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Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 34)


It was easy to make sure that as yet he knew me no more than if hehad never seen me in his life. He looked across at me, and his eyeappraised my watch-chain, and then he incidentally spat and saidsomething to the other convict, and they laughed and sluedthemselves round with a clink of their coupling manacle, and lookedat something else. The great numbers on their backs, as if theywere street doors; their coarse mangy ungainly outer surface, as ifthey were lower animals; their ironed legs, apologeticallygarlanded with pocket-handkerchiefs; and the way in which allpresent looked at them and kept from them; made them (as Herberthad said) a most disagreeable and degraded spectacle.

But this was not the worst of it. It came out that the whole of theback of the coach had been taken by a family removing from London,and that there were no places for the two prisoners but on the seatin front, behind the coachman. Hereupon, a choleric gentleman, whohad taken the fourth place on that seat, flew into a most violentpassion, and said that it was a breach of contract to mix him upwith such villainous company, and that it was poisonous andpernicious and infamous and shameful, and I don't know what else.At this time the coach was ready and the coachman impatient, and wewere all preparing to get up, and the prisoners had come over withtheir keeper - bringing with them that curious flavour ofbread-poultice, baize, rope-yarn, and hearthstone, which attendsthe convict presence.

"Don't take it so much amiss. sir," pleaded the keeper to the angrypassenger; "I'll sit next you myself. I'll put 'em on the outsideof the row. They won't interfere with you, sir. You needn't knowthey're there."

"And don't blame me," growled the convict I had recognized. "Idon't want to go. I am quite ready to stay behind. As fur as I amconcerned any one's welcome to my place."

"Or mine," said the other, gruffly. "I wouldn't have incommodednone of you, if I'd had my way." Then, they both laughed, and begancracking nuts, and spitting the shells about. - As I really think Ishould have liked to do myself, if I had been in their place and sodespised.

At length, it was voted that there was no help for the angrygentleman, and that he must either go in his chance company orremain behind. So, he got into his place, still making complaints,and the keeper got into the place next him, and the convicts hauledthemselves up as well as they could, and the convict I hadrecognized sat behind me with his breath on the hair of my head.

"Good-bye, Handel!" Herbert called out as we started. I thoughtwhat a blessed fortune it was, that he had found another name forme than Pip.

It is impossible to express with what acuteness I felt theconvict's breathing, not only on the back of my head, but all alongmy spine. The sensation was like being touched in the marrow withsome pungent and searching acid, it set my very teeth on edge. Heseemed to have more breathing business to do than another man, andto make more noise in doing it; and I was conscious of growinghigh-shoulderd on one side, in my shrinking endeavours to fend himoff.

The weather was miserably raw, and the two cursed the cold. It madeus all lethargic before we had gone far, and when we had left theHalf-way House behind, we habitually dozed and shivered and weresilent. I dozed off, myself, in considering the question whether Iought to restore a couple of pounds sterling to this creaturebefore losing sight of him, and how it could best be done. In theact of dipping forward as if I were going to bathe among thehorses, I woke in a fright and took the question up again.

But I must have lost it longer than I had thought, since, althoughI could recognize nothing in the darkness and the fitful lights andshadows of our lamps, I traced marsh country in the cold damp windthat blew at us. Cowering forward for warmth and to make me ascreen against the wind, the convicts were closer to me thanbefore. They very first words I heard them interchange as I becameconscious were the words of my own thought, "Two One Pound notes."

"How did he get 'em?" said the convict I had never seen.

"How should I know?" returned the other. "He had 'em stowed awaysomehows. Giv him by friends, I expect."

"I wish," said the other, with a bitter curse upon the cold, "thatI had 'em here."

"Two one pound notes, or friends?"

"Two one pound notes. I'd sell all the friends I ever had, for one,and think it a blessed good bargain. Well? So he says - ?"

"So he says," resumed the convict I had recognized - "it was allsaid and done in half a minute, behind a pile of timber in theDockyard - 'You're a-going to be discharged?' Yes, I was. Would Ifind out that boy that had fed him and kep his secret, and give himthem two one pound notes? Yes, I would. And I did."

"More fool you," growled the other. "I'd have spent 'em on a Man,in wittles and drink. He must have been a green one. Mean to say heknowed nothing of you?"

"Not a ha'porth. Different gangs and different ships. He was triedagain for prison breaking, and got made a Lifer."

"And was that - Honour! - the only time you worked out, in thispart of the country?"

"The only time."

"What might have been your opinion of the place?"

"A most beastly place. Mudbank, mist, swamp, and work; work, swamp,mist, and mudbank."

They both execrated the place in very strong language, andgradually growled themselves out, and had nothing left to say.

After overhearing this dialogue, I should assuredly have got downand been left in the solitude and darkness of the highway, but forfeeling certain that the man had no suspicion of my identity.Indeed, I was not only so changed in the course of nature, but sodifferently dressed and so differently circumstanced, that it wasnot at all likely he could have known me without accidental help.Still, the coincidence of our being together on the coach, wassufficiently strange to fill me with a dread that some othercoincidence might at any moment connect me, in his hearing, with myname. For this reason, I resolved to alight as soon as we touchedthe town, and put myself out of his hearing. This device I executedsuccessfully. My little portmanteau was in the boot under my feet;I had but to turn a hinge to get it out: I threw it down before me,got down after it, and was left at the first lamp on the firststones of the town pavement. As to the convicts, they went theirway with the coach, and I knew at what point they would be spiritedoff to the river. In my fancy, I saw the boat with its convict crewwaiting for them at the slime-washed stairs, - again heard thegruff "Give way, you!" like and order to dogs - again saw thewicked Noah's Ark lying out on the black water.

I could not have said what I was afraid of, for my fear wasaltogether undefined and vague, but there was great fear upon me.As I walked on to the hotel, I felt that a dread, much exceedingthe mere apprehension of a painful or disagreeable recognition,made me tremble. I am confident that it took no distinctness ofshape, and that it was the revival for a few minutes of the terrorof childhood.

The coffee-room at the Blue Boar was empty, and I had not onlyordered my dinner there, but had sat down to it, before the waiterknew me. As soon as he had apologized for the remissness of hismemory, he asked me if he should send Boots for Mr. Pumblechook?

"No," said I, "certainly not."

The waiter (it was he who had brought up the Great Remonstrancefrom the Commercials, on the day when I was bound) appearedsurprised, and took the earliest opportunity of putting a dirty oldcopy of a local newspaper so directly in my way, that I took it upand read this paragraph:

Our readers will learn, not altogether without interest, inreference to the recent romantic rise in fortune of a youngartificer in iron of this neighbourhood (what a theme, by the way,for the magic pen of our as yet not universally acknowledgedtownsman TOOBY, the poet of our columns!) that the youth's earliestpatron, companion, and friend, was a highly-respected individualnot entirely unconnected with the corn and seed trade, and whoseeminently convenient and commodious business premises are situatewithin a hundred miles of the High-street. It is not whollyirrespective of our personal feelings that we record HIM as theMentor of our young Telemachus, for it is good to know that ourtown produced the founder of the latter's fortunes. Does thethoughtcontracted brow of the local Sage or the lustrous eye oflocal Beauty inquire whose fortunes? We believe that Quintin Matsyswas the BLACKSMITH of Antwerp. VERB. SAP.

I entertain a conviction, based upon large experience, that if inthe days of my prosperity I had gone to the North Pole, I shouldhave met somebody there, wandering Esquimaux or civilized man, whowould have told me that Pumblechook was my earliest patron and thefounder of my fortunes.

Chapter 29

Betimes in the morning I was up and out. It was too early yet to goto Miss Havisham's, so I loitered into the country on MissHavisham's side of town - which was not Joe's side; I could gothere to-morrow - thinking about my patroness, and paintingbrilliant pictures of her plans for me.

She had adopted Estella, she had as good as adopted me, and itcould not fail to be her intention to bring us together. Shereserved it for me to restore the desolate house, admit thesunshine into the dark rooms, set the clocks a-going and the coldhearths a-blazing, tear down the cobwebs, destroy the vermin - inshort, do all the shining deeds of the young Knight of romance, andmarry the Princess. I had stopped to look at the house as I passed;and its seared red brick walls, blocked windows, and strong greenivy clasping even the stacks of chimneys with its twigs andtendons, as if with sinewy old arms, had made up a rich attractivemystery, of which I was the hero. Estella was the inspiration ofit, and the heart of it, of course. But, though she had taken suchstrong possession of me, though my fancy and my hope were so setupon her, though her influence on my boyish life and character hadbeen all-powerful, I did not, even that romantic morning, investher with any attributes save those she possessed. I mention this inthis place, of a fixed purpose, because it is the clue by which Iam to be followed into my poor labyrinth. According to myexperience, the conventional notion of a lover cannot be alwaystrue. The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with thelove of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible.Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always,that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace,against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement thatcould be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knewit, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I haddevoutly believed her to be human perfection.

I so shaped out my walk as to arrive at the gate at my old time.When I had rung at the bell with an unsteady hand, I turned my backupon the gate, while I tried to get my breath and keep the beatingof my heart moderately quiet. I heard the side door open, and stepscome across the court-yard; but I pretended not to hear, even whenthe gate swung on its rusty hinges.

Being at last touched on the shoulder, I started and turned. Istarted much more naturally then, to find myself confronted by aman in a sober grey dress. The last man I should have expected tosee in that place of porter at Miss Havisham's door.

"Orlick!"

"Ah, young master, there's more changes than yours. But come in,come in. It's opposed to my orders to hold the gate open."

I entered and he swung it, and locked it, and took the key out."Yes!" said he, facing round, after doggedly preceding me a fewsteps towards the house. "Here I am!"

"How did you come here?"

"I come her," he retorted, "on my legs. I had my box broughtalongside me in a barrow."

"Are you here for good?"

"I ain't her for harm, young master, I suppose?"

I was not so sure of that. I had leisure to entertain the retort inmy mind, while he slowly lifted his heavy glance from the pavement,up my legs and arms, to my face.

"Then you have left the forge?" I said.

"Do this look like a forge?" replied Orlick, sending his glance allround him with an air of injury. "Now, do it look like it?"

I asked him how long he had left Gargery's forge?

"One day is so like another here," he replied, "that I don't knowwithout casting it up. However, I come her some time since youleft."

"I could have told you that, Orlick."

"Ah!" said he, drily. "But then you've got to be a scholar."

By this time we had come to the house, where I found his room to beone just within the side door, with a little window in it lookingon the court-yard. In its small proportions, it was not unlike thekind of place usually assigned to a gate-porter in Paris. Certainkeys were hanging on the wall, to which he now added the gate-key;and his patchwork-covered bed was in a little inner division orrecess. The whole had a slovenly confined and sleepy look, like acage for a human dormouse: while he, looming dark and heavy in theshadow of a corner by the window, looked like the human dormousefor whom it was fitted up - as indeed he was.

"I never saw this room before," I remarked; "but there used to beno Porter here."

"No," said he; "not till it got about that there was no protectionon the premises, and it come to be considered dangerous, withconvicts and Tag and Rag and Bobtail going up and down. And then Iwas recommended to the place as a man who could give another man asgood as he brought, and I took it. It's easier than bellowsing andhammering. - That's loaded, that is."

My eye had been caught by a gun with a brass bound stock over thechimney-piece, and his eye had followed mine.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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