Charles Dickens >> Great Expectations (page 6)

"Take notice, guard - he tried to murder me," were his first words.

"Tried to murder him?" said my convict, disdainfully. "Try, and notdo it? I took him, and giv' him up; that's what I done. I not onlyprevented him getting off the marshes, but I dragged him here -dragged him this far on his way back. He's a gentleman, if youplease, this villain. Now, the Hulks has got its gentleman again,through me. Murder him? Worth my while, too, to murder him, when Icould do worse and drag him back!"

The other one still gasped, "He tried - he tried - to - murder me.Bear - bear witness."

"Lookee here!" said my convict to the sergeant. "Single-handed Igot clear of the prison-ship; I made a dash and I done it. I couldha' got clear of these death-cold flats likewise - look at my leg:you won't find much iron on it - if I hadn't made the discovery thathe was here. Let him go free? Let him profit by the means as I foundout? Let him make a tool of me afresh and again? Once more? No, no,no. If I had died at the bottom there;" and he made an emphaticswing at the ditch with his manacled hands; "I'd have held to himwith that grip, that you should have been safe to find him in myhold."

The other fugitive, who was evidently in extreme horror of hiscompanion, repeated, "He tried to murder me. I should have been adead man if you had not come up."

"He lies!" said my convict, with fierce energy. "He's a liar born,and he'll die a liar. Look at his face; ain't it written there? Lethim turn those eyes of his on me. I defy him to do it."

The other, with an effort at a scornful smile - which could not,however, collect the nervous working of his mouth into any setexpression - looked at the soldiers, and looked about at themarshes and at the sky, but certainly did not look at the speaker.

"Do you see him?" pursued my convict. "Do you see what a villain heis? Do you see those grovelling and wandering eyes? That's how helooked when we were tried together. He never looked at me."

The other, always working and working his dry lips and turning hiseyes restlessly about him far and near, did at last turn them for amoment on the speaker, with the words, "You are not much to lookat," and with a half-taunting glance at the bound hands. At thatpoint, my convict became so frantically exasperated, that he wouldhave rushed upon him but for the interposition of the soldiers."Didn't I tell you," said the other convict then, "that he wouldmurder me, if he could?" And any one could see that he shook withfear, and that there broke out upon his lips, curious white flakes,like thin snow.

"Enough of this parley," said the sergeant. "Light those torches."

As one of the soldiers, who carried a basket in lieu of a gun, wentdown on his knee to open it, my convict looked round him for thefirst time, and saw me. I had alighted from Joe's back on the brinkof the ditch when we came up, and had not moved since. I looked athim eagerly when he looked at me, and slightly moved my hands andshook my head. I had been waiting for him to see me, that I mighttry to assure him of my innocence. It was not at all expressed tome that he even comprehended my intention, for he gave me a lookthat I did not understand, and it all passed in a moment. But if hehad looked at me for an hour or for a day, I could not haveremembered his face ever afterwards, as having been more attentive.

The soldier with the basket soon got a light, and lighted three orfour torches, and took one himself and distributed the others. Ithad been almost dark before, but now it seemed quite dark, and soonafterwards very dark. Before we departed from that spot, foursoldiers standing in a ring, fired twice into the air. Presently wesaw other torches kindled at some distance behind us, and others onthe marshes on the opposite bank of the river. "All right," saidthe sergeant. "March."

We had not gone far when three cannon were fired ahead of us with asound that seemed to burst something inside my ear. "You areexpected on board," said the sergeant to my convict; "they know youare coming. Don't straggle, my man. Close up here."

The two were kept apart, and each walked surrounded by a separateguard. I had hold of Joe's hand now, and Joe carried one of thetorches. Mr. Wopsle had been for going back, but Joe was resolved tosee it out, so we went on with the party. There was a reasonablygood path now, mostly on the edge of the river, with a divergencehere and there where a dyke came, with a miniature windmill on itand a muddy sluice-gate. When I looked round, I could see the otherlights coming in after us. The torches we carried, dropped greatblotches of fire upon the track, and I could see those, too, lyingsmoking and flaring. I could see nothing else but black darkness.Our lights warmed the air about us with their pitchy blaze, and thetwo prisoners seemed rather to like that, as they limped along inthe midst of the muskets. We could not go fast, because of theirlameness; and they were so spent, that two or three times we had tohalt while they rested.

After an hour or so of this travelling, we came to a rough woodenhut and a landing-place. There was a guard in the hut, and theychallenged, and the sergeant answered. Then, we went into the hutwhere there was a smell of tobacco and whitewash, and a brightfire, and a lamp, and a stand of muskets, and a drum, and a lowwooden bedstead, like an overgrown mangle without the machinery,capable of holding about a dozen soldiers all at once. Three orfour soldiers who lay upon it in their great-coats, were not muchinterested in us, but just lifted their heads and took a sleepystare, and then lay down again. The sergeant made some kind ofreport, and some entry in a book, and then the convict whom I callthe other convict was drafted off with his guard, to go on boardfirst.

My convict never looked at me, except that once. While we stood inthe hut, he stood before the fire looking thoughtfully at it, orputting up his feet by turns upon the hob, and looking thoughtfullyat them as if he pitied them for their recent adventures. Suddenly,he turned to the sergeant, and remarked:

"I wish to say something respecting this escape. It may preventsome persons laying under suspicion alonger me."

"You can say what you like," returned the sergeant, standing coollylooking at him with his arms folded, "but you have no call to sayit here. You'll have opportunity enough to say about it, and hearabout it, before it's done with, you know."

"I know, but this is another pint, a separate matter. A man can'tstarve; at least I can't. I took some wittles, up at the willageover yonder - where the church stands a'most out on the marshes."

"You mean stole," said the sergeant.

"And I'll tell you where from. From the blacksmith's."

"Halloa!" said the sergeant, staring at Joe.

"Halloa, Pip!" said Joe, staring at me.

"It was some broken wittles - that's what it was - and a dram ofliquor, and a pie."

"Have you happened to miss such an article as a pie, blacksmith?"asked the sergeant, confidentially.

"My wife did, at the very moment when you came in. Don't you know,Pip?"

"So," said my convict, turning his eyes on Joe in a moody manner,and without the least glance at me; "so you're the blacksmith, areyou? Than I'm sorry to say, I've eat your pie."

"God knows you're welcome to it - so far as it was ever mine,"returned Joe, with a saving remembrance of Mrs. Joe. "We don't knowwhat you have done, but we wouldn't have you starved to death forit, poor miserable fellow-creatur. - Would us, Pip?"

The something that I had noticed before, clicked in the man'sthroat again, and he turned his back. The boat had returned, andhis guard were ready, so we followed him to the landing-place madeof rough stakes and stones, and saw him put into the boat, whichwas rowed by a crew of convicts like himself. No one seemedsurprised to see him, or interested in seeing him, or glad to seehim, or sorry to see him, or spoke a word, except that somebody inthe boat growled as if to dogs, "Give way, you!" which was thesignal for the dip of the oars. By the light of the torches, we sawthe black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, likea wicked Noah's ark. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rustychains, the prison-ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed likethe prisoners. We saw the boat go alongside, and we saw him takenup the side and disappear. Then, the ends of the torches were flunghissing into the water, and went out, as if it were all over withhim.

Chapter 6

My state of mind regarding the pilfering from which I had been sounexpectedly exonerated, did not impel me to frank disclosure; butI hope it had some dregs of good at the bottom of it.

I do not recall that I felt any tenderness of conscience inreference to Mrs. Joe, when the fear of being found out was liftedoff me. But I loved Joe - perhaps for no better reason in thoseearly days than because the dear fellow let me love him - and, asto him, my inner self was not so easily composed. It was much uponmy mind (particularly when I first saw him looking about for hisfile) that I ought to tell Joe the whole truth. Yet I did not, andfor the reason that I mistrusted that if I did, he would think meworse than I was. The fear of losing Joe's confidence, and ofthenceforth sitting in the chimney-corner at night staring drearilyat my for ever lost companion and friend, tied up my tongue. Imorbidly represented to myself that if Joe knew it, I neverafterwards could see him at the fireside feeling his fair whisker,without thinking that he was meditating on it. That, if Joe knewit, I never afterwards could see him glance, however casually, atyesterday's meat or pudding when it came on to-day's table, withoutthinking that he was debating whether I had been in the pantry.That, if Joe knew it, and at any subsequent period of our jointdomestic life remarked that his beer was flat or thick, theconviction that he suspected Tar in it, would bring a rush of bloodto my face. In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to beright, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to bewrong. I had had no intercourse with the world at that time, and Iimitated none of its many inhabitants who act in this manner. Quitean untaught genius, I made the discovery of the line of action formyself.

As I was sleepy before we were far away from the prison-ship, Joetook me on his back again and carried me home. He must have had atiresome journey of it, for Mr. Wopsle, being knocked up, was insuch a very bad temper that if the Church had been thrown open, hewould probably have excommunicated the whole expedition, beginningwith Joe and myself. In his lay capacity, he persisted in sittingdown in the damp to such an insane extent, that when his coat wastaken off to be dried at the kitchen fire, the circumstantialevidence on his trousers would have hanged him if it had been acapital offence.

By that time, I was staggering on the kitchen floor like a littledrunkard, through having been newly set upon my feet, and throughhaving been fast asleep, and through waking in the heat and lightsand noise of tongues. As I came to myself (with the aid of a heavythump between the shoulders, and the restorative exclamation "Yah!Was there ever such a boy as this!" from my sister), I found Joetelling them about the convict's confession, and all the visitorssuggesting different ways by which he had got into the pantry. Mr.Pumblechook made out, after carefully surveying the premises, thathe had first got upon the roof of the forge, and had then got uponthe roof of the house, and had then let himself down the kitchenchimney by a rope made of his bedding cut into strips; and as Mr.Pumblechook was very positive and drove his own chaise-cart - overeverybody - it was agreed that it must be so. Mr. Wopsle, indeed,wildly cried out "No!" with the feeble malice of a tired man; but,as he had no theory, and no coat on, he was unanimously set atnought - not to mention his smoking hard behind, as he stood withhis back to the kitchen fire to draw the damp out: which was notcalculated to inspire confidence.

This was all I heard that night before my sister clutched me, as aslumberous offence to the company's eyesight, and assisted me up tobed with such a strong hand that I seemed to have fifty boots on,and to be dangling them all against the edges of the stairs. Mystate of mind, as I have described it, began before I was up in themorning, and lasted long after the subject had died out, and hadceased to be mentioned saving on exceptional occasions.

Chapter 7

At the time when I stood in the churchyard, reading the familytombstones, I had just enough learning to be able to spell themout. My construction even of their simple meaning was not verycorrect, for I read "wife of the Above" as a complimentaryreference to my father's exaltation to a better world; and if anyone of my deceased relations had been referred to as "Below," Ihave no doubt I should have formed the worst opinions of thatmember of the family. Neither, were my notions of the theologicalpositions to which my Catechism bound me, at all accurate; for, Ihave a lively remembrance that I supposed my declaration that I wasto "walk in the same all the days of my life," laid me under anobligation always to go through the village from our house in oneparticular direction, and never to vary it by turning down by thewheelwright's or up by the mill.

When I was old enough, I was to be apprenticed to Joe, and until Icould assume that dignity I was not to be what Mrs. Joe called"Pompeyed," or (as I render it) pampered. Therefore, I was not onlyodd-boy about the forge, but if any neighbour happened to want anextra boy to frighten birds, or pick up stones, or do any such job,I was favoured with the employment. In order, however, that oursuperior position might not be compromised thereby, a money-box waskept on the kitchen mantel-shelf, in to which it was publicly madeknown that all my earnings were dropped. I have an impression thatthey were to be contributed eventually towards the liquidation ofthe National Debt, but I know I had no hope of any personalparticipation in the treasure.

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
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