eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 52

From Little Britain, I went, with my cheque in my pocket, to Miss
Skiffins's brother, the accountant; and Miss Skiffins's brother,
the accountant, going straight to Clarriker's and bringing
Clarriker to me, I had the great satisfaction of concluding that
arrangement. It was the only good thing I had done, and the only
completed thing I had done, since I was first apprised of my great
expectations.

Clarriker informing me on that occasion that the affairs of the
House were steadily progressing, that he would now be able to
establish a small branch-house in the East which was much wanted
for the extension of the business, and that Herbert in his new
partnership capacity would go out and take charge of it, I found
that I must have prepared for a separation from my friend, even
though my own affairs had been more settled. And now indeed I felt
as if my last anchor were loosening its hold, and I should soon be
driving with the winds and waves.

But, there was recompense in the joy with which Herbert would come
home of a night and tell me of these changes, little imagining that
he told me no news, and would sketch airy pictures of himself
conducting Clara Barley to the land of the Arabian Nights, and of
me going out to join them (with a caravan of camels, I believe),
and of our all going up the Nile and seeing wonders. Without being
sanguine as to my own part in these bright plans, I felt that
Herbert's way was clearing fast, and that old Bill Barley had but
to stick to his pepper and rum, and his daughter would soon be
happily provided for.

We had now got into the month of March. My left arm, though it
presented no bad symptoms, took in the natural course so long to
heal that I was still unable to get a coat on. My right arm was
tolerably restored; - disfigured, but fairly serviceable.

On a Monday morning, when Herbert and I were at breakfast, I
received the following letter from Wemmick by the post.

"Walworth. Burn this as soon as read. Early in the week, or say
Wednesday, you might do what you know of, if you felt disposed to
try it. Now burn."

When I had shown this to Herbert and had put it in the fire - but
not before we had both got it by heart - we considered what to do.
For, of course my being disabled could now be no longer kept out of
view.

"I have thought it over, again and again," said Herbert, "and I
think I know a better course than taking a Thames waterman. Take
Startop. A good fellow, a skilled hand, fond of us, and
enthusiastic and honourable."

I had thought of him, more than once.

"But how much would you tell him, Herbert?"

"It is necessary to tell him very little. Let him suppose it a mere
freak, but a secret one, until the morning comes: then let him know
that there is urgent reason for your getting Provis aboard and
away. You go with him?"

"No doubt."

"Where?"

It had seemed to me, in the many anxious considerations I had given
the point, almost indifferent what port we made for - Hamburg,
Rotterdam, Antwerp - the place signified little, so that he was got
out of England. Any foreign steamer that fell in our way and would
take us up, would do. I had always proposed to myself to get him
well down the river in the boat; certainly well beyond Gravesend,
which was a critical place for search or inquiry if suspicion were
afoot. As foreign steamers would leave London at about the time of
high-water, our plan would be to get down the river by a previous
ebb-tide, and lie by in some quiet spot until we could pull off to
one. The time when one would be due where we lay, wherever that
might be, could be calculated pretty nearly, if we made inquiries
beforehand.

Herbert assented to all this, and we went out immediately after
breakfast to pursue our investigations. We found that a steamer for
Hamburg was likely to suit our purpose best, and we directed our
thoughts chiefly to that vessel. But we noted down what other
foreign steamers would leave London with the same tide, and we
satisfied ourselves that we knew the build and colour of each. We
then separated for a few hours; I, to get at once such passports as
were necessary; Herbert, to see Startop at his lodgings. We both
did what we had to do without any hindrance, and when we met again
at one o'clock reported it done. I, for my part, was prepared with
passports; Herbert had seen Startop, and he was more than ready to
join.

Those two should pull a pair of oars, we settled, and I would
steer; our charge would be sitter, and keep quiet; as speed was not
our object, we should make way enough. We arranged that Herbert
should not come home to dinner before going to Mill Pond Bank that
evening; that he should not go there at all, to-morrow evening,
Tuesday; that he should prepare Provis to come down to some Stairs
hard by the house, on Wednesday, when he saw us approach, and not
sooner; that all the arrangements with him should be concluded that
Monday night; and that he should be communicated with no more in
any way, until we took him on board.

These precautions well understood by both of us, I went home.

On opening the outer door of our chambers with my key, I found a
letter in the box, directed to me; a very dirty letter, though not
ill-written. It had been delivered by hand (of course since I left
home), and its contents were these:

"If you are not afraid to come to the old marshes to-night or
tomorrow night at Nine, and to come to the little sluice-house by
the limekiln, you had better come. If you want information
regarding your uncle Provis, you had much better come and tell no
one and lose no time. You must come alone. Bring this with you."

I had had load enough upon my mind before the receipt of this
strange letter. What to do now, I could not tell. And the worst
was, that I must decide quickly, or I should miss the afternoon
coach, which would take me down in time for to-night. To-morrow
night I could not think of going, for it would be too close upon
the time of the flight. And again, for anything I knew, the
proffered information might have some important bearing on the
flight itself.

If I had had ample time for consideration, I believe I should still
have gone. Having hardly any time for consideration - my watch
showing me that the coach started within half an hour - I resolved
to go. I should certainly not have gone, but for the reference to
my Uncle Provis; that, coming on Wemmick's letter and the morning's
busy preparation, turned the scale.

It is so difficult to become clearly possessed of the contents of
almost any letter, in a violent hurry, that I had to read this
mysterious epistle again, twice, before its injunction to me to be
secret got mechanically into my mind. Yielding to it in the same
mechanical kind of way, I left a note in pencil for Herbert,
telling him that as I should be so soon going away, I knew not for
how long, I had decided to hurry down and back, to ascertain for
myself how Miss Havisham was faring. I had then barely time to get
my great-coat, lock up the chambers, and make for the coach-office
by the short by-ways. If I had taken a hackney-chariot and gone by
the streets, I should have missed my aim; going as I did, I caught
the coach just as it came out of the yard. I was the only inside
passenger, jolting away knee-deep in straw, when I came to myself.

For, I really had not been myself since the receipt of the letter;
it had so bewildered me ensuing on the hurry of the morning. The
morning hurry and flutter had been great, for, long and anxiously
as I had waited for Wemmick, his hint had come like a surprise at
last. And now, I began to wonder at myself for being in the coach,
and to doubt whether I had sufficient reason for being there, and
to consider whether I should get out presently and go back, and to
argue against ever heeding an anonymous communication, and, in
short, to pass through all those phases of contradiction and
indecision to which I suppose very few hurried people are
strangers. Still, the reference to Provis by name, mastered
everything. I reasoned as I had reasoned already without knowing it
- if that be reasoning - in case any harm should befall him through
my not going, how could I ever forgive myself!

It was dark before we got down, and the journey seemed long and
dreary to me who could see little of it inside, and who could not
go outside in my disabled state. Avoiding the Blue Boar, I put up
at an inn of minor reputation down the town, and ordered some
dinner. While it was preparing, I went to Satis House and inquired
for Miss Havisham; she was still very ill, though considered
something better.

My inn had once been a part of an ancient ecclesiastical house, and
I dined in a little octagonal common-room, like a font. As I was
not able to cut my dinner, the old landlord with a shining bald
head did it for me. This bringing us into conversation, he was so
good as to entertain me with my own story - of course with the
popular feature that Pumblechook was my earliest benefactor and the
founder of my fortunes.

"Do you know the young man?" said I.

"Know him!" repeated the landlord. "Ever since he was - no height
at all."

"Does he ever come back to this neighbourhood?"

"Ay, he comes back," said the landlord, "to his great friends, now
and again, and gives the cold shoulder to the man that made him."

"What man is that?"

"Him that I speak of," said the landlord. "Mr. Pumblechook."

"Is he ungrateful to no one else?"

"No doubt he would be, if he could," returned the landlord, "but he
can't. And why? Because Pumblechook done everything for him."

"Does Pumblechook say so?"

"Say so!" replied the landlord. "He han't no call to say so."

"But does he say so?"

"It would turn a man's blood to white wine winegar to hear him tell
of it, sir," said the landlord.

I thought, "Yet Joe, dear Joe, you never tell of it. Long-suffering
and loving Joe, you never complain. Nor you, sweet-tempered Biddy!"

"Your appetite's been touched like, by your accident," said the
landlord, glancing at the bandaged arm under my coat. "Try a
tenderer bit."

"No thank you," I replied, turning from the table to brood over the
fire. "I can eat no more. Please take it away."

I had never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe,
as through the brazen impostor Pumblechook. The falser he, the
truer Joe; the meaner he, the nobler Joe.

My heart was deeply and most deservedly humbled as I mused over the
fire for an hour or more. The striking of the clock aroused me, but
not from my dejection or remorse, and I got up and had my coat
fastened round my neck, and went out. I had previously sought in my
pockets for the letter, that I might refer to it again, but I could
not find it, and was uneasy to think that it must have been dropped
in the straw of the coach. I knew very well, however, that the
appointed place was the little sluice-house by the limekiln on the
marshes, and the hour nine. Towards the marshes I now went
straight, having no time to spare.



Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Category:
General Fiction - English literature
Nabou.com: the big site