"Ay! There's some of the birds flown from the cages. The guns havebeen going
since dark, about. You'll hear one presently."
In effect, we had not walked many yards further, when thewellremembered boom
came towards us, deadened by the mist, andheavily rolled away along the low grounds
by the river, as if itwere pursuing and threatening the fugitives.
"A good night for cutting off in," said Orlick. "We'd be puzzledhow to bring
down a jail-bird on the wing, to-night."
The subject was a suggestive one to me, and I thought about it insilence. Mr.
Wopsle, as the ill-requited uncle of the evening'stragedy, fell to meditating aloud
in his garden at Camberwell.Orlick, with his hands in his pockets, slouched heavily
at my side.It was very dark, very wet, very muddy, and so we splashed along.Now
and then, the sound of the signal cannon broke upon us again,and again rolled sulkily
along the course of the river. I keptmyself to myself and my thoughts. Mr. Wopsle
died amiably atCamberwell, and exceedingly game on Bosworth Field, and in thegreatest
agonies at Glastonbury. Orlick sometimes growled, "Beat itout, beat it out - Old
Clem! With a clink for the stout - OldClem!" I thought he had been drinking, but
he was not drunk.
Thus, we came to the village. The way by which we approached it,took us past
the Three Jolly Bargemen, which we were surprised tofind - it being eleven o'clock
- in a state of commotion, with thedoor wide open, and unwonted lights that had
been hastily caught upand put down, scattered about. Mr. Wopsle dropped in to ask
what wasthe matter (surmising that a convict had been taken), but camerunning out
in a great hurry.
"There's something wrong," said he, without stopping, "up at yourplace, Pip.
"What is it?" I asked, keeping up with him. So did Orlick, at myside.
"I can't quite understand. The house seems to have been violentlyentered when
Joe Gargery was out. Supposed by convicts. Somebodyhas been attacked and hurt."
We were running too fast to admit of more being said, and we madeno stop until
we got into our kitchen. It was full of people; thewhole village was there, or in
the yard; and there was a surgeon,and there was Joe, and there was a group of women,
all on the floorin the midst of the kitchen. The unemployed bystanders drew backwhen
they saw me, and so I became aware of my sister - lyingwithout sense or movement
on the bare boards where she had beenknocked down by a tremendous blow on the back
of the head, dealt bysome unknown hand when her face was turned towards the fire
-destined never to be on the Rampage again, while she was the wifeof Joe.
With my head full of George Barnwell, I was at first disposed tobelieve that
I must have had some hand in the attack upon mysister, or at all events that as
her near relation, popularly knownto be under obligations to her, I was a more legitimate
object ofsuspicion than any one else. But when, in the clearer light of nextmorning,
I began to reconsider the matter and to hear it discussedaround me on all sides,
I took another view of the case, which wasmore reasonable.
Joe had been at the Three Jolly Bargemen, smoking his pipe, from aquarter after
eight o'clock to a quarter before ten. While he wasthere, my sister had been seen
standing at the kitchen door, andhad exchanged Good Night with a farm-labourer going
home. The mancould not be more particular as to the time at which he saw her (hegot
into dense confusion when he tried to be), than that it musthave been before nine.
When Joe went home at five minutes beforeten, he found her struck down on the floor,
and promptly called inassistance. The fire had not then burnt unusually low, nor
was thesnuff of the candle very long; the candle, however, had been blownout.
Nothing had been taken away from any part of the house. Neither,beyond the blowing
out of the candle - which stood on a tablebetween the door and my sister, and was
behind her when she stoodfacing the fire and was struck - was there any disarrangement
ofthe kitchen, excepting such as she herself had made, in falling andbleeding. But,
there was one remarkable piece of evidence on thespot. She had been struck with
something blunt and heavy, on thehead and spine; after the blows were dealt, something
heavy hadbeen thrown down at her with considerable violence, as she lay onher face.
And on the ground beside her, when Joe picked her up, wasa convict's leg-iron which
had been filed asunder.
Now, Joe, examining this iron with a smith's eye, declared it tohave been filed
asunder some time ago. The hue and cry going off tothe Hulks, and people coming
thence to examine the iron, Joe'sopinion was corroborated. They did not undertake
to say when it hadleft the prison-ships to which it undoubtedly had once belonged;but
they claimed to know for certain that that particular manaclehad not been worn by
either of the two convicts who had escaped lastnight. Further, one of those two
was already re-taken, and had notfreed himself of his iron.
Knowing what I knew, I set up an inference of my own here. Ibelieved the iron
to be my convict's iron - the iron I had seen andheard him filing at, on the marshes
- but my mind did not accusehim of having put it to its latest use. For, I believed
one of twoother persons to have become possessed of it, and to have turned itto
this cruel account. Either Orlick, or the strange man who hadshown me the file.
Now, as to Orlick; he had gone to town exactly as he told us whenwe picked him
up at the turnpike, he had been seen about town allthe evening, he had been in divers
companies in severalpublic-houses, and he had come back with myself and Mr. Wopsle.There
was nothing against him, save the quarrel; and my sister hadquarrelled with him,
and with everybody else about her, tenthousand times. As to the strange man; if
he had come back for histwo bank-notes there could have been no dispute about them,
becausemy sister was fully prepared to restore them. Besides, there hadbeen no altercation;
the assailant had come in so silently andsuddenly, that she had been felled before
she could look round.
It was horrible to think that I had provided the weapon, howeverundesignedly,
but I could hardly think otherwise. I sufferedunspeakable trouble while I considered
and reconsidered whether Ishould at last dissolve that spell of my childhood, and
tell Joeall the story. For months afterwards, I every day settled thequestion finally
in the negative, and reopened and reargued it nextmorning. The contention came,
after all, to this; - the secret wassuch an old one now, had so grown into me and
become a part ofmyself, that I could not tear it away. In addition to the dreadthat,
having led up to so much mischief, it would be now morelikely than ever to alienate
Joe from me if he believed it, I had afurther restraining dread that he would not
believe it, but wouldassort it with the fabulous dogs and veal-cutlets as a monstrousinvention.
However, I temporized with myself, of course - for, wasI not wavering between right
and wrong, when the thing is alwaysdone? - and resolved to make a full disclosure
if I should see anysuch new occasion as a new chance of helping in the discovery
The Constables, and the Bow Street men from London - for, thishappened in the
days of the extinct red-waistcoated police - wereabout the house for a week or two,
and did pretty much what I haveheard and read of like authorities doing in other
such cases. Theytook up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their headsvery
hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit thecircumstances to the
ideas, instead of trying to extract ideas fromthe circumstances. Also, they stood
about the door of the JollyBargemen, with knowing and reserved looks that filled
the wholeneighbourhood with admiration; and they had a mysterious manner oftaking
their drink, that was almost as good as taking the culprit.But not quite, for they
never did it.
Long after these constitutional powers had dispersed, my sister layvery ill in
bed. Her sight was disturbed, so that she saw objectsmultiplied, and grasped at
visionary teacups and wine-glassesinstead of the realities; her hearing was greatly
impaired; hermemory also; and her speech was unintelligible. When, at last, shecame
round so far as to be helped down-stairs, it was stillnecessary to keep my slate
always by her, that she might indicatein writing what she could not indicate in
speech. As she was (verybad handwriting apart) a more than indifferent speller,
and as Joewas a more than indifferent reader, extraordinary complicationsarose between
them, which I was always called in to solve. Theadministration of mutton instead
of medicine, the substitution ofTea for Joe, and the baker for bacon, were among
the mildest of myown mistakes.
However, her temper was greatly improved, and she was patient. Atremulous uncertainty
of the action of all her limbs soon became apart of her regular state, and afterwards,
at intervals of two orthree months, she would often put her hands to her head, and
wouldthen remain for about a week at a time in some gloomy aberration ofmind. We
were at a loss to find a suitable attendant for her, untila circumstance happened
conveniently to relieve us. Mr. Wopsle'sgreat-aunt conquered a confirmed habit of
living into which she hadfallen, and Biddy became a part of our establishment.
It may have been about a month after my sister's reappearance inthe kitchen,
when Biddy came to us with a small speckled boxcontaining the whole of her worldly
effects, and became a blessingto the household. Above all, she was a blessing to
Joe, for thedear old fellow was sadly cut up by the constant contemplation ofthe
wreck of his wife, and had been accustomed, while attending onher of an evening,
to turn to me every now and then and say, withhis blue eyes moistened, "Such a fine
figure of a woman as she oncewere, Pip!" Biddy instantly taking the cleverest charge
of her asthough she had studied her from infancy, Joe became able in somesort to
appreciate the greater quiet of his life, and to get downto the Jolly Bargemen now
and then for a change that did him good.It was characteristic of the police people
that they had all moreor less suspected poor Joe (though he never knew it), and
that theyhad to a man concurred in regarding him as one of the deepestspirits they
had ever encountered.
Biddy's first triumph in her new office, was to solve a difficultythat had completely
vanquished me. I had tried hard at it, but hadmade nothing of it. Thus it was:
Again and again and again, my sister had traced upon the slate, acharacter that
looked like a curious T, and then with the utmosteagerness had called our attention
to it as something sheparticularly wanted. I had in vain tried everything producible
thatbegan with a T, from tar to toast and tub. At length it had comeinto my head
that the sign looked like a hammer, and on my lustilycalling that word in my sister's
ear, she had begun to hammer onthe table and had expressed a qualified assent. Thereupon,
I hadbrought in all our hammers, one after another, but without avail.Then I bethought
me of a crutch, the shape being much the same, andI borrowed one in the village,
and displayed it to my sister withconsiderable confidence. But she shook her head
to that extent whenshe was shown it, that we were terrified lest in her weak andshattered
state she should dislocate her neck.
When my sister found that Biddy was very quick to understand her,this mysterious
sign reappeared on the slate. Biddy lookedthoughtfully at it, heard my explanation,
looked thoughtfully at mysister, looked thoughtfully at Joe (who was always represented
onthe slate by his initial letter), and ran into the forge, followedby Joe and me.
"Why, of course!" cried Biddy, with an exultant face. "Don't yousee? It's him!"
Orlick, without a doubt! She had lost his name, and could onlysignify him by
his hammer. We told him why we wanted him to comeinto the kitchen, and he slowly
laid down his hammer, wiped hisbrow with his arm, took another wipe at it with his
apron, and cameslouching out, with a curious loose vagabond bend in the knees thatstrongly
I confess that I expected to see my sister denounce him, and that Iwas disappointed
by the different result. She manifested thegreatest anxiety to be on good terms
with him, was evidently muchpleased by his being at length produced, and motioned
that shewould have him given something to drink. She watched hiscountenance as if
she were particularly wishful to be assured thathe took kindly to his reception,
she showed every possible desireto conciliate him, and there was an air of humble
propitiation inall she did, such as I have seen pervade the bearing of a childtowards
a hard master. After that day, a day rarely passed withouther drawing the hammer
on her slate, and without Orlick's slouchingin and standing doggedly before her,
as if he knew no more than Idid what to make of it.
I now fell into a regular routine of apprenticeship life, which wasvaried, beyond
the limits of the village and the marshes, by nomore remarkable circumstance than
the arrival of my birthday and mypaying another visit to Miss Havisham. I found
Miss Sarah Pocketstill on duty at the gate, I found Miss Havisham just as I had
lefther, and she spoke of Estella in the very same way, if not in thevery same words.
The interview lasted but a few minutes, and shegave me a guinea when I was going,
and told me to come again on mynext birthday. I may mention at once that this became
an annualcustom. I tried to decline taking the guinea on the first occasion,but
with no better effect than causing her to ask me very angrily,if I expected more?
Then, and after that, I took it.
So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in thedarkened room, the
faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-tableglass, that I felt as if the stopping
of the clocks had stoppedTime in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything
elseoutside it grew older, it stood still. Daylight never entered thehouse as to
my thoughts and remembrances of it, any more than as tothe actual fact. It bewildered
me, and under its influence Icontinued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed