nigh himself.

“Compeyson’s wife and me took him up to bed agen, and he raved most dreadful. ‘Why look at her!’ he cries out. ‘She’s a shaking the shroud at me! Don’t you see her? Look at her eyes! Ain’t it awful to see her so mad?’ Next he cries, ‘She’ll put it on me, and then I’m done for! Take it away from her, take it away!’ And then he catched hold of us, and kep on a talking to her, and answering of her, till I half believed I see her myself.

“Compeyson’s wife, being used to him, giv him some liquor to get the horrors off, and by and by he quieted. ‘O, she’s gone! Has her keeper been for her?’ he says. ‘Yes,’ says Compeyson’s wife. ‘Did you tell him to lock her and bar her in?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And to take that ugly thing away from her?’ ‘Yes, yes, all right.’ ‘You’re a good creetur,’ he says, ‘don’t leave me, whatever you do, and thank you!’

“He rested pretty quiet till it might want a few minutes of five, and then he starts up with a scream, and screams out, ‘Here she is! She’s got the shroud again. She’s unfolding it. She’s coming out of the corner. She’s coming to the bed. Hold me, both on you—one of each side—don’t let her touch me with it. Hah! she missed me that time. Don’t let her throw it over my shoulders. Don’t let her lift me up to get it round me. She’s lifting me up. Keep me down!’ Then he lifted himself up hard, and was dead.

“Compeyson took it easy as a good riddance for both sides. Him and me was soon busy, and first he swore me (being ever artful) on my own book,—this here little black book, dear boy, what I swore your comrade on.

“Not to go into the things that Compeyson planned, and I done—which ’ud take a week—I’ll simply say to you, dear boy, and Pip’s comrade, that that man got me into such nets as made me his black slave. I was always in debt to him, always under his thumb, always a working, always a getting into danger. He was younger than me, but he’d got craft, and he’d got learning, and he overmatched me five hundred times told and no mercy. My Missis as I had the hard time wi’—Stop though! I ain’t brought her in—”

He looked about him in a confused way, as if he had lost his place in the book of his remembrance; and he turned his face to the fire, and spread his hands broader on his knees, and lifted them off and put them on again.

“There ain’t no need to go into it,” he said, looking round once more. “The time wi’ Compeyson was a’most as hard a time as ever I had; that said, all’s said. Did I tell you as I was tried, alone, for misdemeanor, while with Compeyson?”

I answered, No.

“Well!” he said, “I was, and got convicted. As to took up on suspicion, that was twice or three times in the four or five year that it lasted; but evidence was wanting. At last, me and Compeyson was both committed for felony,—on a charge of putting stolen notes in circulation,—and there was other charges behind. Compeyson says to me, ‘Separate defences, no communication,’ and that was all. And I was so miserable poor, that I sold all the clothes I had, except what hung on my back, afore I could get Jaggers.

“When we was put in the dock, I noticed first of all what a gentleman Compeyson looked, wi’ his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of a wretch I looked. When the prosecution opened and the evidence was put short, aforehand, I noticed how heavy it all bore on me, and how light on him. When the evidence was giv in the box, I noticed how it was always me that had come for’ard, and could be swore to, how it was always me that the money had been paid to, how it was always me that had seemed to work the thing and get the profit. But when the defence come on, then I see the plan plainer; for, says the counsellor for Compeyson, ‘My lord and gentlemen, here you has afore you, side by side, two persons as your eyes can separate wide; one, the younger, well brought up, who will be spoke to as such; one, the elder, ill brought up, who will be spoke to as such; one, the younger, seldom if ever seen in these here transactions, and only suspected; t’other, the elder, always seen in ’em and always wi’ his guilt brought home. Can you doubt, if there is but one in it, which is the one, and, if there is two in it, which is much the worst one?’ And such-like. And when it come to character, warn’t it Compeyson as had been to the school, and warn’t it his schoolfellows as was in this position and in that, and warn’t it him as had been know’d by witnesses in such clubs and societies, and nowt to his disadvantage? And warn’t it me as had been tried afore, and as had been know’d up hill and down dale in Bridewells and Lock-Ups! And when it come to speech-making, warn’t it Compeyson as could speak to ’em wi’ his face dropping every now and then into his white pocket-handkercher,—ah! and wi’ verses in his speech, too,—and warn’t it me as could only say, ‘Gentlemen, this man at my side is a most precious rascal’? And when the verdict come, warn’t it Compeyson as was recommended to mercy on account of good character and bad company, and giving up all the information he could agen me, and warn’t it me as got never a word but Guilty? And when I says to Compeyson, ‘Once out of this court, I’ll smash that face of yourn!’ ain’t it Compeyson as prays the Judge to be protected, and gets two turnkeys stood betwixt us? And when we’re sentenced, ain’t it him as gets seven year, and me fourteen, and ain’t it him as the Judge is sorry for, because he might a done so well, and ain’t it me as the Judge perceives to be a old offender of wiolent passion, likely to come to worse?”

He had worked himself into a state of great excitement, but he checked it, took two or three short breaths, swallowed as often, and stretching out his hand towards me said, in a reassuring manner, “I ain’t a-going to be low, dear boy!”

He had so heated himself that he took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and head and neck and hands, before he could go on.

[Illustration]

“I had said to Compeyson that I’d smash that face of his, and I swore Lord smash mine! to do it. We was in the same prison-ship, but I couldn’t get at him for long, though I tried. At last I come behind him and hit him on the cheek to turn him round and get a smashing one at him, when I was seen and seized. The black-hole of that ship warn’t a strong one, to a judge of black-holes that could swim and dive. I escaped to the shore, and I was a hiding among the graves there, envying them as was in ’em and all over, when I first see my boy!”

He regarded me with a look of affection that made him almost abhorrent to me again, though I had felt great pity for him.

“By my boy, I was giv to understand as Compeyson was out on them marshes too. Upon my soul, I half believe he escaped in his terror, to get quit of me, not knowing it was me as had got ashore. I hunted him down. I smashed his face. ‘And now,’ says I ‘as the worst thing I can do, caring nothing for myself, I’ll drag you back.’ And I’d have swum off, towing him by the hair, if it had come to that, and I’d a got him aboard without the soldiers.

“Of course he’d much the best of it to the last,—his character was so good. He had escaped when he was made half wild by me and my murderous intentions; and his punishment was light. I was put in irons, brought to trial again, and sent for life. I didn’t stop for life, dear boy and Pip’s comrade, being here.”

He wiped himself again, as he had done before, and then slowly took his tangle of tobacco from his pocket, and plucked his pipe from his button-hole, and slowly filled it, and began to smoke.

“Is he dead?” I asked, after a silence.

“Is who dead, dear boy?”

“Compeyson.”

“He hopes I am, if he’s alive, you may be sure,” with a fierce look. “I never heerd no more of him.”

Herbert had been writing with his pencil in the cover of a book. He softly pushed the book over to me, as Provis stood smoking with his eyes on the fire, and I read in it:—

“Young Havisham’s name was Arthur. Compeyson is the man who professed to be Miss Havisham’s lover.”

I shut the book and nodded slightly to Herbert, and put the book by; but we neither of us said anything, and both looked at Provis as he stood smoking by the fire.