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Chapter 43

Why should I pause to ask how much of my shrinking from Provis
might be traced to Estella? Why should I loiter on my road, to
compare the state of mind in which I had tried to rid myself of the
stain of the prison before meeting her at the coach-office, with
the state of mind in which I now reflected on the abyss between
Estella in her pride and beauty, and the returned transport whom I
harboured? The road would be none the smoother for it, the end
would be none the better for it, he would not be helped, nor I
extenuated.

A new fear had been engendered in my mind by his narrative; or
rather, his narrative had given form and purpose to the fear that
was already there. If Compeyson were alive and should discover his
return, I could hardly doubt the consequence. That, Compeyson stood
in mortal fear of him, neither of the two could know much better
than I; and that, any such man as that man had been described to
be, would hesitate to release himself for good from a dreaded enemy
by the safe means of becoming an informer, was scarcely to be
imagined.

Never had I breathed, and never would I breathe - or so I resolved
- a word of Estella to Provis. But, I said to Herbert that before I
could go abroad, I must see both Estella and Miss Havisham. This
was when we were left alone on the night of the day when Provis
told us his story. I resolved to go out to Richmond next day, and I
went.

On my presenting myself at Mrs. Brandley's, Estella's maid was
called to tell that Estella had gone into the country. Where? To
Satis House, as usual. Not as usual, I said, for she had never yet
gone there without me; when was she coming back? There was an air
of reservation in the answer which increased my perplexity, and the
answer was, that her maid believed she was only coming back at all
for a little while. I could make nothing of this, except that it
was meant that I should make nothing of it, and I went home again
in complete discomfiture.

Another night-consultation with Herbert after Provis was gone home
(I always took him home, and always looked well about me), led us
to the conclusion that nothing should be said about going abroad
until I came back from Miss Havisham's. In the meantime, Herbert
and I were to consider separately what it would be best to say;
whether we should devise any pretence of being afraid that he was
under suspicious observation; or whether I, who had never yet been
abroad, should propose an expedition. We both knew that I had but
to propose anything, and he would consent. We agreed that his
remaining many days in his present hazard was not to be thought of.

Next day, I had the meanness to feign that I was under a binding
promise to go down to Joe; but I was capable of almost any meanness
towards Joe or his name. Provis was to be strictly careful while I
was gone, and Herbert was to take the charge of him that I had
taken. I was to be absent only one night, and, on my return, the
gratification of his impatience for my starting as a gentleman on a
greater scale, was to be begun. It occurred to me then, and as I
afterwards found to Herbert also, that he might be best got away
across the water, on that pretence - as, to make purchases, or the
like.

Having thus cleared the way for my expedition to Miss Havisham's, I
set off by the early morning coach before it was yet light, and was
out on the open country-road when the day came creeping on, halting
and whimpering and shivering, and wrapped in patches of cloud and
rags of mist, like a beggar. When we drove up to the Blue Boar
after a drizzly ride, whom should I see come out under the gateway,
toothpick in hand, to look at the coach, but Bentley Drummle!

As he pretended not to see me, I pretended not to see him. It was a
very lame pretence on both sides; the lamer, because we both went
into the coffee-room, where he had just finished his breakfast, and
where I ordered mine. It was poisonous to me to see him in the
town, for I very well knew why he had come there.

Pretending to read a smeary newspaper long out of date, which had
nothing half so legible in its local news, as the foreign matter of
coffee, pickles, fish-sauces, gravy, melted butter, and wine, with
which it was sprinkled all over, as if it had taken the measles in
a highly irregular form, I sat at my table while he stood before
the fire. By degrees it became an enormous injury to me that he
stood before the fire, and I got up, determined to have my share of
it. I had to put my hand behind his legs for the poker when I went
up to the fire-place to stir the fire, but still pretended not to
know him.

"Is this a cut?" said Mr. Drummle.

"Oh!" said I, poker in hand; "it's you, is it? How do you do? I was
wondering who it was, who kept the fire off."

With that, I poked tremendously, and having done so, planted myself
side by side with Mr. Drummle, my shoulders squared and my back to
the fire.

"You have just come down?" said Mr. Drummle, edging me a little away
with his shoulder.

"Yes," said I, edging him a little away with my shoulder.

"Beastly place," said Drummle. - "Your part of the country, I
think?"

"Yes," I assented. "I am told it's very like your Shropshire."

"Not in the least like it," said Drummle.

Here Mr. Drummle looked at his boots, and I looked at mine, and then
Mr. Drummle looked at my boots, and I looked at his.

"Have you been here long?" I asked, determined not to yield an inch
of the fire.

"Long enough to be tired of it," returned Drummle, pretending to
yawn, but equally determined.

"Do you stay here long?"

"Can't say," answered Mr. Drummle. "Do you?"

"Can't say," said I.

I felt here, through a tingling in my blood, that if Mr. Drummle's
shoulder had claimed another hair's breadth of room, I should have
jerked him into the window; equally, that if my own shoulder had
urged a similar claim, Mr. Drummle would have jerked me into the
nearest box. He whistled a little. So did I.

"Large tract of marshes about here, I believe?" said Drummle.

"Yes. What of that?" said I.

Mr. Drummle looked at me, and then at my boots, and then said, "Oh!"
and laughed.

"Are you amused, Mr. Drummle?"

"No," said he, "not particularly. I am going out for a ride in the
saddle. I mean to explore those marshes for amusement.
Out-of-the-way villages there, they tell me. Curious little
public-houses - and smithies - and that. Waiter!"

"Yes, sir."

"Is that horse of mine ready?"

"Brought round to the door, sir."

"I say. Look here, you sir. The lady won't ride to-day; the weather
won't do."

"Very good, sir."

"And I don't dine, because I'm going to dine at the lady's."

"Very good, sir."

Then, Drummle glanced at me, with an insolent triumph on his
great-jowled face that cut me to the heart, dull as he was, and so
exasperated me, that I felt inclined to take him in my arms (as the
robber in the story-book is said to have taken the old lady), and
seat him on the fire.

One thing was manifest to both of us, and that was, that until
relief came, neither of us could relinquish the fire. There we
stood, well squared up before it, shoulder to shoulder and foot to
foot, with our hands behind us, not budging an inch. The horse was
visible outside in the drizzle at the door, my breakfast was put on
the table, Drummle's was cleared away, the waiter invited me to
begin, I nodded, we both stood our ground.

"Have you been to the Grove since?" said Drummle.

"No," said I, "I had quite enough of the Finches the last time I
was there."

"Was that when we had a difference of opinion?"

"Yes," I replied, very shortly.

"Come, come! They let you off easily enough," sneered Drummle. "You
shouldn't have lost your temper."

"Mr. Drummle," said I, "you are not competent to give advice on that
subject. When I lose my temper (not that I admit having done so on
that occasion), I don't throw glasses."

"I do," said Drummle.

After glancing at him once or twice, in an increased state of
smouldering ferocity, I said:

"Mr. Drummle, I did not seek this conversation, and I don't think it
an agreeable one."

"I am sure it's not," said he, superciliously over his shoulder; "I
don't think anything about it."

"And therefore," I went on, "with your leave, I will suggest that
we hold no kind of communication in future."

"Quite my opinion," said Drummle, "and what I should have suggested
myself, or done - more likely - without suggesting. But don't lose
your temper. Haven't you lost enough without that?"

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Wai-ter!," said Drummle, by way of answering me.

The waiter reappeared.

"Look here, you sir. You quite understand that the young lady don't
ride to-day, and that I dine at the young lady's?"

"Quite so, sir!"

When the waiter had felt my fast cooling tea-pot with the palm of
his hand, and had looked imploringly at me, and had gone out,
Drummle, careful not to move the shoulder next me, took a cigar
from his pocket and bit the end off, but showed no sign of
stirring. Choking and boiling as I was, I felt that we could not go
a word further, without introducing Estella's name, which I could
not endure to hear him utter; and therefore I looked stonily at the
opposite wall, as if there were no one present, and forced myself
to silence. How long we might have remained in this ridiculous
position it is impossible to say, but for the incursion of three
thriving farmers - led on by the waiter, I think - who came into
the coffee-room unbuttoning their great-coats and rubbing their
hands, and before whom, as they charged at the fire, we were
obliged to give way.

I saw him through the window, seizing his horse's mane, and
mounting in his blundering brutal manner, and sidling and backing
away. I thought he was gone, when he came back, calling for a light
for the cigar in his mouth, which he had forgotten. A man in a
dustcoloured dress appeared with what was wanted - I could not have
said from where: whether from the inn yard, or the street, or where
not - and as Drummle leaned down from the saddle and lighted his
cigar and laughed, with a jerk of his head towards the coffee-room
windows, the slouching shoulders and ragged hair of this man, whose
back was towards me, reminded me of Orlick.

Too heavily out of sorts to care much at the time whether it were
he or no, or after all to touch the breakfast, I washed the weather
and the journey from my face and hands, and went out to the
memorable old house that it would have been so much the better for
me never to have entered, never to have seen.



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
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