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Chapter 49

Putting Miss Havisham's note in my pocket, that it might serve as
my credentials for so soon reappearing at Satis House, in case her
waywardness should lead her to express any surprise at seeing me, I
went down again by the coach next day. But I alighted at the
Halfway House, and breakfasted there, and walked the rest of the
distance; for, I sought to get into the town quietly by the
unfrequented ways, and to leave it in the same manner.

The best light of the day was gone when I passed along the quiet
echoing courts behind the High-street. The nooks of ruin where the
old monks had once had their refectories and gardens, and where the
strong walls were now pressed into the service of humble sheds and
stables, were almost as silent as the old monks in their graves.
The cathedral chimes had at once a sadder and a more remote sound
to me, as I hurried on avoiding observation, than they had ever had
before; so, the swell of the old organ was borne to my ears like
funeral music; and the rooks, as they hovered about the grey tower
and swung in the bare high trees of the priory-garden, seemed to
call to me that the place was changed, and that Estella was gone
out of it for ever.

An elderly woman whom I had seen before as one of the servants who
lived in the supplementary house across the back court-yard, opened
the gate. The lighted candle stood in the dark passage within, as
of old, and I took it up and ascended the staircase alone. Miss
Havisham was not in her own room, but was in the larger room across
the landing. Looking in at the door, after knocking in vain, I saw
her sitting on the hearth in a ragged chair, close before, and lost
in the contemplation of, the ashy fire.

Doing as I had often done, I went in, and stood, touching the old
chimney-piece, where she could see me when she raised her eyes.
There was an air or utter loneliness upon her, that would have
moved me to pity though she had wilfully done me a deeper injury
than I could charge her with. As I stood compassionating her, and
thinking how in the progress of time I too had come to be a part of
the wrecked fortunes of that house, her eyes rested on me. She
stared, and said in a low voice, "Is it real?"

"It is I, Pip. Mr. Jaggers gave me your note yesterday, and I have
lost no time."

"Thank you. Thank you."

As I brought another of the ragged chairs to the hearth and sat
down, I remarked a new expression on her face, as if she were
afraid of me.

"I want," she said, "to pursue that subject you mentioned to me
when you were last here, and to show you that I am not all stone.
But perhaps you can never believe, now, that there is anything
human in my heart?"

When I said some reassuring words, she stretched out her tremulous
right hand, as though she was going to touch me; but she recalled
it again before I understood the action, or knew how to receive it.

"You said, speaking for your friend, that you could tell me how to
do something useful and good. Something that you would like done,
is it not?"

"Something that I would like done very much."

"What is it?"

I began explaining to her that secret history of the partnership. I
had not got far into it, when I judged from her looks that she was
thinking in a discursive way of me, rather than of what I said. It
seemed to be so, for, when I stopped speaking, many moments passed
before she showed that she was conscious of the fact.

"Do you break off," she asked then, with her former air of being
afraid of me, "because you hate me too much to bear to speak to
me?"

"No, no," I answered, "how can you think so, Miss Havisham! I
stopped because I thought you were not following what I said."

"Perhaps I was not," she answered, putting a hand to her head.
"Begin again, and let me look at something else. Stay! Now tell
me."

She set her hand upon her stick, in the resolute way that sometimes
was habitual to her, and looked at the fire with a strong
expression of forcing herself to attend. I went on with my
explanation, and told her how I had hoped to complete the
transaction out of my means, but how in this I was disappointed.
That part of the subject (I reminded her) involved matters which
could form no part of my explanation, for they were the weighty
secrets of another.

"So!" said she, assenting with her head, but not looking at me.
"And how much money is wanting to complete the purchase?"

I was rather afraid of stating it, for it sounded a large sum.
"Nine hundred pounds."

"If I give you the money for this purpose, will you keep my secret
as you have kept your own?"

"Quite as faithfully."

"And your mind will be more at rest?"

"Much more at rest."

"Are you very unhappy now?"

She asked this question, still without looking at me, but in an
unwonted tone of sympathy. I could not reply at the moment, for my
voice failed me. She put her left arm across the head of her stick,
and softly laid her forehead on it.

"I am far from happy, Miss Havisham; but I have other causes of
disquiet than any you know of. They are the secrets I have
mentioned."

After a little while, she raised her head and looked at the fire
again.

"It is noble in you to tell me that you have other causes of
unhappiness, Is it true?"

"Too true."

"Can I only serve you, Pip, by serving your friend? Regarding that
as done, is there nothing I can do for you yourself?"

"Nothing. I thank you for the question. I thank you even more for
the tone of the question. But, there is nothing."

She presently rose from her seat, and looked about the blighted
room for the means of writing. There were non there, and she took
from her pocket a yellow set of ivory tablets, mounted in tarnished
gold, and wrote upon them with a pencil in a case of tarnished gold
that hung from her neck.

"You are still on friendly terms with Mr. Jaggers?"

"Quite. I dined with him yesterday."

"This is an authority to him to pay you that money, to lay out at
your irresponsible discretion for your friend. I keep no money
here; but if you would rather Mr. Jaggers knew nothing of the
matter, I will send it to you."

"Thank you, Miss Havisham; I have not the least objection to
receiving it from him."

She read me what she had written, and it was direct and clear, and
evidently intended to absolve me from any suspicion of profiting by
the receipt of the money. I took the tablets from her hand, and it
trembled again, and it trembled more as she took off the chain to
which the pencil was attached, and put it in mine. All this she
did, without looking at me.

"My name is on the first leaf. If you can ever write under my name,
"I forgive her," though ever so long after my broken heart is dust
- pray do it!"

"O Miss Havisham," said I, "I can do it now. There have been sore
mistakes; and my life has been a blind and thankless one; and I
want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with
you."

She turned her face to me for the first time since she had averted
it, and, to my amazement, I may even add to my terror, dropped on
her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the
manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole,
they must often have been raised to heaven from her mother's side.

To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my
feet, gave me a shock through all my frame. I entreated her to
rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only
pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung
her head over it and wept. I had never seen her shed a tear before,
and, in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her
without speaking. She was not kneeling now, but was down upon the
ground.

"O!" she cried, despairingly. "What have I done! What have I done!"

"If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let
me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any
circumstances. - Is she married?"

"Yes."

It was a needless question, for a new desolation in the desolate
house had told me so.

"What have I done! What have I done!" She wrung her hands, and
crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over
again. "What have I done!"

I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done
a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into
the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded
pride, found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting
out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in
seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and
healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown
diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the
appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And could I
look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin
she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was
placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania,
like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of
unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in
this world?

"Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a
looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not
know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done!" And so
again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done!

"Miss Havisham," I said, when her cry had died away, "you may
dismiss me from your mind and conscience. But Estella is a
different case, and if you can ever undo any scrap of what you have
done amiss in keeping a part of her right nature away from her, it
will be better to do that, than to bemoan the past through a
hundred years."

"Yes, yes, I know it. But, Pip - my Dear!" There was an earnest
womanly compassion for me in her new affection. "My Dear! Believe
this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery
like my own. At first I meant no more."

"Well, well!" said I. "I hope so."

"But as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually
did worse, and with my praises, and with my jewels, and with my
teachings, and with this figure of myself always before her a
warning to back and point my lessons, I stole her heart away and
put ice in its place."

"Better," I could not help saying, "to have left her a natural
heart, even to be bruised or broken."

With that, Miss Havisham looked distractedly at me for a while, and
then burst out again, What had she done!

"If you knew all my story," she pleaded, "you would have some
compassion for me and a better understanding of me."

"Miss Havisham," I answered, as delicately as I could, "I believe I
may say that I do know your story, and have known it ever since I
first left this neighbourhood. It has inspired me with great
commiseration, and I hope I understand it and its influences. Does
what has passed between us give me any excuse for asking you a
question relative to Estella? Not as she is, but as she was when
she first came here?"

She was seated on the ground, with her arms on the ragged chair,
and her head leaning on them. She looked full at me when I said
this, and replied, "Go on."

"Whose child was Estella?"

She shook her head.

"You don't know?"

She shook her head again.

"But Mr. Jaggers brought her here, or sent her here?"

"Brought her here."

"Will you tell me how that came about?"

She answered in a low whisper and with caution: "I had been shut up
in these rooms a long time (I don't know how long; you know what
time the clocks keep here), when I told him that I wanted a little
girl to rear and love, and save from my fate. I had first seen him
when I sent for him to lay this place waste for me; having read of
him in the newspapers, before I and the world parted. He told me
that he would look about him for such an orphan child. One night he
brought her here asleep, and I called her Estella."

"Might I ask her age then?"

"Two or three. She herself knows nothing, but that she was left an
orphan and I adopted her."

So convinced I was of that woman's being her mother, that I wanted
no evidence to establish the fact in my own mind. But, to any mind,
I thought, the connection here was clear and straight.

What more could I hope to do by prolonging the interview? I had
succeeded on behalf of Herbert, Miss Havisham had told me all she
knew of Estella, I had said and done what I could to ease her mind.
No matter with what other words we parted; we parted.

Twilight was closing in when I went down stairs into the natural
air. I called to the woman who had opened the gate when I entered,
that I would not trouble her just yet, but would walk round the
place before leaving. For, I had a presentiment that I should never
be there again, and I felt that the dying light was suited to my
last view of it.

By the wilderness of casks that I had walked on long ago, and on
which the rain of years had fallen since, rotting them in many
places, and leaving miniature swamps and pools of water upon those
that stood on end, I made my way to the ruined garden. I went all
round it; round by the corner where Herbert and I had fought our
battle; round by the paths where Estella and I had walked. So cold,
so lonely, so dreary all!

Taking the brewery on my way back, I raised the rusty latch of a
little door at the garden end of it, and walked through. I was
going out at the opposite door - not easy to open now, for the damp
wood had started and swelled, and the hinges were yielding, and the
threshold was encumbered with a growth of fungus - when I turned my
head to look back. A childish association revived with wonderful
force in the moment of the slight action, and I fancied that I saw
Miss Havisham hanging to the beam. So strong was the impression,
that I stood under the beam shuddering from head to foot before I
knew it was a fancy - though to be sure I was there in an instant.

The mournfulness of the place and time, and the great terror of
this illusion, though it was but momentary, caused me to feel an
indescribable awe as I came out between the open wooden gates where
I had once wrung my hair after Estella had wrung my heart. Passing
on into the front court-yard, I hesitated whether to call the woman
to let me out at the locked gate of which she had the key, or first
to go up-stairs and assure myself that Miss Havisham was as safe
and well as I had left her. I took the latter course and went up.

I looked into the room where I had left her, and I saw her seated
in the ragged chair upon the hearth close to the fire, with her
back towards me. In the moment when I was withdrawing my head to go
quietly away, I saw a great flaming light spring up. In the same
moment, I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire
blazing all about her, and soaring at least as many feet above her
head as she was high.

I had a double-caped great-coat on, and over my arm another thick
coat. That I got them off, closed with her, threw her down, and got
them over her; that I dragged the great cloth from the table for
the same purpose, and with it dragged down the heap of rottenness
in the midst, and all the ugly things that sheltered there; that we
were on the ground struggling like desperate enemies, and that the
closer I covered her, the more wildly she shrieked and tried to
free herself; that this occurred I knew through the result, but not
through anything I felt, or thought, or knew I did. I knew nothing
until I knew that we were on the floor by the great table, and that
patches of tinder yet alight were floating in the smoky air, which,
a moment ago, had been her faded bridal dress.

Then, I looked round and saw the disturbed beetles and spiders
running away over the floor, and the servants coming in with
breathless cries at the door. I still held her forcibly down with
all my strength, like a prisoner who might escape; and I doubt if I
even knew who she was, or why we had struggled, or that she had
been in flames, or that the flames were out, until I saw the
patches of tinder that had been her garments, no longer alight but
falling in a black shower around us.

She was insensible, and I was afraid to have her moved, or even
touched. Assistance was sent for and I held her until it came, as
if I unreasonably fancied (I think I did) that if I let her go, the
fire would break out again and consume her. When I got up, on the
surgeon's coming to her with other aid, I was astonished to see
that both my hands were burnt; for, I had no knowledge of it
through the sense of feeling.

On examination it was pronounced that she had received serious
hurts, but that they of themselves were far from hopeless; the
danger lay mainly in the nervous shock. By the surgeon's
directions, her bed was carried into that room and laid upon the
great table: which happened to be well suited to the dressing of
her injuries. When I saw her again, an hour afterwards, she lay
indeed where I had seen her strike her stick, and had heard her say
that she would lie one day.

Though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she
still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they
had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she
lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of
something that had been and was changed, was still upon her.

I found, on questioning the servants, that Estella was in Paris,
and I got a promise from the surgeon that he would write to her by
the next post. Miss Havisham's family I took upon myself; intending
to communicate with Mr. Matthew Pocket only, and leave him to do as
he liked about informing the rest. This I did next day, through
Herbert, as soon as I returned to town.

There was a stage, that evening, when she spoke collectedly of what
had happened, though with a certain terrible vivacity. Towards
midnight she began to wander in her speech, and after that it
gradually set in that she said innumerable times in a low solemn
voice, "What have I done!" And then, "When she first came, I meant
to save her from misery like mine." And then, "Take the pencil and
write under my name, 'I forgive her!'" She never changed the order
of these three sentences, but she sometimes left out a word in one
or other of them; never putting in another word, but always leaving
a blank and going on to the next word.

As I could do no service there, and as I had, nearer home, that
pressing reason for anxiety and fear which even her wanderings
could not drive out of my mind, I decided in the course of the
night that I would return by the early morning coach: walking on a
mile or so, and being taken up clear of the town. At about six
o'clock of the morning, therefore, I leaned over her and touched
her lips with mine, just as they said, not stopping for being
touched, "Take the pencil and write under my name, 'I forgive
her.'"



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