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Chapter 47

Some weeks passed without bringing any change. We waited for
Wemmick, and he made no sign. If I had never known him out of
Little Britain, and had never enjoyed the privilege of being on a
familiar footing at the Castle, I might have doubted him; not so
for a moment, knowing him as I did.

My worldly affairs began to wear a gloomy appearance, and I was
pressed for money by more than one creditor. Even I myself began to
know the want of money (I mean of ready money in my own pocket),
and to relieve it by converting some easily spared articles of
jewellery into cash. But I had quite determined that it would be a
heartless fraud to take more money from my patron in the existing
state of my uncertain thoughts and plans. Therefore, I had sent him
the unopened pocket-book by Herbert, to hold in his own keeping,
and I felt a kind of satisfaction - whether it was a false kind or
a true, I hardly know - in not having profited by his generosity
since his revelation of himself.

As the time wore on, an impression settled heavily upon me that
Estella was married. Fearful of having it confirmed, though it was
all but a conviction, I avoided the newspapers, and begged Herbert
(to whom I had confided the circumstances of our last interview)
never to speak of her to me. Why I hoarded up this last wretched
little rag of the robe of hope that was rent and given to the
winds, how do I know! Why did you who read this, commit that not
dissimilar inconsistency of your own, last year, last month, last
week?

It was an unhappy life that I lived, and its one dominant anxiety,
towering over all its other anxieties like a high mountain above a
range of mountains, never disappeared from my view. Still, no new
cause for fear arose. Let me start from my bed as I would, with the
terror fresh upon me that he was discovered; let me sit listening
as I would, with dread, for Herbert's returning step at night, lest
it should be fleeter than ordinary, and winged with evil news; for
all that, and much more to like purpose, the round of things went
on. Condemned to inaction and a state of constant restlessness and
suspense, I rowed about in my boat, and waited, waited, waited, as
I best could.

There were states of the tide when, having been down the river, I
could not get back through the eddy-chafed arches and starlings of
old London Bridge; then, I left my boat at a wharf near the Custom
House, to be brought up afterwards to the Temple stairs. I was not
averse to doing this, as it served to make me and my boat a
commoner incident among the water-side people there. From this
slight occasion, sprang two meetings that I have now to tell of.

One afternoon, late in the month of February, I came ashore at the
wharf at dusk. I had pulled down as far as Greenwich with the ebb
tide, and had turned with the tide. It had been a fine bright day,
but had become foggy as the sun dropped, and I had had to feel my
way back among the shipping, pretty carefully. Both in going and
returning, I had seen the signal in his window, All well.

As it was a raw evening and I was cold, I thought I would comfort
myself with dinner at once; and as I had hours of dejection and
solitude before me if I went home to the Temple, I thought I would
afterwards go to the play. The theatre where Mr. Wopsle had achieved
his questionable triumph, was in that waterside neighbourhood (it
is nowhere now), and to that theatre I resolved to go. I was aware
that Mr. Wopsle had not succeeded in reviving the Drama, but, on the
contrary, had rather partaken of its decline. He had been ominously
heard of, through the playbills, as a faithful Black, in connexion
with a little girl of noble birth, and a monkey. And Herbert had
seen him as a predatory Tartar of comic propensities, with a face
like a red brick, and an outrageous hat all over bells.

I dined at what Herbert and I used to call a Geographical
chop-house - where there were maps of the world in porter-pot rims
on every half-yard of the table-cloths, and charts of gravy on
every one of the knives - to this day there is scarcely a single
chop-house within the Lord Mayor's dominions which is not
Geographical - and wore out the time in dozing over crumbs, staring
at gas, and baking in a hot blast of dinners. By-and-by, I roused
myself and went to the play.

There, I found a virtuous boatswain in his Majesty's service - a
most excellent man, though I could have wished his trousers not
quite so tight in some places and not quite so loose in others -
who knocked all the little men's hats over their eyes, though he
was very generous and brave, and who wouldn't hear of anybody's
paying taxes, though he was very patriotic. He had a bag of money
in his pocket, like a pudding in the cloth, and on that property
married a young person in bed-furniture, with great rejoicings; the
whole population of Portsmouth (nine in number at the last Census)
turning out on the beach, to rub their own hands and shake
everybody else's, and sing "Fill, fill!" A certain
dark-complexioned Swab, however, who wouldn't fill, or do anything
else that was proposed to him, and whose heart was openly stated
(by the boatswain) to be as black as his figure-head, proposed to
two other Swabs to get all mankind into difficulties; which was so
effectually done (the Swab family having considerable political
influence) that it took half the evening to set things right, and
then it was only brought about through an honest little grocer with
a white hat, black gaiters, and red nose, getting into a clock,
with a gridiron, and listening, and coming out, and knocking
everybody down from behind with the gridiron whom he couldn't
confute with what he had overheard. This led to Mr. Wopsle's (who
had never been heard of before) coming in with a star and garter
on, as a plenipotentiary of great power direct from the Admiralty,
to say that the Swabs were all to go to prison on the spot, and
that he had brought the boatswain down the Union Jack, as a slight
acknowledgment of his public services. The boatswain, unmanned for
the first time, respectfully dried his eyes on the Jack, and then
cheering up and addressing Mr. Wopsle as Your Honour, solicited
permission to take him by the fin. Mr. Wopsle conceding his fin with
a gracious dignity, was immediately shoved into a dusty corner
while everybody danced a hornpipe; and from that corner, surveying
the public with a discontented eye, became aware of me.

The second piece was the last new grand comic Christmas pantomime,
in the first scene of which, it pained me to suspect that I
detected Mr. Wopsle with red worsted legs under a highly magnified
phosphoric countenance and a shock of red curtain-fringe for his
hair, engaged in the manufacture of thunderbolts in a mine, and
displaying great cowardice when his gigantic master came home (very
hoarse) to dinner. But he presently presented himself under
worthier circumstances; for, the Genius of Youthful Love being in
want of assistance - on account of the parental brutality of an
ignorant farmer who opposed the choice of his daughter's heart, by
purposely falling upon the object, in a flour sack, out of the
firstfloor window - summoned a sententious Enchanter; and he,
coming up from the antipodes rather unsteadily, after an apparently
violent journey, proved to be Mr. Wopsle in a high-crowned hat, with
a necromantic work in one volume under his arm. The business of
this enchanter on earth, being principally to be talked at, sung
at, butted at, danced at, and flashed at with fires of various
colours, he had a good deal of time on his hands. And I observed
with great surprise, that he devoted it to staring in my direction
as if he were lost in amazement.

There was something so remarkable in the increasing glare of Mr.
Wopsle's eye, and he seemed to be turning so many things over in
his mind and to grow so confused, that I could not make it out. I
sat thinking of it, long after he had ascended to the clouds in a
large watch-case, and still I could not make it out. I was still
thinking of it when I came out of the theatre an hour afterwards,
and found him waiting for me near the door.

"How do you do?" said I, shaking hands with him as we turned down
the street together. "I saw that you saw me."

"Saw you, Mr. Pip!" he returned. "Yes, of course I saw you. But who
else was there?"

"Who else?"

"It is the strangest thing," said Mr. Wopsle, drifting into his lost
look again; "and yet I could swear to him."

Becoming alarmed, I entreated Mr. Wopsle to explain his meaning.

"Whether I should have noticed him at first but for your being
there," said Mr. Wopsle, going on in the same lost way, "I can't be
positive; yet I think I should."

Involuntarily I looked round me, as I was accustomed to look round
me when I went home; for, these mysterious words gave me a chill.

"Oh! He can't be in sight," said Mr. Wopsle. "He went out, before I
went off, I saw him go."

Having the reason that I had, for being suspicious, I even
suspected this poor actor. I mistrusted a design to entrap me into
some admission. Therefore, I glanced at him as we walked on
together, but said nothing.

"I had a ridiculous fancy that he must be with you, Mr. Pip, till I
saw that you were quite unconscious of him, sitting behind you
there, like a ghost."

My former chill crept over me again, but I was resolved not to
speak yet, for it was quite consistent with his words that he might
be set on to induce me to connect these references with Provis. Of
course, I was perfectly sure and safe that Provis had not been
there.

"I dare say you wonder at me, Mr. Pip; indeed I see you do. But it
is so very strange! You'll hardly believe what I am going to tell
you. I could hardly believe it myself, if you told me."

"Indeed?" said I.

"No, indeed. Mr. Pip, you remember in old times a certain Christmas
Day, when you were quite a child, and I dined at Gargery's, and
some soldiers came to the door to get a pair of handcuffs mended?"

"I remember it very well."

"And you remember that there was a chase after two convicts, and
that we joined in it, and that Gargery took you on his back, and
that I took the lead and you kept up with me as well as you could?"

"I remember it all very well." Better than he thought - except the
last clause.

"And you remember that we came up with the two in a ditch, and that
there was a scuffle between them, and that one of them had been
severely handled and much mauled about the face, by the other?"

"I see it all before me."

"And that the soldiers lighted torches, and put the two in the
centre, and that we went on to see the last of them, over the black
marshes, with the torchlight shining on their faces - I am
particular about that; with the torchlight shining on their faces,
when there was an outer ring of dark night all about us?"

"Yes," said I. "I remember all that."

"Then, Mr. Pip, one of those two prisoners sat behind you tonight. I
saw him over your shoulder."

"Steady!" I thought. I asked him then, "Which of the two do you
suppose you saw?"

"The one who had been mauled," he answered readily, "and I'll swear
I saw him! The more I think of him, the more certain I am of him."

"This is very curious!" said I, with the best assumption I could
put on, of its being nothing more to me. "Very curious indeed!"

I cannot exaggerate the enhanced disquiet into which this
conversation threw me, or the special and peculiar terror I felt at
Compeyson's having been behind me "like a ghost." For, if he had
ever been out of my thoughts for a few moments together since the
hiding had begun, it was in those very moments when he was closest
to me; and to think that I should be so unconscious and off my
guard after all my care, was as if I had shut an avenue of a
hundred doors to keep him out, and then had found him at my elbow.
I could not doubt either that he was there, because I was there,
and that however slight an appearance of danger there might be
about us, danger was always near and active.

I put such questions to Mr. Wopsle as, When did the man come in? He
could not tell me that; he saw me, and over my shoulder he saw the
man. It was not until he had seen him for some time that he began
to identify him; but he had from the first vaguely associated him
with me, and known him as somehow belonging to me in the old
village time. How was he dressed? Prosperously, but not noticeably
otherwise; he thought, in black. Was his face at all disfigured?
No, he believed not. I believed not, too, for, although in my
brooding state I had taken no especial notice of the people behind
me, I thought it likely that a face at all disfigured would have
attracted my attention.

When Mr. Wopsle had imparted to me all that he could recall or I
extract, and when I had treated him to a little appropriate
refreshment after the fatigues of the evening, we parted. It was
between twelve and one o'clock when I reached the Temple, and the
gates were shut. No one was near me when I went in and went home.

Herbert had come in, and we held a very serious council by the
fire. But there was nothing to be done, saving to communicate to
Wemmick what I had that night found out, and to remind him that we
waited for his hint. As I thought that I might compromise him if I
went too often to the Castle, I made this communication by letter.
I wrote it before I went to bed, and went out and posted it; and
again no one was near me. Herbert and I agreed that we could do
nothing else but be very cautious. And we were very cautious indeed
- more cautious than before, if that were possible - and I for my
part never went near Chinks's Basin, except when I rowed by, and
then I only looked at Mill Pond Bank as I looked at anything else.



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